Inspiration: Pauline Boty

Do you ever read something interesting that sticks in your mind and suddenly pops up everywhere you look?

Photo by Lewis Morley

Long story short, I first read about Pauline Boty in this book.  A few days later I was sent the new Celia Birtwell book (more on that this week) and who should pop up in the first few pages?

Photo by Michael Ward

Pauline Boty was one of the founding members of the British Pop Art movement in the early 1960’s and died trgaically young from lukaemia at 28.  For many she’s a proto-feminist icon, an unusually sexually liberated woman who was struggling to be understood and have her work objectively evaluated in the days before the womens liberation movement.

My Colouring Book by Pauline Boty, 1963

Celia and some of her Heroes by Pauline Boty, 1963

Boty played with the notion of femininity and icons in her work.  She was Celia Birtwell’s neighbour on Addison Road in Notting Hill and painted a portrait of her surrounded by her artistic heroes. Her most famous painting is of Marilyn Monroe, titled ‘The Only Blonde in the World’. Most of her work was deeply personal – almost a precursor to Tracey Emin.

Detail from The Only Blonde in the World by Pauline Boty

Photo by Michael Ward

As well as an artist she was an actress, with a small part in Alfie as well as several parts in television.  She was also a dancer on Ready, Steady, Go.

Photo by Lewis Morley

Her death was untimely; Boty was pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer and refused to have treatment until after her child was born.  She died five months after her daughter was born. Who knows what could have been?

Licentiate Column: The Soft Line

Usually, trends are easy to predict. Florals in spring, sombre patterns in autumn, pastels for sun, dark colours for sleet and rain. It’s a formula for prediction for Mystic Meg would snort derisively at.

There are trends that come out of left field, seemingly for no good reason other than a designer’s well-intentioned need to break us little people out of our fashion funk. That is why we have leggings. It may also be why we had such marvels of engineering as the crinoline and the bustle.

Cartoon by George Cruikshank

‘I know’, said the worlds foremost 19th century couturiers. ‘Why don’t we make women look like gigantic lacy bells instead of bipedal creatures? They’re just dying for a change in style. Or perhaps we should make them wear several pounds of horsehair padding on their behinds? Would their bums look big in this? I should bloody well hope so!’

When designers feel like breaking from the norm, they usually do it not in terms of fabric or pattern, but silhouette. This can have an unexpectedly gorgeous outcome (think beaded flapper dresses or block bright Mary Quant minis), but when the trend involves making a woman look unnatural or like she’s been stuffed into a lifesize sausage casing, then we have a problem.

The newest unwearable silhouette change has been dubbed by as ‘The New Soft Line’. This is probably because it will make you look like the squishy-soft Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.

Stella McCartney A/W '11-'12

Vogue describes the trend as ‘soft, curvy and rounded – it may not sound like high fashion, but the new soft line is the silhouette for autumn/winter ‘11’. This, also, does not tell us very much.

A quick run through of the designers that espouse the soft line trend reveal a motley crew; Chanel and Moschino Cheap and Chic, Jil Sander and Burberry Prorsum. Stella McCartney leads the way, with a collection of pillowy garments.
All these designers and the soft line can be boiled down to this – it’s supposed to make you look like you have no joints. Wear a cocoon coat and presto! Your hips have disappeared! Bell-shaped sleeves? No elbows for you today.

It’s an unfortunate trend because it’s beautiful. It really does have soft lines, waving, undulating, alluring. The problem is that the human body, while in possession of such lines, also has angles, points, edges and relative straightness (ironically, mostly found on the slim models wearing such clothes). It makes a person wonder whether the human body is the best canvas for such an artistic endeavour.

Burberry Prorsum A/W '11-'12

Burberry’s winter coats have huge, exaggerated, cropped cape-like sleeves that could house a couple looking to get their first step on the property ladder. It’s rather unfortunate that on a cold winter’s eve this coat would be about as insulating as as Tesco Value toilet paper, despite the heft of the wool or the meticulousness of craftsmanship.

