Interlude

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Naim Attallah is now away until Monday 10 April when normal service will resume on the blog.

Last night, we marked the launch of two of Sally Emerson’s exciting novels at 68 Dean Street, Soho.
Here is my short address to celebrate the occasion.

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Ladies and gentlemen, being a great admirer of Sally Emerson, who I met in the early 1980s, I feel honoured and privileged to be given the opportunity to republish six of her novels, which in my view are as exciting today as they have ever been. They possess the classical quality of books that defy the passage of time.
We are therefore here this evening to celebrate the relaunch of the first two, Fire Child and Heat. I need not stress the fact that Sally’s novels, when they were first published, received the acclaim that they truly merited.

Fire Child masterfully examines the nature of evil and what it means to be human. Its dark heroine is Tessa, who from the age of twelve, uses the power of her smile to seduce men with damaging and dramatic consequences. The novel alternates her cool and shocking dairies with those of Martin Sherman, a dangerous young man who likes to play with fire. Both are hiding, leading deliberately dull lives in North London, afraid of what they have already done – and what they are capable of – but when they meet, everything changes.

This is Lolita from the point of view of Lolita, and this Lolita has bigger ambitions.

The Sunday Times said: ‘A taut beautifully constructed story moving simply but in execrably towards its cataclysmic ending.’ Victoria Glendenning described Fire Child as ‘pulsating with love, grief and revenge.’ Susan Crosland wrote: ‘A several-layered novel about a woman who from the age of twelve seduces and destroys men. It’s a spare, subtle story of lust, love, violence, and comedy.’ The Daily Telegraph thought: ‘Sally Emerson has a talent for terror of the best kind. She understands obsession and hints chillingly at evil.’

I could go on with more reviews but I think the reader would rather I stop here, to keep the element of surprise to the bitter end.

As for Heat, our second novel – it is a gripping and exquisitely told tale about the dark side of love and the compulsive pull of the past. When Susan Stewart sees her ex-lover in a bookshop in the outskirts of Washington DC, the memories of passion and obsession return. Is Philip stalking her or are her own distorted memories turning a long hot summer into a nightmare that threatens to destroy her, her husband and her young daughter? Susan’s friends say it’s all in her mind, but as her unease spirals out of control, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems and only tragedy can clear the air.

Again, a few reviews must serve to illustrate the strength and creativity of Sally’s writing. Helen Dunmore, reviewing it for The Times, wrote: ‘In this tense, sensuous novel, Emerson leads her character away from everything safe and dependable.’ Whereas Celia Brayfield, writing for the Mail on Sunday, thought it was ‘quivering with sudden erotic tension and sparkling observation.’ Gillian Fairchild, writing in the Telegraph, was equally dramatic: ‘Permeated with eroticism and danger, a really gripping book that captures perfectly the see-sawing state of mind of its heroine and most unnervingly, the compulsive pull of a past containing unfinished business.’ Other reviews are in a similar vein and again the reader will be best served by letting him or her find for themselves the scintillating qualities of the novel.

I always believe that in addressing such a distinguished and literary gathering one has to be brief and straight to the point. The quality of Sally Emerson’s writing and her talent in weaving a good story speaks volumes about an author whose ingenuity knows no boundaries.

We must, however, remember that we are all assembled here to pay tribute to Sally and the best way to do it, and in style, is to encourage everybody here to buy as many copies of both novels as they can afford and to spread the good word to all their friends to do the same and make the author brimming with excitement and happiness. Hallelujah!

CORAL REEFS IN DANGER

A healthy coral is a beautiful gem which is not only collectible as a jewellery item but which somehow gives the wearer an enchanting joie de vivre.

Scientists in Australia have uncovered widespread damage to coral on the Great Barrier Reef saying we are entering uncharted territory after surveys showed consecutive years of bleaching for the first time. Following earlier surveys recently between the coastal cities of Cairns and Downsville, researchers said warmer ocean temperatures had caused widespread bleaching. This follows severe bleaching along the 1500 mile stretch of reef last year, the worst on record – caused by warm sea temperatures in March and April.

