Thursday, 31 October 2013

Nova 2000

I'm reading Moll Parkin's autobiography at the moment. It's outrageously brilliant. I'm currently in the 1960s and she's just become fashion editor at Nova magazine, charged with bringing some youth to its fashion coverage. I've heard a lot about Nova recently - starting with the Nova book I found a few months ago that marks the original incarnation of the magazine which ran from 1965 to 75 (and have since added some 1967 editions of the magazine to my Etsy shop). That find led to some Twitter reminiscences of the relaunch of the magazine in 2000. The noughties version was also flagged up in the latest edition of Lula, where Ellen Burney interviews Deborah Bee, editor-in-chief for that first 2000 issue.

In short, I knew I wanted to revisit Nova version 2000.

This is why eBay exists.

Thirteen years later, the magazine offers a strange mix of things, some which now seem ridiculously quaint - the feature above about women shopping for key "fashion" looks on the "new, improved British high street", for instance, or that there's only one mention of email and one website address given in the magazine, or a feature about a trend for dying and shaping pubic hair (not that I think this is a mainstream trend today, just that we all seem to have been expected to get a lot more wax friendly over the last decade or so.)

And then there's lots of things I wanted to read. The table above shows the answers given by 100 women to six different questions. The women ranged from Allegra McEvedy to Mo Mowlam, and the questions included "Do you believe in Tony Blair?" and "Is there anything wrong with a gay couple having a child?"

There was an article about whether you sit or hover over a public loo, a survey on how men and women responded differently to a direct offer from a strange of a date/going back to their house/sex, and Tracey Emin and Juergen Teller being sent to report on an Alexander McQueen show (as shown above). In part, this is the most frustrating piece ever - you get the animal rights protesters, the parties, the journos and only a couple of lines about the actual pieces. After the show Emin asks a couple of people what they think of the show, "And with glee, they say the clothes were amazing. I'm confused." However, it is refreshing to read a ten page spread about someone whose designs are often discussed in hyperbole which is little more than an entertaining shrug of indifference.

What would the advertisers say? Probably quite a lot if this quote from Bee, from the Lula interview is anything to go on: "The publishing house encouraged us to go with our gut, so we did. They then totally lost their nerve and wanted us to stop doing the controversial stuff, like the feel of the old Nova, which was the whole point."

With the photography of Juergen Teller, then married to the magazine's fashion director Venetia Scott, and Terry Richardson, here photographing (who else?) Chloe Sevigny, the magazine does feel ridiculously of its time - offering up the cool remove that I now think of in the best examples of early 2000s style, in contrast to the world of Heat and Now which I was probably reading at the time. Look how blissfully free the cover looks of straplines and feature splashes.

I had no memory of reading the twenty-first century version of Nova, but I guessed I must have done - I've never been one to leave a magazine stand empty-handed. When I saw the feature above, only then I remember looking at this very edition and puzzling over James Jarvis's strange illustrations of the latest couture collections.

I remembered this Stephanie Seymour shoot too (though I'm not sure I twigged it was her at the time). And I'm almost certain I tore out one of the Chloe Sevigny pictures and shoved it in an inspiration file somewhere, in those days before Pinterest.

That's what really puzzled me. While the fashion images had burned their way into my memory, I have no memory of the features at all. I don't even remember if I bought any more issues of the magazine after the debut issue. I'm slightly annoyed with myself for not supporting, reading and taking to my heart a women's magazine that was generally trying to push the boundaries a bit and that talked about public toilets as well as the latest beauty products.

It wasn't to be - Bee was ousted as editor after two issues, and the magazine itself lasted for only 13 issues. Is an intelligent and commercially successful women's magazine so hard to pull off? Perhaps the refreshing array of independent magazines around at the moment proves there is an appetite to make something different. Nova 2014 anyone?

