Monday, 30 January 2012

We'll Take Manhattan

My weekend was full of fashion fun times. I finally made it to Alfie's Antique Market and The Girl Can't Help It. Despite their relocation sale, their clothes were too pricey for me. Still, it's always fun to look at proper quality vintage and afterwards I consoled myself by buying the heart shorts from River Island (the matching top had cut out shoulders - I'm still having a think about that). I decided Claire McCardell was my new fashion heroine after finally laying my hands on a copy of What Shall I Wear? and I finished Auntie Mame, one of the funniest and most charming books I've read for ages. While not strictly fashion related, Aunt Mame's various character transformations in 1920s, 30s and 40s New York demanded serious sartorial respect. It also put me in the perfect frame of mind to watch We'll Take Manhattan, BBC4's New York based Jean Shrimpton and David Bailey drama.

It tells the story of their shoot for the April 1962 British Vogue, where Bailey and Shrimpton were sent to New York with Lady Clare Rendlesham as his editor to shoot a feature for their 'Young Ideas' section. Bailey insisted on using his lover Jean Shrimpton as model. The programme focuses on the clash between old and young, posh and working class, and the first rumblings of the youthquake in Britain.

From the second the John French images were used over the opening credits and seeing him portrayed in the very early scenes with a Jean Dawnay-type, I knew I was going to enjoy a great big fashion geek-out and it was this kind of detail that I most savoured. I did really enjoy the programme - Bailey was awkward and stubborn and sexy, the Shrimp transformed beautifully under the eye of the camera and Bailey. However, the portrayal of the constant bickering and fighting on the shoot did begin to grind me down too, and I was relieved when this was resolved, the photographs were discovered to be a great success, and we could go back to seeing them meeting Diana Vreeland in the American Vogue offices, wearing Mary Quant and the like.

I also thought the claim they revolutionised fashion was over-played. The photographs are brilliant, and both Shrimpton and Bailey became icons of the 60s, but the idea that they somehow managed to overthrow the class system through the downfall of Lady Clare? How I laughed. No-one today would ever consider the staff of Vogue to be examples of class equality. And, as the programme showed, both Mary Quant and The Beatles were already on their own paths to reshaping youth culture. 

(via French Sampler)

We'll Take Manhattan did send me, and probably thousands of others, back to the original photographs. I've got a copy of the above image stashed away somewhere. I had torn it out of somewhere where it had been reproduced without knowing what it was.  The casual form and the dreamy colours against the built-up urban environment and the grainy quality of the photograph (now I know that was brought about by the use of 35mm film) create a startling image. And here it is, being recreated to the best of Karen Gillan's abilities in the programme. 

Nowness have this interesting film on their site about how they recreated or found the locations of the shoot, like the fence outside the UN shown at the top. It does, however, shatter some of the illusions of the programme: if you don't want to find out that some of the New York scenes were in fact shot in Bermondsey look away now.



  1. Ha! Very lovely to look at but they did give the poor boy some bad lines!
    They trailed Hunky Dory at the cinema last night and was overjoyed to see he is in that too ... I think he gets to be Welsh (he is Welsh) in that ...

  2. They did, you're right. I'm a sucker for a boy with an accent.

    Right, we're going to the cinema.


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