As winter turns to spring with dramatic weather conditions ranging from epic blizzards to searing sunshine each day, here is this week’s inspiration: Ellen Terry as an Edwardian version of Lady Macbeth. Drama, glamour, range…
Posts Tagged ‘Best Dressed’
I have always had a base line love for Victorian literature. It was one of my favourite periods of literature for my degree. I loved how interior worlds, passions and sentiment were replicated and revealed. As we imploded as an Empire, the strict structures of the form gave way via World War One to Modernism and a fractured universe where nothing was as clear as the coded revelations of a generation before – except that these in their way had hinted at this very discrepancy – gathering momentum. Last week I read ‘Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox, a latter-day proponent of what has become known as ‘Vic-Lit’, perhaps somewhat disparagingly, since the format favours the female. A modern mind interpreting the 19th century obsessions with mental health, female subjugation, Pre-Raphaelite aspirations and back-door brothels. The thread of the Thames, water, mermaids neatly interplays these motifs, as we dive through the novel, with the clarity of our seemingly more evolved empirical methodologies, our world of equal pay, equal rights, oh yes and page three…
Circling the masterpiece of ‘Vic-Lit’ I decided to enter the mother-ship, the maestro of the format, and this week am reading ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, by John Fowles. Having seen the film and loved the intertwined stories, I was surprised to find this was a Harold Pinter script invention, clever man, to highlight Fowles’ knowing narration, his pitch-point moments of standing back into the present day.
“Charles did not know it, but in those brief poised seconds above the waiting sea, in that luminous evening silence broken only by the waves’ quiet wash, the whole Victorian Age was lost. And I do not mean he had taken the wrong path.”
Genius, and as I try to break the deadlock of writer’s block for my weekly writing class, I yet again bow down to another technician’s searing talent…
Meanwhile, rather tritely, back on Planet Fashion, as I prep for my shoot next week, off to Oman for Vogue, I flick through style.com and notice that likewise of course there is always room for an epic cape, especially at couture, and especially when worn by a friend, in attendance of budding couturier Ulyana Sergeenko, whose universe like mine seems like a Russian epic filled with romantic swansongs and pre-revolutionary text.
‘I dance in heels and backwards…’ She also manages to make feathers and a braid utterly glamorous.
Here is what I learnt today:-
Wardrobe: The “feathers” incident
Although Bernard Newman was nominally in charge of dressing the stars, Rogers was keenly interested in dress design and make-up. For the “Cheek to Cheek” routine, she was determined to use her own creation: “I was determined to wear this dress, come hell or high water. And why not? It moved beautifully. Obviously, no one in the cast or crew was willing to take sides, particularly not my side. This was all right with me. I’d had to stand alone before. At least my mother was there to support me in the confrontation with the entire front office, plus Fred Astaire and Mark Sandrich.”
Due to the enormous labour involved in sewing each ostrich feather to the dress, Astaire — who normally approved his partner’s gowns and suggested modifications if necessary during rehearsals — saw the dress for the first time on the day of the shoot, and was horrified at the way it shed clouds of feathers at every twist and turn, recalling later: “It was like a chicken attacked by a coyote, I never saw so many feathers in my life.” According to choreographer Hermes Pan, Astaire lost his temper and yelled at Rogers, who promptly burst into tears, whereupon her mother, Lela, “came charging at him like a mother rhinoceros protecting her young.” An additional night’s work by seamstresses resolved much of the problem, however, careful examination of the dance on film reveals feathers floating around Astaire and Rogers and lying on the dance floor. Later, Astaire and Pan presented Rogers with a gold feather for her charm bracelet, and serenaded her with a ditty parodying Berlin’s tune:
- Feathers — I hate feathers
- And I hate them so that I can hardly speak
- And I never find the happiness I seek
- With those chicken feathers dancing
- Cheek to Cheek
Thereafter, Astaire nicknamed Rogers “Feathers” — also a title of one of the chapters in his autobiography — and parodied his experience in a song and dance routine with Judy Garland in Easter Parade (1948).
