It was Ladies’ Night alright: A gaggle of the glamorous and their proud others gather in the fashion store together. Glasses clink. Spirits are high. Mannequin heads with marvellous millinery gaze down at us from high pedestals. A party of designer frocks demands trying on at a later date. The star of the show, lady in red, is spread out in paperback glory near the scarlet clothes and vin rouge. In the Oxfam boutique the clothes are arranged according to colour, and the audience seems to gravitate like-to-like. The anthology editor, Stephanie Tillotson, wearing a long, tailored, mint jacket lingers near the green. Yasmin Ali, a contributor, her dark hair skimming the shoulders of a black dress with slash zip detailing, stands by with her back to black. After some time to mill, chat, browse the rails and tuck into the refreshments, the speeches begin.
Editor Stephanie Tillotson’s experience in theatre, radio and TV shows. She oozes no-nonsense confidence and style as she tells her favourite ‘knock-knock’ joke from childhood, ending with the punchline ‘Knickerless girls shouldn’t climb trees.’ ‘Why is it funny?,’ Tillotson asks. ‘Because it is naughty. I think this is why so many people entered stories into this anthology: because our relationship with clothes can be a naughty one, because clothes give shape to something that we know is there but most people don’t get to see.’
The anthology doesn’t just touch on the sensual aspects of clothes, but also on their element of disguise and empowerment. The Secretary of State fears attending an important meeting without her lucky jacket as armour in Yasmin Ali’s ‘The Lucky Jacket.’ Kerry Steed’s contribution is a tale of a first encounter when she is without her usual mask: ‘I am wearing no make-up. My hair needs washing, my clothes too. I am exhausted.’ This is not the case for the writer on the evening though, her strawberry blonde curls shine around an expressive face. She bounces with joy. It is her first short story and her first published work. The brilliantly bold Alys Conran, fellow contributor of mine for the Nu: fiction & stuff anthology last year, takes the idea of not wearing anything a bit further, setting her story – ‘Mr Price’s Summer Holiday’ – on a nudist beach. The story itself opens with: ‘Whoopeeeeee! Naked!’
Will The Birthday Suit catch on? Former fashion editor of the Western Mail’s WM magazine, Rin Simpson knows about clothes. I spy her listening to Kerry intently, sat on the floor, her back leaning on a clothes rail, her deep red curls long and loose. Afterwards I chat to her about getting published, and working on her first novel – she is trying to master writing in the third not first person. Even after years in journalism, she hates the idea of rejection. She is excited about being a part of Cut on the Bias. Her lovely story ‘In Her Shoes,’ the title deliberately stolen, tells of a woman trying to decide what to wear to meet her birthmother. Rin reveals that she is wearing the same brown boots she describes in the story:‘I realised that much of the clothing I describe in the story is actually from my wardrobe!’ All the more reason to keep indulging in our love of clothes then, just look at the inspiration they bring…
I think I need some new shoes. They rhyme with muse, after all, and that’s close enough for me.