Monday, 27 February 2012

Last-Year Reads: Eileen Ford's Beauty Now and Forever

I'm not sure how I ended up with a copy of Eileen Ford's Beauty Now and Forever in my hands. I think it was a result of an Abebooks binge after seeing the Ford Models in the 40s photographs and wanting to know more about the lady behind this wildly successful model agency. It turns out she had a lucrative side career in healthy and beauty advice books.  This particular title dates to 1977 and offers Eileen's tips from the modelling world on how to deal with the "crisis years" - that is those years of being over 35.

Her suggested answers are quite terrifying and give an insight into just how awful it could be to be a woman in the 1970s. There's a chapter on plastic surgery, there's a cringy chapter on sex (with illustrated exercises) and there some serious finger wagging. She asks, "what happened to the bright eyed girl who was never going to let her husband see her without makeup or her hair in rollers?". What indeed Eileen?

It's a bizarre hot-potch of advice. There's a recipe chapter where each dish is named after a top model - not apparently because they are the model's favourite dishes but seemingly randomly allocated, apparently as her salute to the models "for their continuing beauty as they graduate from Ford to their wonderful lives of today". Behold the Lauren Hutton salad, the Ali McGraw Green Beans and the Jean Shrimpton orange and mint salad. Or try holding down the Tippi Hedren Puree of Broccoli after reading the sex chapter.

Even more mystifying is the quiz to test if life is passing you by. Questions include What do you think of Bianca Jagger? Do you read the financial pages of a newspaper? (Obviously, the answer is that you should because "men love to talk finance and you're left out of many conversations if you can't at least listen intelligently") Have you ever tried TM? (that's transcendental meditation should you need to ask) and do you own a cuisinart? If you took the time to answer this quiz properly, I think you could safely conclude life was indeed passing you by. Truly it made me glad to have missed the 1970s.

The book concludes with interviews with models about how they are finding life over 35 and, oh my god, these beautiful woman make it sound deathly dull: Jean Patchett talks of enjoying bridge and needlepoint, Suzy Parker swims. Only Lisa Fonssagrives seems to come out with any dignity attached but then she did marry Irving Penn and take up sculpture.

In the book, Ford states that "everyone wants and needs to be healthy and attractive. We must make every possible effort to achieve that goal." She finishes with the single question: "why not you?". Aside from having a go with the cusinart which actually sounds quite fun, I finished the book being immensely happy that it wasn't me.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Peplums: frill seeking

A Fashion Alphabet, 'Peplum: A skirt with a hip yoke, very fashionable in the 1930s'

That's Janey Ironside's definition for these strange flounces that seem to have suddenly attached themselves to otherwise quite straightforward skirts and tops, and a term that seems to be plastered across fashion pages, ranging from Vogue to Reveal.


From what I can tell, the earliest peplums were attached to a skirt but over time were added to jackets too, or even a dress, such as in the stunning 1930s lace dress shown above (sold by Vintage-a-peel).

They were popular from the 1930s through to the 1950s, virtually disappeared in the silhouettes of the 60s and 70s (perhaps explaining why Janey's Ironside definition sees them as historic), coming back with a force in the 1980s and again for us lucky folks in 2012.


For me, they fit best with the styles associated with Dior's New Look: firmly putting the emphasis on the waist, they enhanced the feminine shape of a tailored suit or a pretty cocktail dress.


The 1980s used them as part of their reinterpretation of the 1950s to add impact and drama, as in the case of this wonderful  Zandra Rhodes top.


But in my mind they also call to mind the worst frills and flounces of the 80s, like this green creation. Perhaps that's why Phoebe Philo insistently called them 'basques' in her influential Spring/Summer 2012 collection for Celine - the peplum carries with it too many historical associations and not all of them good.

I don't think you realise how much you get used to seeing your body dressed a certain way until you try it in a completely new shape. The first peplum-enhanced outfits I tried on looked plain odd on me - why after years of trying to slim my body down, did I want to add volume? Did I look like I should be auditioning for the cast of a panto? (see also these shoes). My personal solution came when I was trying to find something to wear with a plain pencil skirt which was enjoying clinging to my runner's thighs and red wine tummy. Suddenly, by wearing a top with a handy peplum, all that was hidden and it created a shape that was uncharacteristically sexy for me. It's a solution that directly contradicts the advice given by Dior in his Little Dictionary of Fashion:

"If you have a slim hipline you can wear any type of skirt - pencil slim, gathered, bouffant or flared. But if you are not as slim as you would wish then you must avoid too much bunchiness in your skirts; never choose flounces or frills..."