Stella McCartney A/W '11-'12

Stella MacCartney’s jumper dresses are a bit of a misnomer. You would expect a woolly dress to be comfortable, but here the fabric is stiffened, almost like card. This preserves the silhouette.

The sacrifice of comfort for a soft line is bordering on Victorian – full of restriction, austerity, exploitation and diminished mobility. It sometimes seems that we’ve already gone back there economically. Is that a time we want to go back to sartorially?

The Reading List: Fashion in Film

Taking pride of place on my bedside table this week is Fashion in Film, a series of essays on (you guessed it) fashion in film.  Edited by Adrienne Munich, this compendium is a rich and diverse look into the world of film costuming and what it all means. Film buffs and  film studies dabblers will know that what a character wears in a film is always significant; a colour, a neckline, a style can all reflect that character’s personality thoughts and feelings in incredibly subtle ways.

The book is split into four sections; Fashioning Film (essays on fashion in genre/particular director’s films), Filming Fashion (how costume design has evolved in films), Fashioning National Identities (fashion in international – so, non-American films) and After Fashion (how older women are dressed in films).

Yes, it’s an academic textbook.  Most of the time, it doesn’t read like one.  This is a good thing.  While full of the informative, thoughtful discourse that a person would expect from a university text, most of the essays are engaging, entertaining and even funny (notably Mary Ann Caws piece, ‘What to Wear in a Vampire Film’ – lesbian vampires never looked so cool).  Requisite space is given to perennial fashion film pleaser, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, while other essays cover such diverse topics as film noir, french fashion film in the 1910 -20s and how the Victorian women are portrayed in film.

If I could offer a criticism of this book, it’s the usual one that crops up with ‘school’ books – not enough illustrations and none in colour.  Fashion isn’t in monochrome, so an insert of colour photographs would have been nice.  A lack of colour does the essays in this book a disservice.

One or two of the essays stray from talking about clothing to talking about the female body, which while relevant, is perhaps not as relevant as talking about the clothes.

I thought that I was reasonably well-informed about fashion and film before reading this book, but I was incredibly wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Now, on finishing, I have a list of movies to watch that will more than likely keep me going until mid 2012, from colour-saturated Sirk melodramas, to Adrian-costumed Madam Satan, to the ostentation of Fassbinder and the beautiful sleek lines of Wong Kar Wai.

That’s almost the point of a book like this – it makes you want to watch all the films mentioned and enjoy them all the more for having read it.

Fashion in Film is published by Indiana University Press.

Aaron Ruell and The Madonna Inn: How great is this?

This isn’t an interiors blog, but the kitscharama of the Madonna Inn in Luis San Obispo, California, which has preserved it’s very Flintstones/Jetsons vibe since the sixties, needs to be shared.  The hotel was used by photographer Aaron Ruell (who, oddly, also played older brother Kip in Napoleon Dynamite) in the Spring 2010 issue of Paper (so behind the times, I am).

Here are some pictures of the hotel in it’s heyday.  Today they look almost exactly the same (the televisions are better, for one).

Room 137 - The Cave Man Room

Room 149 - Old Fashioned Honeymoon

Room 160 - The Austrian Suite

Room 193 - The Safari Room

Room 151 - Sugar and Spice

Room 184 - Just Heaven

Room 204 - American Home

Paper mag photos via, vintage Madonna Inn postcards via It’s Better Than Bad on flickr

Licentiate Column 20/10/11: The Language of Florals

Only a foolish or unthinking person could dismiss flowers as innocuous.  As well as just looking pretty, they have the power to inspire, to heal or even to kill.
Flowers form the basic components of drugs, live-saving or otherwise.  They also have the weight of history on their shoulders (especially the poppy, which is both a flower of remembrance as well as the base for heroin).

In the 19th century floriography or the language of flowers was so powerful that a simple posy could tell your other half that you loved them (red roses), that you should just stay friends (yellow roses), that they made you want to vomit a little bit in your mouth (frog ophrys)  or even tell them that you’re actually gay (green Canterbury bells).  See, you really can say it with flowers.

