Try as I may, I am seldom able to help the Daily Mail in its restless search for the answers to questions such as “Why are men so bad at growing old?”, “How do you rate in the great two Jags class quiz?”, “So who says it’s fun to be 50?”, and “Could Julie Birchall be the worst mother in Britain?”
Each day another question, each day another shrug of the shoulders. So it was with excitement and a genuine sense of relief that I read the Mail’s front page strapline, “Join Femail’s campaign to save pashminas from the style snobs”.
Here at last was something I could do. For if there is one thing I despise it’s cruelty to animals and when a species is threatened with extinction at the hands of creatures as obviously unpleasant as style snobs, it is time to strap on my breastplate, reach for my rusty claymore and clatter into battle.
Nor was I daunted to discover that the pashmina was not a buck-toothed rodent but a blissfully tactile item of female clothing.
Show me a campaign and I’ll show you the kind of mad bravado that closed the wall up with our English dead. I am not to be put off simply because a cause changes shape even as the drums begin to roll.
But first some background. The August edition of Vogue has passed a death sentence on the pashmina, which has been charged, arraigned and found guilty of becoming too popular.
So this is a marketing story. Once a fashion accessory worn by the stylish few, the pashmina is now sold by the likes of M&S, Debenhams, and barrow boys, and that’s all it takes for Vogue to pronounce its demise and for the Mail to pose another of its questions, “So does mass marketing at lower prices mean pashminas are finished in fashion terms?”
Thanks are due here to Brenda Polan, the newspaper’s fashion writer, whose didacticism leaves no poser unanswered.
She tells us that the style decree is issued by the “leggy fashionistas” of Hanover Square, and adds the parenthetical, explanatory note, “site of Vogue House and its stable of glossy titles”. Also, “the mystique of the pashmina lies in its centuries-old history as one of the most valued artefacts of the Kashmiris, the hardy people who live on the high plateau of the foothills of the Himalayas”.
So, to put a question to the Mail for a change, how did a garment favoured for centuries by the leathery-faced womenfolk of the high plateau become the most sought-after fashion accessory of the leggy people who strut the foothills of Hanover Square?
Ms Polan knocks that back over the bowler’s head with disdainful ease. “The pashmina – the Kashmiri word for what we call cashmere – has sensuous and lustrous beauty… it’s the shawl most of us crave… it can be tucked into the front of a winter coat or worn as a flamboyant, swirling, featherlight evening wrap.”
Not surprising, then, that the fashionistas consider the pashmina, like sex, too good to be wasted on the lower orders. Even as I write, however, I feel my appetite for the fight diminishing. For Vogue has a point. When a fashion item, no matter how sensuous, lustrous, featherlight and history-encrusted, is stocked by the high street multiple retail chains it instantly loses its cachet.
There are times when marketing kills the things it loves, and nowhere is that truer than in the world of fashion. When all of British womanhood is swathed in the lustrous beauty of the Kashmiri word for cashmere, we shall all quickly become heartily sick of its flamboyant swirling and move on to the next craze.
So is the leggy junta snobbish, as the Mail asserts? The answer is yes, and thank heaven for that. Tony Blair’s exciting, new, classless Britain has reversed the natural order of things, with style seeping up from the bottom rather than filtering down from the top as it used to.
Today, things that are stylish are football, bad manners, brutish self-interest, swearing, Estuary English, drinking from the bottle, rubbishy music, junk literature, drugs, condoms, celebrities, and pashminas. And while the writers at Vogue no doubt enjoy all of those, the pashmina was their own discovery, brought to this country on their own long legs from the Hindu Kush, and intended solely for their own use.
How, as the Daily Mail might say, would you like it had you gone to all that trouble only to see sensuous luxury wrapped around the shoulders of every Tracey, Samantha, and Kylie from here to New Barnet?
When Vogue says a new fashion item is wonderful and should be worn by everyone, it means everyone of consequence, not everyone. People of consequence are those that appear in the fashion pages of the Daily Mail, not those who turn the pages.
So, much though it would be in the tradition of gallantry for which the Murrays are renowned to enlist in the ranks of those supporting the Mail’s “campaign for every woman’s right to keep wearing this modern classic”, it has to be said that no one is depriving every woman of that right and that, when it is exercised to the full, the pashmina will cease to be a modern classic. At times fashion is even crueller than blood sports.