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Last-Year Reads: In The Mink by Anne Scott-James

I've been trying to get my hands on In The Mink by Anne Scott-James for while - it's a novel set in the fashion magazine world of the 1930s and 40s and published in 1952. It's always been too expensive or slipped through my hands (I still shed a tear about a copy stolen from outside my flat). With the book finally in my hands, I read the Guardian obituary, which describes it as "scarcely readable as a novel". Oh dear. But now I've read it, I see what he means. For all, "hand on heart" that Scott-James swears in the foreword of the book that it's not a memoir, it absolutely is. And, if the characters themselves are made-up or exaggerated, she writes about both the day-to-day of working on a fashion magazine, and the changing fashion world in Britain in such detail, that it's impossible to read it as anything other than a record of the period.

Miss Gaskell of In The Mink leaves Oxford to start as an assistant at Venus fashion magazine. During the Second World War she leaves to work for View, a photo-led news publication, before returning after the War to be editor of Venus. Anne Scott-James, meanwhile, leaves Oxford and becomes an assistant at Vogue, before working for Picture Post during the War, and then moving to be editor of Harper's Bazaar. In interviews, Scott-James described both her frustrations with the boys club atmosphere of Oxford and how she saw herself as one of the first career girls. At that stage, there weren't too many career options open to women, journalism being one of them although women were expected to focus on fashion, food, family and interiors (and although Scott-James did get some exciting assignments on Picture Post, it automatically fell to her to cover the fashion too - there's one of her features below). She also points out it wasn't considered a glamorous career either until after the War. There's quite a bit of defending of the value of fashion throughout the book, and emphasising the high standards applied to the editorial of fashion magazines.

Anne Scott-James photographed by Cecil Beaton, via

As Miss Gaskell is trained up in the world of magazines, the reader gets to learn about their inner workings too. There's an introduction to their baffling language, and that strange punctuation which defines early twentieth-century fashion magazines, where "dots, dashes and colons assume unusual importance in this particular code", as well as an outline of captions, of photography and of layout. It's all held together with a huge serving of humour - there's a feature commonly known as "bitches in tiaras", for example, which becomes Bitches in A.T.S., Bitches in A.R.P., or Bitches in Red Cross Uniforms with the onset of war.

The glamour and excitement comes in the grand occasions, such as her first fashion show where the Venus fashion writers sweep in wearing little black dresses and pearls, while the team at the rival Couture had gone "county" in tweeds. Or its in the personalities who all work in the world of fashion. On the magazine alone, hardened professionals on the team rub shoulders with exotic creatures, brought in to add beauty, taste, elegance and, of course, those vital connections to the team. I'm sure those more well-versed in 30s aristocracy than I am will be able to put the real names to some of these creations. Meanwhile, I'm pretty convinced that the American Miss Flower, as described in the passage below, has to be Carmel Snow:

"Tiny, and brittle, with a mass of curly bright blue hair… Mrs Flower … slept soundly through most of the Collections. But some sixth sense would function when anything particularly good came on and would press a bell in her brain. Then she would sit up with a jerk, open her bright, birdlike eyes, and make feverish notes. (In fairness to Balenciaga, I must say she was never seen to close an eye at a Balenciaga Collection)."

In The Mink is especially interesting because it tells it all from the British perspective. The influence and power of the likes of Snow or Woolman Chase is on a different planet, and the Brits can only look on in admiration. Miss Gaskell writes enviously of the quality of their photographers, and their models - and their budgets.

Deborah Kerr models utility clothes for an Anne Scott-James feature for Picture Post, March 1942. Via

This does mean the book is brilliant in telling the story of British fashion from the 1930s until the late 1940s. Pre-War, they are described as disorganised group, ranging from the couturiers (with some well-known names such as Molyneux and Norman Hartnell), through the London stores, and Madam shops and the wholesalers. Post-War, INCSOC is making its presence felt, there are public relations officers in place and the whole situation becomes much easier for the fashion press.

Similarly, she reports in on the developments in US fashions in the periods and the "delicious" accessories and novelties they could offer the world, alongside "lovely costume jewellery, elegant shoes, good cheap gloves and stockings, amusing, well-cut beach, sports and lounging clothes. The teenager clothes were outstandingly well-designed, and the furs the most exciting in the world." However, she notes, "the thing you rarely saw was fine handwork."

