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Whisper of Truth

Whisper of Truth

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Whisper of Truth

201 pagine
2 ore
Mar 25, 2014


Mary Vaudoyer was scarcely out of childhood when she observed to her mother that the only things that really mattered in life were clothes and philosophy. That statement proved to define the course of Mary’s extraordinary life. Born in 1918, Mary joined the Special Operations Executive at the outbreak of the Second World War, meeting Sir Winston Churchill and dealing with top-secret documents. She went on to carry out vital work preparing undercover agents for dangerous missions in France. After the war Mary married a member of a prominent family of French architects and spent most of the rest of her life in France. In the post-war years she developed a passion for haute couture and became a collector of fabulous garments, gowns, dresses and coats. In the 1990s she published Le Livre de la Haute Couture, a comprehensive work on fashion and the great designers, which became a best-seller on both sides of the Channel. Whisper of Truth is her story.

Mar 25, 2014

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Whisper of Truth - Mary Vaudoyer



Early explorations


Walking over a wine-dark moor along the skirts of Loch Rannoch, barely out of childhood, I startled my mother with the statement: The only things that are really important are clothes and philosophy.

But darling, what about nature? she replied. "What about love? What about God?

They are the background of everything. I am talking about the things I love.

The definition of clothes and philosophy has no doubt undergone considerable modification, but the statement still holds. This in no way means that I have traversed the sixty intervening years insensitive to the glories of man’s genius or failed to respond to miracles of sound and architecture or the heartbeat of nature. Rather it means that despite outward changes of lifestyle and occupation, these two luminous strands shimmer through the multicoloured ground-weave of experience.

The wordsparticipation mystique would have been unfathomable to the infant soul, but the reality was such.

I ran with the hare, plunged from a great height with the gannet, pecked upside down with the blue tit, receded with the sea, thrashed with the waves and the icy winds in winter and combed the greenness of the woods in summer. All natural phenomena, all cosmic events were lived inwardly as intuitive knowledge. None of this prevented me from being normally perspicacious and catching on with extreme rapidity to school programmes.

My earliest perceptions were always highly-charged evocative symbols, leading me on like fireflies into further lands, to the extreme confines of the visible world. The wild orchids, the curlews and the rimless sea were each a part of an unbroken garland.

At four and a half I was reading fluently and by five I was looking up the index of the 12-volume Children’s Encyclopaedia which represented our total nursery library.

I read voraciously, but not for knowledge in ordinary terms; I was not accumulating facts but looking for gold dust, mining for ever-more-evocative symbols that would arouse the fragrance of things unseen. I realised much later that I had not only been close to Indian thought during those early years but that I had lived Indian thought, delving into the substratum of pure being, nourished by the divine calligraphy and the diversity of manifestation. In childhood’s terms, philosophy meant that.

How did the clothes part fit in?

From babyhood, my colour sense was acute. Every microscopic variation in tone was registered and filed away in some subterranean region of the psyche.

But line and cut? Apart from the splendour and ceremonial of Highland gatherings, Scottish clothes had no lines. They were a juxtaposition of uncountable layers of wool, tweed, cashmere and waterproof; shoes were Wellington boots or something known as brogues, which had long fringed leather tongues lying over the instep, or strapped summer sandals that left pearly flower patterns over bare feet in the erratic summer sunlight. Throughout my early days, I knew nothing but mackintoshes, bowler hats, plus-fours, shapeless tweeds, all designed to keep out the rigours of the East Coast winds.

However, in 1924 my mother began preparations for a London wedding, and Vogue, Butterick’s and Harper’s appeared in my life. I found myself one summer morning contemplating for the first time the enormously elongated figures of that year, more beautiful than life, swooping like swans that had hitherto been my ideal of grace, totally at ease in their strange garments, revealing areas of the human body normally seen only in the bath tub. I was struck dumb and encountered delight in its purest form.

From that day onwards, my schoolbooks were threaded with sketches of falling draperies, godets and arrogant profiles. I did not need to work to keep up with my class and could devote myself freely to the essential matter in hand – understanding what happened to a piece of cloth hung in a given way.

