The refulgently camp Bunny Roger, fashion designer, party-giver and exquisite sartorial event, died 15 years ago today. In his autobiography Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam recalls his first encounter with Bunny while still a schoolboy at Eton:
Bunny I loved unreservedly on sight, and a lifelong friendship started then and there. Initially during holidays, I would visit him at Fortnum & Mason, where he had a couture dressmaking salon under his proper name, Neil Roger. He dismissed his work as “boring things for knights’ wives. Like my mother,” he’d hastily add. In fact the clothes he showed on the catwalk were far more stylish than that, Hollywood-inspired, in the mould of Travis Banton and Gilbert Adrian, with references drawn from the exotic costumes of the heyday of his screen idols, especially Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, and Marlene Dietrich, whose glittering sheaths and cock feathers he loved to re-create, wearing them himself at spectacular parties.
Sometimes I took friends from school with the express purpose of showing Bunny off; they would gasp at his square-shouldered suits, the corsetlike waistcoats over exaggeratedly skirted jackets and narrowest drainpipe trousers, cut to accentuate his lifelong twenty-six-inch waist. Crusty old military men often leered at Bunny, whispering, “Do you lace?” Up at Oxford he used to go to parties dressed as any of those filmstar pinups, seducing the notoriously straight Shimi Lovat in the process, though drag was not a sexual turn-on for Bunny. He preferred male costume, and admitted to me that the Edwardian look he had perfected was what he fancied on other people. “Such a mistake,” he’d sigh. “One never gets anyone.”
In another passage, Haslam evokes an interior decorator’s costume, a single dazzling image that crystallises the magnificence of the couturier’s (in)famous parties:
No-one who witnessed Felix Harbord at Bunny’s “Royal” party got up to a tee as Queen Victoria, including a mobile plinth to reduce Felix’s enormous bulk to appropriately dwarflike Guelph proportions, will ever forget the sight.
I dare say.
Listen to a podcast by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for more on Bunny, perhaps while flicking languidly through this scrapbook of his casual separates and in situ ensembles: