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’

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.

Isn’t it Romantic? A Valentine’s day muse.

‘Isn’t it Romantic?’ is the tune David Larabee, (William Holden) had playing as attractive party guests were often seduced by him, in their tennis pavilion, in the Paramount movie ‘Sabrina’.

Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) fell for his tactics, even knowing it was his practice and not really a special thing for her, alone.

audreytennis

For me romance is always Chanel!

Never was her mythology so plundered for the sake of fairy tale than in the Audrey Tatou/Orient Express short. Every camera angle, every lighting effect, each costume, every look, shrieked of passion. It was an extravagant vehicle to sell No.5.

One of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s small masterpieces, it’s story, about danger, longing and delayed love at first sight, is the most potent Valentine’s day two minutes we could watch.

But there is something enchanting about this time of year. The birds are singing, the light is longer, and we can lightly let our thoughts turn to thoughts of holiday train travel.Jean-PierreJeunet

Screens, Dreams and Hollywood hell!

STANLEY TUCCI was a delight in The Devil Wears Prada and I can safely say his performance as Jack Warner in Feud is another tour de force.

It’s a cameo role, in some ways, which probably shouldn’t be described as a tour de force but you feel that only Tucci could make the monster bearable!

“You want to be true to the piece, number one, and you want to be true to him,” Tucci says. “Being true to him is just being this outwardly very charming, fast-talking, well-dressed fella — and then behind the scenes he’s a ruthless misogynist.”

The Los Angeles Times celebrates his performance with the headline, “As a misogynist studio head in ‘Feud,’ Stanley Tucci spotlights a sexist Hollywood.”

Tucci has an extraordinary gift. As the camp, perfectionist, company-man, top stylist in ‘Devil‘ he transforms into a caring, mentoring friend to the bullied Andrea (Andy) Sachs (Anne Hathaway). In Feud: Bette and Joan, he has a searing humanity, not shaken off course even through a lens of towering greed and control.  It’s quite wondrous. FEUD: BETTE & JOAN -- Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner. CR: Kurt Iswarienko/FX.

I watched all eight episodes yesterday!

Le paradis des enfants

IN 1997 I read about a park in Paris donated by the Citroen foundation. Luckily I had a son and two grandsons who were exactly the ages to see such wonders. So we booked, sailed the channel and crossed the summer fields of la belle France by train.

Parc Citreon is pres le Tour Eiffel so we did both spectacular sites on our first day, only stopping for food and wine at the best restaurants we could find.

parccitreonParis is also the home to La Villette designed by Bernard Tschumi, a French architect of Swiss origin, who built it from 1984 to 1987 in partnership with Colin Fournier, on the site of the huge Parisian abattoirs (slaughterhouses) and the national wholesale meat market, as part of an urban redevelopment project. The slaughterhouses, built in 1867 on the instructions of Napoléon III, had been cleared away and relocated in 1974. Tschumi won a major design competition in 1982–83 for the park, and he sought the opinions of the deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida in the preparation of his design proposal.

Since the creation of the park, museums, concert halls, and theatres have been designed by several noted contemporary architects, including Christian de Portzamparc, Adrien Fainsilber, Philippe Chaix, Jean-Paul Morel, Gérard Chamayou,on to Mr. Tschumi.  In the middle of the week we travelled on the Metro out to the sites of the former abbattoirs. Although it was all a bit scholarly its novelty enchanted us and later inspired my part in instigating Eureka! in Halifax, UK.

villetteAs Jo, Adam and Matt were encouraged to take in Geography, History, Geometry I thought our weekend treat, Parc Asterix,  with its giant Obelix, golden goddesses and bronzed living statues  would be relaxed and low key enough to take the pressure off! It was, and yet far enough away from the theme parks of Hollywood to feel like art. There were actual horses, actors, underwater swimmers  and as a treat from the gods – Delice de Zeus –  ice cream created to make Neapolitans seem dull!asterixJo, Adam and Matt now have projects of their own designed to amuse and entertain, and although I’m not employed by the Paris Tourist Board I’m open to offers!

A Suitable Case for Treatment

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.

I’m not a cougar but Christopher Breward’s latest book celebrating the glorious and everyday charms of ‘The Suit,’ makes me see how a predatory woman might feel!

On many of the pages I fall in love again and again!

Breward sets the suit in its commanding history as an important marker inspiring new ways of looking at the power-hungry, the lover, the elegant, through their lives at home, in trade, on travel and in the movies.

The suit has survived hardly modified over generations, worn by men and women, ‘politicians, estate agents, bankers, rabbis, courtroom defendants, wedding grooms’.

The author’s own wedding outfit, now in the V&A, was worn for a civil partnership ceremony  with James Brook on 18 August 2006.  Christopher’s from Kilgour on Saville Row with Jasper Conran shirt, while James’ tailored wool-blend pinstripe by Timothy Everest, for Marks and Spencer are included in the museum’s collections, reflecting the suit’s enduring appeal.

Taking his lead from Adolf Loos, the Modernist ‘suitophile’ who compared the garment to a classical temple, Breward considers its form, function and style across the decades. Thinking ‘the smart flashiness of the soldier’s get-up takes us only so far in understanding the evolution of the modern suit,’ he encourages us to consider the dinginess of English cities when ‘darkness inevitably rubbed off on the man’s suit and its status in everyday life.’

Romping through the centuries he notes how working men’s solid woollen jackets and trousers stood for stronger values than a nineteenth century clerk’s off-the-peg garb, although it it did represent technological advances.

Turning to advice given for successful dressing, he shows how pundits had often suggested conservative, appropriate, two pieces to make a statement, as  novel alternative modes of dress were appearing. In the midst of the flowery Hippies in the 70s and Punk-Goths in the 80s, the monochrome model survived in the service of industry and commerce.

When nepotism and old school ties were superseded by strategic and technological brilliance, as open routes to  lucrative City jobs, the suit became more valuable than ever as a leveller in the market place. Men’s retailers know that the price of a suit is geared to match exactly a week’s wage. So from the 80s on, from the high street to Savile Row, customers would be spending between £2,000 and £10,000 to be kitted out.

When the global crash came in 2008, it had been heralded by informal dress into the worlds of banking and high finance in the 90s and 2000s; seeming to reflect immorality and the rise of greed. Disgraced workers were seen leaving their offices uniformly wearing pastel sportswear on television news channels!

City slickers and bar bound lawyers insist the suit is a sign of distinction and power in the professions despite calls to dress down or man-up for our digital age.  Breward, now a tweeds and jeans-wearing academic, hopes the suit will persist for hundreds more years; for as long as the civilised values it represents are around.