Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Last-Year Reads: Always in Vogue by Edna Woolman Chase and Ilka Chase

“Between us . . . we showed America the meaning of style.” That's Condé Nast's description of his relationship with Edna Woolman Chase, a woman who managed the impressive feat of being editor-in-chief of Vogue for 38 years, from 1914 until 1952. Always in Vogue, written with her daughter the author and actress Ilka Chase is her biography, published in 1954. She oversaw the magazine through two world wars, the hectic 1920s, the Wall Street Crash which threatened to undermine the Nast empire, short skirts, long skirts, L-85 restrictions and the beginnings of the New Look. At one point she was managing editions of French, German and British Vogue, as well as the American edition. Phew!

If anyone dares to suggest fashion publishing is anything other than a serious business, I'm going to shove a copy of this under their nose. Edna Woolman Chase was clearly a serious minded and conscientious woman and - as that initial quote from Nast might suggest - on something of a mission to inform the American public about good taste (note, she was bothered about taste, not high fashion - more of that later). Although she mingled with some of the world's most famous women, with the likes of Schiaparelli, Chanel, Mona Bismarck and Elsie de Wolfe all get mentioned in the book, she doesn't brag about her connections. She rarely gets carried away with lavish praise. In fact, some of her final words of advice in the book, offered to any fashion student are "Give yourself time to let your impressions crystallize. Don’t be carried away by the obvious and the spectacular." That philosophy can be seen running through the pages of Always in Vogue.

Woolman Chase's influence is still felt on the magazine, not least in its fashion focus. When she started working in Vogue's circulation department, in 1895, the magazine is a hotch-potch of cultural interests, aimed at men and women. In 1914, she came up with the idea of the "Fashion Fête". Held to raise money for allied war women and to showcase American fashion, it was the first of what we know now as the catwalk show. She remarks of her lasting contribution to the world of fashion: "There was such a time and there have been moments when secretly I have wondered whether I did not render dubious service to my country the day the idea popped into my mind on the bus." In addition, despite the magazine's close ties with the exclusive world of French couture industry, it was her who named the feature "More Taste Than Money", the forerunner of British Vogue's "More Dash Than Cash".

The relationship between the editor and the French couture houses, as outlined in this book, is fascinating: a constant diplomatic juggling act. The success of the Fashion Fête meant it had to be repeated in France the following year, to reinforce Vogue's support of French fashions. Jean Patou launched a competition in 1924 to find some American models, so different in shape from the French mannequins used in his couture houses. Woolman Chase describes how the six models selected had to undergo some serious diplomatic training ahead of disembarking in Europe, to contend with the fall-out from the implication that somebody other than the French may be viewed as the most chic women in the world. Conversely, after WWII, Vogue, Harper's and Life were all asked by America's War Production Board not to give coverage to the lavish new designs coming out of Paris. They refused. There's a typically understated author's note on the text, "all these issues sold out".

With such a long tenure, and direct responsibility for the success of Vogue, it's hardly surprising Woolman Chase doesn't really draw a line between the magazine and the rest of her life. People who work closely with her on Vogue are friends with life; people who cross her don't get off lightly. The book is dedicated to "the old friends – the old enemies too – who have made Vogue and made my life." Condé Nast – who it's hard to think of as a real person, rather than simply empire – is extremely generous to Woolman Chase for her work, surprising her with cheques in the post, or money hidden within boxes of chocolates. He obviously expected loyalty from his employees, Woolman Chase obviously expected loyalty from her employees too. So, the defection of Carmel Snow to Harper's Bazaar hits them both hard.

I've written about the rivalry between Snow and Woolman Chase before. Woolman Chase is quite cutting about her rival's abilities - although she was the one who found Snow, who was working as a fashion designer, and trained her up to be her predecessor. Snow, she notes, partied all night, even perfecting the art of sleeping on the dancefloor. Graciously she admits, "she was so good", but only "when she was not distracted." Woolman Chase goes on, "she had native good taste, which had been cultivated and developed by her work. She had ability, poise and an engaging wit, but there were lapses. She was capable of originating fine ideas though, like a spotty golf player, her follow-through was weak." Both Woolman Chase and Nast felt Snow was "throwing over" everything they had achieved together by going to work for Nast's publishing rival Hearst. Nast apparently never spoke to Snow again, and "never forgave her". Neither apparently did Woolman Chase, though they had to mix professionally. In the book, she spots Snow at Nast's funeral and ponders what she might be thinking. I've just bought a copy of The World of Carmel Snow and can't wait to find out!

