Fashion Show, or, The Adventures of Bingo Marsh

A Novel


By James Brady

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In this sparkling comic novel by one of the most “inside” of fashion insiders, journalist John Sharkey recounts his career under that legendary tyrant of the fashion press Bingo Marsh. Heady as champagne, arch and funny as the best dinner partner you’ve ever had, Fashion Show is a completely captivating romp through the elegant wilds of style.




Paris One

Nielsen's Children

The Press Lord

Holy Wars


The Coldest War


Copyright © 1992 by James Brady

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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First eBook Edition: October 2009

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

ISBN: 978-0-316-08620-2

1     A matter of some delicacy.

WHEN George Bush was elected President and the cabinet lists came out without his name, Bingham Marsh III was crushed. He thought being a Yale man still counted for something in this country. As one Bourbon after another was nominated to posts in the new Administration, Marsh wondered if he should have sent the Bush campaign a more generous check, then agonized over the propriety of having sent a check at all.

"Perhaps I committed a gaffe," Marsh told his wife. "Bush was known at Yale to maintain certain standards."

Although Bush and Bingo Marsh had been a generation apart at New Haven, both men had been tapped for Skull and Bones, a senior society so secret that, ever after, if its name is even uttered, a Bonesman must leave the room. Marsh took such matters seriously, and I doubt very much that to this day he has ever discussed Skull and Bones with Mrs. Marsh.

There was an innocence about Bingo much like that of people who have a touching belief in chiropractic.

I can say that, despite my resentment of how Marsh turned against me, and it explains why, until now, I've never written about him, not even for Tina Brown at Vanity Fair, who wanted me to do the definitive piece on Marsh and his magazine. You know how in baptism we solemnly renounce Satan and all his works and pomps? That was what I'd done with Bingo. Like him, I once had dreams, and when they didn't turn out quite as I expected, I cast about for someone to blame besides my father and what happened back in Ohio, the scandal and all, and settled on Bingo Marsh.

It's always more convenient to lay guilt on someone other than yourself, and Bingo would do nicely.

Then some months ago, a friend sent this clipping from the Paris Herald Tribune about Marsh, a man we both knew well, and in my Manhattan apartment on a bleak night, I read it over a darkly swirling glass:

Fashion buyers from New York and the international fashion press were mystified during last week's Milan collections when longtime fashion magazine editor Bingham (Bingo) Marsh abruptly changed hotels. Without explanation, Marsh departed a favorite haunt, the Gallia, in the middle of the night to check into the Principe et Savoie, inspiring animated speculation in a fashion community ever avid for gossip.

Asked why he'd abandoned the Gallia in what was described as a huff, Marsh declined to respond, saying it was "a matter of some delicacy."

Several sources, including a leading Italian designer with whom Marsh dined, quoted the editor as complaining, "I arrived on the late plane and was going to have a nice bath when I found a pubic hair in my tub. I phoned down instantly for my bill and left. You really shouldn't have to have pubic hairs in your bath, should you?"

A spokesman for the hotel, one of Italy's finest, remarked, "And how can Signor Marsh be certain it was not an eyelash, perhaps his own?"

There were reports the hotel might sue Marsh for slander and that he was considering countersuit for "deprivation of services."

Harsh words had apparently been exchanged as Marsh exited the hotel and one eyewitness suggested a blow may have been struck.

I scoffed at the idea of blows. Bingo was both Episcopalian and anal, which may be the same thing and certainly explains a tantrum over the condition of his tub. In recent years he'd turned down millions in advertising in his magazine simply because he refused to accept fragrance inserts. I can hear him still, his protest a refrain:

"I won't have my magazine smelling like a house of easy virtue!"

Everyone in fashion had such stories about Marsh, dining out on them. I had my own accounts of his tics and oddities, collecting them over the years for my private pleasure, a practice which drove Babe Flanagan, before she left me, to protest:

"He's absurd. And you're obsessed by him."

"I'm not obsessed. We just work in the same place."

