Monday, 22 September 2014

Models Never Talk

Over the last few years, I've become more and more fascinated by fashion models. There they are throughout fashion history, the medium through which a designer presents the clothes to the consumers, but them models rarely get studied in their own right (Caroline Evans' The Mechanical Smile is one of the honourable exceptions).

Instead they can be seen as instruments for the designer or the photographer to convey their vision. Think of Paul Poiret's instruction, "do not talk to the models, they do not exist," Their mute beauty creates a canvas onto which we can project our fantasies and also our fears: remember the blame that was laid at the feet of the models in the size 0 debate?

I was therefore really interested to hear about a presentation put on by Paris' Palais Galliera curator Olivier Saillard in Paris, titled "Models Never Talk" (pictured above, and at the top of the post). It featured seven French mannequins who had worked for the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and Thierry Mugler during the 1980s and 90s. From their memories, Saillard put together a script, which the models themselves acted out, dressed in black leotards and tights, reminiscent of the black tabards that had to be worn under the garments shown by the very first models in the late 19th century.

Through their performance, according to this report in the NY Times at least, they not only showed how couture felt and moved, they also showed how they walked and how cut and footwear could change the way they walked (remember The Mannequin Glide from even further back in modelling history?). It's interesting in itself the show was reviewed in the dance section of the paper. "Models are an important part of fashion history,” Saillard is reported as saying by “They are important to a fashion designer’s process. But suddenly, when they’re on the catwalk, they’re silent."

Sarah Grant on World of Difference, via

This week, I came across another example of models talking, a 1978 TV programme called World of Difference: The Models that's back up on the BBC website thanks to their current Sound of Style season. The programme contrasts the experiences of Cherry Marshall, a model in the 1940s and an agency owner in the 1950s and 60s who I wrote about here, with those of Sarah Grant, an Australian model working in London in the 1970s (and who, more recently, modelled for Chanel in Sydney aged 60 according to this article).

The film is well worth watching for many reasons, including a brilliant appearance from Norman Parkinson. But it's also great in charting how much modelling changed over that 30 year period, from the upper class gals with their cut glass accents (I did not expect Cherry Marshall to sound like that) and their ladylike demeanour, to personalities, nudity and the storytelling of the 1970s and that we take for granted in editorials today. “I regret that the glamour has gone," Cherry Marshall says. "That your average model girl today doesn’t look like a model. You pass her in the street and she could be anybody. I think that’s a shame.” 

Both Saillard's show and this TV programme prove the point that when a model talks, you can learn something new, and different, about the process of fashion than you might get from fashion designers or journalists. Perhaps that shouldn't need to be stated. But, as articles such as this one remind us, there's still a lot that models need to speak out about.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Fancy New Fancies

I was meant to be setting up a professional website; instead I found myself creating an entirely different blog. Fancies is my new toy, a brand new blog devoted to brand new things, from fashion to interiors. You can take a look here, follow it on bloglovin here and on Twitter here.

It's going to include the kind of thing I wrote about for Domestic Sluttery and the kind of thing pictured here, plus a few more "in my wildest dreams" pieces. Basically it's a place for all my materialistic urges, meaning Last-Year Girl will continue on its vintage/bookish path: not quite as new, not quite as shiny, but equally beloved by me.

Hope you enjoy reading/looking at the pictures/window shopping along with me!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Buying Biba

Biba is having a moment. Well, Biba always seems to be having a moment. Remember the excitement about founder Barbara Hulanicki's range for Topshop? Or the Brighton exhibition last year? Even House of Fraser's Biba collection (nothing to do with Hulanicki) can't seem to dampen the love for this 1960s and 70s label. That's certainly reflected in the prices: clothes that were proudly pitched at secretaries, as well as model girls, now go for hundreds and thousands of pounds. 

Part of the reason for the current enthusiasm is down to this gorgeous new looking book, The Biba Years, published by my friends at the V&A and written by Hulanicki with Martin Pel, the curator of the Brighton show. The Biba label is also strongly represented in next month's Kerry Taylor auction, as the sale includes Lorraine Harper's Biba collection. Harper worked for the company between 1970 and 1975 and her role, which included merchandise planning and overseeing production, means she was able to collect one-off Biba pieces as well as the kind of merchandise that defined Biba as a lifestyle brand. Over at FarFetch, they're also promoting a collection of vintage Biba, sourced by the L.A. boutique Decades.

Biba vintage cat print trouser suit, FarFetch

It's amazing how fashionable these Biba pieces look in 2014. Check out this vintage cat print trouser suit for example. See also: culottes, floral trousers, chunky platforms.

