Monday, 28 February 2011

Last-Year Travels: Bodiam Castle

So after all the fun of the seaside in Margate, last Saturday we drove into Kent and East Sussex. After a rather indulgent lunch at The Curlew, we took a scenic stroll over to Bodiam Castle. If you had to draw what you imagined a castle looked like, you'd probably come up with something like Bodiam. It's got a moat, portcullis, battlements and is in a suitably picturesque state of ruin.

Now that's what I call a real castle.
It was built in 1385 and passed between owners until the English Civil war. The then-owner was a Royalist and sold the castle to pay his fines. It was left in ruins until the nineteenth century when various owners stepped in to preserve the castle before it was passed to the National Trust in 1925.

The information film showing inside the castle described how the arrival of railways brought an influx of tourists to see the castle. It remains as popular today - the attendant told us that even on the damp and dark February day of our visit, they'd had about 300 visitors.

As I snapped away with my camera, I remembered how I'd visited with my parents about twenty years ago, and taken many of the same pictures. On my subsequent internet trawl, I found the same views, drawn, painted and photographed, time and time and time again.

(via Stereoviews)

Wilfred Ball, Sussex Painted (1906) (via From Old Books)

The castle fits snugly into scenic views through the years, changing seasons and its various stages of care and repair.

If those walls could speak, no doubt they could tell more tales about family days out and tea and sarnies in the National Trust cafe than war and bloodshed. A particularly British type of castle ...

Friday, 25 February 2011

A quickie: Counter-culture books

A very, very quick post in what has been a busy week. I had intended to show you some pictures of Saturday's travels to the lovely Bodium Castle - one unintended delete later and I guess that will have to wait for another day.

So what's been keeping me so busy? Too much fun really: Those Dancing Days and Frankie and the Heartstrings on Monday, Gruff Rhys at Cadogan Hall on Tuesday, a tasty Vietnamese meal on Wednesday and attempting to learn to knit at the Make Lounge yesterday. And I've been proof-reading my friend's PhD thesis. I'm quite tired. To top off the week, however, I'm heading to Ultimate Power tonight to live out my power ballad fantasies.

Until I recover from all of that, here's a quite interesting list courtesy of The Guardian: Top Ten counterculture books, chosen by Barry Miles.  I've read Days in the Life, Lipstick Traces and Groupie, while Soho in the Fifties has been lurking on my to-find second hand list for ages. Any more tips along this line of reading?

See you the other side of Ultimate Power.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Last-Year Travels: Margate

"All the lights were on and the world felt like magic. Margate looked like Las Vegas."

I mentioned in my last post that I was hoping to spend Friday by the seaside. In what's become an annual traditional, my friend and I took the day off work to have an out-of-season day by the sea. We've been to Whitstable, Brighton and this year our travels took us to ... Margate.

Having grown-up in Cleethorpes, I have a fascination with past-their-best seaside resorts. Of our three visits, it's definitely Margate that most resembles the seaside that I best know, with all its attractions and problems on a much larger scale. Margate is often covered in the press because of its high poverty levels - it was highlighted earlier in the month for being the area in the country with the highest percentage of shut-up shops. It's also in the news a lot at the moment for the Turner Contemporary Gallery that's being opened in a couple of months - something that the council hope will regenerate the town. Margate's most famous living artist is Tracey Emin and she captures her life growing up there beautifully, tenderly and painfully in her book Strangeland. It's her quotes that I've used throughout this post.

Margate carries scars from throughout its history, from its maritime history and from its long-running tradition of a holiday resort is architecturally fascinating. The list of people and events connected to the place is long and weighty: T.S. Eliot wrote part of The Waste Land in a Margate shelter; Arthur Conan Doyle was obsessed with the town's mysterious Shell Grotto. Against such a backdrop, it's easy to forget how beautiful the sea actually is, and the appeal of its miles of sandy beach.

"The Margate of my mind has the most beautiful sunsets that stretch across the entire horizon. Sharp white cliffs dived a charcoal blue sea from the hard reality of the land."

Emin's name for her book must have come from Dreamland, built in the 1920s as an American style theme park. In 1977 she worked in Dreamland: "Dreamland - a wild Victorian fun-fair where the Catch-a duck and Shoot-a-coconut mixed with the sounds of the Wurtlitzer and Eddie Cochran."