Yesterday I spent a glorious few hours at The Victoria and Albert Museum. My husband had cleverly taken the hint of a year’s membership as a Christmas gift, which means you don’t queue and can see any exhibition for free, as many times as you like, whenever you like. Genius! I loathe queuing…
I went to the Phyllis Dalton retrospective last month with friends, having been spellbound by her costumes for Dr Zhivago since I was a child, it was heaven to hear Omar Sharif scold her for only working with him twice. ’What have you done to me Phyllis? You ruined me.’ Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who curated this exhibition, hosted the evening and yet again I pondered the dilemma of how I shuffle stage left from my career as a fashion stylist and wake up a film costume designer.
The exhibition is very popular, it was pretty hectic in the darkened rooms, and given this membership, I shall definitely utilise it to go at another non-holiday time. The dialogues between directors and fashion designers were fascinating: rather like those between photographer and stylist, really delving into the translation of character through costume. There were so many of the bravest and the best designs displayed, but the one which stuck out the most for me was this gorgeous bias cut red sequinned dress and cape, which Joan Crawford wore in The Bride Wore Red, a film I am now desperate to see.
The reason I think this costume is so utterly successful, is from it’s cut, colour and cloth, you get an entirely encapsulated sense of what the film is about, as well as era. There is something both radical and sensual and brilliantly of it’s time, as well as urging you to believe in the glamour of cinema. It is not a million miles away from the Tom Ford white dress and cape, albeit with a longer cape, which Gwyneth Paltrow wore to the Oscars 2012, which has garnered her best dressed listings. Both are well-versed in the power of costume, perhaps Tom Ford even used this look as a silhouette reference.
Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro are also interviewed: my favourite quote was when Meryl Streep said that when playing Mrs Thatcher for The Iron Lady, it was vital for her character development that she learnt what Mrs T carried in her handbag. ’I needed to know, and now I do.’
What a difference 3 weeks makes! This boy is one determined bundle of cuddles.
PRET A PORTAS: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARY PORTAS FOR THE OPENING OF HER SHOP AT HOUSE OF FRASER. BY TAMARA CINCIK.
Mary Portas is a brilliantly British phenomenon. She transformed Harvey Nichols into the shop we all wanted to spend in; then she marched onto our TV sets, teaching her retail mantras to failing businesses, the charity market. From OAPs working in charity shops, to overly hair-gelled estate agents, her refreshingly real retail prowess made for gripping viewing, as we saw her map out how they could improve their businesses, we all felt her verve, her potent power at seeing where things could improve and wanted so much for them to listen.
Now with her store-within-a-store at House of Fraser on Oxford Street, Mary has identified a gap in the mid-market high street here in the UK, the over 40s stylish woman. Cecilia Chancellor is the model: a face at once familiar to anyone who remembers ‘The Face’ or my old boss the talented stylist Anna Cockburn’s 90′s fashion shoots and I think the perfect fit for Mary’s store and its image. En route to a Cornish weekend away she kindly answered a few questions about the store and why someone like me (a new mother with so little time to shop, that service now more important than ever) might like to go there.
1) Mary Portas at House of Fraser is a new collaboration for Mary, in that it brings her manifesto – her Maryness to Oxford Street, to a department store and therefore to a mass market who know and love her from her TV shows. How different do you think this is from what is on offer currently on Oxford’s Street, or indeed ‘the’ high street?
Mary: Because I’ve created a curated space; everything in it has been edited down for grown up women in mind. Where there’s just too much stuff in the shops my space cuts through all of that to exactly what women need and want. Then the design of the shop is hugely important; the space and the staff is all geared towards a great experience. You’ve got to see it and feel it to totally get it. Bring your baby in, the staff will take care of you and him and give you coffee….
2) What I love about Mary is her direct no-nonsense charm: she gets straight to the point and we admire her all the more for it. It became a saying in our house: ‘what would Mary say?’ when we experienced bad service in a shop or restaurant. With online shopping so prevalent now, is service even more important for retail’s survival? Will we pay a little more for a little more?..
Mary: Service is a no brainer. Customers want service that includes knowledge. The staff in the Mary shop had an exam before they were allowed near the shop floor. When they serve you, they will be able to tell you everything about everything in the shop; right down to how the shoes were made, and the essential oil in my candles and the story behind each one.
3) The over 40′s woman Mary has identified is a largely untapped resource in fashion, which I agree is more fool the industry, as these are the women whose kids have grown up, who have worked hard and
have more money available to shop. What do you feel are the differences in their needs and wants from a shopping experience and how are you satisfy this?
