It was probably when my daughter suggested I consider an “ass lift” that I decided it was time to investigate the world of serious exercise. Having slapped into middle age, where thoughts of one’s general infallibility are tempered by the realisation that those creaky, achy complaints are signs of certain decrepitude, I have decided to ward against further gravitational decline by hauling my saggy, sorry self to the gym.
Help has come via The Library, the London gym that has generously enrolled me in a trial-sized tailor-made regimen designed to recondition and transform my body — at their expense. The Library has four times been winner of gym of the year, as voted by Tatler magazine. Even better, its programme requires me to do only 15 minutes of high-intensity weight training up to four times a week. It’s a programme for people who want maximum efficiency on a minimal schedule. Easy, right?
The good news. Three weeks into the programme I am rediscovering bits of my body I had forgotten existed; biceps, triceps, hamstrings and those funny muscles on the sides of the abdomen called obliques, the toning of which is supposed to eliminate the love handle. And I’m definitely getting stronger. I can now bench press — oh — at least 10 kilos without my arms collapsing underneath me.
The bad news. I hate the way I look. Not the abs, silly. But everything else. The gym may require my attention for only 15 short minutes, but the ramifications of each visit have done despicable things to my deportment. Overnight, I have joined the rank and file of gym-bound office employees in their sneakers and suits. You know: the ones who walk around trailing sad little bags containing soggy towels and spare shoes and shampoo. I terrify people with my bare face as I repeatedly forget the necessary beauty products upon which I depend to look human. I look slovenly. In short: the gym has turned me into a slob.
Being a gym bunny is simply unbecoming. Not as unbecoming, perhaps, as the bicycle bunnies, with their helmet hair, their strangely padded Lycras that suggest a degree of sexual depravity and those ridiculous clacky shoes. But we’re not very pleasing to behold. These days my hair is never quite dry, my clothes are crumpled and my style broken. Yes, honed muscles and core strength are a bonus. And if I lived in Los Angeles, where people seal million-dollar deals wearing unitards, it would be different. But it’s winter. In London. The only people who can admire my abs are the other slobs in the gym.
As a fashion editor, I pay obsessive attention to my appearance. Even when I pretend to look insouciant, each look has been painfully considered. The right earrings, coordinating shoes, the careful symmetry of a well-balanced look — these are things that please me. The gym has crushed my sartorial ambitions. It’s impossible to find harmony in an outfit when you have to schlep five kilos of kit with you in order to manage the post-workout transformation. Of course, I could change at work. But this would entail using the office showers. And I would sooner venture into Mordor.
Most designers now acknowledge that people incorporate some element of sportswear into their daily uniform. Almost all brands offer sneakers as standard and the games kit crops up all over the catwalk. “Sportswear is an essential part of the modern wardrobe,” Nicolas Ghesquière said after a spring/summer 2018 show for Louis Vuitton, where he showed silky track shorts with trainers and 18th-century-style frock coats. At Céline, models wore gym leggings and white sneakers underneath luxurious leather trenchcoats, à la Working Girl. Even at Versace, the home of the high stiletto and the bandeau dress, the stars of the spring collection were the printed 1990s leggings and stirrup pants.
But even I draw the line at “doing crunches” in designer clothes. Fashion sneakers are for swanking around the shops, not for running in. And so, like everyone else, I wear grotty old tracksuits earmarked for Oxfam, and tragic free festival T-shirts that give away my age.
The art of the gym-to-office switch-up still eludes me. But I’ve started studying the masters; like the French stylist and editor Marie-Amélie Sauvé who can somehow work yoga pants, bomber jacket and cowboy boots and still look chic. Or Julia Restoin Roitfeld, the Parisian bombshell who has done much to persuade me that a voluptuous “body” can be a beautiful thing. The actress Robin Wright, meanwhile, is proof that one can never have too many oversized cashmere sweaters.
Perhaps shoe designer Rupert Sanderson has found the best solution, however. Sharing my predicament over a breakfast last week, he told me he commutes to his office every day by bike. Yet he was dressed in a smart black suit. His secret, he said, is black denim jeans with a 2 per cent elastane stretch — a great alternative for cyclists who don’t want to go full Tour de France. “But the real trick”, he said, “is to make sure you don’t over-exert yourself in the first place.” The key to post-exercise chic is simply not to sweat. Of course, it’s the first rule of style. Never, ever overdo it.
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