“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” croons Lisa-Marie Presley. You ain’t. And you won’t. Not yet. For Mary Martin London is busy sewing up a storm for her forthcoming fashion feat: The Return Collection. This comes hot and heavy on the haute heels of her last extravaganza Blood Sweat and Tears. This time it really is all about power dressing. And the corridors of power are about to be torn up by the thrust and throttle no room for boondoggle of a Mary Martin London show. “If our myths and truths are only another exotic blossoming, the free play of possibility,” writes Marilynne Robinson in The Death of Adam, “then they are fully as real and as worthy of respect as anything else.”
Show. Not merely catwalk, for Mary will as ever be mixing decks in between directing the lighting, sound, photography, choreography, and always, laughter. There is really only one space that can hold its own for her solo show. Enter Durbar Court. “I like that the heads of the East India Company leaders will be looking down on my catwalk!” Mary howls laughing. “History and all that!” The Court was first used in 1867 for a reception of the Sultan of Turkey. King Edward VII threw his Coronation party here in 1902. Ms Robinson again, “At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment.” More recently, President Trump gave a speech here; Victoria Beckham showed last summer; Vivienne Westwood before that; but this is a first: a black female designer holding court in Durbar Court.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is accessed off King Charles Street. It backs onto Downing Street. Numbers 10 and 11 can be glimpsed through muslin drapes. Architect George Gilbert Scott and the India Office’s surveyor Matthew Digby Wyatt were the dream design team. Completed in 1875, really it’s a cluster of buildings: the Foreign Office, India Office, Colonial and Home Offices. George Gilbert Scott supplied the august neoclassical cloak of architecture enveloping the inner sanctum of Matthew Digby Wyatt’s grand interior which reaches a climax in Durbar Court, a marvel in Greek, Sicilian and Belgian marble. Three storeys of columns and piers supporting arches rise to the glazed roof. The ground floor Doric and first floor Ionic columns are red Peterhead granite; the top floor Corinthian columns, grey Aberdeen granite. It’s the atrium of atria, arcades in Arcadia.
There’s so much art and sculpture and history layered with meaning and misapprehension in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. En processional route to Durbar Court is the Muses’ Stair. An octagonal glass lantern lighting the Portland stone staircase is decorated by Canephorae, Roman goddesses of plenty, floating over cherubs representing Roman virtues. Portraits of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie hang between red Devonshire marble and grey Derbyshire marble Corinthian columns.
“Dare to be you!” Reverend Andy Rider preached in his last sermon as Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields. Over 100 years ago Lady Sybil Grant wrote in her self hagiography, “Provided that we are a star we should not trouble about the relative importance of our position in the heavens.” Fastforward a century or so and Mary is confident of her place in the firmament. And daring to be Mary Martin London. The creation of Eve. “We should be thankful that our cinematographic life in London still affords the quality of mystery and unexpectedness,” proclaimed Lady Sybil. Big statement.
Big statement architecture requires big statement fashion. Another interjection from Marilynne Robinson, “It all comes down to the mystery of the relationship between the mind and the cosmos.” First there was The Black Dress: “I see through a dark cloud of black mist.” Then The Red Dress: “The tainted bride is no longer a virgin.” Next came The White Dress: “I dream of memories when I was a Queen.” There’s only one dress left. The Rainbow Dress: “It’s finally coming – the biggest and the best! The Rainbow Dress will open The Return Collection!” the fashion artist declares. “A world champion ballerina will combine Tai quan dao and African dance on the catwalk. I’m bringing it in a bit different! People haven’t been out so I’m going to give them an amazing show. The Return to Africa. I’m out of the box!” Out of the box and into the Court. “Just A Dream” mourns Lisa-Marie Presley. Not for Mary Martin London. She is all about turning dreams into fantasies into realities into myths and truths. An uncommon wealth of talent.