Film, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 24/02/11 The Red Shoes

Have you ever heard the Tale of the Red Shoes, written by Hans Christian Anderson? A vain girl tricks her adoptive mother into buying her a pair of much-coveted red shoes, which causes her to pay no attention in church. She stops attending services and goes to a party in her bescarleted feet instead. Once she starts to dance, the shoes will not allow her to stop. She dances and dances without an end in sight, through storms, through her mother’s funeral, until she reaches the point of insanity or death, when a man take mercy on her and chops off her feet.

She eventually realises the folly of emotionally blackmailing a parent into irresponsible shoe buying, then she dies. So, a happy ending for everyone involved. Or maybe not.

In 1948, a seminal dance film was released, also called The Red Shoes. In it, aspiring prima ballerina Vicky Page gets the chance to dance the lead role in the titular ballet, but eventually has to choose between love of a man or love of her art, symbolised potently in the form of a pair of red ballet slippers. The consequences are predictably disastrous.

That’s the trouble with red shoes: They symbolise the things that a woman are, very unfairly, restricted from freely having. These stories are designed to encourage women to conform. Dedicate yourself to your artistic passion instead of looking after a husband? Indulge in hedonism and freedom of self expression? Be an independent person who answers only to herself? Then prepare to have your legs chopped off with a rusty axe before repenting your wicked, wicked ways.

Even now, the world at large doesn’t want us to own a pair of proper red shoes. After spending a day in town with my friend Fiona, bemoaning the dearth of such appendages, she came home and asked a question on Facebook; ‘what do red shoes mean?’ The answers were varied, but the real corkers included such gems as ‘red shoes, no knickers’ and ‘red shoes = Amsterdam window girl’. Apparently, only whores get to don red shoes.

In this day and age, it’s surprising that such asinine restrictions actually exist in terms of a simple primary colour. I want a pair of red shoes. Preferably with a very high heel and all kinds of ribbons and general fripperies. And yet, I have never ever had sex in exchange for money – what kind of topsy-turvy world do we live in?

My non-purchase is not as a result of these utterly sophomoric preconceptions; it’s the conditions that these preconceptions may have precipitated. There are just no nice red shoes to be had. Of the 1000 or so pairs of women’s shoes available on behemoth e-tailer ASOS.com, just fifteen are red, and even then, maybe only two pairs are even slightly close to that particular shade or rich, tomatoey, viscid, brilliantine red that has provoked centuries-long controversy.

It’s damnably sexist to assume that such a shade of footwear automatically shrills ‘come to bed NOW’. Don’t get me wrong, it commands your attention – but the sexual attention can be unwanted or unintended. Red holds immense, often untapped power. Just look at the pope. He wears red shoes, and you don’t see anyone wolf-whistling at him or mistaking him for a call girl, now do you?

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Fashion

I have two words for you…

..and those words are ‘CLEAR MACS’!

It seems that Jeremy Scott was definitely on the right track.  Now give me a plastic rain mac and let me splash around in some puddles, Burberry Prorsum-style.

http://www.t5m.com/v/01z13yszx2qxg9
To watch more, visit catwalkreport_v2.aspx?seasonid=23&seasonday=2011 02 21&day=4
via londonfashionweek.co.uk

Press play to watch the highlights of Day Four of London Fashion Week, which has been the best so far (in my incredibly inflated, self-important opinion).  An LFW round up will appear on the blog on Friday.

*Apologies for the shortness of this post.  Have you ever been so tired that you look at what you’re writing and it’s total gibberish?  Not badly-written or poorly thought out sentences, just actual unintelligible burble, like a toddler mashing the keyboard with his fists.  So, in a way, I’m doing you a favour by writing a twitter-length missive.  You can thank me later.

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Film, Subculture

Wild for Kicks: The Beat Girl (Part II)

Beat Girl title card, image via Imageshack

Some of you readers may remember a post I wrote back in November about ‘Beat Girl’, a 60’s teensploitation film.  It has everything: Christopher Lee as a strip club operator, rebellious teens, rowdy beatnik tunes and an bouffanted ingenue who later became a successful ye-ye (nothing to do with yo-yos) singer in France – you know, all the things a modern girl wants in a good film.

