It’s a tiara! It’s a tiara!

AUDREY HEPBURN starved with thousands of others in Holland during the second World War. Despite being neutral, the Netherlands in World War II was invaded by Nazi Germany on 10 May 1940, as part of Fall Gelb. On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered.

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The teenage Hepburn danced to raise money for the resistance movement in her father’s occupied land. Moving to London, and on from the horrors of war, she later recalled, “I remember the Fifties as a time of renewal and of regained security.  Postwar austerity was fading and although the heartbreak remained, wounds were healing.  There was a rebirth of opportunity, vitality and enthusiasm.  The big American musicals came to London; people packed the theatres to see the twice-nightly shows of High Button Shoes, South Pacific and Guys and Dolls.’

It was her appearance as the curious, restless, Princess Ann in William Wyler’s ‘Roman Holiday’ in 1953 which changed mass women audiences’ lives for the better, forever.

‘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. 

Audrey Hepburn’s looks were copied across continents, so powerful was her reputation and the pull of Hollywood. Skinny pants and polo-neck became the symbol of non-conformity when she danced a defiant modern jazz sequence in a moody, underground Paris bar in ‘Funny Face’. Clothing company Gap was given permission to use this sequence to promote its skinny pants in 2006.

Her interest in clothes, theatre, her sense of nostalgia and her relationship with the French designer Hubert de Givenchy created the legend which she and her films became.  Givenchy said of her,  ”She was capable of enhancing all my creations. And often ideas would come to me when I had her on my mind. She always knew what she wanted and what she was aiming for. It was like that from the very start.’

Audrey Hepburn frees modern woman to be more herself than she has ever been before, as she steps out from a yellow cab between New York skyscrapers in the early hours of the day. Gazing into Tiffany’s window- ‘nothing really bad could happen to you there’ – holding her portable coffee, taking a bite from a donut, wearing tiara and pearls, we are convinced that anything is possible at any time.

 

Luck, Lovely legs and Loads of venture Lolly

NATALIE MASSENET investigated her market and set up the technology to make Net-a-porter, the designer Internet shopping site, into a ‘huge’ success in June 2000. She had venture capital, all the skills and contacts from her days in glossy magazine journalism and a world class distribution network. She could not fail.

I had lots of luck writing ‘THE NEW BLACK MAGIC’ around the time Natalie Massenet was joining ‘The Sunday Times,’ Rich List,’ April 2009. A copy of the magazine was found on a train and it contained the photograph to inspire Anton Storey’s subtle image seen above.

Fashion retailers take on the challenge of restoring health to the economy by being more amusing, creative and bold. Paul Smith says, in his world they cannot rest on their laurels; they feel by being, even, globally successful, they cannot afford to stay the same.  Natalie Massenet became Britain’s 98th richest woman through her on-line designer shopping website Net-a-porter.

She devised a way of shopping for the ‘time poor, cash rich’. Certainly branded French, even Paris, possibly Milan, by its clever name, Massenet sold every label, worth reciting, from Adidas, by Stella McCartney, to Zac Posen and Zimmerman.  Said to have discovered the e-commerce pot of gold, a niche market of Internet savvy high spenders, she started her Fashion career as a journalist with Tatler

Beginning the business with three people, and £850,000 in a room, in Chelsea, she was always confident she had a winner: ‘I never thought it wouldn’t work.  I never once thought it wouldn’t be huge’. Taking on the challenge of riding economic storms, by widening her customer base, she launched theOutnet.com in 2009.  It is designed for ‘fashionistas who like a bargain as much as a designer label.

Shopping with the Shocking Schiap

ELSA SCHIAPARELLI went from riches to rags and back again. Her signature Pink colour and perfume, ‘Shocking,’ were inspired by begonias, viewed from a pram in the grounds of her parents stunning Italian pallazzi. She spent a substantial living allowance; socialising in Europe and New York, so had to find ways to support herself and her daughter. And it just couldn’t be by designing a jumper and becoming a Surrealist.

Again and again Schiaparelli blazed new trails: she was the first conceptual designer, the first to do thematic collections, the first to produce fashion shows as spectacle and entertainment rather than glamorous business appointments. She was the first couturier to use man-made fabrics and to replace buttons with zippers, and the first designer of any kind to issue press releases. But more than anything else, she was the first to understand the power of marketing.

In 1933 Schiaparelli opened her own London salon and began featuring British woollen fabrics in her collections; tweeds and hand-knits, loving Scotland with its tartans, bonnets and tams.  This sourcing of British textiles was a practice taken up by clever creative descendants Jean Muir and Vivienne Westwood.  Her career prospered through her alliance with the British film and theatre industry and between 1933 and 1939 she designed costumes for 30 films and plays. 