But violence? Blows exchanged? Not the Bingo Marsh I knew, no matter the provocation, regardless of what some "wop" hotelier (as Bingo surely would have phrased it) might have said. That Bingo fled confrontation much as others of us fled commitment.

When your parents die young, you grow up wary, unwilling to share yourself fully with anyone else, lest you lose them, too. I'd forgotten that, had let down my guard and shed caution with Bingo and got hurt. Which was why now I balled up the Herald Trib clipping and tossed it into the basket, pouring myself a fresh drink, rid of Marsh forever, long past caring anything for him, his works and pomps.

How pleased Babe would have been to see me so crisply slam the door on memory.

In the morning, sober and recalling happier days and foolish, never-to-be-forgotten moments, I retrieved the item from the wicker and smoothed it carefully before pressing it between the pages of a favorite book, the way forsaken lovers save old flowers from the dance.

2     She suspected Chanel was trying to get her into bed.

BINGO MARSH and I met perhaps ten years ago. I was working in Paris for The New York Times and had to be in New York on some dreary business or other.

I'd been in Paris since 1970, at first living with a fashion mannequin in a drafty old apartment on the rue de Boulainvilliers and hanging about with Coco Chanel, about whom I would write a little book that against the odds sold very well. It wasn't really important just how I got to Paris, but I did. Reporting from Vietnam for the UPI and winning some journalism awards played a part. So did my late mother, a Canadian from whom I had a slim French. The girl, Gillian, worked as a mannequin chez Chanel and asked me to accompany her one night to dinner, as she suspected Chanel was trying to get her into bed. Gillian was eighteen years old and very beautiful, and there may have been something to her concern because a lot of people kept trying to get her into bed. Anyway, I went along that first night and Coco and I hit it off and I would write the book about her that had the enormous good fortune to be published the week she died in January of '71, a coincidence of event which got it on the best-seller list and me on the "Tonight Show" exchanging pleasantries with Johnny Carson.

It was that book which drew Bingo's notice and which he remembered when finally we met.

3     I noticed his curious gait.

THERE were cocktails at River House, my book publisher's flat, the usual slavering of the literary crowd over an Englishman who'd just perpetrated an "important" book. The book was about T. E. Lawrence and the occasion promised novelty, or at least the opportunity to meet a New York girl. The Englishman was plump and wore a "siren suit," a one-piece coverall of the style Winston Churchill donned in the war whenever Karsh of Ottawa was going to photograph him for Life magazine.

The Englishman was quite drunk. When we were introduced he said, "Let me see the palm of your hand."

When I turned it up he said smugly, "Obviously homosexual."

I didn't know what to say to that, but he'd already reeled away and was scrutinizing someone else's palm. Other men, as drunk as he, shouted protest or told him, "Fuck off!" offering to take him outside. My publisher beamed, sensing an item in tomorrow's tabloids. There were women at the party, and they giggled, taking pleasure from the familiar spectacle of men being ridiculous.

I didn't know Manhattan well, but I'd seen parties deteriorate in other towns and when the author began checking hands a second time, I found my coat and left. Marsh shared the elevator with me.

"Hullo, how are you?" I murmured out of politeness, not caring one way or the other.

"Splendid," he responded. "I sleep well and enjoy a regular bowel movement. You?"

"Just fine," I said, choosing not to go into equivalent detail.

It seemed an awkwardly long time for the elevator to bring us to the ground floor. I stared fixedly at the car door, discouraging conversation, and when it slid open permitted him to exit first, marginally the older man. There being no cabs we walked west a silent block.

I knew who he was; if you were in journalism you knew about Bingo Marsh and his magazine. I was already composing in my head an anecdote about having met him and of his extraordinary response to the most banal of casual greetings.

Now, as we walked together through late Manhattan, he began to chatter amiably, a man about as tall as I and quite plump. I could see him only vaguely now in profile, but I recalled from photographs that his face had no planes or angles but only dimples and a doughy softness strengthened on occasion by a curled lip. His hair was blond and straight and parted on the left in proper prep-school tradition, occasionally falling into gentle bangs that gave Marsh something of the look of a youthful and vastly oversized Truman Capote. As we proceeded west in search of cabs, I noticed his curious gait, three or four normal steps and then a little skip. I had to hurry to keep up, recognizing I really should just let him go, skipping into the night. But Bingo was telling me he'd known Coco Chanel and how well I'd captured her in words.

