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04-12-2007
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Amanda Harlech: a charmed life
1/12/2007
telegraph.co.uk

She has brains, beauty, a rambling Shropshire farmhouse - oh, and a grace-and-favour suite at the Ritz in Paris. And yet, says Justine Picardie, it's hard to hate Amanda Harlech, now a budding novelist as well as a fashion empress

This is what Amanda Harlech is wearing on the wintry morning that we meet in her suite at Brown's Hotel in London: black Balenciaga jodhpurs, black Chanel jacket, white vest from Dior Homme, black high-heeled Manolos. 'The jacket is six or seven years old,' she says, 'and so is the vest. If you love something, you should keep wearing it - it doesn't matter how old it is.'

She appears entirely herself, as always - raven-black hair pinned up and beautifully disarrayed; dressed in her trademark monochrome that frames her green eyes and luminous skin - and though it is a look that has remained consistent over the years that I have known her, never veering toward the excesses of fashion, I am always interested in the subtle shifts of what she has chosen to wear on any particular day. Because, at 48, Amanda Harlech is the best-dressed woman I know; a woman, moreover, who epitomises the power of being a sophisticated grown-up, in an era that more often celebrates the cult of youth, and who has forged a successful career out of the precision of her judgement about clothes. Thus her jacket is small and cropped, confirming that the waist has indeed returned this season; her jodhpurs are new, though she makes them entirely her own, wearing them with an easy lack of self-consciousness, as you would expect from someone who rides every day when she is at home in her farmhouse in Shropshire; the boyish vest is similarly easy-going, offsetting the formality of her tailored jacket and heels.

Yet for all the exactitude of her outfits, and her unerring eye for what makes clothes work on other women, her job description at Chanel, where she has worked for a decade, is more difficult to pin down. She is often described as Karl Lagerfeld's 'muse', a word that can irritate other journalists ('What, exactly, does a muse do?' they write, beadily); and which she herself seems to find inappropriate. 'If I do have a gift, it is as a map-reader, a pathfinder,' she says. 'I don't think I'm a muse. A muse inspires - but Karl is inspired by a lot of other women, men, books, a piece of furniture, a piece of music…'
Lagerfeld himself has described her to me variously as his collaboratrice or his 'outside pair of eyes', by which he presumably means an adviser whose vision he trusts as much as his own; though she says, 'It sounds like a pair of eyes begging to be let inside, doesn't it?' One of her colleagues in the Parisian fashion industry - a world as hierarchical and complex as the kingdom of Louis XIV, with halls of mirrors and precise rules of etiquette - observes, 'Amanda brings a dose of Englishness to Paris. She comes, she sees, she listens, she looks, she bows, she leaves. She's the English émigrée in the court of Versailles.'

In practical terms this involves a great deal of hard work on her part. Yes, her employers have bestowed upon her the luxury of her own suite at the Ritz, whenever she comes to Paris - much like Coco Chanel's original living quarters there - but she works long hours by Lagerfeld's side, assisting him on his eight annual collections for Chanel, as well as the four he does for Fendi, and another four for his own eponymous label, along with all the associated advertising campaigns. 'I spend more time away from Shropshire than I do at home,' she says, a little wistfully.

One of the intriguing things about Amanda Harlech is why she has chosen this role in which she serves a master, and adhered to it in her career thus far; not only for Lagerfeld, but John Galliano before him, with whom she worked from his graduation show at Central Saint Martins, while she was still a fashion editor at Harpers & Queen, until his move to Dior in 1996. After leaving Harpers to devote herself to Galliano she earned very little from him, nor did she expect to, given that he was establishing his business; though her shift to Chanel was prompted by the fact that Dior was unwilling to pay her a proper salary, which she badly needed after separating from her husband, Lord Harlech. 'I realised then that I had to become financially independent,' she says. 'But how much is one of my ideas worth? A penny?'

