Fabulously entertaining account of the prole beginnings of fashion-world fixture Doonan.
Visionary fashion director of Barney’s department story, Doonan (Wacky Chicks, 2003, etc.) is known for taking the ordinary and spinning it into the fantastic—a skill, we find, that he learned at his mother’s knee. In the early 1950s, the doggedly glamorous Betty Doonan rose to the challenge of making life a lark in the midst of the terrible and dreary gloom of postwar England. Taking care of the kids and not one but two schizophrenic relatives, plus the occasional boarder, Betty lined shoes with cardboard, scraped together makeshift childcare (the children were sent to a local orphanage during the day), and when all else failed, made an event out of the smallest and most mundane thing (“Who wants to watch me put on my bracelet!!!???”). Doonan recalls the challenges of childhood with love and respect and, where that isn’t possible, bemusement. Key characters include his anarchic gran (called “Narg”), his blind aunt Phyllis, and Biddie, a game partner in Doonan’s quest to find and join the elusive circle of the Beautiful People. Doonan also marks the significant style events of his youth: the Christmas gift that signaled his early love of decor, the moment when he and Biddie discovered “camp” (appropriately enough at a camp for vacationing families), the central role of the floor pillow to his fab aspirations. Most of the text focuses on his early years—the challenging times in Reading and his early days in London, trying to find the elusive tribe of beautiful people—with brief side trips to his years in Hollywood and a present-day meeting with his boyfriend’s parents.
A kick, a hoot, a truly wonderful read, with loads of down-and-dirty details about characters who are way more interesting than those dull Beautiful People Doonan was so all afire to find.