London Fashion Week doesn't officially begin until tomorrow, but to all intents and purposes this book launch is the kick off. After all, Sophie Dahl is the face of British fashion. For a brief period in the late 90s I shared a flat with Sophie in New York and 14 months ago she hosted a book party for me at Isola. Rather surprisingly--shock!--she hasn't asked me to return the favour.
Instead, our hostess for the evening is Barbara Kovacs, the Managing Director of Tiffany & Co. She's presiding over no less than three different events. There's a cocktail party at Tiffany's, a dinner somewhere in the bowels of the shop and, finally, a "dance" at Claridge's. It's tempting to divide the guests into A-list, B-list and C-list according to which event they've been invited to, but that's not strictly accurate. At least, I hope it's not because I haven't been asked to the dinner.
Truth be told, I'm relieved to be included in any of the festivities. Several weeks ago a gossip columnist on The Daily Mail called to ask if I'd received my invitation yet. I told him I didn't think they'd gone out but I was expecting one at any moment. The following day an item appeared in the 'Wicked Whispers' column: "Sophie Dahl is having a private book launch for her forthcoming adult fairytale, The Man With The Dancing Eyes. Omitted from the guest list is Toby Young, who put the then tubby Sophie up when she first went to New York."
The sole topic of conversation at the cocktail party is, "Who is the man with the dancing eyes?" Most people think it's Tim Jeffries, whom Sophie has been linked with in the past, and he dutifully shows up in one of his trademark Dimitri Major suits. However, I spot another man at the party who has a very mischievous air about him. He's approximately 6ft, extremely handsome and has a beautiful girl on each arm--a pair of accessories Frank Sinatra used to describe as "cufflinks". His most distinctive characteristic is a mop of dyed grey hair. Could this be the man with the dancing eyes? I ask several people to identify him, but no one can. I'm determined to find out who he is by the end of the week.
In between the two parties, I have dinner with my wife, Caroline, at George. Rather awkwardly, Elizabeth Hurley and Hugh Grant are seated at the next-door table. Liz and I used to be friends but we fell out in 1994 and she's never forgiven me. The previous week, she'd refused to attend a wedding unless I was struck off the guest list and the ensuing fracas had been reported in The Evening Standard. I'd been quoted as saying that the reason she didn't want me there was because she'd always fancied me and the feeling had never been reciprocated: "She just doesn't do it for me."
Not surprisingly, she and Hugh look daggers at me all evening. My wife says that if Hugh takes a swing at me and I hit the deck she'll file for divorce.
We arrive at Claridge's at 11.30pm and the party is completely jam-packed. In New York, it would be referred to as a "rat fuck". The big surprise is the presence of George Clooney who's apparently abandoned his own party at the Electric House to be here. Then again, it might not be him. It's hard to tell because Mariella Frostrup is clinging to him so closely it's impossible to see his face.
I bump into the beautiful Daisy Garnett and, in the hope of impressing her, offer to introduce her to the matinee idol. She's a profile writer for the Telegraph magazine and he would certainly make a good subject. I've never actually met him, but I know Mariella quite well and if I can just prize her free for a few seconds perhaps I can affect an introduction. "Yes please," says Daisy.
I make my way towards Mariella, waving frantically at her all the while. Has she spotted me? I don't think she has because just as I get there she does a 180-degree turn, throws her arms around Clooney's neck and starts nuzzling him like a 16-year-old schoolgirl.
I find myself looking him straight in the eye.
After what seems like several hours, I manage to muster up enough courage to tap Mariella on the shoulder.
"Er, hi there. How are you?"
Clooney gives me a quizzical look: Do you actually know her or are you some sort of stalker?
By this time Daisy is standing beside me, waiting to be introduced.
Mariella doesn't turn round.
"Er, Mariella? It's me, Toby. Toby Young."
A faint look of alarm appears in Clooney's eyes. Clearly, my companion and I are about to kidnap him and subject him to some awful, King of Comedy-style ordeal. His eyes dart leftwards, looking for his bodyguard.
"Er, well, er, nice to see you then, Mariella. Maybe I'll catch you later."
Daisy and I skulk off with our tails between our legs. I don't suppose the poor girl will ever talk to me again.
Friday, February 14th
Orlando Fraser's Fundraiser at Bush Hall
Several months ago I agreed to perform a 10-minute skit based on my book at a party Orlando Fraser and his friend Dan Lywood have organised to raise money for a charity he's involved with called Westside Housing. (Orlando is the barrister son of Lady Antonia Fraser.) Tonight is the night. Sophie is supposed to be introducing me, but at the last minute she calls to see if she can get out of it. She's with her new boyfriend, Dan Baker, and she wants to spend the remainder of Valentine's Day with him. I tell her there's no need to come if she really can't face it but in the end she shows up anyway. What a trooper.
