Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas reading

Having my head in a book is one of my favourite ways to enjoy long periods out of an office and to make time speed while on long train journeys across the country. This little pile of reading has kept me happily occupied over this festive week.

It's hard to draw the distinction between fact and fiction in Diana Vreeland's DV but that makes it no less entertaining or fashion fabulous. It can't be unrelated that - roughly about the same time as finishing this book - I started wearing stacks of chunky bangles again, and bought myself a turban (yes, really). Like her famous column, this book really encourages the attitude of 'Why Don't You?'

I first heard about Joyce Maynard's Looking Back through a recommendation on the excellent Rookie. It's a collection of essays about what it was really like to be a teenager in the 60s and is the kind of book which you want to underline, memorise and, ultimately, wish you had written yourself. ("When I think of 1966. I see pink and orange stripes and wild purple Paisleys and black and white vibrating to make the head ache. We were too young for drugs (they hadn't reached the junior high yet) but we didn't need them. Our world was psychedelic, our clothes and our make-up and our jewellery and our hairstyles were trips in themselves.")

Paul Gallico's Flowers for Mrs Harris is the perfect kind of fashion fairytale. A London charlady saves up to buy her very own couture creation from Dior in Paris. Her innocent ways make a whole chain of delightful events come into being which are ultimately more fantastic than the most fabulous frock.

More escapism came care of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (not pictured because I've already lent it to someone). Four lonely women in the 1920s decide to spend the month of April in a medieval castle in Italy. The experience heals and soothes their weary souls and is every bit as enchanting as the name suggests.

I'm not sure why I haven't read Ronnie Spector's biography Be My Baby before. Perhaps I didn't want to break the magic of the vocal on that song. This book is evocative and honest (it takes you right back to the atmosphere of Spanish Harlem captured so well in Street Corner Soul). I don't think she portrays herself as an especially likeable person but, boy is she tough, and now I admire her for a whole lot more than purely her wonderful voice.

Finally, I'm currently about 100 pages into James Baldwin's Another Country which I bought after the William Klein exhibition. Like Klein's work, it captures and the pulsating energy and cruel hard edge of New York in the 1950s - the city in which, of course, a young Veronica Bennett was on her way to becoming Mrs Ronnie Spector.

And, yes, at the top of the pile is my brand new Persephone diary as 2013 is almost upon us. I'm slightly lacking the new year's optimism of previous years this time around. Don't worry: I have the usual lengthy list of goals and resolutions: I think my subdued approach this year is because I realise the implications, including the huge amount of hard work, needed to make them happen. But, however they work out, I'm encouraged by the fact it's always going to be an interesting adventure. Happy new year adventuring everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Do You Remember the 90s?

I certainly do - and so does my bedroom.

I'm back in my parents house, in my old teenage bedroom for the Christmas holidays. It's like a shrine to the 1990s: pine furniture meets the set of a Channel 4 youff show meets general teenageness. Two tees pulled out from my chest-of-drawers (skinny rib naturally, the indie female's default choice): Babybird and a powder blue number decorated with some plastic toys encased in a plastic glitter heart. I have, of course, tried both of these on.

More terrifying is this folder, covered with Just 17 stickers, showing the heart-throbs of my teenage years: Jared, Ewan, Leo and, uh, Dean Cain. On the flip side is a list of both 'Cool Things' and 'Crap Things'. Put together by me and my mates, there are some things which I utterly stand by (Cool = Bill and Ted, The Divine Comedy; Crap = Marti Pellow's haircut, Jimmy Nail, 18 years of Tory government), and some of which really don't seem that thrilling (Purple lipsticks, being posh) or galling (fluffy rabbits(?), fish curry) some 15 years on.

I'd forgotten the trend for inflatables until I found this little mirror, and oddly shaped picture frames too. The photo in the frame is me and a couple of friends heading out post A Levels. I'm wearing a velvet vest top, a wrapover skirt. If I remember correctly, I was wearing velvet platform mules too. Clearly velvet was as much of a 'thing' in the 90s (well for me anyway) as inflatables. Note the requisite fairy lights in the background.

More period lighting. A glitter lava lamp and a revolving disco light - all you need when dancing around your room to SL2 and similar.

Though the most worrying thing I've found is this cushion. Seemingly innocent till you realise this pattern is being re-pedalled to the kids of today by the likes of ASOS and River Island. Aztec? Nah, classic 90s Grimsby vintage. They'll be taking inspiration from my celestially-patterned curtains next.

