Monday, 30 January 2012

We'll Take Manhattan

My weekend was full of fashion fun times. I finally made it to Alfie's Antique Market and The Girl Can't Help It. Despite their relocation sale, their clothes were too pricey for me. Still, it's always fun to look at proper quality vintage and afterwards I consoled myself by buying the heart shorts from River Island (the matching top had cut out shoulders - I'm still having a think about that). I decided Claire McCardell was my new fashion heroine after finally laying my hands on a copy of What Shall I Wear? and I finished Auntie Mame, one of the funniest and most charming books I've read for ages. While not strictly fashion related, Aunt Mame's various character transformations in 1920s, 30s and 40s New York demanded serious sartorial respect. It also put me in the perfect frame of mind to watch We'll Take Manhattan, BBC4's New York based Jean Shrimpton and David Bailey drama.

It tells the story of their shoot for the April 1962 British Vogue, where Bailey and Shrimpton were sent to New York with Lady Clare Rendlesham as his editor to shoot a feature for their 'Young Ideas' section. Bailey insisted on using his lover Jean Shrimpton as model. The programme focuses on the clash between old and young, posh and working class, and the first rumblings of the youthquake in Britain.

From the second the John French images were used over the opening credits and seeing him portrayed in the very early scenes with a Jean Dawnay-type, I knew I was going to enjoy a great big fashion geek-out and it was this kind of detail that I most savoured. I did really enjoy the programme - Bailey was awkward and stubborn and sexy, the Shrimp transformed beautifully under the eye of the camera and Bailey. However, the portrayal of the constant bickering and fighting on the shoot did begin to grind me down too, and I was relieved when this was resolved, the photographs were discovered to be a great success, and we could go back to seeing them meeting Diana Vreeland in the American Vogue offices, wearing Mary Quant and the like.

I also thought the claim they revolutionised fashion was over-played. The photographs are brilliant, and both Shrimpton and Bailey became icons of the 60s, but the idea that they somehow managed to overthrow the class system through the downfall of Lady Clare? How I laughed. No-one today would ever consider the staff of Vogue to be examples of class equality. And, as the programme showed, both Mary Quant and The Beatles were already on their own paths to reshaping youth culture. 

(via French Sampler)

We'll Take Manhattan did send me, and probably thousands of others, back to the original photographs. I've got a copy of the above image stashed away somewhere. I had torn it out of somewhere where it had been reproduced without knowing what it was.  The casual form and the dreamy colours against the built-up urban environment and the grainy quality of the photograph (now I know that was brought about by the use of 35mm film) create a startling image. And here it is, being recreated to the best of Karen Gillan's abilities in the programme. 

Nowness have this interesting film on their site about how they recreated or found the locations of the shoot, like the fence outside the UN shown at the top. It does, however, shatter some of the illusions of the programme: if you don't want to find out that some of the New York scenes were in fact shot in Bermondsey look away now.


Friday, 27 January 2012

Last-Year Music: Knickers

With a band name that could have probably come straight out of the mouth of Lynda in Wish You Were Here, a 60s girl group sound and extra points for use of parenthesis in their song title, it's hardly surprising that I'm playing My Baby's Just a Baby (But I Love Him So) by Knickers on repeat. Last night, Mark Riley put it on air straight after Be my Baby and, well, it blew my M&S ready meal out of the water as the highlight of my evening.

There's very little about them online (in fact if you try and google the song the fourth entry is a charming sounding feature entitled 'I had a baby in my pants!') so I'll simply leave you with this image of some pretty amazing under-drawers, courtesy of the wicked Wicked Knickers tumblr.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

So Last-Year: River Island heart print

River Island will always be the stuff of nostalgia to me. Growing up, it was one of the few high street stores that you would actually want to shop in on my actual high street and their decoupage-style carrier bags were THE bag to use carry your PE kit to school.

The same store is also a great place for bargains come the Christmas sales: there always seems to be a host of pretty dresses or skirts in there that haven't quite hit their target market but suit my taste quite perfectly (see this yuletide haul for proof).

I'm still longing after that YSL poppy print I wrote about back in December, while I spent a long time stroking the Sonia heart print blouse in the Harvey Nichols sale. Thankfully River Island have delved into their Chelsea Girl archives and produced these numbers.

