Friday, 29 March 2013

Last-Week Links: 29 March 2013

I'm back in my home town for the Easter break. Yesterday, I went into 'town', and basically wept with delight of being able to shop at a proper Boots. Yes, a well-stocked Boots - complete with the full range of Soap & Glory, and everything else - is something that makes me very happy. My local London branches just can't compete, no wonder the local girls always look so glamorous

And, although I was in Brighton last weekend, it's great to have the seafront so close by, for scenic runs and fish and chips (although I did shed a tear at the gap where the Winter Gardens once stood).

Another thing I like to do at home: read and dream. I remember devouring Patti Smith's Just Kids one Christmas. My impressions of that book are also filtered, naturally, through Robert Mapplethorpe's own photographs so it's really interesting to see Lloyd Ziff's photographs of Smith and Mapplethorpe, captured in the 1960s looking fresh and unguarded or, as the article describes, Ziff "somehow captured in his subjects the precocity, and fragility, of a pair of old souls".

Staying in New York, but moving twenty years or so on, earlier this week I went to see the play A Thousand Miles of History. It's about the New York art scene in the 1980s, and the work of relationship of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It succeeds in capturing the energy, hope, and complexities which made that period exhilarating, without relying too heavily on the easy 80s cliches. Given the subject matter, there's tonnes of pop cultural references to pick up on. Basquiat, Haring and Andy Warhol go to eat in Mr Chows, for example (Michael Chow being Grace Coddington's first husband - in Grace she describes working as the cloakroom girl at the Knightsbridge branch). And the play also features Fab Five Freddy, the party bringer extraordinaire, which of course immediately made me think of Blondie's Rapture. Their take on New York in the early 80s features Debbie's famous rap but also a video complete with graffiti artists and Jean-Michel Basquiat making a cameo as the dj.

If you want to look at another New York scene, Nowness devoted two days to Chloe Sevigny's 1990s. There's a funny little film where Chloe skips around New York in a black oh-so-90s shift dress searching for a boy: at about 8.30 minutes in, she sneaks into a Marc Jacobs show and rubs shoulders with the likes of Andre Leon Talley, Naomi Campbell and - once again so painfully 90s - a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio.

I'm not sure if I yet have the distance to revisit the 90s, so I'll indulge in a spot of French fancy instead with the Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola film for the Prada Candy perfume. Unsurprisingly, the colours and clothes look good enough to eat.

During my time in 'town', I also popped into River Island. There was a strange moment in the changing rooms when they started playing Blur's Tracey Jacks over the sound system and I felt like I'd instantly gone back about twenty years. Alongside Blur, River Island and Boots, Kickers were big about twenty years ago in Grimsby. I won't be buying anything from the new Lazy Oaf x Kickers collaboration but I adore this little film they've made to promote the range - bubblegum pop, dressing up, dancing round your bedroom fun. I clearly need to fit some dancing round my bedroom into my busy Easter schedule.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Last-Year Buys: Brighton vintage finds

The Biba and Beyond exhibition in Brighton was marvellous and I recommend a visit before it closes (On the other hand, we lost the football, along with all feeling in my feet apparently - it was so cold!). I'd like to try and say something more substantial about the Biba soon but, for now, I thought the exhibition was excellent for capturing the fun and energy of the store, and the desire to dress-up and be able to look so darned cool. So, of course, I left wanting to play dress up and look cool.

The museum was hosting a day of Biba-themed events so we queued to have our make-up done, only to discover perhaps purple eyes and lips didn't look quite so cool with warm fleecy jackets and the amount of layers we'd put on to survive the day's snow. I attempted to style it out in my turban... Barbara Hulanicki was also visiting as part of the day's event and reinforced her reputation for being a fantastic lady - she wandered up to the queue of people waiting to be made-over, just for a chat.

In need of some fashion to go with the purple eyeshadow, we hit up Brighton's great vintage shops. Alas, we weren't lucky enough to find any original Biba (in our dreams) but Starfish Vintage seemed to be jam-packed with beauties which I eventually managed to narrow down to the silk blouse and gorgeous dusty pink jacket pictured. Dusty pink is a current obsession of mine (just look at my sidebar at the  moment), and a jacket which fitted me properly, with wooden buttons was too good to pass over. The necklace is from one of Brighton's most famous vintage spots, Snooper's Paradise.

