A Fashion Pandemic

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.

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.