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Archival Transcript: What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing - Issue 57, November 1973, Featured Article

Submitted by Jack Graves

What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing Issue 57 November 1973 Feature Article Pg 46 Title: A New Party Trend: Will It Capture The Heart of the Public? Writer: Julian Clifton-Kenilworth

One wonders exactly how much suspense one can hope to conjure up in this article. Though the subject to be covered is, at the moment, known only to those in the most fashionable echelons of our society, one is aware that our readership can likely count themselves amongst such echelons, and thus my topic will already be known to them. Nevertheless, one must make the effort.
What I shall discuss, no, show you, dear reader, is a new phenomenon within the sphere of social occasion. In the past we have seen many novel (but short-lived) vogues within the party domain: the almost immediately tiresome silent discotheque (popular during the darker days of music prohibition); the flotilla ball (how many drunken party-goers drowned at those, one wonders?). But none have survived for more than a year. With this new trend I feel we have a party concept that may stand the test of time, and hope to be counted alongside such classics as the now-banned masquerade ball. That, I think, is enough preamble. Join me as I become your eyes and ears, an objective lens through which you may judge this new phenomenon for yourself.
My first inkling of what was to transpire came when an invitation for a party held by a host, who I shall henceforth refer to as ‘His Lordship’ (a small clue, dear readers!) arrived at my office. The invitation came worryingly close to the date of the party itself, leaving me hardly sufficient time to visit the location of the party and construct an ensemble to complement it. Such is the life of a journalist! The fact that I had heard not even a whisper of this party marked it out immediately as unusual. As anyone who knows me can (and should) inform you, there is not a party in the country I do not know about, whether I intend to attend or not.
The lack of time was little problem, however, as fortunately it transpired I was already familiar with the location. Few in this area are not. For better or worse the location has become something of a landmark, for reasons you will soon understand. While I am bound by protocol to protect the privacy of those hosting and attending the party (I shan't be using any real names), I imagine my description of the home of my host will prove an ample enough clue for the more deductive of our readers to divine his identity.
Our host lives in a rather extravagant, newly constructed mansion in Upper London, built along the lines of the classic New York brownstones, albeit somewhat larger, and constructed of a rather fetching black stone. I am no geologist but I speculate that this stone, polished to a marble-like shine, is of volcanic origin, and could not have been easy to procure. Anyone with eyes and a brain knows that black and gold are the colours of the season, and his Lordship has had his mansion constructed to match. The window-frames, the fences and the doors bear ornamentation in gold (or more accurately yellow) metalwork – I would imagine it to be brass, given the cost of gold, and the likelihood of theft, even in this refined suburb of the city.
Far be it from me to criticise, but frankly I question the wisdom of constructing your home in seasonal colours. Does his Lordship plan to rebuild his home with each new trend? Personally I favour buildings that are decorated using a more neutral, timeless colour scheme that may be more easily updated with a few choice accessories, but of course that is merely a personal preference. I would conjecture that the early-evening start time of the party was chosen specifically to cast the shining black surface of the mansion in the golden glow of the setting sun. Unfortunately I had approached the mansion of his Lordship from completely the wrong angle, having taken a route through the quieter side-streets, so as to reduce my chances of being set upon in one of the recent spate of public attacks (of which I’m sure you are aware). From the angle of my approach the mansion did not look even slightly welcoming. It appeared rather more like a great black funerary monolith, mourning whatever bombsite had been there before. The black-clad revellers wandering in every now and then did nothing to dispel the image.
It would be petty of me to hold this against my host – one cannot control the weather – still, I had to stand outside for rather too long after ringing the doorbell. Possibly the delay was to enhance my appreciation of the dry, warm, interior once I was finally granted entrance.
The vestibule was a rather small, dim, windowless chamber that doubled as a cloakroom, the butler/doorman/waiter (I was rather more concerned with the décor, and the coats hanging on racks, than the rank of the servants) dressed rather traditionally in black and white who let me in was polite enough. I suppose his Lordship did not want to risk his servants appearing more fashionable than his guests. Unsurprisingly the vestibule, like the exterior, was decorated entirely in black and gold. Though the exterior of the building imitates a brownstone, its interior is entirely different. I shall cover the odd internal layout of the mansion later, or perhaps not, if the editors decide I have exceeded my meagre ration of words.
