Monday, 31 January 2011

Make it up baby!

More sewing adventures as part of my resolution to master my machine. Last Thursday, I attended a basic sewing machine class at The Make Lounge which helped us all create our own cushion covers. My effort is pictured below. Obviously, you won't be able to tell it apart from the handmade, cross-stitched cushion also pictured so I'll have to reveal that it's the one on the left.

Joking aside, I picked up some great tips and am eager to get going on some new projects. I wasn't the only internet person on a Make Lounge class this week: What Katie Does posted about her quilted cushion on her blog. Very lovely!

I seem to have eBay-ed myself out a bit, so I've plenty of material - both literal and imaginative - to get going with. Alas with full-on work, a busy weekend that included attending a wedding, and all of life's other bits and pieces to be getting on with, the essential bit of kit I seem to be missing is time.

Friday, 28 January 2011

She's Crafty: Part II

Remember this teaser of a post? Well,  I made it and here it is! My very own book bag, crafted from a sample book case for the soon to be re-issued of The Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife

With the help of this Curlby video, some fabric, handles and a couple of hours, I managed to make something that looked, if maybe not haute couture, quite respectable.

With a bit more time, a bit more practice and a bit more patience, I reckon I could happily be making novelty gift bags to satisfy all the bookworms in your life/myself.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Angelheaded Hipsters

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz..."

Angelheaded Hipsters, just one of the evocative phrases created in Allen Ginsberg's Howl, has lent its name to a new display at the National Theatre. The display, organised by Corbis, features reproduction prints taken from Ginsberg's own archive, mostly dating from the early 50s.

I always like the Beats far more in theory than in practice. At 15, I remember reading On The Road and getting immensely frustrated: why can't they decide where to live? Why can't they get a job? And I wish they'd stop mucking their girlfriends about (yep, you can tell just how rebellious I was as a teen). A bit older and a bit more frustrated with life and I get it a little more - helped because they just look so darned cool.

This exhibition has captured my interest in the beats again, at least enough to invest in Carolyn Cassady's book. Only a few of the individual images stand out but as a whole it forms a great chronicle of the scene, the casual snapshots of a fascinating group of individuals, including Jack Kerouac (pictured at the top), William Burroughs and Robert Frank, whose documentary photos of 'real' America clearly influence these images.

Some of the images are annotated with Ginsberg's scrawl, such as this one showing Neal Cassady and his then girlfriend, Natalie Jackson, outside a movie theatre, one of my favourites from the show.

"Neal Cassady and his love of that year Natalie Jackson conscious of  their roles in Eternity, Market Street San Francisco.  Cassady had been prototype for Kerouac's late 1940's ON THE ROAD saga hero, Dean Moriarity, as in later 1960's he would take the wheel of Ken Kesey's psychedelic-era Crosscountry bus ""Further."" His illuminated American Automobile mania and erotic energy had already written his name in bright-lit signs  of our literary imagination before movies were made imitating his charm. That's why we stopped under the marquee to fix the passing hand on the watch, 1955."

 (via Twin)

In the image above an ordinary enough looking men, made noticeable for their poise and swagger and snapped in the prime of their youth ... the so-called best minds of a generation.

I learnt James Franco plays Ginsberg in Howl, released this February, charting its obscenity trial. And the beat goes on...

Monday, 24 January 2011

She's Crafty

Sewing machine up and running and one trip to John Lewis later and I've got everything I need for my new craft project. Can you tell what it is yet is going to be yet?

The book case in the picture is from a reprint of Anne Fogarty's 1959 The Art of Being A Well-Dressed Wife, coming out in February.

And for a clue to my craft project, should it prove successful, take a look at Natalie Portman's premiere outfit...

Friday, 21 January 2011

Last-Year Reads: Alternative London Survival Guide for Strangers

(via Loopzilla)

I've had it on my shelves for a while but it was the ft of all things that encouraged me to pick up Nicholas Saunders' Alternative London Survival Guide for Strangers up again.

In 1970 Saunders wrote up the swinging London scene for newcomers to the city. Not just anyone though, "it's for people who are interested in what's really happening in London and who want to take part, not just watch." The guide covers everything a stranger to the town could want to know, including sections on discotheques, hitching, sleeping in parks, English mysticism, VD and The Left.