At one point I was wandering round Snoopers Paradise, my arms full of fabrics, bottles, hand mirrors. I managed to escape clutching only the necklace and this very pretty tin tray.

Finally, Oxfam books gave me a bit of reading in the form of Peter York's Modern Times. Have you read Style Wars? It's a collection of articles York wrote in the late 1970s, fascinating, and slightly terrifying, observations of society in that period. This was written later and, with Thatcher, a briefcase and an argyll sock on the cover, promises to be even more terrifying...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Last-Week Links: 22 March 2013

Cuba already seems like such a long time ago. People have stopped telling me how well I look; rum is no longer the default answer to any question. But - unlike Jodie Foster in this picture - I'm trying to cling on.

One of my holiday books for this year was The House of Gucci, a warts and all account of the various feuds and the murder which tore the family of Gucci apart. (I also read Just My TypeThe Casual VacancyInfante's Inferno and The Year of Magical Thinking.) Aside from all the scandal in the book, there was, of course, the fashion too, especially the luxurious leather work which is seen as such a hallmark of Italian style. One of the company's staples is the Horsebit loafer. It's made them millions but to me is something of a symbol of the excess of eurotrash style. Unless you are Jodie that is, who would wear them skateboarding as shown in this magnificent picture. It appeared in a post devoted to the Gucci loafer on I Love Your Style. Gucci are currently celebrating the 60th anniversary of the shoe if you are a fan of the style.

Also on a Cuba-related tip, I'm definitely going to try Elsie and Emma's recipe for banana chips, as featured on A Beautiful Mess. These were some of my favourite snacks while I was away.

Do you ever look at PYMCA? It's a great picture library, specialising in youth culture in all its glorious visual forms. We've used a lot of their images in our forthcoming 80s Fashion book, including some by Paul Hartnett. Hartnett is also an avid collector of vintage photography and his collection is now available through the site, dating all the way back to 1850. It includes everything from carefully posed portraits to casual snapshots. Details on each image are scare, forcing you to draw your own conclusion on the subjects. My conclusion on this maid? Pretty cool. She is rocking her plaits and patterned dress.

I don't think a week can go by without a reference to some of my favourite TV shows:

Twin Peaks! Rookie posted an awesome looking recipe for cherry pie doughnuts giving me another excuse to look at some pictures of Coop.

Mad Men! Does this face look familiar? It's a Revlon advert photographed by Richard Avedon and featuring Gita May Hall, a top model of the 1950s and 60s. Hall is suing Mad Men for using this image in their opening credits without her consent. While she doesn't owe the rights to the image, she is arguing she owns the right to her likeness.

Girls! My new obsession. I've only watched the first series so no spoilers please. While I wait to watch the next series, this Wes Anderson-esque short film, Best Friends, made for the Autumn/Winter 2013 Rachel Antonoff collection, filled a little Lena Dunham shaped gap in my life.

Talking of best friends, Google Reader is soon to leave this world, and I have been forced to find a new buddy to share my various blog obsessions. I've jumped on the train departing for Bloglovin - come and hang out with me over there. I can't promise you any Rachel Antonoff clothes, just the usual mix of pretty clothes, interesting books and pop culture.

And it's almost the weekend - brilliant! What are you up to? I'm heading down to Brighton to see the Biba exhibition on Saturday, and then on Sunday going to watch Grimsby Town play at Wembley with my little bro. It's what you might call a weekend of two halves. Whatever you get up to, enjoy!

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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Last-Year Reads: Diana Vreeland Empress of Fashion

Diana Vreeland biography

I devoured the new Diana Vreeland biography, Empress of Fashion by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart. I've read DV and The Eye Has to Travel and watched the DVD of the same name. I'd looked at her gorgeous magazine features and covers. I loved them but felt they were all telling the same story, reading from the same script that Diana herself had written. This new biography digs a bit deeper to create a thoughtful portrait which looks beneath the dazzling surface of its fascinating subject matter, the woman who Cecil Beaton described as, "one of the most remarkable creatures who has lived and worked in the zany confines of the fashion world".