I was flattered he even remembered the book. And no writer turns callously from a good review.

"You must come to lunch," he said, "the Racquet Club."

"Sure," I said, having early learned that in New York people were forever threatening lunch and rarely committing it.

A taxi slowed, but as I stepped into the street to hail it, I realized there was already a passenger, a lone woman barely discernible, with a vague but pleasing profile silhouetted briefly against the window.

"She's playing with herself," Marsh remarked in a satisfied tone.

"How can you possibly know that?" I demanded.

"Well, wouldn't you, if you had a nice cab all to yourself?"

Just then two empties came along, and we each waved one down.

"I'll phone," Bingo cried, skipping into the gutter. "I want to hear all about you and Coco…"

4     Oh, a worm!

MARSH meant what he said about lunch and got me through the switchboard at the Times.

"Let's make it La Grenouille instead," he said. I assumed he'd had second thoughts as to whether I was Racquet Club material. La Grenouille, on East Fifty-second Street, was obviously a favorite of Bingo's, and we were greeted at the door and bowed obsequiously to a fine corner under enormous vases of fresh flowers. A headwaiter approached.

"They have the best boiled potatoes in the world here, don't you, Marcel?"

Marcel, the headwaiter, a man the size and heft of a good middleweight and with the ritual broken nose, nodded enthusiastically.

"They are very good, Monsieur Marsh."

Bingo beamed, delighted to have judgment confirmed.

"They have a special way of cooking them," he said.

Marcel confirmed this.

"Yes," he said, "we boil them."

Out of self-defense, I ordered a drink, and Marcel, his boiled potato badinage exhausted, went off to fetch it. Bingo wagged his head in admiration.

"I think Marcel is marvelous. And Ames."


"My wife," Bingo said. "I forgot you don't know her. She admires Marcel as well."

"I see." I was making a genuine effort but not at all sure it was working.

The appetizer was artichoke vinaigrette. Halfway through his, Bingo carefully put aside one of the leaves on which a small white worm was undulating.

"Oh, a worm," I said, startled into stating the obvious.

"Of course," Marsh said blandly, "it's how you know they're fresh." He resumed eating with considerable relish, blandly insensitive either to worms or misplaced modifiers, smiling and content, providing a bit of family lore:

"Ames is British. I met her in Paris when I was doing graduate work. Her maiden name is Hillary, a distant relative of the Hillary who climbed Everest. Sir Edmund. You know, the one who said, 'Because it's there… ' "

"I thought that was Mallory."

"No," Bingo said primly, "Sir Edmund said it. Ames's cousin, as I said, third degree of kindred, I believe. She's only an 'honourable,' because of her father. Her brother got the title."

I ignored Burke's Peerage to return to Everest. "And I was so sure it was George Leigh Mallory who…"

Marsh made a throwaway gesture, shooting a cuff and indicating none of this was significant.

"They argue endlessly over just who said what. Alpinists are apparently difficult, argumentative people, envious and litigious. Has to do with altitude and oxygen starvation. But it most certainly was Hillary got up Everest first. Sir Edmund and some coolie."

"A Sherpa guide, I believe."

"Whatever," Marsh said, waving to a woman three tables away who was smiling at him.

"That's Princess Radziwill, Jackie's younger sister. Younger, with nicer legs as well. All that horseback riding around New Jersey every Sunday with the local hunt, well, someone ought to give Jackie some friendly counsel. Anyway, Onassis had an enormous letch for Lee, such a pleasant relief from tantrums by la Callas. But once he met Jackie, it was all over. Daddy O. bought originals and not numbered prints. Someone once suggested, surely in jest, that Onassis might dump Jackie for Diana Ross and the Supremes because by then they were the most famous women in the world."

Bingo's voice had a way of carrying, and I glanced toward Lee Radziwill, wondering if she were catching any of this. Marsh went on, impervious.