The park's wooden roller coaster still stands, now at the bottom of the large concrete Dreamland car park and opposite a Dreamland bed shop. 

Though it's currently boarded up, millions of pounds are being injected into the site to have it open as a historic themepark, with the centrepiece being the 1921 wooden rollercoaster.

Through the scaffolding and with a bit of imagination, you can catch a glimpse of the shining modern style that must have made Dreamland look very impressive in its day.

Couple that with the Lido, further along the sea front, and some of the attractions of Margate for a day-tripper in its heyday become clear. Lest you get carried away with this vision of the 'good-old days', however, Emin adds:

"Margate's never been easy, always hard. 'If you want a dirty weekend, go to Margate', I always say. You can be as dirty as you like. Van Gogh and Turner, Ronnie Biggs and the Krays all went there. Romans, Vikings, Hell's Angels, teds, mods, rockers and punks, they all fought there"

It's now the town's too evident poverty that makes the place appear hard - there were very few daytrippers on the cold February day we picked for a visit. However, there are some more cheering signs of regeneration, mostly visible in the Old Town, which is filled with retro shops, galleries and places to eat. Pineapple House, pictured above, hosts the Cupcake Cafe, which was as pink and sweet as you'd expect it to be. I tried in vain to find something that suited me in the fab selection of clothing available from Madame Popoff Vintage and will continue to follow her on ASOS marketplace. I also highly recommend Scott's Furniture Mart, a bit further away from the centre and packed to the brim with furniture, ceramics, magazines, door-handles ... everything under the sun and more.

I know London is rich in history but there was so much to see in Margate, everywhere you looked, evidence of its rich and long history.

I admired the spirit of the people of Margate who are trying to fight back against the poverty of the town and to restore the town to its proud former state. I dearly hope they succeed because where it is working, it is a great antidote to the blandness of the British High Street. However, in the current economic situation, it's hard to see how they will succeed on a big enough scale to create the jobs and the economy that will attract people back to the town. I hope for Margate - and for all run-down seaside resorts including places like Cleethorpes - that I'm wrong. 

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

French Navy: Sonia's Blue Sailor Dress

If you've read my bio on Domestic Sluttery, or indeed this blog, or are lucky enough to see my Facebook pictures, you'll realise that I quite enjoy dressing like a sailor. Navy stripes, old-fashioned tattoo emblems, retro shorts: sign me up for all of the above please. Seagull accessories sometimes too. It's no surprise then that my heart skipped a little quicker when I saw this blue sailor dress from Sonia by Sonia Rykiel.

Slightly gimmicky yes, but it's girlishly fun. Its loose shape and easy style makes me think of 1920s-style frolics by the French Riviera. It makes me long for carefree days of running around barefoot on the beach. In short, it creates all those sort of fantasies that make me love the nautical look so much.

It is a saddening £325 so I severely doubt it will end up anywhere near either my wardrobe or indeed the beach. It provides an excellent excuse, however, to play one of my favourite songs, itself with a lovely video which has lots of romantic connotations for me (some involving sailor costumes). Sigh.

I've got the day off on Friday so I'm hoping to make a little pilgrimage to the coast. I'll report back, though I don't think February in the UK offers too much opportunity to run around barefoot...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Treasure Dress

I discovered UK based vintage site Treasure Dress this week through a post by Sally Jane Vintage, giving me a new online source of clothing lust. The site was originally a bridal site and the prices seem to reflect that (it's divided into under £200, £350 and £500 categories). It's definitely a site to be bookmarked for those special occasions in your life.

My favourite thing on the site has to be this 1940s tea dress. You'd need to sort out some pretty pretty undergarments (M&S slips may not work in this case) but it would be worth it for that lace collar and the perspex flower buttons. It also looks like it's so delicate that I would never dare wear it out in public. If this were mine, I'd probably hang it on my bedroom door and just stroke it from time to time. Luckily I don't have the necessary £180 to hand, so hopefully it will be snapped up by someone who would actually take it out and show it a good time, once in a while.

Much more wearable is this 1950s Diana dress. Weddings, christenings, garden parties. This would do them all perfectly - and you'd have space in the dress to actually enjoy yourself at all of them. Not my size but, at £65, it's a pretty good and timeless buy.

