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’

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.

Scent Noir

No.5 Coco Chanel is the controversial figure of Fashion.  It’s part of the label’s allure!

Students working on cosmetic floors of department stores all want to be selling the fascinating brand yet the genius behind it is a calculating, nonchalant, femme fatale!

In Thursday night’s feature  on BBC 4  a story, I thought was just a re-telling of a rumour, proves to be about her actual devious plotting and career building subterfuge!

Coco Chanel’s revolutionary perfume concept was as audacious as her outlandish designer clothing. At its launch, in 1921, it was an instant hit but in the 1920s and 1940s the Number 5 brand was at the centre of a war between the celebrated designer and her entrepreneurial business partners, the Wertheimer brothers.

In the thrilling and dark development of the world’s most famous perfume friends and colleagues become enemies and adversaries!

During WWII, with the help of her high-ranking Nazi lover, Coco Chanel attempted to oust her Jewish partners – who had fled German-occupied France and were operating the business from New Jersey – to take control of the highly lucrative business.

On Thursday these shocking revelations were confirmed, with archive footage of Gabrielle herself and her secret staircase at the Ritz.  Directed by Stephane Benhamou, the Wertheimer brothers Paul and Pierre did not make personal archive appearances but were represented by animated cut outs!

“The No. 5 War,” documentary  premiered at the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival in January 2017. Here director Stephane Benhamou told audiences that his long days burrowing in French archives, not only let him tell the story of one of the most popular fragrances in the world, but proved beyond doubt that Chanel was ready to exploit the Nazi race laws to increase her wealth and power.

Will also sell denim!

MY all time favourite jeans are Fioruccis!  And guess what?  The original need-to-know brand is back. Founded by Elio Fiorucci in 1965, it’s now reinvented, with its elegant intellectual property up for grabs!Fiorucci

I love it so much I needed to find out about blue denim. I knew it was everywhere and full of meaning.  Jeans began as work-wear in Europe; ‘bleu de Genes,’ the blue of Genoa in Italy and denim from de Nîmes in France, trousers worn by 17th and 18th century soldiers and workmen.

When Karl Marx, political economist and first human interest journalist, was formulating his theories about emerging groups in cities, Levi Strauss was making jeans for the Wild West workforce in America.

Denim is the most significant Fashion story of the last seven decades. Designers cannot make a move or invent a look without considering how to include the beautiful blue in their collections.

So important a trend is denim that there are an infinite number of blog posts on the topic. John Fiske’s the ‘The Jeaning of America’  should compete with the bible as a Desert Island Discs book choice!

There’s even a dedicated education site with a book by Thomas Stege Bojer ‘Blue Blooded,’  with ‘everything you need—and want—to know about jeans.’ His intention is to keep retailers on target, knowing the whole process and being in touch with teams of influencers and bloggers through  his sites.

When jeans are assigned to specific labels, manufacturers are able to compete with other makes in the market place. The social identities, the designers define, become the signature look of the clothes. Designer jeans speak to market segmentation and social difference; they move away from the shared values, away from nature, toward culture and its complexities.

No one can ignore the phenonomen and Georgio Armani is no exception. A significant change is happening  at the privately held multi-billion-dollar Italian firm still run by its 83-year-old founder, who launched the business 42 years ago.  Its restructuring aims to streamline Armani around three distinct labels.

Giorgio Armani Privé (ready-to-wear and couture) and Armani/Casa (home goods) now lives under the Giorgio Armani ombrello. Emporio Armani, more democratic ready-to-wear, will include Armani Collezioni and the pricier elements of Armani Jeans. A|X Armani Exchange, which competes with specialty retailers and fast-fashion purveyors alike in terms of price, will also sell denim. The dreams of Genoa continue!
Lucas

BlueArmani

Forget the broomstick for London Fashion Week!

DevilIssieThe last time I saw Toby Howarth it was Hallow’een.  The seven years old ingenuous angel asked, “Haven’t you come on your broomstick?’ It wasn’t difficult to guess the sort of thing his aunt and mother had been saying about me!

