clare rendlesham helen mccrory

This isn't Lady Clare Rendlesham! It is Helen McCrory playing her in a movie. There are very few pictures of the actual Clare.

I have an odd affection for angry women.

I mean, I have been hearing that women are quite angry a lot lately, and I always roll my eyes at this pronouncement. Women are not “angry” because you told them to pick up their socks and put them in the clothes hamper. Women may be irritated and annoyed, but that is very different from possessing a deep and fascinating wellspring of anger.

But telling women they are angry, or scary, or intimidating is very effective, because for most of history, females have been trained that they are not supposed to inspire these emotions.

If you tell most ladies that people (Fox News) report they are “angry”,  they will make jokes, or write long screeds explaining that they either are – or are not  – angry. None of these responses are really the reactions of an angry person.

If you told Clare Rendlesham, the Fashion Editor of British Vogue in the late 1950s that she was angry, she would have thrown a typewriter at your head.

That’s what angry is.

People seem to forget that a great many interesting humans throughout history tended to be, well, angry. And sort of easily unhinged. And terribly highly strung. Someone once told me that the better a racehorse performs, the more tics it is prone to, and I think of that from time to time, in relation to people.

I think this tendency is true of many men as well as women.

But I think anger is particularly interesting in relation to women, especially females in prior eras who were told in no uncertain terms that their survival and well-being demanded that they be gentle and calm and accommodating. I have no doubt that growing up in England in the 1940s Clare heard those messages, and then decided she was just going to throw them out the window in a fury.

I am basing this supposition, of course, largely on the famous story about Clare being fired from Queen magazine.

When Clare was “sacked” in 1966, Sir Jocelyn Stevens, publisher of Queen, was reported describing the scene:

I heard this extraordinary noise. ‘She had thrown her typewriter out of the window’, he said, miming typewriter keys exploding in all directions.

So I went downstairs and helped her. We threw everything out of her office window. There were people looking up at us, the police came. When there was nothing left in the office, we both sat on the carpet.

Why help?

‘I was a gentleman,’ he protested.

This is what most people do with typewriters:

typewriter woman

Not an angry woman

This is what Clare did with typewriters:

Anger gives you wings

How did she get those wings? Let’s examine!

It is common misconception that Clare was born to the upper crust, but she actually married into it. She was born Claire McCririck, the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Howard Gwyn McCririck. Which is to say, not a lady. (Although she did have an “i” in her name which seems to rather mysteriously come and go depending on what you are reading.)

She became an aristocrat, though, when she married Charles Anthony Hugh Thellusson, 8th Baron Rendlesham in 1947. He ran an antique shop in London. She was his second wife. Some people called her a social climber, but I think she was more of a mountaineer, especially when you consider how quickly she was able to parlay her new station and inherent good taste into a position at Vogue.

Fifty years ago, Vogue was seen as an extremely Establishment,  girls-with-pearls magazine, designed to appeal to the very upper crust. I mean, look at one of Cecil Beaton’s most famous photos for it at the turn of the fifties.

cecil beaton vogue

This is more old guard than avant garde

I suppose this is still true of Vogue, but then, there are very few magazines that I think of as cutting edge. Vice? Nylon? But for a moment Vogue was mod, and that was when Clare was editing.

Clare said of her tenure:

“I was the young ideas editor for Vogue and all those exciting people like Quant and Tuffin and Foale  in London and Emmanuelle Kant and Ili Jacobson and Michele Rosier in Paris were producing fresh, youthful clothes. Everyone else on Vogue thought I was very peculiar indeed because I thought those clothes were wonderful.”

It goes without saying that she was right. Good lord, she discovered Mary Quant who is famed for, if not inventing, certainly popularizing the mini-skirt.

Mary Quant 1965 fashion designer

Like so.

Quant said of the editor:

The new [Knightsbridge] Bazaar was opened to the public. The day after, Clare Rendlesham stormed in. She marched around the shop looking at everything. Then she turned on me. ‘What do you mean opening a shop like this and not telling me about it? How could you do such a thing! Have any of the fashion girls seen these clothes?’

I believe that was Clare’s rather abrupt way of saying that she liked something. In any event, Clare showed Quant how to give a press party. Most of the models in party dresses wandered around looking dreamy, clutching copies of Marx and Engel. One carried a dead pheasant and began swinging it above her head. Which sounds awesome, except that it had recently been shot, and blood began raining down over the attendees. No matter. Mary said, “It was Clare Rendlesham who inspired us.”

I think in the long run that is probably more valuable than if she had been very ladylike and polite and complimented their designs and then been useless.

Also, all I want is to go to a party where I get splattered with pheasant blood.

No one questioned her fashion eye, although everyone seemed to agree she was difficult to work with.

The photographer Helmut Newton said she was “thin as a rake and as hard as nails.” A fashion journalist Brenda Polan reported, “She was a monster. Most people were too scared even to talk to her.”