This remark is indicative of her habitual self-deprecation, despite the fact that she was feted not only as the most beautiful girl of her generation at Oxford, but also for her intelligence. It's one of the reasons I like her - that, and her unfailing kindness and courtesy, in a business more often associated with brittle backbiting - but I sometimes wonder what would have become of Amanda Grieve, as she once was, before she married a lord, had she stuck to her original idea of staying on at Oxford to do a doctorate on 'Henry James and moral bankruptcy'. As to what Henry James might have made of her, were she to have been born a century previously; well, the story of Lady Amanda Harlech has something in common with her favourite novel, The Portrait of a Lady, in that she, like Isabel Archer, might be seen as a beautiful, spirited heroine who, in James's phrase, is 'affronting her destiny'.

The oldest daughter of Alan Grieve - a successful lawyer who established and still runs the charitable Jerwood Foundation, which supports a wide variety of artistic projects - Harlech was brought up in an affluent household in Regent's Park, in London, with her two younger brothers. She attributes her love of clothes to her mother, Anne - 'it must be in the genes' - and says that her earliest memory is of 'being kissed by my mother when she was going out for the evening with my father. She was wearing a long black velvet opera coat, and pale-pink citrine earrings that were known in the family as the Crown Jewels. I remember the feel of the velvet, and the scent of it, and then my parents leaving…'

She won a scholarship to South Hampstead girls' school, and stayed there until she was 16, when she went to board at Marlborough for her A-levels. By then her parents had divorced ('I wore a Biba dress to my dad's [second] wedding,' she says, by way of an aside). After Marlborough she read English at Oxford, where legions of boys fell in love with her; but the man who was to become her husband, Francis Ormsby Gore, was an impoverished aristocrat, rather than a student, and five years older than her. She still speaks of him with affection, and her romanticism seems to have remained intact, despite their marriage ending a decade ago. 'I met him when I was 21,' she says. 'He came to Oxford to visit me in a big black hat with raindrops around the brim, a coat down to the ground, and a bottle of whisky in his hand.' (It is tempting, at this moment, to refer back to The Portrait of a Lady. 'Do you know where you are going, Isabel Archer?' asks Henrietta Stackpole, the journalist in James's novel; to which Isabel replies, 'A swift carriage, of a dark night, rattling with four horses over roads that one can't see - that's my idea of happiness.') Before long she moved to live with him on his family estate in Shropshire; they were married in 1986, and their son, Jasset, was born soon after, followed two years later by their daughter, Tallulah.

Much has been made of the tragedies that have attended the Harlech family - fatal car crashes, divorces and crippling death duties - but Amanda herself refuses to dwell on any of these, and simply says, 'What an amazing time we had in the wilds of Wales and Shropshire - he taught me everything about living in the countryside, and he took me to a waterfall, to listen for the Welsh dragons.'

The story of her marriage and its aftermath - this thoroughly urban girl who fell in love with country life, as well as her husband, and who still grows her own vegetables and rides every day that she is at home - has a fairytale quality to it; as long as one accepts that the best fairytales contain darkness within them, as well. Unlike Isabel Archer, Amanda Harlech has not become 'a poor winged spirit', imprisoned within a splendid yet sinister Roman palazzo. Even so, life cannot have been easy after her divorce, with two young children and little in the way of income, moving into a ramshackle farmhouse that she slowly refurbished, once she had a salary from Chanel.

It might sound a schizophrenic existence - dashing from the glamour of the Paris Ritz to the Shropshire mud - but she says that both sides of her life are woven together, and complement each other. A couple of weeks after our meeting in London I speak to her on the phone in the countryside, just after she has returned home from doing an advertising shoot with Lagerfeld in the south of France. 'Hang on a minute,' she says, 'I'm just going to put my dirty washing in the machine, and make a pot of tea. Oh, damn, the Aga has gone out… I'll have to go and get some kindling for the fire.' She takes the phone into the woodshed, and I can hear her scrunching footsteps, and then her voice saying, 'Gosh, it's dark in here.' And then she walks back into the kitchen, and continues to paint a picture for me, as is her way. 'My two whippets are sitting by the fire - they're looking so lovely there - Lupin and Gabriella, who is named after you-know-who…'

She is referring, of course, to the formidable Gabrielle Chanel, otherwise known as Coco Chanel, or simply Mademoiselle by her staff. 'People tend to forget about the Englishness that is also part of Chanel,' she continues. 'Did you know she spent time near here, at Eaton Hall, with [her lover] the Duke of Westminster? They used to go riding together - it's literally 20 minutes away from my house - so I have ridden over the same countryside as she did, felt the same cold, sharp wind on my face.'

