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200 years on, Roderick Gilchrist travels to Switzerland in search of Mary Shelley’s monster

MOST VISITORS TO Geneva collect their skis at the airport carousel and head straight for the mountains which encircle this scenic lakeside city like an alpine necklace. Either that or they arrive to visit their money. The banks in Geneva remain the discreet bankers for the wealthy and powerful away from prying eyes.

But I am heading for a more darkly glamorous destination, the Villa Diodati where, amid meteorological drama, lightning, thunder and lashing gales, Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein, first published 200 years ago. And everyone is very excited about the anniversary. Young Frankenstein the musical reigns in the West End, Penguin has published a revised edition of the book and even the Bank of England is getting in on the act, issuing a new £2 coin with the monster’s head on it.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has staged learned lectures on Frankenstein’s contemporary relevance, the Science Museum offers a computer-generated game where children can bring him to life and television is screening the classic X certificate Hammer films with a demonic Christopher Lee starring as the grotesque giant.

The Swiss Tourist Board has invited tourists to “Walk In The Footsteps Of Frankenstein”, a guided trail which stops at the lakeside villa where the creature was conceived, the mountains where he raged against the world, locations of his hideous murders and spooky medieval castles. Two centuries after the creature disappeared on a raft of ice, presumed doomed, he lives again…

Whatever the celebrations surrounding culture’s most mythologised creation, which became flesh when created in a remote German laboratory just after the French Revolution but is still a byword for terror in the millennium, the life of Mary, the monster’s mother, almost upstages her prodigy as a Gothic horror story.

She arrived in Geneva as an 18-year-old amid a frisson of scandal. Her lover, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, had deserted his wife who was later to drown herself in the Serpentine, after learning Mary had produced a son by her husband. Mary, who was a virgin when they met, became pregnant while making love to Shelley beside her mother’s tomb in St Pancras churchyard.

Another 18-year-old, Mary’s step sister Claire Clairmont, was along for the ride having just slept with Lord Byron and was expecting his child. The literary Lothario himself turned up a couple of days later, forced to flee London following rejection by polite society, after allegations of incest with his half-sister Augusta.

He and his physician companion Dr John Polidori had been visiting the battlefield at Waterloo, but Polidori was in a hurry to get to Geneva as he had taken a shine to Claire. And Kate Moss thinks she’s lived a Bohemian life! Byron took a villa in a vineyard overlooking the lake while the Shelleys put up at a more modest lodge closer to the lake at Montalegre but soon both sets of vagabond exiles were socialising and sparking amid much sexual tension.

The Villa Diodati, which Byron rented, still exists, a handsome hacienda with green shutters and a commanding view of the lake, set in a manicured estate with the snowy slopes of the Jura Mountains on the horizon and Mont Blanc to the north. Today, the villa is owned by British businessman Peter Parker who, once a year, allows students from the nearby Bodmer museum, a treasure trove of Frankenstein ephemera, to be lectured in the candlelit saloon where Mary’s “baby” was given the spark of life after Byron wagered that none of his guests could create a really frightening ghost story.

The weather that d ay was sinister. An eruption at Mount Tambora in Indonesia sent clouds of volcanic ash billowing into the upper atmosphere blacking out the sun; rain fell incessantly, temperatures plummeted, birds roosted at noon and candles had to be lit at mid-day as darkness descended.

These New Romantics, in truth a dissipated band of wealthy 19th-century hippies, had imagined their days would be filled enjoying the beauties of the landscape and the lake, of serene cruising and pastoral walks in the foothills of the Alps but, with thunder and lightning rolling down the mountains, the foul weather made them prisoners of Villa Diodati.

They had been reading Fantasmagoriana, a book of German ghost stories, and an atmosphere of impending doom prevailed as industrial quantities of drink and laudanum were consumed amid fevered conversation about sorcery and the ability of science to create man out of matter. They were particularly fascinated by the experiments with electricity by Luigi Galvani who, by shooting electricity through dead frogs, could make the animals seemingly hop into life again.

As Shelley and Byron talked long into the night, Mary, who believed both men were geniuses and wanted to impress them, took Byron’s challenge seriously and went to bed determined to create a story that would make even her heroes shake with fear.