I fear I was more interested in the dubious tastes of my fellow guests than in the décor. It seemed most of the guests had arrived wearing coats from the major Russian fashion houses, all conforming to the colours of the season. I felt fashion-forward by comparison, my ensemble assembled entirely from cutting-edge Canadian studios. Black and gold, fashioned around a stylized version of one of the military uniforms of the Enemy, which I covered in this very magazine last week, if you recall. Delightfully controversial.
After lingering in the vestibule long enough to ensure that the servant hanging my coat did not damage it, I was ushered through the black-and-gold door, and into the first room of the house. This room was a bizarre and gargantuan combination of living-room and waiting-room; piano in the corner, bookshelves, and record-player, reminiscent of the former; multiple couches and coffee tables conjuring up the latter. No prizes for guessing the colour scheme. Of note were the two possible exits from the room (in addition to the door I had just entered through): a small, black door designed to blend in with the wall, and rather gaudy large golden double doors in the wall opposite to the door from the vestibule. Now and then servants scurried in and out through the black door, refreshing champagne glasses and removing empty ones.
I was pleased to see that I was neither the first to arrive (for there were already five or six guests there, picking at appetizers and drinking champagne) nor the last. Ordinarily it is advisable to arrive as late as possible, so as to build anticipation and attract the most attention when one does finally arrive, but as a journalist my job is to blend in with the background, so arriving somewhere in the middle of the allotted time was best. It neatly avoids the upsetting circumstance of arriving too early and being trapped in awkward conversation with the host, a mistake I have made more than once before. Speaking of the host, his Lordship was (and I should imagine still is) a robust and boisterous man, dressed well in black and gold. He gave me a hearty welcome, inviting me to help myself to food and drink, while warning me not to fill up just yet, a warning that bordered on the gauche. I wondered exactly how fashion-conscious his Lordship was, as he lacked the comportment of the typical man of culture, appearing to be the kind of man more at home on a big-game hunt or some other ‘rugged’ activity. Perhaps he (or his wife) had engaged designers to construct his house and dress him, although if that was the case he did not mention it to me.
It is a shame that I was not permitted to bring a camera; His Lordship felt that a photographic presence would be too much of an intrusion on his guests, the camera flashes distracting and the necessary equipment too bulky, even though I had assured him my Leica camera (which, incidentally, are devilishly hard to acquire with Germany in the state it is in) is quite compact. Without photographs it strikes me that my descriptions of the black-and-gold wonderland may become tedious, thereby giving the reader the impression that the interior itself was tedious. Rather to the contrary, the remarkable consistency, and the attention to detail that had been paid in ensuring that consistency, was an impressive feat of design. The black and gold decor provided the guests with the sensation of floating in a dream, or possibly the night sky. I am hoping his Lordship will entertain my request to return at some point in the future to take photographs, to be included with this article. The other guests trickled in gradually, giving me sufficient time to assess them. They seemed to fall roughly into two camps; friends of his Lordship, and people of culture. I do not mean this as an insult, but one does wonder exactly how many retired army generals belong at high society functions? I would venture to suggest not many, perhaps only one, assuming he were funding a school or some sort of similar worthy cause.
It was while I was engaged by the attentions of one of these retired army generals (he suggested to me that what the country needed was another war, to ‘strengthen the national character and give people something worthwhile to do,’ Need I say ‘ugh’?) that our host attracted our attention with the traditional champagne-glass-and-spoon method.
I forget precisely what he said; I was distracted by the uniquely dreadful hat worn by one of the women. I gather she was some sort of Duchess, but whoever she was paying to buy her hats clearly had some form of developmental disability. Perhaps this is a new fashion in charity that I have not yet been informed of – employing the mentally enfeebled as personal shoppers. If that is the case, then I am certain that the ugly diorama of a wire-work warship-prow emerging from the head of the Duchess marks her out as a woman of considerable compassion.
The gist of the speech from his Lordship was his joy at welcoming us into his home, etcetera, etcetera, how much money we would be raising for the orphans or sick puppies (one cannot have a party without raising money for something nowadays), and that upon every half-hour we would move from one room of the house to the next, being treated to different delights in each location. For those ‘in the know’ this latter statement is a huge hint as to exactly which sort of party this was.
Upon finishing his speech his Lordship unlocked and opened the large double doors leading out of the room. Beyond was unlit and windowless, so all we could see of it at first was a stretch of corridor, partially illuminated by light spilling out from the room we were in. The walls, unusually tastefully, were wallpapered in black with embossed black floral print. The floor, however, was the main feature of the corridor: principally tiled in black, with here and there slightly raised gold (again, most likely brass) tiles, giving an odd, asymmetrical look to the pattern of the tiles.