Mary: This is the no bullshit audience. They want quality at a
reasonable prince, they want sexy shoes that won’t kill their feet,
they want modernity and style that reflects where they’ve got to in
their life and their achievements. Its not twee. Its slick and cool.
No-one on the high street is doing this.
4) My mother is an extremely glamorous 60 year old: ex rocker, child of the 60′s; well-versed in the ways of boutique shopping, as she started with Biba and Bus Stop. These babyboomers are the ones with
the cash, more than my generation are in lots of cases AND they are eternally youthful, way more than their war bride parents were. However they don’t like showing their knees and i saw alot of above
the knees looks on your website. Is this something, along with the arm coverage Mary has identified, which you are intending to add into the collections?
Mary: You can’t lump 40 year olds next to sixty year olds. Melanie is 40 next year! I’m sure you are in your mid thirties, you would not want the same things as someone twenty years older than you, it’s about a spectrum. There are a few above the knee dresses because the audience is grown up women; and not everyone wants to cover their knees! There are also below knee dresses; structured high-waisted leggings that are like spanx for your lower half, and pencil skirts that hit below the knee, as well as wide leg trousers. Later in the season, I’m proposing chic tunics to wear with those structured leggings and it is such a good look on a grown up woman. So many people are asking about this; I’m not dressing geriatrics. I want modern women through the door; if you don’t like your knees, that where the super high denier tights I’ve come in. My hosiery collection is designed to go with the dresses; the colours are great.
5) I love the collaborations with British brands, such as Clarks and Biba. What more are in the pipeline?
Terry de Havilland perhaps, Eley Kishimoto? For those of us who like our fashion more edgy than Clarks can offer, but still want it age appropriate and fabulous?
Mary: I haven’t collaborated with Biba; Biba is a sub-brand of House of Fraser’s and nothing to do with me! Working with Clarks has been a phenomenal experience for all of uson both sides, and the whole point is that my shoes look nothing whatsoever like trad Clarks. The Clarks elements incorporated into myshoes is the high quality production values, old-school workmanship,and best of all the inbuilt comfort technology. We’ve developed our own colours, leathers, and lasts. This is Clarks, but not as you know it.
6) Christian Lacroix once told me that women over 60 tend to stop buying fashion. What can you do to entice them back into your shop?
Mary: Nothing, I’m not trying to entice anybody over 60. I’m trying to entice women with modern minds who don’t go around with a number attached to their sense of who they are.
7) What trends can you see translating from the catwalk into your store, ie appropriate for the market you have identified, in the next season?
Mary: I don’t see this market as a sub-group who are inspired by different trends than the rest of the market. This market is living in the same cultural landscape as everyone else; their needs are just slightly different, their desires are more sophisticated, and they put up with less crap because they can spot it a mile off. These are women, who if they had the budget would be shopping at Prada, Marni, Jil Sander, Donna Karan and DvF. There is nothing out there for them at a mid-to-premium high street level. My sister is at the top of her profession in the NHS; but she could never stretch her salary to Prada, only on big birthdays. When she came to my shop she was like a kid in a candy store. We’ve already set down some of our Spring 2012 trends. We’re feeling for sleek 1990’s inspired modern sporty silhouettes; we’ve got some spectacular prints in development with a contemporary artist, and there is a definite 1930s feel of opulence and elegance in the air inspired by the chic of Nancy Cunard and Diana Vreeland.
Do you intend to take this to other stores after London?
Mary: Yes. Manchester is next.
9) How hard is service with a smile?
Mary: I only employ happy people, service with a smile comes
naturally to them.
When Britain really did rule the waves, the high-point of her Britannia arrogance and verve was the 1851 exhibition. A huge house of glass – a ‘crystal palace’ – was constructed in Hyde Park. Queen Victoria, her handsome consort Albert and their 9 children were resplendent in matching costumes: a visual hit of majesterial alchemy. Exhibits from the Empire wowed crowds who had never left seen Dover’s white cliffs, as well as foreign guests and exhibitors who wanted to display the latest designs, inventions and innovations. 100 years later, to cheer ourselves up after WW2, Britain decided to hold another exhibition based on those same national pride principles, albeit now in a world where not only was the Empire and our certainty shrinking, those participating and attending had survived a war beyond all wars and still six years later wanted some fun and optimism after nearly a decade of post-war rationing.
