Can’t Buy Me Love.

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Over the coming years I was to become privy to the eccentricities of a few notable ladies, some with a surprise or two up their sartorially splendid sleeves…

In a fashion house commended for its attentive, one-on-one service, it was somewhat overwhelming when we were faced with numerous customers vying for our attention. My most challenging to date came courtesy of a woman who strutted through the door with an air of majesty, and was very much the mother hen to a clucking dozen of beautiful twenty-somethings that trailed in behind her.

Possessing a presence that overwhelmed, this lady’s polished exterior was considerably rehearsed; her morning’s dressing was done with a well informed consciousness… From her status-bearing Cartier watch and her Chanel initialled earrings, to her Prada pencil dress and the gold Bvlgari band on her ring finger, she was every inch the epitome of an elegant woman of wealth.

Instantly she sashayed towards me, and in a demanding-but-politely-so tone she told me she needed several outfits for her girls; outfits that exuded sexiness but with elegance, that made one appear youthful but accomplished, and that were classy but dangerously so.

The gaggle stood, now silent and hanging on her every word, each one a living version of the girls that graced the pages of the Vogue magazine I was about to thumb through during my lunch break.

As she sifted through outfits and passed them to each appropriate protégé, our upper floor transformed into a scene akin to the backstage dressing area at London Fashion Week; a sea of semi-naked bodies, clad in agent provocateur, hips-a-jutting and making every outfit look a million times what it was worth.

Just an hour and a hefty five figure sum later, having danced circularly within my own head, I had failed to deduce exactly why these girls were being decked out in lavish clothing and I certainly couldn’t fathom what the woman’s relationship with them actually was.

For all the inventive, off the wall scenarios I had fleetingly entertained, the most realistic reasoning I could dream up was that these girls were in fact soon to have their own place on the coveted pages of my fashion magazines, and the matriarch was indeed their agent.

Nevertheless, when I joked to her that surely models were the one envied breed that were excessively showered in complimentary attire, she replied in her plummy, husky voice “darling, I think you and I both know that these ladies are no models, and I am no booker.”

As she and her tribe departed, I couldn’t decide whether to be insulted or flattered when she handed me her business card whispering provocatively in my ear “if any of you ever fancy a change in direction…”.

The card read “Leading London Escort Agency”. Madam she was.

A Cut Above.

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The fashion houses of Knightsbridge came hand in hand with Royal Ascot, Henley and summer wedding territory, and so I became accustomed to the prim and proper of London’s social elite: the ladies who vied for matching two pieces to be topped off with flamboyant fascinators or a theatrical hat.

I couldn’t help but find fondness for one particularly affluent woman who would visit us each season to ready her wardrobe for the social obligations of the coming months. Like many others, she would plump for traditional cocktail dresses and matching suits and jackets, but each time she dented her bank balance, she would ask to see the in house tailor.

I soon ascertained that this wasn’t the usual alterations request where the customary motions of nipping a hem in here or tucking a dart in there were followed. This lady required something I imagine many of these socialites yearned for amidst their restrictive pencil skirts and their wiggle room only seams. She wanted each and every hem hacked at within an inch of her derriere.

As was deemed appropriate by the vast majority of our customers, the length of our dresses was accustomed to falling just below the knee. Nevertheless, this particular shopper, whom, might I add was some 70 years old, was not satisfied with anything that didn’t brazenly skim her knicker-line.

During their first encounter, the seamstress was understandably weary of cutting into several hundreds of pounds worth of fabric to create something she wouldn’t let her own teenage daughter wear past her front door, but nevertheless, after just one season we knew the drill: if all and sundry was not being flaunted, then this eccentric pensioner would not be satisfied.

In the decade where Ascot’s rules of dress were being published in every newspaper to avoid the faux par of a heaving bosom or an unashamed pair of bare shoulders, I only wish I could have witnessed one of her entrances into her world of cocktail parties and canapés.