It’s significant that Mary was still haunted by the loss of a baby after she had become pregnant. She had also endured vivid dreams about the legend of Castle Frankenstein which she had seen while cruising on the Rhine. It was here that a young man called Johann Conrad Dippel was charged with robbing graveyards for corpses he believed could be re-animated by injecting them with a mixture of blood and bone.

These disturbing, macabre emotions fused in a nightmare where Mary literally dreamed how a Dr Victor Frankenstein studying transmogrification at a remote Bavarian University was overwhelmed by a messianic crusade to discover “the cause of generation and life”, the story almost fully formed when she awoke.

In her imagination, Frankenstein carries out mysterious experiments and constructs a titanic hulking body setting into motion a chain of events in which everything the doctor loves is destroyed by his misshapen creation. “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life,” Mary later explained.

Geneva’s charming, Captain Pugwash-style paddle steamers pass the Villa Diodati on their cruises along the lake to Chateau Chillon, a storybook castle on the shores of Montreux where Byron was inspired to write his most celebrated poem after learning the Duke of Savoy was chained and tortured in the dungeon for opposition to the local king.

Though unrelated to the monster, Chillon is on the Frankenstein trail because of Byron which, while welcomed by Geneva’s hospitality industry, leaves most of its citizens curiously apathetic. They are just not into their most famous historical figure, unimpressed by a grisly black iron statue of the walking dead man that was only erected four years ago in an unloved square.

Indeed Geneva is hardly central casting’s idea for the birthplace of the ungodly Frankenstein. The cathedral here was once the pulpit of John Calvin, fearsome priest of the Reformation, and the city today prefers to be known for its financial services, gem encrusted Rolex watches and rich chocolate. Unlike Salzburg where Mozart’s face appears on everything from T-shirts to tablecloths, there is no Frankenstein tat in Geneva’s kiosks, just an arsenal of Swiss army pen knives. It’s a town where well-buffed wealthy widows are courted by handsome gigolos in scenes echoing the Glenda Jackson film, The Romantic Englishwoman.

“Frankenstein is our dirty secret,” is how actor Oliver Lafranc, one of our guides told me. Another, David Spurr, a professor at Geneva University, put it another way. “Byron we like. We see him as a kind of 19th century Mick Jagger, leading an outrageous life, seducing beautiful women, taking drugs, producing hits, charismatic and heading for a heroic death.”

Peering over the wall at Villa Diodati, well shielded from public gaze by purple flowered rhododendrons, the view takes in the far side of the lake where the citadel like headquarters of the United Nations in Europe dominates the shoreline. Ignore that and the panorama is much the same as the two houses would have looked out on. Tiny puffs of white – sails on the little yachts – glide past the smart beach lidos where it is possible to see Geneva’s most eyecatching feature, the Jet D’Eau which spouts water 150 metres into the air.

Students of Frankenstein have intriguing theories about the hidden meaning of Shelley’s novel that may have value or may just be bigging up their own status. The scholarly David Spurr suggests some think the subtext suggests a parable for the dangers of man playing God, investing it with contemporary relevance given scientific advances in the creation of new body parts to replace those diseased.

Feminists take the novel to their bosom as a signal of the dangers inherent when women are not used to create life and men marginalise or indeed exclude them. In her novel, everything goes wrong when Frankenstein refuses to create a wife for him and it’s worth noting Mary was so uncertain of her own worth she originally published Frankenstein anonymously. Theologists conjure hellfire if we abandon religion for the atheism inflected throughout the plot. Those less convinced say all of this is just mumbo jumbo and Mary just wanted to write a racy read.

Her genius, remarkable in one so young, and the reason Frankenstein has endured to become the most famous monster of all, despite being played by such disparate characters as Boris Karloff, tragically, in the Universal horror films of the Thirties; to Christopher Lee’s Hammer reinvention in the Fifties; through to Peter Boyle, comically, in Young Frankenstein, is the brilliant way she edges the reader’s sympathy for the creature even after its vicious murders.

“Hear my tale,” the grotesque insists when he confronts his creator. “I was a poor, helpless miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.”