This absorption was viewed as a criminal form of corruption by parents and teachers. Schoolbooks were a source of learning, to be loved and respected, not interlaced with sketches. Had I been drawing horses or birds I might have got away with it, but draperies were unquestionably heathen, frivolous and to be banished. Nobody thought of giving me a sketchbook.

My Scottish upbringing was rugged, uncompromising, heroic and no laughing matter. If one were not reading a good book, playing the piano or doing sums, one should be out in the fresh air or fast asleep.

I sometimes wonder how much the world would have missed, had Poiret or Jacques Fath been raised north of the border. Two more upstanding, God-fearing citizens perhaps, but I cannot see how their eccentric forms of genius could possibly have flowered.

I presume that the passion for clothes was a built-in component and only needed the glimpse of a magazine cover designed by Erté to spark off a concatenation of reactions. The environment was overtly hostile, but nothing could stem the tide.

I was sent to Cheltenham Ladies’ College, famous for its classical scholars and success in entrance examinations to Girton, in the hope that its very circumspection would drive the mickey out of me.

Unfortunately, the uniform we were called upon to wear was a crime against the Holy Spirit. I later learned to love wearing khaki, and my Sam Browne remains a treasured possession. However, the horrendous navy-blue sack at half-mast in which we spent our days was guaranteed to remove all hope from the adolescent breast, and I made up my mind that I would remove it forever on the earliest possible occasion. My father’s early death from a heart attack when I was seventeen accelerated the process, and I was reluctantly allowed to abandon the prospect of an academic career.

All the events which indelibly marked my early years were related in one way or another to dress. I understood very early that there were two sides to a coin. That which procures the purest delight is also the halberd with which the heart is most easily pierced. In the Scottish desert of cable-stitch jerseys, any garment that caught one’s breath as an object of beauty was unconsciously invested with a halcyon quality, as if the phoenix-bird had decided to nest under one’s roof or the aurora borealis come to stay.

I mention only a few of my personal halberds. The most acute, on account of the rapidity of its execution, was probably the arrival of a birthday present, a carnation-velvet dress and cape outlined in grey squirrel with matching muff and bonnet. I was speechless with emotion and asked if I could show my glory to one of my mother’s friends who lived on a high hill a few miles away. Permission was given and I set off with my brother. We encountered en route a pit of white powdery sand into which my brother invited me to jump. Always good for a lark, I leapt in, played about for a time and climbed out.

When we arrived at the house, the first admiring glance gave way to a piercing scream; my clothes were torn from my back, tossed into the garden and promptly burned. I was plunged into a hot bath and my brother sent home for a change of clothes. I had been playing in quicklime and the back of my cape was already eaten away. Back to square one and the daily-bready gym tunic.

There is no moral whatsoever to this story, but it brought in its train early recognition of the halberd and its quixotic force de frappe.

There is, however, a moral to the second story – it is highly disagreeable to travel to Australia via the bowels of the earth, if there is an alternative route. My parents had gone for an evening walk and given strict instructions that my brother and I should read quietly until they returned. I had been given a delectable pair of red shoes fastening over the instep. Quite unexpectedly, either the shoes went to my head or the devil raised his, for out on to the wide sands we capered, on and on and on, regardless of the areas notoriously out of bounds. My left foot suddenly refused to move, and then the right. I pulled and tugged without effect. Realising that I was sinking fast I let out a howl, but my brother pranced on without a backward glance. My legs were already becoming very short when a passing stranger up on the promenade realised that a child was going down to Australia under his very eyes, took a seven-foot leap, dragged me out with a squelch and carried me bodily to terra firma. To my abysmal horror, not only were my legs covered to the knee with a viscous grey substance but there were no red shoes on my feet. They had disappeared into the well of eternity.

The benevolent stranger took the only road open to us. He lifted me on to his shoulders with my grubby feet dangling over his checked waistcoat and set forth in search of my parents.