The party is being held in an old snooker hall on the corner of my street and as I'm pacing around, waiting for my moment in the spotlight, two enormous black ladies approach and ask if I'd mind having my photograph taken with them. "Aha!" I think. "I may not be a big cheese in Mayfair, but in Shepherd's Bush I'm a local celebrity."
As we're posing for the picture, I turn to the woman on my right and say, "You know, I'm not really Harry Hill."
It's intended as a self-deprecating joke--the resemblance between me and the comedian is pretty faint--but her hand immediately flies to her mouth.
"Oh no," she shrieks. "How embarrassing."
She and her friend then collapse in fits of giggles.
It turns out they really have mistaken me for Harry Hill.
Saturday, February 15th
Xelibri Party at Old Billingsgate Market
This is the first really lavish event of London Fashion Week--and it's all in aid of a new range of mobile phones. Xelibri has converted the Old Billingsgate fish market into a giant rock venue and among the performers are Ms Dynamite, Christina Aguilera and Shirley Bassey. Speculation is rife about how much money it has cost, with estimates ranging from £1 - £3 million.
The organisers were nervous about the huge anti-war march that took place earlier today, but it doesn't seem to have affected attendance. Indeed, judging from the atmosphere at this event, the fashionistas are completely oblivious the looming threat of war in spite of their combat trousers. I try to engage several people in a discussion about the international crisis but I'm met with blank stares. The issue of whether goody bags are getting worse, on the other hand, produces passionate outbursts of extraordinary eloquence.
In the VIP area I spot Jay Kay, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Mark Owen. I'm quite impressed, not realising that these same three people will be at virtually every party I attend in the next few days.
I notice several girls wearing clothes that look as though they've been bought at jumble sales and I ask Julia Robson, the deputy fashion editor of The Daily Telegraph, what's going on. She patiently tries to explain the difference between "second hand" and "vintage". Apparently, even Top Shop has a "vintage" section now.
Debating Point No 1: Is "vintage" just a polite word for shameless recycling?
Sunday, February 16th
The main topic of conversation at the Frost/French show is, "Will Sadie show up?" In this morning's News of the Screws there's a story that begins: "Film star Jude Law met Nicole Kidman in secret this week as his devastated wife Sadie Frost was being treated for depression."
Eventually, she does appear, flanked by Kate Moss and Stella McCartney. To my untrained eye, they all seem to be sporting the same hairstyle. I'm amazed by how well behaved the assembled members of the fashion press are. Nobody asks her about her relationship with Jude even though it's the question on everyone's mind.
On the way out I'm handed a goody bag containing a David LaChapelle calendar. Exactly the same goody bags were given out at the Xilibri party last night. I can't believe it. We're only on day three of London Fashion Week and already the goody bags are being recycled. Or maybe the calendar now qualifies as "vintage".
Bay Garnett and Matthew Williamson Party at Liberty
Bay Garnett and Matthew Williamson have been specially commissioned by liberty to "dress" their contemporary fashion space and this is the official unveiling. In addition to being Williamson's Style Director, Bay is Daisy's sister--and another ex-flatmate of mine from New York. I tease her about selling-out--she always used to claim she was anti-fashion--but she refuses to rise to the bait. "Okay, so I'm a horrible hypocrite," she quips. "Quote me."
The first person I spot is fashion writer Plum Sykes. As we're exchanging pleasantries, a man comes bounding up and tries to kiss her: "Plum, darling, how are you?" She immediately recoils, leaving him frozen in mid air, puckered lips at the ready. "Do I know you?" she asks in her best Lady Bracknell manner. It's a devastatingly effective put down.
Suddenly, there he is again, the man with the dancing eyes. Like before, he has a girl on each arm, but they're two different girls. Could he be an example of the species that New York journalist Candace Bushnell has dubbed "the toxic bachelor"? As I watch, transfixed, he surveys the interior of Liberty, turns to the girl on his left and says, "It reminds me of one of those ghastly hotels in Chamonix." I decide that he's James Bond's evil twin.
Monday, February 17th
The Congestion Charge
Ken Livingstone has chosen to introduce the congestion charge in the middle of Fashion Week. This seems weirdly fitting, somehow. After all, what is the congestion charging zone if not a kind of giant VIP section? As I enter the zone for the first time, I half expect to see Fran Cutler standing in front of a velvet rope, clipboard at the ready. I can imagine a scene in which I'm leaning out of the window of my Skoda, trying to get her attention, while she waves through Jay Kay and his entourage in a convoy of Bentleys.
