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Authors: Jan Warburton

A Face To Die For

BOOK: A Face To Die For
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Jan Warburton

Published by

Tamarisk Press



Jan Warburton



This is a work of fiction. While the places and events in this book are a mixture of real and imagined, the characters are totally fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

There are some issues within the story line that are of quite a sensitive nature. However I’ve tried to deal with them in an honest and responsible way.













For Jayne, Abby and Alexia… two generations on.

I hope this novel helps you to visualise a little of what life was like for an ambitious young woman in the fabulous nineteen sixties.






To the following people who have contributed during the writing of this novel:

My friends and fellow writers at Selby Writers’ Circle - for their long-standing encouragement and support.

To all those who may remember me way back in the late 1950s at Ealing Art College, where I studied Fashion design, and those I worked with afterwards at the House of Worth, on which I’ve loosely based the fictitious
haute couture
fashion House of Courtney, featured in this novel.

To Ken, Seb and Caro - for their help and advice with the final editing.

Cover design: Lexi Revellian. Photo stock:

Photographers: Frenk & Danielle Kauffmann














Pure nostalgia:  London in the swinging sixties – about a young graduating art student, Annabel Spencer, and her eventual rise to fame as a fashion designer. How a strikingly beautiful girl whom she meets for a brief period at college becomes pivotal to her success and how these two women's careers and love lives become uncannily entwined.

It tells an intriguing love story hampered by loose morals, drug taking and emotional conflict - at a time when anything risqué goes - and frequently does. This novel reveals the scandal and glamour of a fascinatingly decadent and revolutionary period in modern history.








Beauty is but a flower

Which wrinkles will devour,

Brightness falls from the air,

Queens have died young and fair,

Dust hath closed Helen’s eye,

I am sick; I must die

Thomas Nashe 1567-1601







I first noticed her as the subject of a portrait in my college’s photographic exhibition. The black and white photograph took my breath away. 'She's
! Who is she?’

The boy standing next to me murmured, as if in agreement, 'She’s called Katherine and I think she's a tech student. Smashing shot, superb soft focus effect.'

The photograph was indeed a showstopper. Everyone seemed to be talking about it. The model possessed the kind of raven-haired beauty most girls would die for, including me. What I would give for cheekbones like that for starters! Her languid eyes, fringed with thick lashes were accentuated with smudgy black eye liner - perfectly demonstrating the
look that was slowly becoming all the rage. I hadn’t been brave enough to attempt it yet… but I decided there and then that I would certainly have to.

'Stunning, exquisite.' I said, gazing at her image.

The exhibition occupied almost the whole of the college entrance hall and, as I’d arrived early that morning, there had just been time before my pattern cutting class to take a look at the work exhibited. A couple of the photographic students were my pals and although no great beauty myself ... well, certainly not in this girl’s league, I’d also occasionally modelled for the photographic department to earn some extra cash. I suppose my own greenish grey eyes; pale skin and long tinted red hair must have held some sort of appeal to them. However, I’d always been self-deprecating and longed to be much taller, so that my generous bust and waistline might look a bit neater. Anyway, after a look around I realised, with some disappointment, that there wasn’t one picture of me in the show. Not surprising really, I concluded.

Many amazing camera techniques and subjects were on display however. One dramatic photo was of a bleak, black and white scene of a crumbling bombsite - beams jutting out, and what was left of a fireplace stuck incongruously half way up a wall indicating where a house once stood. A morbid reminder of a war I could only just remember. Other shots of exotic, far flung foreign places, industrial scenes, animals and weird reptiles, cute children and the weathered faces of the elderly, were all excellent and deservedly represented. But it was this girl's portrait that was capturing everyone's attention.

By now quite a group had formed around me studying this selection of “Highly Commended” work by final year photography students. Much like others, my eyes were constantly drawn to her portrait. The label below the photo said the photographer was Geoffrey Hill, who I already knew was one of the college's most acclaimed students.

'I wish she'd pose for me. She’s
photogenic,' I heard another male student mutter.

My friend Tony moved closer and shrugged dismissively. 'Yeah, strange girl though. Rather aloof.’ He continued studying the photo as he talked. ‘Geoff tells me the shot's been entered for the Montfort Gallery Award. Lucky sod! If it's placed it'll be on exhibition there for two whole months! A brilliant launching opportunity. I'm dead jealous. None of my work’s anywhere near entry standard.'

I smiled sympathetically. ‘Never mind Tony. Maybe next year?’

‘Nah, this is my final year.’

To be honest the girl herself interested me far more than any photographic award. It also struck me as odd how her beauty seemed more apparent through the camera's lens than I can ever remember noticing before; having glimpsed her once or twice around the college.

I was also in the final term of my three-year Fashion Design Diploma course, and a fashion show of our designs was always held at the end of each year. Of course I wanted to impress and needed an attractive girl to model my two garments. There would also be a photo shoot afterwards. This girl I knew was quite tall and slim; probably a size ten. She’ll be ideal I decided, wondering if I’d be able to persuade her to help me out.