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‘This is the first time we have ever seen bleaching in back-to-back summers,’ said Dr Neal Cantin, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Typically, episodes of mass bleaching in the reef have been followed by several years of normal weather and ocean temperatures which have allowed the coral to recover. But scientists think the sustained heat is believed to be reducing the tolerance of the coral.

‘We are now entering uncharted territory,’ Dr Cantin said. ‘The bleaching has killed and endangered vast patches of coral which are up to 400 years old, causing them to lose the vibrant colours which attract about 2 million tourists each year.’

What a real shame if this bleaching were to continue on a regular basis and rob the world of one of nature’s most beautiful ocean gardens.

Last night we proudly launched The City of Westmister – A celebration of people and places – at the Halcyon Gallery in New Bond Street to an enthusiastic gathering of people from all walks of life. As the publisher of the book, here what I said in a short address.

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Having lived and worked in Westminster for over 40 years, I am proud to be involved in publishing THE CITY OF WESTMINSTER – A Celebration of People and Places.This extraordinary collection of photographs, the debut work from a very talented photographer with a perceptive eye, is unique, for I can think of no other ‘coffee-table’ book – as this genre of publishing is known – with quite its range.

From portraits of Her Majesty The Queen’s Honourable Corps of Gentlemen about to go and attend the arrival of the President of China to the team that clears the rubbish and cleans the gutters around Piccadilly, The City of Westminster offers a snapshot of the variety and diversity of people living, working or just visiting this special place, reflecting all its range and diversity.

Councillor Davis has, as always, elegantly described the work and importance of the Sir Simon Milton Foundation. My task, as the book’s publisher, is perhaps an easier one – to encourage everyone here tonight to show their generous side and buy as many copies as they can carry home.

Perhaps that’s a cheeky request, but given how all of us here who are invariably proud of this great metropolis, and particularly the venerable City of Westminster, would wish to illustrate to the world our appreciation for the amazing work done to maintain its leading position in every field, whether artistic or commercially driven, my request is understandable and well meaning.

Without further ado, it’s time now for you to dig deep into your pockets and unveil to us the colour of your money, which I hope will be of a substantial kind!

A WOMAN WHO DOESN’T WEAR PERFUME HAS NO FUTURE

I was reminded of Coco Chanel’s legendary remark when Joseph Ghazal, an old friend of mine, recently gave me as a memento a mega bottle of my perfume which he had bought in 1985 and which smell was still as strong and fragrant as the day he first opened it. I was also reminded of my excursion into that exotic world when I decided to become a perfumier.

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In September 1985 I was putting the finishing touches to the planned launch of two perfumes I had created. One was called ‘Avant l’Amour’, the other ‘Après l’Amour’. As a preview to the launch, which was scheduled for the end of October, samples were being tested at various events to gauge the public reaction. One such occasion was a party to celebrate the publication by André Deutsch of A Turbulent Decade: The Diaries of Auberon Waugh, 1976–1985. Bron himself wrote up the event for his Private Eye ‘Diary’:

Tuesday: To Gnome House for the publishing event of the century. Not since Shakespeare’s First Folio appeared in 1622 has there been anything like it. All the elegance, beauty and talent in London parade themselves on the floodlit lawns. In silk-walled drawing-rooms there are fountains of champagne with lovely topless Quartettes splashing in them (by gracious permission of His Highness Sir Naim Attallah), disguised as mermaids, to the sublime music of the London Symphony Orchestra playing snatches from Gilbert and Sullivan; . . . [in] those familiar rooms, the scene of so many momentous events, where now the indescribably delicious perfumes of Avant l’Amour and Après l’Amour compete tantalizingly with each other.