It's the YSL look for a grand total of £38. Perfect for Valentines-themed dressing too, if you go for that kind of stuff (I definitely do).

I can't quite see anyone sporting them down at the Pier in Cleethorpes so hopefully that means they'll still be around - and at even more of a bargain price - when I next go up to visit my folks.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Last-Year Reads: Model Girl

Jean Dawnay with John French: "To every model at the beginning of her career he is a sort of God"
(via Larkabout)

The glimpse behind the scenes at Ford Models got me searching for a book that told you really what it was like to model in that period. A scour of the further reading section of The Golden Age of Couture lead me to this book: Model Girl by Jean Dawnay. Written in 1956, it's her recollections about working as a model in the early fifties.

As she admits, she was lucky enough to be one of the successful ones. The book opens with her hanging about in Majorca with Grace Kelly, she modelled for Dior, was photographed by the likes of Louise Dahl-Wolfe and John French and after this book was written, like Ms Kelly, even ended up marrying a prince (she's now known as Princess Jean Galitzine and her daughter is 612th in line to the throne according to - who else? - the Daily Mail).

While she has all these fantastic experiences, the tone of the book makes it all seem very matter of fact and she takes pains to emphasise that modelling is a job like any other. There's lots of detail on the day-to-day business of modelling which is interesting in how it differs from today. Each model had to provide their own accessories and jewellery and, most of the time, do their own make-up too. She cites Max Factor's Pan-Stick or Revlon's Touch and Glo as model favourites and it's interesting to see how their tricks - such as putting white theatrical paint on inside rim of the lids next to the eye for wide-eyed look - have now been made into proper cosmetics and entered the mainstream.

For me, the most enjoyable bits were when she encountered those people who now shape our idea of what fashion was in this period: designers, fashion editors and photographers, as well as fellow models such as Barbara Goalen and Susan Abraham. She modelled for a season for Dior, which is a fascinating chapter giving an insight into the hysteria that surrounded his clothes in the 50s. Dior named her 'Caroline' so as not to get her confused with another model and gave her the designs he'd christened things like ""Innocence" and "Angelique". Jean/Caroline laments: "I wanted so much to be sophisticated but obviously M. Dior had a different picture of me"

She loved working for John French who was her favourite photographer - they're pictured together at the top of this post - and, although she doesn't get to model for Richard Avedon, she is extremely impressed when she gets to witness him at work with Dorian Leigh: "He is always several steps ahead in his ideas and sets standards which other photographers learn by and try to attain."

An initially less happy encounter was a session with Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Jean writes: "She was a nightmare to work with - nervous and irritable, which made me feel the same ... I was astounded when, not only did she book me again and again, but all the results were marvellous." This initial stand-off is put down to nerves on both sides.

Her experience in New York is an interesting one. Already having cracked London and Paris, she goes to try her luck and initially fails miserably. She has a brief dealing with Eileen Ford and goes and sees an unimpressed Elizabeth Arden. She eventually gets booked for a job, only to find out it's for nightwear, a no-no in her eyes. The photographer is "staggered, as all the models in New York do lingerie and he'd never heard of such a quaint idea before!" (compare this to the Ford's rules on appropriateness, given to Life magazine only a few years before).

Eventually she realises her error is British modesty and to succeed she has to become her own publicist which yields much better results. However, it's during Jean's time in New York you get the sense that modelling is shifting to become the industry it is today. The models are all much thinner, thanks to a diet she claims is comprised of benzedrine, dexadrine and black coffee, and the photographers are the hardest to work for due to their exacting standards. The result is that the quality of the magazines is the highest, and the "really great American models are the best in the world ... they have a fabulous air of freshness which comes from impeccable grooming down to the last eyelash."

There's no scandal in Model Girl, or startling insights and, on the whole, it is a very unglamorous read for a book whose author ends up marrying a prince. However, it is a good peek behind the couture house doors of this "golden age" for fashion, and worth noting for how things have moved on since it was written.  

And for that I can raise my glass to Ms Dawnay...

