In the bag

Kris­ten Ste­wart and Karl Lager­feld rekin­dle their friend­ship to launch Chanel’s hand­bag, the gabrielle

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Karl Lager­feld, Kris­ten Ste­wart, a new Chanel bag… The most glam­orous of photo shoots

A friend­ship be­tween a 26year-old Amer­i­can ac­tress and an 80-some­thing Ger­man fash­ion le­gend seems un­likely. but Kris­ten ste­wart has been part of the ex tended Chanel fam­ily for four years and thus is one of its cre­ative di­rec­tor Karl Lager­feld’s cho­sen few, along­side Cara delev­ingne and phar­rell wil­liams. ‘i’ve got­ten to know him,’ ste­wart told me. ‘As an out­sider i thought, “he’s a charac- ter, he’s a fash­ion de­signer, he’s prob­a­bly in­sanely pre­ten­tious.” but the guy ended up be­ing the to­tal op­po­site of that.’

their lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion is for Chanel’s new bag, the Gabrielle – the com­pany’s first big bag launch for three sea­sons. ‘the look of the range is in­spired by vir­tual-re­al­ity glasses,’ said Lager­feld. Mod­ern though it may be, the bag still boasts the la­bel’s trade­mark chain, quilt­ing and CC logo. ‘ the hand­bag has a strong look, so the peo­ple who rep­re­sent it have strong looks and per­son­al­i­ties,’ he ex­plained. the images from this shoot – with Lager­feld as pho­tog­ra­pher – to pub­li­cise the Gabrielle of­fer a tan­ta­lis­ing glimpse of muse and de­signer at work. ‘see­ing the sat­is­fac­tion on Karl’s face when every­thing comes to­gether is al­ways a high­light for me,’ said ste­wart. ‘he’s a vi­sion­ary.’

Iwas stand­ing in t he ent rance of St Mary’s Hos­pi­tal, Pad­ding ton, fid­dling coins into a pay­phone when Ju­lia Sa­muel walked into my life. Slim and dressed for busi­ness, she looked at the squab of a new­born I was clutch­ing, then squinted at me.

‘I know you,’ she said, and I nod­ded, vaguely recog nis­ing her too. An old f r iend of my hus­band, pos­si­bly. She peered closer. ‘You OK?’ I didn’t trust my­self to an­swer. In a room down the cor­ri­dor, my sis­ter was be­ing given an emer­gency trans­fu­sion by medics. It was a mea­sure of their panic that this scrap of life, my nephew, still greasy with blood and vernix, had been thrust in my arms in­stead of be­ing cleaned and stowed in an in­cu­ba­tor.

I was not OK. A night of fear and des­per­a­tion had cul­mi­nated in my phys­i­cally as­sault­ing an agency nurse, whose gross neg­li­gence had left my sis­ter un­con­scious in that room. It was my par­ents I was call­ing on the pay­phone – to tell them that she might not make it. ‘You’re in shock,’ Ju­lia said. ‘Let me help you.’ Ju­lia Sa­muel is a ma­ter­nity and pae­diat r ic coun­sel­lor a nd t he fou nder pat ron of Child Be­reave­ment UK. The work she does is im­por­tant, and now she has writ­ten an im­por­tant book. Grief

Works is a mix­ture of case stud­ies and prac­ti­cal ad­vice gleaned from 25 years of help­ing peo­ple. Not only does it cover ev­ery type of loss, from the so-called ‘ex­pected’ death of an el­derly par­ent to the ter­ri­ble aber­ra­tion of the death of a small child, but it ex­plores the vis­ceral hu­man re­sponses to th­ese cat­a­clysmic changes in our lives.

There is no more univer­sal sub­ject than death. At some point, ever y per­son born will have to deal with the pain, anger and be­wil­der­ment that are its in­evitable con­se­quences.

‘Death hap­pens,’ Ju­lia writes, ‘and grief hurts. It is a harsh truth that as a so­ci­ety we are pretty ill-equipped to re­spond to them.’

