DAYS OF SUN­SHINE & ROSES How the Bri­tish sum­mer Sea­son con­stantly changes while re­main­ing for­ever con­stant

Fash­ions may change and new en­thu­si­asms re­place time­less tra­di­tions, yet, from the roar of the crowd at As­cot to the free-spir­ited rev­els of Port Eliot, the Sea­son re­mains the very soul of the high-so­ci­ety sum­mer

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - Contents - By LY­DIA SLATER

On a warm May even­ing, cham­pagne coupes in hand, a glam­orously in­ter­na­tional group strolled along the paths skirt­ing the laven­der beds. Among them were the fash­ion de­sign­ers Clare Waight Keller, Er­dem Mo­rali­oglu and the im­pec­ca­bly groomed Rus­sian mag­nate Leon Max; a rock star, David Gil­mour, and his writer wife Polly Sam­son; Marc Quinn, the artist, and the ethe­real ac­tress Emilia Fox. They had all as­sem­bled in their even­ing fin­ery at Bazaar ’s in­vi­ta­tion to wan­der round a tiny patch of Provence that had (courtesy of L’Oc­c­i­tane, the French beauty brand) mirac­u­lously been as­sem­bled in the grounds of the home of the Chelsea Pen­sion­ers…

If the English have a global rep­u­ta­tion for ec­cen­tric­ity, it must be due, in part, to the Sea­son. In­vented in the 18th cen­tury by the shire-dwelling aris­toc­racy as a way of mar­ry­ing off daugh­ters and keep­ing wives amused while Par­lia­ment was in ses­sion, the Sea­son has al­ways been a tri­umph of hope over ex­pe­ri­ence. What other na­tion, faced with such un­pre­dictable weather, would ar­range its sum­mer around a suc­ces­sion of quirky out­door events, and in­sist on a rigid dress code in which to at­tend them?

What is per­haps still more sur­pris­ing is that, 250 years later, such English ec­cen­tric­ity is now ap­peal­ing to an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence – as Bazaar’s party last year at the Chelsea Flower Show proves. No longer is it the case that, in the words of My Fair Lady’s fa­mous As­cot Gavotte, ‘Ev’ry duke and earl and peer is here/Ev’ry­one who should be here is here’; for al­though As­cot is as pop­u­lar as ever, the dukes and earls and peers are no more im­por­tant nowa­days than, for in­stance, A-list ac­tors, so­cial-me­dia stars and oli­garchs. One might also ar­gue that the par­tic­i­pa­tion (and money) of the Qatari royal fam­ily is just as cru­cial to the suc­cess of the races as that of the Wind­sors… Mean­while, for the past three years, Gold­man Sachs, the Amer­i­can bank, has spon­sored the an­nual pav­il­ion at the Ser­pen­tine Gal­leries. Last year, its for­mer em­ployee Yana Peel, the el­e­gant Rus­sian-born phi­lan­thropist, took over as the gal­leries’ CEO. As a sign of things to come, its Sum­mer Party – per­haps the most ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated in­vi­ta­tion of the New Sea­son – was hosted by Salma Hayek and Tommy Hil­figer.

But it is not merely the guest lists that have changed beyond recog­ni­tion. The hal­lowed Sea­son it­self, once deemed to be­gin with the Chelsea Flower Show and end af­ter Good­wood (or Cowes, for those not grouse shoot­ing from Au­gust the 12th) has also been adapted to suit mod­ern tastes, vastly ex­pand­ing beyond the tra­di­tional sport­ing and hor­ti­cul­tural fix­tures.

The lit­er­ary-minded can have a sum­mer of in­spir­ing in­tel­lec­tual stim­u­la­tion with never a horse in sight: for them, the Sea­son be­gins with Charleston; con­tin­ues into the Hay Fes­ti­val – mem­o­rably de­scribed by Bill Clin­ton as ‘the Wood­stock of the mind’ – and cli­maxes with Port Eliot. Mu­sic-lovers are equally spoilt for choice, with the for­mal joys of opera and a pic­nic at Glyn­de­bourne (or Gars­ing­ton, or Grange Park), the bac­cha­na­lian rev­el­ries of Glas­ton­bury and Wilder­ness, and the tear-jerk­ing pa­tri­o­tism of the Proms; while for artis­tic types, the RA’s Sum­mer Ex­hi­bi­tion and the Ser­pen­tine party have now been joined by an­other un­miss­able fix­ture: the V&A’s Sum­mer Party, in­au­gu­rated last year. The rest of us may pick and choose as we will.