(via Glamoursplash)

If anyone has any good recommendations for books about the modelling industry in the 40s or 50s, Paris, New York or London, please let me know. I'd love to hear your tips. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Screen testing

In the spirit of trying something new each week, last week I went to a screen-printing class at The Make Lounge. We were asked to bring images with us of things we'd like to print and typically I came armed with a whole stack of images and inspiration taken from the books at work. Here are my first attempts.

1) The letter F on a tote bag (placed off-centre but I did that on purpose, honest). I have a narcissistic love of things with my initial on them and the stars were partly inspired by all the fun and energy of some of Zandra Rhodes's initial parts but mostly because they are one of the things I like doodling. Or, as the tutor pointed out, it could be 'F' for 'Fireworks'. Yeah that.

2) In primary school, did you have that thing where your peg, drawer and seat were all marked with a symbol as well as your name? My symbol was a rose and I've loved them ever since. My rose print tea towel was a mixture of that and an attempt to mix some of the Art Deco-style roses from this book with a 70s print from this forthcoming book.

My fellow students produced some wonderful things including bicycles, houses, birds and cats and I would have happily taken home all of them.  I loved getting my head around the screen-printing process and the blocky and bright results and I really want to play around more with more colours and patterns.

At the moment my tea towel is covering my bedside table which itself is covered in things to cheer me up rather than anything especially useful, while my books, magazines and papers are sprawled all over the floor. Also on the table: a Marimekko mug from their beautiful Helsinki range, an Orla Kiely purse, a bowl and glass from a Tiger trip (my new favourite shop for 'bits') and Nancy and Betty seaside postcards.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Last-Year Reads: A Fashion Alphabet

The final book in my Janey Ironside reading is A Fashion Alphabet. Written in 1968, it's her attempt to pin-down the "ever-expanding vocabulary of fashion" through describing its main terms, and in turn to reinforce the view that "Fashion in clothing is one of the great living arts of civilisation". Rather than simply running from A to Z, the book is organised into separate sections on things such as fashion silhouettes, outlines of clothes, accessories, footwear and hair. Each is illustrated with lovely line drawings by Susan Smallwood.

It gives an idea of what a good teacher Janey Ironside must have been. It's precise - as well as the 49 types of collars mentioned, there's also 22 types of sleeves for example - but also observant and witty. Though looking quite straight, it frequently goes on interesting diversions such as the history of spectacles, or her option on things like the importance of keeping your hairstyle up-to-date.

The section on hairstyles is one of my favourites. In Janey she writes about how she heeds her own advice with regular visits to Vidal Sassoon for new styles. The only one she notes that was a failure is the Greek God, which is defined and illustrated above if, like me, you wouldn't have a clue how to spot one on the street. I love the exact manner in which she dates the hair styles: the Greek God in 1967, the Abstract (another Vidal creation) to 1964. Her descriptions here are very amusing:

"The Brigitte Bardot: ... Like Juliette Greco's hairstyle, a parental and teacher's anathema. Equally unsuitable for anyone over 30".

""Mop (also called Freak-Out): Jimi Hendrix or Harpo Marx, according to your generation"

As both the two other books illustrate, part of Janey's skill was picking up on the spirit of what was going on about her and that's also true here. So while she does tick all the high fashion boxes with definitions of things like "A Line" and "Space Age", her section on Fashion Silhouettes and Looks also features street style alongside the designers. She cites Teds as the "first of many trendsetters from the working-class as opposed to the time-honoured convention of fashion working 'downwards'." Mods, meanwhile, "were very clean and neat and both wore close cut hair. Their rather angelic appearance was slightly belied by some of their more bellicose activities."

It's quite sad to realise what a limited vocabulary you have when it comes to describing beautiful clothes properly and to read about the gorgeous sounding terms that have fallen out of fashion. It's also evidence of that truism for how some things have changed,  other things seem to have not changed at all. In a typically chatty style, Janey writes:

"Perhaps as this is a dictionary and must be precise, I should not attempt to define such a variable image, but ever since the "Greenery-Yalleries" of Pre-Raphaelite days ... there has been a Chelsea Look centred round the King's Road, London, which becomes almost a uniform amongst its own set and is imitated elsewhere". Fans of Made in Chelsea take note.

