Cleaning (Episode 2) – Mail Online

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I know you’ve all been sitting on the edges of your seats waiting to know whether Serena’s and her bridesmaids’ gowns ever got clean. I know this, because a number of you have written telling me so.

The reason for the delay is as follows. As you know, Serena was dressed on the day she took her vows in a garment whose history went something like this: first, many silk worms had to labour night and day to spin the silk, giving up their lives to clad her beautifully; then, little old ladies in tiny white cotton bonnets and obscure French villages with impossibly unpronounceable names sat making lace with it under vast Gothic cathedrals; finally an inspired English dressmaker cut it and caught it, swagged it and stitched it into an exquisite creation which took her many months to design and dart, to fit and fashion. Until it looked gorgeous.

Now, obviously, when everyone has gone to so much trouble to make you something to keep you decent on a lovely summer’s afternoon, there are a number of things it is absolutely imperative that you do with it. It is not enough just to glow into it. That would hardly show that it had been worn at all. Nor is it adequate to slosh champagne on it: champagne doesn’t stain until it’s been left there for a while… possibly for decades.

To show your appreciation for this lovely item, you must sit in a punt with it, preferably ensuring some of it is dipped in the green water of the River Cam on your way in. Next, you should step out of your punt into a meadow full of green-staining fresh grass and perhaps one or two cowpats. Then, walk along the muddy bank of the river for a good longish while until the hem has taken on the colour of the English countryside, before dancing the evening away barefoot except for your eyewateringly expensive sheer silk stockings.

The piece de resistance, however, is the moment when you walk through a few brambles in it. I don’t remember Serena doing this, but she obviously did because as well as being covered in mud, blood, strawberry juice and river water, the lace on Serena’s gown was torn too.

Serena's dirty dress

And this was absolutely nothing to what her child bridesmaid Rosie did to her dress.

Rosie's dirty dress

Let’s just see a close-up of all its gory glory…

Bink's dirty dress bottom

Which was simply amateur to what Serena’s grown up bridesmaid, Bink, did to hers. She got an entire regiment of paratroopers to work on it…

Bink's dirty dress

Impressive, isn’t it?

Now, when a beautiful dress gets dirty, it is urgent to get it cleaned. As I hope I made clear in Cleaning (Episode 1). We, alas, lost a precious two or three weeks sending the gowns to several conventional dry-cleaners in order for them to waste time telling us they couldn’t clean them before posting them back again, so by the time we sent them to Ludovic Blanc they’d already had a little time for the dirt to settle in.

Giving him even more of a challenge.

However, what is not urgent at all is getting the lace mended. As far as I’m aware, Serena and Christian are not yet planning a “Renewal of Vows” – despite these being so popular nowadays. And although the etiquette is that a bride can properly wear her wedding gown to social events for up to a year after her wedding day, obviously that requires a social event posh enough for her to wear it to. For which, Serena is still waiting…

So the gown is still waiting at Melanie’s for a window in Melanie’s time for the lace to be mended. And Melanie’s having a new bride who needs dressing every other moment as she does, the long winter evening in which to mend the lace hasn’t yet come about.

All this being an somewhat long-winded way of saying that I wanted to photograph the effect Ludovic and his process had on Serena’s gown so I could show it to you, and I can’t because it isn’t mended yet but is sitting in Melanie’s workshop.

Why did I? Because it has to be seen to be believed.

Let’s just recap a little shall we? I sent all three dresses – Serena’s, Bink’s and Rosie’s – off to what I believed to be the best dry cleaner in the country. They certainly talked the talk. Several generations, unique cleaning machine they’d invented themselves, gentlest process, etc.

They didn’t promise to be able to clean anything and everything, but they did promise to look at them. Which they did.

“These are the dirtiest gowns we’ve ever seen in all our joint experience,” they told me. I felt as i used to at school when, yet again, I’d been sent to sit outside the headmistress’s study. “The gowns are really, really, seriously filthy.”

All right. No need to rub it in. “Anyone would think you’d rubbed it in.”

I get the message. Thank you. “So, um, you can’t get them completely clean, then?”

“We can’t do anything with them at all. Anything we tried would just move the dirt around and make them worse.”

What do you want me to do? Walk from here to Canterbury barefoot in penance? “Please could you very kindly send them back?”

So I sent them to a more expensive dry cleaner’s, who was even ruder about them.

And then I sent them to Ludovic.

Ludovic doesn’t use petroleum. He doesn’t use harsh spirits or harmful chemicals. He doesn’t chuck toxic substances on your wedding gown or into the world’s waste systems. He cleans your clothes gently and naturally, with water and soap, as your great-grandmother probably did.

And what do you know? Ludovic got them clean. Serena’s beautifully, perfectly clean.


Even at the bottom, where it had been painted with cowpat.

Photo 2

And Rosie’s and Bink’s very nearly so.


Certainly clean enough to wear and enjoy again.


Though perhaps, if Bink ever wants to wear her beautiful bridesmaid’s dress as a wedding dress which option Serena wanted her to have when she designed it for her, Ludovic said he would have another look at it: in some places it is very slightly whiter than others, if you look very carefully indeed.


So if you are planning on getting wed or you just have been, and you’ve kept the silk worms and the tiny French peasant great-grandmothers and your diligent English designer working night and day for months beforehand, then ask your mother, the moment you’ve stepped out of your gown and almost before she has thrown rose petals over you, to do one essential thing:

Take your gown to Ludovic Blanc’s:

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