What followed is perhaps one of the most singular things I have ever seen.
Our host, his Lordship, is not a small man. I say this in the least insulting possible way. He is a man of hearty constitution, no doubt built up over many long years by early morning mountain hikes and the consumption of exotic beasts shot on safari. Terms such as ‘powerful’ and ‘stout’ are far more likely to be used to describe him than ‘sprightly’ or ‘elegant’.
Yet with one sprightly, elegant leap our host began to dance down the corridor. A twirling, tilting, agile dance, giving one the impression that our host was floating, only ever alighting to the ground to press one of those odd golden tiles. As each tile was depressed, a strange, mechanical clicking began from within the walls. I hazard to say that I was the only one of the party who noticed this, for the rest were far too distracted by the (admittedly very diverting) sight of his Lordship dancing.
As I looked round at the faces of the enraptured guests, I saw morbid fascination on the faces of the younger men, jealousy on the faces of the retired generals, and a look of strange desire on the faces of the women (and at least one of the men – not telling who!).
When his Lordship landed on the last of the tiles his dance concluded, and, after a brief delay, in keeping with any great performance, the house lights came up. Gaslights on the walls flared into life, illuminating the mysterious corridor and the bowing Lord with warm, soft light.
Arising from his bow, his Lordship produced a handkerchief and wiped his perspiring brow. Wordlessly (and somewhat breathlessly), he ushered us into the corridor. Naturally we obliged. He led us down the corridor, passing a number of golden doors similar to those in the first room, to a larger set of doors at the very end.
These doors he opened, to reveal a large, darkened hall with an immense black marble dining table in the middle, its places already set with all requisite cutlery. Before we could enter, our host gestured for us to wait. The moment he entered the room I would have sworn I could hear a clock begin ticking somewhere. Traversing the perimeter of the room, he stopped at each alternate candlestick mounted on the wall, twisting sections of them almost imperceptibly. Again, with each twist a mechanical click resonated from inside the walls. I noticed his Lordship walked with some considerable haste: I imagine some of you can guess why. Once this walk of the perimeter was finished his Lordship turned and reversed his journey, performing the same action, this time with the candlesticks he had previously ignored.
With a turn of the final candlestick the ticking stopped, and all the candlesticks burst into life, illuminating the sumptuously appointed dining hall. Our host bade us all sit at the table where cards showing our names had been set into the tines of gold forks which had been inventively twisted into placeholders. Once we were seated, he sat at the head of the table and informed us we were to be treated to a veritable banquet, prepared for us by one of the last French chefs to escape from Europe.
Now, dear reader: initially I had written a lengthy description of both the meal and the quality of the dinner-table conversation, however my editor has complained to me of late regarding the length of my articles. He is apparently unaware of the meaning of ‘feature piece’. Suffice to say, the food was exquisite, yet strangely nostalgic, making me long for the days of my youth, when it seemed as if all chefs were French. Food simply is not the same when cooked by an Englishman. The quality of the conversation, however, did not match the quality of the food. Oh, our host was entertaining enough, but sadly the other guests fell short. Once more, I was trapped next to and by the retired General. Through some twisted gymnastics of logic he had managed to equate fashion with treason, and implied that the mind of our host had been poisoned by the former, leading to the latter.
Finishing our meal, and allowing time for it to settle, our party moved on. Our host took us through innumerable rooms (or possibly they just seemed innumerable: the thrill of seeing the gymnastics of our host in half-darkness soon wore off). Each room, naturally, was immaculately decorated and furnished, and each contained a different entertainment. I fear the jokes of the Yankee comedian were lost on at least half of the audience, and the mime was embarrassing for us all (except the wife of our host, who honked and clapped like an ether-drunk circus seal all through his performance). Throughout these entertainments I found myself distracted, for the French chef had joined us, and the retired General had latched onto him, engaging in a series of depressingly offensive one-sided discussions (‘Jolly rotten luck about Europe old chap, who’d have thought that thing would’ve ignited the atmosphere like that? Trust the Boche to go and do something like that, of course we English had the sense not to go and test a device like that. Mind you if your lot had held out just a little longer...’ You can imagine the scene). The evening was becoming a reminder that we send people like the General off to war so that they may be blown up.