You can read my about Janey Ironside's autobiography here, or her daughter's account of their relationship here

Monday, 16 January 2012

Last-Year Buy: Karen Walker patches tee

Remember Karen Walker's northern soul inspired North collection? While I couldn't justify buying the go go dancer dress, when I saw that her patches tee had gone into the sale at ASOS, I knew it had to be mine.

I like it even more in reality. I think I probably look like an over-enthusiastic girl guide but I love the feeling I'm in a secret gang.

(although, as I think this picture indicates, perhaps I should spend less time daydreaming about clothes and more time cleaning the smears off my bathroom mirror)

Friday, 13 January 2012

Last-Year Reads: Janey and Me

Janey and Me is the second of the trio of books I read about Janey Ironside this Christmas (the first one Janey, her autobiography, is here). This title especially wasn't happy holiday reading. Written by her daughter Virginia Ironside, who I knew best through her Dilemmas column for the Independent, it's about their complicated relationship, apparent from its sub-title, 'Growing up with my mother'.

Virginia quotes extensively from Janey and The Fashion Alphabet to retell Janey Ironside's story. Through this book, the scope of what Janey achieved professionally is made even more apparent. It shows her devotion to her students and their work and in return how some (though not all) worshipped her in return. She scoured portfolios searching for spark and originality, rather than finesse, and in the process opened her RCA course to Northern working class students such as Ossie Clark and Antony Price. She is quoted as saying: "People have frequently asked me, especially foreigners, what my secret is, producing all these bright people. The answer is there is no secret. It's the social revolution. There are no class barriers to design." The book emphasises her belief that the achievement of good design was actually a moral imperative.

Janey's career achievements are set against her deep unhappiness, her depression, sexual promiscuity and alcoholism. It completely changes how I read Janey.Virginia writes about how her father hated parties, but how her mother craved that social environment. Suddenly the neediness in Janey's own book becomes apparent, such as when she wrote, "A reason for my own love of parties was that my clothes ... designed and made by myself, were usually a success and my appearance was praised."

The book shows the complex push and pull between both the mother and daughter. The pride in her achievements - still evident as this Daily Mail article shows - versus the knowledge she was a demanding and distant mother (after her parents divorced, Virginia went to live with her father Christopher). The final years of Janey are desperately sad and hard to reconcile with how her public persona has been portrayed. As part of the conclusion to the book, these sides are patched together, perhaps as best they can be:

"The truth was my mother was an icon. An icon is not really a person. An icon is something sparkling and brittle. If you are an icon, you cannot, I think, be a mother."

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Film inspiration: Wish You Were Here

The 1950s and the British seaside: I'm not sure why it had taken me so long to watch Wish You Were Here. Set in a small and dull seaside town at the start of the decade, it's the story of bored and vulnerable teenage Lynda. Flirtatious, fun and very messed up, she's played brilliantly by Emily Lloyd. She's also given one of the best catchphrases in "Up Yer Bum" (I certainly plan on using it in more conversation from now on).

Made in 1987, this is the 50s filtered through the 80s and Lynda is given lovely pastel pinks, mints and yellows to wear through the film which are set off by virginal white accessories and some excellent homespun-looking knitwear. It's a look that's very pretty, and should probably be also accessorised with a bike - just as Lynda does.

Wish You Were Here

Trying not to give too much of the plot away, the following grouping of clothes is inspired by the closing scene where Lynda arrives back at the town off a local bus, looking completely splendid in yellow. There's also a not-so-subtle clue here as to Lynda's fate. 
Wish You Were Here Too

Up yer bum!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Peter Pan: the collar that never grows up

"Necklines always make headlines ... Undoubtedly one woman may look charming and youthful in a Peter Pan collar - another may look as though she were mutton dressed up as lamb; one may look very chic in a polo neck and another may look as if she were a kennel-maid manque. Only hats, when they are in fashion, can do as much to help a woman or to kill her looks."
'Collars and Necklines', Janey Ironside, A Fashion Alphabet

Thanks to ladies Alexa and Zooey, there seems to have been one kind of neckline dominating the fashion headlines recently: the Peter Pan collar. Favoured in the 1930s, it was picked up again in the 1960s when a generation of young starlets used them to emphasise their wide-eyed youth or play against their not-so-innocent reputation. What neckline could look more charming on Mia, Catherine or Marianne? 