Teenage exploitation flicks are highly underrated as a genre. Granted, the scripts are usually terrible, dialogue is delivered in the manner of Bela Lugosi at the dentist and I could burst several car tyres in the many plotholes that spring up all over the place. Then again, the appeal of these films is in the general apathetic yet highly self-involved natures of the characters, which makes them embark on many a high-spirited, poorly thought out, self-destructive adventure. They’re just SO stylish, with their casually thrown on, yet meticulously put together outfits (it doesn’t hurt that the films were made in an era that is now looked on nostalgically in terms of style). It’s for the same reasons that so many people love watching Skins today.

Now, thanks to the Movies section on Youtube, you can watch Beat Girl in it’s unadulterated, sleazy, slightly crackly form! Don’t say I’m not good to you. Watch this film while doing the frug and smoking gauloises (or just with a cup of tea – make sure that you do the frug at some stage though).

P.S: Now THIS is how you do the frug.  Snazzy plaid-jacketed dancing partner optional.

Frug instructions via Flickr
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Fashion

Distilled: New York Fashion Week A/W ’11

Here’s a handy-dandy pocket guide to New York Fashion Week – Favourite runway looks, trend predictions and the stuff that didn’t go over so well.  I’ll be doing one for London, Milan and Paris every week so if you like this, make sure to check back next Friday for more catwalk overanalysis.

From left to right, per row
Tartan galore: 1 – Y3, 2 – Rag& Bone, 3 – Libertine
Slick monochromatic tailoring:  4 – Jason Wu, 5 – Michael Kors, 6 – DKNY
Print clash:  7 – Proenza Schouler, 8 – Rodarte, 9 – Preen
Left-field details:  10 – Jeremy Scott, 11 – Marc Jacobs, 12 – Prabal Gurung
70’s trend:  13 - Diane Von Furstenberg, 14 – Marc by Marc Jacobs, 15 – Rodarte
Trends from New York for Autumn/Winter 2010/11
YAY TRENDS
  • Red – and LOTS of it.
  • Pattern clashes – intricate patterns based on maths/science (as seen on Preen with their uniform polyhedra prints)
  • Polka dots – as at Marc Jacobs.
  • Texture tastic – not only will we be mixing patterns, we’ll be mixing textures as well.  As seen at Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler,
  • Thigh-high split skirts – my legs say no, but my brain says YES!

NAY TRENDS

  • Sheer tights – Is it just me or are they a bit, erm, Maggie Thatcher?
  • Fur – on everything – on cuffs, on hats, skirts, everything.  I guarantee that someone will manufacture fur underpants and make a profit.  My personal stance on fur is pretty non-committal but the sheer amount of fur on the catwalks in NY seemed incredibly self-indulgent.  Some of the most original collections didn’t use fur at all.
NOTES
Pic 10 – Where would we be without Jeremy Scott?  The world would be a much duller place (and Katy Perry would have a yawning chasm in her wardrobe).  I think that his collections are best viewed on individual merits.  Example; this bikini/clear mac combo.  Not something I could ever pull off in real life (and the world breathes a sigh of relief) but pair the crystal-encrusted mac with some monochrome tailoring?  WIN.
Pic 11 – Marc Jacobs also works the clear clothing look, but this blouse is much more subtle.
Pic 15 – If you can hold a pair of knitting needles, you could easily knit this Rodarte jumper.  I wonder how much the retail will be?
What were your NYFW highlights and lowlights?
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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 17/02/11 Colour Blocking: A Guide

