Lady Amanda Harlech breezes into the neon yellow lobby of the St Martin’s Lane hotel in a dress by Chanel Haute Couture. She is wearing a white silk pleated shirt-dress, with tiny gold double c buttons, and trumpet sleeves ending in cuffs dip-dyed a soft rose pink.
Indicating her chic, spotted sheer black tights, worn with foxy high black patent cut out sandals she says “I know, they’re really ‘old lady’ - but they let the air in”. Harlech might be a Lady, but ‘old lady’ is certainly not the phrase that springs to mind…
It is swelteringly hot. The lobby is full of fashionistas and it’s a study in dressing stylishly in the heat. New partners-in-crime Gareth Pugh and Daphne Guinness arrive; he’s wearing goth lite [brown holey long-sleeved sheer T-shirt, jeans, Cuban-heeled black patent ankle boots] she’s wearing a grey McQueen tailored shift dress with a sequinned belt, bonkers silver heel-less Gaga shoes, a trio of vintage diamond bracelets and a bottle green crocodile Kelly bag.
Daphne Guinness and Gareth Pugh at the Fashion Fringe panel discussion
We are all here for a talk by Harlech, John Galliano, Colin McDowell and Nick Knight on 'Commerce and Creativity: can they co-exist?', organised by Fashion Fringe, and later, Galliano is set to announce the three finalists of the Fashion Fringe award.
Amanda Harlech and John Galliano The Golden Age of Couture Gala in 2007
It’s a couple of decades since Harlech started working as Galliano’s muse, while she was still a fashion editor at Harpers & Queen magazine. And 14 years since Galliano moved to Dior – without her (Dior refused to pay her a salary). Harlech was quickly snapped up by Karl Lagerfeld to act as his “collaboratrice” at Chanel.
Amanda Harlech and Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel Dinner in Saint Tropez last month
For Galliano and Harlech, working at two of the world’s most famous fashion houses no doubt presents conflicting work schedules; and it seems years since the pair have been seen out together. But they still appear to be the best of friends, (later they will giggle and whisper like naughty school kids throughout the talk).
Harlech gathers up her belongings to head up to her hotel room. No ‘It’ handbag for this lady – she’s carrying an anonymous-looking huge woven straw shopper, and, somewhat incongruously, a black Prada nylon rucksack, which she confirms was, moments earlier, slung over the shoulders of her Chanel Couture ensemble; “Yes! Crammed down over the top of my dress!”
Upstairs there’s a quick cigarette break to settle her nerves. It seems strange that a woman who has the ear of, arguably, the two greatest fashion designers of our time could be nervous talking in front of an audience of a hundred fashion insiders (all of whom will shortly be hanging on her every word). Yet she admits “yesterday I had to have some acupuncture to calm me down”.
Get Harlech onto the subject of the talk though, and her self-consciousness disappears; “you need the creativity, but you also need the commerciality; they go hand in hand. Fashion is a business, and you’ve got to have the thickest skin.”
At this point, Galliano arrives, dressed, thrillingly, as a punk pirate. Of her own outfit, Harlech says “I’m rebelling! I’m rebelling against all that Nick Knight ‘robot’ fashion! I’m bringing the woman back!” And with that, she floats elegantly downstairs to delight the waiting fashion crowd….
- Angela Buttolph