All this had been very shaking, but the moment of truth was yet to come. With extreme discomfiture, I found myself looking into the astonished eyes of my oncoming parents. The strange gentleman was duly thanked for his verve in extracting me from Nature’s clutches and I was duly chastised. I never quite resolved this equation – I who had known the torment of the sinking sands and lost my treasured shoes was given the spanking of all time, while my brother, who had instigated Operation Dastardly Disobedience, got off scot-free.

If I learned anything new, it was that if loved with attachment, objects inevitably leave one. This fact was confirmed throughout my later life. My children destroyed only Spode; the despised kitchen teapot remained forever intact. Never could they have been accused of indiscrimination in their savage destruction of their parents’ belongings. Nothing but the best was their life-long motto as they converged infallibly on objects I loved and admired.

I learned from raising three sons that if one is making a collection of Balenciaga hats, one must store them well out of the range of gunshot.

A third incident involved the visit of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII. My fertile imagination, nourished on the Children’s Encyclopaedia, fairy stories, myths, legends and heroic deeds, had evolved a magnificent image of royalty with all its attributes – sceptre and crown, velvet and ermine. For interminable weeks beforehand, no other subject was discussed. When the day came, after an agony of waiting and jostling, I was hoisted on to my father’s shoulders to find myself staring into the wan face of a small man wearing a bowler hat and an overcoat. He looked just like any other Scot, except for the fact that he was leaning very heavily on supporting arms to left and right. The hand waving the Union Jack faltered and went limp and I knew a measure of disappointment I was rarely to encounter again.

In five-year-old terms, disillusionment is irrevocable and inexpugnable. Only the passage of time and the growth of the rational faculty can heal certain wounds. I have no memory of weeping over the Prince’s unprinceliness, but the range and vigour of my imagination were certainly daunted. Ardour and spontaneity were withdrawn from the outside world into the jubilation of all that took place within.

Twenty years later, when my General received him as the Duke of Windsor, my heart sank for the second time. The child had not forgotten. He looked just as wan but at least there were no supporting arms.

A strong Christian influence pervaded the home. The Bible and New Testament stories were old friends and we would make subtle references to Amos, Hagar or Mary Magdalene that left our friends standing. Faith was ever-present, along with honesty and devotion to duty, but with hindsight I would say, with a certain sadness, that the element in total abeyance and the only one on which I thrived was adoration. There was no deliberate obfuscation, but I sensed intuitively that emphasis on the historic aspect of religion could only leave one with a non-graspable ideal, useless if unsanctified by an unremitting flow of reverence and adoration.

Despite the Presbyterian wilderness in which she lived, my paternal grandmother had been a natural mystic, able to speak at length in simple terms of the after-life and its glories. To my knowledge none of her letters survive, but something of her Celtic world-vision presumably passed into me. Another built-in component.

With no overt signs of rebellion, I was always swimming against the current. I recognised the inadequacy of the nourishment offered and bided my time. Slowly, over the years, I graduated from the Anglican Church to Catholicism. Following the loss of a dearly-loved child, the still unassuaged thirst led me to India and Advaita Vedanta and I ceased to quest. When I read the Brahmanas, I had no difficulty with the fact that the Pancrator is the cosmic weaver, holding in His Hands the multiplicity of threads with which the creation is woven.

We had a First Find Book, a new volume of which was opened with suitable ritual on January 1st each year. In it was tenderly inscribed the first common saxifrage, the first yellowhammer’s egg, the first lapwing and so on, with the name of the finder and the place of discovery. I was allergic to insect life and left this area to my brother, who seemed to spend most of his life lying on his stomach studying the habits of the earwig or the newt or guddling for trout. My speciality turned out to be wild orchids, which grew in wonderful abandon in varied forms in bogland. This often entailed my being carried home wrapped in a brown Jaeger car rug kept for the purpose while my soaking clothes travelled in the boot. We could never keep track of the number of times we fell into eddying currents, either because we tried to negotiate stepping-stones at the speed of light or because skiffing produced such exhilaration that we failed to recognise the difference between land and water. The First Find Book came to an

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