It’s a tiara! It’s a tiara!

AUDREY HEPBURN starved with thousands of others in Holland during the second World War. Despite being neutral, the Netherlands in World War II was invaded by Nazi Germany on 10 May 1940, as part of Fall Gelb. On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered.

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The teenage Hepburn danced to raise money for the resistance movement in her father’s occupied land. Moving to London, and on from the horrors of war, she later recalled, “I remember the Fifties as a time of renewal and of regained security.  Postwar austerity was fading and although the heartbreak remained, wounds were healing.  There was a rebirth of opportunity, vitality and enthusiasm.  The big American musicals came to London; people packed the theatres to see the twice-nightly shows of High Button Shoes, South Pacific and Guys and Dolls.’

It was her appearance as the curious, restless, Princess Ann in William Wyler’s ‘Roman Holiday’ in 1953 which changed mass women audiences’ lives for the better, forever.

‘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. 

Audrey Hepburn’s looks were copied across continents, so powerful was her reputation and the pull of Hollywood. Skinny pants and polo-neck became the symbol of non-conformity when she danced a defiant modern jazz sequence in a moody, underground Paris bar in ‘Funny Face’. Clothing company Gap was given permission to use this sequence to promote its skinny pants in 2006.

Her interest in clothes, theatre, her sense of nostalgia and her relationship with the French designer Hubert de Givenchy created the legend which she and her films became.  Givenchy said of her,  ”She was capable of enhancing all my creations. And often ideas would come to me when I had her on my mind. She always knew what she wanted and what she was aiming for. It was like that from the very start.’

Audrey Hepburn frees modern woman to be more herself than she has ever been before, as she steps out from a yellow cab between New York skyscrapers in the early hours of the day. Gazing into Tiffany’s window- ‘nothing really bad could happen to you there’ – holding her portable coffee, taking a bite from a donut, wearing tiara and pearls, we are convinced that anything is possible at any time.

 

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.

SUCH DEVOTED SISTERS

RODARTE, the  American clothing and accessories label, founded and headquartered in Los Angeles, California by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, is going Goth on the catwalk.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy added to the vampire pantheon in their 2020 Fall collection in the dimly lit nave of St. Bartholomew’s church in Midtown, Manhattan, NY, providing a fittingly gothic stage as the Mulleavys sent their army of the ethereally chic, undead, out to stalk the night.

When designers work with influences from Art, Music and Cinema they are drawing on inspiration from Elsa Schiaparelli, the star struck twentieth century Surrealist clothes maker and  trend setter. She was however less likely to use images from the dark arts and more to be gazing into the galaxy. Rodarte

Midtown Manhattan audiences were wowed by the 17th look to parade into view.  It reminds me of a 1950s fine wool, black, shirt-waister patterned with white, miniature, dancing sailors, worn by my mother, Trixie Greenwood–Sparks, as she explained the wondrous life of the legendary Schiap.  Do the tassels look like comets?

BLING FOR BREAKFAST

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SINCE watching ‘Breakfast at….. I absolutely love stories about the famous New York jewellers.

Here’s one for record collectors!
‘Tiffany & Co. posted a rebound in its holiday, (Christmas) sales, helped by a new home and accessories collection that included $90 black pencil holders, $275 silver shaving brushes and $450 rulers!

Several of the items, such as the pencil holders and rulers, sold out on the company’s website. Some of the highest-priced products are still available, including a $9,000 sterling-silver ball of yarn and a $10,000 bird’s nest with three porcelain eggs in Tiffany blue!

What a contrast to the story of Holly Golightly, when Audrey Hepburn, playing the role, had a five cent cracker prize monogrammed at the store!

Broadway Babes and Harlem Hellraisers!

CAUGHT a preview of the Runyon based musical sensation, Guys and Dolls at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, last night.

guys-and-dolls-at-royal-exchange-manchester-785x486‘Never Been in Love Before,’ as if sung for the first time, pure and smooth, by Abiona Omonua, a first half sensation and ensemble number,’Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,’ brought the house down as finale.