Little Black Dress Party at the Dorchester
I commit my first fashion faux pas at this event. Having dug around in a trunk in the attic, I'm sporting an old Pringle sweater that dates back to the early 90s. My hope is that I'll be able to pass it off as "vintage", but on the way in I bump into man-about-town Simon Mills and he soon puts me straight.
"You look like you've come straight from the golf course," he laughs.
"I thought the golfing look was 'in'," I protest.
He shakes his head sadly.
"You really haven't got a clue, have you?"
The celebrities are out in force because the event is intended to raise money for the Haven Trust, a breast cancer charity. (In New York, these events are referred to as "disease parties".) In the melee I spot Shakira Caine, Andy Wong, Annabel Neilson, Mike Rutherford, Ghislaine Maxwell and the Countess of Wessex. There's a catwalk show in which little black dresses created for the event by various designers are auctioned off. The models include Caroline Stanbury, Isabella Hervey and Lisa B, but the one who gets the biggest cheer is Susie Amy--Chardonnay from Footballers Wives.
As the show is happening I find myself sitting next to Penny Smith and Issy Van Randwyck. Penny seems very exercised by the models' posture and keeps up a running commentary as each waif appears on the catwalk: "Shoulders back! What is going on? Oh dear. You really do need to do more yoga, don't you?"
Alexander McQueen Party at Harvey Nichols
At the official opening of Alexander McQueen's new boutique at Harvey Nicks I bump into Philip Salon, the one-time front man of the Mud Club. He's wearing a Vivienne Westwood outfit circa 1983. This isn't an example of "vintage", so much as a stubborn refusal to ever change his look. "I've always worn 80s stuff," he tells me. Ironically, if the much-ballyhood 80s revival ever takes hold, Salon will find himself at the height of fashion. He's like a stopped clock that, for one second every twelve hours, tells exactly the right time.
I have to confess, I find the prospect of an 80s revival rather alarming. Isn't it a bit premature? We've only just had the 70s revival. After this, presumably, they'll be a 90s revival--and then what? Can you revive the season that's just passed? Perhaps the revival cycle is like car number plates and once you reach the end you go back to the beginning. But can an era be revived twice? And what would you be reviving, exactly, the original period or the ersatz version?
In a few years time, we may find a group of clever fashion students at St Martin's reviving the 80s revival of 2003. Once again, Philip Salon will be considered the last word in contemporary chic.
Debating Point No 2: Is the revival cycle eating it's young?
One trend I've noticed this week is glamorous mother-daughter combinations. At the McQeen party I'm pleased to see that Sarah Standing has brought along her teenage daughter, India. If only Alan Clarke were still alive. What a mouth-watering prospect they'd be.
Tuesday, February 18th
Yohji Yamamoto/Adidas Party at Sketch
I have a long-running dispute with my wife about whether to wear my shirts tucked in or out. As a man of 39, I've long favoured the jeans, shirt and blazer look--a style I've always associated with Hugh Grant. However, my wife only tolerates this provided I leave my shirts un-tucked. "If you tuck them in," she says, "you look like an Geography teacher at the school disco."
When I meet her tonight just outside Sketch for a party to celebrate the new partnership between Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas she's horrified to see that my shirt is tucked-in. But I have the perfect excuse. At the previous night's party, Alexander McQueen was wearing his shirt tucked-in, too. Far from being a symptom of creeping middle age, this is clearly the very latest thing. What does she have to say about that?
"You're too fat to tuck in," she replies, yanking my shirt out of my jeans.
I'd heard someone complain yesterday that the woman organising this party was so green, she was trying to stick Dave Bennett and Richard Young in the press pen. Bennett and Young are the two most senior paparazzi on the London party circuit and the thought that they might be confined in some sort of cordoned-off area with the rest of the photographers...why the very idea is absurd.
You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I actually see the two of them in the press pen on my way in.
"What's this all about, then?"
"Don't ask," says Richard, rolling his eyes. "It's embarrassing."
It turns out that a band called the Nerds are due to play and they're paranoid about having their pictures taken. In addition to playing their own music, the Nerds, who are also known as the Neptunes, produce all of Justin Timberlake's records and the rumour is that Justin's going to be joining them onstage.
In the event, the Nerds do play but Caroline and I can't be bothered to stick around for more than three songs.
"Where are you off to?" asks Toby Mott, the T-shirt designer.
"We're not going to hang around all night waiting for Justin to grace us with his presence," I harrumph.