A lot of press coverage followed. The Sunday Times announced my foray into the world of beauty by calling me the whimsical entrepreneur whose Parfums Namara was bringing out two scents, the ‘sweet relaxing Après l’Amour and the more stirring Avant l’Amour’. My secretary, Amanda Lyster, told them ‘this is the latest venture by a man who likes to try all walks of life’. The Sunday Express went for a more sensational approach, citing my liking for pretty girls, the unashamed names I had chosen for the scents and then quoting the blurb:

Enter my fragrant world and discover the age-old secret of perfume’s seductive spell.  . ..For the women whose nights of passion dissolve into clear mornings of tenderness and tranquillity, I bring Avant and Après l’Amour . . . They are created out of love, created for women who enjoy love and dare to show    it .. .

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In retrospect, I should have used less flowery language but I let my enthusiasm run away with me. I would have achieved far less in life without this tendency, however, even if it did occasionally expose me to comments that verged on ridicule. The launch party was an exotic affair. Charlotte Faber’s creativity as usual knew no bounds. She dressed eight of the Namara girls, including several from Quartet, in rubber dresses with laces up the back and velvet at the hem and collar. Four of the dresses were in white rubber, and four in black. It needed a lot of talcum powder to squeeze the girls into the garments, and much giggling was involved as they struggled and helped each other. But once they were in they looked weirdly evocative – ‘rather like Sloanes in bondage’, as one journalist went so far as to put it. Then a problem no one had foreseen occurred to them. If one of them needed to go to the loo, she was going to have to take the dress off first, and there was no way she could cope with the manoeuvre on her own. ‘You will just have to go in twos,’ I told them.

The guest list was fragrant with aristocratic, political and social names. Auberon Waugh was accompanied by his daughter Sophia. Others included Tony Lambton, Annabel Heseltine, Vanessa Llewellyn with her estranged husband Dai, Laura Ashley’s son Nick, the model Camilla Scott and Christina Oxenburg. Two huge promotional bottles containing three thousand pounds’ worth of the perfumes were on display, prompting Henry Porter of the Sunday Times to be fearful that, ‘if one should fracture, it could represent a considerable hazard to either the emotions or the ecology of Central London’. The Observer described me as scurrying around, ‘like a gleeful genie out of one of his own cut-glass bottles, giving away samples in frilly velvet pouches’. Anna Groundwater, Quartet’s PR person, went on to a fashionable restaurant after the party, still wearing her rubber dress. She claimed that all the diners rose to give her a standing ovation.

Even ‘the ebullient Attallah’, the Observer said the next week, ‘has been amazed by the response; people want his scent’.

Harrods has taken it exclusively for the first two weeks of its new perfume hall; it’s selling well, and from next week it will be available in other major stores, at £75 for a 1⁄2-oz bottle and £30 for a 2-oz bottle of eau de parfum. For which prices you could buy a goodly number of books.

Namara was now definitely in the perfume business. An office was established in Paris, run by a very attractive lady, Annie Faure, to oversee the marketing and distribution on a worldwide basis. In London, all the famous stores, along with Harrods, were maintaining a stock; Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges were among the first to take it. Elizabeth Arkus, arguably the doyenne of the French beauty industry, wrote a piece for the magazine Les Nouvelles Esthétiques, printed opposite a full-page picture that juxtaposed the stretched-back silhouette of a beautiful naked young woman with one of the bottles, its sensuous shape adapted from an artnouveau design. ‘Perfume is always being reborn,’ said Elizabeth Arkus. ‘Who,’ she asked, ‘will be the woman to choose “Avant l’Amour” and who the one to choose “Après l’Amour”?’

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What, you don’t yet know these amazing perfumes produced by Namara, i.e. Naim Attallah? The first comes in a black glass bottle, the second in a container of the same sculpted shape, but transparent as (a very relative!) innocence regained. Both bottles have the same shape, with a broad base and a carved phallic stopper. This is the first time we have been presented so boldly with a passionate perfume in such a frankly erotic flask.

