Swellboy on… a Parisian fashion show

Labyrinthine choreography and a Taiwanese Elvis impersonator are among the sights amazing our man on and off the runway

Image: Brijesh Patel

The other day I went to a fashion show. It has been a while since I last donned my dark glasses and assumed my seat in the best Anna Wintour manner, but I was asked to attend the presentation of next summer’s Berluti collection and, as I like the artistic director Alessandro Sartori, I thought I should go along. I remember Berluti before it was bought by LVMH, when it was just a single shop on the Rue Marbeuf. Things are a bit different these days.

The setting for the défilé was the Ecole des Mines, which struck me as a strange location. After all, anyone who has read Zola’s Germinal will know that mining in France did not historically lend itself to the wearing of violet linen blazers and pale, parchment-thin suede jackets of an almost aching desirability. In fact, I would hazard a guess that even today this is not what miners wear. 

However, this was Paris and, of course, the Ecole des Mines turns out to be a beautiful early-18th-century quasi-palace designed by Le Blond. Since he did gardens as well as houses, the backyard is not exactly shabby either, and it was au jardin that the show took place.

The tranquil, soothing and rather ordered architecture formed a contrasting backdrop to the heterogeneous attire of my fellow attendees. I am not talking of the giants who bestride this world, the likes of Dylan Jones, Richard David Story, Robert Johnston (of whose Wilkie Collins hairdo I am most envious) and Nick Sullivan of American Esquire; these are men who combine natural dignity with an innate fashion-forwardness.


But I was struck by the self-satirising attire of some of the other guests. I think that the beard thing must have peaked by now, as this season it seems that facial hair of almost Assyrian complexity can be worn with a suit, so long as the narrow trouser legs are rolled up, or with a skirt… and anything in between. But I was most taken with the ensemble of a Taiwanese Elvis impersonator, who had clearly taken a number of soft-toy zebras to his tailor and instructed him to make a blouson with sleeves that terminated half way between the wrist and elbow to better display his diamond-set Cartier Santos (either that or the tailor ran out of toy zebras). As you can imagine, I fitted right in with my navy blue double-breasted mohair suit and mirror-polished back brogues.

I liked the show immensely and could quite see myself wearing any number of the Saharienne-style garments. There was even something for the short-sleeved Elvis impersonator as, in a nod to Miami Vice, one of the models wore his beautifully checked blazer pushed up to his elbows. At one point I had to be tasered and physically restrained by security from tearing a particularly covetable caramel-coloured blouson from the body of a passing model. 

As well as having very nice clothes on their backs, the models performed a complex choreography following a maze-like runway that wound its way around the garden, often doubling back and intersecting itself. It reminded me of the scene towards the end of the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, when the Magritte-dressed doppelgängers are suddenly seen everywhere around the Met. Only this time, the drab bowler and overcoat had been replaced with something more elegant. 

Afterwards, there was a buffet supper sous les arbres, where I caught up with many old friends, including the inimitable Yann Debelle de Montby, self-styled dream manufacturer and former ambassador of Berluti to the Court of St James’s. I have known Yann for a long time and I do not see enough of him. When he and I first met he was just plain Yann Debelle; now, so far as I can tell, he seems to be choreographing half the luxury-goods industry in China. I do wish he were not quite so successful out east, as I would like to see more of him back in Europe; the only thing is that it would not be good for my bank balance.


Yann is a proper character and was explaining to me why purchasing an S Type Continental Bentley was not just a practical move but a cost-efficient one as well. Given that Yann could sell you your own body parts and allow you to believe that you had just struck a superb deal, I cottoned on to his logic immediately. It was only the lack of a good WiFi connection in the Ecole des Mines (Le Blond had slipped up here) that prevented me from buying one online there and then and waking the following morning with a brand-new (or rather 55-year-old) money pit on my hands.