Thursday, 19 June 2014

The Mannequin Glide

What do you picture when someone asks you to imagine a fashion model's walk? For me, it’s Naomi Campbell confidently strutting the length of the runway. But models haven’t always strutted. Sometimes they’ve slinked, sometimes they’ve glided and, of course, they've "catwalked". This film from 1933 talks about their “easily flowing” movements.

This is more than just wordplay. In The Mechanical Smile, Caroline Evans convincingly argues that the walk of mannequins changed in the early twentieth century, from the rolling walk, influenced by popular dance crazes of the period, through the hips-thrust forward bored slouch of the 1920s.

Clothes themselves also influence the way a woman walks. Think about how wearing a corset, or a hobble skirt, or simply a raised heel would effect the way you walk. A mannequin, as the first person to wear each round of new fashions, and probably in a more extreme interpretation than would be sold to a customer, has to work out new ways of displaying these new fashions - and making them look desirable.

The mannequin glide, however, is not just a description. Given how Evans’ explores the links between dance and the model’s walk, it’s fitting that the “mannequin glide” is also the name of a dance. In March 1939, the British Mannequins Union organised a ‘Mannequin’s Ball’ in aid of Guy’s hospital. To really celebrate the occasion, they also invented their own dance, drawn from other popular routines, and called it the “mannequin glide”. Model school owner and one of the organisers of the ball, Lucie Clayton told the Daily Mail at the time, “We felt that as fashion repeats itself we were justified in going back and picking out a Mannequin Glide out of bits of dance history.”

Rather than picturing a catwalk, let’s instead try and imagine a ballroom at the end of the 1930s, and a beautiful group of women showing off a carefully rehearsed dance routine. What are you picturing? Well, I’m pretty certain it’s not this.

This. This is the only surviving photo I’ve found of the Mannequin Glide. While it doesn’t show the elegant swan-like models gliding past each other on the dancefloor, I like it all the more for that. It reminds us that models were real women, who also liked to have a laugh and a good time. And, given that my own dance routines have often included a jaunty leg-kick or wagging finger, perhaps it's yet another pioneering example of the influence of the mannequin on the way women move.

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Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier

You know that tune from Moulin Rouge – "Spectacular, Spectacular" – that’s what plays in my head every time I think about The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition currently on at the Barbican. The show has got all of his greatest hits, from striped sailors to conical bras, and a star-studded cast list. It’s got talking mannequins and Spitting Image puppets. It’s even got its own Can-Can dancer.

Needless to say, the show is brilliant fun. The mannequins – who pout and babble incomprehensible little French nothings thanks to some clever projection work – the mechanised mannequin parade and the footage, taken from films and pop videos, as well as JPG’s extravagant catwalk shows make for an all-together theatrical experience. It’s impossible not to get caught up with its energy, to believe that, yes, a tin can necklace is a wonderful thing, and that bondage outfit would be just the thing to wear to the office Christmas party. 

Much of is made of Gaultier’s inclusive idea of beauty and unconventional approach to high fashion, partly influenced by the time he spent in the creative clubland of London in the 1980s. He goes for less conventional-looking models or feisty pop starlets such as Beth Ditto or Madonna. Likewise, his happy mix of ‘high’ and ‘low’ means Eurotrash's place in this exhibition is as justified as the most immaculately crafted piece of haute couture. And, unlike other designers, whose ideas often don’t translate further than the fashion market, he seems to have achieved a wider social appreciation: this is the first fashion exhibition I have been to in the UK where more than 20% of the audience were male (small steps!). 

You become so seduced by Gaultier’s charm and his madly creative world, that it’s easy to forget the world beyond the exhibition space. You believe, that when he puts a woman or a man in a corset, it’s a positive thing, a symbol of someone in complete control of their own sexuality. Taken out of context, put on a different person, and it becomes just another starlet desperately wanting to appear sexy in a corset. Once out in the mainstream, whatever Gaultier may want us to believe, it’s impossible for the outfit to retain its original intentions. 

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier is a brilliant show. It will make you laugh, it will make you clap, it will leave you wanting more. It’s just that he’s such a showman, and this is such a show-stopping feat, you start wondering if – like the Duke of the Moulin Rouge – you’ve been the victim of your own Spectacular, Spectacular deception. No matter how good, with these exhibition monographs of living artists that are shown without an accompanying level of critical interpretation, there’s a sneaky suspicion you might not be being told the true and full story. But Monsieur Gaultier wouldn’t ever want to deceive his English chums, non?

Photography was allowed throughout the exhibition. These were all taken by my exhibition accomplice, Roxanne.  

Monday, 2 June 2014

Monday Detail: The Lips Print

4. The Lips Print

Hedi Slimane openly acknowledged his reference to Yves Saint Laurent when he sent this dress down the runaway for the Saint Laurent label. It used a distinctive lips print, seen on these dresses from past Kerry Taylor auctions, both from the Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche label and dating to around 1971.

Yves Saint Laurent’s 1971 Vichy Chic collection was described in his biography as “a tour de force of bad taste”. For the audience of the time, its forties silhouettes recalled too closely the fashions of the Occupation, made none-the-sweeter for its high camp aesthetic. Yves Saint Laurent, however, was non-repentant and declared, “There's a love affair between me and the street. 1971 is a great year because fashion is finally hitting the streets”. Of course, what was shocking once becomes softened over time – at his retrospective in Paris, I found this collection one of the most appealing and, indeed, looking at the dress above, wish it had retained the 1940s style neckline.

Marks & Spencer dress and shoes; ASOS midi skirt

Hedi Slimane, of course, divides opinion too. This particular show attracted fierce criticism for its "virtual rehashing" of original YSL pieces, but was also one of the season’s most critically acclaimed. And his influence is undeniable: the fashion for the lip print has definitely hit the high street at least, seen here on fashions from ASOS and, that safest of British high street names, Marks & Spencer. Although, I imagine the print would have been much more fun to wear back in the 1970s, when accessorised with that frisson of controversy.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Burberry Does Bloomsbury

When I wrote about visiting Charleston earlier this week, I hadn't realised the house had been the inspiration behind Burberry's autumn/winter 2014 collection. To echo the style of the house, the collection featured hand-painted everything: coats, scarves, shoes and the rather wonderful 'Bloomsbury bag' shown above, which probably would be mine if it wasn't £2,495.

Well, Burberry been putting their money where their mouth is too. The company is also now patrons of Charleston: a rare British example of a fashion house playing the cultural game, compared to the Italian and French fashion houses.

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