"Her title's bogus, of course. There hasn't been a King of Poland since the third partition. She and Jackie get on, I'm told, but barely."

They cleared away the artichoke (the worm still wriggling) as Marsh identified other people in the front room.

"That's Mica Ertegun, the woman with the shiny hair. Her husband's a Turk and owns the biggest record company, so people like the Rolling Stones and Jerry Brown's girlfriend and those charming little colored children, the Johnson Five…"


"… work for him. Her best friend is Chessy Rayner, who has a husband at Condé Nast, and they're in the catering business or something together, Mica and Chessy, but we always put it in the magazine, 'Messy and Chica.' If she comes over here let me do the talking. She can be arch."

"But doesn't that confuse your readers, using the wrong names?"

"Oh, but that's the fun of it. We mentioned La Grenouille so much in print people said I was getting free meals, so then we called this place The Frog Pond and then everyone started using that so now we call it 'Restaurant X.' Readers like puzzles, the way some people enjoy S and M and things."

"I suppose so," I said, starting to lose him.

"We also publish a list of who's In and who's Out. It's an old staple of the magazine business, like the best-dressed list and the ten worst movies. I stole the idea from one of the Mitford girls, who wrote a book about just who was U- and non-U, U- being upper-class…"

"Nancy Mitford. I know the book."

"I'm sure you're right, though I thought it might be Jessica. I knew it wasn't the other one, Verity…"


"… because she was Hitler's girlfriend. And John Fairchild, as well."

Astonished, I said, "She was John Fairchild's…?"

"No, I mean Fairchild stole the idea, too, and uses it at Women's Wear, who's In or Out. I like to shift people from list to list every year just to confuse things."

I was thinking of the thick book of editorial rules at the Times and how slavishly we subscribed to its…

"Oh, good, here's Marcel," Bingo said, rubbing his hands. "Marcel," he said, his voice falling conspiratorially, "today's boiled potatoes, are they really good?"

Marcel looked about cautiously before answering.

"Monsieur Marsh, my word as a Breton."

Marsh beamed again. When we'd ordered he turned to me and in a voice suddenly amplified, demanded:

"Tell me about your Pulitzer, tell me of the horrors of Vietnam."

I provided a brief, bowdlerized version, not knowing him well enough for candor and uneasy with his penchant for shouts. I wasn't halfway through the story of Da Xiang when he said:

"It's amazing, how each of us has had to struggle, you versus the Communists, me against Nunc."


5     People will say it's trash.

IT was 1960 and Jack Kennedy had just, and narrowly, been elected President, and Bingo was in Paris, a Yale man loafing through lectures at the Sorbonne for exams he had no intention of taking, when he fell among expatriates short of money.

"They thought they discerned in me an easy mark," he was admitting now over our Manhattan lunch.

The expatriates had been running, and doing poorly at it, an obscure little trade magazine in which Bingo saw possibilities. The magazine bore an unwieldy title, Bruit de la Mode, freely translated into the "noise" or "gossip" of fashion. Before closing the deal, as a matter not only of finance but of courtesy, Marsh flew to New York to present the purchase to his Uncle Elmer, known as "Nunc," and chairman of the Marsh clan's profitable if undistinguished chain of provincial newspapers. When Nunc objected, Bingo threw up his hands.

"You object to everything new, Nunc. You're personally affronted every December thirtieth when the year changes."

"It changes the thirty-first," Nunc growled.


Elmer Marsh possessed a long red nose, keenly pointed and generously dotted with small seeds like a raspberry, part genetic, part alcoholic, at which he pawed and groped when distracted. He was pawing and groping now at his nose.

"What's it called again?"

"Bruit de la Mode."

" 'Brouilly of the mud?' " Nunc demanded. "I thought you said it was about fashion, not some cheap wine."

Bingo explained the name. "We'll rename it, of course, call it Fashion. Or Gossip."

"You can't publish something called Gossip," Nunc declared. "People will say it's trash. I'll say it's trash."