Oh, wait.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Musically-themed wish list: Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly

It's finally here. The day when I'm leaving the big smoke to head up to the bosom of my family. It's also - happily for everyone's sanity levels - the last of my musically-themed wish lists. It's suitably festive and ridiculous. With no further ado, today I'm encouraging you to ...

Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly

Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly

Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly by lastyeargirl 

This selection is based on the finest Christmas wares. Indeed the whole set was inspired by Charlotte Olympia's magnificent collection of Christmas shoes including this splendid holly-bedecked pair. On the subject of designer silliness I'm rather fond of the quality street quality of this Anya Hindmarch key ring. Carry the sweetie wrapping look through to your eveningwear with the help of Topshop's sequin dress or their metallic cocktail dress

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without some excellent kind of knitwear: Gingerbread man jumper, jingle bell mittens or robin socks anyone? Meanwhile, this skirt looks like it was tailor made for a Christmas elf. She'd probably appreciate these slippers after a long day of elfing too. 

Tra-la-la-la-la, that's the end of the silliness (well, almost, you haven't seen the video yet). Hope you get whatever you wish for, and your season is suitably jolly. 


Thursday, 20 December 2012

Musically-themed wish list: Merry Christmas Everybody

It's Christmas! Well, not quite but my levels of mental are definitely rising as we hurtle towards the big day. So, today, my wish list is based around another Christmas classic that you've been probably been forced to listen to since November:

Merry Christmas Everybody

Merry Christmas Everyone

I'm working on a book on Glam Rock at the moment so I could blame it on that, though truthfully I've always been a huge fan of the glitter, the shimmer and the shine. I'm captivated by this entire twinkly selection. I already own a pair of sequin shorts but not in silver, so this River Island pair will be hunted out in the January sales. I can't decide which I like more: the modernist look of this colour block dress or the Judy Jetson-appeal of the cocktail dress. It's similarly hard to pick just one of these pairs of glitter shoes - they all rock big style. The 3.1 Phillip Lim collar necklace is seriously cool but I'll be happily fobbed off with glittery nail varnishmake-up or even a Bambi Christmas decoration. See how they sparkle!

So, here it is ....

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Musically-themed wish list: Christmas Wrapping

Okay, confession time. This is less a collection of things I want and more about being able to link to one of my favourite Christmas songs (and one I was no doubt yelling into the microphone at karaoke box last night). Without further ado, I think it's time to beckon in some:

Christmas Wrapping

Christmas wrapping

Essentially this is a collection of lots of bows - the prettiest finishing touch on any present, and most dresses too. Emma Cook's print wrap dress is probably closest you can get to actually gift-wrapping yourself - I'd love to wear it with these black tie shoes. A less OTT use of a bow is on this very chic lace dress. Wear with a glittery bow coin purse to avoid taking yourself as seriously as the model seems to do. Then add the bling, whether in the form of this 80s original or this chunky chain necklace.

Take a bow, the Waitresses!
(to awesome home-grown light effects)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Musically-themed wish list: I Want Candy

And onto the second of my musically-themed wish lists:

I Want Candy

I want candy

Candy and pastel coloured items seem to have also been creeping into my flat: I'm finding them very cheering. And where interiors lead, my fashion taste seems to follow.

For my flat, I'd very much like to receive this beads cup and saucer from the wonderful Minä Perhonen, this vintage-style vase or this hilarious Christmas plate from the Emma Cook collection at Topshop, as well as this tasty looking dipped wood box. This wall clock and wrist watch are surely the sweetest way to tell the time.

And then I really get into fantasy land. A fluro fairisle sweater? Yes please. A heart print Markus Lupfer leather handbag? Well, if you must. A candy stripe House of Holland dress? That's very kind of you. And I'm sure I'll be able to squeeze into sexiest kind of body con from Sonia Rykiel post-seasonal excesses. As for the print, well - to quote some great wordsmiths of our time - you're twisting my melon man.

Time for the music!

(I went for the Marie Antoinette version for some more pastel pleasures.)

Monday, 17 December 2012

Musically-themed wish list: I'm Dreaming of A (Black and) White Christmas

I tried to put together a little wish list of things I might quite like to find under the tree this Christmas. One problem: it wasn't such a little list. So I've put together not one, not two, but five different lists, each vaguely themed around a different song ... starting with ...