Finally, in a heartrending plea on realising he is ugly and an outcast, he begs Frankenstein: “Make me happy.”

Despite her fame and success, tragedy and guilt overshadowed much of Mary’s life. She suffered several miscarriages, only one of her four children survived, and her own mother died from an infection after the doctor reached into her uterus after Mary was born. Other circumstances undoubtedly fed into her vivid imagination. Her hated stepmother and father moved the family to dingy lodgings near Smithfield Market where Mary was kept awake at night by the screams of slaughtered animals. The bell at nearby St Sepulchre’s tolled every time a condemned man passed by on their journey to Tyburn and Mary knew that their corpses were destined for dissection.

An oil in the National Portrait Gallery shows Mary as a beautiful 18-year-old but her seductive looks were later ravaged by smallpox, her once beautiful face bearing further scars of grief when Shelley was drowned in a boating tragedy in Italy.

Mary is buried in Bournemouth alongside her mother and father. Her tombstone remembers her only as: Daughter of William and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and widow of the late Percy Bysshe Shelley.”
A monstrous omission.

200 years on, Roderick Gilchrist travels to

Trevor Pickett looks back over his 30 years at the heart of Savile Row

Trevor, you set up Pickett back in 1988. What did you hope to achieve at the start?
It was exciting for me that I suddenly owned my own shop in Burlington Arcade, which was quite an achievement for someone aged 25 who left school at 16 and I suppose I felt rather pleased with myself. I’ve never been desperately ambitious in the sense that some people have a much bigger focus on global domination – ‘money, money, money’ – that can compromise on integrity. I do like a lifestyle. I was excited about what I had, then I opened the Georgia von Etzdorf’s store on Sloane Street store three months later. The things I do for work are passions, and GVE was a passion, I felt it gave me access into the arts.

There were fewer challenges in the early days. It’s become more difficult now. The challenge nowadays is the competition; it has gone from being small independent leather goods shops, of which there were quite a few, to every shop brand or store now selling leather goods. With the coming of the internet, we can’t sell products which you can buy just as easily online, so ours must be wonderfully individual. We make everything in our own leather, in our own styles, with our own linings, with our widgets and fittings. It’s much more of a challenge but it’s exciting. It’s nice to go down the street and know that the product is definitely yours because of its unique features.

How important is it for you to promote the British leather industry?
We’ve built our reputation on selling British-made leather goods so, where we can, we always buy British. It’s become a diminished market and we tend to be buying from a smaller source but a higher quality because only the best survive. I don’t think we’ve lost many manufacturers at the top end while the middle and lower markets were hit more by the imported product. There is something special about English crafted leather, an honest rawness in the traditional luggage and briefcase.

How do you maintain loyalty to tradition and heritage, while continuing to be inventive?
The word I use is ‘evolution’ and edit; you can’t sell a bag which weighs 33 kilos itself when the allowance is 24 kilos for a flight. We have had to find materials that are lighter weight; people don’t travel like they used to – you don’t need a huge quantity of clothes. They wear sweaters, jeans and t-shirts, not formal wear jackets and even a sweater is a much lighter weight product than it used to be.

As well as luxury leather goods, you offer a lot of different types of games. Tell us about them.
We make a diverse range of games sets and boards – all the classics – chess, perudo, backgammon, dominoes, poker dice, cribbage, scrabble and bridge. It’s all about getting families together around a good game rather than everyone being stuck to their phones or glued to the telly. All our sets are handcrafted in different sizes and leathers. We pride ourselves on the huge range of colours we do – we’re launching all our games in our new burgundy. This colour will be used across our full range with a new burgundy collection available soon to celebrate our 30th anniversary.

Pickett has created luxury versions of Scrabble

Pickett has created luxury versions of Scrabble

You recently held a games evening at your store on Burlington Gardens. How did that go?
Our games evening was a great success. We had backgammon, perudo, dominoes and chess set up in our Queensbury room at the Burlington Gardens shop. It was quite the tournament and fun was had by all – an overall winner was crowned, and we gave away one of our roll-up backgammon boards as a special prize.