This was not al­ways the case. In the 15th cen­tury, for in­stance, death was a glo­ri­ous spec­ta­cle: the church was in­volved, and re­pen­tance was obli­ga­tor y. The like­li­hood of get­ting to heaven de­pended, in part, on the size of the crowd jol­ly­ing it up at your f uneral. For t he less pop­u­lar, ex­tras were dragged in to help. The Vic­to­ri­ans too were no slouches at the busi­ness of mor­tal­ity. Their poster girl was the Queen her­self, at­tend­ing her daugh­ters’ wed­dings in her widow’s weeds years after Al­bert had died. Grief was fash­ion­able, and in Re­gent Street alone there were four shops where you could buy the ac­cou­trements of mourn­ing. Black rib­bons on the door marked a death in the house, and if a Vic­to­rian doc­tor’s reper­toire of cures was, as yet, woe­fully lim­ited, they could at least sit with the dy­ing and see rel­a­tives through the or­deal.

Then came the First World War with its un­con­scionable body count – num­bers com­pounded by the Span­ish flu. Sol­diers could not be repa­tri­ated; fu­ner­als could not be held. Gone was the lux­ury of mourn­ing; gone too were the peo­ple to lis­ten. The piti­less carnage of war chal­lenged peo­ple’s faith, and doc­tors were hailed as the new gods. Once hos­pi­tals took over, dead bod­ies were wheeled from in­ten­sive care to cold stor­age to mor­tu­ary. Deat h be­came a f ur t ive, un­derg round t hing, and as the cul­ture and rit­u­als around mourn­ing van­ished, so too did the lan­guage of dy­ing.

The Sec­ond World War’s chil­dren g rew up sur­rounded by loss. Their mantra, handed down by the sur­vivors of the First World War, was for­get and move on. Least said, soon­est mended.

Ju­lia Sa­muel is a child of this last gen­er­a­tion. ‘We learn about the emo­tions sur­round­ing death by ob­ser v ing t he adult s a round us,’ she says. ‘Ever y a spect of our cla s s, re­lig ion, race a nd ed­u­cat ion inf lu­ences how we deal wit h what has be­come one of the 21 st cen­tury’ s last great taboos.’

To­day we meet in a dank, win­dow­less cham­ber in St Mary’s. Ju­lia sits in one chair; I am as­signed the other, next to the box of tis­sues. This is the hos­pi­tal’s ‘fam­ily room’. Cor­rec­tional-fa­cil­ity light­ing. Pic­ture­less walls. ‘I love this place,’ she says fiercely when I make a crack about the decor. ‘The peo­ple who work here save lives ev­ery day. They have the hearts and souls of giants.’

Ju­lia was born a Guin­ness, of the bank­ing and brew­ing dy­nasty. A clan, she says, good at hav­ing fun, but even bet­ter at the art of sub­ju­gat­ing pain. Ju­lia’s mother lost both her sib­lings and par­ents by the time she was 25. So too did Ju­lia’s fa­ther. Nei­ther knew how to deal with it. ‘At home it was an un­spo­ken sub­ject.’ Ju­lia be­came a ther­a­pist in her 30s, know­ing that what peo­ple weren’t say­ing was far more telling than what they were.

Ju­lia has been taught about grief by griev­ing peo­ple. Her skill isn’ t just as an em pa­thetic

Ju­lia was born a Guin­ness, of the bank­ing and brew­ing dy­nasty. A clan, she says, good at hav­ing fun, but even bet­ter at the art of sub­ju­gat­ing pain

lis­tener. It’ s the fear less un­rav­el­ling of this hugely com­plex and para­dox­i­cal emo­tion. If grief is the gor­gon that needs slay­ing, it is also a mis­un­der­stood beast that re­quires pa­tience and nur­tur­ing. This is the cen­tral mes­sage of her book. ‘Ah yes, of course…’ She leans for­ward. With her cropped blonde hair and del­i­cate frame, she’s elf-pretty, but any hint of slight­ness is il­lu­sory. A kick-boxer, and sur­pris­ingly potty-mouthed, she is a steely char­ac­ter with strong opin­ions and an ir­rev­er­ent sense of hu­mour. ‘… You haven’t read the book, have you?’ I um and ah and fid­dle with the record but­ton on my phone.