Ever true to herself, Woolman Chase's fashion advice falls on the side of restraint. She guides, "if we must err let us err on the side of understatement." And, true again to her temperament, she values consistency over experimentation: "To be considered well dressed, you must be it continuously. Not in fits and starts." And the fashion trend which evokes the most ire in her? It may come as a surprise to hear it's the "inappropriate, unsightly and dirty" open-toed shoe on a city street. Even Queen Elizabeth II, she notes, fell foul of this rule on her 1953 Commonwealth tour. But, when it comes to general advice, rather than nit-picking at specifics, her advice still rings very true:

"Fashion is general; style is individual and has little to do with class. It is the unconscious way in which a person expresses himself. I have seen a Texan cowboy swing himself into his saddle with more real elegance, more “style” than many gentlemen on the hunting field. Style derives from character. It must have the feeling of an artist behind it. Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess."

Though she can come across as a bit old-fashioned, stuffy even (wouldn't you prefer to be out dancing with Carmel Snow?), perhaps Woolman Chase has the last laugh after all. Here's some advice, again to the student of fashion, that probably applies to her judgement of character, every bit as it does to dresses:

"It is the sophisticated eye, the trained taste, that spots at first glance the subtly simple, the elegant, the really smart dress that will outlive a dozen tricky models."

And that's probably how you can successfully survive four decades in Vogue.

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Friday, 26 April 2013

Last-Week Links: 26 April 2013

Happy Friday. In some cases, it's an even happier Friday than normal because it's also a payday Friday, and we get to enjoy feeling flush for a few days. If you did want to celebrate in style, you could do worse than checking out the Andy Warhol sale at Fab, a collection of original posters and printed matter acquired directly from the Andy Warhol Foundation. The material dates from the 1960s to the 1980s, and cost wise from £120 to £1685. Alas this poster - produced for the 1985 African Emergency Relief Fund and featuring bits of artwork from Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat (prime A Thousand Miles of History stuff), as well as Roy Lichtenstein and Yoko One - has sold out. Otherwise I might have been forced to try and scrape the pennies together to buy it. Warhol fanatics of deep pockets also get the chance to buy his former townhouse this week: on the market for a mere $5.8 million.

London's Bloomsbury Auctions also have some interesting things coming up in their Photographs and Photobooks 17 May sale, like this stunning Robert Doisneau print, Be-Bop en Cave, Saint Germain des Prés, 1951. There's also some brilliant New York shots by William Klein from the 1950s, the Bruce Davidson's Girl with a Kitten image, as well as one of his Brooklyn Gang shots. Man Ray, Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, the list goes on: this auction is the stuff of lottery fantasies, rather than just payday.

Last year, I linked to the brilliant blog being built around the film Teenage, inspired by Jon Savage's fascinating book. The film had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this week and sounds completely fascinating. Writer/Director Matt Wolf has given some more information about making the film on the blog, the hours and hours of archival material they trawled through, the four characters they came up with to bind the footage together (including one given voice by Ben Whishaw - hurrah!), the detail gone into the costumes and in recreating every detail of those all-important teenage bedrooms. I can't wait to see it.

Teenage ends with the end of World War II, and what's then conventionally considered the "birth of the teenager" in the 1950s. Their avoidance of looking at that already well-recorded and analyzed period when considered alongside the question dee9:14 posed, "the beginning of the end of mid-century?" What do you think? I am certainly bored of the high street doing lazy version of 50s designs but, as a whole, I imagine this trend might be one of those things where the original trend-setters are starting to move onto something new, but it'll take a long, long time for the rest of the world to catch up, and, regardless, the true mid-century lovers will keep on loving.

