Punk pranks, wild dreams, and Anglomania at the Met


Shown at Olympia in Spring 1987 Harris Tweed was Westwood’s first show for two-and-a-half years.  The move towards a more traditional, fitted look had started in the summer, and in the Mini-Crini, collection she could explore the potential of British fabrics and styles in Harris Tweed…. She paid homage to the tailoring traditions of Savile Row and the jacket she designed then, named the Savile jacket, still features in her collections today.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD told listening admirers at the opening of her retrospective in Sheffield in May, 2008, that the underwear as outerwear was Malcolm McLaren https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_McLaren ‘s idea.  She was reflecting on British Fashion influence over the rest of the world.  Anthropologist Ted Polhemus, said the British were renowned for ‘wild Fashion.’  Hat designer, Stephen Jones, thought that Fashion would not be the way it was unless Vivienne Westwood ‘had been around,’ and Anna Wintour, US Vogue, clinched the concept with,I think the English designer is afraid of nothing.’ 

Later that year the V&A Vivienne Westwood retrospective set off from the Pennine hills, once again on its overseas journeys to set bells ringing on cash tills around the Pacific Rim.  Whatever Westwood and McLaren set out to do, politically, in the 1970s they could not have realised how their project would grow to become a dynamic 21st century commercial success; and that an academically inspired exhibition, celebrating their vision, would travel round the world continually on view for more than five years. 

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. 

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.

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.

 

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!”

1.4 - dior 4

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.

David Hockney, Terence Conran, and me…

IT’s confusing but is it a crime for a socialist to be interested in retail? Whatever, I am both! It’s probably genetic, not to say even a bit Marxist! Each time a department store or other shop opens, I like to be there.

Terence Conran visited each of his ‘Habitats’ launched throughout Britain in the 80s. So it was in the Chester branch, he exclaimed, “you snob,” when I told him, how now anyone could buy a print, David Hockney would no longer be my favourite artist.

But on Friday/Saturday I’m off to indulge in more of this old Yorkshireman’s brilliance at the Barbara Hepworth award winning gallery in Wakefield.

Lilies

In 1958 Alan Davie, Scots painter and musician had his first solo exhibition at Wakefield Art Gallery, which went on to tour nationally and launched Davie’s career. A young attendee at the Wakefield exhibition was David Hockney, then a student at Bradford College of Art!

The exhibition was a pivotal influence on Hockney’s artistic development and shortly after this visit, Hockney moved to London to take up a place at the Royal College of Art. Here he discarded, as Davie had, realist figurative painting in favour of colourful, gestural works that combined abstraction with coded text and symbolism.

Hockney:hepworth

The exhibition will bring together around 45 paintings and works on paper by Alan Davie and David Hockney, many of which have not been seen publicly for decades. It will trace the parallel paths of these key figures of post-war British painting, revealing creative convergences and shared themes of passion, poetry and love as their works of art evolved from figuration to abstraction.

Thanks to Conran, everyone knows Hockney. Now I’m about discover Davie who sounds like renaissance man!  Musically, Davie played piano, cello, and bass clarinet. In the early 1970s his interest in free improvisation led to a close association with the percussionist Tony Oxley. His paintings have also inspired music by others, notably the bassist and composer Barry Guy.

Set within the context of 1960s counterculture and the popularisation of art through diverse new forms of media, the exhibition represents an exciting moment in British art and the emergence of a radical new art world. Told you so. It’s why Hockney was my favourite until no longer radical, through the 80’s retail fiascos, I dropped him and went back to Picasso!