Madeline Smith, photograph by David Silverstein. Via

Biba vintage geometric print mini dress, FarFetch

At FarFetch, the Biba items have been listed alongside contemporary pieces that share the same aesthetic, including many of the accessories from the new Saint Laurent collection.

Biba black and white striped lurex dress, early 1970s, Kerry Taylor Auctions

Biba dress photographed by Arthur Elgort for British Vogue, November 1972, via

While Biba's original photography and merchandising, and the almost-mythology surrounding the Biba stores, create a notion of undeniable glamour, perhaps the most noticeable thing about the clothes themselves is that they seem so wearable. They're clothes you can imagine buying for parties and special occasions, or even every day: I'd like to wear an awful lot of these clothes regardless of their label. That combination is as potent today as it must have been in the 1960s and 70s. Imagine what it must have been like when the clothes were also comparatively affordable.

Biba vintage off-shoulder maxi dress, FarFetch

Sunday, 7 September 2014

What's your fashion type?

Bullock's tea room, Los Angeles, 1920s. Via. Is this the "daily fashion showing during luncheon"?

How would you describe your fashion personality type? Are you artistic, with a love of vivid colours, peasant necklines, and bizarre jewellery? Or are you modern, sleek, boyish, “just now shingle bobbed”? I’ve taken those descriptions from a 1920s guide to fashion personality types by L.A. department store Bullocks (as quoted in this post on American Age Fashion), but – according to Elle magazine at least – these questions are just as valid in 2014. Their September accessories supplement asks the question: “What kind of woman are you?” with possible answers including The Athlete, The Lady, as well as The Modernist and The Artist (illustrated with some vividly coloured bizarre jewellery, naturally).

The September issue of Elle UK pushes fashion ‘types’ in a big way. In her introduction to the issue, editor Lorraine Candy writes: "I'm excited about a/w 2014 because there are no style rules - every trend is open to your own personal interpretation, which means fashion is fun again … Now you can be anything from a BMX biker girl to a power woman dressed in superbold colours." Exciting, yes, but it's further into the magazine they get to the real crux of the matter, writing: "In her 10 years on the magazine, Anne-Marie Curtis has seen some remarkable seasons come and go. And this one: It's tricky."

For fashion magazines that thrive on picking out trends and must-have buys, this disparity of styles is tricky. Simon Doonan expands on this in a piece for the FT:

“The fashion landscape has never been more vast, diverse and mind-numbingly confusing than it is today. Where there were 20 designers, there are now 20,000. Where there was serenity, there is now only mayhem and despair.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the fashion commentators – editors, reviewers, fashion directors – are in total denial. Rather than cop to the fact that mother fashion has exploded and fragmented beyond all comprehension, these advice-givers persist in distilling the season into a neat little cluster of trends just as they always have: masculine tailoring! Couture shapes! Grey is the new black!”

He concludes with the advice: “In order to traverse this endless fashion landscape … you need only take one simple step: you must adopt – drumroll – your own signature look.”

Except it’s not that easy, is it? No matter how closely you opt in or out of trends, they do influence the way we get dressed in the morning and they help us judge, for better or worse, the people we encounter. Most importantly, they help drive that urge to go shopping, because (if you're me, something along the lines of) you realise you don’t own any culottes and suddenly they look quite fresh and fashionable and actually you quite fancy trying some.

We’re not in the early 70s anymore, but – according to Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s account at least – towards the end of Diana Vreeland’s editorship at Vogue she being criticised for not letting her readers know about trends: by encouraging them to create their own style, she was alienating them. Moreover, she was losing the support of the magazine’s advertisers who needed her to push trends.

Thanks to the internet, it’s easier to go shopping and buy anything we fancy. Perhaps we’ll see more fashion ‘types’ used again in editorials and by shops to help us navigate all the choices, with future purchases governed by BuzzFeed-style quizzes. Back to September 2014, “Here's how to nail it, whatever your style” states Elle, giving you options whether you are A Rock Chick, Ladylike, Boho or A Minimalist (these types all distinguished by the Use Of Capitals). However, just like Bullock’s insistence that dark hair and dark eyes qualify you as the artistic type, this argument isn’t terribly convincing either. We can have days when we want to look ladylike, (perhaps a job interview), or like a rock chick (at a gig maybe?). Talking about people in terms of fashion types seems even less persuasive than talking about wider fashion trends.

In a much wider field, how we going to be made to Buy More Things? And to Buy The Things the huge clothing brands want us to buy? The answer is probably closer to Doonan’s suggestion of a signature look. But I imagine that signature look won’t be your own: it’ll be the look of a celebrity or, more likely, one of the uber bloggers, who can attract dedicated and devoted readers. Read about their lives; shop their wardrobe. Less fashion personality types; more fashion personalities.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...