Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Deco delights

While it may have been quite quiet on this blog recently, it's been a giddy round of pleasure in my real life: lots of jollying, drinking and sticking my fingers in my ears going "la la la, I can't hear you" in relation to work things. I've been neglecting to document anything of what I've been up to either but a little snapshot of what I've been up to comes via my Sunday and Monday nights this week, both spent gallivanting in two of London's finest Art Deco cinemas.


Sunday night was spent in a Grade I listed number, dating back to 1931 and designed by Theodore Komisarjevsky, a Russian Prince. Where was I and what was I doing? Going to Gala Bingo in Tooting, of course!


The interior is completely bonkers: ornate wooden carvings with a Deco meets Gothic look. This image shows the building, then the Granada, in its prime.


Until it closed in 1973, the building also held performances by big stars of through the period, from Vera Lynn to Billy Fury to Marianne Faithfull. This is the beautiful Marianne pictured in her changing room in the Tooting Granada after announcing her engagement to John Dunbar.

Tooting is unusual because it still has its original much prized Wurlitzer organ, and the organ was recently restored so it can rise up through the floor. Sadly this wasn't in evidence during our bingo session. In fact most of the interior has been masked by bingo tables, gambling machines and crazy signage. At least, we concluded, the bingo means the building still is being used.

The Granada, Tooting

I haven't played bingo for a long time and discovered to my disappointment that the game in 2012 isn't about "legs eleven" and "two fat ladies" - or even shouting "Bingo!" - more about getting through as many games as possible. I don't think I've ever taken part in a game when so many people grumbled as the winner was announced. And, no, I'm not bitter because I didn't win. Even though I was just one number away from a full house.

For a tale of a different Art Deco cinema, on Monday I went to the Troxy in Limehouse, where Future Cinema were re-staging their showing of the wonderful Bugsy Malone.


The Troxy was built in 1933 and until the 1980s was also a bingo hall. It was sold in 2005 to a company who decided to use the space again as a venue - I saw a marvellous Jarvis gig there a few years ago. The insides are also pretty spectacular but only Grade II listed this time...


There's also a campaign to install the Wurlitzer organ from a sister venue, Elephant and Castle's Trocadero, back into this venue (so at this point is it Tooting 2, Limehouse 0 in Art Deco cinema scoring?)


The stats from its original build are pretty amazing, including 10,000 electric light bulbs and  2.5 million bricks.

When I went to see Jarvis, I felt that the venue, however structurally spectacular,  still seemed to have a whiff of slight cheap nightclub around it. That seemed to have vanished in the make-over for Future Cinema. The actual showing for Bugsy was brilliant: I love performances where people clap each song, and the custard pie fight at the end was hysterical fun. Did I take pictures? No, I completely forgot of course which, though rubbish blogging, does give me an excuse (if any at all is ever needed) to play one of my very favourite cinema scenes and a song that lurks in a happy corner of my i-Pod.

And that's all folks...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Last-Year Travels: Amsterdam (again)

If you read this blog way back in the wastelands of 2010, you may remember that I visited Amsterdam, fell in love with the place and went on a bit about wanting to go back. Well, the return visit happened sooner than I thought, courtesy of Eurostar and Sian from Domestic Sluttery, and guess what? I loved it every bit as much the second time around.

Despite managing to pick the same place out of the guidebook to go for dinner as last time (luckily it was just as tasty as it had been before), we saw a whole load of new places. We stayed in Citizen M and were baffled by the need for placing the loo and shower in the middle of the bedroom as well as the complex lighting options. More complex lighting came care of Electric Ladyland, a tiny museum of fluorescent art.

It was a 'museum' in the loosest sense: part installation, part instruction. I'm not sure I understand fluorescent art anymore than when I walked through the door but it certainly looked very pretty.

One thing I did learn was that when I go grey my hair will fluores - a great reason to take up raving in my old age.

