Making Out

Harriett – November 2004

Harriett was rattling around in her mother’s Belgravia town house. She had loved the place as a child and had many happy memories associated with the place. However, much as Hattie liked to party she didn’t feel comfortable inviting folks back here. She would be more than pleased to receive a visit from either her sister or her mother to liven the place up a little she thought one (rare) evening when she had determined to stay in, wash her hair and paint her nails.  She was busy with the remote control and the nail varnish when the house phone rang shrilly from the hall.

Hattie hopped up pleased to have a distraction from the less than riveting TV programmes she had been relentlessly cruising,

‘Hello, Harriett Alexander’s residence’ she answered with a feigned foreign accent of dubious derivation,

‘Hi Hattie’ Charlie responded without a shadow of hesitation, ‘amazed to catch you in I’ve been trying for days.  I only have your old cell number, d’you have a new one now for the UK?’

‘Oops, sorry Charlie; I forgot to send it to you.  Well I didn’t forget really I didn’t get round to it yet. You have so many cell phones, I never know what number to call.’  Hattie complained.

‘It doesn’t matter they all message to each other.  Give me your UK number now and I’ll put it in my phone and send you a message so you can store my number.’

‘OK’ Hattie read out her number and glanced back at the phone as it beeped, ‘Got it thanks Charlie.  Where are you?’

‘I’m in Paris until tomorrow night and then London next week.  I wondered if I could crash at Mama’s with you. We could do something together over the weekend?’

‘Ooh lovely’ Hattie was unequivocally delighted by the thought of seeing her big sister, ‘we could go shopping.  I know, I can take you in to Palmerstone and help you to chose some stuff then we can get dressed up and go out on the town.  I know some great clubs.’

‘You’re enjoying Palmerstone then?’ Charlotte asked unnecessarily, Hattie’s voice was brimming with enthusiasm.

‘Yea it’s really cool.  We get masses of famous people coming in but we have to pretend that they’re just normal customers…Well you’re famous now too Charlie after that feature in Elle Interiors.’

‘Not exactly pop star material I’m afraid’ Charlie deflected modestly, ‘did you hear from Mama?  I spoke to her a couple of days ago and she said she’s planning to come over to London for a few weeks. She wants to keep an eye on her baby I think.’  Charlotte furnished with a laugh.

‘Honestly!’ Hattie rolled her eyes to herself, ‘I’m a grown up workingwoman now.  I actually get paid, real money.’  Harriett added, self importantly, almost causing Charlie to laugh out loud.

‘Great stuff, well drinks are on you then’ Charlie teased.

‘OK we’ll have champagne if you like?’ Hattie responded seriously pleased to be entertaining her big sister.

‘Well I’ll see you tomorrow evening then.  I should be at Eaton Square by 7.30 if the flight’s on schedule. Look forward to seeing you mia bella’ Charlie slipped into her father’s habitual endearment, ‘love you.’

‘Love you too.  See you tomorrow Charlie.’ Hattie bounced back to the TV room to finish her nails with a grin on her face and great expectations for the weekend.

Charlotte arrived at her mother’s house to an effulgent reception from her sister. Harriett looking gorgeous and rather sophisticated in one of her new outfits rushed to the door to greet her sister,

‘Charlie!’ Hattie threw her arms around Charlotte’s neck and kissed her affectionately, ‘come in, I have drinks and deli stuff ready.’  Hattie bustled about hanging Charlotte’s coat and scarf as she chatted non-stop, dragging her sister through to the kitchen cum living room, a large though cosy space replete with a big squashy sofa.  The sisters sat facing each other with their backs leaned against opposite arms of the sofa.

‘This is nice, thanks Hattie’ Charlotte remarked, with a smile as she sampled from the tray of canapés and sipped a little nicely chilled Prosecco.

‘There’s this fab little deli right next to the shop’ Hattie declared happily, ‘too tempting sometimes…’ and added, biting the bullet figuratively, ‘I have to be careful what I eat or I’ll get way too fat to fit into ‘Aunt’ Becca’s amazing selection of clothes which would be a mortal shame.  Not like you.  You’re so skinny Charlie.’  Hattie was proud of herself that she had been able to go near the subject that had haunted her childhood and threatened occasionally to jeopardise her relationship with her older sister.  Charlotte recognised the watershed moment for what it was.