Toby looks at me as if I'm about 100 years old.
"That's him on the stage in the No 38 shirt."
Wednesday, February 19th
Strange Episode in Starbucks on Oxford Street
I'm wolfing down an Iced Venti Latte, trying to prepare myself for the night ahead, when I find myself in the throws of some weird neurological episode. I experience a sudden headache at the base of my skull accompanied by cascading waves of nausea. What the fuck's going on? Within seconds, I've convinced myself that I've got a brain tumour and only have a few months to live. This isn't good for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that my wife is pregnant with our first child. Will I live long enough to see our darling little baby?
After about 15 minutes, the episode passes and I realise I'm just suffering from a condition known as FWF--Fashion Week Fatigue. Thank God it'll all be over by Sunday. If I had to go on to Milan I feel sure I'd stroke out.
Zoltar the Magnificent Party at Sketch
The celebrity quotient is quite high at this event because Zoltar the Magnificent is Dan Macmillan's clothing line. You can always tell when a celebrity has entered your airspace at one of these parties because the person you're talking to suddenly becomes all glassy-eyed and doesn't listen to a word you're saying. Interestingly, though, they never look over your shoulder. Among the fashionistas it's considered so "cheesey" to gawk at celebs that whenever one comes near they look anywhere but straight at them. Consequently, when someone like Dan Macmillan is standing right next to me the pretty young gossip columnist I'm talking to will stop rubbernecking for a second and look me in the eye for the first time that evening.
Then she'll go home with Dan Macmillan.
I spot India Standing, the teenage goddess, propping up the bar. I say how nice it was to see her with her mother at the Alexander McQeen party the other night. Has Sarah brought her to this event as well?
"I took my mother to that party," she says, barely able to suppress a sneer. Who is this dirty old man?
Thursday, February 20th
The Brits at Earl's Court
Officially, this is the last day of London Fashion Week and the big event of the evening is the Brits. I pop into Richard James on Savile Row to borrow a suit. After much humming and hawing I opt for a black wool number with a rainbow pin stripe.
Richard and his partner, Sean Dixon, are going to the Brits as well and I offer them a lift in the Skoda. In spite of the congestion charge, the traffic on the Cromwell Road is quite heavy and we start to panic. The invitation stipulates that anyone arriving after 5pm won't be admitted so when we're about half-a-mile away we decide to stick the car on a meter and run the rest of the way.
As we're going through the security gate, an official asks us if we're "VIP Ticket-holders". I nod curtly--of course we bloody well are--and we're ushered towards the "VIP Entrance". This turns out to be the B-list entrance, with the A-listers trooping through the "Artists' Entrance". The term "VIP", in this instance, refers to Very Unimportant People. What's with all this status-inflation? It's the equivalent of dividing condom sizes into "Large", "Huge" and "Jumbo".
Debating Point No 3: Has the era in which everyone is famous for 15 minutes been replaced by an era in which everyone is a VIP 24/7?
The Brits themselves are a huge disappointment. Whatever happened to the legendary bad behaviour associated with the event? Forget about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. It's like being at a matinee of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The explanation, apparently, is that the Brits are dry this year. The alcohol used to flow like water, but the music industry is in such a pitiful financial state that there's no free booze.
The only subversive moment is when Chris Martin peppers his acceptance speech with some anti-war remarks. "We're all going to die when George Bush has his way," he shouts. Chris's radical credentials are somewhat undermined by the fact that the gong in question is the MasterCard Award for Best British Album. Still, as the consort of Gwyneth Paltrow, he deserves to win the Guy Ritchie Award for Most Famous American Bird.
Expectant Fathers' Dinner at Nobu
By the time I get out of there it's 7.45pm. I've organised a dinner for six expectant fathers' at Nobo at 9pm and my plan is to drop my car off in Shepherd's Bush and come back into town in a cab. Unfortunately, I can't remember where I've left the bloody thing. At first, I think this is quite funny but after 45 minutes I begin to panic. What if I can't find it by 8.45pm? I'll just have to abandon it--which will mean being clamped tomorrow. Jesus H Christ. Where the hell is it?
At 8.55pm I find it. There's no time to dump it in Shepherd's Bush so I drive straight to Park Lane and stick it in the NCP car park opposite the Metropolitan Hotel. As I'm emerging from the car park, I decide to pop into the Luella Bartley party at the Met Bar for five minutes, but the Clipboard Nazi won't let me in. Damn and blast his eyes.
