In 1998, I was looking for a Christmas gift for my father, when, sometimes that happens, I ran out of ideas and, coincidentally and quite by chance, Hermès had just launched their Rocabar men’s cologne, a very elegant fragrance that seemed perfect for my father. All problems solved. I bought the entire range. My father was delighted and smelled fine for weeks and months.
Today, however, when looking for a new piece of soap at my parents’ place, I found one of these gifts still untouched: the matching soap, stuffed in a drawer, next to various cosmetic items like tooth brushes, dental floss, lotion tonique aux plantes, toothpaste (white, extra white, and diamond white), shampoo (dandruff, extra volume, extra body, and some arctic prunes elixir), and other little helpers that we can’t live without, it has been waiting for the last 21 years to be finally taken out of the box and into the shower. I guess, some things just seem to need the right moment…
Some years ago, I ordered a pair of jeans on an haute couture house’s website: the fancy house of Balmain with its must-have-biker-jeans had caught my attention, and due to my disposition as a wannabe fashion victim, I was easily sold. I first wore them at the premiere of Borodin’s opera Prince Igor at Hamburg’s Staatsoper, with a matching dinner jacket—matching, because it was also designed by Olivier Rousteing (although I had ordered that one at Mr Porter). Anyway, when you order a pair of trousers online you can never be quite sure if they fit at all, and my 32-inches-waistline wasn’t met at all by Balmain’s idea of 32 inches, not in the very least, as a matter of fact, this pair of jeans almost dropped when I wore them that night. During intermission, I was forced to stand still at the bar, my facial expression frozen with fear they might turn me into an exhibitionist, and I really hate causing any kind of commotion. So, after their first night out, this pair of jeans was put into my wardrobe and since then, it has spent some years in the closet like any other misfit. This year, however, I kind of ran out of trousers as I had put on a little weight. And so, after all this time, I tried them on once again, still expecting a loose fit, of course, just not one loose enough to put me in distress—but that’s just what they did! They almost cut off my circulation! Obviously, I had put on much more weight than I ever expected. Horrid sensation! What a humiliation! The morale of the story? Beware of Balmain.
I did the impossible, I finished Proust! I finished! I finished Marcel Proust! I am so proud of myself!
Well, as you might have found out by now, I didn’t finish À la recherche du temps perdu, no, of course not, I’m still trapped in one of those extended Guermantes reflections of his, I only finished Jean Santeuil, one might call it Proust for beginners, it should set them at ease as Proust himself didn’t finish that one either, writing, I mean, not just reading it. So, obviously he was a quitter, too. Ha! But I don’t give up that easily, and from now on, I’ll start wearing this Étrivière Double Tour by Hermès to remind me of my literary shortcomings. If ever I succeed in finishing Proust’s masterpiece, all volumes, all of them, all of these three thousand pages, I shall take it off again. Until then, it’s going to serve as a scarlet letter for everybody to see what a quitter I am — damn, I have to finish Hawthorne, too. Damn!
Last night, I was watching Jean Gabin going through another man’s wardrobe, he was playing Maigret of course, so the indiscretion was work related, it was done in fine style, with the utmost calm, actually, everything Jean Gabin does is so wonderfully calm, so composed and tranquil, as if his entire being was a neverending stream of contemplation, and while he was inspecting the clothes of one of his suspects, Jean Desailly’s, as of course I was watching Maigret tend un piège from 1958, he uncovered the label of one of the suits, some fine tailoring by – no, not by Prada or Brioni or Zegna, but by Bernheim & Fils – a tailor whose shop was on rue de la Boétie. This scene struck me, but why? The wardrobe belonged to some Parisian interior architect, these were the 1950s, our times’ fashion victims weren’t even born yet, of course this man had his suits tailor made. Suddenly, I felt very poor, poor in style, my suits are all mass produced bullshit, however prestigious the labels, and while I continued watching Maigret meddling in this guy’s life, I felt like putting on my white Charvet shirt, the only thing in my wardrobe that might have a chance to find a fellow counterpart in that fine French murderer’s wardrobe.
One day, strolling through Hamburg’s Neuer Wall, I came, quite by chance, across some deep sea fish. Despite their vivid colours they seemed to be smothering, their mouths gasped for air, their eyes were wide open in fear of death, a very realistic illustration of the stress put on fish by, well, fishing. Now, Hamburg is known for its Fischmarkt, you can find almost anything in the shadow of the 100-year old fish auction hall, but I wasn’t expecting anything like it on display in the Hermès windows on Neuer Wall, obviously, I had come across some fine ichthyology, quite haut de gamme. I was hooked, quite literally, I was reeled in, so to say, and was set free again some minutes later, a little poorer, but with Grands Fonds in its orange box, I was quite at ease, not only had I a new scarf in splendid colours, but also had I learned that there’s a lot to see in the deep blue sea, and that the depicted fish were all still very much alive.
There are selfies, and there are handies. This is a handie. Handies are even more obnoxiously vain than selfies, that’s the whole and awful truth. I posted this handie a couple of times on Instagram, using a variety of filters, trying to make my hand look irresistable, it does look quite young, considering it’s 47 years old, doesn’t it? See, fishing for compliments again. The tan is totally fake, by the way. It’s just the filter. And these rings, what a joke, I never wore them. Not once. The one on my little finger is by Tiffany & Co., I bought it at Tiffany’s in Hamburg and after discussing it at large the same day at dinner over some yummy tartes flambées at Jimmy Elsass, an Alsatian restaurant in Hamburg, with my friend Nina – the tarte with goat cheese, honey, rocket and rosemary is the best, by the way, it’s called Grüne Ziege, green goat –, I totally lost interest in it, even after ordering the other one by Maison Martin Margiela at Mr Porter’s some time later in Zurich, just like you are always to buy two guinea pigs so that they don’t feel lonely, it didn’t change, I considered them a stylish pair, but not for me, and never ever wore them. Classic tragedy. Heroes, doomed from the start. So, judge for yourself, does the photo tell that story? No, of course not, handies are all fake, even faker than selfies, they’re the fakest on Instagram, undoubtedly, believe you me.