I'm dreaming of a (black and) white Christmas

I'm dreaming of a (black and) white Christmas

I've had my eye on black and white things for my hallway recently to add to my 'F' and beloved Shangri-Las print. This striped dress print would fit in perfectly, as would this gorgeous Katy Leigh portrait plate, and to really go for it, this oval bone mirror.

To carry the look over to my wardrobe, I like the demureness of this Topshop shift dress shift dress and the sexiness of this River Island white cocktail dress. If I could afford it, I'd buy just about everything from Sonia by Sonia Rykiel including this jersey top. Instead I'll go for the Louche dogstooth jumper, possibly with their librarian chic patterned skirt.

And cue the music ....

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Karl Ferris Psychedelic Experience

I'm ending 2012 looking back at an era I've often skimmed over: the psychedelic side of the 60s. While I happily plunder the 40s, 50s and the earlier part of the 60s for inspiration, I've always found this bit, well, a bit fuzzy for me to really get into. But it's still influential, and seems to be edging its way towards a more mainstream revival.

My first bit of evidence for this is the Karl Ferris Psychedelic Experience at the Proud Gallery in Camden which I went to the opening of last week. His saturated photography capture that whole era perfectly - especially his cover for the Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced? The Proud display is crammed full of colourful rock stars and far-out girls. I especially like his Pre-Raphaelite inspired shoot with Donovan, shot at Bodium Castle.

And then there's the music that's hanging around the fringes at the moment, experimenting with the psychedelic sounds: Tame Impala, Temples and my current new favourites, Stealing Sheep.

But for some people, this isn't a revival - it's never been away. When I went down to the club night Fuzz 4 Freaks as part of my Rough Guide research, the place was full of young beautiful people, all dressed immaculately in their finest late 60s finery. The attention to detail - and enthusiastic dancing - made it obvious that this wasn't a fashionable dress-up opportunity, in the way perhaps a victory roll and smear of red lipstick might be at the moment. It's just what they all were into.

And my final thought on the psychedelia 'trend': I'm halfway through Mad Men season five at the moment: Roger has taken LSD, Don has issues with Tomorrow Never Knows. If the Mad Men portrayal this aspect of the 60s proves to be as influential as their take on the late 50s/early 60s look has been, who knows what we'll be wearing and listening to in a year's time?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

This Year's News: The Rough Guide To Vintage London

Well, it's up there to pre-order on Amazon, so I think I'm able to tell you about it. Back here, I hinted at an exciting new project, and ta da! Here it is. Well, not quite. There's still a lot of proofing and printing and binding to do, but I'm thrilled to say that I've contributed to a new Rough Guide to Vintage London which will be coming out in May next year.

It's been the dream job: we carved London up between several contributors and each got to write about our favourite vintage shops, bars and places. I've included some of my longtime loves but got to discover some great new places along the way. And I just about avoided my biggest challenge -  spending too much money while I was doing it.

I did always know about the bounty of second-hand and vintage that is available in London if you can be bothered to go and seek it out, but researching the book hammered the point home to me. There's so many pretty, quality and quirky things out there - if you put the time in. The book will also contain a fairly comprehensive listings section too, of things like fairs, charity shops, specialist dealers, so hopefully this book will make finding whatever you'd like a lot easier. I certainly expect my copy to be very well thumbed.

Anyway, it's not out till May but I wanted to share the exciting news before I burst. And hopefully I'll share a bit of my newly reinforced knowledge on this blog. In the meantime, you can read about a couple of my vintage shop experiences here and here.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Last-Year Reads: On Fair Vanity by Betty Page

"Any really intelligent woman should regard being good looking as part of her job as a civilised human being."

On Fair Vanity is a strange little read. First of all, its author isn't that Bettie Page which is reason enough for sadness. This Betty Page I can find very little about. The book was published in 1954 and definitely feels older in spirit than Lilly Daché's Glamour book, and even a little bit older than Anita Colby's Beauty Book (two years its predecessor). It's part career guide, part style guide - as if the two can't be separated.

I really like some of its advice, and the witty little images used to illustrate it, though it's given in a slightly scatter gun manner (this Betty Page loves an ellipsis). She advises a course of getting your eye in practise at spotting style: devouring fashion magazines, paying attention to what's going on in Paris, window shopping and eyeing up your fellow commuters, deciding what you like about the way they look and what pains you (all pleasurable activities for those who spend too long on Pinterest and similar). There's also some wise words in a chapter entitled: "On Facing Up To Your Birthday":

"the average English woman over 30 is only too apt to allow herself to drop into a comfortable lethargy, which has its outward style in nondescript, uninteresting clothes and a general tendency to look like a ruminant."