Colour blocking is a little bit like nuclear fusion. We all have a vague idea of what it is, but only people with specialist knowledge can explain it coherently or know how to work it properly. Colour blocking isn’t the driving force behind the most powerful explosive men has ever known, but still, if you make one wrong move, everything is very liable to blow up in your face.
This particular trend has been all over the catwalks and in shops for several seasons now, but it has been hovering around the fringes of decorating, graphic design, home interiors, visual merchandising and art for much, much longer. If someone wants to draw your eye to something, be it a window display or a bathroom wall, colour blocking is one of the most effective ways to do it.
And yet, it is damnably hard to explain in simple, linear terms. I’ve spent a solid week researching and trying to write synopses, but the only one-line answer to colour blocking that I can come up with is this: If you look like a Fruit Pastille ice pop, then you’re doing it right.
Colour blocking should be easy. In it’s most basic term, it’s the wearing a few contrasting colours in one outfit. Yep, it really should be easy – but it isn’t. It’s the sartorial equivalent of a sixteen year old trying to unhook his girlfriends bra. The swaggering confidence as the task begins soon turns, first to frustration, then crushing disappointment, insecurity and finally, an unsatisfactory conclusion for everyone involved.
There are a hundred and one simple rules for working colour blocking like a pro, but I only get five hundred words per column. I’ve wasted two hundred of them already joking about how difficult it is, so I’ll just give you the basics. This is the fruit of reading about a hundred articles and embarking on some terrible wardrobe experiments, one of which resulted me going shopping in town resembling a human rubiks cube.
1) Only wear two or three colours at any one time. See rubiks cube statement above.
2) Pretend that you’re colour blind. Remember ‘blue and green must never be seen’? Rejoice, for the restraining order between cerulean and emerald has been lifted. A detente has been reached and the good news is ringing out all over your wardrobe. Red and pink are similarly jarring bedfellows.
3) The Clash is more than just an band. Red with blue? Yes please! Purple and green? Don’t mind if I do! Yellow and teal? Why, I’ll have a double portion. Please sir, I want some more!
4) Patterns are not your friends. Red and green is fine, if a little festive. Red and green stripes are a no-no. You’re not Bosco, but wear that combo and you’ll be sent back in your box. Patterns are generally eye-catching anyway, so they tend to have an America’s Next Top Model-worthy fight for attention with contrasting trends. Remember, colour blocking = blocks of colour. That means no patterns allowed. No exceptions.
5) Neutrals are a welcome relief. If your multi-tonal antics are on the verge of inducing seizure, break up the colour party by introducing a neutral shade. Grey works well with cool blues and greens, tan and beige colours can look unexpectedly striking with warm tones. It makes an on-trend twist to all the boring basics.
So now you know the rules. Go forth and block your colours like there’s no tomorrow. And if you find yourself looking longingly at stripes, just think to yourself – what would Bosco do?

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Art, Inspiration

The work of John Stezaker

John Stezaker is one of those artists I really should have heard of before, but haven’t until now.

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Mask XXXV

His photocollages are reminiscent of Linder Sterling (click here to read about Sterling at the Crawford Gallery) in the powerful subversion of imagery and the unending questioning of the images around us; what makes the day to day pictures we see, whether in advertising or editorial or promotion, such instruments of influence.

Stezaker (a word more difficult to pronounce that ‘licentiate’) takes the core elements of a picture and turns them on their heads by splicing in another image that is dischordant – with a weirdly harmonic result.  It tread the line between beautiful/ugly – often both at once.

That’s basically an incredibly pretentious way of saying ‘I like this artist.  His work is damn cool and I can’t stop staring at his pictures’.  Here’s some more images of Stezaker’s work.  If you happen to be in London, stroll on down to the Whitechapel Gallery, who are hosting a retrospective of his work before it goes on tour.  Click here to listen to a short interview of Stezaker talking about his work

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L – Third Person, R – Underworld I

This post is quite photo heavy, so click to see more…

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Marriage (Film Portrait IX)
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Marriage (Film Portrait XLV)
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Mask XLVI
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Enter… (Exit)… The Third Person

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Untitled (Rose)
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L – Film Portrait She VIII, R – Film Portrait Land VIII
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Fashion, Film, Photography, The Reading List

Who was the real Holly Golightly?

Any fashion blogger worth his or her sodium intake has heard about, if not already read Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  The book’s heroine, Holly Golightly, is a gadabout girl-about-town with a predisposition for rich men and total character reinvention.  She’s flighty and flirty.  She’s a phony – but she’s a real phony.

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Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film

I’ve got a real grá (that’s Irish for love, international readers) for Truman Capote.  I wrote many essays about him while studying English in university.  He was an enfant terrible, an enigma with a cryptic tongue, an interviewer with an uncanny knack to get details out of any source and reduce macho men like Muhammad Ali to tears.  When it came to being interviewed, Capote was undeniably economical with the truth.