Perhaps more interesting now in the overview than in the specific details, I love the idea of eager Americans scouring this guide as they prepare to descend on the streets to grab themselves a spot of the scene. Kensington: "the new trendy dolly-girl scene", the King's Road where "on Saturday it's a parade ground for trendies who put on their gear to walk up and for tourists to photograph them" and Notting Hill which remains "the most hip area". After a brief discussion of Camden, Hampstead, Soho and Victoria, Saunders claims: "of the remaining 90%, 70% has one thing in common: it's dead". Better choose carefully then if you'd want to hang round with the "trendies".

Saunders (who went on to develop Neal's Yard in Covent Garden) wrote, designed and self-published the title. My edition dates from 1972 and, in the section on casual jobs, he offers the opportunity for the reader to sell further copies of the book. He claims 9000 copies of the first edition were sold this way - in fact the book went onto sell 50,000 copies and went into many editions.  The cover below shows the Alternative London that greeted strangers in 1982.

Alternative Guide was far from being just a style guide in that it doesn't skip over serious issues - there's sections on abortion, on overdosing and also deportation. Although there's also a section on "fun", in general the city seems a cruel place to be a stranger. The book finishes with a warning section, sometimes mildly humorous "Avoid arriving at Southend or Harwich if you've got any reason to be afraid of Customs", and sometimes deadly serious, "Bedsitters can be lonely enough to lead to suicide".

Welcome to London...

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Kind of Loving

Over Christmas I read Stan Barstow's A Kind of Loving. Published in 1960 and typically seen as one of the kitchen sink dramas of the period, it tells the story of Vic Brown, a draftsman in a Northern factory. He falls for Ingrid and the book charts both their relationship and also how Vic is forced to grow up, take responsibility and leave behind some of his dreams childish notions. There's no fairytale ending but the characters are very believable, there is a warmth to the story, it avoids too many stereotypes and, most importantly for the story, Vic comes across as bright and likeable.

I thought it was interesting how in the book Vic pays close attention to how he dresses - it makes clear he's part of a new generation of white collar workers. How he looks seems to be important for his sense of identity:

"And then my clothes. There's no denying I know how to dress. I don't pay the earth for my clothes but I know where they give you the right cut and I always keep my pants pressed and my shoes clean. And if my shirt's just the least bit grubby at the collar into the wash it goes."

Similarly, he's attracted to Ingrid because she's "Always so neat turned out and clean as clean."

I watched the 1962 film, directed by John Schlesinger, eager to see how this translated into film. It's not overly stated but it's clear that Ingrid (played by June Ritchie) is a modern consumer, with her bags, shoes, neat pencil skirts and lovely coats.

"Ah but she's a smart piece! ... Ingrid looks as if she has a bath every morning and her hair's always soft and clean and shining ... And these skirts and blouses and jumpers she wears are always washed and ironed and fit well and show her trim little figure off a treat."

There's some nice styling details in the film - check out those upturned collars in the image above.

It's in fact her appearance, something Vic (Alan Bates in the film) initially admires, that becomes a pivotal argument in the plot - when she spends money they are meant to be saving on a new winter coat.

Not trying to make you spend money or to create arguments with your other half but in an attempt to capture something of the style of film, I had my first venture into the world of Polyvore. The ladylike coats and pencil skirts around at the moment are perfect for an Ingrid look, though I was slightly wary of going too far. Does anyone remember that Agyness Dean shoot from a few years ago where they curled her hair and photographed her amidst smoking chimneys, whippets and flat caps? Just horrible. Hopefully this set is more "smart piece" and less Northern-working class stereotype. And, as Vic would do, I encourage you too read the book too...

Friday, 14 January 2011

Last-Year Reads: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Over a decade ago now, I did an internship for a summer at a New York museum. It was an amazing experience in many ways and while I didn’t professionally or socially shine in that particular environment, my imagination and creative ambitions flourished from being in the city. I loved the stories of the city. I sucked up its history, making pilgrimages to obscure sites in the city, devouring Wharton and Henry James novels, reimagining its rock and roll history. One of the girls I worked with was obsessed with the Chelsea Hotel and told me some of its stories; we saw one of the Ramones enjoying his cake in a local eatery. Patti Smith’s Just Kids revisits some of that turf: it’s her slice of New York history, living with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1960s and 70s in a truly bohemian existence, including a stint at the Chelsea Hotel, that I read filtered through my lingering impressions from my relatively brief but formative time there.

