An Invitation to the Waltz: Luella & Pamflet’s debutante salon

Oh what a night… Pamflet’s debutante salon was most certainly an affair to remember. It took place at DrinkShop&Do in King’s Cross, where the lovely Kristie and Coralie, ably assisted by Emily, allowed us to bring our Pamflet salon idea to life in their beautiful vintage-filled space.

After the guests had arrived, Phoebe opened proceedings with a little speech:

“The purpose of the salon is to bring together all the smart, stylish women we know and allow you to meet each other, share and swap skills and experiences…We all care about fashion, culture and literature and we want to elevate the debate about these things we love – which, too often are dismissed as trivial and superficial (fashion) or excluded from the canon for being ‘domestic’ (female fiction).

I think sometimes we fall victim to that thing called ‘imposter syndrome’ which this evening I am re-christening ‘debutante syndrome’. It’s that feeling of always being the new girl, not quite knowing where you fit in and hovering sheepishly on the fringes. It’s waiting to be exposed or caught out by a ‘proper’ grown-up saying ‘who do you think you are, pretending to have a real career and opinions and ideas, what nonsense!’ Of course debutantes were all looking to land a husband – someone who would support them and speak for them. Well I think everyone here definitely has their own voice and it’s about time we gave ourselves a little more credit.

You’re now part of the Pamflet club and I hope you get a lot out of it. By supporting each other we can achieve so much more. Let’s celebrate the fact that, not only shall we go to the ball, actually we’ve already arrived.”

We then welcomed Luella to the stage for a series of carefully chosen readings from her book, Luella’s Guide to English Style, each one revealing a little more about the life of a mythological young woman called Miss E… We heard about some choice British birds – Vita Sackville-West, Agatha Christie, the Queen, Princess Anne, Poly Styrene – before moving onto style tribes (post-punk) and stages 3 (recessionista) and 4 (proper job) of the definitive ‘7 Stages of Woman’ chapter and ‘A tale of two knickers’ or the great undie war: m&s vs AP from ‘Love, Sex & Tomboys’. Thoroughly entertained and inspired, we then settled down for a short q&a with the lovely lady herself.

In the Guide, which is replete with pop cultural references and saturated in social history, Luella effortlessly moves between the roles of memoirist and mentor. Fashion writing doesn’t get this good very often/ever, so we wondered why as a genre it’s not taken as seriously as other arts criticism – and who does Luella rate as a writer (we had to mention Linda Grant here, especially in the presence of Virago). Perhaps, Luella suggested, it’s because of the commercial pressures on fash magazine journalists and for good writing she recommended Murray Healy of Love magazine (whose editor Katie Grand was on hand to support her BFF).

When we opened up the discussion to the floor, one salonette wondered whether it’s a British girl thing to not dress for a man? Or do we dress for British men? L replied that when she was designing clothes, she never took this into consideration, ‘I think we let each other be quite odd.’ And so do we…

There’s practically a soundtrack to the Guide it’s so infused with the sounds of the author’s youth and of course there are those Bowie lyrics labelled on the back cover too (‘They’ll never clone ya’). L still loves music and it’s had a massive influence on her work, but confessed that her favourites will always be the bands she was listening to in her teens and twenties (although she namechecked Florence Welch as one individual dresser deserving of a nod from Miss E).

And she gave us one final word of advice before she departed into the London night: don’t criticise middle England too much! It’s special: we need the boredom and grey skies that characterise a provincial childhood to force us out into the world to create something/anything. So yes, Luella really is as cool as they always said she was.After the q&a we took a break for some cake&wine and reconvened to talk about Rosamond Lehmann’s seminal coming of age novel, Invitation to the Waltz, (originally published in 1932), the subject of the Pamflet salon book discussion – which we’ll be posting a proper blog about over the weekend.

There are so many people to thank, but let’s start with every single salonette who made the evening such a lively, entertaining success. Honourable mentions have to go to Cate from BitchBuzz for helping set up and keeping us calm, the DrinkShopDo team, Sophie McIvor and Victoria Pepe from Virago Books and the lovely people at rock ‘n’ roll florists Rebel Rebelfor arranging a beautiful (pink, natch) bouquet for Luella. Most importantly of all, we’d like to thank Luella herself for coming up from Cornwall and getting her London fix with Pamflet.

For salon #2 we want to get lots more people involved (you can see from the photographs above how intimate it was!) and we’ll be announcing more news next month.

a-m & p

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