Belgium’s famous painter and other anomalies

Raf Simons Mens SS 2015
Ceci ne pas Raf Simons Men’s SS 2015!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They Might be Giants showed the world how much fun there is in Belgium.

Now I’ve been to Brussels I can confirm it’s true!

Lunching in the Hotel Metropole, I was surprised by door codes being the same for Hommes ou Femmes!  Mentioning this to a French speaking sharply dressed woman, I was told that this is the sort of thing the French are always saying is typically Belgian!

Was I seeing the springs of Surrealism at its roots?

Next day in the Magritte museum we heard that modern painters, including one or two James Ensors, would be found in the “Old Masters” rooms! I recounted the Metropole story to the British ex-pat on the desk and she agreed that there was something bizarre, rather Belgique, and similar to the door code oddness, in this curating arrangement.

The French can make as much comedy hay out of Belgian culture as they like! In the comic book museum, ‘Centre de Bande Dessine, each caption is written in the most exquisite version of four languages. My mobile phone was handed in within moments of losing it  and we learned that, instead of backwards-looking educational methods, graphic texts are used to teach reading across the age ranges.

In recent times this small country has produced the two most spell-binding, innovative, Fashion designers since Mori, Yamamoto, Miyake and Kawakubo.

Martin Margiela, who is about to put out a uni-sex cologne, uses the Art and influences of his country to help us wear our intellectual hearts on our sleeves.

Raf Simons has moved the worlds of music and apparel so subtly together we are already in the night club when we view his collections.

So three cheers for They Might Be Giants for putting my delight to music.

 

Artisanal 2011 by Maison Martin Margiela.
Artisanal 2011 by Maison Martin Margiela.

 

 

The Nursery Slopes

MythologiesFairy TalesLucky children in a school near Hebden Bridge will be having their imaginations stirred when their Year One teacher shows them beans, painted with poster colours, which have been dropped by Jack after escaping from the giant.

I suppose my equivalent is having ordered Barthes ‘Mythologies,’ in French.  All my First Year students are going to read it,  I hope, in English.  A French student and I will try to find some ever more subtle nuances, in the words, by comparing notes.

As Barthes said, “We must not forget that an object is the best messenger of a world above that of nature: one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter is much more magical than life), and in a word a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales.”

The cover for the French version has the 1960s Dessus on it and so I can direct you to this page:

SUCH FUN!

Do any of us have enough ‘fun’?

The last time we can be sure we were glimpsing the idea of fun’s potential seems to have been the 1960s.  So now the word is the super signifier for that decade.

Used by Barbara Hulanicki on her ‘Desert Island Discs,’ by Miranda Hart’s fictional mother, often in interviews with Mary Quant; it expresses the possibility of freedom  and pleasure.

Fizzing with the excitements left over from the take-up of Modernism, in the 1950s, by the 60s for the first time in history the young had money to spend.  Quant, Hulanicki, et al were there waiting for their Art School educations to liberalise the rest and so we began to spend every night, ‘out’!

The moment when it was possible to be having the most fun is surely when Modernism morphed into to its ironic younger sister, the multifaceted, ducking, dodging, diving, diva, post-Modernism.

The revolutionary, tone-setting, Biba brought in well-designed clothes and accessories for a new object-of-desire-hungry demographic.

Brighton Art college graduate Fashion illustrator Barbara Hulanicki opened a mail order clothing company with her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon.  Their Postal Boutique was overwhelmed with orders for a sleeveless gingham shift dress featured in the ‘Daily Mirror.’

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Vivien Leigh – role model or victim figure?

Heroines from novels with green eyes.
Heroines from novels with green eyes.

Separating Vivien Leigh from  Scarlett O’Hara is almost impossible.

When she took on the role of the Pulitzer prize winning American Civil War heroine in ‘Gone with the Wind,‘ in 1937, she became the most viewed, the most famous actress of the 20th century.

In 1999 I was teaching in 6th forms in Yorkshire, and studying with Antony Easthope in Manchester.

Even so, one day, I caught Judy Finnegan and Richard Madeley on ‘This Morning.’ They were reviewing either the whole of the last century, or maybe it was just Cinema!