It’s an inspiring book, written with honesty, tenderness and self-awareness. On one level, the book is easy to identify with: a dreamy girl that arrives in the city, immersed in her books, poetry and art. She develops a relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and they live a hand-to-mouth existence on the artistic fringes, making the rent by supplementing her bookshop wage with selling second-hand thrifted books.

Her descriptions of the city are wonderfully evocative. On her arrival to New York, she notes “The city was a real city, shifty and sexual. I was lightly jostled by small herds of flushed young sailors looking for action on Forty-second Street, with its rows of X-rated movie houses, brassy women, glittering souvenir shops and hot-dog vendors”. Smith walks the streets immersed in its literary history – noting the shadows of Dylan Thomas, Terry Southern, Eugene O’Neill and Thomas Wolfe in a local bar for example. She and Mapplethorpe make their own journeys across the city, finding beauty in unexpected places: “Nothing was more wonderful to me than Coney Island with its gritty innocence. It was our kind of place: the fading arcades, the peeling signs of bygone days, cotton candy and Kewpie dolls on a stick, dressed in feathers and glittering top hats.”

Literary references soak her writing and her view of the world – in the above trip to Coney Island, Mapplethorpe is described as “like a character in Brighton Rock in his forties-style hat, black net T-shirt and huaraches” (as pictured on the cover of the book), Smith in another extract describes her “East of Eden” outfit: “a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat”.

Yet Patti Smith’s tales, no matter how simple, always seem extraordinary and she manages to draw an astonishing range of people to her, those people I idolized on my own New York pilgrimages. Her and Mapplethorpe take a room in the Chelsea Hotel, drawn to its reputation and shabby elegance, packed full of artists and musicians of the day. Their neighbour’s apartment, for example, was filled with silver helium pillows from Warhol’s original Factory drifted. She walks into its neighbouring restaurant, El Quixote and sees “At a table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde.”

However, Smith never seems too impressed by celebrities or things that are said about her: “Someone at Max’s asked me if I was androgynous. I asked what that that meant. ‘You know, like Mick Jagger.’ I figured that must be cool.”

Much more than the long list of people they encounter, the book is about the couple’s relationship – physically changing as Mapplethorpe explored his sexuality and emotionally evolving as new partners come and go in each other lives. It’s also about how they inspired and pushed each other on artistically, exploring new iconography and mediums, especially Mapplethorpe’s early excursions into photography. Though she remains fiercely loyal to him throughout, she is honest about aspects of his work that she finds hard to reconcile with her personal view of him. Her description of his death, many years later of AIDS-related illness is heartbreaking but by no means the point of the book – it’s the living, loving, challenging, contradictory and brilliant Mapplethorpe that gets the centre stage here.

It’s not only his artistic progress that’s charted. Smith’s own development as an artist is fascinating – she always writes and gradually she moves to writing music reviews. A host of writers, including Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, encourage her work and it passes through many different stages before her more traditional debut with the Patti Smith Group at CBGBs. Although a natural development, it never appears the obvious, or the only, path open to her.

Mapplethorpe took the now famous image for the cover of Smith’s Horses. She describes the process in typical careful detail. The white shirt came from the Salvation Army, selected for the monogram below the pocket. She cuts off the cuts, echoing a photograph by Brassai and ends up slinging it over her shoulder “Frank Sinatra style. I was full of references. He was full of light and shadow.” The section ends simply “when I look at it now I never see me. I see us”.

Smith and Mapplethorpe talk to each other about the different signs that the universe used to show it was their side. This book creates the feeling the universe would be lucky to ever see such a partnership or period in history again, partly acting as a lament for a lost New York. Smith’s writing is a reminder of the beauty in unconformity and the ugly and the different. I wish I’d had this book with me in my exploratory months in the city, as a reminder of my own unique place, there to be shaped.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

So Last-Year: Sew for Victory

I'd seen the World War II posters telling people to dig for victory but never to sew for victory.