I came across this selfie when I was looking for photos of Marie Antoinette’s tomb in Paris, and as I found that I have equally important things to say about this outfit of mine, I shall postpone my article about Marie Antoinette’s last resort. So, instead of learning that Proust lived quite nearby, on the opposite side of the street actually, you learn about what I wore the day I went to see the tomb of France’s notorious queen. I actually never take selfies, but on this day, in the restroom of a bistrot next to Galerie Maeght and Deyrolle in St.Germain, I had to (although, is it a selfie if you leave your head out? Well, I had just visited the tomb of Marie Antoinette and let’s not forget she was beheaded, too), as I was wearing my favourite jacket, I’ve been wearing it day in, day out ever since the day I bought it at Hamburg’s Jil Sander flagship store, it’s from an autumn/winter collection when Raf Simons was still in charge. It’s been in the washing machine dozens of times, its zipper is mostly out of order, and if it works it gets stuck in the tiny pleat that frames the zipper, nice detail, nicely sewn, but not very intelligently placed, its only fault actually, but I wonder if Madame Bertin would have lost her head sooner than Marie Antoinette if she had ever confronted Sa Majesté with such thoughtlessness in tailoring, anyway, then there’s my favourite pair of jeans ever, the only one that I will really miss, from that frightful day on when they dissolve into thin air, Ralph Lauren will be invited to attend its funeral, and one of my many black crew neck cashmere pullovers, a cheap one, no logo, but their quality is actually the same, a white shirt, you only see its cuffs, I think it’s from Charvet, and my beloved Hermès scarf, 140 x 140 cm, silk and cotton, imprimeur fou, Les Clefs and some other iconic design printed on top of it (or the other way round). That’s it. Basic me. Tomorrow, I might wear the very same, so you won’t have any difficulties recognizing me in the streets.
Numbers on a watch are easily deciphered, there are only twelve, their design, however, well, not so much. I am most particular about design when it comes to numerals, there are only a few I can tolerate, Roman ones are the worst, only the ones on Cartier’s Tank are really nice, but ever so ugly on a Rolex, I am so very grateful for Arabic numbers, God save Arabia, the Romans are mad anyway, so says Obelix and he is to be trusted, anyway, I do remember very well the day when Max Bill set my mind at ease. His 4, well, this one is almost agony, so let me rephrase that: his four is one of the most beautiful fours I have ever seen, the whole design is so Bauhaus-like, somewhat “midcentury Art Déco”-ish, yet so timeless, plain and simple, yet highly individual, sans chi-chi but with much understatement, and so, some many years ago, when in Cologne to pick up my father at his office, by the way, that famous cathedral, the Kölner Dom, doesn’t cease to amaze me, breathtaking architecture, anyway, that day, I didn’t hesitate at all but had my mother buy me (I’m spoiled rotten, I know) this watch at once.
One day, I bought this thing. Raf Simons for Jil Sander. I loved it. I was the only one though. Aha, my mother said. It looks like you were wearing a tie, a colleague said. Adding, but why would you wear a tie? Nobody said, well, that’s a smart vest. Nobody. I wore it anyway. No, it’s still no tie, I said. People never learn from their mistakes. Anyway, here’s the thing: For one summer, I stopped eating carbs altogether. You’re familiar with the concept, I guess. I had lost so much weight that this vest, once quite près du corps, just hung on me, just like Monica Geller’s high school outfits did on her, the wind would play with it, a shapeless mass of cotton, the non-existent tie always staying in place of course, mocking me, the Duchess of Windsor was wrong, you can never be too rich, alright, but you definitely can be too thin, I suddenly looked like I shopped for clothes in gift shops, at the tie museum gift shop maybe, I never wore it again. The moral of the story? Don’t ever lose weight.
Something has changed. You don’t get a sunburn when you sip your lemonade in the garden at noon without any sunscreen, you don’t even get a tan any longer, the ice cubes in your lemonade aren’t killed by the sun either, and later in the day, at dinner, when you can rarely see what’s on your plate, it’s not your eyesight that has gone, it’s the sunlight, vanished, at half past eight, of course nobody thought of candles, who thinks of candles in summer (apart from Diptyque’s scented Figuier candles to make up for the missing fig trees in your garden that smell so much like summer in the Mediterranean), so you manage without, facing the fact that summer is gone, autumn is ante portas, you can’t ignore it any longer, you have had proof, the garden’s been full of spider webs, for days (or weeks?), the roses are moribund, their petals have turned from shocking pink to some sort of beige, from Schiaparelli to Chanel so to speak, the hydrangeas have changed from a bright white to a mossy green, leaves have started to come down, so did the ripe walnuts, they’re falling on your head or in your tea, sometimes you hear some squirrels laugh about that, mocking you and your inappropriate need to have breakfast outside, however cold and grey the morning is, your coughing might turn into pneumonia, if you don’t start to wear a pullover, no white after Labour Day, they say, what utter nonsense, your t-shirt’s blue, a dark, intense blue, quite to the black side, not navy, more a Chanel blue, a bleu Chanel, definitely not white, do you hear me, it’s not white at all, why can’t I wear a blue t-shirt after Labour Day?