Avant she characterized as, ‘dark, mysterious and deep as night’. Its fine floral fragrance carried an element of chypre and a ‘trace of tuberose hinting at sin’; its lingering scent of musk was ‘archly tinged with iris and peach’. Après was also floral, ‘with a hint of powder . . . made sensual with vanilla, elegant with myrrh’. ‘Avant is full of warmth, Après is bright, joyful, scintillating.’

They certainly do not leave us indifferent. And since the perfume was created to gratify the senses, we hope [Naim Attallah] will continue to astonish, amuse us or trouble us. Will he produce the perfume of the twenty-first century?

All the posters advertising the perfumes were shot to a high graphic standard and the Namara girls took turns to act as models in promoting them. Jubby Ingrams was without doubt the model par excellence. She displayed a natural affinity with the product and was always willing to try out some novel idea. Her delightfully mischievous responses were inspired, and watching her turn a photo session into a hilarious event was pure joy. From then on Private Eye began to refer to me as the ‘seedy parfumier’ in addition to its usual sobriquet of ‘Attullah-Disgusting’.

Peter McKay, in the Mail on Sunday, wondered what anxieties about his twenty-year-old daughter went through the head of the proprietor of Private Eye, Richard Ingrams, as he sat pounding away at the organ of his parish church, knowing she had been ‘the model on a suggestive colour poster designed to advance the sales of a new scent’ concocted by her employer, who was quoted as having boasted, ‘I have created the perfumes of love.’ ‘When I called this man a seedy parfumier,’ Richard Ingrams was said to have countered, ‘he called in Jubby and asked her what “seedy” meant.’

Two years after the perfume party Jubby remembered her white rubber dress without any fondness. ‘First of all,’ she told an interviewer for the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, ‘it’s freezing cold on bare skin and it takes half an hour to get on. And once it is on, it’s impossible to go to the loo, and I look like a top-heavy milk bottle. I can’t wear any knickers under it. I can’t walk fast in it. My boobs bulge out at the front and fat bulges through laces at the back. I sweat in it and when I finally manage to peel it off, I stink of rubber.’

 

 

Sour Grapes No Doubt

Experts are not always right. Sometimes their reputation is sullied especially in the realms of politics and economics. Now it seems the abilities of wine professionals are being called into question too.

In a blind test, where the labels are hidden, they were asked to identify different red wines by smell. And the predictive powers of the experts were found to be no better than those of novices.

The researchers behind the Italian experiment said: ‘Irrespective of expertise, novices and wine professionals did not show any significant difference in their odour discrimination ability, neither in accuracy, nor in response speed.

‘Thus, novices and wine professionals seem to have similar basic sensory abilities to discriminate the presence of olfactory differences.

‘These results clearly support the notion that we can detect subtle olfactory differences between two wines.’

The test, which was led by Dr Francesco Foroni of the SISSA research institute in Trieste, examined the importance of terroir – the French word for the earth and other characteristics of a vineyard. For example, the distinctive mineral flavour of wine from the Chablis region in northern Burgundy is attributed to the limestone bedrock.

For the study, twelve wine professions including winemakers and sommeliers were pitted against twenty novices. They were asked to smell seven wines made from grape varieties such as merlot and cabernet and asked to spot the difference.

No tasting was involved. Despite their expertise, the professionals could not tell the wines apart any better than amateurs. The study found: ‘Results showed that panellists can smell the terroir.’

While previous experiments for terroir have focussed on global quality judgements of the wine based on multisensory information, to our knowledge, this is the first investigation that directly tested whether differences between two terroirs can be detected solely on the base of unisensory information.

The panel overall showed that they can discriminate between two wines that differ in variety and terroir and their performance in this condition is better than the condition in which the two wines differ only in variety or only in terroir. Both novices and wine professionals can, however, discriminate significantly above chance level also when two wines are of the same variety but from different terroir.’

The report in the journal Food Quality and Preference concluded, ‘No previous study has focused yet on the ability to distinguish two wines by their odour.’

It added: ‘Olfactory discrimination performance of both novices and wine professionals reflected whether two wines differed by terroir, variety or both. Performance peaked when wines differed in both terroir and variety, with terroir being more easily discriminated than variety.’