A complete contrast was Our Lord in the Attic, a church built in the attic of a merchants house to hold catholic services when they weren't allowed to worship in the city. The church was beautiful, more so placed within the context of the house: it is one of the beautiful canal-side buildings, formerly a merchant's house.

It was full of long corridors, hidden rooms and tall windows straight out of a Vermeer painting.

The building is in the middle of a long restoration project and is stripped back, almost to its bare bones. I loved discovering the clues of what the house once looked like - the tile shown at the top of the post, the incredible gothic style wallpaper below.

And of course we merrily ate - a carb fest of chips and mayo, mashed potatoes, croques madames -  and drank ourselves sleepy and happy with delicious beer.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Last-Year Girl: Dorian Leigh


"When I was at the peak of my success as a model, I did feel I had everything. I wore the most beautiful clothes, was photographed by the world's greatest photographers, travelled all over the world, had all the money I needed, was pursued by men whose names were household words, was offered stage and screen careers. I was able to make my baby sisters as famous and successful as I was I had five beautiful children whom I love. As the song goes, who could ask for anything more?"

That's taken from the conclusion to Dorian Leigh's autobiography The Girl Who Had EverythingLeigh was one of the world's first and most successful models. As the quote and the title of her book suggests, her life was pretty amazing - including being the inspiration for one of the 1950s, if not culture's, most famous characters, Holly Golightly - and also came with a flip side: financial ruin and a string of unfortunate relationships, with four/five husbands (it depends if you include the one who was a bigamist) to her name. Add together those factors and not forgetting her immense beauty, and you've got all the ingredients for a compelling story. 


Dorian came late to the world of modelling, aged 27 and with a degree in mechanical engineering successfully under her belt. Despite her height, a small five foot five, she meets Diana Vreeland who begs her not to do anything with eyebrows, gets her photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe and puts her on the path to fairly immediate fame and fortune. Her autobiography tends to make light of the actual modelling, focusing instead on her many and complicated relationships. She writes how, if someone didn't like something about her she said to herself, "'Well, that's alright; someone will like me the way I am' and went right on posing."

That somewhat typically undersells her role in the development of fashion photography, acting as muse first to Irving Penn and then to Richard Avedon with whom she did the Revlon "Fire and Ice" campaign which made her a household name. 


She could capture the appeal of an Avedon image perfectly, "An Avedon fashion photograph was just real enough to make a fashion minded woman feel she could look the way the model did. To accomplish that, Dick needed something more than a "coat hanger" type of model who simply looked good in clothes. He needed a model who could express her relationship to the setting, an actress." In Model Girl, Jean Dawnay marvels on seeing the two interact together, Dorian leaping around the set, with her lively features, pulling faces like a monkey, instinctively getting what Avedon wanted to portray - from Jean's description it's easy to see how the two pushed at the static and somewhat staid fashion photography of the time.


Dorian was running her own agency in Paris when she claims she encounters a young Eileen Ford, working as a stylist, who asked her all about how to run an agency before, of course, going off to start her own. It was then Eileen Dorian approached about taking on her sister as a model, the then unknown Suzy Parker. Eileen agreed, on the condition she got Dorian as part of the deal too. This turned out to be an amazing deal, as the tall red-haired Suzy became as successful, arguably more so, than Dorian. In her piece in Beauty Now and Forever, Suzy sweetly dedicates her success to her sister (who at this point had probably fallen on tougher times, as well as out of favour with Eileen). 

It wasn't only in looks that the sister's differed, Suzy has been quoted as saying, "We're as different as day is night. Dorian has a very intellectual approach to things. I'm more practical. She sows her oats and never looks back, and when she does look back, she writes her script the way she wants to write it." Although never coy about her relationships, you do get the sense of Dorian writing her own script as you read the book: both in how she looks back on certain relationships or occasions or in her forthright attitude to life. 


