In the bag
Kristen Stewart and Karl Lagerfeld rekindle their friendship to launch Chanel’s handbag, the gabrielle
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. telegraph.co.uk. 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