I remember what I was wearing when I first met Martin Amis. My then husband, the writer James Fox, was a great friend of Amis’ and of his new wife the writer Isabel Fonseca. Eight months pregnant with my son Jimmy, my wardrobe choices were much reduced. I had on a pair of grey flannel trousers with a zip in the hem that made a boot-cut flare, a long sleeve T shirt under a black silk shift dress with pale grey stars all over it, that I had plundered from my Best Dressed Chicken in Town archive. I felt resignedly frumpy until I arrived at dinner and was greeted with Martin’s approving commentary on my look, and how I carried my baby ‘high.’ I was elated. It created a bond in my mind. It made me feel strangely intelligent to have my outfit appreciated by this brilliant man.
The next time I met Martin was 6 months later at Isabel’s 40th birthday. It was a dazzling gathering of wild, clever and accomplished people. There were many tables with placement, and I can still remember my wonderment to find I was seated next to Martin. Since I’d last seen him, I had read his novel Money which I’d loved, it had jump started me out of my post childbirth brain fog. At one point he said something like ‘So here’s the 64 million dollar question: did you fancy him?” Me: ‘John Self? Of course.’ That was it, friends for life.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with Martin as he and Isabel lived in NYC, but whenever I did, I felt he gave me the benefit of the doubt. He would ask me if I wanted to go and smoke a roll-up outside when I visited their New York brownstone. I always panicked a bit, wondering if I would be a bore. Once he was talking about Clerihews – four line whimsical biographical poems a bit like limericks, invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. I butted in confidently reciting the one I’d learned from my father:
Alfred de Musset
Used to call his cat Poussay
His manners were affected
That was to be expected.
He looked at me as though we were talking about two different subjects and annihilated my Clerihew with a much better one. But it was so much better that my Clerihew was an embarrassment. The power of Martin; it was exhilarating to feel at ease in his company. Another time we were talking about those magazine questionnaires which are supposed to define your character. I was saying how difficult it was to decide who to single out from the list of monstrous people in the ‘Who do you despise?’ question. I had assumed he would share my mass loathing (in the end I narrowed it down to Tony Blair) but he was much more selective. And kind.
There was a line in one of Martin’s books describing a girl wearing ‘cool trousers.’ To me this is someone who understands about the visceral pull of style. Whatever cool trousers are, that phrase wakes up the obsession, the advantage of cool trousers, how much power they have for the wearer and the beholder.
In one of the many eulogistic obituaries, I found this quote from Martin saying ‘style is morality; morality detailed, configured, intensified.’ I almost don’t know what this means, but I can feel what it means. I can feel what cool trousers are and I can feel it when I get it right with an outfit. Martin knew how to say it.