‘I often wished that I was more like you.  That is y’know it’s not that great being skinny.  Men love women with figures like yours, I’d hardly get a glance next to you.’ Harriett took this information in with a slight feeling of disbelief, although she knew that Charlotte’s wasn’t lying to placate her.  It was true then what the girls at work had said.

‘Really! You would like to be more like me?’ Hattie tested the theory in disbelief,

‘Yes baby’ Charlie grinned and reached over to hug her little sister, ‘everyone loves you and spoils you no matter what you do.  And do you know why that is; because you’re so full of life and because you radiate joie de vie and because you’re so nice and open and fun and because you’re beautiful.  You should never ever think yourself as anything less than super special.’  Hattie met her sister’s eyes.  Charlotte’s were soft with affection for her; Hattie’s brimmed over with emotion,

‘Thank you Charlie’ Hattie breathed, hoping that she would be able to hang on to this moment forever, a moment where she loved her sister unambiguously without envy.

The feeling of complete harmony between the two of them was too good for Hattie not to use the opportunity.  She had long wanted to know more about her father; the moment had never seemed right to tackle either her mother or her sister.  Hattie suspected that Charlotte might know more than she had ever let on, she was after all seven years her senior.

‘We are so different, you and I’ Hattie embarked tentatively, ‘and I obviously know that Papa isn’t my real father.  I’ve known that for ages of course’ Harriett’s voice suggested that only a simpleton wouldn’t have known, ‘and that he’s gay’ she added proving her woman of the world credentials.  ‘Charlie, do you remember my father?  Was he mama’s boyfriend?  What happened?’ Charlotte could feel her heart being torn apart.  She didn’t want to lie to Hattie or to be disloyal to her mother and all at the same time the terror and dislike she had felt as a small child surfaced making her feel like she was suffocating.

‘It was a long time ago’ Charlotte spoke carefully, ‘I know that mama always wanted you and adored you from the minute you were born; well we all did.’ Harriett knew that Charlotte had sidestepped her question but she could put herself in Charlotte’s position; wouldn’t she have done the same? ‘If you must know’ Charlotte’s voice was hesitant, ‘you have to ask Mama.’

‘I did’ Hattie furnished with a sigh, ‘she said the same as you.’ Charlotte almost advised Hattie to ask again now she was older, her mother would tell her the truth. No, that would be opening a real can of worms; what good could it possibly do? Charlotte gathered her inner resources and changed the subject,

‘I thought that you were planning to take me out on the town?  I haven’t hung out in a bar or been to a nightclub in eons.’ It was not a prompt to be taken lightly. In a moment Hattie was distracted into revealing her plans for the evening,

‘You must get changed though Charlie.  Wear something eye-catching, you always look so chic but much too sober’ Hattie advised with newfound authority from her experience at Palmerstone.


Chapter 18: Rebecca – November 1975

Again Rebecca’s solace was the shop.  She threw all her time and energy into making Palmerstone a success.  Christmas was fast approaching and she needed more stock for partygoers.  The business was doing very well but she would have to start paying for the Spring/Summer collections that would be delivered soon after Christmas as well as start buying the Autumn/Winter collections.

Still she decided she must have new stock for the party season, the Ossie Clark had sold out as soon as it had hit the shop floor.  She decided to order more and to call in favours to get designs from Zandra Rhodes and Bill Gibb, as she felt sure that her customers would go for their labels in a big way.  She also approached Manolo Blahnik for shoes having admired Caitlin’s sapphire stilettos.  She was also expecting a delivery any day from her Indian supplier.

Palmerstone now had a staff of five, one full-time assistant manager and four part-timers. All were also good customers when they weren’t working.  Carole was the same age as Rebecca and had worked in department stores in the past.  She was reliable and honest and Rebecca felt comfortable leaving her in charge of the shop when she had to attend shows and make buying trips.  Over time Carole had developed her skills and had become adept at understanding and fulfilling customer’s expectations, she was meticulous at keeping records and introduced systems into Palmerstone, which helped the business to flourish.  She was a real asset to the business and became a confidante for Rebecca.