Hum, Dior's advice, or four decades worth of fashion to search through for inspiration? It's a tough decision but I'd always call it on the side of experimentation. Go and have some fun with some frills and flounces.
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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Last-Year Buy: Peter Jensen heart shoes

These shoes date all the way back to the Autumn but were lost in a mass of moving. It isn't so much fun writing about heart-themed things when you're generally feeling a bit miserable.

Designed by Peter Jensen for ASOS (and currently on sale here), you may remember I had mentioned them as part of my general September style crisis. I ended up buying them in tan and blue as I thought that would be the most practical colour scheme. So much for my practicality: in reality I've had to wear them with various coloured tights to a general panto effect that no doubt delights my fellow commuters at Denmark Hill of a morning.

Anyway, it's Valentine's Day, I love a good theme (why is Valentine's Day such an annoying occasion but such fun to dress for?) and these shoes are this year's efforts. I would really love to bust out the River Island shorts but even by the fairly relaxed standards of our office I can't help but think they'd raise too many eyebrows...

Mad crazy love and Valentine's kisses to you all.

Friday, 10 February 2012

So Last-Year: Prada and Pins

The Prada Spring/Summer 2012 collection has already been plastered all over the internet and the glossiest of the magazines, with no less than the February Vogue and Elle covers to its credit. However, how could I not post about a collection with such an amazing retro 1950s and 60s Americana look, not to mention that amazing car print fabric?

In typical Prada style, the collection expertly walks that sexy/prim tightrope. The models are dressed in sweet colours, dripping in jewels, gripping onto clutch bags (the prettiest but surely the most movement restrictive kind of bag there is), baring their midriffs and yet somehow still come out looking cool and tough.

Then there are the amazing accessories. Perhaps this will be the year I invest in a proper pair of shades rather than still wearing the pair I got for £10 in TK Maxx in 1999. If any pair can tempt me to do that, I'm sure these are the ones.

And then the hot rod shoes.


I'm interested to see how this whole collection gets treated on the high street. I really hope it doesn't get watered down into insipid pastels and bustier tops that aren't suitable for anyone over the age of 13 - and that really shouldn't be worn by 13 year-olds at all. I've been watching ASOS like a hawk for their take on the look and so far have only found these. While they're a pretty cool colour paired with a perfect heel, their cars print is slightly too primary school, not enough "I'm playing hooky with my slightly too old and unsuitable boyfriend" for my tastes.

Finally, in vaguely related news, I have - like the rest of t'internet - joined Pinterest and have been clicking away. My favourite board is one devoted to perfect patterns, mainly full of some of the amazing prints on offer on the high street at the moment. Sharks, poodles, lanterns: they're all on there. If you are interested you can follow me here and do let me know if you are on it too.

Now excuse me while I go off to play hooky with my slightly too old and unsuitable boyfriend.

(Like a lot of this post, that last sentence falls into the 'wish list' category.)

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

So Last-Year: Teenage

There's a common link to lots of the things I like. Whether its gangs of the 1950smoody girl groups or melodramatic handkerchiefs there's part of me that's hung up on the idea of being an emotional, rebellious teenager again. In reality I was a very good, well-balanced teenager, so it's obviously my sub-conscious telling me off for not staying out a bit later, or ignoring my parents just that little more...

Whether you wasted your teenage years or spent your teenage years wasted, Jon Savage's Teenage is a fascinating book, charting that stage in life post-child, pre-grown-up in the decades before it became categorised as teenage. It's a massive book but well worth the effort: I still remember the description of the short jackets with boxy shoulders worn with mini mouse shoes by girl zazous in occupied France or the girl in their German counterparts, the Swing Kids, who dressed in blue silk stockings with a red heart on her knee, just to be different.

Savage has teamed up with film maker Matt Wolf to bring the material to life, blurring archives and actors in what looks an intriguing mix.

