Suzy Menkes tells AnOther about her earliest experiences in fashion...
"I think it was clear from age five that I was set for a career in fashion journalism. My mother still has the miniature newspaper I made then, featuring a fashion image, coloured by me, on page one. It took up most of the page! My first memory of clothes is my mother, who was very stylish, wearing an olive green three quarter length jacket and exactly matching suede slip-on shoes. Alas! The five year old rebel in me made me detest and refuse to wear green – for life. To this day there is not one single shade from grass to bottle green in my wardrobe.
From age 10, I made all my own clothes and I soon decided that I wanted a fur coat. So I took a bus to an abattoir, brought a black and white cow skin and made it into a cape with sleeves. Unfortunately my beastly school friends, not having any high fashion aesthetic, simply shouted ‘’moo’’ every time I wore it. But I persisted bravely – until the smell got me down. Is this why I don’t eat red meat?!
In 1963, at Cambridge aged 19, I fell in love with a pair of white Courreges boots. I wanted them so much, but we weren’t allowed out of the college except in certain hours and we all had to wear black cloaks. I climbed out of college in the dead of night, over the high wall, using my cape, twisted, as a ‘rope’ to swing down the other side. I took the 4.00am milk train to London, bought the boots, got the train back, unrolled my crumpled cape and made it for the 12.00 noon lecture. I wore those boots until they fell apart, hiding the marks with the white stuff that we used for our canvas tennis shoes and rubbing them with leather polish. Somewhere I have an image of me wearing the boots while riding my bike across the Cambridge ‘backs’, not so much to show off, but to parade my joy.
"It was clear from age five that I was set for a career in fashion journalism. My mother still has the miniature newspaper I made, featuring a fashion image, coloured by me, on page one"
All the clothes in the auction have meaning, but the Emilio Pucci palazzo pyjama suit is the most redolent with memories – my first visit to Florence, my first experience of a rush of blood to the head and HAVING to buy something, the party up on the hills of Fiesole under the Cyprus trees my friend Idanna Pucci took me to, and my attempt to speak Italian with all the gorgeous, decadent Dolce Vita young men. It was a lot for a little English girl with big dreams."
Suzy Menkes, with her wit, wisdom and unwavering pompadour, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on fashion. A clothes fanatic practically from birth, as a teenager she studied dressmaking at what has now become ESMOD, Paris’ foremost fashion school, during which a seat at Nina Ricci’s couture show confirmed that her interest was truly a passion. A degree at Cambridge followed – she became the first female editor of the university newspaper – then stints on the fashion desks of the London Evening Standard, the Times and the Independent, before she become style editor of the International Herald Tribune in 1988, a role she has held ever since.
Clear-eyed and considered in her analysis of the shows, Menkes is renowned for the fairness of her reviews, and her excellent relationships with designers the world over. She considers her work less as criticism, more as reportage and analysis, scouting the fashion landscape for new talent and ideas, nurturing those she discovers. And her vast network of fashionable friends and influences can best be demonstrated through her extraordinary wardrobe, a sublime selection of which has just gone to auction at Christie’s in London. Ranging from YSL tuxedos, a fur trimmed Bill Gibb coat and Hermès silk squares, to a 1966 psychedelic Pucci dress and a Chanel cushion, this is an archive not just of Menkes' vibrantly colourful life, but one that traces the nuances of fashion itself. In honour of this, here Menkes gives AnOther an insight into the early days of her adoration for the fashion milieu.
The online auction of Suzy Menkes' archive runs until July 22 on Christies.com. Click here to see the full collection.
Text by Tish Wrigley