TODAY Julia Walton and I listened to Malcolm McLaren’s Christian Dior radio piece by Susan Marling from 2007, to celebrate fifty years since the New Look. McLaren was such a Fashion buff. It was why Vivienne Westwood loved him and he her. It was fascinating to hear his camp take on important moments in the history of Paris and Versailles, again!
In this week’s earlier blog I write of the wonder that Dior created a gown for Vivien Leigh after her drama of tiny waists and full skirts in Gone with the Wind , set the scene for his ‘flower women’ frocks across the western world in 1947 !
Imagine my delight, web-surfing, to find this actual pic of Leigh in the dress, plunging decolletage and all!
Vivien Leigh’s costume … Red wool and silk, made for the 1956 production of Jean Giraudoux’s play Duel of Angels, at the Apollo Theatre, in London, in which Leigh played Paola.
Julia and I had to stop listening to the wonders of the Fashion world when the men from Dyno-rod arrived. They were however completely darling, themselves! So win/win, today!
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.
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.
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.
Fashion’s power probably reached its zenith when Kate Middleton married the heir to the British dynastic throne of the United Kingdom in April 2011. Prince William had fallen in love with her, it is said, as she paraded down the catwalk at a charity Fashion show in their shared university town of St. Andrew’s, near Edinburgh, in Scotland. The signs of the harem had transmitted themselves to the virile young royal.
There is a Cinderella quality to this story and clothes played their part towards this happy ending. Not that Kate Middleton had set many fires, or brushed many hearths, but she now rides in glass coaches and wears diamond tiaras.
Her days at boarding school mixing with the Home Counties crowd, and Sloane Rangers set, put her on the right track. She’s an interesting mix of American preppy and English Burberry. Her love of the outdoors means she is not tempted to wear frilly fussy looks.
Her parents are friends with the people who run Jigsaw and Kate did a short stint as an accessories buyer with them. There’s an image of William and Kate, in jeans, to make the point that Fashion is for everyone in ‘the new black magic’*.
Some of the changes leading to the daughter of airline officers marrying an heir to a European throne have come through Fashion’s revolutions. They began when everyone wore versions of Christian Dior’s haute couture looks in the 40s and 50s. Then, Audrey Hepburn’s transformations in films Roman Holiday and Sabrina, from princess to pauper and back again, blurred edges. The films made European and American women see the power of clothes to alter status.
In the 1960s Mary Quant made fun clothes for dukes’, doctors’ or dockers’ daughters. Miuccui Prada dresses new generations of upwardly mobile professional women just as Coco Chanel did in the 40s and 50s.
Kate Middleton may live to regret showing off her underwear in a daring see-through creation during the 2002 charity Fashion show at St Andrews university. This was said to be the moment Prince William, paying £200 for the ticket, became besotted with her. But the sparkly Audrey Hepburn little black dress she chose when she and the prince were on a break will be recalled with much more affection.
I don’t think she could have got it more right with the classic silk jersey wrap dress by the London based ‘go-to’ designer Issa she wore for the engagement announcement nor when she appeared in Sarah Burton’s angelic, composed, First Communion lace outside Westminster Abbey. Will she ever wear jeans in public, again, I wonder?
PERHAPS the hunter-gatherer instinct is satisfied when we get into popular Art shows, with others, standing in line, after wondering whether the berries have all been picked.
Whatever the sensation, seeing the Turner Prize on its second to last day, in Gateshead last week, and the totally oversubscribed Leonardo da Vinci at the National, just before Christmas, I was totally thrilled to be so lucky. Between them there is more intertextuality, than, you could shake a brush at, in an Art-packed dream.
Martin Boyce, the Turner winner, happened to be at the Baltic, in person. My charmingly professional friend, Sarah Gilligan, stopped me from rushing over when we spotted him at a table in the restaurant with his family. It was after half a bottle of Voignier, but she must have been rather appalled, for more than one reason, when she saw me clutch for my paperback and start rummaging for a pen. We did chat to him later.
Hilary Lloyd’s electronic circular designs, seen above, were echoed by a full moon in a Niagara Blue (my bathroom’s new colour) sky over the Tyne.
George Shaw’s paintings are of Tile Hill, the postwar council estate outside Coventry where he grew up and has been painting for 15 years. He has crafted each view, about 18inches across and 10 inches down, in Humbrol enamel, paint usually reserved for scratches on motor bikes or model soldiers. He describes his painting table as looking like something out of ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’. This somehow brings me back to the Leonardo. He did paint the ‘Last Supper’, didn’t he?
However in the postmodern world, in which we live in, there is another stranger connection. One or two of the Leonardo portraits, whether preserved or creatively restored, look as if their make-overs are from the palette of Rimmel, especially applied, to give them the London look. There is one particularly creamy lipped Pontiff from Milan worth a second glance!