Perhaps it's because I'm reaching the age where Peter Pan collars could make me look (as Janey warns) as mutton dressed as lamb but I'm finally beginning to get bored of the endless rehashes of this style used as a short cut to 'indie' style. At least Mary Quant made her collars more interesting by making them detachable. 

For collar alternatives take a look at Fiona looking internet fabulous at the Save Our Shoes blog in her Cleo Ferin Mercury detachable illustrated number, or Refinery 29's four collar DIYs which had me well and truly messing up my Amazon recommendations by looking for collar tips.

However, there's still a lot more scope to get creative with collars. Janey Ironside's Fashion Alphabet lists a massive 49 different types of collars and necklines including Bryonic, Bertha, Cossack, Puritan and Highwayman collars. Such poetic-sounding names and styles are crying out to be reintroduced into more common circulation. When I look at these beautiful alternatives, it makes me vow to be more adventurous in my collar of choice. Afterall, as Janey writes, "there is vital importance in a neckline".

(via Flickr)

Surely now Royals are apparently our style icons once again, Di's favourite kind of collar - the piecrust - is due for a revival? (I meant Princess Diana but it's worn here by Lady Diana Rigg). 

(Vogue November 1971)

Don't you think this (unnamed) model looks a bit like Vogue's cover girl last month, Florence Welch?

Though perhaps a Steve Strange Elizabethan-style ruff is taking it all a step too far. 

Friday, 6 January 2012

Last-Year Reads: Janey

(via Frivolene)

The name Janey Ironside comes up again and again in books about 60s and 70s fashion designers. She was Professor of Fashion at the Royal College of Art and is credited for having taught and inspired such designers as Bill Gibb, Foale and Tuffin and Ossie Clark. This Christmas I had a bit of a Janey Ironside theme - fascinating from a fashion viewpoint but not really the most festive choice, as you'll see - and read Janey, her autobiography which was published in 1973, A Fashion Alphabet, a fun A To Z on fashion and clothing terminology that she compiled, and Janey and Me, a more contemporary book written by her daughter Virginia Ironside about their complex relationship. First off the blocks and onto the blog, is Janey.

Janey is recommended reading for people obsessed with swinging London scene, and what is was like to be part of that fashion world. It's a fascinating read, wittily told, starting with her childhood in India and following  her distinguished career which spanned the shift in fashion from revered salons through to the stylistic freedoms of the sixties and seventies. She worked as assistant to Madge Garland, the first Professor of Fashion at the RCA and a former Vogue fashion editor, left to run her own dressmaking business - largely producing Paris-influenced fashions for those who wanted the look on the cheap - before succeeding Garland as the RCA's Professor of Fashion. Always chic, she perfected an immaculate uniform for her new role, dressing in dark colours set off with white, dramatising her dark hair and pale skin with striking red lipstick. She wrote: ""I unconsciously carried out Dior's maxim that to please a man, or to stop a show, use black, white and scarlet." It was at the RCA she was at her most influential and she devoted her time and considerable energy to her cultivating her students and their future careers.

(via Afterdark)

On her appointment to the RCA position, a Daily Mirror journalist asked her about her aims in her new position. She replied "I want to try and promote an internationally accepted new English look". The disbelieving journalist, who like the rest of the world was still in awe of the fashion dominance of Paris, didn't print the quote. Yet this is exactly what her students help to promote and were a vital part of the shifting social scene in Britain and the world in that period. When Janey was assisting Madge Garland, she noted the groomed and formal atmosphere at a Hardy Amies show: 

"Paste brooches gleamed on labels, extravagant hats sat on newly coiffured hair, the whitest of white gloves were worn with handbags from Hermes and scarves from Jacqmar".

Compare that to her description of a show from her former student, Ossie Clark: 

"Ossie's clothes, his wife's Celia's prints, and his outrageously wonderful model girls are now famous, drawing unpackable-in crowds of the most trendy from Cecil Beaton to David Hockey." Or, in the case of this clip, two Beatles' watching Patti Boyd model.

