Friday, 30 December 2011

Last-Year Reads: The Fashionable Mind

Kennedy Fraser's The Fashionable Mind is a collection of columns that appeared in the The New Yorker between 1970 and 1982 under the now quaint-sounding title 'Feminine Fashions'. In fact her introduction states that she took over the column, "at the very moment feminine fashions ceased to count." Though the columns cover a myriad of topics - with names such as "Hail, covered knee!", "Denim and the New Conservatives" and "A Woman's Age"-  organised chronologically, the pieces  seem to chart a movement away from the dictates of fashion houses to a more democratic way of dressing (though perhaps designer fashions are given a brief reprieve in some of the final essays about "The Executive Woman" and "Architectural Fashion"). Neither is the book's tone as timid and simpering as the name of her column might suggest. Fraser writes smartly and succinctly and with an authority that's impressive given that she was only 22 when she took over the column.

Each essay turns a critical eye to fashion, and the wider scope of what it means to be stylish. There are reports on collections, reviews of exhibitions and thoughts on more mass market fashions, such as in an essay covering the opening of Big Biba in 1974 ("the only department store in the world daring enough to offer us life, spoof, and romance, too"). I like her writing best when she explores the details of what people are wearing - to shows, to walk, or in the case of one of her columns "On the Avenue" what people are wearing as they walk past her on the street. Of her time wandering down Fifth Avenue, she notes she "was struck by a mere handful of costumes that had any semblance of dignity, simplicity or taste." The piece showcases the secretary, militantly asserting her right to wear shorts to the office, girls grappling with the challenges of summer shoes (Fraser is "curiously encouraged" by the fashion of wedgies) or summer dressing in general. For me, as someone who spends the summer ranting about the seeming inability of woman to dress properly in the heat, it was interesting to see that she observed, 40 years ago, that "the appearance of bare backs and midriffs this summer marks the death of the principle that clothes appropriate to city life are quite distinct for those for the beach".

The Fashionable Mind is fascinating reading and a great glimpse into the minutiae of fashion in the 1970s and early 80s, especially now it can be read through the glasses of retrospect. However, the things that I remember the most from the book are descriptions or ideas that transcend periods, such as in her discussion of what it means to be truly stylish. She writes, "there is a cult of luxurious simplicity which is often mistaken for style, but this is only a sophisticated level of good taste. The woman who extols perfectly plain white silk shirts and perfectly plain black cashmere pants and who expresses utter loathing for frills and ruffles almost never has real style. Her kind of simplicity is costly, and it is usually timid."

I'm not sure if the way I dress could withstand Fraser's critical eye, or cutting descriptions. The book is saved from fashion snootiness by her encouragement of exploration and experimentation in the way women chose to dress themselves. In her words (and for the word "style", you could sub in "this book"), "style must never allow itself to be a bore, and reserves its most virulent contempt for anyone who is."

(I found the middle image over Christmas in my suitcase, I'd obviously torn it from a past issue of Lula. I thought it fitted rather well with some of the writing in The Fashionable Mind - and that Kennedy Fraser might approve, judging from the author shot that sits neatly below the book blurb). 

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Saturday, 24 December 2011

So Last-Year: YSL poppy print

Not the most seasonal of posts but my pre-travel up north routine at Kings Cross was interrupted by spotting this fantastic piece of poppy pattern. It was on the cover of Glamour, being worn by Tulisa, and I had to force my way through the crowds to surreptitiously flick through a copy (not buy it, oh no). Having found it was the YSL Resort collection and then found my seat on the train, I saw the same playsuit again in my Vogue: this time being worn by Agyness Dean as part of a photo shoot that's full of fantastic patterns and colours accessorised with some wonderful sunglasses. 

The playsuit's print, combined with the cheeky update on the 1940s silhouette sums up all sorts of clothes I've been dreaming about since reading The Beautiful Fall. Yes, that book again, and I will keep mentioning it until everyone tells me that they've also read it. 

Net-a-Porter are selling the blouse, in a red and yellow, version (I think I prefer the blue). If only I had £730 to spare. 

All the poppies remain me of my parent's beloved J&G Meakin coffee set. The design dates to the early 1970s, and their set was a wedding gift (aww). They clearly hid it from my grasping fingers - this image comes from China Search as I couldn't find it in their cupboards to photograph myself. Nothing says Christmas like rifling through your elderly parents cupboards to look for something you want to take from them, eh? 

Have a very lovely Christmas everyone. 

Friday, 23 December 2011

Industry of One

I found Industry of One via a post on the always reliable Miss Moss. Their claim for the site is to "explore the style trappings of various industries + professions and document the relationship between one's line of work + walk of life". In reality this translates to pictures of enviable New Yorkers with ... gasp ... real jobs. There's a nanny, a librarian, a managing editor, and you know what? They've all got incredible style. What really makes the site though is how they have been photographed. The images are absolutely beautiful.