Faced with a failing magazine, as editor Miss Gaskell rebuilds the success of Venus through really concentrating on fashion, for trying to push that above the quality offered by other magazines. This is an interesting difference to Scott-James's own career. Realising the sorry state of British fashion post-war, she concentrated on building up a great team of writers at Harper's Bazaar, and commissioned work from the likes of Elizabeth David, John Betjeman and Eric Ambler.

The ending of the book is perhaps the oddest thing about it, but fascinating for those interested in working women in this period. She (now long since a Mrs) decides to leave editing as she can no longer juggle the challenges of the job with her duties as a mother, lamenting that "before the war, leading a double life was much easier". But, in the cry of a pioneer, she vows not to be defeated:

"I am a staunch believer in having one’s cake and eating it, a principle I have followed greedily throughout my life. I know there must be a way of having and eating this cake, and somehow I shall find it."

That's the last we hear of the career of Miss Gaskell. Scott-James, meanwhile, carved out a career for herself as a newspaper columnist, and became one of the most famous opinion leaders in the country. You can read more about her life here or, through the words of her son, Max Hastings, here. However, I really recommend you listen to her tell you herself on this 2004 episode of Desert Island Discs. It's a fascinating life that perhaps doesn't get given its due attention in this book.

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Friday, 25 October 2013

Last-Week Links: 25 October 2013

For British TV watchers, the crowning of the week has, of course, been the Bake Off finale. Now my namesake has been crowned the rightful winner, what next? Well, thankfully we've been given the joy of Naomi Campbell and The Face. So, in the style of Naomi, I'm encouraging you to sit, notebooks at the ready, for this round of links.

Although street style reporting has undoubtedly influenced the way some people present themselves, I'm not entirely sure I agree with this article lamenting the demise of the fashion eccentrics (it did however, give me a great excuse to use a picture of my favourite Loulou de la Falaise). After all, as Fashionable Fashionistas proved some of the best-dressed people don't operate within the world of fashion. And, while the style eccentrics the article highlights aren't restricted by their age, the fakery that is pinpointed possibly is.

The Invisible Woman's response to a "Dressing the Ageing Demographic" conference was typically thought provoking, and I admire her statement that "it is with a large degree of pride that I see my generation busily reinventing middle age and extending it. Hopefully, when we get to 'old', we'll reinvent that, too."

Always fascinating on the subject of dressing the older woman is American Age Fashion. This week I especially enjoyed her response to this advert, taken from Vogue 1954, featuring a line-up of some of the United States's most famous fashion designers of the era, including Lilly Daché, Claire McCardell and Anne Fogarty, and illustrating the subtle difference between their own dress (and so many women than if you'd compare it to a photograph of couturiers of the same period).

These arbiters of taste are promoting a new model of Chrysler. And, of course, the promotion of other products through fashion continues today in many weird and wonderful ways. Here's Karl Lagerfeld promoting Paper Toy Mania, through a cut-out-and-keep model Karl, or there's Prada's inroads into literary fiction.

I'm curious to read Colin McDowell's The Anatomy of Fashion - there's an interesting interview with him on the Phaidon blog, but the book nerd in me loves all the production notes too. He's discussing the book with Justine Picardie at the V&A next week.

Another new book that looks extremely flickable is Jane & Serge: A Family Album. There's an in-depth preview on Messy Nessy Chic.

Though Princess Margaret got a look in a few weeks ago, you may have noticed a lack of too many things 'royal' round these parts. That's not to say I'm not excited by the thought of Hobbs' collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces. I mean, who could not get excited by head designer, Karen Boyd's description, "You step behind an exhibit in Kensington Palace and there are rooms stacked floor to ceiling with shelves of beautifully archived clothing." And, cheeringly, the collection is made using fabrics sourced from long-established British companies. I rather fancy this Sovereign dress. It's all rather different to my favourite new collection of the moment, Coco Fennell x Karen Mabon - I wrote about their twisted beauty queens for Domestic Sluttery this week.