You've been warned.

And then there are the odd bits. I don't really know what the above image is meant to show (or the others like it in the book). I *think* it's about being able to do exercises while out and about but that really doesn't explain why the model is wearing an eye-band with her lingerie and ballet shoes, and dog. There's also a chapter devoted to bloating and the book also features its very own poem, "On the Aids".

This seemingly random material is interspersed with many of the great and good in fashion at that time: Madge Garland (Janey Ironside's predecessor as professor of fashion at the RCA), the journalist Alison Settle, the couturiers Norman Hartnell and Pierre Balmain, as well as models and PR and advertising career women. Is it meant to prove her point at the top of the post, that you can be intelligent and be interested in fashion? I was left a bit baffled by it all.

Perhaps the book is a bit odd because it was written at an odd period in British fashion. Both Colby and Daché had the advantage of being over in the States, and being part of the the new glamorous world of Hollywood. Page encourages you to look to Paris and the couture system - in fact when fashion in Britain was about to take a completely different turn. It was the very next year after this book was published that Mary Quant opened Bazaar and the "youthquake" began.

Alison Settle says some very wise words in her interview, which in retrospect, I feel could be applied to On Fair Vanity:

"You are clever, watch which way things are moving: but if you put salt on the tail of fashion, catching it as it flies away, you will always have an out-of-date look about you."

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

William Klein at Tate Modern

I went to see the William Klein exhibition at the Tate at the weekend. Uber-observant readers may have  remembered his image of Jean Shrimpton in my selection of Vogue postcards. This show was less about his fashion photography - though it definitely had a presence there, such as in the amazing Simone + Nina, shoot for Vogue in 1960 or the Diana Vreeland inspired Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?.

It was actually far more exciting than that. Instead there were large format images, blown up from his photo books based on New York, Paris, Tokyo and Rome, each crammed with energy. The exhibition opened with his Broadway by Light film, made in 1958, and celebrating the frenzy of New York through the brightness of its neon advertising signs and a pulsating jazz score. And then there was the room of films which kept me captive for ages. There was some Polly Maggoo, naturally, but also his footage of a pumped-up Muhammed Ali and a charismatic Little Richard Tutti Frutti-ing off the back of a moving vehicle. And then the above, Mr Freedom, which is surely counts as the most prolific use of the letter 'F' outside my flat. It's given me far too many ideas for new clothing options.

You clever people may have noticed something else. The exhibition is actually called William Klein + Daido Moriyama. The truth is that my head was so full of William Klein that by the time I got to the Moriyama section I didn't seem to have the energy to concentrate on anything else. So I may go back and try and see that, as well as the Painting after Performance show which I also skipped on due to lack of brain space. I still managed to get it together to buy a couple of postcards and a book in the shop though - phew!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Last-Year Travels: Malham, Yorkshire

My book group isn't terribly good at reading the books we're meant to but we're great at going on lovely weekends away. Last weekend we went, clutching our copies of Shirley, up to Malham in Yorkshire. It was beautiful. These pictures are taken on a walk close to Malham Cove.

Despite the off-putting twenty pages or so of clergymen chat the open the book, and the fact you don't actually get to meet Shirley till about 150 pages in (and her future partner turns up even later), this book, with its great female leads of feisty Shirley and loveable Caroline, won me over. In fact, 'what would Shirley do?' became the motto of the weekend.

I'd like to think Shirley would have spent a weekend away with female friends much as we did: some walking, lots of talking, tasty food and one too many games of "shag, marry or push off a cliff". Or whatever the nineteenth century version of that was.

On more book related chat, we discussed one of my holiday reads, The Rules of Civility, over on Domestic Sluttery this week. It got a definite thumbs up from the ladies (phew!).

Thursday, 15 November 2012

So Last-Year: Vogue postcard set

Sian was kind enough to give me her Vogue postcard set, featuring beautiful covers from the history of US Vogue. I've already spent hours flicking through the designs, playing guess the photographer, year and model and - most importantly of all - deciding on my favourites. At the moment, it's the five above.

Going clockwise, the images are by: Erwin Blumenfeld, October 1952; Horst P. Horst, June 1940; George Hoyningen-Huene, December 1932, and then another Horst P. Horst, this time from July 1939.

