Remember, remember the fifth of November…
Billed as the “largest gathering of fashion creatives in the UK”, Fashion Aid was a glitzy and glamorous designer fund-raiser that took place at London’s Royal Albert Hall on November 5, 1985. Woodstock it weren’t. Coming almost four months after Bob Geldof and Midge Ure’s all-conquering Live Aid benefit concert, this style-focused spin-off was one of the many tangential charity projects immediately following Band Aid’s marathon multi-venue concert to help the relief effort in famine-plagued Ethiopia.
Over 5,000 people sashayed into the Kensington’s circular auditorium for an evening of spectacle and glamour featuring the combined talents of 35 hairdressers, 60 make-up artists, 120 dressers, 125 models and a host of celebrities from the entertainment world. But it was still too quiet for Saint Bob of the Boomtown Rats, who conceived the idea of Fashion Aid for Africa: ″I hate the Albert Hall. It’s too … dead. Stay up 3/8 Get hip 3/8″ he shouted to the capacity crowd. Quite.
Jasper Conran, then the 25-year old godfather to Geldof and Paula Yates’s daughter Fifi Trixibelle, led the charge of the tights brigade, corralling 18 of the world’s top fashion designers such as France’s Yves Saint Laurent, America’s Calvin Klein, Japan’s Issey Miyake and Italy’s Giorgio Armani. The British contingent included Anthony Price, Bruce Oldfield, Katharine Hamnett, Zandra Rhodes and David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who four years earlier has famously designed Princess Diana’s endless wedding dress.
The ‘superstars’ included Barbara Bach, Boy George, George Michael, Jerry Hall, Grace Jones, Madness, Michael Caine, Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox, Spandau Ballet’s Steve Norman, Barbara Bach, Tina Turner and Paul King, lead singer of the fairly horrific looking boot-boy oiks King, who had blatant designs on following Queen and Prince into their subject’s regal hearts. In supporting roles were Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, Anjelica Huston and the current Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the famous clothes horse Mrs Margaret Thatcher. No, I’m not quite sure why either. What they wanted was a princess with a designer dress on her back, not a pretend monarch who looked like she ran up her own. Minor royal Princess Michael of Kent did her best, despite the only label she knew being drip dry.
The lavish event was publicised by Lynne Franks, who several years later would become the basis for the Edina Monsoon character in Jennifer Saunders’ biting parody of the fashion and PR world, the legendary BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous. What perfect synergy for the fashion industry, a homegrown international cause that it could embrace, celebrate and add value to without looking exploitational.
Fashion Aid was a Paris match made in the glass-walled boardroom of an advertising agency, and why not? The red carpet gala displayed a passion for compassion at a time when charidee had hit the media sweet spot. Following Live Aid’s egalitarian template, each of the 18 designers was given around fifteen minutes for their catwalk presentation; along with about twenty other ‘volunteers’ (journalists, night club runners, DJs etc.).
The finale of the show, a fake wedding between a Bond girl and a gay Indian rock star, however implausible that sounds, was the undisputed highlight of the night. Posh English actress Jane Seymour sauntered out in a white lace wedding gown tied up with bows designed by the Emanuels. Accessorised with a flower crown made of daisies and lilies, Seymour sauntered down the runway and planted a theatrical kiss on the lips of Freddie Mercury, who at the time was officially closeted—even to his Queen bandmates. With that, their vows were sealed and Fred then took off down the catwalk with the massive bridal bouquet, throwing blossoms to the delighted crowd. Hell, It Was For A Good Cause, just like almost everything around that time.
Incidentally, the flamboyant frontman who once claimed (not entirely convincingly), “I dress to kill, but tastefully,” was dressed in the same Emanuel-designed Latin American-cum Russian Imperialist military dictator’s jacket that he’d unveiled at his 39th birthday party, a notoriously debauched drag ball in Munich exactly two months earlier. Elements of that infamous gathering is recreated in the new Bohemian Rhapsody biopic but as for this faux matrimonial moment? Well you’ll just have to go and see it won’t you? It’s jolly good flimsy fun, despite the barely veiled inference that gay isn’t good. Is this the real life?
Postscript: This is an excerpt from the official Fashion Aid film, as directed by 10cc’s Kevin Godley in his first solo endeavour, which “scared the living crap out of me,” he writes on his website. The complete film was featured in the marvellous Club To Catwalk exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert museum in 2013, opening just as their record-breaking David Bowie Is show was about to leave town. Beep beep!