If it didn't look so teeny-tiny, even on the teeny-tiny model, this chiffon 1960s Harvey Nichols shift dress could probably pass for a contemporary design. I don't think this would work with my bosom, nor with my paranoia about my arms, but I know a girl this would look perfect on. I'm not generous enough to spend the £85 on her so I'm sending her the link in the hope it'll pop up on her Facebook profile in a few months time, and I can feel proud on her behalf.

For more vintage inspiration, take a look at the Treasure Dress Look Book. It's very pretty though it's making me very anxious about what might happen to my the tea dress. Watch out for those pointy branches!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Scissor Sisters: Vidal Sassoon

(via Nancy Girl)


He created the hair cuts of two of this year's favourite Last-Year Girls: Mary Quant and Peggy Moffitt, now I've learnt Vidal Sassoon is the subject of his own film. It's hot on the heels of his autobiography, which I've yet to read - have any of you? I'm hoping it's full of some great sixties footage (rather than those 80s ads which are imprinted on my memory). Anyway, here's the trailer for some hair-raising inspiration: 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Museum of Everything

(via Time Out)

Following on from our visit to see Brighton Rock, the weekend continued on a sixties theme with a visit to The Museum of Everything.

Close to Primrose Hill, the museum is in its third incarnation and this time has been put together with Peter Blake. His interest in British folklore and popular culture pervades the whole place - whether it's freakshow postcards, adverts for circuses or a shell grotto.

You start off the museum visit in its tearoom - with music blaring out and some Blake-esque tin signs on the wall, this surely was the 60s cafe of my dreams - and then each twist and turn through the spaces of the museum takes you to a new discovery. The place is crammed full of curios so it takes a bit of time to study each thing and I imagine everyone who visits finds their own little object of fascination. I was delighted to see a seaside shell clearly bought as a souvenir from Cleethorpes and a performance poster advertising the company's first visit to Grimsby (my little corner of the world rarely makes it into the wider art world).

(via audreyq)

I loved the room devoted to Carter's Steam Fair, pictured at the very top of this post, and also the work of Ted Willcox, an ex-World War II serviceman taught to sew who used his skills to create half-saucy, half-sweet pin-up girls motifs as shown above. The Walter Potter exhibit also proved eerily fascinating - stuffed animals that have put into all sorts of fanciful tableau (as well as Blake, apparently Damien Hirst and Harry Hill are also lenders to this show which figures). They were a bit too weird to put onto here but google them and you'll soon see what I mean. 

The museum finished with a miniature fairground created by Arthur Windley which whirled into action every 15 minutes. On a bit of internet snooping on my return, I realised this was where Juergen Teller had shot the new Missoni campaign (there are more fabulous pictures here). 

The museum closes soon - next week I think - so I urge you to go before it does, it really was fascinating. I can't wait to see what they put in its next incarnation. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Brighton Rock

On Friday we went to see the remake of Brighton Rock. As I'm sure you're aware, the novel has been moved forward by a few decades by director Rowan Joffe to take place against the Mods and Rockers seaside battles in the 1960s.

While some of the attitudes and language contained in Greene's novel don't quite match up to the new setting, it makes for a fantastic visual impact. Brighton (and Eastbourne which acted as a double for some of the scenes) looks great. There's some familiar locations from London also used for the filming - Westminster's Regency Cafe (last seen in TV documentary Posh and Posher) is used for several scenes for example. There's some really striking scenes, such as the one pictured above where Sam Riley, playing Pinkie, makes his escape from a rival gang on a stolen scooter amidst the Mods descending on the town.

It uses its setting to build up contrasts and to reveal the tensions of the period. There's the luxurious, fashionable swinging side of the sixties against the land of the dingy bedsitter, the traditional tearoom aspect of the British seaside and the town's dark underbelly.

The period works really well as a setting for explaining some of the changing attitudes in the film: the breakdown of gang loyalties, Rose's determination to escape, Ida's determination and methods in bringing Pinkie to justice.

I never really got the book because Greene's preoccupation with sin and Catholic doctrine just left me cold, unfortunately, the same applied to this film. A relaxing Friday night viewing it wasn't - my tension levels were higher than ever when I left the cinema - but in terms of style, there was plenty to admire here.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Last-Year Reads: Quant by Quant

Quant by Quant had been on my radar for a while but it was Luella's words in her guide to English style that finally made me hunt down a copy (it's out-of-print and £60+ on the internet). She said "Whenever I am at a loss I reread her autobiography which is one of the most inspiring books that I have ever read."