British sensibilities and London life are the subject of this article in the New York Times (via Simple Village Girl). The comments are as interesting as the article itself. I also loved this feature about a piece of fiction based around my own neighbourhood in London - the photographs perfectly capture the "strange air" of Crystal Palace Park.

There's a couple of little displays I'd like to visit that have just opened: Virgin Records: 40 Years of Disruptions, and one on the little explored influence of skinhead culture on graphic design. I need to catch up though, and this weekend I'm determined to pay a visit to the ICA sub-cultures show before it closes. What else do I have planned? Well, I hope to pay my first visit to Ardingly Antiques and Collectors fair. I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed just by looking at those pictures ... Have a lovely weekend, whatever it involves.

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Friday, 18 October 2013

Last-Week Links: 18 October 2013

Hello, happy Friday! I hope you've had a good week. Lots of good things I want to share today, so I'll just crack on. 

I'm curious about the Fashion and Textile Museum's new Fiction in Fashion display, but I wonder if has anything to say for itself other than simply being a collection of bestsellers from the last few decades? I will have to go and decide. In the meantime, it inspired this great fictional fashion icon article in the Telegraph. Yes, Milly-Molly-Mandy! I remembered being so pleased to find a heroine with hair like mine growing up (and I'm sure it's inspired many sub-conscious hair decisions too). And - of course! - Anne and her longing for puffed sleeves. 

More heroines and heroes in BBC History's 'best dressed Briton' of all time poll. I think 'experts' nominated the top ten before readers voted, or else the general British public's taste in icons (Beau Brummell, Georgiana Canvendish, Anne Messel, as well as David Bowie) is a lot more sophisticated than we're generally led to believe. 

Talking of good dressers, Calivintage led me to discover the amazing, and French, style of Lady Moriaty. Fab.

And A Beautiful Mess featured the gorgeous home of another favourite blogger, Candy Pop.

Lots of fashion inspiration from previous decades too, whether it's the Spring/Summer collection of Colenimo, this season based around the silent film star sisters Norma, Constance and Natalie Talmadge (via Honey Kennedy)...

... or some first hand 40s fashion, as seen in this Life article about a New York 'career girl'.

Here's some great outfits from the Four Aces club in Dalston - What We Wore has the story of the club which is the subject of a new documentary.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and someone has bothered to scan in the first issue of Just Seventeen, from 13 October 1983, via magculture. I had a moment when I thought Culture Club had their own range in Boots (well, Adam Ant had his own makeup range, so why not?), but sadly it's just a reminder that Boots used to sell records as well as toiletries.

The nineties, meanwhile, are well represented by G.V.G.V's new Clueless collection, as highlighted on Style Bubble. Ideally, I'd sign off with a song from Clueless but - oh look - I did that last week. Instead, I'll just wish you farewell and a lovely weekend. Enjoy.

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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Last-Year Reads: IT by Alexa Chung

Alexa Chung's IT is a change from the usual books I like to write about. For a start, there's nothing "Last Year" about it - it's so unbelievably now, it's hard to believe the ink has even had chance to dry properly. But I think it's still worth mentioning as it's the kind of book you'll want to press into the hands of your grandkids and say, "this is what it was like to be stylish in 2013". They will look curiously at you, and think you are a little mad.

Alexa is ridiculously of the moment. And, of course, she isn't too. While a lot of young fashion is geared towards flashing flash, Chung's style isn't really about that. No surprise she writes that she ditched her first style icons, The Spice Girls, quite early on. When talking about Annie Hall, she says, "It was the first time I recognised that sexuality didn't have to be expressed through high skirts and crop tops."

