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It’s always a win-win with gin, says Robin Dutt

THIS IS NOT A LIE. MY first alcoholic drink was gin. Those who know me are apt to see a vodka martini or a flute of champagne in my hand. But it was gin that seduced me. No tonic was involved at that time. It was the occasion of a school trip to the National Theatre and my dear friend (still is) insisted on buying me something to drink. I thanked him for his kindness and opted for a Coca-Cola. “No, Robin. A drink.” I knew what he meant and, pretty soon, two rocks glasses of gin and fizzy bitter lemon were bejewelling the plain table top in almost Art Deco tones of soapy blue. As we were both only 16 or so, it felt grown up and mischievous.

Gin is a taste you don’t easily forget and, unlike many drinks, most have a clear opinion about it which runs predictably from loving to loathing. Originally created as a herbal medicine (in the way that vodka can be resorted to as an almost first aid for a minor cut) its origins can be traced to the Middle Ages and based on an older Dutch liquor called jenever, deriving from the Latin, “Juniperus”, for Juniper. The essence of this essential berry is omnipresent in the drink and the first whiff as you open a bottle is this. It was a concoction which was apparently drunk before battle to calm the nerves and perhaps that is where the still-used term, “Dutch Courage” comes from. The other popular phrase “Going Dutch” doesn’t have quite the same appeal.

Although not an English invention, it didn’t take the English long to adopt it as the go-to, must have slurp of the day, night and any time in between and, indeed, between 1695 and 1735 literally thousands (around 7,500 in London alone) of gin-shops existed, a period typified as that of the “Gin Craze”. And craze is a good word to use. William Hogarth’s Gin Lane shows gin sodden denizens in a slice of desultory 18th century life displaying the effects of imbibing too much. It also features a baby about to take a headlong plunge from its drunken mother’s arms into an external stairwell, the ominous skeletal man hard by, a crumbling building and the only person prospering, the undertaker. But all this at a time when it was safer not to drink the water. And it is as well to remember gin’s seductive but slow powers in the popular drinkers’ mantra (often ignored, of course, when ordering a gin martini) ‘One Martini, two Martini, three Martini…Floor!’

The sheer variety of gins available is staggering and it seems that, at this very moment, we are enjoying another “Gin Craze” revival. And, while there may not be thousands of specific gin shops, the ancient, classic, modern and explosively contemporary varieties are jostling for centre stage and their time in the bar spotlight or, indeed, the must-have drinks at the openings of fashion boutiques and art gallery evenings. Despite the incalculable varieties, the various ingredients (the botanicals) are responsible for crafting the character for every taste, every style. These, and the liquid’s mercurial clarity, ensure that each gin has legions of fans but then some, a select cognoscenti few. And, despite its foreign origins, the appellation, “London Dry Gin” has a defined meaning and provenance the world over.

Botanicals is a word which in itself is responsible for carving any gin’s identity. For the old school imbibers it cannot be anything but, for example, Gordon’s and, for those who find the presence of dancing herbs on the tongue to their liking, Bombay Sapphire may spring to mind. The Botanist is made with 31 botanicals (22 native to the island of Islay). Hendrick’s has long charmed cocktail fanciers with its cucumber and rose, the garnish – always a slice of the former as long as the high ball, emerging triumphantly through the ice. Sipsmith is from the first copper distillery in London since around the beginning of George IV’s reign. Horse Guards is quite new and the word that is used to describe it is “smooth”. That is its only necessary credential. And you will discover countries of origin as diverse as Canada to Uganda, New Zealand to Germany, the Philippines to America. There are notable gins from France, Italy and Belgium too. And, once again, England, of course.

But, even in the gin-soaked glory days of the past, presentation and public perception of a product was really not even thought about. An earthenware jar with a single curved handle was indistinguishable from another such vessel. Now, as with all drinks, the identity has to be announced from the bar shelves to the bar guests. Shape of bottle, size of bottle (to fit most bar shelves although some are purposefully over-sized), magnetic label colour – red somewhere is often employed, the authority of mono or duo chrome wording, the colour (or not) of the bottle itself, an engaging hand script, the visibility or invisibility of the liquid within and of course, perhaps most importantly, the name. One that becomes generic. And then there is the huge importance of a cocktail name – that sticks, in the way that a Bloody Mary for vodka does. By the by, if using gin instead of vodka it is known as a Red Snapper. But, Fallen Angel, French 75, Moon River, Old Etonian, Satan’s Whiskers, Vesper, Gibson and The Last Word are all, of course, individual, each moniker conjuring a sense of taste, space, time and idea, long before glass has reached lip. Arguably, gin cocktails have the most enigmatic of all alcoholic beverage names. Often they sound like sensory or historical or mischievous adventures.