Just after I ar­ranged this in­ter­view, my mother died sud­denly. My beau­ti­ful, wise, rock of a mother. Eight weeks later, I’m hold­ing the agony of her loss in a place just out of reach. A place I can­not bring my­self to visit.

Though Ju­lia has long been my go-to per­son for all man­ner of emo­tional fall­out, right now, on the ta­ble be­tween us, her book, with its pleas­ing flo­ral cover, rep­re­sents some­thing fright­en­ing tome. Some­thing al­most ra­dioac­tive. I can’ t risk go­ing any­where near grief. En­ter that dev­as­tated, choked nether world and I will be un­able to breathe.

In­stead, I’ve taken refuge in sto­icism. That mar­vel­lous cor­ner­stone of our na­tional psy­che. And while I wish my cul­ture al­lowed for Carthagini­an wail­ing, or the bit­ter sweet fu­ner­ary jazz of New Or­leans, the Bri­tish Lip has its uses. After all, there can be only so much pro­mis­cu­ous spew­ing out of your feel­ings be­fore friends be­gin cross­ing the street to avoid you. ‘Brace up and keep go­ing’ was my own mother’s sur­vival­ist mantra, and it’s all I’ve ever known.

Ju­lia looks keenly at me. ‘Read the book,’ she says. ‘It will help you.’

I change the sub­ject. I’ve been un­der the steadi­ness of this gaze be­fore and it is an ir­re­sistible force.

The youngest of five chil­dren, Ju­lia grew up look­ing a lot and say­ing lit­tle. Ob­serv­ing is how she be­gan her own jour­ney of emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, and it re­mains her strength. She at­tributes her flu­ency at read­ing oth­ers to be­ing a twin. (Her brother is Hugo Guin­ness, the il­lus­tra­tor/artist, and Wes An­der­son’ s co-screen writer on The Grand Bu­dapest Ho­tel.)

‘Twins suck each other ’s thumbs,’ she says. ‘They grow, toes and noses pressed against each other. Close scru­tiny is a com­fort­able place for me.’

Es­sen­tially, her job is to in­tuit why peo­ple are hurt­ing and what’s hurt­ing them. She is fa­mously good at it. Talk to Ju­lia’s pa­tients and they will tell you she has a gift far greater than the sum of t rain­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence. She em­anates safety and trust. She gives the im­pres­sion of al­ready know­ing what’s break­ing your heart so you might as well stop re­sist­ing and let her help gather the scat­tered pieces. She sees wounded souls, fam­ily mem­bers whose lives have been im­printed by mur­der, sui­cide, nat­u­ral and acci- den­tal death. M end­ing some­thing frag­ile with­out dam­ag­ing it fur­ther is mas­ter crafts­man’ s work, yet she man­ages it time and time again.

Pre­dictably re­sis­tant top raise, she bris­tles when I men­tion her saintly rep­u­ta­tion.

‘I don’t be­lieve in al­tru­ism; there has to be pay­back.’ OK, so what’s in it for her? ‘I like con­nect­ing with peo­ple. The big­ger the band­width, the more sat­is­fy­ing the con­nec­tion.’ ‘Is that why you wrote the book?’ ‘I didn’t want to write this book.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘I didn’t think I had any­thing to say… I thought it had all been said by some­one else.’

The idea be­hind the ‘five stages of grief ’ was in­tro­duced by Swiss psy­chi­a­trist Elis­a­beth Küb le r-ross­inh er 1969 book On Death and

Dy­ing. Al­though the the­ory that th­ese stages are lin­ear or have a de­fined be­gin­ning and end has been de­bunked, it’s a neat sum­ma­tion that has been widely ac­cepted by t he pub­lic. Ju­lia has no quib­ble with the model; it’s the way we talk about life and death that she has long wanted to rev­o­lu­tionise.