(They're looking for more subjects with "purpose, style, and enterprise". Know someone who fits the bill? Find out more, or just enjoy the photographs here)

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Last-Year Reads: Betty and Lionheart Magazines

I mentioned my fondness for Frankie magazine in my last post. That gives only the slightest hint at what is a pretty serious magazine addiction. Bliss, Sugar, Mizz and Just Seventeen all advised me - wrongly or rightly - through my teenage years. Four years of jumpers and woolly socks wearing while at university in Edinburgh were punctuated by escaping into the glamorous world of Vogue. I moved to London and acquired a Time Out subscription. I hung around in fancy newsagents and fell in love with Lula. I turned 30, developed a new interest in homewares and the Living Etc and Elle Deco subscriptions duly followed. The list keeps on growing: I'm currently aspiring to live in the pages of The Gentlewomen and, of course, I have the pleasure of helping the very talented team at Oh Comely. I'm not exactly sure why I like magazines so much. I like the excitement of turning the page and the possibility of new places, people and trends to be discovered. And, I guess, I like surrounding myself with 'stuff', be that books or clothes or magazine. That was all a very long winded way of saying that I'm a sucker for any fresh print publications that may come my way, and hence this post about two new print magazines: Betty and Lionheart.

I'd read issues one and two of Betty online, admired their style, and wanted to see how it worked physically. It's every bit as pretty in the flesh.

Their real strength is in the fashion pages: if you like the look of blogs like Wish Wish Wish and Wayward Daughter, Betty's sweet style is sure to appeal. There's also interviews with people like Emma Block, Elizabeth Lau and Donna Wilson, leading to a slight (66 pages) but focused magazine - you can perfectly picture a Betty kind of girl (and not just in the Clueless definition of a 'Betty').

If I was a few years longer, I'd probably want the Betty girls to be my best friends.

I heard about Lionheart magazine from no other than Pat Albeck when I interviewed her for issue 7 of Oh Comely, and had been curiously following its progress via its blog ever since. The magazine is the work/passion of one writer, Helen Martin, and I'm full of admiration for all the love she has poured into its pages, and the sheer amount of work it must have taken to produce this publication. It's a slightly older and more word heavy magazine than Betty which features interviews with people like Pat, Bleubird's Miss James Kicinski and Emma Block (again) alongside beautiful illustrations. The first issue has the theme of Bravery - if you start your own magazine that's a pretty apt theme - but is packed full of different ideas. I'll be really interested in seeing how these all settle down and how the magazine finds its voice (or should that be roar?) in future issues.

Both magazines share an interest in fashion and design, illustration, cooking and crafting. I really like the way the varied nature of blogs seems to be influencing the subject matter of these magazines and result in things made by women for women to read that don't involve diets, sex and celebrities. And endpapers. I'm not sure if endpapers is the correct terminology for magazines, but the printed inside covers of both these magazines are beautiful. You don't get that with Cosmopolitan. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

So Last-Year: Colenimo

One of my many magazine subscriptions is to Frankie. The tag line for this Australian magazine reads 'Design/Art/Photography/Fashion/Travel/Music/Craft/Home/Life', so it's safe to say it covers pretty much everything I enjoy reading about. I've just finished their November/December issue which seemed extra inspiring, even in relation to their usual high standards. There's an embroidery craft piece from Donna at Spinster's Emporium I can't wait to try (and I've been trying to pick my favourite vintage fabric from their store), and also a glimpse at new-to-me label, Colenimo.

The collection is the work of Ava Nakagawa who studied in Tokyo but is now based in London. Her website states her aim is "timeless garments with an assured sense of personal style" - all very commendable. The Autumn/Winter 'Aviatrix' collection looks to a very assured group of women: female pilots of aviation's golden age.

Neat 1930s blouses and high waisted trousers sit alongside chunky knits and, of course, flying jackets. What I like the best is while some of the clothes look very period and can be styled up as such (as in the image above), other images re-use the items and make them look totally contemporary: the wearer can push the retro element as much or as little as they want to.

And, though with undeniably feminine aspects, this isn't a girlie collection, the clothes have got gumption. They didn't get to fly those planes simply by sitting around and looking pretty. The jumper below, for example, could have easily been taken straight off the back of a male pilot.

Prices seem to start at around £120 for jumpers, going up to £630 for the sheepskin flight jacket.

Inspiration for previous collections include an Edward Steichen photograph, the 1930s tap star Ruby Keeler and the English seaside holiday. Colenimo succeed in conjuring up images of wonderful people and places, as well as making beautiful clothes.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Last-Year Buys: A Haynes Lane Market special

I moved flats again this week, this time to Camberwell where I'll hopefully stay until my own flat purchase goes through (everything crossed). With most of my prettiest stuff in storage, I went out hunting today for cheap thrills that would brighten up my room, and life. My first stop was Brixton Village, but alas their shops weren't going it for me today so I travelled on to Crystal Palace and Haynes Lane Market. Haynes Lane Market is a smaller version of one of my favourite places in the UK, Hemswell Antiques: both offer lots of different antique, vintage and general bric-a-brac under one roof and are excellent for a Sunday afternoon rummage. Here's what I bought:

A cheap retro mirror, so I can actually see what I look like before I leave the house (and experiment with the heated rollers I bought on Friday). The little wicker case in front is one of my all time favourite second-hand buys: it's been holding my make-up since my Edinburgh days. A dotty scarf that was my Grandma's is also helping brighten up the chest of drawers.

These glasses might be given as a Christmas present to one of my friends from the Shire (Lincolnshire, obviously), or they might stay with me - you know I love a bit of seaside holiday tat.

And finally, I can't wait to get going on this huge Zelda Fitzgerald biography by Nancy Milford. Unlikely to 'brighten' my life, I'm sure I'll find it fascinating.
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