Things to read #4

It’s my birthday today, hooray! My family are over in London and we are eating our way through the city. And the sun is shining and I’m going to go for brunch soon, so I’m throwing up a few things worth reading before I take one more fatal bite and turn into a quesadilla or fancy chocolate mousse eclair.


Suspended fields of flowers by Rebecca Louise Law.

Caroline Evans on how clothing reminds us of all the people we’ve lost.

“If they hadn’t told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn’t tried to break me down, I wouldn’t know that I’m unbreakable.So when you ask me how I’m so confident, I know what you’re really asking me: how could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rihanna, asshole!

In short, her pain became her beauty — and by extension, her livelihood. It was a battle between the reality and the ideal, which would repeat for Hepburn as feminist elements warred with old-world patriarchy, in ways no more obvious than her long series of on-screen suitors. The hidden feminism of Audrey Hepburn.


The art of business cards.

Charles James, who has a retrospective opening at The Met very soon, was quite possibly one of the most underrated couturiers. Either that, or this is incredibly well written hype.

The secret history of Britney Spears’ lost album.

Twelve books about women on the road.

Why does Anne Boleyn obsess us? Anne of Cleves never had such a following. And Jane Seymour? Fuhgeddaboutit.

One of the best fashion instas this year.



The Reading List – Muses: Women Who Inspire


Muses: Women Who Inspire is a lavish coffee table book, published by Flammarion, all about the romantic muse. ‘Romance’ is definitely the watchword – almost all of the muses in this book were engaged sexually with their masters (for want of a much better word). The modern muse is disregarded – Edie Sedgewick for her drug use, Grace Jones for her perceived lack of longevity and Kate Miss for, well, just being Kate Moss. The woman in this book cover a period of roughly 100 years, from about 1850 to 1950, from the Countess Castiglioni (who, both hearteningly and pathetically, was her own muse) to Giulietta Masina, the sprite-like wife of Federico Fellini.


This rather large hardback is stuffed to the gills with women, some you have heard of, some who are a whisker away from relegation to the purgatory of obscurity. The selections are wide-ranging from art to literature to film to photography and often quite illuminating, but the treatment of said muses is interesting.

In quite a lot of the profiles, we don’t learn how the women directly influenced the artists – unless it is quite obvious (Salvador Dali using his wife Gala as a model, for example). The women are related to in terms of their influence and not their personality, which is unfortunate. Photographer Lee Miller’s life after her affair with Man Ray is referred to only in a cursory way, which is surprising as that period of her life was the one in which she would make the biggest impact on the world. Rather worryingly, Lewis Carroll’s disputed paedophilia is treated in almost apologetic terms in Alice Liddell’s profile, saying in one breath that his behaviour was dubious and in the next that “one should steer clear of judging a personality that was undeniably complex, paradoxical and disarming”.

The real strength of this book is the layout as well as the selection of muses. A rich and diverse amount of photographs and artworks as well as a rich and diverse group of women are masterfully showcased. The scandals, the heartbreaks, the subtle manipulation – it’s all here. If you like a shot of scandal with your history, you’ll enjoy this book.



Muses: Women Who Inspire is published by Flammarion and is available in all good bookshops.

The Reading List: Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland

If you’re a big Diana Vreeland fan, you’ll notice that books by and on the famous Vogue editor are often… interesting. Not bad interesting, but unconventional. They’re often a bit disjointed, they run in a non-linear style and are often punctuated with incredibly arresting visuals. Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland is one such animal. The book is actually an exhibition catalogue from The Museo Fortuny’s Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland, which closed in June.

The text is split into several parts: they examine Vreeland’s influences and influence in publishing, her career at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the structure and layout of the exhibition as it appeared in the Museo Fortuny in Venice.  Unlike the majority of exhibition catalogues, it isn’t stuffed with essays (although there are essays), rather it’s a compendium of visual and interesting juxtapositions – after all, Vreeland was master of the grand visual statement, the champion of the refined aesthetic statement over the blank, unedited truth.

Roughly, the first 180 pages of the book are pictures.  Glorious pictures, that spill over the pages in an obvious homage to Vreeland’s seminal book Allure, which is jam-packed with her inspirations and proclamations.  Sandwiched in are pictures of the woman herself, her work and her inspirations.  The photos in this post should give the reader a general idea of the bizarre and beautiful hodgepodge within its pages.

The next section deals with the exhibition itself which, sadly, depends on the reader actually having gone to the Museo Fortuny to properly appreciate it.  There are very photographs of the exhibition and costumes in the book; rather there are slight sketches which, while very pretty, don’t give the reader an excellent representative idea of what actually went on display.

What is great is the reappraisal given to Vreeland’s work at the Met’s Costume Institute, which doesn’t get enough attention when compared to her editorial output.  A brief  exploration of her exhibitions is accompanied by press snippets and tidbits.  Some of Vreeland’s legendary Why Don’t You columns for Harper’s Bazaar are reprinted, along with original articles dealing with her museum work.  A well-rounded book, done effectively about exhibitions – and an exhibitionist – this book is a great complement to The Eye Has To Travel book and film – buy them all and you’ve effectively completed the trilogy.

Diana Vreeland After Diana Vreeland, by Judith Clark and Maria Luisa Frisa, is published by Marsilio and is out now.

Licentiate Column 10/05/12: Tomboys Forever

Tomboys are vastly, miserably underrated. In a world where more credence is put on celebrities in bikinis and the best way to conceal the decidedly unfeminine flaws of body hair and non-fruity smells, the woman who goes au naturel, has sun-bleached hair, (a smattering of which lives nowhere near her head) or is more into Fred Perry than florals gets the raw deal.

Reading ‘Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion’, a new book by LA Times scribe Lizzie Garrett Mettler, I was reminded of just how important and influential the tomboy really is.