Rebecca was constantly busy.  She re-merchandised the shop every week so everything looked fresh and interesting, always mixing new pieces in with older ones and showing different quirky ways of wearing pieces together.  The window became quite a talking point for Wimbledon residents as Palmerstone constantly pushed the boundaries with the labels that they stocked and in the way that they were styled.

Rebecca also insisted on having regular staff training sessions so that her team were au fey with all the new trends, were confident in assessing body types and personal requirements, and were able to make appropriate recommendations to their customers.  Rebecca also planned ahead with military precision.  She constantly looked at fashion magazines and visited the competition looking for ideas.  She had a knack for spotting labels that would sell and now that she had a strong stable she found it easier to buy from the more elite designers.  She not only knew what she would buy for next year but the year after and for her new branch which would be opening in Spring 1976.

One crisp December morning Caitlin breezed into the shop holding a huge bouquet of white roses out to Rebecca,

‘Hi Becca, how are you?  The shop looks simply divine, show me everything’ she hugged and kissed her friend, already heading for the rails and riffling through.  ‘Oh!  These are beautiful, like the dress you wore for my party?’ she asked without pausing, ‘and these!’ with a shriek as she came to the Bill Gibb collection of long dresses resplendent with wide puff sleeves set into tight bodices in rich colours and bold patterns.  ‘Let me try this on, and this and this’ she proceeded around the rails like a child in a sweet shop.  Rebecca indicated to Carole which of Caitlin’s choices she should put ready in the changing room, as she knew her friend’s shape and which dresses would suit her.

Soon Caitlin had amassed a dozen outfits to try.  Not long after she had selected three pairs of Manolos, two Bill Gibb dresses and an Ossie Clarke to take her through the Christmas party season.  She then proceeded to plunder the accessories collection selecting a silk cummerbund, several patterned Indian silk scarves, silver jewellery, beads and bangles for presents all the while chattering excitedly to Rebecca and the other girls.

‘I wondered if you could do lunch Becca?’ she asked, ‘Please do!’ she followed when Rebecca hesitated.  ‘Can you get these wrapped and ready for me to pick up after?’ she asked turning to Carole, ‘Here’ she held out her credit card, ‘put everything on this.’  Carole took the credit card and very business-like confirmed with Caitlin each of the purchases she required from the melee of items tossed around the changing room.  ‘All of these’ confirmed Caitlin airily, ‘Becca took away the things that didn’t work so well.  She wouldn’t let me have that gorgeous Zandra Rhodes dress because she said it made me look fat!’ she added regretfully.  Inwardly astonished, Carole gathered everything up as the two friends headed for the door arm in arm.  Rebecca looked back and said to Carole, ‘I won’t be long, we’ll just be at the Rose and Crown for a glass of wine and a packet of crisps’ she winked at Carole.

Caitlin’s idea of lunch being rather grander than Rebecca’s they wondered further along the road to a wine bar that did good food.  They ordered mains, side salad and a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse, which arrived nicely chilled.

‘Becca your shop is wonderful.’ Caitlin was serious, ‘I’m really sorry I haven’t been before. I kept meaning to and then you know…’ she tailed off, ‘Perhaps you could open on the Kings Road or Brompton, that would be nice and close.  Maybe you could get Halston too!’

‘Well actually you are the first to know but I am getting Halston, and I will certainly be considering the Kings Road for my next branch!’

‘Wow Becca, that’s brilliant.  You are so clever!’ responded Caitlin really admiring her friend’s taste and business acumen.  The food arrived and they busied themselves with eating for a few minutes.  Caitlin then said, trying to sound casual,

‘Have you seen Dylan since my party?’

‘No, why?’ responded Rebecca, not giving anything away.

‘Because silly you both look nuts about each other’ Caitlin responded as though to a small child.  Rebecca took this in.

‘Is it that obvious that I like him?’

