I was having a nice quiet Sunday, browsing around on the interwebs, listening to a fascinating programme on Radio Four about how the Celtic Tiger got caught by the tail, eating cold sausages, and thinking gentle thoughts about autumn, when I stumbled upon the name Rachel Zoe in Miss Whistle's blog. I felt rather like one of those old crusty judges from the 1960s: 'Who ARE these "Beatles"?' (Answer, always: 'A popular beat combo, m'lud.') Luckily, the enduringly considerate Miss Whistle, who is much more well-informed but just as baffled as I, had put a link to a New York Times article about the lady.
As I read it, I had a vague sense of memory. I had read about this person before. I remember thinking that her story was so dull and marginal that it never encroached beyond the edges of my consciousness. There is only room for so much in one brain. The great, drunk, talented John Barrymore would never learn his lines when he went to Hollywood to make films after a long careeer on Broadway; hapless underlings would have to contort themselves with idiot boards. David Niven once asked him why he did not just memorise the damn things, and Barrymore said something like - 'My mind is filled with beauty, the Queen Mab speech, Hamlet's soliloquies, why would I want to fill it with this garbage?'. My mind is not quite as crammed with beauty as Barrymore's was, but it has enough beauty in it for me to give up reading Tatler. I admit to occasional unseemly interest in the odd famous person (for some reason, I am riveted by the opera that is Brangelina) but a story about a stylist has me turning the page.
When I first read about Rachel Zoe she was just blasting into the public square, for a very sad reason. She got thin famous people, and made them thinner, and then told them what to wear. From my lofty perch on the moral high ground, I thought this a poor thing. There is a fabulous running sketch in the current series of The Mitchell and Webb Show, one of the funniest comedy programmes on the BBC (go to the iplayer and listen for yourself) where they have a panel of old ladies asking people to explain what their job is for. This week the old dears got in a futures trader. 'How does it help, dear?' they asked. 'Wouldn't you rather open a little shop?' I felt rather the same about Rachel Zoe. How does it help, exactly? But now she is not just a liminal figure familiar only to those in the know, she has a television show and the kids love her.
Reading the piece in the New York Times, my mouth actually fell open like that of a cartoon character. I felt even more antiquated and out of touch than those old Beatles judges. The money quote: '“It’s such a racket,” said one head of publicity at a major studio, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of angering any actresses who work with Zoe or other top stylists. “During awards season, when you are nominated or presenting an award, then it makes sense to have a stylist. But now, B and C list stars are demanding stylists for everything. The level of insanity is very high. But the bottom line is, if you don’t give them what they want, the actresses say they won’t do any press, that they won’t appear at the premiere. Sometimes I feel like saying, How difficult is it to just go out and buy a dress?”'.
When a publicist at a movie studio, where reality is a faintly elastic concept, says 'the level of insanity is very high', you know that madness has run off the scale. I have been thinking of September 11th over the last few days, as have so many people. I did not write about it here, because it is almost impossible to give it words without sounding portentous or sentimental or filled with platitude. Before that, I was thinking about the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. I was thinking a lot about the Poles. No one can think about the big things all the time, not even me. Even I, with my irredeemably poncy sense of being a femme serieuse, have to wonder occasionally whether all the stories about Jennifer Anniston are true. But when a woman who makes nothing, says nothing of interest, writes nothing, produces nothing, gets paid $6000 dollars a day for dressing very thin people, I start to think that something might have gone a little awry.