The gin arena is vast and competitive. But, because of the choice available, with more on the way, almost seemingly every day, there is room for all. But they do stand or fall ultimately. Fashion, while fickle, is a factor. Those brands that can equate with a lifestyle or time or provenance, treat these aspects as preciously guarded hallmarks. Gin is the liquid heart. What exactly characterises it? Sometimes, gins come back from the brink of near extinction because of fashion or companies being bought. New ones are often readily welcomed and give the enthusiastic barman more tools for his alchemy making.

While the definition of a spirit in gin’s case is the prosaic, “a strong, alcoholic drink”, it may be well to look at the other meanings of spirit – not usually applied. “Something’s characteristic quality”, “a person’s mood”, “courage and determination”.

Somehow there is something of a flow between the same word, used for two completely different things.

It’s always a win-win with gin, says

The creation of Mayfair and St James’s as the fashionable centre of London was guided by Henry Jermyn who was given the task of transforming the area still scared with battlements from the Civil War by Charles II upon his restoration in 1660. Jermyn was made the 1st Duke of Albans in thanks and became known as the Father of the West End

The area’s links to bespoke tailoring can be traced back to 1622 when the freehold of this parcel of land was purchased by William Maddox, merchant tailor of the City of London, but it would be another century before his dream of creating a tailoring utopia would be realised when Dorothy Savile come to prominence. Savile Street – which became Savile Row in 1810 after it was cut off by Regent Street – was Dorothy’s personal vision.

The Daily Post reported on 12 March 1733 that “new buildings were about to be built on Savile Street in Mayfair.” It was in 1735 after the Countess of Suffolk, mistress of George II, took up residence at No 15 Savile Street – now Henry Poole & Co – that Savile Row became famous. Another famous tenant who made his home on the street in 1735 was future prime minister William Pitt. Not all existing houses were knocked down but were, instead, cosmetically “Palladianised”, in keeping with Dorothy’s plans.

The British Archives refers to Dorothy’s clever street design to ensure the area was quiet and free of through traffic such as dust carts. “The limitation of space tended to the conspicuous closing of each street by a cross street which permitted each vista to be closed with neatness and effect and prevented through traffic.” It goes on to note that, in 1751, “Savile Street was home to artists such as playwright. Sheridan and at least three gentleman’s tailors were operating.”

The creation of Mayfair and St James’s

Irina Worger of Lady Row tells of the inimitable Savile Row style embodied in her bespoke dress collections and the detailing that is making her designs the talk of the town

Who are your clients?
My clients are mainly English ladies who are recommended to me by word of mouth and by ‘friends of friends’.

What types of fabrics do you prefer using?
All fabric are bespoke and offer a range of over 2,000 choices of fabric to suit your personality. Have fun with the finishing options, including the embellishment based on your mood board that will offer you something special over and above anything seen in any other window display.

What occasions may they wish to commission a dress coat?
The effect you will have in a Lady Row Bespoke Dress-Coat is as a head-turner; the same effect you get when people stop and look at a high class car as it purrs down the road.

The ability to turn heads on the high street, to show off the dress coat’s magnificent design and flare with every step that you take, is the main draw. Enhancing your style on another level with its exceptional characteristics is the USP of the Lady Row dress-coat – whether the occasion is a wedding, christening, gala, or for your own day-to-day use.

How does the Savile Row style inspire your pieces?
Mastering British Savile Row trademarks such as precise detail and expert fitting, the ladies dresses take inspiration from the bespoke traditional men’s jacket. The dress-coat will be embellished with your own choice as a creation born out of your mind and desires, hand crafted into a luxurious garment that you can wear and show off to the world.

Lady Row is the only bespoke women’s tailor just for women in Savile Row, London that offers a bespoke design based on your mood board, fabric, lining, buttons, up to the embroidery and hand painting.

Why do hand stitched clothing have such an appeal?
The embellishment the customer will choose may relate to something from their childhood, their dreams, it may be a culture-themed belonging, something which is very personal to them, a one-off special just for them to wear and show off with utter pride, knowing deep in their heart of hearts that this is unique only to them and could only be achieved by hand stitching.

What pieces are you most proud of?
The Lady Row dress-coat has been called a “walking coat”, “an astonishment”, ” a talking point” and “an interactive art work”. These type of compliments make me proud of all my creations.
Also a crown jewel, extremely recognised in the Dormeuil window display are the beetle wings hand embroidery on a Dormeuil woollen fabric dress-coat.

What’s your delivery time?
Lady Row services include Consultation, Fitting, Creation and Delivery, over the 3-4 months.

In first stage, consultation, all the measurements required will be taken and the customer will choose the fabric, lining, design of the embroidery/hand painting, and buttons and create a mood board.
The second stage, fitting, will require 3-4 meetings to ensure that the dress-coat will fit perfectly to your body and also we will discuss your inspiration board and involve you in the designing process.

Third stage, creation, the coat-dress will be based on your mood board which will give you an idea of what the finishing product will look like and allows everyone involved to agree on a direction.
Finally Delivery, in our London Atelier, your one-off creation will be carefully finished with hand stitches. The whole process will take up to 3-4 months to be ready and delivered anywhere you have requested.