It's an American poster, designed by Pistchal in 1941, designed to encourage women utilize their sewing skills to help with the war effort.

No such a vital imperative for me, but sewing did feature quite prominently in my 30 before 31 goal list. There it is at number 3 - learn to master a sewing machine - and (slightly more ambitious) at number 27 - attempt to make my own clothing designs. Baby steps taken towards those goals this week then with the long awaited arrival of my sewing machine and a copy of Yeah, I made it myself for inspiration. I've a feeling it might take a bit more effort before I reach either goal. When I do though, it will be my own small personal victory.

Monday, 10 January 2011

New Year Outfit

And now time for a subject that's literally so last year: New Year's Eve. I thought I'd let you see what I was wearing for the big event as the outfit uses various new buys. We had quite a low key evening, going to a pub with friends, so the actual outfit is quite low key too. In both cases, low key doesn't mean low fun, as we had a great time in the pub dancing round to Motown and '90s dance 'classics' and this outfit features glitter which in my mind guarantees a good time (I blame idolising Kenickie at an impressionable age!).

As well as a glimpse of our little tree in this picture you can see my new jumper, bought in the sale at Jaeger Boutique on a quick trip to Oxford Street on New Year's Eve Eve. I'm wearing it with the vintage skirt from Crystal Palace's Vien and the Kat Maconie shoes I mentioned back here.

A slightly better look at the jumper here - it's decorated with a trompe d'oeil star necklace, in gold and silver lurex, with matching glittery stripes around the cuffs. Perfect for new year fireworks! It also reminded me a bit of the chain pattern on the cover of the Zandra Rhodes book.

Though not destined for wearing on New Year's Eve, I picked up a few other bits in the sales. Also from from Jaeger Boutique and also very Zandra Rhodes is this Lip print umbrella. They've used the same print on tops and dresses which, to the relief of my wallet, just didn't suit my figure. I couldn't resist the pop pattern of this umbrella though for its potential to cheer me up on a rainy day. Jaeger Boutique launched last year and is meant to be the younger, more affordable side to Jaeger - inspired apparently by the Young Jaeger line that Jean Muir used to design in the late '50s. The clothes all have a definite retro feel that's perfect for my taste. However, I'm not sure how successfully financially it's been for them - judging by the amount of clothes still on the sales rails - but, in my opinion, they had some of the nicest stuff I saw in any of the shops.

I'm clearly having something of a '60s moment. My third purchase is this gold tunic from River Island.

I wouldn't normally go in River Island but it's one of the few shops in my parent's town which is where I had my first stab at the sales. They'd closed the changing room (grrrr....) so I had to take a guess at it suiting me and thankfully it does ... just about. I'd wanted to wear it as a dress but it's very short, so perhaps it should be a top, though I'm not yet sure what to put it with. I will ponder on such important matters but in the meantime, it's really rather sweet: it's got lovely gold bows down its back. It reminds me of a gold tunic dress my Nan gave me years ago that I attempted to make into a top and consequently ruined. I'm going to learn from that lesson before I get out the scissors.

And my final purchase is this black lace skirt, also from River Island. Again, due to the cruelty of them closing the changing rooms, I bought this in a larger size than necessary - I'll just have to tighten up that nice belt it has! When I saw it I was thinking the recent Louis Vuitton campaign/Mad Men/Prada - a nice neat 50s look. However, I haven't yet figured out how to wear it without looking too Mortica Addams. Again, I'll soldier on - ahh, the joy of new outfit planning!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Last-Year Girl: Peggy Moffitt

To kick start what I hope will be an exciting and stylish new year, I'd like to introduce a new Last-Year Girl to add to my small collection to date. That honour falls to 60s model and muse Peggy Moffitt. This is one seriously inspiring lady, so if you need some style impetus or resolutions, or just a bit of conviction in your own look, this one is for you.

The above image shows the Peggy Moffitt in what must be a quintessentially '60s shot: from the Vidal Sassoon haircut to the heavily outlined eyes and lashing of mascara. Peggy Moffitt, alongside her husband William Claxton and the designer Rudi Gernreich, helped define one of the looks of that decade. Moffitt is frequently described as Gernreich's muse; in interviews she describes it as more of a collaboration. Certainly Peggy was perfect for his designs which emphasized a slender and angular body frame.