Perhaps Gucci knows what the next big trend will be. They've just bought the porcelain house Richard Ginori after all, in a slightly unlikely looking move. "Made in Italy" is a phrase I seem to be hearing a lot at the moment, and that's certainly the reason being cited by the company to justify the acquisition. This interesting piece sees it part of a subtle strategy to move the house away from the "me me me" identity built around the brand under Tom Ford. As I've mentioned before, even at its most "heritage" I still think Gucci remains glorious Eurotrashy, more luxury yachts than charitable works, so, I'll be eagerly watching to see if this new focus has an noticeable impact either on the brand or its clientele.

And so the weekend awaits, as seductive as Dita in this shoot for the Coveteur. What are you up to? I am going to make sure I watch the final of the Great British Sewing Bee before someone lets slip what happens, and I'm helping my sister look for her wedding dress. I suspect both events might involve tears. Enjoy your weekend - and don't forget to let me know if your weekend involves buying a Warhol.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Last-Year Shops: Vintage Hart, Crystal Palace

Compared to some of my travels, I don't have to go far to write about Vintage Hart. It's only around the corner from my flat in Crystal Palace. At the moment, every vintage store seems to have its own cafe and club night, and every pub host its own vintage event, but Vintage Hart was the first store I knew to be a dedicated vintage shop within a pub. A vintage shop within a pub, just around the corner? Hum, it's not hard to find the driving factor behind my flat purchase.

The shop is a tiny wedge of a room, along one wall of the The White Hart pub. Because it's so tiny, the selection of clothes has to work harder: there's always a fantastically edited selection of wearable clothes appropriate to the time of year. Judging by their patterns, it must have have this time a couple of years ago, with spring finally beginning to blossom, that I bought my favourite peter pan collared floral blouse from there, along with a red Laura Ashley-style skirt. Meanwhile, my friend Sian paid a visit on a dark and snowy evening: she took away a coat so warm that she even stayed warm wearing it on a trip to the Arctic. Clearly a shop for all seasons.

The pub and shop are in a pretty imposing building, on one of the corners of the Crystal Palace Triangle (people genuinely say this, it's not just an estate agent term. Though of course the estate agents say this too). Vintage Hart makes the most of its position and its large windows through some fantastic displays. There's a whole load of florals going on there at the moment, much to my delight. They're also showing a selection from their new range Young@Hart: cute dresses for kids made from gorgeous vintage fabrics, alongside some gorgeous original things that somehow have survived the rough and tumble of childhood. There were some very adorable mini shoes with bows in the window when I last squeezed in: adorable enough to even satisfy the demands of the likes of Suri, I'd imagine.

It's wonderful having such a lovely shop at the heart/hart of my neighbourhood. If you pay it a visit, do pop and see me for a cup of tea, or maybe even a pint.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Last-Year Reads: Model Girl by Charles Castle

Written in 1977, Charles Castle's Model Girl is a fascinating - though dated - survey of the world of modelling, a career which is "the most highly paid and glamorous a young girl can enter". It's the second book called Model Girl I've featured on this site. Jean Dawnay's book was about her experiences modelling in the early 1950s: she's in this book too, as are hundreds more beautiful faces of the time, some still household names, some now long forgotten.

Snobby, at times sexist, Model Girl remains a fascinating read because of the range of its survey, the hundreds of gorgeous pictures included in the book and the people Castle interviewed, including Barbara Goalen and Jean Patchett, Henry Clark and David Bailey. Jerry Hall, who gets the honour of appearing on the book jacket is quoted extensively throughout.

This book whets my appetite for Caroline Evan's The Mechnical Smile, out at the end of the month, a study of the first fashion shows in Europe at the turn of the twentieth-century. Castle offers some fascinating insights into the early days of house model in the couture houses, where the best girls being fought over by the houses. Sumurun, shown above, christened as the less-exotic Vera Ashby, was at Lucile before moving to Norman Hartnell, is described in hyperbolic terms, as an "enchantress of the desert, the word’s most feted mannequin, courted and feted by many men, proposed to by at least a score."

