I once heard a therapist-type person talking on the radio about reframing events from our past and observing them from a different perspective. He compared the process to sorting your wardrobe: what do you keep; what has significance; what do you treasure; and what can be re-arranged or chucked out. Maybe you can transform an old outfit into a new one with a bit of creative thinking. It’s an interesting metaphor. The items in our wardrobe often have a story to tell, reframing aside.
One of the most loved and enduringly chic garments in my wardrobe is a purple Agnes B woollen jacket. It must be 25 years old. While it’s a bit worn around the cuffs, I had it re-lined a few years ago in lilac which made it look new again. Then a few months ago, I took it to the Dry Cleaners, instructing them to be extra careful with the fabric buttons, which were already hanging by a thread. Needless to say, the buttons came off and were worn down to the metal making it impossible to re-attach them. After all these years maybe it was time to farewell my beloved jacket, I reflected sadly. It didn’t occur to me that I could replace the buttons until the girl at the cleaners piped up that the Brighton Button Shop, a treasure trove of buttons, wools and haberdashery, was just up the road.
I got talking to Jenny, the current and only seventh owner in the shop’s 102-year history. A former finance worker, she bought the shop on something of a whim when her daughter was a baby, announcing to her husband one night that she had bought a lot of buttons. Back then, according to Jenny, the place looked more like an op shop- dark and cluttered. Always passionate about all things craft, she transformed the shop.
Putting my jacket on what was once her daughter’s change table, she immediately came up with some elegant suggestions for replacement buttons. Loving the personalised service and hearing her story, I felt inclined to share mine.
I was given the jacket by an American boyfriend. I don’t recall whether he gave me the jacket before or after a weekend in Paris. But, thinking it over, it must have been prior.
I was in my late twenties, living in London and going out with an American working mostly in Paris. What could be more story book perfect? I was in love with the idea of being in love and spending a romantic weekend in ‘Gay Paree’.
Things started badly. He had arranged for another couple to join us for dinner – forget the loved-up hand-holding à deux thing – at the well-known restaurant La Coupole. No sooner had we eaten our first course – think cream, butter, more cream, seafood and cheese – than Mr Preppy from Pennsylvania had his wallet stolen. The evening passed in a tense blur of anger, balled fists and phone calls to American Express.
That night I woke up with an upset stomach and had to dash to the bathroom. On my way back to bed I fainted and Mr P laughed, supposedly at the drama of it. But by the morning he found nothing to laugh about and was in a black mood; I had ruined his sleep and he was suffering.
By lunchtime he was speechless with fatigue and fury. We sat across from each other in a cafe toying with our food with nothing to say and nowhere to look. Feeling waves of passive aggression coming across the table, I had a sudden urge to tip the salad over his groomed head and watch the oily dressing slide down his perfectly shaven face, smoothed to glossiness with some kind of expensive lotion. If only I could get the key to our hotel room, I could do the deed, run back to the room, grab my bag and take off. But the key was in his Calvin Klein suit pocket and so I bit back the anger, smiled and offered placatory phrases and gestures, inwardly muttering YOU BASTARD!
After an afternoon nap, Mr P seemed quite restored and excited at the prospect of visiting his designer friends Gavin and Guillaume, who were renovating the flat of a rich champagne heiress. Gavin, dressed like an English country lord in tweeds and a woollen tank top, opened the door to the vast apartment and kissed Mr P delightedly on both cheeks. I managed a tight smile as he introduced me to Guillaume who was flipping through a book of fabric samples. “Enchanté,” he said getting to his feet and shaking my hand before hugging Mr P to his silk-shirted breast. As we toured the flat in all its vulgar opulence and ostentation, it became painfully obvious that Gavin and Guillaume were much more enamoured of Mr P than I was of him, or he of me. This was not quite the Gay Paree I had been dreaming of.
But now, after all these years, I can laugh at the whole episode. What’s more, I still have a beautiful jacket.