In one of her more notable scenes at Vogue she escorted the 24 year old photographer David Bailey and his 19 year old muse Jean Shrimpton to New York to shoot an editorial.

This one:

jean shrimpton clare rendlesham

Fun fact: Jean Shrimpton clutched a teddy bear in nearly every shot.

In describing the adventure, The Daily Mail reports:

‘Clare Rendlesham was embarrassed by us,’ admits the socialite and interior designer Nicky Haslam (now 73), who recalls Bailey insisting – to Lady Rendlesham’s horror – on egg and chips at his favorite burger joint every night.”

An editor at The Guardian said:

‘She could be spiky and malicious, but she had a wickedly satirical eye and I enjoyed her conversation, I’m peculiar in that I like difficult people – and Clare was a bully. She was a very clever woman who was alert to the big changes in society, but because she had social-climbed into the aristocracy, there were all sorts of insecurities. And she wasn’t brought up to deal with people like Bailey, who wouldn’t bother to sweet-talk her like the old-school photographers did. He would just say, “F*** off, darling, I know best.”’

It must have been quite a shift for her given that Vogue historian Robin Muir explains, “The men in Vogue’s art department were almost exclusively tweed-wearing homosexuals who treated women like porcelain dolls.”

So, that wasn’t Bailey, then.

According to most reports, Clare spent the trip alternating between crying in her room and yelling at everyone. There is, incidentally, a movie adaptation of this trip entitled “We’ll Take Manhattan.” I am going to show you the trailer:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjkiqJ070I4?version=3]

That is, needless to say, Clare shoving and shouting “you’re fired” while wearing a set of furs as if she is prepared to trudge across the tundra in Dr. Zhivago.

What people do not mention is that Clare had recently given birth (like, really, she was on that trip to New York immediately afterward) and Bailey supposedly refused to accept most of her creative ideas, despite the fact that she was supposed to be in charge of  the new youthful vibe of emerging talent.

But, sure, David Bailey was the genius because David Bailey loved teddy bears.

I think, honestly, what really would have bothered Clare the most about this rude and ridiculous situation was that David Bailey – who wanted to wear his leather jacket through the lobbies of the best hotels in New York – kept treating her as though he knew best, when really, he did not. Clare knew best a lot of the time, really.

It must have been extremely frustrating for the woman who discovered Mary Quant – and had models flinging dead pheasants around – to be treated as though she was a stodgy relic who was keeping young geniuses from doing their work properly.

But Clare proved what an innovator she was, when she moved from British Vogue to work as an editor at Queen magazine.

Today, Queen has been bought and slowly replaced by Harper’s Bazaar (which was originally Harper’s and Queen) which I know seems a bit like a stodgy magazine. Really, reader, I look at you, and I assume you think everything that is not TheGloss is a bit stodgy. Because we cover DIY colonics. But! At the time, under Clare’s editorship, Queen became the mod magazine.

Clare found revolutionary new talent, including Helmut Newton – and, in finding him, she managed to one-up Vogue. Helmut wrote in Fired:

In 1964 I was commissioned by Queen magazine to photograph the revolutionary collection by Courrèges. The fashion editor, Claire Rendlesham, decided on a journalistic scoop showing only my [André] Courrèges photos and excluding all other fashion houses from her Paris report.

When Queen landed on the desk of Françoise de Langlade (then associate Editor-in-Chief of French Vogue) she hit the roof. I was called into her office, we had a tremendous row, she accused me of treachery and disloyalty and wanted to know why I had not told her about this scoop. I pointed out to her that I had no exclusive contract with Vogue, and it was of course understood that I would never divulge any ideas developed by French Vogue to Queen or vice versa. So I was kicked out of the hallowed halls of Vogue only to return in 1969 when Francine Crescent was appointed Editor-in-Chief.

In case you are unfamiliar, this is André Courrèges’ work:

andre courrages

She also discovered shoemaker Walter Steiger. (Ashley and I test drove his Ishi wedge just last year). Walter Steiger: The Book states:

The first journalist to contact him and to discover his hidden talents was Clare Rendlesham, the fashion editor of Queen magazine. She was a real revolutionary and was not afraid of mini-skirts, in spite of her advancing years. They seemed to terrify Walter, though, when he saw her turning up at his flat in a Mini Moke. Lady Rendlesham knew what she was doing, especially in the fashion world and a Queen article by her had brought André Courrèges to Walter’s attention. Courrèges introduced skirts above the knee into haute couture, a move which is considered to be the real watershed between the old style and the new…

When Lady Rendlesham reached Walter’s studio, she was so taken back she was literally speechless and she commissioned a full-page spread on his shoes. Then lots of other journalists followed in her footsteps. She had not just reported something she had seen, she launched a completely new trend.

You know it’s funny. Because she’s so often for remembered as having a temper, and apparently just shoving David Bailey around like a Czarina, it is possible for forget what a force for fashion good she was in the world.