Although the 60s is considered the era of the boutique, part of Janey's successes as Professor was to increase links and opportunities  for her students within the mass-fashion industry. She also set up a menswear course. In an interview she was asked who she considered a stylish man. She was ridiculed by the press for her answer of Mick Jagger (rather than a tweed suited chap), again surely only going to illustrate how she had her finger on the pulse about what was really going on in the UK. The menswear course produced Antony Price amongst many others best known, of course, for helping to create Bryan Ferry's suited look. 

Describing Antony Price's work she praises "an imaginative cut in his garments ... one or two of the most advanced ideas (or the most backward looking, whichever way you look at it)". Like many of her students, he was looking to the 1930s for inspiration for new look rather than to the 'futuristic' Space Age designs of Courreges and the like. It was a generation who saw the 1930s through plays and fashion magazines and saw its glamour, in contrast to their parents who had lived through it. Janey felt the role of designers were to pick up on such moods and articulate them through fashion: "Successful designers themselves interpret the unconscious desires of the majority, without thinking 'why', but knowing intuitively that this is the way that things must go to be right for the moment." Not just in fashion, all designers were dependent on "a feeling for what is in the air, for what is right now ... obviously all designers are highly sensitive to the spirit or atmosphere of the times."

Not distinguishing between fashion and other forms of design, it came as a massive blow to Janey when, in 1967, all the schools in the RCA were granted permission to award the degree B.A. with the sole exception of her fashion department. After various battles she resigned from her role. Although she does discuss this in her book, the consequences of her loss of position are more fully dealt with in the Virginia Ironside book. Janey is written six years after this event and concludes with more general thoughts about fashion. Like Kennedy Fraser in The Fashionable Mind (which was written roughly about the same time), she seems to see this moment as a watershed one for fashion:

"The standard I set at the Royal Collage of Art now operates everywhere ... It is a bad time for manufacturers too, because people do not 'wear clothes' nowadays. I don't mean that they go about naked but that there is no such fashion as such."

It's hard to conclude my thoughts about Janey, both the person and book, without referring too closely to Virginia Ironside's Janey and Me book which I hope to briefly write about later in the month. So, perhaps for now the best way to finish writing about Janey's autobiography, is to repeat her thoughts on the generation of fashion designers she helped to shape:

"England had produced a very interesting set of internationally known young designers who make for the few and charge high prices for beautiful and romantic clothes ... [who] show all the latent imagination and talent in the English. Not necessarily 'chic' but beautiful."

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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ford Models in the 40s

More Forties fashion. This time, however, it's the real thing rather than my or a designer's interpretation of it. Retronaut featured a selection of photographs by Nina Leen, taken inside an advertising agency in 1948. A bit more snooping and it turns out the agency is the famous Ford models (whose outrageously successful roster of models has included Dorian Leigh, Jean Patchett and Twiggy, as well as many more contemporary stars), and these images date from just two years after the agency was first founded by Jerry and Eileen Ford.

The images were reproduced in Life Magazine under the title 'Family-Style Model Agency'. Thanks to a scanned-in copy of the article, it's possible to see the story behind the pictures. The article reveals that at this time, the agency had 34 models and 8 telephones. Each model was paid $20 an hour with the Fords getting 10%.

This is Eileen Ford giving one of the models a foot bath - I can only guess that shoe in the foreground of the picture is pretty high and tight.

This is the model Joan Pedersen looking after a Ford baby as Eileen looks on from an overflowing desk (more bare feet!).

The models were given free sandwiches and cokes.

The feature emphasises that the agency does "high fashion" but definitely no "cheesecake pictures or deodorant ads". It finishes with this column showing the type of adverts banned by Ford. Hilariously, Life also holds all these images (without the eye-strips), so presumably the Ford models must have put their scruples aside to pose for these photographs.

A deodorant ad: considered not worthy of the girls' "special talents"

The bathtub pose: "vetoed" by the Fords.

The mixture of glamour and beauty amidst trying to maintain propriety and the mundanity of trying to run a business and family makes for a fascinating set of images and a story which I think would make for a great TV drama. Surely there is a network somewhere, looking for a rival to Mad Men, who would want to commission it?

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