So­ci­ety is never static, new elites are for ever be­ing formed, and fresh rit­u­als ob­served. Yet what has re­mained con­stant is that through­out the 150 years of Bazaar’s his­tory, the mag­a­zine has been at the fore­front of smart so­ci­ety, in all its meta­mor­phoses. Just as leaf­ing through back is­sues al­lows one to fol­low the rise and fall of hem­lines and the wax­ing and wan­ing in­flu­ence of cer­tain de­sign­ers, so a sim­i­larly vivid pic­ture is drawn across the decades of the chang­ing man­ners and mores of the beau monde.

In our turn-of-the-cen­tury Amer­i­can edi­tions, for in­stance, an Edith Whar­ton world of com­pet­i­tive and nov­elty-ob­sessed high so­ci­ety comes vividly to life, peo­pled by Hearsts and Van­der­bilts, Rock­e­fellers, As­tors and Mel­lons; while the early Bri­tish is­sues fo­cus on the Bright Young Things: ‘Miss Nancy Mit­ford, of writ­ing fame’, along­side Sir Oswald Mosley, at Mark Ogilvie-Grant’s Blooms­bury soirée; the debu­tante ball run by Lady Charles Cavendish (bet­ter known as Fred As­taire’s sis­ter Adele), and the cou­turier Vic­tor Stiebel’s party – ‘against his white walls we all looked our best’. The chron­i­cler was Lady Si­bell Ly­gon, the sec­on­deldest daugh­ter of the Earl of Beauchamp, who iron­i­cally found her­self dropped from many guest lists af­ter 1931, when her fa­ther was de­nounced for his ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity by his brother-in-law the Duke of West­min­ster, and sub­se­quently di­vorced by his wife – a fam­ily tragedy later adapted by her friend Eve­lyn Waugh for the plot of Brideshead Re­vis­ited. (No won­der if there is oc­ca­sion­ally a wist­ful note to Lady Si­bell’s breath­less de­pic­tions, in her so­ci­ety col­umn, of events from sev­eral of which she might have been ex­cluded.) There is some­thing strangely grip­ping about these snip­pets of so­ci­ety gos­sip: in 1932, for in­stance, she noted that the chef Marcel Boulestin had pre­pared a gramo­phone record demon­strat­ing the per­fect method for cre­at­ing an omelette – ‘Cook­ing by gramo­phone opens up all sorts of pos­si­bil­i­ties… It’s guar­an­teed to liven up the stog­gi­est [sic] party’. In June 1933 she hailed ‘the most tiara-y first night at Covent Gar­den since be­fore the War’ and an­tic­i­pated the ‘tra­di­tional orgy’ of As­cot: ‘mil­lions of miles of frills, im­mense hats and tons of

as­pic’ – a de­scrip­tion that could equally ac­cu­rately ap­ply to today.

By 1939, Lady Si­bell had moved on: her wed­ding to Michael Row­ley, a pi­lot (later re­vealed to have been mar­ried al­ready), was duly recorded in the col­umn she had once writ­ten, though poignantly, her name had been mis­spelt. In any case, the ad­vent of World War II brought such fri­vol­i­ties to an abrupt end, and few could have an­tic­i­pated that the mag­a­zine’s hey­day as a high-so­ci­ety pub­li­ca­tion was still to come.

This took place in 1970, a re­sult of Bazaar’s merger with Queen mag­a­zine. Queen, which was even older than Bazaar, hav­ing been founded in 1861 by Sa­muel Bee­ton, hus­band of Mrs Bee­ton, the first do­mes­tic god­dess, had be­come the bible of the Chelsea Set dur­ing the Swing­ing Six­ties. In­deed, for a while, the pi­rate-ra­dio sta­tion Ra­dio Caro­line (named af­ter Queen’s pur­ported reader), was run from the ed­i­to­rial of­fices.

This new joint pub­li­ca­tion, now named Harpers & Queen, was noted for its so­ci­ety col­umn, Jen­nifer’s Diary, a litany of wed­dings, balls, lunches, race meet­ings and par­ties, writ­ten by the im­pec­ca­bly coiffed Betty Ken­ward un­til her re­tire­ment in 1991 at the age of 84. It was read by afi­ciona­dos al­most as a cryp­to­gram: if a host­ess was called ‘tire­less’, you knew the even­ing had been a frost, while the de­scrip­tion of a debu­tante as merely ‘pretty’ as op­posed to, say, ‘ex­quis­ite’, was ut­terly damn­ing to those in the know. Fa­mously, Ken­ward re­fused to re­fer to Lord Snowdon by name in her col­umn, since he was a mere pho­tog­ra­pher; in­stead, he was al­ways ‘Princess Mar­garet’s hus­band’. The Queen’s name, by con­trast, was sep­a­rated from other words on the page with a rev­er­en­tial semi-colon.

