Simon Doonan’s “The Asylum”: Why fashion needs working-class kids from the boonies.

Fashion Needs Working-Class Kids From the Boonies. People Like the Supercool Kate Moss. And Me.

Fashion Needs Working-Class Kids From the Boonies. People Like the Supercool Kate Moss. And Me.

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
Sept. 3 2013 5:45 AM

Kate Moss and Me

Encounters with the coolest girl in the world—and how we both found a home in fashion.

(Continued from Page 2)

Barneys creative director disses Kate, calling her “a working-class slag from a crap town.”

They forgot the “just like me” part.

The repercussions were swift and bowel-curdling: U.K. pals e-mail me suggesting I get my bile ducts removed. Apparently the word “slag” is no longer flung around with quite the un-P.C. abandon that it was back in my John Lewis days. Not having lived in the U.K. since the ‘70s, I am, so it would appear, working with an out-of-date lexicon.

Next an admonishing call from Topshop owner Sir Philip Green. Why-did-you-call-Kate-a-slag is the gist.

This call was followed by one similar from Kate’s agent.

Then Croydon got involved.

Croydon officials used their local paper to publicly denounce my comments as “inappropriate on many levels” and reassure the world that Croydon was “a vibrant place to live with great shopping.” (This desperate attempt to rebrand their town as a red-hot tourist destination had, in my opinion, the effect of making Croydon seem, if anything, even more poignant.)


Some enterprising Brits, un-P.C. slags with great senses of humor, saw commercial opportunity in the whole debacle. They commemorated the brouhaha with a line of working-class slag T-shirts and sold them for 14 quid each on a site called The T-shirts came in a bewildering variety of colors, or “colorways,” as fashion people inexplicably insist on calling them, and were accompanied by a spirited defense of yours truly.

In my own defense I would like to bring the attention of all concerned to the fact that there exists a book called Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK, which extensively highlights both my hometown and Kate’s. According to Crap Towns, making eye contact in either Reading or Croydon is always a bad idea: If you make the mistake of staring at anyone in either town, “Whatchoo lookin’ at, you fuckin’ cunt?” will be the last thing you hear before you’re poked in the eye with a half-snouted cigarette.

When Kate arrived for the opening, she was wearing a wicked little Topshop frock printed with barbed wire. Was this a portent? Hopefully not. I braced myself for a half-snouted cigarette. Instead, I am happy to report that she gave me a big hug.

Two nights later I ran into Miss Moss at the Costume Institute Gala. This is fashion’s most szhooshy occasion. No missy separates allowed.

The mesmerizingly beautiful Kate looked particularly un-Croydon. Having accessorized one of her own designs—a simple black chiffon number—with a bazillion dollars’ worth of borrowed Graff diamonds, she was easily the coolest chick in the room.

“Love the frock,” I said.

“A hundred and fifty quid,” said Kate in her best South London drawl, adding, “It’s part of me collection.”

She and her pal Irina then dive “into the lav for a quick fag.”

About 18 months ago:  “You don’t mind sitting with the interns do you?”

The hostess of this particular fashion-magazine-sponsored dinner has taken the liberty of seating me at the C table. I am not offended. In fact, I am relieved. Hanging out with the newbie slags always guarantees more fun. I am delighted at the opportunity to break bread with a fresh batch of eccentric hopefuls. They are the oddballs and misfits who have, from an early age, been mesmerized by the notion of style. These are my people. Through a combo of chutzpah and creativity they have found a way in. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We brave fashion warriors bring our creative impulses and our passion for transformation. In return we get a safe space to express ourselves.

The Asylum by Simon Doonan.
The Asylum by Simon Doonan

Courtesy of Blue Rider Press

So, as instructed, I take a seat and begin to chat with the gals around me. Funny, they don’t really seem like fashion daredevils. In fact, they seem rather conventional. I am used to new arrivals being a little rough around the edges. These interns are so well-spoken. With their carefully ironed hair and their perfectly applied maquillage, they seem much more like fashion consumers than fashion rebels.

In order to ascertain their names, I peek at their place cards. Those surnames sound hauntingly familiar. They are boldface last names, the names of movie stars and Fortune 500 megamoguls.

“Are you by any chance related to X?” I ask one young lass who is wearing a $4,000 Alexander McQueen outfit.

“Yes. He’s my dad.”

“And are you the daughter of Y?” I ask another gal.

“Yes. But please don’t ask me to get you an autograph.”

As I survey these lucky-sperm-club members, my heart sinks.

If the kids of the famous start nabbing all the plum creative jobs, then what about all the marginalized freaks? What about all the outsiders, the kids of the unfamous, the working-class slags from bumfuck? What are they supposed to do? Who will offer them shelter? And, most important of all, what will be the effect on fashion?

Simply put, if the idiosyncratic freaksters from the backwoods are elbowed out of the way by the kids of the famous from Knightsbridge and Brentwood, then fashion will shrivel and die.

Dear Fashion Industry,

Beware of privileging the privileged. Keep the door open to the self-invented superfreaks from the crap towns. This is the only way to keep fashion vital and creative. Thanks awfully.



To read more about Simon Doonan’s years in the fashion business check out his new book The Asylum: A Collage of Couture Reminiscences …and Hysteria.