‘Well yeah, actually you both look as though you might copulate on the floor at any moment.’  Caitlin responded making Rebecca snort and choke on a mouthful of food, ‘I can’t believe he hasn’t asked you out, he couldn’t take his eyes off you all the evening at mine.’

‘Well he hasn’t’ answered Rebecca baldly, ‘so he can’t be that keen.’

‘I’m sure he is’ replied Caitlin, with a wry smile, ‘I had an experimental flirt with him myself and he hardly noticed my allure!’ she wrinkled her nose, thinking, ‘Perhaps he’s afraid of getting involved because he likes you too much?’ She hazarded.

‘Well I’m too busy to think about him anyway’ said Rebecca with finality, ‘I’d better be getting back to the shop.  Caiti thanks ever so much for the lunch and the flowers and the huge purchase.’ She smiled at her friend fondly, ‘How did you track him down for the party?’ she asked, suddenly reverting to their prior conversation.

‘Charles, he knows everything about Dylan’ Caitlin answered, prophetically.

Chapter 14: Rebecca – August 1974

Fortunately for Rebecca she had no time to dwell on her meeting with the rather delectable Dylan.  She returned to London to be hurled headlong into preparations for the shop opening and for her move to Wimbledon.  Her to-do list never seemed to get any shorter.  As soon as she ticked something off another task appeared.

Rebecca had given in her notice at Liberty before Penny’s wedding.  Her visit to the personnel department had been quite emotional as her employers were not keen on letting such a promising young retailer leave them.  She agreed to work an additional week more than she had planned to, as she didn’t want to let them down.  This would leave her with only one clear week to finish the preparations at Palmerstone ready to open on the last Saturday of July.

Rebecca was so fired up with enthusiasm for her new venture that she hardly regretted moving on from Liberty.  Her colleagues though were keen to give her a good send off.  Rebecca was treated to a farewell presentation of a very striking heavy turquoise and silver pendant of Indian origin from the jewellery department.  It was a really special piece that Rebecca would treasure forever.

In the last week of July Rebecca managed to move her things from her flat in Shepherds Bush to the flat above the business. The move made things simpler for her as she was on the premises to start receiving deliveries of stock.  Decoration of the flat would have to wait as her energies were entirely taken up with preparing the shop for her opening night.  Rebecca’s time was spent painting, cleaning, varnishing floors, overseeing the shop fitters, receiving stock, unpacking and hanging it in the stock room ready for display, and finally delivering fliers around the neighbourhood.  She rolled into bed and slept the sleep of the exhausted every night.

On the Saturday afternoon just before she was due to open the doors for her launch Rebecca stood on the opposite side of the high street making a final appraisal of her shop.  Palmerstone had been sign written in bold black simple print on a background of duck egg blue, which was to be the signature colour of her brand.  Three mannequins stood in the window.  Palmerstone’s style was to be projected by the window display and the merchandising of the shop and was the culmination of many hours of planning.  Although Rebecca had bought from the Autumn/Winter collections she had created her window display with lighter weight pieces that would be suitable for the warmer weather.

The three mannequins projected the Palmerstone style along with strategically placed pieces: a pair of striking platform shoes by Terry de Havilland, a belt, an embroidered bag, a bikini and some beads to show the range of stock that the shop carried.  By each of the mannequins Rebecca had placed a crisp white card with the designer, item and price clearly marked in italic print.

Inside the shop everything was carefully organised so that it was easy for customers to view.  Clothes were displayed in ‘stories’ so that it was easy to see which pieces would go together to make an outfit.  Items from different labels were mixed so that expensive and much more affordable items hung together.  Shoes were placed on the floor, beads and scarves draped across hangers to compliment a look.

The old linen press looked great with colour-coded piles of tees, fine-knit jumpers and cardis displayed within its shelves and opened drawers.  The refurbished old table that she’d found looked resplendent with a tray of glasses and champagne at one end and an antique till, tissue paper and a stack of her beautiful new carrier bags at the other.

Rebecca had bought from Missoni in Italy, Calvin Klein and Betsey Johnson from the States, Ossie Clarke and a new more affordable label, French Connection from the UK.  She had also sourced a good supplier for vintage clothes and an importer of Indian silks and jewellery.  There were many other labels she would have liked to stock but time and mostly financial restrictions had limited her ambition.  This would have to do for now.

