Get real, Sweetie!
I adore Absolutely Fabulous for its searing satire on the fashion industry. But sadly, the new Christmas special pulls its punches…
Can you really believe that it is 20 years since Eddy, Patsy and Bubble first burst on to our television screens in Absolutely Fabulous
After five successful series, Jennifer Saunders said she was burying the self-obsessed monster she created, and script editor Ruby Wax told me in an interview last year: ‘Ab Fab can never come back. It was of its time, it captured the zeitgeist of the Nineties, but I’m not sure I even know what the zeitgeist is now.’
When it disappeared I missed it sorely, spearing, as it did, the bonkers world of the fashion PR and magazine set.
2011 comeback: Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley return after more than a decade as Eddy and Patsy
As editor of Marie Claire, like Eddy I, too, would emerge from my chauffeur-driven limo, barking down my mobile at my PA that I was ‘entering the building’.
Its absence made way for a sea of family-centric or male-centric comedy that seemed not to cater for those of us who shopped and wailed and decorated our houses with lovely ‘things’.
Well, the good news is, Sweeties, that the programme has returned for two much-anticipated Christmas specials.
Eddy is still — goodness only knows how, given she now represents only two clients: Lulu and Baby Spice — living in her white stucco house in Notting Hill. Patsy (Joanna Lumley) is still stashing joints in her beehive. Saffron (Julia Sawalha) has adopted an African baby.
Eddy is, of course, indulging in every passing fashion phase imaginable: the most fabulous outfit is one comprised entirely of distressed denim, with a denim maxi her mother describes as ‘looking as though your jeans have exploded’.
The famous stairs to the basement kitchen now serve as a comedic device to get the most out of Eddy’s vertiginous shoe-boots.
As they were: The comedy was a searing satire of the fashion industry in its nineties heyday
Some things, of course, have not changed since 1992 in Eddy’s world or the real one. At a magazine ‘ideas’ meeting, the editor bleats uncomprehendingly: ‘Credit crunch’
The beauty editor has a brand-new injury, though: toes devoured during a particularly violent fish pedicure, surely the most revolting beauty trend to have surfaced in recent years.
Much is made of the unpaid intern who does all the work — but magazines have always thought their world so glamorous that young women should be willing to kill or starve or both to be allowed to toil there unrewarded.
But like its later doppelganger Sex And The City, it’s the clothes that speak volumes (Eddy, of course, wears volume, too).
The costume designer on the first series was Sarah Burns, who masterminded the looks in these latest episodes. As well as the inspired double denim explosion by Dolce & Gabbana and Levi’s, Eddy wears a lot of vintage Day Glo, Bodymap (which must be vintage from the Eighties) and Vivienne Westwood.
Patsy’s style, a mix of Betty Jackson and various vintage Eighties power-suits, is pretty much unchanged. If you were to ask her why, her reply would undoubtedly be: ‘Signature.’ Inspired!
Bolly good show: Remarkably, Eddy is still in business with Baby Spice and Lulu as clients
Like every older fashion editor I know, she has found something that suits, and she has stuck to it.
Bubble (Jane Horrocks), though, who was so outrageously cartoonish in the Nineties, now looks relatively normal. The Peter Pan collars, the pop socks, the Swarovski embellished shoes, the polka dots and shorts, the extreme little girliness has now made it into the mainstream.
Costume designer Cressida Lewis, who took over from Burns, admits she had to make Bubble’s style even more extreme, given how young women now dress, courtesy of the High Street.
‘The look is “co-ordinated twee”,’ she tells me. ‘I bought pretty much everything she is wearing in vintage shops as I didn’t want anyone to be able to buy her look. A fashion graduate made the shoes.
‘I bought the pop socks online, then added a ruffle at the top and layered the socks. I’d applique flowers onto fantastic tank tops. We really went to town on Bubble.’
The whole gang are back: From left, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), Saffy (Julia Sawalha, Eddy (Jennifer Saunders), Mother (June Whitfield), Patsy (Joanna Lumley)
Much, though, is so very different. And I don’t merely mean that the old-fashioned white fridge has been replaced with a stainless steel Sub Zero, cost: circa 30,000, but which uses less energy than a lightbulb.
While in the original episodes there were no dark shadows lurking over Eddy and Pasty, here we have Eddy cash-strapped, while Patsy is forced to go to the benefits office and apply for a pension.
But what super new trends did they miss, or — like Downton Abbey, criticised for the leather gaiters in its Christmas special — which ones did they get wrong
The iPad is here, of course, being jiggled by Bubble, and the iPhone 4, and Tweeting: ‘Blog it, flog it, tweet it,’ instructs Eddy. ‘My favourite cheese, that sort of thing.’
AB FAB IN 1992
Christian LacroixHippy de luxeHelena ChristensenImported knick knacksGiant statement t-shirt dressesRagian shoulders by MaxMaraPied a Terre kitten heelsHip hop medallionsJean MuirLulu
AB FAB IN 2011
Mary KantranzouColour-blocked sporty separatesLindsey WixsonCraftPyjamas as outerwearEmbellished shoulders1,020 Louis Vuitton wedgesStatement necklacesHalston HeritageThe Kardashians
But I’d have liked the chauffeur-driven limo to have morphed into a super small Prius that Eddy, still fat despite a lifetime of dieting and colonic irrigation, finds very hard to squeeze into.
I’d have littered the bedroom with stiff Net-A-Porter bags to reference our obsession with online shopping and I’d have loved Eddy to have shoved some very non-PC but seductive Primark carrier bags quickly out of sight when Saffy appeared.
Flicking back through my Vogues of 1992, it is interesting to note that in December 1992 a pair of white trousers from Hennes (now H&M) cost 22, while today they cost 7.99! Now try telling me fashion has not become ludicrously inexpensive at the bottom end.
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But, most important of all, I think the biggest social, sartorial and important change that should have been made more of is the bleak future facing older women these days.
We were profligate when we should have thought about our futures. Mother (June Whitfield) should have been given dementia, and Eddy forced to look after her grandchild Jane, whom she refuses to call anything other than Lola. Only then would we be shown the future that faces late-middle-aged women these days, enrolled as we are as carers at both ends of the generation gap.
Patsy should have broken both her ankles after succumbing to osteoporosis and be living in sheltered accommodation, on a waiting list not for a Hermes Birkin bag, but for a new liver.
But that would all be too dark, I suppose. And we badly need cheering up this Christmas.
Perhaps in next year’s Olympics special, where doubtless much sport will be made of Eddy, lumpen in Lycra, there will be more pathos.
Perhaps Mother will wander on to the athletics track, confused and lonely, while Eddy has been too busy posting off all her old bling to the Cash for Gold people to notice. Lola will be out looting in a hoodie. For this, surely, is the new zeitgeist, without getting all serious and pompous about what is essentially a sitcom.
But Ab Fab at its best is searing satire, and I do worry about Eddy’s future being financed by her shoe collection, her ‘investment’ dressing (surely the biggest lie we’ve been fed over the past two decades).
These Christmas specials are a wake-up call, after all: the fashionista in her difficult shoes, frantically trying to remember her mantra, is a victim, and not just of fashion. Which is no laughing matter.