I WAS A TEENAGE FASHION VICTIM!
Fashion Can Be Fatal is the first – and only – non-fiction book I’ve written. The lovely, witty and very kind Robyn Annear is a fellow Castlemaine resident and author of the award-winning Bearbrass (about early Mebourne), Nothing But Gold, The Man Who Lost Himself, A City Lost and Found, and children’s non-fiction book Fly a Rebel Flag. (Robyn’s website is at robynannear.com). I was talking slightly self-pityingly to her one day about the big gap in my publishing record – five or so years since my last book – when she suggested I approach children’s editor Sarah Brenan at Allen&Unwin.
A&U were doing a non-fiction series called It’s True! They wanted manuscripts that took a quirky, fun look at history. So, encouraged by Robyn, most trepidatiously and tremulously (in common with lots of mothers, I’d lost a bit of confidence while in baby-land) I sent off an exploratory email and the rest, as they say, is history. Well, my history, anyway.
I put myself in the book. (Why? Because I could). I’m Fashion Victim#12.
It was 1974. I’d saved for months to buy a pair of bright red platform shoes They had 6-centimetre heels and I thought they were fantastic. When I was invited to see a movie with friends, I dressed up in my best outfit and my brand new shoes. I looked great. There was only one problem: the shoes. I kept falling off them and they gave me blisters. it was like wearing a brick on each foot. The whole evening was a disaster. I never wore them again.
Red shoes. Red shoes are dangerous and alluring. Red shoes dance you to delight and oblivion and madness. There’s a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called The Red Shoes, a 1940’s British film starring Moira Shearer called Red Shoes and a book by Carmel Bird called Red Shoes. David Bowie in ‘Let’s Dance’ implores his lover to put on her red shoes and dance the blues…etc, etc, etc. I was a hulking fourteen-year-old, in Form 3 at Karingal High School, wearing grey flares and a red top and making the debut of those bloody red shoes at the Pancake Parlour in Bourke Street and there was no delight or delirium to speak of that night. That is why, when I see from time to time the rebirth of seventies fashion – platform and wedge heels, flares, skinny-knit jumpers, tiny shrunken cardigans, the dolly-cut, smocks, shirring…need I go on? – I am not tempted: I was there the first time. But enough about me…
Some of my other Fashion Victims were real people – like Isadora Duncan, strangled by her scarf in a car accident in the South of France, and the 146 Triangle Shirtwaist Company workers who were locked into their workrooms on the top floors of a ten-storey New York building and died when fire broke out. Others were made up. Like Mlle Adele Derriere entering rooms sideways due to the width of her panniers, and Lady Gertrude Gormless squeezed breathless by her extreme corsetry.
The book is a bit of fun, and I enjoyed the research enormously. I used the library, bought a few books (like the fantastic Encyclopedia of World Costume by Doreen Yarwood full of her adorably awkward black and white pen illustrations) and Googled. Googling was great, but I had a few surprises. Typing in ‘Beaver Trade’ was not a good idea. ‘History North American Fur Trade’ got results much more appropriate to the dear little kiddies.
A&U got Queenland illustrator Gregory Rogers to do the illustrations. I thought they were perfect. And here’s a little story about illustrators, authors and the six degrees of separation.
A very pleasant man walked into the bookshop where I work, and was chatting to the owner. He and his partner were on holidays, staying with a friend, looking around… He’d just had a picture story book published, he told us. And another coming out soon from Allen & Unwin.
“So do I,” I chimed in.
‘It’s called Fashion Can Be Fatal, ” he said.
You could have knocked me down with a feather boa. “I wrote it!” I said. Mutual amazement ensued. How’s that for coincidence?