We're a man short at the expectant fathers' dinner because--surprise, surprise--his wife's gone into labour. Still, it doesn't matter because before long the empty place is filled by Luella Bartley. Her party's still in full swing but she's decided to take a break because she's four-and-a-half months pregnant herself. It turns out she's a friend of one of the expectant fathers.
BMG Records Party at Home House
By the time we leave Nobu, we've been joined by New York Post journalist Tom Sykes, Plum's little brother. I decide to leave the car in the NCP car park for the night--very sensible, under the circumstance--and we all head off to the BMG Records party. My name's supposed to be on the door, but there are six of us in total. How are we all going to get in? As a joke, I suggest that Tom try and pass himself off as Alex James, the bassist of Blur, even though he doesn't look anything like him.
"Okay," says Tom. "I'll give it a go."
There's a huge mob of people outside Home House, but Tom immediately forces his way to the front and tells the Clipboard Nazi that he's Alex James. He looks sceptical, but his colleague--clearly the more senior of the two--appears to "recognise" Tom and lifts the velvet rope. Within seconds, we've all been teleported into the club.
It's him, the man with the dancing eyes! He's sitting in a big leather chair in one of the upstairs rooms with a well-known supermodel on his lap. He looks slightly bored, as if being slobbered over by a supermodel is an everyday occurrence for an international man of mystery like himself. I can't help noticing that his shirt is tucked in.
"Who the hell is that guy?" I whisper to Tom.
"That's Tarka Cordell," he says matter-of-factly. "He's a record producer."
I grab Tom by the lapels.
"You know him?!? Tell me everything."
It emerges that Tarka is, indeed, a world-class toxic bachelor. He's been linked with a string of supermodels, including Kate Moss, whom he went out with briefly in 1997. For the past few years he's been breaking hearts in New York, but now he's moved on to pastures new.
I feel confident that we'll be hearing a great deal more from Mr Cordell very soon.
Sunday, February 23rd
Up until now, the number of A-list celebrity sightings has been pretty negligible, but that all changes tonight. Last year, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts decided to bring forward the date of its annual award ceremony in the hope that the Baftas would be seen as an indicator of what's likely to happen at the Oscars. It worked. Media interest in the Baftas has increased exponentially and, as a result, Oscar nominees are now happy to fly in to do a bit of glad-handing. Who knows, if they make a good acceptance speech it may even increase their chances of winning one of the big boys.
Getting into the Odeon Leicester Square proves quite hard as the whole area's been cordoned off and tens of thousands of people are lining the perimeter, craning their necks to see if they can spot anyone famous. In Hollywood, these people are known as "looky-loos" and are regarded as potential security risks by the celebrity class. No one actually wants to end up having a conversation with one of these lunatics--they might develop an obsessive crush. The rule is, "Keep smiling and keep moving."
My arrival coincides with that of Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep. Nicole is looking ravishing in a an Ungaro ivory satin gown, but for the some reason the "looky-loos" are more interested in the other star of The Hours. As the two of them are working their way down the press line, delivering their sound bites, the crowd starts chanting, "Mare--rill, Mare--rill, Mare--rill." She smiles, clearly delighted to be upstaging her younger co-star.
Just before the cameras start rolling, a man appears on the podium.
"Hi everyone. I'm Michael. I'd like to extend a particular welcome to those who've joined us from overseas this year."
Who is this guy? The Best Man?
He continues: "Mobile phones. I shouldn't need to say it folks, but..."
He's the "floor manager", apparently.
The actual ceremony is deadly dull. As one winner after another registers their objection to George Bush's war-mongering, I fantasise about making a politically incorrect acceptance speech: "I'd like to dedicate this award to the brave men and women of the British and American Armed Forces who are going to be risking their lives to liberate the people of Iraq."
That would bring the proceedings to a standstill.
There's a dinner afterwards at Grosvenor House but this occupies the same status as the official Oscar after-party at the Kodak Theatre. The movie stars do a "drive-by" before going on to where the real action is. In Los Angeles it's the Vanity Fair party, but at the Baftas it's the Miramax party at the Sanderson.
I'd gone to considerable lengths to get invited to this party and, on Friday, had finally hit the jackpot. I was told to ask for a woman called "Jo" at the door and she'd take care of me. However, on Saturday, one of the organisers had reached me on my cellphone to announce that they couldn't "accommodate" me after all. Her excuse was that so many Miramax films had been nominated for Baftas, they'd had to free up some space for the nominees and their families.
I debate whether to head over to the Sanderson and remonstrate with Jo anyway. In the end, I decide not to bother. I'd been to 13 parties in the past 11 days and the prospect of one more isn't all that alluring. In any case, my pregnant wife is waiting for me at home.