It is impossible to confine Bond Street to the limits of a normal thoroughfare. Cosmopolitan, self-assured and well bred, it is the heart of Mayfair. Walk along it at a leisurely pace and enjoy what only Bond Street can offer . . . pretty faces, elegant clothes, dignified windows. As the day turns into evening, gay lights add colour to the scene. Limousines glide by ... taxicabs slide up to the kerb ... in the distance can be heard the roar of Piccadilly traffic. London at night demands the skill and appreciation of Whistler . . . Bond Street needs the subtle palate for vintage wine, both rare and costly.
There is something terrifying about a herd of strolling females. I feel that way about Bond Street. The most unconscious thoroughfare in London of potential wealth and luxury attracts every type of woman. You find them all there. It is an astonishing sight, an education for any man. The drift has a migratory note about it. It must have in spite of the suggestion of aimless wandering. I put it to the test. Two women turned off Piccadilly and began the parade of Bond Street. I followed at a discreet distance. They were types. One had reached the time of life when the years lap the forty-mark, but never quite get there. Her conversation had to be half a pitch higher than her companion's to be effective. Inability to comprehend anything other than prattling inanities had obviously devised a stock-cliche of defence. The first hundred yards produced this repetitive gem: "My dear, I told him he was quite the wittiest thing in creation." The observation was hardly complimentary to the Almighty, but doubtless it sufficed for her purpose. Her friend had shapely legs, an overdressed body, surmounted by a pair of limp Slavonic eyes that expected a proposal of marriage, or something like it, from every man they met.
Here indeed were typical Bond Street habitues. I listened. I did not eavesdrop. What I heard was meant to be heard. Everyone within earshot was meant to hear what they said. After the first few hundred yards the topic became clothes. There was nothing unusual about that. Women always talk about clothes. The first touch of Spring and wardrobes are described as threadbare. Fashion magazines had given them a lively sense of evaluation. The points they made were heartfelt, at times almost indignant. A naive observer might have been impressed by their intimate knowledge of fashion trends, but such strong censure called for examination of the critic. I found it difficult to imagine how any woman could feel so strongly about a technical fashion defect and then emerge into public gaze in garments that offended the eye of man.
That is the difference between male and female shoppers. Women become extroverts, men become furtive. Our shops are not blatant. We change in some dark recess. Our shirts, socks and ties are stocked away in unobtrusive fashion. Females are the reverse. They become shameless in their vanity. Bond Street produces the reaction in a big way. It is a street of quality, more dignified than Fifth Avenue, more human than the Rue de la Paix. This narrow thoroughfare, planned by Sir Thomas Bond in the latter half of the seventeenth century, has everything that the connoisseur of taste can want. Enter any of the shops and an obsequious acolyte steps forward. Everything becomes a work of art. The dainty manicurist who transforms a delicate shell-like nail into a shining shield of colour. The salon where elegant young women with manner and uniform that suggest a compromise between a mannequin and a nurse, conjure complexions out of shining pots. Everything is brittle. People who have never met before discuss trivialities with earnest insincerity. In such an atmosphere women tend to indulge in a Turkish bath of immodest sympathy. A man feels like a stranger in a butterfly farm.
This sensation becomes exaggerated at a display of new fashions. We make the mistake of looking upon mannequins as human. I know it is a mistake. The female sitting next to you confirms the fact in no uncertain fashion. No ordinary person could face such an ordeal in languorous, sophisticated grace. A mannequin glides into a gold pool of light. A living fashion plate with the imprimatur of Bond Street. I remember one in particular. She was the complete gamine. The rhythmic body, tilted neck, provocative eyes, slow caressing smile proclaimed her as the artist consummate in coquetry. Her face was a magnet, her eye an invitation. Here was the real Maupassant gamine, the personification of what the medievalists portrayed in stained glass and wood-carving as Luxury.
Then I thought of those for whom this gamine was deploying her blandishments. I looked round and studied three rows of apathetic women customers. These were some of the females who parade Bond Street. Beside the mannequin they resembled inexpressive dowds. Some of them might be wheedled into buying gowns. Few looked as if they would fit let alone suit the creations we had seen. It is difficult not to become cynical. In Bond Street fashionably dressed women cast roving eyes, not on men but over other women. They show contempt for inferiors in looks or costume. They value approbation of their equals. In London, women dress for women., not for men, and Bond Street is their parade ground.
The art galleries are the most restful feature of Bond Street. Attention wanders from the walls to those who drift from picture to picture. Some well-known artist is exhibiting. The private view is the most revealing. Somehow those who attend always look the same. The men adopt an over-emphasized air of intelligence. The women seem to have little dress-sense. The expert stands in a humble background of pseudo-Chelsea art-patter that sounds good but means nothing. Everything is related to "middle-distance' with the usual peering with pure-blind eye. Antique shops provide the atmosphere that links Bond Street with the past, a past that knew such residents as Sir Thomas Lawrence, Boswell and Laurence Sterne, who completed A. Sentimental Journey at No. 41, whilst New Bond Street attracted Dean Swift, Nelson and Lady Hamilton. Some of the furniture knew the lazy tempo of the eighteenth century. The sober Queen Anne walnut, perhaps a piece that knew the touch of Nell Gwyn, or that dream of a connoisseur, a piece of furniture that actually came from Chippendale's premises in Long Acre, or the later shop and factory in St. Martin's Lane . . . perhaps this chair might be one of the few saved from the fire that destroyed the craftsman's workshop in 175 5, a fire which confirmed how limited must have been his output, for the shop only contained the chests of twenty-two workmen. Hepplewhite and Sheraton combine to rival the beauty of Gainsborough, Raeburn and Romney. How they find their way to this street is often a tragic story of our days.
LONDON SEASON LOUIS T. STANLEY [As Written]