Also, all the patterns, ideas, designs will be safely stored for the future.

Irina Worger of Lady Row tells of

Savile Row was built between 1731 and 1735 and is named after Lady Dorothy Savile, wife of the 3rd Earl of Burlington. Here, Mayfair historian Tyne O’Connell tells the story of one of London’s most flamboyant and influential people

Dorothy Savile, adored by the majority of London’s artistic and royal circles, blazed a trail across early 18th-century London as the leading luminary of cultural salon life. Her mother, Lady Mary Finch, was the daughter of the great Earl of Nottingham and Winchelsea while her father was the Marquis of Halifax. Lady Mary was her husband’s second wife but their long running affair provided decades of scandal before the death of his first wife enabled them to marry. Dorothy’s father died the year after her birth, making her one of the wealthiest heiresses of the age. A few men bitterly resented such a young girl having more power and wealth than most, with her own uncle describing her as “the wickedest mischievous jade upon earth”.

From an early age as one of the young maids of Queen Anne’s bedchamber, she mixed with some of the most illustrious figures of the era including Anne Finch, the feminist rebel and poet, and Sarah Churchill, wife of the Duke of Marlborough. By the age of 15, Dorothy was the head of the bedchamber of Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince of Wales, later King George II. Caroline and her husband’s power rivalled that of the unpopular German-speaking King George I’s own court.

As hostess of The Burlington Circle in Burlington House (now the Royal Academy), Dorothy became one of the greatest influencer of the age and is best known for her friendships and financial patronage of Handel, Swift, Garrick, Pope, John Gay and William Kent. Her personal wealth included vast estates and an enormous fortune, affording her an unusual degree of independence and self-empowerment for a woman, enabling her to cut a line of her own as an artist and as the principal patroness of the age. It is difficult to exaggerate her influence as the leading salonniere of the first half of the 18th century.

The cultural salons of Britain had begun in 1662 when Queen Catherine of Braganza had made drinking tea fashionable. Before this, women had taken a back seat to men socially as coffee was sold at coffee houses from which women were barred. The increasing popularity of tea, and its ready availability, put the running of social events into the hands of women for the first time. Women began hosting cultural tea salons attended by eccentrics and forward thinking men, without prejudice to class, race or faith. Over cups of tea and saucers of champagne, artists, composers, playwrights, scientists, philosophers, royalty and leaders of commerce discussed the arts and new ideas, and listened to the latest composers and poets.

Women began to compete to host the best salons and would trawl Europe in an attempt to discover new talents to present to their guests but none could compare to Dorothy’s lavish occasions. Her guest list included kings and queens, the leading cultural figures of the day, the head of the Bank of England, the head of The East India company and the head of Coutts. It was the non plus ultra of intellectual and cultural life in Britain. William Kent’s sketch of Dorothy at her easel at Burlington House where he lived with her and her husband for over 30 years, and Dorothy’s sketch of Alexander Pope playing cards, captures the relaxed atmosphere of her salons and her unique friendships with the leading, artistic figures of the day.

Blessed with beauty, Dorothy’s porcelain complexion and dark curls, her sharp intellect and the easy confidence of a natural raconteur, added to her charisma in attracting the key figures of music, science, fashion and royalty to her salons. She could afford to dress in the most exotic textiles and styles. Unfortunately for Dorothy though, her patronage of so many famous artists overshadowed her own achievements as a portrait painter and caricaturist. She had been taught by the Irish artist, Charles Jervas, official portrait painter of King George I and II and another member of her colourful salon. Some 24 of her paintings are at Chatsworth, her youngest daughter Charlotte’s home after her marriage to the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1748.

Dorothy was not only a fashion icon for women, she wanted the gentlemen in her life to be “distinctively attired” and happily funded their bespoke three-piece suits, shoes, hats and canes. As the gentlemen visiting Burlington House had to walk past an oyster bar and over the shells of discarded oysters, Dorothy built the first Burlington Arcade in 1721 to prevent the sour odour of oysters soaking into slippers and shoes and coming into the house.

This glass-fronted arcade marked the beginning of Dorothy’s development of the 10 acres behind Piccadilly. The first Burlington Arcade was replaced in 1810 by a much larger and grander affair as shopping was transformed from a chore to the popular leisure pastime it became under Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, hence the entwined Cs on the lampposts of the area.

Before Dorothy’s marriage to Richard Boyle in 1721, the impoverished third Earl of Burlington and Cork was facing financial ruin. He had numerous outstanding debts and several court cases in Chancery. When rumours began to swirl that their two friends were to marry, the poet Alexander Pope and the designer William Kent wrote to one another that they, “Hoped that Lord Burlington’s marriage to Lady Dorothy Savile would signal a new period of creativity.” Pope wrote to Lord Burlington, “I hope she paints, I hope you build” while Kent wrote, “I hope that your architecture will flourish.”

Savile Row was built between 1731 and

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