A viewer phoned in from around Cornwall.  She said Scarlett O’Hara was ‘powerful’ first and then ‘beautiful,’secondly.  So I had a Feminist role model to write about for a study on Film!

More surprising than this was the so called ‘confession’ from Richard.  He said he had carried a photograph of Leigh/Scarlett in his pocket ever since seeing ‘Gone with the Wind’ 20 years earlier!

‘Scarlett O’Hara and the post-bellum New Look’ became a chapter in ‘Fashion, Media, Promotion.’ I learned that the ‘post-war’ Latin tag usually referred to the American Civil War.  So people like my daughter, Sally, and my partner, Simon, thought I was better informed than in reality!  I chose it to go with the post WW2, Christian Dior, 1947 full-skirted sensation!

The V&A held a celebration of the ‘Golden Age of Couture’ in 2007.  There I discovered the tiny waist fetish and the massive audiences following Scarlett were part of the revival of Paris after WW2.  I also found actual connections between Vivien Leigh and Christian Dior.

Now I’m IT! On Wednesday 13th November at 1pm, in the Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre, I’m giving a lunchtime talk!  Here’s the listing from the V&A site!

Vivien Leigh – role model or victim figure?

‘LUNCHTIME LECTURE: David Selznick’s, ‘I’ll never recover from that first look,’ gives us a clue to Vivien Leigh’s stage-management of her initial meeting with important producer of ‘Gone with the Wind’, the 20th century’s most watched movie.

Her co-stars thought her ‘blind ambition’ cost her too much, and laid the plot for further exploitation of her enigmatic beauty.

A hundred years since her birth, Jayne Sheridan tells her story of brilliance and despair.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/2875/lunchtime-lecture-vivien-leigh-role-model-or-victim-figure-4246/

More Audrey Hepburn than Bridget Jones – for Burberry babes off to the office!

A transparent vinyl jacket embellished with light-reflecting crystals. Cut with a clean silhouette, the design features hand-applied gemstone motifs in a geometric placement.
A transparent vinyl jacket embellished with light-reflecting crystals.

WATCHING Anna Wintour’s arrival to the black-cloaked coven of Fashion’s wizards and witches wonder if Christopher Bailey had stage-managed this contrast to his S/S14 show of  light, lacey, palest lilacs, peaches, and hybrid roses imaginable?

Counted among the Cartiers, the Tiffanys, the Armanis of world Fashion, for Burberry, there was no need to re-work images, or ethos, or make connections to officers in the trenches for this London Fashion Week!

Models appeared in jolly embroidered peach and pink with a grey slender belts.  The soft wool overcoat, thrown over filmy lace, is  four inches below the knee, slightly curved from the shoulders to the hem, in cream, white any number of delicious pastels.  Mortitia  Addams would be appalled!

Looking like elegant maiden aunts in wonderful perpendicular shoes everyone walked to acoustic guitar Nashville strains, surprising  choice for European post-Sloane rangers. Have cohorts of trust fund babies joined the working classes? Is the label set on more Audrey Hepburn and less Bridget Jones?

Applique blossoms,  a bit Gucci’s Autumn 2012 buttons, attached to a clear acrylic jacket, over cream short sleeved silk and a coral pencil skirt, the shape de jour, were echoed in a rose petals-falling finale.

This year the clothes are the story, rather than the dramatic reveal as darkness rolled back to show Hyde Park’s massive greenery in September 2012. Today we had Autumn’s own natural light and shimmering shades  to harmonise with looks for a returning summer.

CHUCK OUT THE DIRNDL, THE WALTZ AND THE WIGS

Dusseldorf airport travellers
Dusseldorf airport travellers
If everyone wore a dirndl there'd be no ugliness!
If everyone wore a dirndl there’d be no ugliness!

IN Vienna’s streets there are no musicians.  Just attractive girl students in brocade breeches and 18thC wigs, handing out leaflets on Mozart and the Strausses. Not even Richard, at that!

Playing lead roles in the creation of a city, Fashion shops draw on the identity of designers and promote emerging talent. It hasn’t happened in Vienna. The sharply dressed Viennese couple, photographed here, at Dusseldorf airport, were shopping for clothes in Italy.