"People will buy it, Nunc," Bingo said triumphantly, with the confidence of young men with trust funds. "People love gossip; women are mad for fashion. They'll storm the kiosks to buy it."

Nunc groped again at his great nose. "I won't have the family's name sullied."

"Fine," Bingo said airily, "keep the family out of it. With Jackie Kennedy taking over the White House in January, fashion will be the national rage. I'll buy the magazine with my own money."

"Oh?" said Nunc, expecting he was about to be mulcted and giving his nose an enormous going over.

"Yes, and it'll make tons of money."

"Well, then," said Elmer Marsh, suddenly very much the crusading journalist, "Marsh Publishing ought to give it a try, don't you think?"

"Yes, Nunc," Bingo said piously. "What a splendid idea."

He returned to Paris to wrap up the deal for a derisory price, remained long enough to absorb what he could about running a small magazine and, incidentally, about fashion, using his connections to get invited to the collections and to meet a few of the more influential designers and hiring a disaffected former employee of Women's Wear Daily, an aging fashion expert named Regina Stealth, to put him through a crash course in women's clothes.

"It all begins with the cloth, Bingo, you must never, never forget that. Within the fabric, erratically spinning, is the nucleus of every dress ever made."

A chum from Paris Match filled in with gossip from the bistros and the discotheques, a lover of Cocteau offered news of the arts, and a broker with a seat on the Bourse provided confidential information on the finances of Jean Patou, Lanvin, Dior, Rodier, and the other major houses. Marsh, who for all his faults was never lazy, took assiduous notes. Then, almost in his spare time but in an inspired moment, he married a pretty young Englishwoman he'd met over dinner at the American ambassador's residence.

Halfway through 1961 Mr. and Mrs. Marsh were back in Manhattan, and Bingo's little magazine, now titled simply Fashion and translated into an English-language weekly for the delectation of monied America, had been installed in unused space of the Marsh Publishing building on lower Fifth Avenue. Staff was hired, and Bingo set out to sell magazines and intimidate people, ever preaching the one gospel:

"People are more interesting than things."

He was not yet twenty-five, and already he understood vulnerability, knew that while other people were difficult, even dangerous, he could frighten the designers, the driving force of fashion. And from the very first he set out to do precisely that, alternately the wealthy, naive, charming boy and, through the pages of his magazine and using its leverage, the powerful, menacing bully.

I was a newspaperman; I knew how a call from the Times made people nervous. But these were wealthy, successful people of international reputation, these fashion designers. How could they possibly have been intimidated by what Marsh admitted was at first a small, obscure weekly?

I asked Bingo.

"The designers are the fashion locomotives, a few dozen men and a few women in Europe mostly, a few here. Get them scared, get their attention, get them reading the magazine every Monday morning and you've won the battle. And all you have to remember is, no matter how sophisticated and rich and tough they seem to be, they all started out as little boys playing with and dressing dolls."

I laughed, unsure he was being serious, and said:

"Jan de Hartog wrote a novel, called The Ship, I think, about an old tramp steamer captain who on long voyages kept an inflated, life-sized rubber doll in his stateroom and…"

"John, I'm not suggesting the designers are slipping Barbie or Raggedy Ann between the Porthault sheets and having affairs. I mean, they dress the dolls and sew up little costumes…"

"Oh…" I let my face go stern and attentive.

"Yes," he said, pleased I was back on his wavelength, "and the odd thing was, years before, it was worth a lady's reputation to go unchaperoned to a fashion fitting. The designers then were all rakes, with scores of their wealthy clients and fashion mannequins tumbling in and out of bed night and day. Jacques Heim told me when he was a boy and his mother still alive and designing, the first pederast was hired by a Paris couture house as an assistant and everyone laughed and made rude sport of the poor boy. Within a generation they were all that way, or almost all. And the dashing dressmaker roué of French farce was banished, virtually forgotten."

Marsh sighed, as if mourning a better time. Then, brightly:

"So the designers are easily intimidated and tell us almost anything we want to know, just to stay in our good graces. And Fairchild."


"The Women's Wear Daily


On Sale
Oct 31, 2009
Page Count
280 pages