Playboy:  Shortly after publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a writer named Bonnie Golightly sued you for $800,000, on the grounds that she was the real-life inspiration for your fictional heroine.  At least four other New York girls about town countered with the claim that they were the prototype of Holly.  Was the characterisation of Holly based on a real person?
Capote:  Yes, but not on any of the people you refer to.  The real Holly Golightly was a girl exactly like the girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with the single exception that in the books she comes from Texas, whereas the real Holly was a German refugee who arrived in New York at the beginning of the War, when she was 17 years old.  Very few people were aware of this, however, because she spoke English without any trace of an accent.  She had an apartment in the brownstone where I lived and we became great friends.  Everything I wrote about her is literally true – not about her friendship with a gangster called Sally Tomato and all that, but everything about her personality and approach to life, even the most preposterous parts of the book.
– From a 1968 interview with Playboy, click to read


Sorry Truman, I call bullshit on your answer…

People like to search for the ‘real’ Holly Golightly’, just as they want to know who the ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes is, or the ‘real’ Sal Paradise.  In fiction, there is no ‘real’ anything, only composites and impressions drawn and interpreted through that writer’s vision.  Even if the German did exist (which, due to Capote’s predisposition for embellishment, I seriously doubt), she’s not Holly Golightly.  Holly is her and more of the many women in Capote’s coterie of female friends, all exceptional, all stylish, all Holly, all the time.  Here’s a few of Capote’s possible influences.

Maeve Brennan
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Maeve Brennan at home – Photo by Karl Blissinger

Maeve Brennan moved from Ireland to the USA when she was seventeen.  Both Brennan and Capote worked at Harper’s Bazaar, which is probably where they met.  They also worked at The New Yorker (where Brennan wrote a column called The Long-Winded Lady) at the same time.  She was regarded as eccentric, but this soon turned into obsessive behaviour and she became an alcoholic.  Towards the end of her life, she was committed to a hospital, where she died in 1993.

Just like Holly – Wore trademark black dresses and dark glasses. Spent far beyond her means.  Erratic behaviour.  Often had a case of the Mean Reds.
Not so Golightly - Brennan had a real, taxable job and a creative outlet, writing short stories and a novel.

Read more:  The Long-Winded Lady , by Maeve Brennan and Maeve Brennan: Wit, Style and Tragedy – An Irish Writer in New York by Angela Bourke

Doris Lilly
Lilly in later years

After Capote published Other Voices, Other Rooms, he became very good friends with Doris Lilly, a blonde starlet who famously dated Gene Kelly and Ronald Reagan and with whom he’d eat dinner and talk for hours.  Lilly said “Truman used to come over all the time and watch me put make-up on before I went out…, there’s a lot of me in Holly Golightly”.  Lilly died in 1991 with no money.  Her mountain of costume jewellery, given to her by her many admirers over the years, had to be sold off to cover funeral costs.

Just like Holly – Had a thwarted Hollywood career, was a gal-about-town, had a famously pragmatic attitude towards men (Lilly wrote How to Marry a Millionaire, amongst other suggestively titled works and said “Millionaires are marrying their secretaries because they’re so busy making money that they haven’t time to see other girls”), never actually got to marry a millionaire.
Not so Golightly – Can you see Holly Golightly as a leggy blonde?

Read More – How to Make Love in Five Languages by Doris Lilly

Suzy Parker and Dorian Leigh
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Parker (left) and Leigh at a shoot for LIFE Magazine

Parker and Leigh were two sisters who were both models.  Leigh was photographed by Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Cecil Beaton, amongst others. Parker, 15 years younger than Leigh, became Avedon’s muse and the face of Chanel during the 50’s and 60’s.

Just like Holly – Terminal cat owners, use of the fire escape as means of exit and entry, beguiling and hilarious.
Not so Golightly – Both sisters were supposed homebodies and, unlike the champagne and cigarettes Golightly, both were excellent cooks – Leigh even had cordon Bleu training.

Read More – Avedon Fashion 1944 – 2000, by Richard Avedon

There are more women who could be Golightly.  If I was to list them all I’d be writing this post for a month.  But, that’s what’s so great about Holly Golightly.  She’s such a singular character, but she could be anyone.  That’s why so many women (myself included) identify with her.

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