Though she wrote her autobiography after becoming a born again Christian, and after taking note of Suzy's words, Dorian appears to be refreshingly honest about the men in her life. She writes, "being a model not only increased the number of men in my life, but definitely improved their quality and attractiveness. It was far too easy for me to say yes to an invitation and almost impossible to say no. Consequently I was always making more dates that I could keep, which meant I had to be very inventive with reasons why I didn't show up." Remind you of anyone? Well, it's about this time she was living near Truman Capote, who nicknamed her "Happy-Go-Lucky", apparently used to climb into her apartment via the fire escape for chats until the early hours, and used to play with her cats. Some of Dorian eventually became part of his most famous character, Holly Golightly. Apparently Capote even used to greet Dorian as "my creation".

Look up Dorian Leigh and there's hundreds of quotes that tell you how beautiful she is. In terms of her modelling, I like the Emerick Bronson's comment that,"When I pointed a camera at Dorian, I felt like seven 5000 watt lamps had been lit and were looking at me", but in terms of personality, I love this one from Auro Varani, who is apparently the man who invented the model comp card: "Dorian Leigh wasn't much of a business woman but goddamn, she was fun, and she had more guts than anyone I know." Dorian died in 1998, aged 91, having lived what reads like a full, fascinating and fearless life.


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Friday, 2 March 2012

Next style challenge: Brits vs Aussies

A nice surprise for February was being asked to take part in the Next style challenge. To celebrate the launch of their online store in Australia, they asked ten Australian bloggers and ten British bloggers to style up an item from the Next Spring/Summer 2012 collection in a way that is influenced by their heritage. One lucky lady will get the honour of winning the challenge for their country (it's just like The Ashes but with pretty clothes really).

The date of the challenge happily coincided with my tradition of an annual February trip to the coast. Australia, I see your sunshine and sandy beaches and I give you the wind, rain and pebbles of the great British seaside.

I picked out a colourful pencil skirt from Next's collection: visible even on a stormy Brighton beach.

I wore it with a peplum top from H&M, shoes from ASOS and a gorgeous vintage faux fur jacket from Love Miss Daisy. I wanted to wear something around the idea of faded seaside glamour and the wind decided to play along, wreaking havoc on my hair which was - at the start of the morning at least - a mini beehive.

And then it rained ...

So on came my Bubble Betty rain bonnet, handily co-ordinating with my coat.

Credit for the pictures goes to my friend Vicki whose birthday it was and who got to spend a lot of her special day listening to me grumble about the cold. Here I am with added cardigan for warmth and I'm modelling another great British tradition ...

... trusty trainers for when your heels get too much. Aside from co-ordinating beautifully with this plastic lobster, I really like the way the skirt looked with flats too: I imagine it will be part of my gig going wardrobe in the future. Plus, note the battered gloves with hole in the thumb, or really anything I wanted to show in these photos, but they are actually really useful for being able to text in the cold. That's not a great British tradition, but surely only a matter of time?

And only with heels do I appear to be tall enough to ride the Galaxia.

Thanks again to Vicki for the photos and a lovely day out. Even if it did rain.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Last-Year Buy: Mary Katrantzou for Topshop top

Being a lover of all things bright and patterned and still awaiting my lottery win, there was no way I was going to miss out on Mary Katrantzou's collection for Topshop. Though it makes me a little sad to type it, I couldn't work out an occasion when I'd ever be able to wear that incredible bubble dress so I settled for a simple t-shirt instead.

It got its first outing on Monday, where I wore it to the meal to celebrate the new issue of oh comely. Issue Nine is out now and has got me writing about bees and about brownies badges amongst all the other usual fabulous contributions, including this wonderful piece of advice by Ben Javens:

After the meal, I skipped down the road to The Roundhouse to see The Drums. Excellent uplifting stuff with a touch of the surreal as they brought Boy George to do a guest slot. Perhaps I could have got away with the bubble dress after all...
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