FASHION, DISTINCTION, DEMOCRACY

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IT’s possible that Fashion’s power 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 was 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.

Roland Barthes, the 20th century French philosopher and voyeur would have been fascinated by how the signs of the harem had transmitted themselves to a virile young royal.

Realising that the written garment is made by publicists and journalists, created through words, Barthes was interested in the way sign systems produce not clothing, not women, but the abstract notion of Fashion. He saw any number of extra meanings in everyday gestures and images. His genius was to write about them in a kind of reverse poetry; to reconstitute rather than condense.

Arch flâneur, he was consumed with a passion for observation. Speaking of Fashion as a ‘cross-subsidising organism’, he was enchanted by its vivacity, seeing it as a living thing. He thought it could do two things at once; extend everyone’s access to clothes, while making each wearer feel distinctive.

He writes of modern democracy, as if it were a universal given. In mid 20th century Paris it may have felt quite near.  Now not so much!

Thoroughly Modern Gentleman Jack!

IT’s 1832 in West Yorkshire, England — the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. Landowner Anne Lister is determined to save her faded ancestral home, Shibden Hall, near Halifax. To do this she must flaunt society’s expectations, coming out as benevolent employer,  international play girl and astute businesswoman!

In America, Levi Strauss was patenting the rivets on his blue denim jeans as Karl Marx ‘s primary school in Trier was closed down for employing liberal humanists as teachers! So it’s not so surprising that Sally Wainwright’s spectacular television drama, ‘Gentleman Jack’, has such a Modern feel to it!

In addition to reopening her Calderdale coal mines,  part of Lister’s plan is to ‘marry’ well.  However the single-minded, charismatic, Lister,  dressed head-to-toe in black and played with consummate panache by Suranne Jones, charms her way into high society and has no intention of marrying a man!

‘Gentleman Jack’ examines Lister’s relationships with her family, servants, tenants and industrial rivals, and would-be wife. The real-life Anne Lister’s story was recorded in her diaries, and the most intimate details of her life are revealed for the series.Header_2490173_1.1-1023x1024

Lover and fellow landowner, Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) tormented with the battle to reconcile her sexuality, in a hostile world, suffers depression and anxiety.  The brilliant ‘Insight’ team in Halifax must be shocked at how we treated each other in those days!

Anne Lister and her sweetheart are victims of homophobia. There are intense emotional scenes in all episodes.  The tough lives lived by Ann Lister’s tenants and the fight to stay true to herself are recreated with empathy and inspired dramatic writing by virtuoso Sally Wainwright, who also directs on this homespun mistresspiece!

To add to the glamour, authenticity, and magic of the BBC series Wainwright worked with international theatre, TV, film, opera, dance costume designer Tom Pye. He was thrilled to have exquisitely detailed descriptions of clothing on hand from Anne Lister’s own diaries. Credit for this perfect source material goes to translator and series consultant Anne Choma.  She is the historian and decrypter, I first met at a a literary festival in Huddersfield when she was beginning the mammoth project, 20 or more years ago!

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Don’t go Breaking my Heart

TARON Egerton in ‘Rocketman,’ the Elton John biopic, does a tremendous job in the main role, capturing John’s vocal style if not his precise sound, while Richard Madden smoulders throughout as Reid.

Dexter Fletcher’s decision to dispense with reality does have its upside. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the scene in which Elton duets with his boyhood self at the bottom of a swimming pool, bubbles escaping his nostrils as he does, or another in which the audience at an early US show literally levitate.

Irocket_man_01It’s The Dirt as envisioned by Baz Luhrmann.

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!

We need to talk about beauty! A tribute to a man I didn’t meet.

THERE is no slick sign for genius or beauty so Peter Chang is described as a 21st century Fabergé.  His output is far away from the Russian craftsmen’s creations as is possible to imagine.  They did both make objects which could be worn on the body.  Fabergés,’ from gems and precious metals for the Russian Imperial family; Chang’s, out of found materials for Fashion models!

I might have met Peter Chang.  My friend Anita Clarke, part of the Art scene in Liverpool from his days in the city, knew him and told me of his death, this month, at the age of 72. He was one of the Liverpool artists involved in Pop Art and Music in the 60s and 70s.

Chang’s fabrics were modern, his creations avant garde;  his skills ancient, painstaking.  Transforming tiny fragments of brightly coloured acrylic into intricate, immaculate curved brooches or bangles; spiralling, organic shapes with the odd fin, horn or pompom, is long, hard, and, it transpired, dangerous work.

He never used much in the way of machinery, believing he had more control with the hand, using planes, rasps, needle files, sandpaper and polish. However, his technique of building up layers of resin and, over years before masks were common, breathing in the fumes, damaged his lungs, a tragic price for his fabulous work.

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Chang trained as both sculptor and printmaker. After a first degree in art and graphic design at Liverpool from 1963-66, he left for Paris to study printmaking at the famous Hayter Printmaking Atelier, followed by a postgraduate degree in sculpture and printmaking at The Slade, London.  After years working on sculptural projects, interiors and furniture design, he turned to jewellery in the late 1970s, first making earrings for his wife, Barbara Santos-Shaw, head of printed textiles at Glasgow School of Art.