As nights are wont to do, this one began to grow short, and I found myself unusually tired. It may have been the wine: I was forced to drink both out of politeness (the staff were continually offering and I felt compelled to oblige) and to dull my senses to gain some relief from the attentions of the retired General. Our host, ever-perceptive, detected that the time was at hand to reinvigorate the festivities. ‘Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems the time has come for us to all return to our beds,’ He boomed ‘But first, if you would oblige me, come this way.’
He opened the great golden doors to the corridor, and gestured for us to gather round. We had all been trained to wait by this point, so this sudden reversal of policy rather threw those who were the worse for wear. After a couple of minutes of gesturing, and progressively louder, less polite instructions, we were all gathered round.
We peered into the same dark corridor we had seen a number of times now, but the grin on the face of our signalled that something different was in the offing. He gestured to a servant, who brought him a melon-fruit, about the size of the head of a man.
His Lordship threw the fruit into the hall using both hands. The melon bounced against the far wall, then fell to the floor. Momentarily we all looked from the fruit to each other, then back, with confusion. Our muttering was suddenly interrupted by a pronounced mechanical hissing and whirling. A flash of gold in the corridor, and suddenly the fruit was gone!
It took a moment for me to spot the droplets of juice running down the wall, and the thin slivers of orange fruit splattered on the walls, on the floor, and on the ceiling. One piece landed in a lady’s hat, and she wore it there for the remainder of the evening, much to my amusement. The party erupted in applause as soon as they realised what had happened. The retired General crowed about the 'Good British engineering, not like the queer stuff they keep dragging out of Berlin’. I had not the heart to tell him the engineer of the trap was a Norwegian (for I had recognized his handiwork). Now, dear reader, I am sure you finally comprehend what sort of party this was.
The practice of booby-trapping one’s home now being commonplace, as of late the Trap Party has been taking the upper-reaches of society by storm, and this, remarkably, was one of the best I have ever attended. The Trap Party combines the spectacle of a magic show with the excitement of a murder mystery, and gives the host an opportunity to show off their taste in traps.
I have, in the past, covered the work of famous trap designers, but never have I, nor anyone else, covered this new form of social occasion. Of course, the Trap Party is frowned upon by the government, due to the dangers inherent in ferrying the Great and the Good around a luxurious obstacle course of lethal traps. But then again I suppose the government would also frown at the consumption of champagne and caviar.
Once we had ceased oohing and aahing, and the servants had been provided with sufficient time to clean the corridor (we would not want anyone to slip on the slick tile now, would we?) we moved on. All of the rooms we had visited during the evening were revisited, and in each was a trap, triggered by our beaming host deploying his seemingly endless supply of exotic fruit. Some traps were peculiar, some spectacular, some just worryingly sadistic. Some were all three. The trap in the drawing room, where the mime had tortured us, comes to mind. The drawing room contained within its walls a hidden array of blowpipes that spat golden fountain pens at near-ballistic speeds. A trap that would serve as an excellent metaphor for my rapier wit and critical pen, I feel, though I do hope our host does not feel as if he has played the role of the melon-fruit upon reading this review.
The trap in the dining room actually produced a fairly passable dessert, slicing and dicing the melon-fruit then roasting it with flame jets before it hit the ground. I suggested to our host that he might incorporate some variety of thrown plate into the design, so that it might serve the food too. He replied that, given the intended target of the trap, it might seem somewhat ghoulish. A ghoulish drop in a veritable charnel-house of an ocean was my private thought, but I did not express my feeling: I thought it might seem rude.
By this point our party was moving in a slightly stunned silence from room to room. The funhouse atmosphere of the first few traps – ladies gossiping excitedly and men gruffly discussing the fine mechanisms employed –had dissipated as we reached the last few rooms. I am not certain whether we were simply tired, tired of traps, or if the ghoulish element had brought about our sombre mood. Our host remained boisterous –I dare say he had not stopped grinning from the moment he had sprung the first trap. His Lordship possessed the qualities of a young boy showing off his toy collection to a relative. At this point, to me he had taken on the aspect of a homicidal butcher showing his victims around his abattoir, pointing with glee at every rusty knife and barbed hook in his collection. I have no idea why I felt so maudlin. Possibly the drink. Drink tends to weaken my character, awakening an odd, sentimental streak inside me. On the previous time I had been so drunk, I stood a beggar a hot meal. I have no idea where that came from, I can tell you.