The trio became notorious because of Gernreich's topless bathing suit, designed in 1964. Rather than being intended as a commercial design, the design was intended to express female liberation. Gernreich's designs in general were very forward looking, playing with unconventional materials and mixing patterns and shapes. I love the fact that through Peggy his ideas reached and influenced a mainstream audience. She was pictured on the cover of Queen magazine for example, in 1966 an image of defiant cool in an orange and black patterned Gernreich suit, heavily outlined eyes and eyebrows, cigarette holder in hand. Or, here she is an 1968 issue of Glamour magazine, showing how to replicate her trademark make-up:

(via Laurie Luxe)

Those heavily outlined eyes pop-up again in Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffitt, a 1968 children's book written and illustrated by William Pene Du Bois.

Here's the frontispiece of the book which shows the young Peggy Moffitt character. Good to see the eyeliner in still in place (it's even there in the illustration showing her as a baby!). The story is a moralistic tale - Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffitt is enraptured with her own beauty ("better to be a Butterfly than a Beetle") and so loves looking at herself she's always walking and falling into things ... and that's it really. However, the illustrations are great and with all the clothing designs credited to Rudi Gernreich it's no surprise to see that some of the outfits young Peggy wears in the book are echoed in real life designs. 


... or diamonds? (via Hair Inspiration)

This 1967 video shows the all grown-up Peggy Moffitt in action, modelling some of Gernreich's futuristic designs and materials. There's something deliberately doll-like in her portrayal of herself, a potent mixture of fun and cool.

In a 2001 interview she explains how she liked to explore the theatricality available in modelling his clothes: "And not all designers — like Rudi — would give his model a script in which I could play characters. That’s the fun of clothes. I was trained as an actress, dancer and in theatrical arts. I understood lighting and design. I could find characters in his script. I never held back. It was the height of freedom and liberation".

Peggy Moffitt's graphic and modern 60s look, coupled with her attitude, is still fresh and fascinating today. As it to prove my point, Refinery 29 put this post up just a few weeks ago: Peggy Moffitt Outshines Young Uns at L.A. Dinner. If you want to know more about Peggy Moffitt, I beg you to explore further as there's a wealth of material around - it was really hard making the selection for this post. Enjoy your stylish search! And do let me know if you come across anything really great...

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

So Last-Year: Ruskin Spear Lights of London

Hello, welcome back! I hope you had a very lovely Christmas break. I thought this image was a great way to herald the start of 2011. It's called Lights of London and was painted by Ruskin Spear in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain. 2011, of course, is the 60th anniversary of the Festival and this anniversary already seems to have inspired some great contemporary designs such as Lizzie Allen's Festival of Britain print and the Mini Moderns Festival wallpaper and I'm looking forward to seeing more in the coming months. The Festival of Britain aimed to offer hope to a country recovering from the ravages of the Second World War and celebrated all that was new and shiny. That sense of optimism is a great way to think about any new year - don't the lights in this picture just twinkle with anticipation?

I came back to London last Wednesday from time out at my parent's place in the middle of nowhere. I do always enjoy a long break over Christmas as I immerse myself in books and magazines and clothes and basically revert to being an introverted, daydreaming teenager for a couple of days. There's something about time out of the general busy of London life that helps me think that bit differently, even if it's just putting clothes together in a slightly different way or being able to devote myself fully to a book (Patti Smith was this year's absolute favourite, a Last-Year Reading will follow next week). I always come back filled with ideas and raring to go. The Southbank was actually one of my first points on this year's return to the city, as Mr S and I went to the BFI to see The Shop Around the Corner. Watch it if you have a chance - it's a perfect 1940s treat, set in a shop in pre-war Budapest with exactly the right levels of romance and wit. It had me ready to have Christmas all over again!

I've already spent a bit of time writing about my schemes and dreams for the coming year here so I won't rehash them here. I've already taken some small steps to achieving a few of those things and I've a  feeling 2011 is going to be fast, furious, exciting and perhaps a little messy too. I can't wait! Happy new year everyone!
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