Child Be­reave­ment UK – an or­gan­i­sa­tion set up to teach author­i­ties and pro­fes­sion­als how to sup­port fam­i­lies and re­build their lives after loss –does just that. Whether it’ s the Duke of Cam­bridge griev­ing the loss of his mother – who was an old friend of Ju­lia’s – or whether it’s one of her NHS pa­tients, feel­ings don’t change be­cause of back­ground. ‘It’s what you do with those feel­ings that’ s so cru­cial,’ Sa­muel says. She is pas­sion­ate about CBUK, schlep­ping all over the coun­try, largely to de­prived ar­eas, lec­tur­ing doc­tors, po­lice and teach­ers on how to com­mu­ni­cate with be­reaved fam­i­lies and griev­ing chil­dren. ‘A child cries and our in­stinct is to tell them not to,’ she says. ‘ Don’t feel bad. Don’t feel sad. It’s nat­u­ral to want to shield oth­ers from pain but it’s wrong. Chil­dren crave the truth. Their feel­ings must be

Just after I ar­ranged this in­ter­view, my mother died sud­denly. Eight weeks later, I’m hold­ing the agony of her loss in a place just out of reach

ac­knowl­edged. Be sad, we should say, but when they’re ready, let them hop off us. It’s nor­mal for a child to be over­come by miser y one minute then hap­pily play­ing foot­ball the next.’

With adults too, it’s not to do with for­get­ting, but about re­mem­ber­ing. ‘Lov­ing never stops. The par­ent­ing of a dead child never stops. A mother’s ad­vice might in­flu­ence her daugh­ter years after she died. Mem­o­ries are a way of keep­ing the per­son you’ve lost alive in you. Re­vis­it­ing them will trig­ger sad­ness but ev­ery one of them will bring her closer – but only if you let them,’ she says.

As she talks, I hold tight to the role of in­ter­viewer but I’m think­ing, re­ally? This is what I have to do? Go to the places my mother loved, touch the things she wore and read the let­ters she wrote? No, no, no. That is one long, dark, lonely tun­nel. I sim­ply do not have the courage to en­ter it.

But grief is not a tun­nel, ac­cord­ing to Ju­lia, it’s an on­go­ing life-al­ter­ing process.

‘It’s a tun­nel to me,’ I tell her, ‘and I want a by­pass, a short­cut. Give me a loop­hole.’ ‘There are no loop­holes.’ ‘There’s al­ways a loop­hole. What about if a par­ent dies and you couldn’t stand them?’

‘Dou­ble whammy,’ she says. ‘You end up griev­ing for the par­ent you had and for the one you dreamed of hav­ing.’

‘What about col­lec­tive mourn­ing, you know… where death be­comes “nor­malised”? War, famine, the plague?’

‘Well, there may be com­fort in univer­sal griev­ing. But it doesn’t hurt any less.’

‘Faith then. Surely that was what the after­life was in­vented for? To mit­i­gate death?’

Faith, she con­cedes, is a loop­hole of sorts. ‘If you’re con­vinced you’ll see that per­son again in the after­life, well, yes, faith can give you hope.’

But only if you’re a be­liever. The athe­ist’s view – mine – is bleaker.

There is real dan­ger in not griev­ing prop­erly and, for the NHS, an acute fis­cal im­per­a­tive. Stats on men­tal health are sober­ing. Ill­ness, bro­ken re­la­tion­ships, ad­dic­tion, self-harm. Griev­ing peo­ple do crazy things: sleep with in­ap­pro­pri­ate peo­ple, go MIA or on hel­ter-skel­ter ben­ders. Is Ju­lia judg­men­tal? She claims not to have a very high moral high ground. ‘My in­stinc­tive re­sponse is, oh my God, dis­as­ter, but I can see why you’re go­ing there.’

It seems there are lots of un­com­fort­able po­si­tions around death and dy­ing. Ev­ery­one comes to her with a dif­fer­ent be­lief sys­tem, a unique hodge-podge of cir­cum­stance. One-size coun­selling does not cure all, but the medicine she’s pre­scrib­ing comes out of the same bot­tle.