And in the middle is Jean Shrimpton, looking fresh faced and lovely, shot by William Klein for the April 1963 issue. I also watched the Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel documentary this week and, among its stellar line-up of talking heads, I particularly enjoyed Bailey guffawing about how Vreeland welcomed them to New York (of course also the subject of the We'll Take Manhattan programme). The film makes clear how much Vreeland loved the 1960s, embracing the idea and figures of the youthquake that caused so much consternation amongst some of the establishment. Her eye and particular taste is evident even in the Vogue covers that date from her time on top, especially as she was one of the first editors to use celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand, as models.

That's now the established norm. But is it something we should be thankful to Vreeland for? As you can probably see from the selection above, it's the pre-celebrity, pre-'Vogue' branding covers that remain my favourites.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Last-Year Shops: Cenci, West Norwood, London

After my last shop visit, which was all the way over in Istanbul, this shop is closer to home. A lot closer to home. West Norwood is just down the road from me and fairly unremarkable other than for its amazing Victorian cemetery, the monthly West Norwood Feast and the occasional Jens Lekman gig.

And then there's Cenci. Despite an unlikely frequency of visits to West Norwood, I don't think I'd have ever known about it if my well-connected Brixton-based hairdresser hadn't whispered its name in my ear. Tucked away down an unassuming back alley, it's a warehouse stuffed full of second-hand clothes, mainly from the 1940s to 60s. There are frocks a plenty, novelty bags and patterned blouses but it's especially brilliant for menswear: Tweed jackets, flannel shirts, hats and scarves to complete the look.

As remarkable as finding this treasure in a sleepy Norwood street are its owners: husband and wife duo Massimo and Dede. She's a chatty American who will conjure up a character for a frock within a matter of seconds, he's a dab hand with the correct way to sport a pork-pie hat.

In fact, they're really what make the shop. It's so full of clothes (think piles of jumpers, stacks of shirts, jackets layered up over dresses) it's actually quite hard to browse. Ask and they can simply pull it out for you, along with fifty possible accessories, and tell you something about its history. Really remarkable.

It's not the kind of place where everything is neatly labelled, sorted into types and trends. And it's all the more fun for it. Thankfully the Cath Kidston-style embrace of 'vintage' seems to have yet to reach this particular corner of south London.

Pictures are taken from the Cenci website. 

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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Last-Year Buy: UNIQLO x Orla Kiely blouse and Monki Gurli top

After my recent couple of buys, I was meant to be holding back on spending on clothes. Instead, I accompanied a friend shopping, did the classic "oh, I'll just try some stuff on to keep you company in the changing room" and ended up walking away with more things than her. Oops.

I love Orla Kiely but had avoided her UNIQLO x Orla Kiely collection mainly because most of the tops just looked too Orla. This is probably the least recognisable in the range, and I fell for it because of the autumnal colours and also partly because it reminded me of my long-lost, genuinely 1960s and sadly missed top from Vintage Hart.

More influence of The Gentlewoman effect: this Gurli top from Monki. It's suede. I feel vaguely pulled together when I wear it. It makes people stroke me in a slightly inappropriate way. Even more out of character for me was another purchase from Monki: a pair of jeans. The jeans and the top have had two outings so far: a visit to see the magnificent Walkmen at the Forum and a whistle-stop trip up to Edinburgh to catch up with some old university friends. My wallet is now being firmly locked away until Christmas.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Last-Year Reads: Anita Colby's Beauty Book

Want to be a star? Want to be a star in 1950s style? Then Anita Colby's 1952 Beauty Book is the guide for you.

Colby was a model turned star-maker who worked at David O. Selznick's film studio during the 1940s as 'Feminine Director', basically coaching, grooming and perfecting the latest batch of beauties to arrive in Hollywood. In this book she divulges some of the secrets to her success.

The more I read of these kinds of books, I realise how little the essential advice has changed over the years. The key to beauty is always a combination of a good diet and exercise, dressing well, keeping your mind active (cf Eileen Ford) and having fun (a la Lilly Daché). So why are people still buying these guides? And why aren't we all stunning beautiful? Probably because we lack the determination to see it through. At least Anita Colby is honest: "It will never be a lazy life, being a beauty", she warns her readers.

Colby's book offers a four week "beauty and charm" course promising a "complete re-make of yourself". She's one driven woman (and talented too, the charming illustrations littering the book are also her own). To participate in the programme she requires her readers to undertake some ruthless self-analysis too, in the style of Edith Head's How To Dress for Success book. Those poor Hollywood starlets. There are problems I would never have thought of. "Is your hairline too low?" she asks. Apparently you can have a pear-shaped face as well as a figure (I'm now convinced I do). As part of the program, each day gives you a different task, whether that's tackling your eyebrows or your feet. If you had the time and energy to devote to the book, I'm sure most of them would bring results.

