Thursday, November 8th, 2007
by Bart Bull
(published in Vogue)
To get to Tracey Ullman's closet, you need to go through the bathroom. You don't really need to go through there, but she wants you to; it makes for a more colorful tour. The color is purplish, in fact, or lilac, sort of, or actually a turbo-charged neon mauve. "The man who lived here before was a Czechoslovakian plastic surgeon," she says, delivering the next line in the cigar-chewing gurgle of an elderly Las Vegas lounge comic, complete with perfectly-timed pause for the drummer's rim shot: "And if he does this to his house, what does he do to your body?" Ullman plans to have his remarkable upholstered toilet seat enshrined in a clear Lucite case and mounted on the wall.
She has fewer shoes than Imelda Marcos but they make a far more interesting mess at the bottom of her closet. She's down there now, flinging out Tony Lama cowboy boots and alarming French wedgies with rock star photo patches sewn to the heels and then this . . . this fairly restrained bustier. "Every girl has one of these Madonna bodice-type tops, these slaggy Stevie Nicks-type things. Though they look terribly sad on someone like me, who breast-fed a nine pound infant." She sweeps an unmatched pair of her daughter Mabel's Barbie dolls off the dressing table to clear more room and discovers a complicated sweater by her idol, her all-time absolute favorite, Jean Paul Gaultier. "My friend last night said it falls into every cardigan category. He said, 'You like it because you're not wearing one cardigan, you're wearing every cardigan.' But I do love it, because you wear it and people get frightened."
When it comes to Gaultier, it's impossible for her to keep from rhapsodizing, and she readily admits it. "He's the king for me. I just think he's brilliant, I really do. He still has an element of street about him as well. I went to his shop in Paris last summer — I'd never done any shopping in Paris until last year. I told my husband, 'Go bog off — I'm going shopping in Paris.' First time I'd ever had the money, I'm in Paris, and it was a truly debilitating experience. They were so rude to me. [Smarmy French accent, wreathed in Gauloise smoke]: 'What do you want, stupid British girl?'
"They were so rude — the only people who were nice were a couple of Japanese people who had just opened a shop and were desperate to sell gear. It was horrible. At one boutique, they practically spat at me. Until I got my Platinum American Express card out and said, 'Look! Look!'" She laughs uproariously at the sheer folly of it. "They didn't give a damn.
"It wasn't good fun at all shopping there. Then again, in Beverly Hills, the people who work for the top places are all like [pursed lips, dysfunctional adenoids]: 'Millie, seventy-two, I've worked in sales a long, long time . . . Oh, this is just beau-ti-ful! The colors this season are so gwargeous!'"
"Here's a bit of Christian Lacroix," and she yanks free a finely detailed glass-beaded top. "Had a skirt that went with it — it's here somewhere. I wore this to an awards show and the zipper burst as I went onstage.
"I love clothes," she declares from deep inside the closet, where the hangers are all clumped together. "I love fashion. I used to work in shops on the King's Road when I was sixteen. I was always one who saved up weeks for a decent skirt." Her head is buried deep in the closet again. "And always somewhere I have a leather miniskirt. I just bought another one, and I know it will be the last one of my life, 'cause I know I'm getting too ridiculously old to wear leather miniskirts. I put it on and I do look a bit tragic.
"I mean, I don't even keep my clothes in a very nice state or anything. I'm like a magpie; I'll wear anything unusual or bright. But when yousee these Beverly Hills women who pay twelve thousand dollars and they're sitting at one of those functions with their big freckly armpits hanging over the edge of their bustier— I'd like to bring Christian Lacroix to a Beverly Hills function. 'Don't look now, Christian, but there's a fat tart in one of your frocks.' 'Merde! '
"The Japanese gear, I haven't really gotten into that — the black, baggy, shapeless trousers with the big sort of platform shoes. I mean, some people spend like four thousand dollars they look like a bag of spanners. So they have to keep reminding you who designed it. [Voice of a schlumpf]: 'Djya like the jacket? It's by, uh, Matsudo, ya know?'"
She's back in the closet. "This is the first piece of Gaultier I ever bought," she says, cradling a charcoal shirt in both hands. [Elaborate stage whisper] "Cost me three hundred pounds. I couldn't believe i had a Gaultier shirt. It was like a dream. Always looked a bit strange on me, though.
"Here's my Tracey Ullman Show jacket." It's a perfect example of what fashionable Hollywood cameramen can be seen wearing in supermarkets. "Can you imagine if I wore that? [Dopey TV star]: 'Hey, that's ME! It's MY SHOW!'"
Her own closets revealed, Ullman can't resist invading her husband's. "these are the suits he buys now he's got a bit of money. These over here are the ones he used to buy off the back of the lorry. All men in England have to buy stolen suits. They can't bear to pay the retail price. And these" — she laughs even as she touches them — are his trendy shirts."
Mabel's closets are next. Ullman sweeps up a blue wool coat with wooden toggle buttons down the front. "I love this, her little Paddington Bear coat — so very British. She wore it once and threw up all down the front. You can still smell the vomit on it." She acquires a thoughtful, puzzled look. "So hard to remove the smell from designer wear, you know."