What do you particularly enjoy about your job?
I’ve been doing it for almost 40 years now which is quite scary. Yikes! That makes me feel old (I am not quite on a Zimmer frame yet and proud I swam a mile yesterday!) I think I enjoy the customer service the most. I like serving customers and I enjoy the product design side. We’re a small business so I do feel a bit pulled sometimes, but I do like the variety and opportunity.

Away from work, what do you like to do? What interests you?
Entertaining, cooking, seeing friends. I used to ride but I no longer have five horses, although friends always have horses that need exercising, so I have a ride or a day’s hunting and the occasional riding holiday. I’ve recently discovered triathlons so I’m enjoying my training, probably more than the event though that is the focus – in fact, I’m going a bit bonkers on exercise which will not surprise those who know me well. I am an all-or-nothing sort of person. My main passion is the arts across all genres. Theatre, galleries and music are all interesting to me. I’m always up for a new challenge.

How would you sum up your approach to business in three words?
Business is not my strong point… but I am quoted as saying my business is my pleasure, my pleasure is my life.

Trevor Pickett looks back over his 30

Savile Row tailors William Hunt has linked up with IKEA, the world-renowned Swedish furniture company to create some unusual and eye-catching suits

‘I love the idea of people taking fashion and style and embracing it by taking it further into their homes.’ said William Hunt, who opened up on the Row back in 1998. “Our partnership with IKEA is important as we are encouraging the public to push themselves just a little, and to show off their character in their own homes. We at William Hunt create heroes out of ordinary men and women through our suits, the IKEA suits create heroes out of everyday textiles and furniture.”

William Hunt and IKEA

Swedish design, British tailoring: the William Hunt range takes the ‘maverick with fabric’ into everyday homes

Carol McSeveny from IKEA added: “We’re seeing an increasing number of people playing it safe when it comes to decorating and furnishing their home. But, when the home can act as a canvas for self-expression, why keep things beige and boring? People use fabric in fashion to show off their personality and we want people to replicate this in their home through textiles. We are excited to be working with William Hunt as he is the ultimate ‘maverick with fabric’ and has demonstrated, through the IKEA suits, how textiles can be used to express yourself in your home”.

Savile Row tailors William Hunt has linked

Seven doyens of Savile Row, renowned for their sense of touch, tell us what their favourite men’s fragrances are…

Lumière Blanche from Olfactive Studio
Alexander Lewis, Norton & Sons

I have a very strong nose and it’s something I think carefully about. I wouldn’t go so far to say I’m a “nose” but I am very attuned to smells. I wear Lumière Blanche from Olfactive Studio, which works with different photographers. This particular one was a collaboration with Massimo Vitali. The top notes include cardamom and cinnamon with heart notes of almond milk and cashmere wood, with base notes of cedarwood, sandalwood and Tonka bean. I’ve been wearing it for a year and a half. I mix it with other fragrances such as a new fragrance from Diptyque and Escentric Molecules 01. I spray one on top of the other.

Tender by Miller Harris
Kathryn Sargent, Kathryn Sargent

Tender by Miller Harris is my favourite male fragrance because of how unique it is; it is light, floral and leathery paired with the interesting note of ink which creates a really interesting and sophisticated smell. Harris created this fragrance in response to Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald. One of my first clients introduced me to the scent and it often brings back memories of when I first set up my tailoring company.

Huntsman’s Jo Malone Collection
Campbell Carey, Huntsman

I travel often for trunk shows, so when in warmer climates I wear the Assam and Grapefruit scent from Huntsman’s Jo Malone collection. Whilst away, I prefer my fragrance to be light and invigorating. This scent is incredibly fresh with notes of maté and patchouli, so it’s the perfect summer or holiday fragrance.
I’m currently wearing the Whisky and Cedarwood scent by Huntsman and Jo Malone. I love the dark, spicy notes of whiskey paired with the warm, wintery scent of cedarwood – they complement each other perfectly. It’s a great fragrance for the changing seasons – it makes me very excited for the wood burning fire to be lit at Huntsman.