One of Colby's more unusual bits of advice is something she calls "The Hollywood Slant on Beauty", basically reclining with your feet in the air (ironing boards will do the trick) as an essential anti-ageing exercise. Once in the position, simply "Relax here for 15 to 20 minutes seeing black and seeing blank. Think of Nothing Except to Count Your Blessings". The important of the exercise runs throughout the book - she urges you to even brush your hair in this position. It's obviously something she feels strongly about - she patented a design for a chair which converts to an inclined bed.

Colby also takes on interiors, viewing them, in quite a Hollywood way. as an extension to your interior life. She quotes Hitchcock on Joe Platt's set for Rebecca: "this is the first time I've used an empty room as a portrait of a woman." Naturally she covers hostessing too.

For all its useful advice, the Beauty Book can't quite extract itself from the era in which it was written. Who doesn't think of the plight of downtrodden 50s housewives when they read that the supposed key to happiness is "to give yourself away"? I think I'll happily take Anita Colby's beauty tips, and I'm full of admiration for her extraordinary dedication to the beauty cause but I'll look for the life philosophising elsewhere.

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Last-Year Buy: Cos wool circle skirt and Topshop shimmer skirt

Well readers, I bought it. That 'grown-up' wool circle skirt from Cos that I mentioned last week. However, I never thought my grown-up purchase would be so fun to wear. It's full, it's heavy, it swishes in a very satisfactory way as I walk and splays out in a ladylike manner when I sit. Fantastic, until someone plonks themselves down next to me on the train of course.

As if to atone for this fairly sensible buy, I also bought this shimmer skirt, currently in the Topshop sale. A bit of shimmer and sparkle always makes me feel happier on grey days, and I especially love this skirts mermaid-like colour.

Both fall slightly below the knee, my new favourite length and, joy of joys, both skirts have pockets - something in women's clothes, according to Ernestine Carter, we can thank Chanel for.

Chanel, Carter, mermaid and being a grown-up justifications aside, both are great, wearable skirts which I'm looking forward to swooshing round in this Autumn.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Street Corner Soul: songs of love and lust and hopes and dreams

Since I started living by myself, I've got really bad about sending myself to sleep: there's always another pretty thing to look at on the internet, something to tidy away, another chapter to read. Sometimes the bleary eyes and dark circles the next day are well worth it, as with the case of Street Corner Soul.


It's a four part series on early doo-wop bands narrated by the mighty Ronnie Spector, which 6 Music put out at midnight each night last week (though I think it was on Radio 2 before then). Please be quick and catch it on iPlayer.


Utterly fascinating stuff, these songs from the 1940s and 50s have remained with us thanks to their use on films (thanks Dirty Dancing), TV shows and countless covers, though the names of the bands that originally sang them have largely slipped out of public knowledge. And what names they have! The Flamingos, The Zodiacs, The Cadillacs...


The stories behind the songs are no less evocative, with descriptions of how Alan Freed's groundbreaking radio show use to blare out of windows in a scorching New York summer. Or Ronnie herself coming face-to-face with her teen idol Frankie Lymon (of 'Why Do Fools Fall in Love?' fame) only to discover he stank of booze. There's also more than a fair share of tragedy and heartbreak that goes on too.


There's no playlists given on the 6 Music site so I had a go at compiling my own on Spotify here. Let me know any important omissions and mistakes. And enjoy. As Ronnie says, these bands were singing songs of "love and lust and hopes and dreams". What more could you possibly want?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Prints charming

If you follow me in Pinterest, you'll know how much I enjoy a good pattern on a dress. Woodland creatures, beasts from the sea and even the Eastenders map: the shops are overflowing with them at the moment. Here's just a few of my favourites, going from the left:

So why, in the midst of all this frock frivolity, is the thing I'm craving most for my wardrobe this Autumn is this?

Perhaps this Autumnal style crisis is to be a regular thing? I blame The (otherwise excellent) Gentlewoman for making me feel like I should dress like a grown-up. I'm going to lock myself in a room with a copy of Lula until I'm back to my old self and feel like wearing cacti and perfume bottles across my chest once more...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Last-Year Reads: Magic Names of Fashion by Ernestine Carter

Sometimes, with the huge volumes of superlatives and glossy pictures surrounding the world of fashion, you just want someone to tell it as it as. That's the joy of Ernestine Carter's Magic Names of Fashion. Published in 1980, Carter's authoritative and intelligent writing make it a joy to read 32 years later.