Her look has been undeniably influential on British fashion. Her list of "essential" wardrobe items - denim hot pants, navy blue jumper, a Burberry trench coat, a tote bag, ankle boots, Wayfarer sunglasses, ballet flats, dungarees and a white shirt - contains quite a few items that capture early twenty-first century dressing for a lot of young women. She also tackles several of the important issues of today: karaoke, twitter and self-portraits. While it's easy to scoff, I know I've had exactly those conversations with my friends (alongside weightier ones about literature, politics and the weather and anything else).

Her scattered references also seem to typify an internet-lead generation. Would our parents have been as comfortable claiming they admired the style of people from their parents generation? (For the record, Chung includes Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Anna Karina and Edie Sedgwick as some of her style icons. She also introduces Winona Ryder in Heathers, Wednesday Addams and Liv Tyler in Empire Records into the canon. All of which I heartily agree with.) It's hard to argue with a lot of her choices - I'd love to wear eyeliner like the Ronettes, and fall in love to The Flamingos. I'd be very happy if this book encourages any teenagers to take up either of those things.

This book is very light on actual style tips. There's a brief page on make-up, gym gear, hair and underwear and the like. You could flick through the whole thing in less than 30 minutes, but I imagine some fans will pour over this and the pictures of Chung and her friends used to illustrate the book for hours.

The oddest section is one on heartbreak - I'm surprised she wrote about her own heartbreak with such honesty, and then allowed it to be published. But I'm pleased that she did. It's surprisingly refreshing to read about a celebrity's life not being exactly perfect without it having to be a shocking story or a headline worthy drama. And when you pass the book onto your grandkids, that will probably be the bit when they finally grasp something of Chung's appeal.

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Friday, 11 October 2013

Last-Week Links: 11 October 2013

It's Friday, it's actually pretty late on a Friday. One week I hope to be able to start one of these posts without commenting on how quickly the week has flown by. Till then I'll just crack on with the usual kind of links. The first, again quite predictably, is Teenage-related (I finally get to see the film on Sunday). Their blog featured interviews with some of the girls who featured in Ken Russell's well known 1955 photographs of teddy girls.

Researcher Eve Dawoud has captured some great stories from the women, and information on how they created their incredible style. I mean, look at the high collar and very proper umbrella, the heavy coat and then those sandals in the image above - amazing! And, of course, they remember every single detail of what they wore. Grace Living, one of the women interviewed, recalls:

"I remember buying a blouse for £4.99 which came with a little cameo brooch with it. I had black pencil skirts and black trousers too. I also had a shawl-collared jacket, mine was black with a yellow trim, drainpipe trousers, little ballet pumps, a clutch and clip on circle earrings. I used to make and customise things, stitch a rose onto a blouse or cover a clutch bag in a fabric to match your earrings. I’d paint my earrings with nail varnish to have them match your outfit. Clutch bags were an essential and they were cheap and cheerful. The ballet pumps were velveteen not leather."

Just perfect. For a slightly later take on the minutiae of British life, I really want to see Tony Rae Jones's photographs at the Science Museum's new media space, while the always interesting Guardian Invisible Woman blog took a trip to the 1970s and Northern Soul.

It was through the Guardian and a piece on women in trousers in fiction, I discovered my latest favourite blog: Clothes in Books. I lost my Monday evening to revisiting Noel Streatfeild and Dodie Smith classics (as crops up in my 1930s modelling post), but have enjoyed more recent posts on Bridget Jones and Beautiful Ruins every bit as much. I can tell this is not going to help my already semi-ruinous book buying habit.

And talking of which, here's some lovely new glossy fashion books to coo over. I always like a skim through the offerings of a Kerry Taylor auction, and I'd very much like to have a skim through her new Vintage Fashion & Couture book too.

Another person previously mentioned in this blog, Shona Heath, was the subject of an interesting feature in the Telegraph. As were Betty Halbreich and Lena Dunham. Dunham is doing a comedy on Halbreich apparently - this pair already sounds comedy.

I hope the resultant film includes a make-over. I do love a make-over montage. As does Never Undressed, as shown by this impressive gallery. I'm sad they obviously couldn't find the exact Clueless clip, so here's the Jill Sobule 'Supermodel' video instead.