In 1965, Clare created one of her most memorable works with the photo-essay “Paris is Dead.”

While I  tragically can find no picture, and I probably cannot devote a thousand words to it, it was shot on a black funereal border, and ran premature obituaries of Balenciaga and Givenchy.

It was fabulous.

The Weekend Telegraph promptly followed up with a photo-essay entitled “Is Paris Dead?” illustrated by William Klein. Rather less originally, Klein answered his own question and determined that, no, Paris was not dead – it said as much on the next page. Specifically it said “No! Paris is jumping!”

A year later William Klein directed Qui Etes-Vous, Polly Maggoo, one of the best films you will ever see about fashion, which I do not recommend watching unless you are drunk and a fashion study major (is that a major?), because nearly all the jokes in it are now lost unless you are specifically aware of this period. Look, if you like the trailer, you’ll love the movie:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8x40g8bPyg?version=3]

God, I hated that movie the first time I saw it. However, I am now able to appreciate the “Is Paris Dead” shoot that the models do in a Parisian cemetery lying facedown on coffins.

And then, of course, Clare was fired, and there was, you know, that bit with the typewriter.

After her firing Clare attempted to open a PR agency. PR stands for “public relations.”

Look, this failed, probably because Clare really openly disliked working with people. There is one possibly anecdotal story about her being on the phone, softening her tone, and saying, “How are the little darlings? Are they back from their walk?” The listener thought she was expressing tender sentiments towards her four children. Immediately afterwards she stiffened and said, “Yes, and how are the children?” She was, initially, referring to her dogs.

clare rendlesham

An actual picture of Clare!

She decided instead to open a boutique on Bond St. It happened to be the first Yves St. Laurent boutique in London. She then opened the first Chloé and Karl Lagerfeld shops. Her dogs would wander to and fro amongst the mannequins

Supposedly, customers were afraid to go into the shops if she was on the premises.

According to The Telegraph:

An American-born London PR of the time, who prefers not to be named, would regularly meet Clare on the social circuit and found her disdainful towards anyone outside her circle. ‘I used to react by laughing at her, which she didn’t like – and didn’t understand,’ she says.

Right, yes, well, she discovered Karl Lagerfeld and you didn’t, so I’m really inclined to think she had the last laugh there.

Clare died in 1987 and today, she has largely faded from memory except in fashion circles. The formidable name did, however, actually cause a minor scandal some years ago when a man named Roy tried to pass him off as the heir to the family.

According to W:

Roy, whose autobiographical feature film, AKA, earned him a BAFTA award nomination and opens in New York on December 12, says his charade began almost by accident. Having grown up in modest circumstances in Whitstable, Kent, and, he says, having been the victim of sexual abuse as a child, he ran away from home and talked his way into a job at the Bond Street Yves Saint Laurent boutique owned by Lady Clare Rendlesham, a London social fixture and former fashion editor of Harpers & Queen. When she fired him a few months later, he lit off for Paris, where he began posing as Lord Anthony Rendlesham, Lady Clare’s son. (She did in fact have a son around Roy’s age, the Honorable Charles Thelluson.)

”It wasn’t as though I set out deliberately to deceive,”… As he tells it, he first identified himself as Lord Anthony sardonically, never really expecting to be believed. But when the doors of society miraculously clicked open for Rendlesham, Roy—who’d been living on the streets at the time—simply went along for the ride. “I was just kind of coasting and enjoying not being Duncan Roy,” he explains. “I didn’t realize it would spin out into six years. People might think I was more complicit than that, but you can kind of fall into it.”

He was, of course eventually found out, and said:

Roy says his eventual exposure was a tremendous relief. “It was driving me insane,” he says. “I had made really close and enduring friends during that time, and I hated the idea that I was lying to them. I couldn’t bear it anymore. The idea of waking up and being someone else and meeting people whom you loved and who loved you—it was debilitating.”

People mention that they were able to tell that he was an imposter by minor tics, but I think anyone who was familiar with Lady Rendelsham might have noticed the more obvious truth: Roy was simply too nice to be any relation of hers.

And he sounds nice, doesn’t he? Well, that’s great. But he will leave nothing that endures, because, in life, being nice is not quite the point.

That said, if you’re going to throw typewriters out the window, you’d better have the kind of eye that can spot Karl Lagerfeld.

Additional Reading:

Stoned : A Memoir of London in the 1960s by Andrew Loog Oldham

Helmut Newton: autobiography

Fame, Helmut Newton

Walter Steiger: The Book by Francesco Frascari

Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity by Elizabeth Wilson

W, Impostors by Aaron Gell

Norman Parkinson Archive Catalog

Picture via Norman Parkinson ArchiveThe Tanner Page, Cecil Beaton (Vogue, 1948), “Mary Quant’s Mini skirt”, Paintings On Canvas