This bouquet says 'I love you but I hate your taste in capes. You look like a lovelorn Mrs Claus' (possibly).

So, if blooms can carry such power, symbolic or otherwise,  then why do we insist on wearing floral print in such an innocuous way?

My sister is like a lot of women.  She is drawn to floral print like a magnet.  It’s just so very her; fresh, feminine, flirty (in fact, most of the words you could hear in an ad for sanitary towels can also be heard in relation to floral print).  It is, unlike my beloved sister, delicate and nonthreatening and ever so slightly boring.

Sometimes it seems like EVERYONE is wearing floral print

It’s the boring that we love.  It’s slightly ironic now that, when flowers used to say so much, now we wear them to make absolutely no statement at all.More stand-out than block colours yet less strident than other graphic prints, floral prints usually strike a happy medium.

Detail of Mary Katrantzou S/S '12

That is, until now. Over the past year or so, the borders of conventional floral print have been blurred.  While we might have paired our floral blouse with a pair of trousers in a complimentary colour, more and more people are choosing to pair it with another, different floral print, resulting in a clash of colours and textures that recall a verdant rain forest and not the average niminy-piminy field.

Rodarte S/S '12

Possibly the most famous flowers of all time, Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ and ‘Irises’ have been appropriated by Rodarte, the joy-inducing yellows now embroidered or twisted and pixellated in the printing process.  The movement of the flowers on the body brings a new dimension to both the work of Van Gogh and the Mulleavy sisters.  It’s an original artwork no longer seen through a static computer screen or the lenses of millions of tourists.  Instead, they are given a new lease of life on the bodies of models.

Jil Sander A/W 11-12

Consider, as well, the impact of an all-floral outfit.  Jil Sander’s entirely floral suit of orange tones on a black background is pure high impact. No shrinking violets, they.
Even paired with another go-to print, florals take on a life of their own.  Ashish, the London based label with a serious thirst for sequins, also used sunflowers in the recent collection.  Instead, their glittery heads are arranged carefully on a background of black and white stripes for maximum impact, almost visually eclipsing the Rodarte effort.

Ashish S/S '12

It’s all about juxtaposition.  Unlike the 19th century, flowers can now make whatever visual statement that we like.  We just have to be careful what we pair them with.

Pic 1 – ‘A Victorian Bouquet’ by William Powell Frith, pic 2 ‘At the Vermont State Fair, Rutland’ (1941) by Jack Delano, pics 3, 4, 5, 6 from Stylebistro.

Photos from my father

This past weekend I’ve been hanging out with my little brother while my parents have been in London. You know, the usual; I fed him beer, he didn’t do his homework and then I took an overdose and had to be revived with a huge adrenaline needle like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. As I woke up in the basement of that crack den, covered in blood and snot, I remember thinking, ‘Thank God for little brothers’.

I kid.  Mom, I know you’re reading this.  If you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

While my parents were in London, my Dad decided to send me a few pictures.

These pictures are from the window of Soboye Soong.  Nice, eh?  My guess is that the shoes are from Finsk.  Anyone care to confirm/correct this?


Licentiate Column 13/10/11: Gucci Gucci

Last week I talked about the Mod look and how much we love looks from the past. But what happens when we love a look from the past that is already recreating a look from the past? It gets complicated. More complicated than we need shopping for clothes to be.

This is the kind of generation-jumping, time-leaping fashion situation where Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap would really come in handy. Let me explain.

Last February, at Milan Fashion week, Frida Gianinni debuted an Autumn/Winter Gucci collection that would cause photographers and editors to go into raptures of unmitigated worship. It was beautiful, all of it.

The collection was basically an amped-up harkening back to the days of Studio 54. Each model looked as if she had been styled by Angelica Huston on her way to a hot date with Jack Nicholson, seen through the lens of Helmut Newton.

The women looked statuesque, powerful, immovable. The clothes were typical 70’s – wide-legged trousers, knee length boots meeting skirt hems, huge sunglasses. Leather, fur and chiffon were everywhere.