So beautiful... have a lovely weekend!

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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The life of a 1920s model in Clothes Pegs by Noel Streatfeild

Private clients watching a fashion show at Hirsch & Cie department store, 1930s. Via

Back at the end of the July, when I was still marvelling over the 1940s fashions in Dawn Powell's A Time To Be Born, @sarramanning on twitter gave me a tip to check out Susan Scarlett's Clothes Pegs for a fashionable take on a slightly earlier decade. I'm so glad I did as, although the story or the clothes aren't quite up there for me in the same way they were in Powell's book, Clothes Pegs gives a fascinating glimpse into the life of a model in a 1920s London fashion house.

Clothes Pegs came out in 1939. Its author is much better known under her real name of Noel Streatfeild and famous for her enchanting childhood stage stories such as Ballet Shoes or Curtain Up. Susan Scarlett was apparently the name she put to her romantic adult stories, and, in terms of storyline, Clothes Pegs is pure escapist fluff. A lowly seamstress, Annabel, is plucked from the obscurity of the workroom to be a fashion house model and, along the way, defeats various challenges to win the heart of a handsome toff. But, what makes it interesting is Streatfeild's own experience - she worked as a model in the mid-1920s to supplement her wages as an aspiring actress. Her tall and slender figure coupled with her actor's ability to be able to show and present clothes meant she easily found work as a model, as did many fellow actresses at the time.

It's hardly a surprise then that her description of a model's life feels spot-on, albeit romanticised. Annabel works at Bertna's, based in Mayfair's Hanover Square. The widowed Russian owner, Tania, is a kind woman (Streitfeild's biography describes her friendship with the designer Christabel Russell, so perhaps she formed the basis of her character). It's Tania who spots Annabel's beauty and asks her to try modelling. Annabel is trained up in how to walk properly and how to best demonstrate an ensemble, whether that's putting your hands in its pockets or splaying a full skirt (take a look at the photograph of the model in Paris doing this with great skill later on in the post).

Streatfeild takes us behind the scenes to see the fashion house on the staging of their spring show. She describes the four models have over 100 gowns to show between them, shown divided into morning, afternoon and evening gowns, and then into town and country wear. The room is set up with 150 gold chairs and ash trays and cigarettes placed upon each table. Cocktails are handed round between the evening dresses and the court gowns presentations. The lighting is carefully set up to cast a glow on the floor where the models walk. Although Annabel is nervous to step out into the busy room, she appreciates the buzz of being admired by so many in beautiful clothes, and Tania is pleased to see the effect she has on the customers, who are eager to order her outfits.

I was thrilled to discover a parallel in Dodie Smith's novel I Capture The Castle, where Rose writes to describe the process of getting her trousseau to her sister Cassandra. Published in 1949, it's thought the book was based in the mid-1930s, so almost the period of Clothes Pegs: 

"Getting a trousseau is quite hard work. I think you would be surprised at the way we do it. We hardly go to real shops at all but to large beautiful houses. There are drawing-rooms with crystal chandeliers and little gilt chairs all around and you sit there and watch the manniquins (can't spell it) walk past in the clothes. You have a card and pencil to mark down what you like."

Fashion illustrator Francis Marshall's London West (published in 1944) recalls the behind-the-scenes frenzy of these kind of shows, and their reliance on the models themselves:

"It is no easy matter to show from one to two hundred dresses of all kinds in the space of little over an hour without delays of some sort or another, and behind the scenes there is a kind of organised pandemonium. It is hard, exhausting work for the mannequin to get into dress after dress, ranging from elaborate evening dresses to a bathing or ski-ing costume, and each with its correct accessories. She needs something of the agility of a quick-change artist and the poise of an actress."

In Clothes Pegs you do get a real sense of the physical demands of the job. In the case of Betna's, we're told that the house models are lucky because they have their own room, furnished with a large electric fire and a vase of flowers. For most of the novel, day to day this is a place to gossip and squabble (not that Annabel partakes, obviously), to collapse exhausted after the demands of the day, knock back Bromo Seltzer and seemingly spend a lot of their day sitting around in their underwear and dressing gown, waiting to be asked to come out and show clothes.

