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Fashion 88 : Coleridge Deals a Blow to Designers : ‘The Fashion Conspiracy’ Is Different View of Industry

After four years of investigating the fashion world from Tokyo to Paris and New York, after interviewing the world’s biggest designers as well as their biggest customers, Nicholas Coleridge concluded that it’s an amazingly vapid world.

In spite of the fashion industry’s muscle in money terms, which is far more considerable than the average person appreciates, “very many people who work closely with fashion just are incredibly vapid,” Coleridge says without faltering. “The designers are arrogant, xenophobic and introverted.”

To whom specifically does he refer? “I would include almost all the designers,” he replies, having compiled the results of his probe in “The Fashion Conspiracy” ($19.95, Harper & Row), an entry on the best-seller list in England that has just been released here.

‘Chat Show’ Guest

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Just who is Nicholas Coleridge to pulverize the industry in such an unkind manner? Well, he’s a product of Cambridge and Eton schools in England, a frequent “chat show” guest on the English “telly,” a society man of renown and a wunderkind of the highest order on the British Isles.

At 31, he is also editor-in-chief of Harpers & Queen, a magazine “between Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair with a twist of Town & Country.” (Tina Brown, now editor of Vanity Fair, hired him out of Cambridge when she edited the Tatler magazine, “but I fixed the coffee mostly,” Coleridge notes.)

“Even clever designers surround themselves with fourth-rate people,” Coleridge said. “I’m afraid it’s that old thing in life of wanting to be toadied.” (Translation: To be surrounded by people who tell you how brilliant you are.)

“The worst are the Italians,” he goes on. “Valentino has come from nowhere, which is what most of them have done, built an amazing aura of discrimination, and lives now in a kind of cocoon that’s only seen by presidents of countries or popes or royal families.”

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A Stop for Lunch

The irony of arriving in Los Angeles to promote the book at the exact time of Valentino’s near-historic visit (or at least, the hype was) isn’t lost on the droll author. Entering Neiman Marcus for lunch (spa food in the Club Room), the site of the Italian master’s large promotion, Coleridge quipped: “At any moment I thought the deeply hooded eyes of Valentino would come around the corner. . . .

“Many of today’s designers have become like crowned heads,” Coleridge continued. “Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta are the two best examples.” A demonic grin emerges, and Coleridge illuminates the condition of his fellow country people: “It’s even sadder in England. English designers have all the same egotistical qualities but don’t succeed in selling very many clothes.”

The unique problem of English designers, he explains, is the English women. “They have no priority of clothes at all. An Englishwoman would rather have a portrait painting of her spaniel dog any day than go to Jasper Conran and buy an expensive outfit.”

Putting together a top-10 best-dressed list in England would start, he says with “the Princess of Wales-question mark, and then you go, ‘um, um, um’ and that’s the end of the list.”

As for the other clothing consumers of the world, Coleridge has christened them the Shiny Set--"a new breed of personality, famous for being rich and choosy.” The group includes such New York women as socialites Mercedes Kellogg, Nan Kempner, Brooke Astor, C. Z. Guest, and from Los Angeles, Betsy Bloomingdale and Harriet Deutsch.

A visit to Nan Kempner is chronicled in the book, memorable for her statement that she never buys Chanel. “Providence, however,” Coleridge writes, “led her to make her first Chanel purchase of a tailored black suit,” about which Kempner said: “ ‘It must have been premonition, because my father-in-law died in the fall, shortly after the suit had been delivered. It sounds awful, but I’m glad I chose it, at least I had something to wear.’ ”

In the end, the Shiny Set doesn’t fare much better than the designers do. “You can’t help but feel slightly sorry for the men they’re married to,” Coleridge sighs. “I’m fascinated that designers hold these women in such incredible thrall, as though fashion supplies some sort of structure to their lives way beyond the importance of putting on clothes.”

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