The collection had been given a modern twist. The furs were dyed from their natural state to bright, just on the right side of jarring colours; lavender, aquamarine, violet, Pernod green and a particular shade of yellow that can only be described as a tad Big Bird-y. The python was dyed similar colours. Because of the nature of fur and snakeskin (real or artificial) those colours took on the kind of multi-hued texture and dimension that is easily compared to precious jewels.

The original sombre colour palettes broken up with one or two bright colours to an outfit were not represented. Instead, an effusion of bright contrasting colours. A purple fur collar and muff was matched with a baby blue wool jacket, blue and purple sweater vest, red bow blouse, red trousers and accessorised with a black belt, midnight blue shoes and a burgundy velvet fedora trimmed with violet satin ribbon. Wear that in 1979 and people would assume you were colourblind. Today, it’s high fashion. It wobbled towards bad taste, but in a very good way.

What we conveniently forget is, at the time, the Studio 54 look was a twist on a previous decade – the 1930’s. The fur, the fedoras, the burgundy lips, the lowered hemlines, the sweeping gowns and the pussy bow blouses were all leftovers from another fashion decade.

Perhaps the trend was the echo of excess in a decade that was an economic disaster. Protected inside their bubble, the revellers in Studio 54 were temporarily exempt from the chaos going on outside. In the 1930s the rich left unscathed by the Great Depression continued to live excessively, oblivious to the mass migration and joblessness that stretched around the world. And this decade, with NAMA, bankrupt countries and an ever-shrinking population of young, skilled people… You can see a pattern forming, surely. It’s fashionomics.

Backstage: Meadham Kirchoff

I’ve never been a big fan of Meadham Kirchoff.  There.  I said it.

That is, until I read the relavatory and surprising interview given by Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchoff in the most recent LOVE magazine.  Their work consumes them, a sliver of self-referential sadness, obsession and neurosis runs through their work, often projected through a decidedly Nineties lens.  Their solitary lives mean that their collections are often genre-defying flights of pure self-expression.  Oh, and they’re hardcore feminists. Read the interview if you can.  It’s well worth the twenty minutes or so to pore over it.

Now I look at their shows and think, ‘Oh. Now I understand.’ It’s probably not the best reflection on me, to be honest.

These backstage photographs of their S/S ’12 show were taken by Rachel Hardwick, a CSM student and freelance photographer who was ironically (and depressingly for those of us who can remember the Berlin wall, however fleetingly) born in the decade the Meadham Kirchoff designers draw their inspiration from. A Nineties baby taking photos of Nineties women – I like the parallel.

I think my favourite is the row of Courtneys.

A full-on Van Gogh

Tai: Do you think she’s pretty?
Cher: No, she’s a full-on Monet.
Tai: What’s a Monet?
Cher: It’s like a painting, see? From far away, it’s OK, but up close, it’s a big old mess.

There’s a Clueless quote for every life situation.  It’s official.

First stop on the Fashion Week tour is Rodarte.  As a rule, everyone loves Rodarte.  Their references are unlike any other designer’s, their attention to craftsmanship is second to none and they refuse to pander to conventional fashion structures (think about it – have you ever seen a Rodarte advertisment in a fashion magazine?  Or any magazine for that matter).

They are laws unto themselves – fashion’s answer to Emily Bronte, sequestering themselves away, working and weaving (and maybe Wuthering) their genius entirely for their own gratification.

So, it came as a bit of a shock to find that the Spring/Summer collection was *whispers* a tiny bit lacking.

It’s kind-of a reverse Monet; it’s achingly beautiful up close… but from far away, it’s not so great.

The details are amazing – the embroidery is so intricate and the prints, which have been warped and twisted and pixellated into a double abstraction have a modern echo of the sorrow of solitude and joy of nature Van Gogh painted.

Then the camera pulls out and you see the whole dress.

Thoughts?  Did you think the same or did you think it was up to Rodarte’s usual standards?

Painting by Vincent Van Gogh, Photos from (cropped by me)