"I want pleasure, I want flavor, and I want ease," Nigella Lawson says in her mesmerizing, relaxing voice at the beginning of her TV show Nigella: At My Table. "Life can be complicated. Cooking doesn't have to be."
That combination of indulgence and ease is the fantasy at the heart of Nigella's show. Her world is a quiet sanctuary that seems like it exists outside of time. It's like another dimension, far removed from the bright, bustling London going on outside. The lights are dimmed, and the walls and door are practically black.
Nigella descends a staircase wearing a blue-and-pink dressing gown and a conspiratorial smile. It's meant to be around 10 a.m., but really, it could be any time at all. There's no sense of chronology, and as the dressing gown indicates, there is no sense of hurry, either. Dressing gowns are never worn by a person in a rush. A person in a dressing gown always has time. In this case, Nigella has time to make waffles.
Nigella starts talking about how an American television program gave her a craving for waffles, but I'm fixated on a sudden, intense craving for her dressing gown. She cracks eggs and separates the yolks with her fingers. She does not have guests coming, hungry people to feed, an appointment to keep, or a deadline to meet. It's clear she's doing this purely for herself, and purely for the pleasure of it.
"I really want it all to look un-fussily beautiful," she says, and she's talking about waffles, but it applies equally well to her surroundings, and to Nigella herself. And it especially applies to that dressing gown.
Immediately, I type "Nigella Lawson dressing gown" into Google, anticipating that familiar sense of disappointment I feel when I discover that something I covet is something I can't afford. I assume Nigella's dressing gown is from a high-end Paris lingerie company, or a custom couture creation that belongs just to her.
It turns out Lawson's pale pink-and-blue dressing gown is from a small U.K. company called One Hundred Stars, whose signature products are robes, scarves, and dressing gowns custom screen-printed with maps of cities from around the world. Lawson's robe was printed with a map of Venice — and that robe and most of the others in the collection sold out immediately after the episode aired.
I fall in love with a burgundy and gold version, printed with a map of New York. It cost £69.95, or about $100, and I can't decide if it's a splurge or a steal.
"A hundred bucks is a lot for a dressing gown," I imagine an angel on my shoulder advising. "Even if it is beautiful."
"But $100 isn that much for something you'll wear every day," says my shoulder-demon, who always tells me to spend lots of money and do fun things. "You work from home, so it's kind of like work clothes."
Before my shoulder-angel can get a word in, I find myself on the phone, giving my credit card number to a woman in Chilworth, a village in Surrey that has a population of 1,928 people and a clothing shop that had the last map-print dressing gown still available in the world. (They have since come back into stock!)
As soon as the package arrives, I regret nothing. The robe is perfect. It's made of a light, breathable rayon fabric with a soft hand and a silky drape. It's slightly translucent, and it has the soft, matte surface of well-worn cotton. It's brand new, but it feels very, very old. It's beautifully sewn, and it has pockets.
The fabric whispers against my skin when I walk, and I stroll around the house, just enjoying the feeling. I feel fancy, but languid, like a woman who is not on a deadline. I'm standing up straighter, but I feel relaxed. I wonder if this is what it feels like to get a full night of sleep and wake up as Nigella Lawson.
I wonder if this is what it feels like to get a full night of sleep and wake up as Nigella Lawson.
Less than a half-hour after I put the robe on, I find myself calculating how much it would cost to replace all the nickel-colored cabinet handles in my kitchen with brass ones, or just replace the whole kitchen altogether. I should have seen this coming. Diderot warned me.
See, the most famous dressing gown of all time probably belonged to 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot. "The Diderot effect," is the phenomenon wherein a person gets one new item, and it sparks a spiraling flurry of consumption. In Diderot's case, it all started with a fancy new dressing gown.
In Regrets for My Old Dressing Gown, Diderot wrote that he used to have a ratty old dressing gown that he did not care if he spilled ink or water on. Then one day he was given the gift of a luxurious new scarlet dressing gown, and he adored it. But once he was wearing the new gown, Diderot started to think all his other possessions looked shabby. He replaced his straw chair with a big leather armchair, then his rug, his bookshelves, and all his art with much grander, more expensive versions.
Diderot's fate flashes before my eyes as I find myself online, lusting after Nigella Lawson's $500 copper KitchenAid stand mixer and her $250 see-through toaster. Luckily, I snap out of it. I realize those things are not necessary to the enjoyment of the day or the dressing gown. I am, however, inspired to clean my kitchen immediately. I can't luxuriate through the house in my Nigella Lawson cosplay when there are cereal bowls stacked on the counter and coffee mugs covering every visible surface.
Once that's done, I'm compelled to sit in the nicest chair in my house — the one I don't let my family eat in — with a cup of tea, a book, and a big plate of brownies. Diderot's dressing gown might lead a person to debt and dissolution, but Nigella Lawson's just wants me to put my feet up and eat chocolate.
If I'm going to take orders from any article of clothing, I'm glad it's this one.