A co-production with Talawa Theatre Company, with their director Michael Buffong and choreography from Kenrick “H20” Sandy, relocates the fabulous show to up-town New York with all the creative excitement of the “Harlem Renaissance”.

Running from 2 Dec – 27 Jan 2018, the companies have a hit on their jazz hands!

 

Weaving and wearing the clothes, who’s that girl?

Doing what we do best - bodices, ruffs and crowns. Alexander McQueen Paris 2013
Doing what we do best – bodices, ruffs and crowns. Alexander McQueen Paris 2013

Fit for a queen!

Suzy Menkes and her sparky writing, don’t you just love her?

Currently saying, “As the fashion carousel spins ever faster, the concern is that, while the stream of newness never runs out, there’s going to be a good deal more crash and burn among designers in the future.”

Although she’s a complete oracle, I can’t help feeling she’s a bit over anxious at the moment.

It’s sweet Suzy’s concerned for the artistry and creativity of it all.  But  Industry, including Fashion, is not just about making  people, who can afford the products, more democratic.  It’s about providing ever more opportunities to create, innovate, and sell: making everyone part of the process.

What we are currently seeing is an inventive work-force keeping up with changing technologies.  Sarah Burton, especially, as a woman designer is an example of democracy in progress.  Trained alongside Alexander McQueen she’s able to keep his legacy going with her professional team, and their devoted followers, working with new chances to enchant us.  If only Prince George had been a girl they’d have had the perfect collection to conjure with!

Crossing you in style, one day…

The sight of Peck and Hepburn on an Italian Vespa scooter made it an object of desire for style-conscious youth in Modern Britain. p.75  'the new black magic'
The sight of Peck and Hepburn on an Italian Vespa scooter made it an object of desire for style-conscious youth in Modern Britain. p.75 ‘the new black magic’

 

Tim Berners-Lee chose to name his universal computer platform, the ‘world wide web,‘ and opened up, more than just, the mathematically most enormous communications system.  He involved us with feminine notions of weaving and webs!

We can no longer survive without connections, passing references, most importantly, irony.  We need to know other things – the back story.

So to really enjoy the Audrey Hepburn Galaxy chocolate ad we have to be devoted fans of ‘Roman Holiday,’ (1953) ‘Sabrina’ (1954) and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).   We should see the ‘Galaxy’ recreations as homage to William Wilder, Blake Edwards and their production teams.

Scenes with Vespa scooters, open air produce markets, immediately evoke Greg Peck’s life in ‘Roman Holiday’; the chauffeur and the open top car, the lives of the Larabee brothers in ‘Sabrina,’ the music, ‘Moon River’ – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’

The ‘Framework’ crew worked tirelessly to recreate the actress’s smile, with a team of four hand-animating, carefully, posed expressions in every shot.  Yet as CG VFX Supervisor, Simon French, explains: “It is amazing how unique and how recognisable a person’s smile is. When you see it in this detail, it really needs to look perfect.”

No film fan would think they had captured the spirit, the nuances, associated with the actress, but as a paid-for promotional vehicle it’s certainly absorbing.

And so, the clever team at ‘Framework,’ creating the Audrey Hepburn, ‘Galaxy’ ad, couldn’t help catching some of the star’s charisma to entice us to their shiny firmament.  Yes, and of course, there’s a ‘but’ coming!  What happened was that Marketing won out over Cinema Art for this technological miracle.

Why did they include, ‘Why have cotton, when you can have silk?’  No connections, whatsoever, with Hollywood or Hepburn!  Separating Mars chocolate from competitors bars was unnecessary, here.  Surely just having us identify with the the pleasure, the sophistication, the fun attached to Hepburn’s most successful movies is enough.

When I meet Luca Dotti at the V&A, in a celebration of his mother’s work, next week, it will not be a good idea to discuss all this Media muddle with him.  So I’m back with the poets saying, ‘had we but world enough and time…..

http://tinyurl.com/newblackmagic