Czech & Speake No. 88
Simon Glendenning, Dugdale Bros

When it comes to my favourite cologne, I always opt for one that complements the season. That’s why in the autumn and winter months, you’ll find me reaching for a scent I’ve used for over 20 years, Czech & Speake’s bergamot-inspired No. 88. The invigorating smell of vetiver and sandalwood makes it rich, masculine and for some reason redolent of Christmas – all at the same time. However, in the spring and summer seasons, I prefer to use Creed’s Original Vetiver – my wife once bought me this as a birthday gift, and its light and earthy aroma of musk and mandarin has made it a favourite ever since.

French Leather
Dominic Sebag-Montefiore, Edward Sexton

I came across French Leather fairly recently. The brand was introduced to me by a client who’s a connoisseur and I wanted something that was disconnected and I really like Santal by Le Labo but I do find it a little bit everywhere. I wanted something a bit different. I went into Les Senteurs in Elizabeth street and they introduced me to French Leather. Previously I’ve worn vetiver and patchouli but I find vetiver a bit grassy and I find patchouli a bit strong but they’re in there with frankincense and juniper. I wanted something a bit heavy, a bit deep for winter, but the vetiver lifts it and it’s lovely and complex but still lasts beautifully. It’s a lovely scent.

Acqua di Parma
Simon Cundey, Henry Poole

Acqua di Parma is my chosen aftershave. I’ve been wearing it since 2001. Before that I used to wear brands like Eau Sauvage and Ralph Lauren Polo. What I especially like about it is the Bakelite top. I thought the freshness of it was incredible and gives life to it. Some fragrances are very heavy and musty and overpowering sometimes. Others are sweet and almost sickly. But this is timeless – you don’t get tired of Acqua di Parma.

Eucris by Geo F Trumper
Geoff Wheeler, Huddersfield Fine Worsteds

I wear Eucris by Geo F Trumper. It has a very old school class about it. It’s not fragrant, it’s almost musty. I first came across it mentioned in the James Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever, and I thought, if it’s good enough for 007, it’s good enough for me.
The most annoying thing about it is its cap, which must have been designed when it was first invented. I can’t tell you the number of times it’s nearly gone down the plughole.

Seven doyens of Savile Row, renowned for

Antony Price, the genius who reinvented the suit and the most overlooked designer in British fashion talks to SRS. Photographs by Etienne Gilfillan, assisted by Paolo Navarino

pening my inky copy of that week’s NME in the Eighties and reading about Bryan Ferry emerging from Antony Price’s boutique on the King’s Road, it is difficult to convey how ineffably stylish it all seemed.

It was a long way from the lead sky and the gasometer of the Midlands town I grew up in.

Surprisingly then, Antony Price, the man who has been called the most criminally overlooked designer in British fashion, turns out to be a warm Yorkshireman also from the provinces.

Today, he still dresses the Duchess of Cornwall, who remains one of his most loyal clients. Other clients have included Naomi Campbell, Diana Ross, Melanie Griffith and Anjelica Huston.

Standing in front of a dressing table, readying himself for our photo shoot, Price appraises himself. The triple pleats on his three-piece checked suit trousers are so exquisite, they make me want to cry. Often his innovations take years to work their way into the mainstream and the high street.

“I’m always ahead of the game and I know that I’m right,” he says without a trace of pomposity.

Price reinvented the suit in the Seventies, taking it out of the office and making it rock ‘n’ roll. The look he developed was a little bit military, a little bit Dietrich.

“Suits really appeal to women, not men,” he says, “because a suit says success”.

His most famous collaboration was with Bryan Ferry, where his retro futurism perfectly suited the big-band, ray-gun sound of Roxy Music. His King’s Road shop was even namechecked in Ferry’s song Trash.

There is something magical about Antony Price. Hurrying after him in Brocket Hall where the photo shoot is taking place,
I feel like Alice trying to catch up with the dashing White Rabbit. He has the energy of a thirtysomething.

What Price would also love to do is design a menswear collection for a traditional Savile Row tailor.

“I do wish a Huntsman or a Kilgour would get me in. I understand completely the business they’re in and the constraints they’re under because I have spent my life selling clothes. But Savile Row cannot stay the same forever, there has to be an injection of design.”

