It's been a while since I last visited London's hallowed Victoria and Albert Museum. On Friday evening, I was lured back, for a special treat. British fashion treasure, Bruce Oldfield, was celebrating his upcoming 35 years in the industry at the Lecture Theatre, in conversation with Dolly Jones, Editor of Vogue.com.
Fittingly, the venue was a stunning, vast space - with a stratospheric, domed-ceiling - beautifully garbed in William Morris cream and green hues, scrolled with acorns and leaves; the atmosphere was alluring. Our charming fashion hero belied his (nearly) 6o years, in casual-chic attire of Jil Sander T, pin-striped jacket, straight dark denims and black Converse trainers. He appeared totally relaxed and completely at ease (in spite of the packed and attentive house) as he looked back on his (still thriving) career.
The happily captive audience was thoroughly entertained, as much ground was covered, from his early inspiration, at the feet of his dressmaker foster-mother - when, aged seven - he sketched his first wedding gown - to his current favourite creation: featuring five layers of silk tulle, over organza, to give the effect of ripples, movement and flow (worn by Kelly Brook, on the red carpet at the recent 2010 Oscars ceremony). We learned of his admiration for Stephanie of Monaco and how he would have loved to have dressed her mother, Princess Grace. It was poignant to hear of his closeness to Princess Diana, who came to him for clothes that would "make a statement", and how he saw her style, and maturity, develop throughout their professional relationship and friendship.
The photos and his summary - "the essence of being a woman" - of Charlotte Rampling, whom some have referred to as his muse, were a joy to behold. His descriptive and visual reminiscences of significant moments, in his career, included the wonderful, 'rustling' yellow taffeta dress with purple sash (created with an impressive nine metres of fabric); the summary of his ethos and aim "to make people look great... sculpting and flattering the body" to his modest reference of his predilection for draping, when he described Jean Muir as "The Queen of Jersey" and himself as the mere "prince-ling".
I loved hearing his (almost) no holds barred - uttered without bitchiness - commentary of contemporary style (and 'icons'). On Lady Gaga, "Yes, she's very creative but I don't know...!"; on Michelle Obama's Inauguration outfit "If you're going to wear green shoes and gloves, at least make sure that they match" (despite his admiration for the statuesque First Lady and his desire to dress her); on WAGs (and their ilk) "People are trying to be like princesses now..." by way of Nicole Kidman "She's been so creative with her face!" to his summary of the current state of London fashion "We don't always want, or need, to be startled".
Sad, though, to hear Bruce talk of his disappointment in the way that teaching methods and standards have changed (fallen) at leading fashion colleges. (He, modestly, puts much of his success down to his comprehensive training and understanding of all aspects - including garment cutting and technique). His advice to those starting-out in the industry to "be cunning, use your wiles, whisper in significant ears" reflects his own elegant savvy nature and the secret of his success, although he confesses to wishing he had the "major finance required" to stage his own shows. The entire audience, as one, relished the hour in Bruce's company and looked forward to many more years of his glorious style, as he continues (in his own words) to "find new ways of putting things together and dressing things up".
Photos courtesy of MMPR