|Eric Newby 1919-2006|
I had no idea that renowned travel writer Eric Newby once worked in the British fashion business. Until recently, that is, when I was given for my birthday a copy of his Something Wholesale: My Life and Times in the Rag Trade, first published in 1962.
Newby worked in his parents' company, Lane and Newby, from the end of the war until 1954 - the years his entertaining memoir deals with - then went on to the couture house of Worth Pasquin. His eccentric father, a fanactical rower, occupies centre-stage, accompanied by a UK-wide cast of iron-willed lady buyers. The latter have no interest in fashion in its modern sense. What their ladies want is what they've always been able to buy, and no fancy innovations.
This intelligent writer and intrepid traveller surveys dress - fashionable or otherwise - without condescension or apology. In an epilogue, he describes revisiting the Paris shows more than 20 years on, in 1985: "partly inspired by nostalgia, partly by a genuine enthusiasm for fashion, which in spite of the very different way of life I have pursued since abandoning it, has never been extinguished from my, I hope, still fairly manly bosom."
"With uncountable thousands dying the in Third World," he writes, "with millions unemployed in Europe, should such extravagances be permitted?
But it is not only an industry, it is an art from and one that employs thousands, many of them women. ... The workers are not rich, but if by some mad decree they were dispersed, their skills would nvanish from the face of the earth."