Just before midnight on the eve of my wedding I stood, crying slightly while cradling my infant son, in a queue at A&E.
A nurse noticed and sidled up beside me, asking if I was ok. Biting back a tsunami of tears, I shook my head, before relaying fears that my mastitis had turned to sepsis. You see, I’d been here several times before and had foolishly been ignoring the signs all day, persuading myself paracetamol would knock the block on its head.
Without formally checking me in at reception, this angel swept me away to be seen by the first available doctor while my core temperature soared and my hands and feet felt freezing. By I had a bag of IV fluids pumping into my left arm, closely followed by intravenous antibiotics, while my ten-month-old drained the problematic mammary like a pro.
The last time this had happened, I’d spent three nights in hospital while midwives tried to get on top of my temperature. This time, I just couldn’t countenance the same. My husband-to-be and I shared knowing looks with every millilitre of fluid that flowed. By 2am, the on-call doctor popped her head in to see my progress. Giving my best zen, I asked if it would be ok to switch to oral antibiotics and go home, please. She laughed rhetorically, asking if I really knew how sick I was? “I’m looking to admit you,” she admonished gently, “not discharge you.”
I nodded my head, but felt it was time to deploy the big guns: “Doctor, we’re getting married at four o’clock this afternoon. I have friends and family who have flown in from Australia, Spain and the States. I’ve even engraved the date onto a pair of vintage 1920s cufflinks for that guy over there. I need to get out of here.”
A hasty escape
Under strict instructions, the doctor allowed me home with a vent in my arm, and a warning I would have to go to the breast clinic at the crack of dawn to see a consultant. Luckily, by morning, I was responding to medicine and fluids and, despite feeling like death, the consultant even gave me permission to have one glass of fizz while he took the needlework out of the bruised limb. And so the wedding celebrations began.
I didn’t care that my dress was sleeveless, or that the night’s activities were clearly visible. We were getting married, that was the win. You see, that’s the thing about skin. It will always show how you are feeling. Cold? Goosebumps. Sunburn? Red raw. Hormonal? Spots.
As a teenager, I agonised over the acne that plagued adolescence. I was mortified as my body morphed from childhood into adulthood, giving me stretch marks on my inner thighs. I actually preferred people thinking I packed my tiny fabric bra with toilet paper because I wanted bigger boobs – it was better than admitting I hated the way my nipples poked out awkwardly behind clothing at the first sign of a breeze. And don’t even get me started on my nose. It is the Concorde of conks. I could be standing in Edinburgh and make it to New York, breaking the sound barrier, if I turned my head fast enough.
So, if you haven’t slept, it’ll show up on your face. Dehydrated and your decolletage could double as a game of snakes and ladders with all the fine lines it’ll highlight. Had a big old cry? Your skin won’t lie. But I knew all would be well because of two simple words: cashmere skin.
Fashion for the face
Years ago, when I was writing my second book Cashmere: A Guide to Scottish Luxury I went to see my very talented make-up artist maven, Molly. We had six jumpers to shoot on four different models and I needed their complexions to emulate the luxury of the clothing. Soft, glossy, touchable skin with an edge is what we were after – it’s wool after all, so it’s hardy stuff, just like skin.
Molly is a master at gloss, making natural features sing under minimum make-up. For years I have been the beneficiary of her brilliance, be it in front or behind the camera, and sitting in her make-up chair with a sheet mask on while she buffs your nails is one of life’s sweet spots. Never apply oil to a dry face is just one genius tip I’ve gleaned from her, and often divulge when pals ask why my pus is looking so perfect. It’s all in the prep. Even if that mask is only on for minutes before applying make-up, the difference is night and day. So, as I left hospital that day and rolled up to the venue in flu-like agony, I knew I was in safe hands.
And what a job she did. Eye mask sat under sheet mask, toner below face oil et voila, cashmere skin with which to waft down the aisle before wilting somewhere between first dance and cake cutting.
Sage advice from skin
That day is a resolute reminder to me of the biggest lesson working in fashion has given me. When any event you planned for finally comes to fruition, it’s rarely in the way you envisaged. Delivery is wrapped in warped expectation, and that can taint the wonderful staring you in the face.
Like those stretch marks allowing my legs to grow long and lean. Like those awkward nipples facilitating the feeding of my fabulous babies while looking amazing in barely-there tops because I’m flat chested. Like adolescence being a time that passes so quickly, its magic so often missed in all the worrying about acne. Like my concord nose, the visual definition of my personality, sharp and to the point. Without it I couldn’t stop and smell the roses. The older I get, the more I do.
This vehicle that I’m traveling through life in deserves some major gratitude. As my skin ages, I’m so thankful that time is etched into it. It shows me when I’m tired, so I listen and take a nap. It shows me when I’m dehydrated, so I eat and drink better. When I want to treat it, I lather it in potent potions of scented oil. It glows when I’m happy. There’s a little more of it when I’m healthy, in contrast to the skeletal mess caused by stress.
Whatever decade I wake up in though, and I hope there are many, I vow to be grateful for the skin I am in. Today, cashmere skin is more than a glow up for me. It’s a mindset. And like all the very best luxuries, long may it last.