Behind the scenes at a fashion parade, 1930s. Via

Bernadette, a kindly older model, writes down the basics required for a model's kit - what would require a large outlay from Annabel, then living with her parents on a seamstresses budget. It reminded me a bit of that huge list of what you needed to buy to take with you to stage school, which Streatfeild provided in Ballet Shoes.

Annabel's list consists of beige satin shoes (she's advised that cheap ones can mean corns), very long fine stockings (to be marked against theft from other models), a small suspender belt, step-ins - "as sheer as you can buy" (I had to look these up, they're panties with with wide legs), a backless brasserie and a "dressing gown to live at Bertna's".

The models exist in a strange limbo state within the house, separated from the rest of the workers, both envied and despised, and the subject of fashion house critique. One of the fitters, working on a dress, grumbles at Annabel: "Nice time we'll have after the show when they want to try on the dresses. Our customers have busts and behinds. Why we show the clothes on you girls, who are flat all over, beats me." A Punch cartoon from 1927, is quoted by Alison Adburgham in her View of Fashion book as being the first appearance of models within its pages, and references a similar concern. A plump lady is watching the leggy flattened figures of the fashion models go by at her show. She remarks, "My dear, I'm positive an inquiry is needed into the working conditions of these poor half-starved girls". From then on, Adburgham notes, models were under constant public critical scrutiny.

I've only dipped into Caroline Evan's new book The Mechanical Smile but it focuses on fashion models in America and France from 1900 to the late 1920s. This strange liminal state of the model is something she emphasises: always seen, always in the public eye, but not fully seen as women, or their contributions properly recorded in history.

One of the things Evans' remarks upon is the naming of models mannequins, taken from the name given to the model dolls used to show clothes before they were put upon human forms. In Clothes Pegs, Annabel tells her mother she's became a model: "A model!" Ethel looked puzzled. Then enlightenment came to her. 'You mean a mannequin?'". Annabel tells her they call them models at Bertna's. I don't know enough about the distinction between the two terms, and the connotations they both carry, but it's interesting this difference is fully drawn and the example of a nice fashion house goes for the slightly more humane sounding term (though the term "Clothes Pegs" itself is less-than-flattering).

On one hand, the models are in an enviable position. As described in the book, "They earned quite a lot of money and went to all the sort of restaurants the customers went to." It certainly sounds like a more glamorous job than that done by their parents (the Bertna's models's family backgrounds feature second-hand clothes dealerships and boarding houses). But, if they're no longer really working class like their parents, what have they become exactly?

Model in Paris, photographed by Willy Maywald, 1930s. Via

For Bernadette, modelling is something she is able to do, despite the high profile of her father's criminal conviction. Although Bernadette hasn't done anything wrong, the modelling world seems to be able to absorb a bit of scandal in a way the rest of society perhaps isn't able to. There was still a question mark in some people's minds, that there was something not quite proper about the job of the model. In I Capture The Castle, Rose notes that Topaz, "knew some of the mannequins at a dress-show - I could have died"; in Clothes Pegs, Bernadette gives a note of warning to Annabel about the intentions of her suitor:

"Models rank with the chorus in lots of men's minds, and they are considered gay. It's a hang over from the naughty nineties, when chorus girls lead the life. I think they still hope we aren't fussy to put it mildly."

The models may go on dates with aristocratic gentleman in the smartest bars, and mingle in their social world. But when they are showing the clothes, they are merely to be looked upon. Francis Marshall describes a model at work: "The mannequin, whatever her trials and tribulations behind the scenes, now appears aloof, disdainful, and removed from all human frailties." At one point, Annabel transgresses this code by breaking down in tears and confiding to a customer that she's worried about the health of her father. It's only okay because the customer is an aspiring actresses, herself still unaware of the correct social conventions.

