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.
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