It goes to prove that wine experts have limits and that bombastic claims as to their ability are often to be taken with a pinch of salt.

DOWN MEMORY LANE FOURTEEN

The recent fuss over the long term effects of tattoos and the burgeoning business in cosmetic surgery of removing unwanted, embarrassing images from often intimate places reminds me of a saga from my past – about our publication of a celebration on the art of the tattoo and the aftermath of its publication.

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A German photographer, Stefan Richter, had travelled extensively to gather material for a pictorial celebration of the art of the tattoo. Initially his enterprise aroused suspicion from the artists and their models, but Richter had been able to forge friendships with many of them and gain their confidence. They came from a wide cross-section of society, and were ‘normal’ in every respect except for their admiration for an ancient art form from the Far East that the West had chosen to relegate to a symbol of decadence. Richter’s aim was to restore the tattoo to its rightful status as a visual embellishment of high quality and by so doing reassert the credibility of those who wore them and rescue them from the stigma of freak-show connotations. Many fascinating details emerged about the art and the painstaking perfectionism which always surrounded its creation. Tattoo attested to the imaginative brilliance of a select group of artist designers who made the human body their canvas. Yet, as well as beauty and intricacy, some of the designs could also reflect deeply disturbing undercurrents, especially when they touched on the bizarre, the occult and the primitive. Then the beauty could be perverted into something so weird that it shocked the senses. There were those who chose to have their entire bodies tattooed from top to toe so that no area of natural flesh remained and even their genitals became hardly distinguishable. For some of them this was a devastatingly flagrant gesture of sheer exhibitionism but the motives of others were perhaps more disturbing.

The book was costly to produce and a great gamble. Some might have found it offensive, representing a desecration of the human body. Others, while appreciating its art, might have found it most unsettling or simply too peculiar. The potential audience for it was an unknown quality and those to whom it could be expected to appeal directly were not likely to be among the ordinary reading public. It was hard to see, either, where it would fit in with traditional press expectations. As it happened, the book’s cultish status was to save the day. While it did not become a bestseller, neither was it a failure. The experiment was worth the effort and helped to reinforce the view that Quartet’s vision was infinitely enterprising. There were, however, to be consequences I could never have foreseen and which I did not link at first with Tattoo.

Every year, when attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, I stayed at the celebrated Nassauer Hof Hotel at Wiesbaden, where I was exceptionally well treated and had a magnificent suite allocated to me. On one of these trips, several years after the publication of Tattoo, in 1986, I ran into problems at Heathrow, before I had even left England, when I found my flight reservations had been cancelled for no apparent reason. I then had a most difficult time securing an alternative flight, but managed it in the end. On arrival at the Nassauer Hof I found an embarrassed staff at reception who were perplexed to see me. Only two days before, they said, my secretary had phoned to cancel my reservation. I assured them that this was not the case. Alas, the hotel was now full to capacity. The reception manager spent a long time on the telephone to try to find me acceptable accommodation, and in the end he secured a suite for me at a nearby hotel that was on a par with my usual accommodation.

I checked in at the new hotel with a great sense of relief and a growing suspicion as to who the perpetrator might be. Despite the good sales we had achieved for Tattoo, a dispute had arisen with Stefan Richter over the royalty applicable to five hundred copies which he had himself sold at a fifty-per-cent discount. Quartet maintained that, according to the terms of the contract, the royalties should be calculated on the price received, whereas Richter insisted they should be levied on the full cover price. I held my ground and refused to budge. Richter then became abusive over the telephone, but I would have none of it.

He took to haranguing David Elliott, Quartet’s sales director, on a regular basis, threatening to use less conventional methods, including force if necessary, to get what he saw as his due. I would not be intimidated and told David to take no notice of these ravings. In his last conversation with David, Richter hinted that strong-arm tactics would now be put in motion and I would live to regret my obstinacy. Richter was a manic personality who, because of his particular interest, frequented a milieu in which psychedelia was the prevailing style and exponents subverted the art of the tattoo by representing visions of the Gothic or the visually provocative, including explicit sexual postures. The sinister shadow of this world fell on the book fair and the question became to what lengths would the disgruntled author be prepared to go?