In afterward to the The Mechanical Smile, Evans's uses a French novel, Lucy Clairin's Journal d'un mannequin from 1937 set in 'Boris', a Parisian couture house. Like Annabel, she experiences the joys of female friendship within the fashion house as well as its bitchiness, and the challenges of difficult clients, but the mannequins here have a much wider definition of respectability - one is virginal, one has a married politician for her boyfriend and another has a secondary career as nude dancer.

Meanwhile, Streatfeild emphasises that Bertna's upholds terribly high standards - a couple of the models get fired after less exemplary behaviour - but is this because it's extra important to defend the sometimes less than savoury reputation of models, rather than merely to enforce a nice fairy tale ending? Or perhaps it's something of the two. Honourable Annabel gets her honourable man, and the more questionable models get their comeuppance. If the first-hand experience of these model girls has gone more or less unreported, isn't it interesting that in Clothes Pegs it's the former model who writes the moral and happy ending to the tale?

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I edited the title of this post on 5 July 2015 from "1930s model" to "1920s model", as it so closely reflects Streatfield's own experience as a model. 

Friday, 4 October 2013

September on Last-Year Girl and Last-Week Links: 4 October 2013

Wow, it's October. That seemed to come round quickly. The rapid passing of another month can be skimmed over quickly with the happy news that this month brings the next Kerry Taylor auction. It's typically wonderful stuff, with the lots including Lucile sketches, an abundance of Ossie Clark, a gorgeous Ascher scarf and Queen Victoria's drawers. Anne Dettmer's collection of American and French fashion has added some really interesting pieces to the selection but, if I was forced to pick just one thing for me (it's a hard life), it would probably have to be this Yves Saint Laurent Lips dress for the Rive Gauche line, and dating to around 1971. Though I wouldn't mind 19 pairs of Terry de Havilland shoes either.

On the subject of Yves Saint Laurent, there's going to be a new biopic apparently, with handsome French actor Gaspard Ulliel as Yves, and William Dafoe doing a turn as Warhol.

Here he is again (well some of his clothes), as snapped by Charlie Porter, on one of the storage units at the V&A's new Clothworkers Centre. This new fashion study facility looks really amazing, though my brain can't quite handle the shot used in the Time Out article - I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last night and Blythe House, the home of the centre, is used as the location for Spy HQ. I'm half imagining Gary Oldman popping out of one of the cupboards too!

Someone who would definitely love to get his mitts on the V&A's archive is Arnaud de Lummen who is buying up old designer names, convinced of their money-spinning potential. And when the names are as 'magic' as Mainboucher and Poiret, perhaps I see his point.

A very different archive that's recently been discovered is the sweater collection of Loes Veenstra. Since 1955, she's knitted over 500 jumpers, previously stored unworn in her house in Rotterdam. There's now a book of her collection and some of her sweaters are for sale. And there's this wonderfully colourful and happy video too.

To really labour the point that it's always worth digging around in an archive, I love this story about Hemingway's hamburger, recreated using a recipe in his archive of papers, held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The result? "I had never experienced such a combination of flavours in a burger before," gushes the writer. Quick, scour your cupboards for Mei Yen powder now! 

Given the overall theme of today's links, how could I leave without showing you the beautiful Required Reading Index Organizer bag? It's taken from a new bookish-inspired collection from Kate Spade (found via To Be Shelved) that takes librarian chic to its extreme. I wholeheartedly approve.



* I went to Berlin: here are some of my favourite vintage shops.

* I visited God's Own Junkyard and marvelled at the incredible neon creations.

* And found a great new source for youth culture material, PY-Zine.



* A 1950s Penguin edition of Christian Dior's autobiography Dior by Dior and a hardback edition of Diana Vreeland's D.V.

* Two issues of one of the 60s most influential magazines, Nova: November 1967 here and December 1967 here.

* Ernestine Carter's Magic Names of Fashion (read my review of this book)

* And some 1950s fashion and beauty advice, courtesy of Betty Page (read my review of this book)

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