Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Best of British Pathe: How To Model



As you might know, as from last month, British Pathe made their archive of over 85,000 films dating from the 1920s to the 70s available through YouTube. Some films date from even earlier - this film shows Paul Poiret arriving via plane into Britain with two of his mannequins in 1919. Needless to say, it's extremely easy to lose yourself hours simply searching through films.

Inspired by Teenage's edit of Teen-related highlights,  I've been trawling through to find the best fashion films. This selection relates to modelling and charm schools.


Britain's first charm school was founded by former model Lucie Clayton in 1928. 'Mannequins In The Making' dates from ten years later, although whether it's filmed in the UK or the States or both I'm not sure. Anyway, it's the earliest example I've found and includes several of the model school cliches: girls exercising in leotards, girls walking with books on their head, a way with a fan. In 1938, apparently the mantra was "You can't sell a gown with a frown". How modelling has changed!


Six years later, and the methods have changed very little. Girls exercising? Check. Books on head? Check. Way with a fan? Yes, indeed. The most interesting thing about this film is I'm almost certain it features Lucie Clayton herself (as pictured at the top of this post). Oh, and note the weird scarf around the face trick so they don't ruin their hair while changing. 


We're definitely at Lucie Clayton for this 1950 film, featuring more young gals exercising and perfecting techniques such as the court curtesy. The voiceover patronises with aplomb too, concluding with the killer "And we thought it was only men who worked".


This 1955 film takes place at John Wills' Fulham school. We may be in colour now, but still we get the obligatory exercise scene. Things have moved on a little however, the fan is replaced by an umbrella and the girls are also taught to pose for photographs.


American model schools are no less cliched it seems, although they get to go to school in swimsuits and frolic on the beach instead. This 1948 film was made in Miami, and here's another from Florida dating to the same year.



We're back at Lucie Clayton in Mayfair to learn a new lesson in 1958: specmanship. The designer Ronald Paterson has come to show them how to wear some of the latest models in spectacles. And, if you can stop watching the weird and wonderful frames for a moment, look at the elegant glove and pearl-wearing audience. It's hard to imagine Jean Shrimpton attending the school just two years later.


Do you remember Cherry Marshall? We go inside her Mayfair school in 1964. Beware, the sexist voiceover is back, as are the books on heads. There are some bonuses however: amid the hideous make-up lesson, you can glimpse contouring done sixties style. And at about 2.34 you can see a young Grace Coddington - one of Cherry Marshall's most famous models.


Finally, to readdress the balance a bit, let's finish up by observing some German male models in training in 1965. Although my German isn't really up to scratch, I definitely heard the words "sex appeal", not something I think I'd necessarily associate with the footage. But I'm pleased to report that these men also get to study the vital art of walking with an umbrella, and with a book on their head.

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