And there are their descendants in the couture houses of the 1950s, like the stunning Welsh model Bronwen Pugh, a house model for Balmain. Though top of her game and well-known in her time, as she was a house model, rather than a photographic model (though is show in the image above), her image and name is less famous today than, say Barbara Goalen. Balmain describes her as: "Very tall and incredibly slim, she walked with long, easy strides, her arms motionless against her sides … In her big, light-coloured eyes there was a complete absence of expression and ignorance of what was happening around her. She had a habit of slightly disarranging her hair as she entered the salon, giving herself a nonchalant air that is a sign of supreme English elegance." She subsequently married Lord Aston of the Cliveden set, and was caught up in the scandal of the Profumo affair, as this Independent article reveals.

The whole book is tinged with a slight sadness about the end of this golden era. Castle says, "Model girls of the seventies became reflected these changes by becoming rather like the aloof models of the fifties, expect they have a harder, tougher look about them ... They need to have strong looks to go with the clothes and the multi-million empires they advertise; to go with the tough times the seventies have brought us." The book harks back to the professionalism of the 1950s model. The photographer Henry Clark also sighs, "These girls in the fifties did their homework. They worked out everything they had to know for their trade. In other words in order to be as beautiful as they could be."

Mingled in with the reminiscences are some telling blanket statements. Remember Castle's stinging dismissal of Marisa Berenson? Poor French girls get it worse ("French girls rarely make good models. They are, moreover, extremely unprofessional … French girls have neither the physical dimensions, nor the right temperament for the job."). There's also slightly condescending career advice and diet, make-up and exercise plans for girls looking to get into the industry.

However, the modelling as a career angle to the book gives the book a more commercial emphasis, rather than simply fawning over the looks of the girls (though there's plenty of that as well). I was interested to learn, for example, that Evelyn Kuhn's contract with Revlon - the first exclusive make-up contract for a model, and negotiated on her behalf by the all-powerful Ford agency, lead to a 37% increase in their sales in the first year.

It's also wonderful at capturing some of the chemistry created when a good model and a good photographer work together. Jean Patchett, shown above photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue, explains how he'd spin a story for each photo shoot: "It’s at the Opera, and I’m looking for this lovely man I’m madly in love with. It’s intermission and I can’t find him. Suddenly, I see him in the distance and I’m trying to catch his eyes over everybody’s heads … At one sitting, we would easily take five hundred pictures for one outfit. He called it chasing a bluebird."

Similarly, it was watching Cecil Beaton and Dorian Leigh at work which inspired Henry Clark to pick up a camera: "It was total magic making them work together. Dorian was wearing a suit – and I was knocked between the eyes. I knew there and then I wanted to be a fashion photographer." Model Girl hints at the lives and careers of hundreds of models and photographers, but - with its wonderful selection of illustrations - itself is a testament to the fact a strong image can remain the most captivating thing of all. Drawn from over 70 years of fashion photography, it shows that despite changing times and faces, a great image is eternally fascinating.

Buy this from Last-Year Girl Books on Etsy

Friday, 19 April 2013

Last-Week Links: 19 April 2013

Whether it was something in the water, or the winds of change blowing round the place, or some other time-worn cliche, this week definitely felt like it was filled with exciting new ventures. Designer Stefi Orazi (who I often write about for Retro To Go) launched Modernist Estates - property porn for people who get off on the modular system - and *cough* I launched my own Etsy book store. I also learnt about Anywhen, from the team behind the all-conquering Retronaut. Its aim is to "see, show and share" memories from the past, and the result is something like what would happen if Pinterest raided your family photo albums. Needless to say, it's completely addictive. Lots of the images are taken from magazines like Time or National Geographic but there are some great personal collections too containing things like the image at the top of this post, dating to 1945 and showing some lovely women putting their best foot forward.

The Schiaparelli label is embarking on a new venture too. This week it was announced Christian Lacroix would be designing a one-off couture collection of 15 items "honouring the legacy of Elsa Schiaparelli". In the middle of the excitement, Vanessa Friedman took a view at the possible long term impact of this approach and the brand's mission to reposition itself for the twenty-first century.