Myths abound about Diana and Diana was behind most of them. There's the story, for example, that Carmel Snow saw her out dancing and offered her the job at Harper's Bazaar. Mackenzie Stuart shows how Snow would have known her already and that, in fact, she was already working for another Hearst title, Town & Country. But, although this book does do a fair bit of myth-busting, it's not done unkindly. Diana has been criticised and satirised for her sometimes tentative grip on the truth. While Mackenzie Stuart acknowledges this, she holds up Diana's imagination and inventiveness, which is so suited to the world of creating fashion fantasies, as born an effective survival tactic during an unhappy childhood.

Diana Reed Vreeland
Mr and Mrs Reed Vreeland, as shown in Vogue 1931. Reproduced in The Thirties in Vogue

The book delves into her childhood and, specifically, her troubled relationship with her mother. There are some remarkable extracts from Diana's journals which seem to carry through to her adult life. She vows to become a popular girl, the popular girl - "the girl" - and her entries indicate the dogged determination with which she pursues this aim. And it worked. Her official "coming out" to society was deemed to be a great success and - even more successful by the standards of the time - was that she captured a handsome husband, Thomas Reed Vreeland. Though living in a fabulous social whirl by anyone's standards, it's interesting how Diana applied the same energy and discipline to establishing her place within society: she seems to have picked out certain woman to observe, admire and, to a degree, ape: the interior designer Elsie de Wolfe and Chanel, who she particularly admired for her skills in the "art of living".

Diana Vreeland Why Dont You

Initially hired by Harper's Bazaar as a stylish representative of international set and to form a link between society, the magazine and its readers, her contribution grew to be much more than this, becoming a recognisable face and voice for the magazine. Her "Why Don't You?" column, equally parodied and praised, first ran in 1936. Really Diana's plea to inject more fantasy and beauty into everyday living through absurdly extravagant suggestions, it was never intended to be taken seriously. "Why Don't You install a private staircase from your bedroom to the library with a needlework carpet with notes of music worked on each step — the whole spelling out your favourite tune?", one read.

Claire McCardell Popover

As I mentioned before, I found one of the most fascinating aspects of this book to be finding out what Diana did in the 1940s. Carmel Snow - partly due to astuteness  partly to want to keep the Paris collections to herself, I suspect - charged Diana with being a catalyst for change in the American fashion industry and giving it some of her famous "pizzazz". The Second World War increased the need for this focus. The General Limitation Order L-85 restricted the amount of fabric which could be used in a garment (like the Utility scheme in Britain) actually made for styles perfectly suited to the US sportswear style. Mackenzie Stuart shows how the practical "popover", as shown above in the collection of Met Museum, was conceived by Diana but realised by Claire McCardell.  It was the garment that made McCardell's name as a designer and was mass-produced and low-priced and, unusually for such a cheap garment, splashed all over the pages of Harper's.

It wasn't just with designers with which she forged close relationships in this period (successful collaborations seem to be a trademark of Diana's whole career). Diana also worked with photographers like Louise Dahl-Wolfe to create a new image of America, with dramatic images of the landscape reinforcing the designs and the birth of the glowing with health, all-American girl.

Diana Vreeland Cecil Beaton
Diana Vreeland, as depicted by Cecil Beaton in The Glass of Fashion

The idea of the "girl" crops up again and again in this book: Diana's desire to be "the girl" and to inspire the readers to be "the girl", or the fact she never bothered learning the name of her put-upon assistants, simply screaming "girl" at them (no definitive article for these poor harassed women). The book also quotes from the article which gives this blog its name, published in 1947 during Diana's time at Harper's, and urging the reader to move with the latest shifts in fashion, "if you're not a Last-Year Girl". That shift was, of course, Dior's New Look, which put Diana's efforts and fashionable American women back in their place for a bit.

But only for a bit. Diana was poached by Vogue where her impact has been better documented and she eagerly promoted new American faces, like Barbra Streisand and Lauren Hutton, as well as new ideas, like the British youthquake. You get the impression that the 1960s suited her energy and her appetite for dressing-up and reinvention.