On the approach to the second to last room occurred the most singular coincidence I have ever experienced. From somewhere distant in the house, muffled by the thick walls, came a terrible boom, almost like a thunderclap, followed by an otherworldly scream. His Lordship, poised with melon-fruit in hand, dropped the fruit, and veritably dashed to the scene of the commotion. I, the intrepid truth-seeker, followed him. Only my concern that his Lordship might unthinkingly run into one of his own traps slowed my steps. Otherwise it is likely I would have outrun him. The origin of the thunderclap was the small entry-hall. As I approached, the electric reek of ozone and the acrid stench of burning fabric filled the air, stinging my nose and eyes. His Lordship stood at the doorway of the entry-hall, mouth agape and eyes agog. I soon saw why.
There, in the entry-hall, pinned into place by a multitude of golden spears projecting from the walls, was the most hideous creature I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. The creature was in the shape of a man: head, two arms, two legs, but excepting its shape was a totally feral, alien beast. Thin blue strands of St Elmo’s fire played across the surface of the creature, lending a supernatural glow to dry, grey flesh drawn tight over its bones. Blind, white eyes stared out from blackened sockets above a grinning mouth of dark gums and bone-white teeth, lips drawn back like those of the incinerated inhabitants of Pompeii. The manner in which the spears had pinned the creature had left it standing, one arm pinioned through the wrist, held up as if waving, its fingers thin, bony claws. Whatever clothes the creature had been wearing were reduced to smouldering rags.
The other guests began to appear. As each arrived they stood at the doorway, frozen and staring. Then burst into rapturous applause. ‘Oh, what luck!’ crowed one of the women. ‘Ra-ther, what are the odds of that happening at such a perfect time?’ said one of the men.
His Lordship took a bow. I wish you could have seen his face, dear reader. It is rare that one sees a man re-experience the simple joys of childhood, but that evening I saw on the face of his Lordship something of the first summer day he spent at the beach with his family.
Later, when the applause had died down, it was interesting to observe the guests. Some of the ladies took to conspicuously fanning themselves, explaining how frightened and upset they were to the more eligible men. A few curious souls inspected the deceased creature, though were soon discouraged from poking at it when their fingers received an electric shock that was audible from where I stood.
A contingent of tedious old military men gathered round the host, discussing at length how outraged they were at the creature and how dreadful the whole business was, and telling stories of their bravery, fighting off live specimens that had appeared in their homes in the middle of the night. ‘Bastards should stay in their own time, I say,’ said the retired General as he approached me. ‘If it is a fight they want they should tell us when in the bloody future they are from and we will have one ready for them. How long will it take them to learn there’s nothing for them here but a length of cold steel?’ While I agreed with the sentiment, I sighed somewhat at the phrasing of it. I myself had found the experience exhilarating. Seeing a trap used to combat a real threat assured me of the necessity of such traps, and blew away the cobwebs of sentimentality that had settled upon me earlier. I had seen the melon-fruit as a stand-in for a real human, and my imagination had produced disquieting images. The creature, though, had nothing human about it.
There was one thing I noticed though, after most of the guests had departed and I found myself in conversation with his Lordship. Small-talk really, congratulating him on both the wonderful party, the traps, and the miraculous appearance of the creature. That event alone had lent the universe’s seal of approval to the party. Surreptitiously I inspected my coat for electrical damage from the explosive entrance of the creature. I saw that, while some of the floor tiles were scorched, and some of the wallpaper had crispened near the bottom of the wall, my coat was fortunately unharmed. While doing this I had consciously tried to avoid looking too long at the beast. But those who work in fashion develop a reflex: to observe and evaluate all details the ensemble of a person at a glance. The spears of the trap retracted, the creature lay there, splayed on the ground. My eyes followed the creature’s form of from feet up to head, taking in every detail. Now my focus was away from the dreadful claws and the mouth stretched wide in pain, I noticed something about it.
The rags it was wearing hadn’t always been rags. The cut of its coat was familiar. Canadian, I believe. Military design. Cutting-edge. Tasteful.
Part of me admired the taste exhibited by the creature; part of me congratulated myself for predicting a coming trend. But I could take no joy in that small triumph, in fact I scarcely dared to breathe. A single detail, possibly unnoticeable to any but my keen eye, terrified me to my core:
Beneath the scorched surface, where the fabric of the creature’s costume flexed to reveal unburned layers beneath, I saw that it was dressed in seasonal black and gold.