The tail-end of the nineteenth-century meets the twenty-first century in this photo-montage by Alex Knights, posted on the Londonist. It shows the might of the original crystal palace - using a photo thought to have been taken by Emile Zola - looming large over the local Upper Norwood skyline. And, what I like about it even more is that it features my old flat (the white one on the  corner on the right). A little shiver ran down my spine when I saw it. Time Out played similar photography tricks this week, juxtaposing images of old and new Soho.

Now time for something completely new (with a little bit of a vintage flavour of course). As ever, Calivintage seems to find exactly the new clothing collections I want to make my very own. The above images are from the wonderful look book of Tata Naka. I can't help feeling Ms Audrey Horne may have had something of an influence on this.

Mrs Pomeranz's latest collection, meanwhile, is full of bright and fun updates on the 50s silhouette, and makes me long for bare legs and adventures (in that order).

In search of adventures, perhaps another seaside trip is in order. Take Courage featured a gorgeous round-up of antique and vintage shopping in the Hastings area, including some of the shops I discovered on my St Leonards outing earlier in the year.

For an even bigger adventure, I'd love to pay a visit to the Ox-Bow Summer Art School in Saugatuck, Michigan. Miss Moss shared these photographs, taken by Wallace Kirkland for Life in 1948. The photos,  filled with fresh faced girls dressed in white skirts, rolled up jeans and bare feet hanging out, painting and drawing, look completely heavenly. And the blissful quality of the photographs are backed up by the comments left on the post by former students of the Ox-Bow art school reminiscing about their time there. The school is still open! Let's go!

In the true spirit of adventure, I'm bringing along some Anne of Green Gables raspberry cordial, to be made thanks to the wonderful recipe on The History Kitchen, found via clever old Frankie. Hick!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Last-Year Girl Books is Open!

I mentioned in my last post that I may have some exciting news. Well, ta-da, and a snip of a red ribbon, as I'm very pleased to declare that Last-Year Girl now has its own dedicated vintage book store on Etsy.

The shop will be selling some of my huge collection of vintage fashion and lifestyle books. There's only a few titles up there at the moment but I hope to grow this substantially over the coming days and weeks.

The current selection includes some titles that will be very familiar to you if you are a long time reader of this blog:

*An original 60s edition of Quant By QuantBuy it for £25*

*Anita Colby's Beauty Book: Buy it for £35*


Do pop by the shop and tell me what you think. I would also be very grateful if you could share the shop with any vintage-loving fashion and books fans you have in your life.

I have a second piece of news as well, though this one was more unexpected. I've just received finished copies of The Rough Guide to Vintage London and it looks wonderful. The official release date is 1 May and you can pre-order a copy from Amazon for a very reasonable £7.99 (I obviously had to sell on some books to make way for this on my bookshelves!).

Friday, 12 April 2013

Last-Week Links: 12 April 2013

As Lisa Armstrong writes in this article for the Telegraph, the idea of who or what is a feminist has been endlessly debated this week. In this case, Armstrong uses it to discuss Gina Lollobrigida, the 50s pin-up whose extensive self-bought jewellery collection is going on sale at Sotheby's next month. I don't know much about Lollobrigida - or jewellery - but the piece is pretty fascinating. She moved from being a film star to becoming a photojournalist. There's a pretty amazing picture of her in the article taken on assignment, draped in Indian jewellery.

Yes, this is her with Fidel Castro, a photo taken in 1974. She tells WWD how she wanted to be busy between films, so would hop on planes to places she didn't know: "I used to see the poor, unknown people, but I also went to see heads of state. I must say they were more curious to see me than I was to see them. With me they were not afraid. I was not interested in politics. I was interested in the side of the person that was not written about in the newspapers." She apparently spent almost two weeks with Castro ("He was like a child"), and made a film that's yet to be shown - the mind boggles. Following on from my Cuba holiday last month, I've also been fascinated by Jay Z and Beyonce's trip to the country (we saw those stilt walkers!), and the subsequent reactions to it in the States.

Another woman who lived a fascinating life was Lilly Pulitzer, who died this week. Her colourful dresses - originally designed to conceal any stains obtained while working at her juice stand - sum up the appeal of a Palm Spring lifestyle for me (although as Lilly's own story makes apparent, that privileged lifestyle of leisure can be far from perfect). I especially enjoyed Lizzie's detailed post about her work over on the Vintage Traveler blog.

