Monday, August 24, 2015


I met Sandrine at Dublin Airport. She looked as glamourous as always with her signature Sassoon Bob, cut on a horizontal plane, that framed cheekbones you could shave Prosciutto from, and lips a super model would kill for. Her jet black hair was so geometric and slick, it caught the light like a bolt of silk. She is devastatingly stylish, devoting time and consideration to every ensemble. She sweeps in for a genuine air kiss, we haven’t seen each other since Paris Fashion Week 2013, so there was so much catching up to do , and Sandrine is taking refuge for a few days from the stress of planning her wedding to Flavio, a Brazilian Polo Player no less. So I stashed the fridge with bottles of Moet and as much girly food as I could find at Ardkeen stores. We were having a serious “slumber party, all giggle, with an odd bout of crying” weekend…and good preparation was essential.
We pick up the rent a car, which was admittedly a bit of a banger, and with all the panache of a bona fide Parisian, Sandrine drives like it’s a Mercedes and there’s no one else on the road, while chain smoking cheroots. ”I’ve managed to hide the fact that I smoke as he hates it” she tells me, and having viewed Flavio on her I-Phone I have to confess, I would probably hide my smoking habit; as well as dead bodies if it came to it.
As is often the case with good friends, there were moments of easy silences all the way home, punctuated with the classical sounds of lyric F.M. Traffic drifted by in a blur and the woolly grey sky confirmed that a slumber weekend was the perfect choice. My thoughts rambled and drifted , and I was mildly troubled by something, until I began to realise that Sandrine, who’s life, while not picture perfect (apart from Flavio ) still retained that great joie de vivre, and an incredible ability to find enjoyment in small pleasures, even amid personal disasters, of which she has had more than her share. I was truly happy for my lifelong friend, but came to the silent conclusion, that while once I had that same gusto and fighting spirit, my life had become like the car we were driving, mostly on cruise control and in need of a tune up.

Running a vintage clothing business both in the virtual and real world, has its challenges, and I meet them successfully, it’s who I am, it’s my lifestyle. I’m deliberate and focused, I have good intuition, I’m great at sales because I believe in every garment I buy; I have hand chosen them after all. But In the easily interchangeable lanes of 21st Century gender roles, where equality and liberation are a bright green traffic light, where the sexes have almost become homogenous, and where any entrepreneurial strong female can just get up and go, I couldn’t help but wonder, was I too driven?

And when it came to my inner world, and finding the time to luxuriate in the pleasures of my own femininity and style, was I at a serious red light? And did I in fact…need to change lanes? The Black Orhan of London two piece trouser suit I wore, with the vintage Bill Blass white silk blouse almost answered my quandary for me. It looked even more sombre when paired against the Chanel pomegranate and cashmere tweed knee length dress that Sandrine had maxed a credit card for and had teamed with black Ted&Muffy mid heel boots. Was it that the dark featured, angular lines, and straight silhouettes of my ensembles were somehow an unconscious bias on my part? Did I think that women who dressed in a more masculine style were somehow taken more seriously in business by their male counterparts?

This dual carriageway of thought led me to an afternoon just a few weeks prior where I had been rummaging around in a London warehouse and found the most wonderful garments, that somehow encapsulated all the glamour of the silent movie era, with the mystery and sensuality of Arabia. It was a breath-taking find, and my instant reaction to the shimmering fabrics and sequins was to immediately want to try them on, but I couldn’t there, and didn’t when I arrived home. Had serious business become the order of the day, so much so, that I was forgetting why I was in business? This brought me back to my clothing stash, so evocative of a time when designers knew how to dress a woman, not just to compliment her femininity but to enhance and make visible the beauty of her interior world. Grace and elegance are a woman’s territory, so I had to ask myself, how had I stumbled onto no mans- land? It was time for action, time to reclaim my inner goddess, time to change gears (and clothes) and accelerate back into the life that I had set about creating, It was in fact, time for The Return Of Agnes.

So 7 bottles of Moet later, two tins of House of Russia Caviar, and a three day indulgent sprawl, I am saying a sad but fond goodbye to Sandrine. She wears an Yves Saint Laurent cropped motor cycle jacket, and mid waisted skinny jeans, complete with fetish ankle boots, her jet black bob gleams, she is completely comfortable in whatever she wears, and always looks like a million dollars. It was a truly insightful and poignant weekend, and indeed moment, and I have to thank her, she listened, and rather than give advice, took action, and in a champagne infused delirium we assaulted my wardrobe; business black was banned, and there was a complete style reboot (I’m so looking forward to the wedding but that’s another blog), but most of all I have to thank Sandrine for restoring my confidence, as only a true friend can do. After returning from the airport via a bumpy bus, I sat for a while, feeling the emptiness of a house that for three days had been practically buzzing, assessed the bomb site that was my living room, had a few glasses of Moet and rang Roland my editor...a plan was forming.
“Darling” I say, gushing with enthusiasm.
“Agnes? Agnes? …it’s 3.00am”.
“Well yes Sweety, it’s late, but I desperately need to borrow your apartment.”
“Oh no, just this week, it’s for a photoshoot, please. Please, please, please, it’s for The Return of Agnes”
“For God’s sake, where are you? Returning from where? Are you Ok?”
“I’m fine, at home, a bit tipsy, will explain it all tomorrow Sweety.”
The line goes dead.

Three days later I’m sitting in Roland’s apartment, an Arabian Nights fantasy realm. It reflects perfectly how I feel inside. Opulent, colourful, exotic, confident, luscious. I have overhauled my wardrobe, changed my business attire permanently, given myself full permission to be who I am and make no apologies. I remember the great Yves Saint Laurent quote, thanks to Sandrine’s effortless partying style, “Over the years I have learned that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it.” And it’s a dual relationship, a woman and style. Not always easy, fraught with frequent mishaps, but when I reclaimed myself I was put back in charge, wearing my clothes, and revelling in them, not just acquiescing to the convenience of a functional wardrobe due to a very demanding business, that leaves so little time for me. I’m important, and Yves Saint Laurent tells me so.

So I bustle into one gorgeous gown after another, I deck myself out in vintage glamour. My friend Pat takes glorious shot after shot. Roland (who has since forgiven me) stands over ‘the set’ with an eagle eye. I feel that warm and unexpected flame that brought me to this industry to begin with…a passion for beautiful clothing. It all came together so easily. I felt like my old self again.

So it doesn’t take much to create positive change, just a little thought, a little time, and in my case a little vintage glamour and some Arabian magic. My life is now back in spontaneous flow, and it’s a prompt reminder that life really is a serious of choices, of “different lanes” each with their own destination, and that just like traffic, we can become stagnant, slow, frequently grinding to a frustrated halt and having to wait for “the lights.” But sometimes we have to strike a match to our imaginations and create our own illumination, and realise that no matter how tight the “traffic”…just like a tight fitting dress…there’s always room to manoeuvre.

Edited by Roland Thackaberry 


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