Earlier this year saw the centenary of English writer Julian Maclaren-Ross‘s birth.
His death came on this day in 1964, and in the intervening 52 years, Maclaren-Ross took almost as much care to craft his aura and mystique as his written works. It was possibly the pursuit of these qualities, and the arm’s-length distance from scrutiny which sustain them, which made him so wary of cameras; the image used on the cover of Paul Willetts’ biography above is one of the very few photographic portraits taken of Maclaren-Ross. To locate the origin of the dandified elegance so remarked up on by his contemporaries we need to look within that same book, as ex-soldier Maclaren-Ross indulges in a de-mob retail frenzy at the end of World War Two:
To celebrate his emancipation he treated himself to an extravagant shopping spree, unwittingly reprising his father’s youthful improvidence. Of the money Jonathan Cape had paid him, he spent most of it on a flashy new wardrobe. Reacting against such a prolonged period of being confined to drab army uniforms, he kitted himself out with a crimson jacket and cream suit, both in corduroy, plus a black astrakhan-collared coat, a maroon cummerbund, a mustard-yellow waistcoat, and a silk Schiaparelli tie with a bold pattern of French newspaper headlines on it. He also acquired a pair of sunglasses, a rare accoutrement then, rendered doubly unusual by their American aviator-style frames. He took to wearing these most of the time, even when he was groping throught he blackout, his unwillingness to remove them provoking wearyingly repetitive enquiries as to whether he was blind, or disfigured, or wore them “to hide behind because of a psychological need.” The desired gangsterish connotations were diluted by the rest of his outfit, the cream suit more evocative of the Riviera, the malacca cane more redolent of the fin-de-siècle foppishness he’d embraced as a teenager. In an era of uniformity, of wartime austerity, his appearance ensured that he was as conspicuous as a Technicolor interloper in a monochrome movie. And it aroused inevitable suspicion that he was, in the parlance of the day, queer.