This one is from 2003. I’m delighted to report that the subject of it just sent me an email from New York where she is now working as a stylist. She’s just done a big shoot with Annie Leibovitz.
Sometimes life is so beautiful.
The Swan Moment
I have written several times in this column about the terrible misfortune of being 14, but now I have a happier tale to tell. I have recently observed at very close hand a wonderful thing that happens to people shortly after they are 14 – let’s call it the Swan Moment.
A dear friend of mine is 15, very nearly 16 and I swear her Swan Moment happened over night. I watched it like one of those pieces of delayed action photography where they show you a rose unfurling. Except this was a Lily, which is the name of my friend.
When I first met her she was 14 and she was, well, she was pretty gawky. Although she had a lovely face and enviably long limbs, the face had spots on it and the limbs were sort of put on wrong. You know how Michael Caine’s arms can look? A bit back to front. That’s how Lily’s long legs were.
Then one day I opened the door and this beautiful young woman was standing there. She didn’t have spots and she had wonderful slinky legs in a groovy denim mini, her hair was sleek and soigné and I swear I did a real double take, like someone in a cartoon. It was Lily.
I didn’t say anything at first, as I didn’t want to embarrass her, but in the end I just had to blurt it out.
‘Lily,’ I said. ‘You’ve changed.’
‘I know,’ she said.
‘You’ve got all beautiful,’ I said.
She shrugged. ‘It just sort of happened over the last few months and suddenly everyone’s noticed. My spots have gone.’
But it was much more than the spots. It was like the spots moved out and the glamour fairy moved in. Just like that. Ever since I have thought of that evening as The Night They Invented Champagne, as the whole thing was pure ‘Gigi’, although not so pervy (that film has always totally given me the creeps).
I still see Lily most days as she lives on my street and helps me out with stuff like filing, but really because I just like having her around, and the amazing thing is the Swan Moment just keeps on going.
Every time I open the door she looks more lovely. There’s a gloss going on now, an added enhancement that is more than just an absence of spots. It’s like living in a fairy tale watching it all.
When I think about it I have observed later stages of the Swan Moment before, when young girls have come to work with me on fashion magazines. They arrive already fashion aware, or I wouldn’t have given them the job, but still a little gauche, a touch raw and provincial.
It always used to delight me to watch the magic of being surrounded by some seriously sophisticated and stylish people do its work on a new recruit.
A new haircut, done by a world-famous cutter on a fashion shoot was often the start, then a different make up look, a few designer clothes passed on by a kind fashion editor and then, after some exposure to press discount and sample sales, you would see the duckling move into full fashionista mode and off she’d fly. A superb swan.
And in retrospect I can remember it happening to me too, although I don’t remember a teenage Swan Moment, like Lily’s, as I was always too obsessed with how ugly I was.
What I can clearly recall, though, is lightbulb moments of understanding about how to dress and shop like a grown up, from when I first started working on magazines. In fact, I think I am still learning all that, it’s a never ending process, but I am all too aware that I no longer have the rest of the package to fully showcase the new revelations.
The juncture of youth and sophistication that is the Swan Moment is truly a glorious thing. And as fleeting as a summer.