TEENAGE teaser from Teenage on Vimeo
As a side project to that, they're running a teenage blog which is packed with imagery of teenagers from across the globe and time. Tavi and Occupy London rub shoulders with Punks and the Bright Young Things and it covers universal issues as well as the intricate style codes of being a teenage, using flickr and archive imagery alongside more famous work by street photographers: 

I'd forgotten the prized orange lining of the Lord Anthony coat until I saw this image. I also love the fact the girl on the right is demonstrating a pose beloved of some teenage girls: sucking in her stomach and sticking out her chest. 

The clothes have changed but the storyline stays the same. Mark Charnock perfectly captures the youth of the suburbs getting trains into London to hit the town (in reality, probably getting turned away from a few pubs and pooling their cash to buy a McDonalds). 

This group of likely lads are a style tribe known as Sharpies in Australia in the 1970s. 

Paul Trevor shot these girls in a very different Brick Lane to today in the late 1970s/early 80s. 

And Karlheinz Weinburger's always fascinating photos of Swiss youths in the 1950s. 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Last-Year Music: Citizens!

I seem to have developed a weakness for bands with one-word names. One-word names that when placed together hint at some soap opera storyline: Friends, Knickers and Cults. I've now added Citizens! to that list - and perhaps the exclamation mark that goes after their name can offer a dramatic finale to that strange storyline.

Last week, I went with a long-time gig-going partner-in-crime to see Kate Jackson playing at the Lexington (how I miss the Long Blondes every single day). The support was Citizens! whose True Romance single had somehow made it onto my radar enough to make my 2011 playlist but no further upon my musical radar.

Their performance induces some of the craziest gig dancing I've seen for a long time down the front and we're jigging along happily. My friend remarks how much they remind her of Franz Ferdinand. Oh yes, I agree and, perhaps indicating at how much of my 20s I spent going to indie gigs, I remark how the lead singer reminds me of the guy from Official Secrets Act.

Although we are no longer on top of things music-wise enough to have known this already, it turns out Citizens! are produced by Alex Kapranos and, yes, includes ex-members of Official Secrets Act.

True Romance has now firmly embedded itself in my brain. It's one of those magical songs that acknowledges exactly how tired, battered and broken I am feeling but suggests the answer is possibly a good dance and that maybe everything is okay after all. In other words, one of those songs that work best when pissed and fuzzy in a club.

Their new single Reptile isn't quite that good as that but it does show the Kapranos influence on their sound. And how a pasty faced indie boy can be transformed through the power of a turned-up collar and some excellent dancing - always pleasing to see.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Hankie hankering

You wait all winter for a good handkerchief and then two come along at once.

A handkerchief that references an old song lyric ... sorry I'm too busy fishing in my bag to get out my wallet to finish the rest of that sentence. It's designed by Canadian Olivia Mew but stocked at Hannah Zakari in the UK. Oh to be a teenager in love.

I'd seen Cleo Ferin Mercury's icon scarves at a craft fair but didn't realise she made them as more affordable handkerchiefs too. Take your pick from the wonderful random mixture of Albert Camus, Bo Didley, Grace Jones, Wanda Jackson and James Dean. Personally I'd pick Brigitte Bardot to be the recipient of my winter snot and sniffles (not really, I'd probably try and make it into a cushion or something).

One hankie for each nostril maybe?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Last-Year Buy: Appealing apples and Bubble Betty

I was hot-footing it back down Oxford Street after buying my heart print shorts, desperately trying to avoid temptation. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the thing most likely to stop: poppy print. It was in the window of Forever 21, a shop I'd never been to before previously, or really had any desire to especially.

Up close the top was a boringly, predictably rubbish fabric and a weird cut. I wasn't too sad as, by that time, I'd seen this apple print top.

While its shape definitely borders on the unflattering, I can forgive it anything because of its appealing (appeeling? or even apple-ing?) apple print. I like this sweet pattern especially as it reminded me of some of Joyce Badrocke's 1950s fabric designs for Horrockses, especially this design, which is sold on a notebook at the V&A.

After writing about Bubble Betty on Domestic Sluttery, I couldn't resist getting one for myself. It arrived at work on Monday and because I am an idiot and because I have the patience of a small child, I had to put it on straight away.

Here's me trying to do my best John French style posing in the loos at work - I did also parade it in front of my colleagues too, which seemed to especially impress the IT man who was fixing our computers at the time. All I need now is a rainy day to test how this look goes down on the streets of south London.
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