Mean­while, Ann Barr, Harpers & Queen’s fea­tures ed­i­tor, had a scar­let coif­fure and a pet par­rot, and was some­thing of a lat­ter-day Dorothy Parker in her acute pow­ers of ob­ser­va­tion and acer­bic wit. A no­table tal­ent-spotter, who launched the ca­reers of Craig Brown and Loyd Gross­man among many oth­ers, she was also re­spon­si­ble for the witty analy­ses of so­cial types that so of­ten mi­grated from the mag­a­zine’s pages to be­come na­tional talk­ing points, just as Nancy Mit­ford’s es­say on U and non-U for En­counter mag­a­zine had done in the 1950s.

The most fa­mous of Barr’s brain­chil­dren were the Sloane Rangers. The orig­i­nal ar­ti­cle was not even flagged on the cover of the Oc­to­ber 1975 edi­tion, yet, as its writer Peter York now says, ‘it went viral’. The term en­tered the ver­nac­u­lar, and the sub­se­quent The Of­fi­cial Sloane Ranger Hand­book, pub­lished by Harpers & Queen in 1982, sold more than a mil­lion copies.

Cer­tainly, the tim­ing was per­fect: Lady Diana Spencer, the ul­ti­mate Sloane, had be­come the new Princess of Wales; Brideshead Re­vis­ited had been drama­tised on ITV the pre­vi­ous year (the novel it­self, lest we for­get, in­spired by Bazaar’s for­mer so­cial di­arist) and both had sparked an en­thu­si­as­tic nos­tal­gia for tra­di­tional and as­pi­ra­tional English­ness. In­deed, while ex­plor­ing the mag­a­zine’s ar­chives, I was star­tled to come across cor­re­spon­dence be­tween the pub­lish­ers and the im­pre­sario Cameron Mack­in­tosh over a planned Sloane Ranger mu­si­cal.

New so­cial tribes con­tin­ued to emerge in these pages: in April 1976, York turned his eye, and his pen, upon the ‘May­fair Mer­ce­nar­ies’ – ruth­less blonde so­cial climbers; then there were the ‘Leathers’, who were perma-tanned rock-star types. A few years later, it was here that the ‘Foodie’ was born, en­com­pass­ing such sub-strata as the ‘Whole Food-ier Than Thou’ and the ‘Cof­fee Bore’, whose ob­ses­sion with ara­bica was iden­ti­fied as early as 1982, long be­fore today’s hip­ster baris­tas were even con­ceived. And when I first joined this mag­a­zine as fea­tures ed­i­tor in the late 1990s, we had no­ticed the rise of an­other elite: the ‘New Es­tab­lish­ment’ of right-think­ing left-wingers, led by Tony Blair. In 1998, I com­mis­sioned a young jour­nal­ist called Michael Gove to de­scribe them for these pages, while the fol­low­ing year, Ja­son Cow­ley (now the ed­i­tor of the New States­man) picked out for us the youth­ful power play­ers who were shak­ing up pol­i­tics. ‘Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the Trea­sury, David Miliband… may not be house­hold names,’ he wrote pre­sciently, ‘but they wield huge power.’

Even Jen­nifer’s Diary changed; and in 2004, it was re­placed al­to­gether with the more glam­orous Flash!, while the fol­low­ing year, the mag­a­zine re­verted to its orig­i­nal ti­tle of Harper’s Bazaar.

Today, the May­fair Mer­ce­nar­ies have ceded place to the Moscow equiv­a­lent, who can ac­tu­ally af­ford to live around Berke­ley Square; the em­bat­tled Sloane Rangers have lost their jobs in pub­lish­ing and mi­grated from SW3 to Clapham, while a new tribe of ‘Nou­veaux Peas­ants’, a faux-rus­tic so­cial set I de­scribed in Bazaar in 2013, has emerged, iden­ti­fi­able by their vast num­ber of off­spring and their Dayles­ford trugs heaped high with home-grown or­ganic veg.

And of course, where so­ci­ety changes, so do its plea­sures. Lit­tle won­der that where Bazaar ’s read­ers once wanted to find out about Queen Char­lotte’s Ball, Port Eliot now holds sway; that film stars rather than debu­tantes dance through our pages, and that Flash! is as likely to record the go­ings on at Glas­ton­bury as at Glyn­de­bourne.

Yet through­out all these evo­lu­tions and per­mu­ta­tions, the English Sea­son it­self con­tin­ues to bloom and to grow, glo­ri­ous and fleet­ing as a sum­mer rose, pressed and pre­served be­tween the cov­ers of this mag­a­zine.

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