As she speaks she has the gift of making the past seem alive and entirely present - a talent that is surely evident in the part she has played in the reinvigoration of the house of Chanel; following Lagerfeld's lead in breathing life into what might otherwise have become a mausoleum, yet also respecting its traditions and heritage. Which is also why it should come as no surprise that she says she feels Mademoiselle Chanel's presence in Paris - 'not in a specific way, as a visible ghost - but we tread the same passages, through the back door of the Ritz and along the pavement of rue Cambon, and up the stairs into her studio, which still bears her name on the door. She opened that same door, and I'm sure, if you glanced up, you might see her sitting on the turn of the stairs, or her reflection looking out at you in the mirrored walls…'

It therefore seems appropriate that, in between working for Lagerfeld, she is writing a ghost story - 'a haunting over four days, set in a big, rambling country house in Herefordshire'. And perhaps there's a ghostly outline, too, in an artwork she has made at home, a collage of her disintegrating antique wedding veil. For Amanda Harlech is more aware than most of the occasional blurring between the material and immaterial world; of the eerie beauty of clothes that survive after those who wore them have died. She still possesses a precious Fortuny dress that belonged to her great-aunt Helen: 'with beautiful pewter pleats, its hem frayed by her dancing shoes, which was rescued after Helen was killed by a bomb that hit her house in Hampstead during the Blitz. She died, but her dress lived on - along with a pink Spanish shawl that I still sleep beneath, in my bed in Shropshire.'

You can see why her contribution to Galliano's career was in the weaving of narratives around his clothes, the stories that gave shape to each of his fashion shows; and how her fluent romanticism softens the edges of Lagerfeld's sharp tailoring and masterful modernity. Still, I await with interest the next chapter in Amanda Harlech's story: a story that will be hers, and hers alone.

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04-12-2007
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Thanks for the article adorefaith. Is it just me or are all of her interviews the same? Its either the journalists are terrible or im going slightly insane.

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great to read another article, thanks!

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Quote:
Originally Posted by songbirdsel View Post
Thanks for the article adorefaith. Is it just me or are all of her interviews the same? Its either the journalists are terrible or im going slightly insane.
yeah i suppose all of her interviews are fairly similar..
but i think thats the way it is with most celebrities...
there are only ever a few things that stand out, and they get reported over and over..

something significant in their childhood, a significant relationship, something controversial they've done in their career, etc..
look at angelina jolie..it's the same thing over and over again- blood, tattoos, relationships, brad pitt, UN, adoption..

and same with amanda...
muse, chanel, country vs paris life, etc..
because really what else is there to say?...they're just normal human beings like us with limited fascinations, i think..
i do agree with you that it gets a bit repetitive...but i think most people would only ever read one or two articles about amanda harlech in their lifetime (if that)...most probably have no idea who she is....she is a pretty elusive fashion figure to most people....and so not many people probably notice that the same few stories and significant points are being told...you know?..

..

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I agree with you adorefaith, I guess its once you have read one you have read it all kind of thing. But i do think that considering articles about her are intended for high fashion magazines it should be safe to assume sometimes some of the obvious facts and thus go onto a little more interesting view of her. Nevertheless i still enjoying getting into her whole fantasy etc.

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14-03-2008
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Scanned by me from Tatler (yes, I do read that trash and I am not proud )

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thank you for the scan! I love her no fuss approach to everything.

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OMG!! At the Chanel diiner last night, the truth finally came out!! Christy Turlington is really Amanda's long lost twin sister!!!

GossipGirl

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^

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In New York in 2003....Stylish as always...

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As above


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Sebastian, Karl, Lady Amanda! Bergdorf Goodman!! How come I never get to go to anything like this...

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Rose Ball in Monaco May 2007

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^ Lovely!

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So i have been running through the Lagerfeld thread and found some of our Lady
originally posted by HarrietCamilla from gawker.com


originally posted by boomer from perezhilton.com



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