How’s it hanging?

Remote-controlled, chilled, Provençal… one’s choice of wardrobe reveals so much more than one’s sartorial style, says Nick Foulkes.

October 10 2009
Nick Foulkes

The Cashmere Queen: Taupe French provincial

The Cashmere Queen wafts through life surrounded by a microclimate of perfect taste, and if her life were a film it would be scripted by Loro Piana and art directed by John Stefanidis. She lives a life of calm tranquillity which she ascribes to a breakfast of wheatgrass juice and an hour of meditation. She is the envy of her charmed circle – an adoring husband, a pair of perfect grown-up children who still like to spend weekends at the house in Wiltshire and summers at the mas in Provence – and she has an unerring eye for what is right; she is a genius when it comes to orchids and scented candles.

She is sufficiently self-possessed not to fall prey to the mania for perpetual youth that has driven many of her friends under the surgeon’s knife or into a young gigolo’s arms (an enviable gene pool also helps). She embodies qualities that are rare these days: poise and dignity. Her long brunette hair, willowy figure and gentle demeanour find expression in a wardrobe of cream linen in summer and ecru cashmere in winter.

There is just one worry – yesterday she found what looked suspiciously like a moth hole in one of her cashmere cardigans. She fears that she might have to fumigate the large and rickety Provençal wardrobe she brought back from France last summer. She is particularly worried that the pest controllers might scratch the paintwork on this venerable piece of furniture; they simply wouldn’t appreciate how long it took to perfect the exact shade of taupe (somewhere between mouse’s back and mushroom). Still, looking on the bright side, it’s the perfect excuse to get round to Bamford and restock on cashmere.

The Immaculate Man: Remote-Controlled

The Immaculate Man is what happens when your body is a temple in which the scriptural texts comprise every article on male grooming that has ever been published. He has his eyebrows threaded and his chest and back waxed every week. He is an ardent devotee of, ahem, “intimate” grooming too, living life by the maxim “no pain no gain”.

A true body obsessive, the Immaculate Man lies awake at night, his features slathered with the miracle-working Zelens night cream, worrying about cuticle control, and each morning he packs his briefcase not with documents but with body sprays, facial unguents and varied oral hygiene products.

His domestic arrangements are a curious amalgam of the monastic and the sybaritic. Given that he is always dieting, he decided to turn the kitchen into a small gymnasium and he spent the rest of his budget trying to recreate the bedroom fantasies of a Bond villain with a lifetime’s subscription to Men’s Health.

It is his proud boast that he can operate his wardrobe using a remote-control panel, and one of his true pleasures is to lie in bed opening and closing the sliding doors. Adjusting the ambient lighting above his suits until it recreates “natural”, seasonally adjusted daylight enables him to make a better selection of clothes – all of which is splendidly otiose as his wardrobe consists entirely of grey slim-lapelled suits, which he wears with white shirts and black silk ties.

The Secret Shopper: Spare bedroom

The Secret Shopper leads a double life. There is the devoted materfamilias who, when not at the wheel of the family Audi transporting one or other of her three children, verges on the Stepford in her desire to propitiate her merchant banker husband. And then there is the retail fiend… While the other mums are happy enough in LK Bennett, Jigsaw and Whistles, the secret shopper lives in Prada, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Chloé. But whereas her friends try and pass off their Primark as the latest from the pages of Vogue, the secret shopper lives in permanent fear that her husband will discover her profligacy, and tries to make her Bond Street pass for high street. She had a narrow escape when he noticed her tottering about in a pair of Louboutins, and she still doubts whether he believed that she had bought them for £2.50 in the local Oxfam shop.

Just as she leads a double life, so she has a pair of wardrobes – she got the idea when she came across the vanishing cabinets while reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to her youngest. In the book, an item put into one cupboard is transported into another. And so it is in her Chelsea home, with the guest bedroom and its built-in cupboards the repository of her guilty designer purchases. Over time she smuggles these to the wardrobes in the bedroom she shares with her husband.

The Queen of Fifth Avenue: Chilled rooms

She attended Truman Capote’s famous Black and White Ball; although she is a little bit too young to have been one of Capote’s “swans” – Babe Paley, Slim Keith et al – to whom she looked up in awe when she was a young woman from the Midwest using her bony shoulder and angular elbows to edge her way into New York Society.

She first became famous when she was photographed at Studio 54 with Halston. Then she simply shopped her way into society, and her sprawling Fifth Avenue duplex is less of a desirable residence and more a museum devoted to late-20th-century couture. Twelve of the 17 rooms have been given over to rails of carefully labelled and bagged outfits, while sophisticated air conditioning keeps the Queen of Fifth Avenue’s clothes fridge-fresh, giving rise to the rumour that she keeps her home just above freezing so she can wear fur year round.

It had been her cherished hope that her daughter would join her in her obsession – they would spend their lives looking thin and hanging out with Valentino and Lagerfeld, and her daughter would continue to wear and add to the collection. Sadly, her only child couldn’t care less about clothes and lives in New Mexico where she makes turquoise and silver jewellery. Her loss is the Met’s gain, as the Queen of Fifth Avenue has bequeathed her entire wardrobe to the museum. Her husband is inordinately pleased as he’s negotiated some attractive tax breaks on his wife’s decades of shopping.

The Ageing Dandy: Dressing room

After his devoted manservant has brought his cup of lapsang souchong bright and early at 10.30am, and run his bath to blood heat, the Ageing Dandy slips on a cerulean silk gown and pads into his mahogany-panelled dressing room. He’s a dinosaur, a creature from a vanished age; as a young man he dressed in evening clothes to go and lose money to men like John Aspinall at chemin de fer parties and put on his morning coat and top hat to go and lose yet more thousands at the Derby and Royal Ascot.

It is rumoured that Mark Birley asked his advice on one or two important points of detail when he was setting up Annabel’s. He was also one of the early settlers on Mustique and his Oliver Messel-designed cottage ornée was the prettiest on the island – at least until some billionaire US cosmetics tycoon “restored” it beyond recognition. These and many similar memories crowd his mind as he looks up and down glass-fronted drawers showing hundreds of collarless Budd shirts (he has never worn anything other than a stiff collar), and nods approvingly at the nailhead, single-button, single-breasted suit (one of the last cut by Colin Hammick at Huntsman) that his manservant has laid out for him today.

The penultimate act of his toilette is to look into the glass (never mirror) that is flanked by rows of silk ties, and pass his Cartier hairbrush through his hair. All that remains is for his manservant to reappear with carnation buttonhole and he is set for the day – until, of course, it is time to change for dinner.

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