I’m superstitious about wearing black when visiting children, so I expect he thinks I’m at least a white witch!

Because I’m going to see him again, en route from London, I’ll be clad in shades of blue from head to toe.  I did plan on wearing ‘Le Casual de Marithe Francois Girbaud’ in gris et noir for the Burberry A/W show in Kensington Gardens.

Must try to get to Sassoon’s on  way to the 2pm Fashion bash.  I need to have a look for the Anne et Valentin ‘Objet 3’ spex now necessary for the little blue-stockinged teacher rather than the post-Chanel, Parisienne, fashion writer!

If Christopher Bailey spots me at the show, in close-up, maybe his next collection will be the look this strange little narcissist can adopt whether as witch, blue-stocking or fairy godmother in glasses.

Rushing off to Dorset means I’ll miss the Isabella Blow at Somerset House but here she is, above left, in a scene from ‘FASHION MEDIA PROMOTION  the new black magic,’  with another wonderful maverick Anna Piaggi! I will fantasise a meeting with them on the train!

Love on the Orient Express

Behind Coco Chanel’s gift for elegant, timeless, design was a personal life of abandonment and insecurity. Her mythology is plundered, for promotional purposes, keeping ‘Chanel’ in the forefront of international Fashion marketing.  Her origins are shrouded in mystery. She hid her history. She was an orphan who decided to live in a castle, becoming an archetype of her own creation.

House of  Chanel is owned by Gerard and Alain Wertheimer, grandsons of Pierre Wertheimer, who founded the company, with Chanel, in 1924, two years after he, and his brother Paul, had helped bring Chanel No.5 to the marketplace.

The English millionaire Edward ‘Boy’ Capel gave Chanel the money to start her own millinery business in Paris in 1910.  He died in a road accident in 1919. Chanel did not marry but founded the world’s most successful Fashion house and the Chanel connection goes beyond No.5. When the fragrance ad aired, Anne Fontaine’s Coco avant Chanel movie, starring Tautou as the young Coco, appeared in French cinemas, in 2010.

Opening with a dark-eyed girl on a cart, covered in a thick, bronze, tweedy blanket with a hand-knitted doll, we see the landscape from her point of view and the fabric textures in close-up. It was going to be about needlework?  Mais, non.  Distinguished, on the DVD cover, as a story of a woman whose love affairs defied convention, it really is rather more about sewing. It has all the hallmarks of French cinema and not just because of the subtitles. Sweeping views of the expansive, so Impressionist, countryside; clever, adventurous camera angles, drawing us in, to feel how the young Chanel is both exploited and exploiting.

Audrey Tatou’s deft involvement with the process of making clothes and observing humanity is at the heart of the film’s alchemy. It mixes class drama with professional aspiration to create a modern day transformation. Cinderella invents her own ballgowns and buys the Fashion house where they are made and shown.

It convinced me that Fashion designers put their souls into their output. It condensed the Fashion system into 106 minutes of doubly moving image text.  In spectacular form it sets the scene for an integrated cross-marketing campaign, where the Ad sells the film and the film sells the product.

When we thrill to the Chanel No 5 current television commercial we relive Coco Chanel’s life as a young adventurer. As Audrey Tatou moves through the corridors of the Orient Express in lithe gold satin, hoping to find her lover’s arms, Coco’s doomed love affair with Boy Capel is re-evoked.  As the actress rushes towards the beach and views passengers on a luxury ocean-going liner, ‘la mer,’ and the French, and Coco’s, infatuation with the sea becomes part of Chanel’s signature themes, associated with the voyage and the clothes worn for the journey.

Of course Coco Avant Chanel is a woman’s film. Directed by Anne Fontaine, and costumed by Catherine Leterrier, it has links with the Feminist tract, ‘The Subversive Stitch.’ Yet it speaks of elegance, observation, fame, the significance of Fashion and the power of dress to alter the way we see ourselves and are seen by others.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykBjfHOC-m8