The 1951 Exhibition saw the building of The Southbank: a concrete modernist Ark of artistic endeavour cutting a sharp swathe across the recently bombed southern side of the Thames: from Royal Festival Hall, to National Theatre, art lived on here in its mid-century absolutism. The glass house which had encased the original exhibition was bombed and destroyed in its South London suburban location; what people needed was a boost, a sense of hope, yet like all British institutions, one founded upon a memory, an old idea made good, a sense of the past, of continuity into new ideas.
Which leads me to vintage: when I started buying old clothes, they were that, old clothes, secondhand was the name used and they were: 60s cocktail dresses bought from charity shops, deco bags at jumble sales, Victoriana from Portobello, as a teenager my penchant for silk velvet grew unabated as I would forego supper to buy something which I believed enchanted. I can’t quite remember when secondhand morphed into vintage: perhaps when the prices went up? Perhaps when others en masse showed how they too shared my love affair with the old, with the stories, the craftsmenship and the unique beauty these clothes hold in their seams and darts.
Last Friday, my mother, my god daughter Zoe, my old friend Sukie and my 3 month old baby all went to Vintage at Southbank. An homage to all things nostalgic curated by the Hemingways of Red or Dead infamy, to celebrate 60 years since the 1951 with a party/shopathon/fete/festival celebration of Twentieth Century modes in music, art, design and fashion. Transgenerational, we moved from Abigail’s Party installation, to retro Art School printing class. But it was the shopping, oh my friends the shopping, where my girls of all ages swooped on pieces of beauty, while my baby snoozed on magnificently. You see he was already wearing the best in vintage: for I had prized onto him that morning a wondrous 1950s playsuit, baby shower gift from the lovely Mica, offset with a red and black check pair of M&S Vans. I am sure if he could speak he would say ‘Mummy vintage rocks’. Somehow too vintage has become a noun and for that I applaud last weekend, as a celebration of the best in past memories reshaped into something tantalising and hopeful.
The next day we went to Kew Gardens: both for Jeremy and Dukey their Palm House debuts. For a still-standing glass palace and a relic of Victorian splendour in a cozy corner of South West London, I can recommend no greater way to spend a sun-kissed day.
The Green Eyes Have it! Weblink of my Sophie Ellis Bextor Shoot: Out this month. We Channelled Studio 54 and danced in an SE1 Studio to Donna!Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
by AMNESIA MAGAZINE14.08.2011There’s nothing cooler than Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Her dark hair, the tattoo on her arm that reads ‘Family’ inside a red heart, the love with which she speaks of her kids and how they set up tiny clubs at home while singing and dancing together. Sophie is a pop star and our weak spot. Her latest album, ‘Make a Scene’, will make us dream at Amnesia on 21st August.
The cover artwork for ‘Make a Scene’ is beautiful. Sophie in black and white, her eyes wide open, calm, the mouth just opening. Almost like a Mark Ryden character. This inspiring picture makes us think of a teen Sophie, almost gothic. She’s glad that the pictures in her new album communicate so much: “I love that you love the pictures! The photographer is Ben Weller. I wanted something that looked classic and I love that eerie look that black and white photos have to offer. We worked together for a couple of days, to gather up the pace and relax, and the idea evolved into something slightly different. I love the pictures where my hair is kind of billowing. I would’ve loved the picture on the back to be the cover!”
The cover is not the only evocative thing. The title of one of her new songs, ‘Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)’, is also evocative. Just by reading it you can picture her dancing alone in her room or in some club, melancholy. Where can we find her dancing? “Probably at home with my kids. I love playing them the music I love and we’re always singing. They also have a record player with club lights in their bedroom, so we can always set up a home club. I also dance at clubs, but that’s normally when I’m working, playing a set or a live gig. If I have the night off, I’ll usually just meet up with friends in the neighbourhood or I’ll go out for dinner with my husband. I dance enough on stage!”
And speaking about stages. Imagining her on the Amnesia stage is a powerful image. So pale, so incredibly beautiful and slightly ethereal. It’s great to have a dark-haired pop star… Sophie, please don’t ever dye your hair blonde. “My hair’s been red, blonde, even pink… but I’ll always be dark-haired in my heart”.