Two of her colleagues from Liberty had volunteered to help her for the evening; Nicky and Juliet arrived as promised at 3.30.  They hugged Rebecca and exclaimed happily over the shop as Rebecca showed them the ropes.

‘There are other sizes and a lot more stock downstairs as I didn’t want to crowd the shop floor’ she explained, ‘come down and have a look so you know where everything is if we get busy.’

‘I’m sure we will’ remarked Juliet, ‘we saw quite a few girls eying up the shop as we arrived.’

‘I wondered if you would wear some of the clothes for tonight,’ Rebecca asked, ‘it really helps to sell things if people can see how to wear them.’

‘Brilliant idea, yes please’ Nicky agreed.

Rebecca showed the two what she was planning to wear and waved her hand at hangers she’d set up for the others.  For Nicky she had chosen a ditsy flower print shirt and blue jeans dressed up with a bold beaded necklace and platform shoes.

‘Cool!’  Nicky knew that the outfit was well chosen, what she would have picked for herself.  Rebecca has a great eye she thought.  Juliet was very petite and pretty not unlike Caitlin.  Rebecca had chosen a very simple shift dress in pistachio green from the Calvin Klein label with a classic high-heeled pump.  Again it was a good choice that suited the wearer.

Rebecca got herself ready in a narrow long sleeved tee in a sludgy purple colour, a short skirt over a slightly longer Victorian pin-tucked petticoat, she strapped on a pair of platform shoes in purple and lilac and accessorised the outfit with the pendant that her colleagues had given to her.  The effect was stunning.

It was nearly time to open.  The girls trooped up to the sales floor to be met by the sight of a large group, a dozen or so shoppers waiting on the doorstep.  Rebecca took a deep breath to steady her nerves,

‘Let’s open up then, no point keeping them waiting!’

The launch was a great success.  Rebecca and her helpers were kept busy constantly, pouring drinks, talking customers through the looks, finding the right sizes and combinations, helping in the fitting rooms, wrapping purchases and, best of all, ringing up the sales.

Towards the end of the evening Rebecca looked up as the doorbell rang to see Suzanne entering the shop clutching a bouquet of flowers and a card.  She had come she said to take Rebecca out for supper when she’d finished for the evening.

‘Have a glass of champagne while you’re waiting, we won’t be long now’ smiled Rebecca, thinking how lucky she was to have such a loyal and lovely friend.

Nicky and Juliet turned down the offer of joining them saying that they needed to get back to their respective families.  Rebecca gave them each a present to thank them for their help, as neither would accept payment.  All that remained was to tidy the shop floor, cash up, lock the door and set the alarm.  Rebecca counted her takings with a sense of achievement.  They had made enough that evening to pay her rent and bills for the week with some left over.  She felt ebullient.

‘Come up and see the flat Annie, it’s in a mess still I’m afraid.  I’m so pleased you came, I think I need some R&R after this last week, and a celebration!’

‘That’s what I thought’ responded Suzanne as they climbed the stairs up to the flat, ‘apart from wanting to see the shop, after all I’ve heard about it.’

‘What did you think?’ asked Rebecca, her friend’s opinion important to her even though Suzanne wasn’t that into fashion.

‘I think it looks great’ Suzanne responded honestly, ‘It looks classy and bohemian at the same time.  The window makes you want to come in and look and I love the signage.  You should be really proud Becca.’

‘Thank you Annie’ responded Rebecca, giving her a hug, ‘and thank you for the lovely flowers they’ll brighten this place up until I get the chance to decorate.’

‘I like it’ Suzanne approved, taking a good look around, ‘much bigger than your last place, and enormous compared to mine’ she laughed, ‘It has lots of potential, as an estate agent would put it, and you are just the person to realise that potential.’

‘There’s a really nice looking pub that does food just along the road, shall we head there?’ asked Rebecca, suddenly absolutely starving.

‘Yeah, let’s.’

The two wandered out into the mild evening air and ambled a few yards down to the Rose and Crown for a well-earned bottle of wine, pie and chips.