A great writer leaves a mark. No matter what the topic. I can still remember one of Clare Press's articles from several years ago when she was working as features director at Vogue Australia. "No one ever says I love you in that dress anymore," she wrote. The implication being that rampant consumerism meant people no longer made careful and considered choices when it came to their clothes - instead they just bought more - and in every colour. Clare has a witty and wicked streak too. She has put this to good use not only in her writing but her sartorial choices and fashion label Mrs Press. The two passions merged when she published her book The Dressing Table (Penguin/Lantern) last year. Here she shares more about that process.
How did you arrive at the concept for the book? I originally pitched a book called Style Wisdom, which was basically me hanging out with amazing stylish women of a certain age. I spent a year researching - meeting fabulous characters around Sydney and getting them to spill their style beans on the way things used to be for ultra-chic ladies about town.
I was lucky enough to get interest from the brilliant Julie Gibbs at Penguin/Lantern. Together we decided to expand the idea broadening the remit to make it ageless. So The Dressing Table was born - it's a compendium of fashion magic, ideas and inspirations for a life lived glamorously.
I made sure I snuck my old ladies in though. See, for example, the inimitable Phyllis Spooner, who I interviewed about chic travel. Phyllis was in her 90s. And glamazon Constance Farquharson, who gives her tips on entertaining. I'm glad I did - because we are finally recognising the value of fashion's most fabulous elder stateswomen, thanks in part to Advanced Style, the cult of Iris Apfel and even the new Lanvin ad. I knew I was onto something!
What was involved with the creation process? Mostly for me it was sitting down to write, which I found both a joy and an escape. I wrote the book while running my fashion business, Mrs. Press, which is all about teamwork and customer service and meetings and cash management. Writing is like a holiday for me. It's what I do to be purely creative, and what I do - and adore to do - on my own. Of course there is the research, interviews and the preparation, but essentially writing is not collaborative. It comes from within. They say your first book takes a lifetime to write, and in a way that's true. You're pouring all your experiences onto the page.
How long did it take to come together - from concept to first copy? I spent a year writing. I always think I'm superwoman and remember insisting to Julie that I could do it in six months. She said great, but she'd give me a year; if I finished sooner I could send it in. She knew I wouldn't. It takes time to percolate a book. It's more than just word length - you need to sit with it awhile and allow it to brew.
How did you envisage the look of the book? Lantern publish the best lifestyle books in Australia - they are known for all those incredible food titles and their designers are the bee's knees. They win awards before breakfast. Daniel New and Arielle Gamble designed my book - they understood me from the get-go. Arielle is a wonderful artist; she created the illustratrions you see on the chapter openers and on 'Mrs. Press's A-Z of Fabulousness'. Isn't she fab?
What was unexpected about the whole process? The photographs were an enormous, all-consuming part of the process that I hadn't even considered when I wrote the words. I handed over my manuscript and through that was the end of it, but of course the way a book like this looks is just as important as how it reads.
I spent weeks working on the pictures, with photographers Cara Stricker and Anson Smart. I styled every shot myself and singlehandedly sourced all the props, many from my own house. Others I hired, made or bought especially. I built the wardrobe set that opens Chapter 2 in Anson's studio from scratch - it takes hours to make a scene like this look like it's really in a house. I made my friends, husband, and staff model for the lifestyle scenes, and we worked with four wonderful models from Priscilla's. I love how Alice Burdeu looks in the travel chapter - isn't she the most elegant thing? And one of my favourite pictures is the one of Amanda Ware in the ballgown surrounded by Mrs. Press bags. We shot that in a dear friend's house, she let me take it over for a day because I was obsessed with her piano. When I look at the book now, I am super-proud of the pictures.