“Not only am I a designer, I am a master pattern cutter. I make patterns for everything I’ve ever done. It’s about shaping and cutting because you can’t alter the basics of a revere collar and a set-in sleeve. I do like to work with other houses whenever possible.”

Price says that a man’s jacket is one of the most complicated pieces to manufacture because it involves so many elements.

“There are only two garments that are complicated. One is a corseted evening dress and the other, a man’s jacket. These are the two most complicated garments you can make with the most pattern pieces and the most mistakes which can happen.”

Price was always good with his hands and he approaches fashion as technical problem solving rather than making an art statement.

Price says: “Whenever I employ people, I employ rural people because they’re problem solvers. They’re in the middle of nowhere, so they have no resources.”

Country childhood
Price grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and, for somebody so sophisticated, he’s very much a countryman who keeps pheasants in his garden.

He began making clothes for his mother and sisters when he was an adolescent. Watching his mother struggle over the sewing machine, he realised that she was getting the hems all wrong. He elbowed her aside and started making his family Givenchy knock-offs.

Price followed the same art school trajectory as David Hockney, first going to Bradford Art College and then winning a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in 1965. There he frequently hid from the caretaker, so he could stay up all night working on the machines.

Even straight out of art school, Price was seen as up and coming. He began working for the Stirling Copper shop in the late Sixties, where his first customers were the Rolling Stones. “Everybody in rock ‘n’ roll bought the clothes,” he says. Mick Jagger wore his side-buttoning, snake-hip flared trousers on the 1969 American Gimme Shelter tour. (It’s a relationship that continued into the Eighties, as Price designed the iconic American footballer outfit Jagger wore for the 1981 tour.)

The first time that Price set eyes on Bryan Ferry was when he was in the audience of an Ossie Clark fashion show. “He sought me out because I was the rising star,” Price laughs.

“We gravitated together because we had similar northern upbringings. Bryan worked as a teenager in a tailor’s shop in Newcastle and he was always a Savile Row devotee from day one. He always loved classic menswear.”

What Price offered Roxy Music was a complete package including clothes, hairstyling and his friendships with models such as Jerry Hall, Amanda Lear and Kari-Ann Muller (all of whom appeared on Roxy album covers).

Their first collaboration was when Price styled the cover of the first Roxy Music album, which featured a yearning Muller dressed up in Neapolitan ice cream coloured ruffles. Indeed, Price oversaw every aspect of the video for Let’s Stick Together. “I got up there and even did the bloody curtains myself on a ladder,” he laughs. Their professional relationship continued up to the 1985 cover of Ferry’s solo album Boys and Girls.

With Price’s sharp styling and exaggerated suits, Roxy Music invented the Eighties long before the Seventies were over.

“We didn’t know that we were making history. When the record company got the pictures, they thought these clothes suit the music.”

For Price, the highpoint was Ferry performing the song Casanova live on a set Price designed. Ferry was wearing an acid green leatherette suit. “That was the moment I thought this will never look this good again – he was like a brilliant lizard in a cave of lights. For me, that was my moment.”

Electric silk
Price opened his shop Plaza in 1979 on the King’s Road, where the big seller was his men’s taffeta suit. In 1982 he designed electric silk suits for Duran Duran, which they wore for their famous Rio video.

Price says: “I managed to do as cutting edge as you could but still sell it. To push the envelope that far and still make it commercial is not easy.”

Given that he has been cited by Alexander McQueen, Thierry Mugler and Galliano as such an influence, why hasn’t he been put in charge of a major couture house? (There was a moment when he was eyed to take over Versace in the wake of the designer’s death in 1998).

“I peaked at the wrong time,” he says reflectively. “I was 15 years too early.” At the time, no British designer had ever fronted an Italian or French couture house unlike McQueen or Galliano later.

Price though is not much given to raking over the past, he is more excited about the future. And he is as passionate and excited about tailoring as ever.

“I love the art of changing the human body into different shapes. There are two ways you can do it dramatically, either corseted or reshaped through tailoring, using canvas and darting and suppression to alter the outlines of the human body.”

Antony Price, the genius who reinvented the