Favourite things….Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Givenchy’s

ONE magical turning point in Fashion’s fortunes was the release of Audrey Hepburn’s first significant Hollywood hit, ‘Roman Holiday,’ 1953. In Roland Barthes, Mythologies, his devastating take on consumerism and audiences, he describes Audrey Hepburn’s face as an ‘event.’ She had starred in only four major Hollywood films when she caused the French maestro and dilettante such sensation.

Barthes was proposing AH could represent meaning to audiences beyond those who watched her movies.  After her most significant films were released, in the 1950s and 1960s, she became an influence on Fashion followers in Britain and America, encouraging women to use home dressmaking in the class struggle.  As 21st century fans view Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s they witness the face that launched a thousand web sites and her popularity persists through digital media.

Audrey Hepburn stars in the second chapter of ‘FASHION MEDIA PROMOTION’ the collaboration between me and wonderful, Fashion illustrator and teacher, Anton Storey. ‘Vacanze Romane’ is based on a postcard, I had lying around. It was absolute genius for Anton to put the words from the back of it, which happened to be in Italian, across the main image. Super commissioning editor, Madeleine Metcalfe, who put her faith in me, also adored this pic. It was pinned above her desk when I visited her at Blackwell’s in Oxford.

At the political heart of ‘Roman Holiday’ is the script by Dalton Trumbo, part of the Hollywood Ten, the 10 motion-picture producers, directors, and screenwriters who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947, who refused to answer questions regarding their possible communist affiliations, and, after spending time in prison for contempt of Congress, were mostly blacklisted by the Hollywood studios.

‘I’ve never been alone with a man before’ the fictional Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) tells the newsman Joe Bradley, (Gregory Peck). For the audience, there is dramatic irony, realising that an heir to a throne is wearing borrowed pyjamas.  He only realises who she is when he hears the news about her disappearance, next day.  In a scene between Joe Bradley and his editor they discuss angles and trends.  ‘Youth must lead the way,’ he is told.  In 1953, this was a topical theme in the context of access to a young princess. Her observations, on world conditions, would be worth a fee to the journalist, of $250, but her ‘views on clothes worth a lot more, perhaps a thousand’.  From that cinematic moment on, Audrey Hepburn would represent the dynamic interaction between Fashion and class structures.  It was to be both her on and off-screen character; a role in which she would demonstrate how position in society dictates how Fashion is consumed. 

PICKING UP THE PIECES WITH PASSION

MARY QUANT is my inspiration for the third in this series of ideas for the future. We met after a shop-within-a-shop launch in Brown’s of Chester when I travelled with her and her business partner, husband, Alexander Plunket Greene to Manchester Airport. He was full of bright ideas on how to pick up the Fashion industry during an economic downturn.

Now we’re in the midst of a recession, you know, we need sharp clothes rather than peasant looks to underpin an optimistic outlook.” he told me.

REALLY it was his wife’s ingenuity which was the key to their success. He praised it saying, “Mary and her team are like French couturiers. We don’t take great whacks out of the business. Our first motive is a passionate interest in the goods.”

Journalism reveals Mary Quant’s importance as a guide for those who follow. When designer, Luella Bartley, was interviewed and photographed with Quant, for Vogue’s 90th anniversary, in 2009, she held that the Fashion industry could learn much from Quant by Quant, her idol’s own record of events.

Before Bartley launched her own international Fashion label she had read the autobiography five times. First published in 1966, when she was just 30 years of age, it chronicles Quant’s early life, her Fashion projects and inventions and is one of very few, if any, books to have Profit margins and Stock difficulties listed in its index.

mq 3Here Anton Storey captures the moment when Luella Bartley met her idol at a David Bailey photoshoot for the Vogue anniversary feature. There’s no surprise she was, as she said, ‘fizzing with excitement.’

Does the end justify the means? How yesterday’s influencers cut it!

MORE shocking, to me, than anything made known about the Fashion profession in The Devil Wears Prada, was the revelation of a surprisingly unethical approach taken by Piaggi, the Italian trendsetter, uncovered in the V&A exhibition, Fashion-ology, sponsored by Topshop in 2006.

She had happily written press releases for Missoni, while working as a journalist for Italian Vogue in the 1980s; an activity the well-regulated Public Relations profession in Britain and America would have regarded as rather unethical, at the time.

However, with Machiavelli’s dictum, ‘the ends justify the means’ as part of the Italian psyche, and Piaggi’s flair for creation, her double life, simultaneously, as both publicist and critic will not have damaged her reputation nor astonished her flocks of fans.

Piaggi.Blow

Piaggi and the English aristocrat Isabella Blow, who died in June 2007, were the champions of hatter Philip Treacy and designer Vivienne Westwood, and Blow was an actual assistant to Anna Wintour at US Vogue. When she died Isabella Blow’s extraordinary life story appeared everywhere, in the Fashion and style press and on radio and television.

She had moved to New York in 1979 to study Ancient Chinese Art at Columbia University and a year later abandoned her studies, to move to West Texas working in Fashion with Guy Laroche. In 1981, her big break came when Bryan and Lucy Ferry introduced her to the director of US Vogue, Anna Wintour.  She was hired first as Wintour’s assistant and then to organise fashion shoots under the discerning eye of André Leon Talley, then US Vogue‘s Editor At Large, and was soon befriending the likes of Warhol and Basquiat.   In 1986, Blow returned to London to become assistant to Michael Roberts, then fashion director both of Tatler and The Sunday Times and later as Style Editor at Tatler.

In a feature length piece in New York magazine, in 2007, Issie Blow’s meeting with Anna Wintour is described:

 On Wintour’s desk, there was a biography of Vita Sackville-West. “I’ve read that three times, and it always makes me cry,” she told Wintour. “Issie,” Wintour responded with her signature sangfroid, “there’s nothing to cry about”. But they were a match. “I loved coming to the office,” Wintour says, “because I never knew what to expect. One day she’d be a maharaja, the next day a punk, and then she’d turn up as a corporate secretary in a proper little suit and gloves.”

My descriptions of these two wonderful influencers, told to Anton Storey, resulted in these remarkably sensitive and charming illustrations.