‘ You for­got your book.’ She plucks it off the ta­ble as I take my leave. ‘Oh, yeah… thanks.’ ‘Look ,’ she says ,‘ you can ar­mour your­self against the pain. You can get up, go to work, en­joy a boiled egg, but your ca­pac­ity to feel is fore­short­ened. Ar­mour will shrink your heart and ul­ti­mately im­prison you.’ She hands me the book. ‘JFDI.’ ‘Huh?’ ‘I learnt that from a po­lice­woman on a train­ing course I did for sup­port­ing fam­i­lies after mur­der. Just f—ing do it.’

The hate­ful tome sits un­opened on my bed­side ta­ble for a fur­ther two weeks. An­other rea­son for my dread is that it will con­firm every­thing I did wrong with my mother. Run­ning around like a crazed thing, try­ing to find out what was bro­ken in her in­stead of sit­ting and talk­ing to her. I love you so much. What are you fright­ened of? What are you proud­est of? What do you be­lieve in? And now I have a friend who’s dy­ing and I don’t know how to han­dle it. In the bit­ter mid­night hours, I lie awake. He’s fac­ing the ul­ti­mate ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis – fac­ing it with grace and courage – but I think of him con­fused, fright­ened, con­sciously un­der-med­i­cated so as not to lose his mind. Some­one he loves – me – is perched on his bed and, be­cause I don’t know how to get past my own sad­ness and fear, be­cause I have no map to that place where mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion is pos­si­ble, I’m mak­ing po­lite con­ver­sa­tion. Small talk. Imag­ine, just imag­ine how lonely for him.

Ev­ery week a pa­tient would ar­rive at Ju­lia’s pract ice, she says, up­set by f r iends or fam­ily. Whether be­reaved or dy­ing, they were al­ready vul­ner­a­ble and an­gry, then some­one would play down their loss, or say some­thing crass, out of fear, not cal­lous­ness – nev­er­the­less it was an in­sult to the depth of what they were feel­ing. What peo­ple who are hurt­ing want is ac­knowl­edge­ment.

I know how much you loved . I see your loss. So sim­ple, so easy to get wrong, and didn’t I know it.

The minute you’re scared by a per­son’s pain, you get para­noid. I’m not wanted , not needed . I’m go­ing to take my­self out of the equa­tion . Me, me, me…

‘Be brave,’ Ju­lia writes. ‘Peo­ple need peo­ple. Love heals loss. Be avail­able; be there. Say what you need to say.’ JFDI. I cried through much of Grief Works. Then I went to see my friend, perched on his bed and told him I loved him. A small, quiet mo­ment, from which I will draw com­fort for the rest of my life.

I’m still in the tun­nel, but at least I’m mak­ing my way through it with this book in hand. The jour­ney is long, it’s def­i­nitely lonely, but it helps to fol­low some­one who can see in the dark. Grief Works, by Ju­lia Sa­muel, is pub­lished by Pen­guin Life. To or­der your copy for £12.99 plus £1.99 p&p call 0844-871 1514 or visit books. tele­ Meet Me in the In-be­tween, by Bella Pollen, will be pub­lished by Man­tle in May

‘What if a par­ent dies and you couldn’t stand them? ’ ‘Dou­ble whammy,’ she says. ‘You grieve for the par­ent you had and the one you dreamed of hav­ing’

From top Ju­lia Sa­muel with her friend Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1994; and with the Duke of Cam­bridge, in 2009

From top Bella Pollen to­day; with her mother in 1974, in the Outer He­brides

Left The muse and the de­signer at work

Left Ste­wart lets off steam dur­ing the shoot

Right Pos­ing for the cam­era, Kris­ten Ste­wart says of Lager­feld, ‘he’s a vi­sion­ary’

Right ‘The hand­bag has a strong look, so the peo­ple who rep­re­sent it have strong looks and per­son­al­i­ties,’ says Karl Lager­feld

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