Not so long ago, I publicly and snottily declared that I had never knowingly bought an item of clothing from River Island. I had nothing against the chain per se: it's just that, in my mind, it's inextricably linked with the most muttonous female I've ever known, one for whom much of the joy of having a teenage daughter is about reliving those highschool days of pointless competitiveness on issues of weight, fashion, boyfriends and how-many-times-in-one-night. Notice I didn't say, 'reliving vicariously'. No no. Reliving. Competing. With said daughter. I mean, this woman is Not Nice. And she wears a lot of River Island. Hence my mental block about it.
But then came the holiday in Cornwall. What it lacked in opportunities for retail therapy, it made up for in time to read - oh, alright pore over - Net-a-Porter's black-bound tome to SS10. And that's where I saw her. No, not the River Island Harpy: heaven forbid. The Balmain Military Girl. All long, lean and olive green, leg pockets, slashed khaki tee, black biker jacket and black ankle boots. I am in love. Not with her, exactly, more the idea of me as her.
At this moment, The Bearded One comes in from his evening surf, all salty hair and neoprene. Since I'm on the ''thinking about how I can do SS10 by using pieces I already own" tip, I eye up his wetsuit, imagine it accessorised with heels (can do), Wang Plait (can do) and bushy eyebrows (def can do). Then I imagine how many times it's been peed in during those interminable sessions of "waiting for the wave" and decide that Sports Couture and I may not cross paths this time round. I turn back to the Net-a-Porter mag, but not before The Bearded One has clocked me checking him out and, judging from the glint in his eye, has wildly misinterpreted my motives. Uh, no can do.
Back to Mademoiselle Balmain. Leather biker and black ankle boots I have. Skinny khakis I need. At £1,105, the Balmain ones are not destined to be mine. J Brand Houlihans are damn near perfect but just, ouch, still too much money. I mean, it's not like I'm a model looking to 'perfect my off-duty chic". (I can dream. Not about being a model - bit late for that. About being off duty, I mean. Is that seriously another pile of laundry that has just materialised in the corner??)
So, back in London, some bright spark suggests River Island. I baulk, blanch, gag. And then scurry to the website. Oh my god!! Skinny khakis abound!! Oh my god!! Where are all the size 12s?? Oh my god!! Call customer service. What? At your Bluewater store? You'll get them to hold them for me? I'm there. I throw bathtime at The Bearded One, kiss the children goodnight and fang it all the way there.
Once in the store, I'm converted. Maybe it's the rare freedom - 8pm and I'm IN. A. SHOP. Not telling stories or clearing up the living room. I am in love with almost everything I see. My inner mutton is bleating riotously and triumphantly. My head bobs involuntarily to music I'd never dream of listening to at home. The skinny khakis are perfect. So is the olive tank with embellished shoulders and - oh my god!! - the maxi in the exact colours (pink & turquoise) I've been looking to find one in.
Two weeks and a nasty bout of illness pass. Time for Sick Cake to step aside and let Balmain Cake take the stage. The khakis slip on. Too easily. They hang down. They gather and sag in the wrong places. They are just 'too big' enough to make me look fat. I check the scales. Yep, it wasn't just my joie de vivre that was knocked out of me the last week or so.
I'm on hold to customer service, seeing if I can get my hands on a pair of 10s when, unbidden, a scene plays out in my head. "I thought I'd pass these to you, since I know how much you looooove River Island. After all, they're waaaay too big for me - so they should be about right for you then, no?" And an unbecomingly large smirk spreads over my face.
image Balmain 2010/ Harpers Bazaar.