DIVEWEAR A LA MODE
AS I WRITE, A THIN LAYER OF ICE MAY BE FORMING on the English Channel. But according to fashion's peculiar calendar, it is already springtime. The boutiques of Chelsea and Knightsbridge are heaving with the aristocracy of chic, laying in their stocks of skimpy Versace frocks and ephemeral confections by Ghost.
Meanwhile, an undercover investigative team from DIVER has revealed a new and alarming trend that threatens to undermine the rugged, no-nonsense image of our sport.
The sinister infiltration of the diving fraternity by the fashion industry has been dubbed "Haute Cousture" after our own, legendary "designer", Jacques. And yet it is not in the ateliers of Paris that this disturbing phenomenon has its origins, but among the grimy backstreets of England's North-east.
It would be hard to imagine a more unlikely setting for a fashion revolution. Descending from the glories of the North Yorks Moors into the penumbral gloom of industrial emissions, the traveller is greeted by a rusting sign, liberally peppered with bullet holes. It reads: "Welcome to Middlesbrough, Home of Zero Tolerance. Twinned with Hiroshima."
The town's coat of arms comprises a Rottweiler Rampant over a pair of cattle prods, crossed, and the civic motto Noli re idem cogite (which may be roughly translated as "Don't Even Think About It").
And yet it is here that Arthur "Gianni" Grubb chose to found his divewear empire, Arthur Grubb's World Of Rubber.
"That diving is based upon scientific principles," he argues in his curiously high-pitched brogue, "doesn't necessarily exclude an aesthetic dimension. What we are witnessing is a natural crossover from the dedicated, hard-core diver to the fashion-conscious public."
Posing as a diving fashion victim, our investigator sauntered casually around Grubb's workshop, absorbing the summer styles and palettes that will soon be flooding the nation's dive shops.
Be warned - shorties will be even shorter this year, some would say daringly so. And the "dry-clean only" drysuit is likely to re-define the leisure-diving market. Of course, the albeit subtle flares would in any case reduce drastically the effectiveness of the ankle seals.
Hence the option of integral Gucci loafers in neoprene and hand-crafted toadskin - fully breathable and texturally interesting.
This season's masks, hauntingly primitive, were inspired by sub-Saharan folklore - especially the funeral headdress of Nigeria's Dogon tribe, who somehow knew of the existence of Sirius's elusive twin star before it was discovered by modern telescopy.
Men's diving gloves will be largely open-backed - a witty, post-ironic nod to the driving gloves favoured by Simon "The Saint" Templar in the iconic '60s TV series (and, of course, pointless in UK waters).
For the ladies, the courtesan look - black, sheer, to the elbow. Grubb has designed matching fishnet stockings, cut from real fishing nets, and supported by his patent Suspender Weightbelt. And talking of weightbelts, weights will be lighter this spring.
Particularly amusing is Grubb's interpretation of the humble hood. There is something of urban street culture here, an affectionate reference to hip-hop - but the effect is cunningly juxtaposed with a ribbon of seal fur, a la the parka of the Mod era.
Perhaps Grubb's most controversial statement is his "Thin Fin" - the conventional shape inverted so that, like a Jimmy Shoo cocktail slipper, the result is longer, more aggressively tapered. An elaborate heel strapping lends a subversively dark hint of bondage.
Eat your heart out, Vogue and Harpers - you heard it here first.
Deeper with Blackford
by Andy Blackford
£7.95 plus P&P, A5 format, 156 pages, paperback
Special offer - buy online at £8.95 inc. UK surface p&p
From Swanage Bay to the Redcar sewage treatment plant; from Bovisand Harbour to the wreck of the Wigan Shopping Trolley - Andy Blackford has been there, dived it, and recalls the experiences in this new collection of 36 of his best stories. Illustrated by Rico.
P&P UK £2, overseas surface £3.