Observing the conservative internationalism of Vienna’s shopping quarters it seems it’s the dirndl and the waltz which stops Vienna becoming a Fashion city.  It’s trapped by its history.

In the plush red restaurant at Hotel Sacher there appears a couture dirndl in soft red wool, with broderie anglaise blouse, sported by slim, elegant, still blonde matron. ‘Wanderlust and Lipstick’ sells the whole kit, the Alpine coats, the edelweis motifs to absolutely everyone; worn for parties, weddings, national celebrations by all the young dudes!

Although Fashion is about status, money, and pleasure, in Austria’s capital, with its history of political upheaval and revolution, home of psychiatry and modern erotic art,  there’s a more measured, less frenetic, approach to our seduction to shop.

With the ‘glittering’ German designer Phillip Plein, Mondial, COS, Musette, Girbaud and True Religion on view and on sale,  script-writers hope that avant garde Fashion, represented by Dries van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, will be setting the scene alongside a ‘steady stream of young designers’.

Yet  set up to please middle-aged, middle-brow tourists from home or abroad, not even Westwood’s post-modern ‘if only everyone wore the dirndl there’d be no ugliness!’ influence,  on her protegee Lena Hoschek can halt the old world, ‘Austrian-ness’ celebrated everywhere.  Hoschek’s clothes are probably not ironic enough.

Klimt does wonderful business in ties, scarves, trays and books outside the Imperial Palace in Belvedere but Austria’s lasting legacy for the Fashion world might be Sacha Baron Cohen’s camp, lederhosen-wearing travesty Bruno –  the world’s most foolish Fashion critic.

 

Fanfare, freedom and fun

Since watching Roman Holiday* I can’t help feeling it must have had an influence on Queen Elizabeth II.  Everyone watched popular movies in the 1950s.  I’m sure the Palace had masses of screenings for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Or maybe they slipped out, incognito, to the Odeon,  Leicester Square.

Roman Holiday deals with celebrity and public image.  Through the eyes of the young, fictional, Princess Ann we see the difficulties and restrictions of being a head of state; always in the public eye. In the opening scenes Hepburn’s character is compared to the British royals of the time; to the British Queen’s younger sister Princess Margaret, who was something of a dissenter; preferring unpredictable commonplace experiences rather than the strictures of public service. The film’s opening scenes include montaged, actual, footage of state visits in Europe and a voice-over tells  how they improved trade relations.

In 1980 when Princess Margaret visited a Haberdashers’ School in Cheshire, during a tour of the Science rooms, she told me, as a journalist, how her children would rush up and down carpeted areas to create static electricity before coming over to give her a slightly electrifying kiss. This liking for simple everyday experience was felt as an emotional need by the princess in Roman Holiday.  As a reverse Cinderella story audiences are able to empathise with the heroine’s longings even though her life was far removed from theirs.

After Roman Holiday Audrey Hepburn was seen as the movie actress to be cast in parts dealing with transformation through Fashion.  She was not perceived as a Hollywood starlet plugged into the general 50s dynamic.  She carried her own romantic mystique a more elaborate, European, mythology with her.  Although she was seen as a Hollywood product, a Paramount Studio property, she only ever owned homes in Europe. Far from socialising with the movie glitterati she used her influence to fight for children’s rights.  At 16 years of age she danced, in secret, to raise money for the Dutch resistance to the Nazis.  Remembering the subterfuge and fear of the time, she said, ‘the best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance’. Princess Elizabeth drove army vehicles as part of the war effort in England and married Prince Philip a serving naval officer. Their lives were lived in similar times and contexts.

The admiration audiences felt in the movie for Princess Ann, when she gave up the fun and the freedoms of being with the charming American journalist, Gregory Peck, to return to her European regal duties is the same respect many  feel for the current Queen of England.  She would  probably much rather be an aristocratic horse breeder than the person having weekly political meetings with twelve different Prime Ministers, even if one  was Tony Blair!


*  
http://www.hud.ac.uk/staff/fashionintheageoftheimage.php