On the subject of 60s glamour, of course I couldn't let the week go by without the mention of the start of the new season of Mad Men. I've not seen it - DO NOT TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS. However, I have been enjoying all the spin-off posts and articles, particularly the supreme levels of geek behind 18 Mad Men anachronisms spotted by the internet and Mad Men in Notes: above is that sites take on the advert for Season Six. An excellent and very funny tool to swot up on all the various twists and turns, and to work out what happened when.

Finally, everyone enjoys a sneaky look behind the scenes don't they? I enjoyed Worn Through's piece on the privately-owned Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, containing over 12,500 pairs of shoes and shoe-related artefacts. And, like the rest of the fashion-curious world, I will definitely be trying to get onto one of LVMH's Journees Particulieres when they announce details this coming Tuesday. It's hard to even picture what all of the 40 sites could be, such is the mystery of the inner workings of the fashion world.

Have a lovely weekend. If all goes to plan I should have an exciting announcement to make on this blog on Monday. Eeek!

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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

V&A Craft Challenge: How To Make A Fabric-Covered Hairband With Bow

The V&A Shop sells many beautiful things (as well as the wonderful V&A books, obviously), but did you know about their range of gorgeous cotton fabrics? With patterns inspired by the collections of the museum, the fabrics are perfect for quilting, crafting and general swooning over. As part of the V&A Shop Fabric Project, my V&A colleagues and I were encouraged to get creative and to use the fabric for our own crafty projects. I used a fat quarter of the new tree buds design - a pattern adapted from an Art Nouveau-style furnishing fabric - to make the fabric-covered, floppy-bowed hairband shown above.

My method for making the hairband was a mixture of Cally's easy headband tutorial and the Blooming Leopold bow tie tutorial, and I was really pleased with the result. It's very cute, though perhaps not appropriate for this 32 year old to sport on a regular basis.

How to make a fabric-covered hairband with a floppy bow: 

1. Take a plain hairband (this one was a souvenir from Cuba), and measure the length and width of the band.

2. Measure out a rectangle of fabric. The length of the fabric should be the length of your hairband plus about 5cm; the width of your rectangle should be four times the width of your band, plus an extra 1cm.

3. Get your iron out. Fold the fabric in half and press. Unfold.

4. Using this ridge as a guide, press the long edges of your fabric into the centre.

5. Fold in half again lengthways. The right side of the fabric should be showing on both sides. Then pin.

6. Sewing machine time. Stitch down both of the long sides of the strip, staying close to the edge of the fabric.

7. Set that aside while you consider the very important matter of your bow. Draw a rough bow shape of whatever size you desire, and cut from fabric. Place face down on the fabric, so right sides are placed together, and use as a guide to cut out a second bow shape.

8. Cut out a piece of iron-on interfacing, just smaller than the size of the bow pieces. Apply to the wrong side of one of the bow pieces.

9. Pin both bow pieces together, with the right sides together. Stitch around the edge of the bow to sew both pieces together, sewing about 5mm away from the edge. Leave one side of the bridge of the bow open, then use this opening to pull your fabric through and turn your bow the right way out.

10. Give the bow a little twist in the middle for extra jauntiness.

11. To make the central band for your bow, get a small square of fabric. Fold in half, so the right side of the fabric is on the inside. Stitch down the open side of the strip to make a tube-like shape. Turn the right way round and stitch around the centre of your bow by hand, covering up the opening.

12. Sew the bow onto your main strip of fabric by hand. Be careful only to sew it to the top layer of fabric because then ...

13. ... you push your hairband through the tube of fabric.

14. At both ends, turn the extra fabric into the the inside of your hairband and glue to secure neatly. I did a bit of stitching too to keep everything in place.

15. Et voila! The finished hairband. An easy and satisfying craft project.

Next on my list of crafty projects is to try and recreate one of these. So I guess the next most important question is which fabric should I choose to do it with? Decisions...

For more inspiration, do keep an eye on the V&A Shop Facebook page to see what my crafty colleagues come up with.

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