Once the world of fashion shifted again, however, she found herself adrift, her fantasies not sitting so well with the needs and wishes of a new generation of working women. In 1971 she was asked by New York's Metropolitan Museum to be a consultant to their fashion and costume shows. Working within a museum and seeing the amount of curatorial expertise and care which goes into each exhibition, I can only imagine the frustrations of her fellow workers in trying to scale down the fantasy and up the level of historical accuracy. And, of course her shows were blockbusters, adored by the public.

Diana Vreeland book

The subjects for her shows were favourite Diana themes: Hollywood, Russia, the Jazz Age. The above scan is taken from my copy of the leaflet produced for her 1910s, 1920s, 1930s: Inventive Clothes show, which reads like an evocative piece of fashion editorial, rather than a museum-produced document.

It goes without saying that this biography is a must-read if you are interested in fashion in the twentieth-century. Bringing together so many strands and different ideas, it's impossible not to read it without feeling inspired yourself. While Diana sometimes appears naive to the point of self-destructiveness,  it's impossible to read this without admiring her energy, and her dedication to the pursuit of beauty.

Diana Vreeland has been quoted as saying very many witty, silly and/or astute things. My favourite, however, is this one which seems to sum her philosophy up perfectly: "What have we got in life? Love, friendship, work, guts, and all these delicious tiny fragments that can be the most attractive things in the world."

Monday, 18 March 2013

My Old China (and badges)

Perhaps it's down to the Living Etc tours but I've been tackling putting my house in order with renewed vigour and this weekend I crossed off loads of those fiddly tasks which have been hanging round my to-do list for ages. Job one: my favourite china cabinet (as cited in the Domestic Sluttery book) got a bit smashed up in a particularly traumatic house move. It's now looking super fancy again, thanks to some spray mount and one of Esme Winter's gorgeous papers which shows off my Babycham glasses and colourful charity shop teaset to their full advantage.

My Mini Moderns Festival plates got a permanent home too due to the wonder that are invisible plate hangers. They're up there with a couple of car boot finds, my old fruit bowl (too pretty to be hidden by bananas and lemons) and a selection from my badge collection.

My collection of black and white prints in my hallway grows too. One postcard from the William Klein exhibition, and one from the Vogue postcard set looking all snazzy in some Ikea numbers.

And my intercom looks a lot prettier too, thanks to the distraction of a Meakin Poodles plate. Next step: bookcases. I'm finally getting some this week and then, hopefully, that will be the end of stuff in brown boxes. Slowly getting there...

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Friday, 15 March 2013

Last-Week Links: 15 March 2013

My first collection of links since getting back to the UK and it's a mini one: I'm still catching up on a fortnight of emails! Internet overload makes for me not sleeping very well (bad) but means I get to listen to random 6 music documentaries (very good). This week: On My Way: The Dean Parrish Story. Dean Parrish is best known in the UK for "I'm On My Way", rediscovered and championed by Northern Soul DJs in the 1970s, to the extent it made the UK Top 40 in 1975. All without the knowledge of Parrish.


It wasn't until the early 2000s that Parrish was tracked down (under his real name Phil Anastasi) and brought over to Britain to perform to thousands of avid fans at ... (my beloved) Cleethorpes. The documentary captures the oddness of this first appearance beautifully. It also made me go back and bemoan the loss of Cleethorpes' Winter Gardens. Built in the 1930s, and subsequently home to many Northern Soul nights in the 70s and weekenders since then, it was torn down by the  council about six years ago to make way for flats. Which have yet to be built. Sigh.

On the subject of finding new uses for old British seaside buildings, I was interested to see that Wayne Hemingway is working with Margate's Dreamland to create the "world's first heritage amusement attraction". What does that mean? Is that a good thing? I guess time will tell.

Talking of things being picked up and dusted off from the past, I loved the story of the British 60s advertising illustrator Brian Saunders being tracked down and hired to illustrate the adverts for the new series of Mad Men. And well excited about the next series obviously.