We were soon to find out when David Elliott and I arrived at our stand in the International Hall to be greeted by a pungent smell so nauseating that we had to flee before it overcame us. We alerted security, who quickly confirmed that a powerful chemical compound had been left exposed at the back of the stand, and some of it had been sprayed on the carpet to make sure of its overwhelming effect. The odour was so vile that we could not venture into the vicinity for several hours while the work of removing the residue and thoroughly washing the carpet went ahead. Simultaneously it emerged that pornographic leaflets, showing myself at the centre of an orgy with various naked females – one of them giving me a blow-job while the others ravaged different parts of my body – had been left on every British publisher’s stand alongside an obscene poem.

Whenever the Frankfurt Book Fair was on, Richter used to come to it almost every day with his heavily made-up English wife, both of them dressed outlandishly. Her customary gear was a tight black-leather outfit, sometimes with body-hugging trousers to create a highly erotic effect, and a pair of exceptionally elevated high-heeled shoes. She looked like the living subject of an Allen Jones painting. His outfit was in a similar vein, though without the high-heeled shoes, and as an equivalent to her make-up, he usually wore some weird punkish ornaments to signal his bohemian proclivities. We felt sure a visitation from him must be imminent and reported the matter to the police. They showed very little interest in the affair, even though we emphasized he was capable of extreme recklessness and perhaps bold enough to inflict some physical harm. Reluctantly they agreed to question him if he should show up and went away with our full description. Sure enough, as we had anticipated, he was unable to resist the temptation of coming to the fair to survey the havoc his actions had caused. As always he arrived with his wife in tow.

She was instantly recognized from her bizarre get-up and apprehended on the spot. Richter was not far away and was similarly stopped. With a disarming smile, he denied all knowledge of anything that had happened and accused us of waging a war of attrition against him for having demanded his proper rights. The police took the matter no further and he was set loose to roam the fair in a defiant mood. I never stayed the full course at Frankfurt but always returned to London after four nights to get on with other tasks.

News of my mishaps had preceded me and Andrew Moncur of the Guardian was already at work preparing a diary piece declaring how the Frankfurt Book Fair had ‘turned out to be a real stinker – perfectly foul – for Naim Attallah’ and trying to account for ‘the sheer, ripsnorting campaign of sabotage’. The only thing to be auctioned at Frankfurt, according to one publisher, had been copies of the defamatory leaflet, while the tale of the ‘foul stench’ had grown in the telling to where it included ‘buckets of ordure being dumped around’. ‘Who could possibly do these things?’ asked Mr Moncur. ‘If Quartet has suspicions, it isn’t saying.’ All he could think of was a dispute with The Women’s Press in 1991 that had led to staff changes and angered some of their published authors, though it was inconceivable ‘that the faintest trace of suspicion should fall there’.

Meanwhile David had been left holding the fort at Frankfurt prior to its close. As soon as I was out of the way, Richter approached him for a chat in a less bellicose frame of mind. He was still reeling, he said, from our refusal to pay him the full amount of royalties according to his interpretation of the agreement and would be instituting legal proceedings against us in London. None the less Richter managed to sweet-talk David, who was now leaning more towards finding a way to resolve the dispute amicably. The line David took was that Tattoo, having been the moderate success it was, could never justify a legal battle that would be to no one’s benefit. Leaving principles aside, a sensible approach might save both parties from a mutually damaging confrontation.

He told me that, underneath it all, Richter had a soft spot for us both and would love to close the matter on a happy note. I decided to heed David’s advice and paid Richter the additional royalties he was claiming. The following year at Frankfurt he visited the Quartet stand regularly and inscribed a copy of his latest book to me (not published by us) with some warm words that helped to make up for the bad things he had been saying about me twelve months earlier.