Outlandish, outrageous, extravagant, witty and bizarre; his influences from Pop Art visible but with the sense of opulence from Art in China and Japan. He was the shy genius whose smaller works might take 400 hours to make.

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A Chang bracelet on display, from 1987, the decade which saw Rifat Ozbek including the artist’s glorious pieces in his spectacular catwalk shows.

As a top rank international artist, Chang’s work is in the collection of museums in Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, China, Hawaii, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, in New York’s Metropolitan, the Smithsonian, Musee des Arts Decoratifs Montreal, Graves Art Gallery Sheffield, British Council, National Museum of Scotland. Widely collected in America, he was awarded the 1995 Jerwood Prize for “lasting significance and daring brilliance”

 

Peter Chang has said, “Object-making is a non-verbal attempt at balancing the intellect with the intuitive,” leaving the rest of us to conjure with ideas of beauty and genius.  This may go someway towards explaining his mysterious gift for magical transformations through art and technique.   “Like all fine art, Peter Chang’s work provokes an intense physical response: a compulsion to touch, a need to smile and wonder. His unique objects also project an unusual wit and humour”, says Alyson Pollard, curator of Metalwork and Glass at the National Museums Liverpool.  He once told her, “I like to incorporate a bit of fun: spice it up. People take things too seriously.”

The day after his death, art transporters collected work to ship to Rome where his show opened on November 14 at the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XX1 Secolo.

 

Like Helen of Troy, it’s ‘the face to launch a thousand ships!’

 

PAOLO Riversi believes that ‘photography is the revelation of another dimension’. His skills at devising a myriad of shots over decades is celebrated during an exhibition in Milan today.

“I am not interested in the everyday or the commonplace. They carry no emotions for me,” Roversi ‘master of the dreamy, the fantastic and the ethereal,’ tells The Business of Fashion.

“Paolo Roversi, Stories” is the main exhibition in the stunning Appartamenti del Principe on the top floor of Milan’s Palazzo Reale for the Vogue Photo Festival, curated by Alessia Glaviano, current photo editor of Italian Vogue

Among the intricate tapestries, gilded stuccoes and marble floors, are photographic selections, including a full series of unpublished portraits of Rihanna, outtakes from an album cover shoot.

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Whether the styling is eclectic, decadent, or divine the focus is always the face.

If for Fashion or the Music industry Roversi wants each carefully crafted image to tell a story.

“It is about fantasy, fabric, invention. In order to work, however, a fashion photograph must function in two ways: it has to be the portrait of a woman wearing a dress, but also the portrait of a dress worn by a woman.”

Vivienne Westwood interpreting her own creations, discussing her own work, explains, “The  silhouette looks like an ant on stilts, the head comes out looking more important, and with the shoes, forming a pedestal to give particular power and expression to the most erotic part of the person, the face.”

The Fashion geniuses  Roversi and Westwood are artists who pay homage to the Renaissance painters whose portraits make up the stories of  earlier lives, loves and eternal emotions.

 

The death of maestro Azzedine Alaïa

¨ Fashion will last forever. It will exist always. It will exist in its own way in each era. I live in the moment. It’s interesting to know the old methods. But you have to live in the present moment. ¨Azzedine Alaia

Alaïa, the French Tunisian artist has died at his home in Paris. He is thought of as a sculptor rather than a designer, although his muse and inspiration came from a lasting love of Fashion.

He was enchanted by the way clothes looked, reading ‘Vogue’ as a boy. By pretending to be older than he was, he attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis, where he studied sculpture, and began working as a dressmaker before moving to Paris in 1957, at first as a tailleur for Dior, then with Guy Laroche and later Thierry Mugler.

Writing of his death, at the age of 77, the French weekly, Le Point, tells of his ‘prodigious talent,’ and Fashion’s ‘insatiable appetite for his designs;’ making him popular for decades. And how his skills at cutting allowed ‘idiosyncratic takes on classic silhouettes,’ for his designs to become the ‘aspirational zenith for many’.

He opened his first atelier in his Rue de Bellechasse apartment in the late 1970s, from which he dressed his private clientele, which included Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin and Greta Garbo.

In 1980 he produced his first ready-to-wear collection, which was championed by the then doyennes of fashion, Melka Tréanton of Depeche Mode and Nicole Crassat of French Elle, who both regularly featured his work in their respective magazines.

By 1988 there were Alaïa boutiques in Beverly Hills and New York. He was dubbed the “King of Cling” by Suzy Menkes! During the mid-’90s Alaïa partially retired from the fashion scene  after the death of his twin sister. He continued to cater for a private clientele and enjoyed success with his ready-to-wear lines.

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Seen holding his two Yorkshire terriers, Patapouf and Wabo, Alaia  is pictured walking in a Paris street with model Frederique van der Wal, wearing his creation, a black leather zippered dress.  (Don’t you adore her see-through pumps?)

Alaïa was the subject of a major retrospective at Rome’s illustrious Villa Borghese, Couture/Sculpture in 2015.  Three decades of his gowns were shown with masterpieces by respected artists, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian. He is celebrated as the inventor of ‘body-con,’ and his work does not suffer from being compared to these earlier Italian masters.