 Carter started her career in MoMA in the late 1920s, before moving to London with her British husband. She became fashion editor for Harper's Bazaar in 1946 and went on to write for the Observer. By 1968 she was associate editor for The Sunday Times and was responsible for establishing the position of fashion within the paper, as well as supporting Britain's emerging designers in the 60s. Magic Names of Fashion utilizes her extensive fashion knowledge, comprising neat extended profiles of important fashion designers, editors and publishers, starting with Beau Brummell and running through to Yves Saint Laurent. It's a great primer into each of the names, welding descriptions of their personality with their creations.

The book is unillustrated, except for witty illustrations by Maureen Bourke at the start of each profile, such as the Schiaparelli example above. This means you're left with Carter's descriptive power to pinpoint the magic quality of each designer. Thankfully, this is something she seems to hone in on with a killer instinct: Chanel is "an extraordinary woman who raised egocentricity to an art", while Pucci's "special achievement was to change the look of women under the sun". Her profiles extend to the fashion media too. There's a fascinating section on Edna Woolman Chase editorship at Vogue and Carmel Snow's at Harper's Bazaar and what they each did to change the face of each magazine.

But what makes these names magic? In the introduction she argues that "such personalities much be so positive, so individual, so incorrigibly original that their imprint is immediately recognisable and indelibly stamped not only on clothing but on the taste and style of living of their time." It's this logic which leads to the inclusion - alongside names of masters like Dior, Balenciaga and Worth - of Laura Ashley. Laura Ashley, who to contemporary eyes, seems to rely on a very conservative, almost regressive look, begins to sound fresh again through the words of Carter, if not also timely for 2012: "Women were beginning to be sick of the decadent pastiches of the Thirties, the Art Deco tat, the second-hand clothes look. They were ready for the clean country look of a more innocent past. Laura Ashley was the answer."

Her analysis of then-contemporary fashion is also spot on. 'Star Spangled Fashion' puts Calvin Klein - though by then a millionaire still not at the height of his late 80s/90s fame - alongside the Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell as proponents of "America's unique contribution to fashion": "careless ease."

Though the book end with a note about the "confused state of the world and fashion", you finish the book feeling anything but confusion. It's written with such clarity and authority it makes you wish there was a similar survey available to so deftly guide you through the different fashion names clamouring for attention today.

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Last-Year Buy: Kinder Shoes from Topshop

What I'm stomping around in this Autumn: Kinder shoes from Topshop. I keep describing them as my school shoes, although I think I'd have collapsed with over-excitement if I had actually been allowed to wear patent shoes to school. When you're a grown-up you get to wear patent whenever you want which, I've found out since buying these shoes, is quite a lot.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Last-Year Shops: By Retro, Istanbul

I spend a lot of time in second-hand stores. More so than ever recently because I've been working on an exciting soon-to-be revealed new project. I thought I'd try and write about some of my favourite stores, or the more unusual ones, as a new series as this kind of information can be surprisingly frustrating to pin down even in the days of t'internet.

Second-hand or 'vintage' stores divide people into different types of shoppers: do you like everything to be shifted through before it hits the shop floor, and only the best items displayed? Or do you prefer a rummage, searching through piles of stuff to pull out a dusty number which requires some repairs but then will be perfect? Do you care what era the item came from, or anything about where it was made? Or is it enough for it to look nice? I'm probably a mixture of all of the above.

(Don't worry I will get to the ceramic bunny wearing sunglasses at the top of the post.)

My first shop By Retro in Istanbul is a slightly odd example but I'll start here as it made me really question what I liked about second-hand stores. It made me realise that my favourite kind of second-hand store are the ones where I can picture myself wearing things. That sounds a ridiculous revelation, I know, as everyone likes shops where they find stuff they want to wear. I'll try and elaborate. We were walking down one of Istanbul's main shopping streets on holiday when I spotted the sign to By Retro. It said it was the world's (THE WORLD'S!) second biggest vintage store.* The heart palpitations started along with the mental calculations of how much I could justify spending, as I pictured row upon row of delicious cotton dresses, exquisite sixties shifts and 70s numbers to float about in till the end of my days.