If you want facts, dates and a clear chronology of Quant's career, this book will probably more frustrate than please. However, for energy, fun and - yes - inspiration Quant by Quant is a joyous read. Written in 1966 when Quant was in the midst of her fame and the craziness, it's hardly surprising it's a bit of a whirlwind in places. If you let yourself get swept along, there's plenty to amuse as Quant takes us through her childhood, through the meeting of her husband and business partner Alexander, to the opening of Bazaar and the building of her global brand.

Mary Quant found herself at the centre of a new scene, as part of the "Chelsea set". This set's influence spilled out far beyond their SW postcode. Quant describes "It was she who established the fact that this latter half of the twentieth century belongs to Youth".

Throughout the book, Quant describes the bemusement and amusement which greets her outfits that are variously described as "dishy, grotty, geary, kinky, mod". Though she may not have been the first designer to put a girl in a mini-skirt, she certainly helped bring it to the masses, creating a new range of clothes for a new customer. Her "birds" no longer aspired to look their mothers but look young, part of the seismic shift of the "Youthquake":  "This was the beginning of something we take almost for granted now ... grown-ups wearing teenage fashions and looking like precocious little girls."

The energy and 'have a go attitude' of the book reminded me of Barbara Hulanicki's A to Biba, again a story of how a couple of young upstarts challenged and ultimately strengthened the British fashion industry. Like Hulanicki, Quant is passionate about the worth of fashion: "fashion is not too frivolous; it is part of being alive today."

(via Eurbanista)

Through enthusiastic experimentation, Mary Quant created many unique looks - from the mod styling, to tights to wear with those short skirts, to make-up. Her distinctively youthful British look was soon snapped up by the American textile industry, looking to add instant cool to their ranges, and Quant's naive forays into this world and mass-manufacture are amusing. She wasn't alone though - the whole Chelsea/London/English scene was being celebrated. Women's Wear Daily stated: 

"These Britishers have a massive onslaught of talent, charm and mint-new ideas. English chic is fiercely NOW ... by the young for the young ... coky, not kooky."

(via V&A)

For the press coverage at the time, just look at this image by Norman Parkinson which is reproduced in the book. It shows some of the most famous designers of the London scene, posed by the Thames.  Mary Quant is in the bottom left (Foale and Tuffin are hanging off the lamp post). 

Towards the end of the book, Quant describes a party for Vidal Sassoon (who created her sharp, distinctively 60s haircut) which sounds like a riot:

"It was absolutely fantastic ... a real English party with everyone behaving in an extraordinary English way and being rude to each other as only the British can ... It seemed as if everyone was there ... the pop painters, the pop musicians, everyone you can think of."

That quote sums the book up quite well - it's very British in its outlook, it contains some extraordinary tales and characters and it captures the excitement of the era very well. It's just sometimes frustrating in its lack of details - who were the pop painters? who were the pop musicians that she tantalisingly hints at.  However, I don't think Mary Quant ever intended this book to be studied in detail and, like her clothes, it's fun, youthful and very stylish.

p.s. For more great inspiration from this period, check out the Youthquakers blog. 60s and 70s fashion spreads for your delectation. 

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Here comes the summer

I first wrote about Summer Camp back in April last year and my teenage style crush is still as strong as ever. I've seen them a couple of times more: supporting Frankie and Heartstrings (also at the Lexington) and at Bestival. They've started adding vintage slides to their set - kind of like the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players with a little less kookiness and fewer songs about eggs - and I've also invested in their EP Youth. As well as the still-lovely Ghost Train, it has some great songs which grow on further acquaintance with their lyrics. At the moment I'm certainly feeling Veronika Sawyer's call of "I'll never be young again." I'm seeing them tonight, along with Los Campesinos in an indie-spectacular double billing.

Their nostalgic feel is further enhanced by their music artwork and their videos - take a look at this epic for Round the Moon.

If you're going to the gig tonight, I recommend staying far away from me - I'll probably be swaying too much, singing along badly and mourning my lost youth with a tear in my eye.
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