Tony smiled. 'You seem interested in her, Annabel. Why?'

'I'd love her to model for me; that’s why.' I then went on to explain about the fashion show. ‘I must look out for her and grab her before someone else does.'

‘I’ll mention it to her, if I see her today,’ Tony said.

I thanked him, but a glance at my watch told me time was racing by; we both had to rush off to our departments on different floors of the college.


Katherine and I finally met up two days later. We nearly knocked each other flying as I was hurrying back to class after a quick tea break in the refectory. At that moment, as she turned the corner towards it, our shoulders collided and the book she was carrying fell to the floor.

‘Sorry.’ I bent to pick it up, instantly recognising her.
She glared at me a tad haughtily as I thrust the book at her. I tried to ignore her chilly look. ‘You’re Katherine aren’t you?’
‘Yes. Why?’ She narrowed her beautiful grey eyes at me in an intrigued way.
‘I’d like to ask you something. Have you a moment?’

She sighed, quickly glancing at her watch. ‘Well… I’m due back in class in five minutes. I want to get a sandwich and drink, so it’ll have to be quick.’

I hastily explained about the fashion show. 'The thing is… I need someone to model my two evening gowns. I…I was wondering... would you do it for me? You'd be perfect.'

Studying her still rather aloof expression I feared the worst. Then it changed completely and her eyes lit up.
‘Are you Annabel Spencer?’ She flashed a quick smile.
‘Yes. Why?’

‘Tony, in photography, has already mentioned you want to ask me. He also told me what a fantastic designer you are.' She smiled broadly now. 'Yes, 'course I'll do it. Look, must dash. Meet me later after classes and we'll discuss it more. If we waste any more time now we'll
be in trouble. See you in the entrance hall at about four-thirty. Okay?'

‘Fine. Thanks Katherine.’ I smiled triumphantly as she rushed off.


At early rehearsals for the fashion show my heart sank; mainly because of her acute gaucheness. She needed to be constantly reminded to hold her head up, her shoulders back and to walk a little slower. However, luckily after a fair bit of practise she eventually got the hang of it, and to my delight she was soon sashaying down the makeshift catwalk like a professional model. Wow, a truly elegant swan had emerged.

Katherine also turned out to be much nicer for knowing. She was co-operative over fittings and, most importantly, she was the perfect model for my gowns.

Then about a week before the show Mrs Moran, our design teacher, gave us some thrilling news. ‘British Pathe News is to film the event,’ she announced to an excited class. ‘It’ll be shown in the cinemas some time during early August.’

Well, while cameras rolled on the big day, the atmosphere among us students was filled with vitality and optimism; everyone eagerly speculating whose designs would end up in the final newsreel, because we all knew the film of the show was sure to be heavily edited.


Several weeks later on the Monday of the week it was showing in cinemas all over the country I sat eagerly waiting, along with two other fashion students in the darkened cinema in Ealing. After a tedious second feature film and some adverts, the stirring Pathe News introduction eventually struck up. We all held our breath. The college show was the third report.

Suddenly there on the huge screen was Katherine and a few other girls walking along the catwalk! I gulped. Wow! She looked terrific! And so did my embroidered, emerald evening gown.

The report, as expected, was all too brief. Although what really killed it for me was that the commentator, Bob Danvers Walker, said the fashion students were all modelling their
creations. No! I couldn't believe it! Katherine was credited as the designer of
wonderful dress! As if she didn't have enough going for her already, without stealing my tiny bit of glory.

I struggled to fight back tears of anger and disappointment.

In the end it seemed the only consolation was that at least one of
garments had been shown; whereas those of the two fellow students seated beside me hadn't; so all considered, it had been better than nothing.


Later in September after two month's hard slog hauling my heavy folder of design sketches around the London fashion houses, I was finally about to begin my first day with the
haute couture
House of Courtney in Mayfair. Searching for employment in an unrelenting ‘
rag trade’
had been a tough and exhausting ordeal.

Surprised to be eventually offered a job of any kind with such an exalted fashion establishment, fear and trepidation began to build up inside me as I walked in a gusty autumnal wind from Green Park Station towards the rear of the Grosvenor Street premises.

The weekly pay on offer was a pittance; only four pounds and ten shillings. But, as junior assistant to the chief designer, Edward Hamilton, I knew the prestige and experience I would gain should make it all worth while. This aspect had to take precedence over monetary rewards this early in my career. All the same, at my interview Mr Hamilton had impressed upon me that the position was very junior.

I bet I'll be just a glorified runabout, I thought, as I turned into Mount Row towards the rear of the Courtney building. By now thousands of butterflies had invaded my stomach.

Inside the narrow back entrance, Ted, the rosy-cheeked uniformed security doorman greeted me. I'd already met him briefly, prior to my interview, when he’d explained that this was where we must always enter and leave the building,
by the posh main door in Grosvenor Street itself.

‘Mornin’. Miss Spencer, ain’t it?’
BOOK: A Face To Die For
12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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