Inside, it was undeniably large. It took a fair while to walk around and look through but ultimately I left feeling disappointed. Turkish fashion - especially historically - is different to my taste and to the kind of British and American vintage I'm so used to seeing. As a whole, the selection of clothes available were a really interesting rebalance to the Paris/London/New York dress history we're told over and over again. As a predominantly Muslim country, things are more modestly cut and, while I don't think of myself as a skimpy kind of dresser, it looks like I am by Turkish standards. If I'd wanted a long woollen winter coat, I would have been spoilt for choice while Libertines fans would have been in raptures over the military jackets. To be honest, I'd have a great time dressing for Abigail's Party here. The only things I really could picture from here in my wardrobe were the accessories: shoes, bags and - my only purchase - the sunglasses pictured at the top of my post. The lenses seem extra dark by British standards - probably because the sun can be extra bright in Turkey. I like to imagine them on a 70s woman, glamorous in a scarf and lots of gold jewellery, enjoying her cigarette.

The cigarette bit is probably inspired by the staff at By Retro who were all puffing away, despite the fact they were in a basement stuffed full of polyester and other highly flammable materials. That's possibly another reason why I didn't linger as long as I might have hoped. But, in the world of vintage, it made me realise how important my own cultural background is to how I see clothes, in thinking about what I might want to wear and also in imagining the back stories for the clothes as I look at them: I could picture the lady wearing the sunglasses so I bought them, while almost everything else failed to spark my imagination as it fell outside of my frame of references. Perhaps I'm not so open-minded about clothes as I like to think I am.

This was the first time I've visited a dedicated vintage store outside of the UK, USA or western Europe, so I wondered if any of you had similar experiences?

The rest of this series will be about shops where you'd want to buy lots of things, promise...

* is this true? I haven't been able to verify it. And, if it is, what's the world's biggest? And what's your favourite? 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Last-Year Buy: Fish and Chips plate

These plates, which I wrote about over at Domestic Sluttery, are completely to blame for this new gluttonous addition to my collection of ceramics. I'm salivating at the very thought of haddock and chips, bread and butter and mushy peas.

I found this at one of West Norwood's Emmaus charity shops, a fantastic source of second-hand fripperies. Also purchased was a copy of Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos, though sadly not a replacement for the decanter which had been the motivating force behind this particular charity shop crawl. Who knew a mis-aimed dart had the force to smash a glass decanter?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Holiday reading

Aside from good food and new sights, one of my favourite things about holidays is the opportunity to read. I mean reading in huge chunks and not coming up for air, the way you devoured books as a kid.

All the beautiful scenery and lots of games of travel scrabble meant I only got through four (!) books this holiday. Picked slightly randomly the stories which dealt with things like relationship break-downs, depression, car crashes and domestic abuse perhaps weren't all ideal 'holiday' reading (something of a tradition of mine - I read the Jean Rhys biography while on a beach in Crete), but all come recommended. Maybe don't read them back-to-back though.

Girl Reading by Katie Ward ended up in my luggage thanks to it being the Domestic Sluttery book club book. You can read more about it over there but basically it's a series of short stories, each based around a different painting or photograph of a girl reading. The final story then attempts to draw them all together but, probably purposefully, leaves more questions unanswered than it solves. My interest in the book really varied story to story - I loved the Victorian spiritualists while all the contemporary references in the Shoreditch story made me want to gag a little.

Not pictured is Manhattan, When I Was Young, a biography by Mary Cantwell. Cantwell worked for Mademoiselle in New York in the 50s. It's less about this apparently dream lifestyle and more about her depression and the breakdown of her marriage. Beautiful and heartbreaking, she uses the apartments and the houses which she lived in to structure the story, capturing a now lost Manhattan. Her and her contemporaries are adorably in thrall to the glamour and excitement of Paris, and one of the episodes sees her and her husband, a book editor, flying over to meet with Alice B. Toklas.

Toklas and Gertrude Stein also appeared in my next book, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, the fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley. If you've any interest at all in that period, it's completely fascinating and it made me want to go back to A Moveable Feast again to read Hemingway's original account of the episodes used to form The Paris Wife. His extreme masculine pigheaded self-righteousness made me want to throw the book across the room on quite a few occasions. Urgh.

Finally, The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles took me back to New York, this time in the 1930s. The story of Katey Kontent, a young flapper, it's something of a flit through jazz age society that's striving towards some greater point. Quite often unbelievable, frequently hilarious and never anything less than engrossing, I read it in its entirety on the plane home. London looked even greyer and duller by comparison by the time I finally looked up from the page.

And now I'm stumped for what to read next. I want something absorbing to get me through the rainy days and ever-longer evenings. Any suggestions?
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