I had a bit of a trip down memory lane this week. I have an embarrassingly, extensive collection of scarves and shawls which occupies three very large trunks. Each item is individually stored in plastic bags while the more expensive ones are also wrapped in special tissue paper. Lavender sachets are scattered throughout the boxes.
The collection dates back to my early teens. My father bought me my first scarf, which I still have and wear, to go in the neck of a dusky pink shirt-waister which I wore to the Davis Cup semi-final at Edgbaston: GB v W Germany. The Germans won (they went on to lose 5-0 to USA in the final). I had the pleasure of meeting them before the match as we had dined in the same hotel.
The next addition to my collection was the scarf I’ve been wearing this week. It was one my father bought my mother when they were in Paris, on their honeymoon. It’s a denim-coloured, silk square lightly patterned with grey and black flowers. It goes beautifully with jeans. Initially, I just used to “borrow” it and then I took it away to university with me and it’s never been back.
You might wonder why I have such a large and extensive collection. It started largely thanks to my parents who, after trips overseas, would reappear bearing gifts of jewel coloured scarves in an array of shapes and sizes, just the thing for livening up any outfit, which I have added to in the intervening years.
The collection really took off once I started working. Scarves are a great way of adding colour to a sober work suit. If you like, they’re ties for women. When I was working in investment banking, it was not uncommon for the Japanese banks to hand them out at signing ceremonies – Hermes of course.
Scarves are also the perfect present to pick up in an airport. Many of my Hermes scarves were bought by my beloved. I generally then went and changed them for something more to my taste at my nearest Hermes shop in Cornhill. He was none the wiser.
Lest you think they are all expensive, the collection comprises scarves in every price bracket though from time to time, as they have lost their lustre, the less expensive ones have been sent to the nearest charity shop. I can still remember where I bought each one and even recall the price. At times this gift comes in handy.
About 10 years’ ago, my collection took a direct hit in a flood (burst water tank) and while only a few were damaged (thanks to the plastic bags) together they represented a rather substantial investment. Fortunately, the insurance company didn’t so much as bat an eyelid, probably due to the amount of detail I supplied relating to their acquisition, and I spent a very pleasurable day seeking replacements.
Inevitably, I have a number of favourites. Many of these were gifts from my dear American friend who lives in Asolo and who has exquisite taste. A large number were purchased either in Liberty’s department store in London (still a fertile hunting ground) or at the late-lamented Takashimaya in New York. I confess I’ve often bought scarves, intending to give them as presents, which I have then hung onto because I liked them so much.
Since moving to France, and spending most of my days in lycra, I’ve rather gotten out of the habit of wearing scarves. Now, thanks to Rapha, I have a collection of small, silk squares that I wear rather jauntily round my neck when cycling and this has prompted me to investigate once more the contents of those large boxes.
One box contains my Hermes scarf collection plus the more expensive silk scarves, including the one which was designed, made and embroidered with bike parts by a very dear and gifted friend. Another, even larger box, houses silk shawls, pashminas and cashmere scarves. The third, and final box, shelters the remainder. In total, I have around 750 and their collective worth equates to a studio apartment in an unfashionable part of Nice.
The collection has only minimally increased in the six years I have lived in France. But scarves are like shoes, you can never grow out of them. They fit you whatever your dress size. If they go out of fashion, put them away and at some point, they’ll come back into style and you can just go shopping in your closet.