There's a bit of a British/US cross-over theme going on in my links for this week. The New York Times highlighted the New York shop, the End of History: a stunning collection of over 10,000 pieces of midcentury ceramics and glass run by a man who grew up on the Isle of Wight. The stock is organised in a stunning fashion, by colour and shape, as Deedee9:14's pictures from her recent visit demonstrate beautifully. Inspiring stuff.

Talking of interiors inspiration, last week my friend and I went on LivingEtc's south London home tours. We've both lived all over south London over the last ten years, so it was fascinating to see what little kingdoms had been carved out just around the corner of streets we knew so well. Unfortunately it was a very rainy day. You can see us looking a bit wet and bedraggled, exaggerating slightly about our choice in home decor but, most importantly, looking very cheery on the Life.Style.Etc blog.

Finally, a mini plug for a new series I've started on Domestic Sluttery: Something Old, Something New, matching up vintage originals with contemporary reinterpretations. I looked at shift dresses for this first one: the possibilities across homewares, as well as fashion, are endless.

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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Last-Year Travels: Cuba

Look at that sea.

I have been clinging to this image of the Caribbean since getting back from Cuba (to snow! Thanks for that British weather.).

It was the kind of trip that makes it hard to answer "how was your holiday?". Any and all of the following: Amazing, fascinating, frustrating, hilarious, tipsy, hot. I loved it.

What do you think of when you think about Cuba? Well, probably at lease some of your Cuba pictures will feature classic cars. That's true. I can't even drive and half my photos are of classic cars. Leap into a taxi and you've as much chance of getting in a 1927 Ford as a Lada (they're hanging on in there too).

Or maybe it's the music. There seems to be music everywhere you go in Cuba of all genres, from jazz to reggaeton and so much of it played live. Here's the Sunday afternoon session at Casa de la Trova in Santiago, a brilliant two room venue with a simple bar, a few rows of fold up seats and images of musicians plastering the wall. There's lots of dancing too. Even salsa seems like a good idea in Cuba.

And, of course, there's the politics. With no consumer advertising, there's images enough of Che Guevara to rival even Camden Market, and also of Fidel and their fellow revolutionaries. Their words and letters to each other are repeated over and over again, like Che's famous ¡Hasta la Victoria Siempre!. It's pretty hard to leave Cuba without a sixth-form worthy crush on Che.

The American fingerprint that's been placed on Cuba is also still evident. We visited Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) but, on a lighter note, faithfully sampled some of Ernest Hemingway's favourite bars from his time in Havana in the 1930s and 40s. La Bodeguita del Medio claims to be the inventor of the mojito but that's pretty disputable, especially after some Havana Club rum. Every spare inch of this restaurant bar is covered with graffiti from its many famous, and not so famous, visitors. They also have branches in Ukraine, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Slovakia amongst other places. The former USSR has left its fingerprints all over the country too: not least in the form of huge concrete tower blocks that intimidate the smaller, colourful colonial houses.

The Americans had their input on Cuban architecture too. My favourite mojito was served at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. The hotel, overlooking the Malecon which is the seawall and road which sweeps around an edge of Havana, was opened back in 1930 to serve American tourists. Its clientele was seriously glitzy - above shows only a fraction of its hall of fame, though it also had serious mafia ties - think The Godfather Part II. It was closed by Fidel in 1960s, eventually being restored and reopened in the 1990s. Its clientele is still pretty glitzy: there was a Saudi Prince hanging out in the foyer while we were trying to enjoy our mojitos.

So, yes, there was a lot of drink. Mojitos naturally but also Cuba libres (of course!), pina coladas, trinidad coloniales, coco locos. The rum flowed freely. If the rum wasn't flowing freely, there was always Cristal. How I like a can of beer with a palm tree on it. Almost as much as I like a van full of beer.

We spent two weeks travelling around so, as well as imbibing, we got to cover a lot of ground.

Time-warp Trinidad, stormy Santiago or charming Camaguey, shown above, each place was surprisingly different, shaped by so many different histories.

It's hard to sum up everything we saw, learnt and enjoyed on our trip, hence me resorting to finishing with this gorgeous scene instead. More Cuban sea and sky to try and sustain me through the rest of winter.
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