Bare Faced Cheek.

Confessions9

Just a couple of months of working in SW3 and I had almost settled into the rich comforting cradle of this borough. That said, it was as though the powers that be were aware of my contentment when they decided to prescribe me with a dose of reality, giving me a ruthless reminder of the antics I thought I had left behind in Soho.

In this designer boutique for ladies, once again I was mainly in the company of women, so I was surprised to greet a tall middle-aged man on this particular day.

Hurrying through the door he hastily ventured to our lower floor, one that was softly lit with skylights and favoured amongst the more private customers who wanted the very best in sales attention.

Following the man downstairs I asked if he would like a hand; a turn of phrase I would unquestionably regret just minutes later. At his request to find a dress, I ventured deeper into the basement into our luminously lit stock room, which sat beneath the pavement and the footsteps of the well heeled.

Triumphant in my search I rushed up the stairs, dress in hand, to be greeted by the customer, lingering in the centre of the room, his outfit having seemingly disappeared from sight. The stoic response I had so carefully perfected in Soho scrambled out of the window, as I stood, jaw ajar, staring at the man I’d assumed was lovingly hunting for a gift for his betrothed.

An unfamiliar wail whipped through the room, startling the visitor with its decibels and astounding me when I realised it was emanating from my own throat. As I continued to shriek, I wandered robotically to the changing room, retrieved his clothing, walked upstairs with the pile and hurled it onto the pavement outside. Leaping up the stairs behind me, the visitor hurried outside, bent at the waist, tiptoe prancing and covering himself as though he’d been caught skinny dipping in the Thames during the coldest of Januaries.

As my screaming subsided and I witnessed him cowering on the pavement, I wished for a passer by with an oversized palm to make contact with the cheeks of his bottom, but then again, that probably wouldn’t have been deemed punishment for someone who obviously got his thrills from the most bizarre of acts. He thrust on his socks and scurried along the street, worriedly glancing back as though I could add insult to his injury at any moment. I saw his hand flailing in the air as he drifted… I wonder if he did ever manage to flag down that taxi.

A Class of Their Own

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Once I had left the limits of the salacious Soho I found another job to wage against the destitute reality of studentdom. I got an upgrade, to a designer boutique that shimmered amidst the golden glow of Knightsbridge.

One may have thought that with this geographical change I would welcome an absence of the strange behaviour I was used to, but as it turns out, these customers were in a class of their very own…

Whether it just came with the territory, or it was a contributing aspect of their extreme wealth, a lot of the ladies I was to come across (many of them officially Lady’s) were not bashful when it came to a spot of bartering. My past negotiations over pennies in the souks of Marrakesh were to seem trivial when compared to the haggling hands of this new calibre of customer.

Consistently I was asked if a ‘better price’ dangled within my grasp, a question to which my taut lipped smile would plead futility but there was, without fail, those who wouldn’t accept ‘no’ as a satisfactory response. Admittedly my smiles were consistently counterfeit, especially when my mind compared my morning’s tube journey spent thrust between a greasy window and a clammy chap, to the spacious back seat of a Bentley, which would typically unload said customer just a Louboutin clad foot from our front door.

With the bargain hunter’s beady eyes closely watching I would repeat the laborious process of telephoning every tier of the management ladder that towered above me, nodding and smiling with the receiver shoved tight against my ear for fear that they would hear what a “money grabbing, tight fisted, miser” the powers that be actually thought they were.

For all the trouble it may have gotten me in I was often tempted to accidentally-on-purpose nudge the loudspeaker button and watch contentedly as the bartering customer made an embarrassed getaway, never to be seen again.

That said, knowing the thought process of this particular breed, this would only have armed them with ample bargaining power to get what they really hunted for.

A conclusion would only be achieved after an explicit no from the company MD, at which point the Louis Vuitton purse would be presented from the Chanel handbag, and the bank card would grudgingly be thrust into my hand… and I could guarantee that it would always say Coutts.