2 months ago

My Stylish Mother

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Mother was tall, just shy of six foot, well-educated and considered a “beauty”. So if you had to guess which skill gave Anne her entrée into journalism, I do not suppose that knitting would be high on the list. But we all start somewhere. Swearing that she was only happy when purling, she applied and was taken on at Vogue as assistant to the knitting pattern editor. On the way home from the interview she purchased First Steps to Stylish Knitting and, with three days to go before starting work, set about learning how to knit stylishly. It was not considered enough simply to answer enquiries or check a pattern. Readers sent in their duff woollies, complete with holes and missed stitches. Anne would then take home the sad bundles of wool offerings, unpick and reknit, before they were parcelled up and returned. (Hard to imagine Anna Wintour, even in her early days, surrounded by balls of wool in contrasting shades.)

Although fashions come and go, Anne did, as we all do, have her uniform. In the early days, suits played an essential part, a well-cut wool jacket and matching skirt, often worn with a pussycat-bow blouse. She was not afraid of colour – a plain navy suit might well be set off by a shocking pink blouse, and she loved a red coat. There was a kaftan moment (everyone had a kaftan moment), obviously only worn for the evening. They were embroidered and embellished with little mirrors and I loved them but, they were not her best fashion moment. Anne looked much more glamorous in long evening skirts. There was always a brooch on her lapel. Large fake pearls were a feature, and clip-on earrings – large pearls or gold discs.

She wrote: “I hate myself when I am not well groomed. When the colours are right and the fit and proportions good I can think better and work better and am altogether more agreeable.” Despite her long career looking at fashion, she did not have a bulging wardrobe. When she bought a new shirt an old one went out – she was not sentimental about hanging on to clothes, there was always a decent space between the hangers.

I can truly say that the only time I ever saw her blush was when Emilio Pucci telephoned. Apparently there was nothing Emilio couldn’t do. He spoke five languages, skied “like a dream”, had been an airline pilot, designed prints to die for, and that was all before calculating his title, the palazzo in Florence, or his Italian good looks into the equation. I think you could say Mother had a “crush”. The last time they met was in 1986, when Emilio came to London on a flying visit, and they spent an afternoon together, with Emilio apparently “talking his head off, until 7 o’clock”. Mother had a marvellous collection of silk Pucci shirts. What ever happened to them I wonder? Probably donated to the Chelsea Oxfam shop, when I took my eye off the ball for a weekend.

From: Hold The Front Page!, The Wit and Wisdom of Anne Scott-James, by her daughter Clare Hastings, Pimpernel Press, €19, published on March 31.

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