By 1935 the business woman in Schiaparelli was flourishing.  She and her talented, American, public relations supremo, Hortense Macdonald, took a stand at the first French trade fair in Moscow. As sole representatives of French couture, they lined their booth with press-clippings printed on silk, with the floor covered in exclusive, Colcombet’s black ‘tree-bark,’ crepe with a fan-shaped display of international Fashion magazines.  Writing for a student pack, which accompanied the 2003/4 Philadelphia exhibition, curator Dilys Blum captures the excitement of the Art Deco era:

“Since 1935, Schiaparelli had been presenting thematic collections at her salon, theatrically staged with dramatic lighting, backdrops and music.  A fashion editor who regularly attended these events recalls that the front rows were filled with royalty, politicians, artists, film stars who pushed towards the models ‘as if it were rush hour’

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.

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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.

 

The birth of the Cult of Cool

AFTER months of misery the Fashion industry usually fights back and there is delight in dressing up and going out.  Paris, with its years of austerity, rationing and separation, during WW2, was revitalised by Christian Dior, Art director, dilettante, Europe’s other famous Norman.

With four years of Nazi rule Paris, ‘city of lights,’ was dim, but after liberation by the American forces there was the discovery of be-bop. It swept the city and black Americans stayed on, rather than return to the segregated USA.

On the streets the cult of cool was about to be born, and women wanted a designer to help them shake off the ‘horrible overalls’ and the boxy shapes of war-time clothes. They wanted to look sexy and feminine. It was then, in February 1947, that 30, Avenue Montaigne would become the world headquarters of Fashion.

Half a century before the internet Christian Dior, who had spent much of the war dressing the wives of Nazi officers and French collaborators, revived pre-war looks for post-war customers targeted at Hollywood’s world wide audience. He created feminised ‘flower women,’ happy to turn their backs on careers and military uniforms.

NewLookDior’s New Look, in 1947, made every other dress look outmoded. There was an electric tension – ‘wasp waist of jacket, weight of skirt barely worn by human beings, real old fashioned corsets to create shape,’ in direct contrast to the 40s look.

Christian Dior’s publicity machine was so effective that in a Vogue feature, proposing numerous routes through Europe by car by inventive motorists, Dior was featured by the magazine rather in the way Alexandra Shulman writes of Victoria Beckham for Vogue UK, April 2008.

Dior’s New Look was very good for fabric manufacturers, and especially good for his sponsor, Marcell Bussac. The ‘Bar’ suit, famously photographed by Willy Maywald. With its padded, static jacket and its heavy 80lbs, long, black wool pleated skirt, depended for its sculptural form on the 19th century skills of the corset maker.   Coco Chanel said of her rival: “Christian Dior doesn’t dress women. He upholsters them”.

Dior became the ‘master of marketing;’ selling perfumes, and realising the ‘importance of the public identifying with the designer.’ Dior had his personal and business journeys mapped and followed by the Media, becoming the first celebrity couturier. Recognising the importance of trade between the House and buyers by 1948, he and his team include Cuba, Finland, Holland, Mexico, and Sweden in their contact lists. When Bettina Ballard, the journalist who was editor-in-chief of Vogue, America in the 1950s, heard that designs were being geared towards department store owners’ wives she said, “I would not put it past Dior!”

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The recovery of the French Fashion industry was in the hands of Dior, who saved haute couture in the face of a ‘growing market of ready to wear, especially in the United States’. Paris was put into a position where it was also able to set the template for London couture and Fashion training. During the war there was the fear that American design would take over. So the Paris group, Chambre Syndicale, put together ‘Theatre de la Mode,’ a collection of dolls which were on display during the V&A exhibition in London. Said, to have been designed to raise funds for war victims they, really, were commissioned to raise the profile of Haute Couture.

SUCH DEVOTED SISTERS

RODARTE, the  American clothing and accessories label, founded and headquartered in Los Angeles, California by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, is going Goth on the catwalk.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy added to the vampire pantheon in their 2020 Fall collection in the dimly lit nave of St. Bartholomew’s church in Midtown, Manhattan, NY, providing a fittingly gothic stage as the Mulleavys sent their army of the ethereally chic, undead, out to stalk the night.

When designers work with influences from Art, Music and Cinema they are drawing on inspiration from Elsa Schiaparelli, the star struck twentieth century Surrealist clothes maker and  trend setter. She was however less likely to use images from the dark arts and more to be gazing into the galaxy. Rodarte

Midtown Manhattan audiences were wowed by the 17th look to parade into view.  It reminds me of a 1950s fine wool, black, shirt-waister patterned with white, miniature, dancing sailors, worn by my mother, Trixie Greenwood–Sparks, as she explained the wondrous life of the legendary Schiap.  Do the tassels look like comets?