Eschewing traditional notions of femininity doesn’t necessarily make you less of a woman. Everyone has a bit of tomboy in them (men included). When I asked friends on Facebook, their favourite (stylish) boyish ladies included Diane Keaton, Gwen Stefani, Katherine Hepburn, Helle Nice, Chloe Sevigny and Tilda Swinton. To that end, I’d add a young Jodie Foster, Alexa Chung, Angelina Jolie and Kristy from the Babysitters Club.. A very diverse bunch of women.

So, in honour of the tomboy, I’ve compiled a list of my favourites, real and fictional.

1. Dr Dana Scully. As the cynical half of the Mulder/Scully pairing in The X-Files, Scully is always dressed in fairly severe tailoring with a simple pageboy haircut. After a few episodes, I got so used to seeing Scully in a trouser suit that I was actually a little disappointed whenever she appeared wearing a pencil skirt. They can’t be good for running around abandoned warehouses with guns. Although Scully for some reason gets kidnapped at least three times a year and has to be rescued by Mulder, she always has to save Mulder from certain death and pick up the pieces in the series finale – but not in a housewife-ish way.

2. Beryl Markham. Author, racehorse trainer, aviatrix, Beryl Markham is perhaps the most obscure of the female flying aces of the 1930’s, most likely because she didn’t die a premature death by plane. As a peripheral member of the notorious Kenyan Happy Valley set, Markham was divorced three times and caused many scandals. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that her map flew out of the cockpit window almost immediately after taking off. She spent most of her life in trousers and spent the majority of her childhood living in a mud hut. Ernest Hemingway thought that she was ‘a high-grade bitch’, which, for me, is a ringing endorsement.

3. Patti Smith. It says a lot when you’re in a relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and he’s the girliest one. Unlike the tomboys listed above, I don’t think that I have ever seen a picture of Patti Smith wearing a dress. The very fabric of my reality would rip if I ever did. Smith is the epitome of the stylish tomboy, forever artfully ruffled, stylishly-clad, a woman and an androgyne. As an artist, a writer and a musician, Patti Smith is one of the few women of substance to actively, almost enthusiastically age. She doesn’t wear make-up or style her hair, but she remains beautiful because she is always genuinely, authentically herself – part of that is being a tomboy.

Ghost World Screencapped

Having a post adolescent existential crisis? I know I am. Watching Ghost World always makes me feel a bit better, even though ultimately, it’s quite a depressing film.

I don’t know what it is that makes women identify with Enid. For me though, it’s the thick glasses, cumbersome boobs, lack of direction and the inability to have a pleasant conversation with strange men because they’re all idiots.  Every single one.  I suppose a lot of people wish that they could do an Enid when life has gone all wobbly – if you’ve seen the film you know what I mean.  If not, watch it – if only for Enid’s mad style.

And buy the book.  Definitely buy the book.

The Reading List – Lillian Bassman: Lingerie


Lillian Bassman summed up herself and her work as “completely tied-up with softness, fragility and the personal problems of a feminine world”. In this retrospective work of her seminal lingerie work, her ethos is summed up just as succinctly in the body of the book.


Lillian Bassman’s work was by women, for women. The subjects live in their own feminine spheres. No male gaze here; the woman is confident and self assured and the only person permitted to scrutinise her is herself. They are erotic but not overtly sexual creatures – their unconscious sensuality is the erotic X factor.

As a fashion photographer, Bassman is mistress of the black and white image. Bodies take almost abstract shapes and are often overexposed in a style very reminiscent of Man Ray, who worked as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar at the same time as Bassman, who was then a graphic designer.

This slim volume is low on words but high on impact and thoughtfully laid out in an entirely monochromatic scheme that best showcases the at times dreamy and ethereal, practical and homespun or beguiling and artistic work of Lillian Bassman. It’s hard to imagine that she destroyed the bulk of her commercial work during the rise of the supermodel. Fortunately, some of her work was discovered in a rubbish bag in her Manhattan home. I’m glad that it was, for without it we might not have had this wonderful book – a brief insight into a woman’s world without the sexism of Mad Men, but all of the style.


The Reading List: Deborah Turbeville, The Fashion Pictures

Deborah Turbeville is an enigmatic woman who doesn’t fit well within the typical jobbing fashion photographer mould.  Her photographs are heavy in their sombreness, atmospherically frayed and aged and often following a narrative that only Turbeville, as a consummate storyteller, understands.

In this impressively cultivated Rizzoli book lies the very best of Turbeville’s fashion photography, edited by the woman herself.  All words are hers, except for a glowing foreward by Vogue Italia editrix Franca Sozzani, who describes Turbeville as a ‘poet of photography’ (and rightly so).  You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Turbeville, but to ignore her would be foolish.  Although her particular brand of sinister anxiety and brooding may have fallen out of fashion, the quality and originality of her work means that she just hasn’t been appreciated properly – although this may change with the release of this book and the recent work she executed for the Valentino campaigns.

Turbeville is at heart a deconstructivist storyteller – she is constantly disseminating images or provoking said dissemination in others.  Her works are “little open-ended stories that led you on but yet were incomplete, a bit like silent films… Thus I began a pattern I would follow all my life… a sort of work in progress”.  It’s Turbeville’s ‘work-in-progress’ ethic that lets her work evolve into something totally unexpected and alien from it’s original starting point.

Hers are snapshots without explanation – they are open-ended in the eye of the beholder.  For Turbeville, atmosphere dictates the picture.  Photographs seem almost DIY, but still refined.  They are scratched, worn or burned, but all the more beautiful for that.  Her bathhouse series is still as disturbing today as it was when it first appeared.  Ostensibly a swimwear shoot in an early 20th century bathhouse, the photographs have an air of foreboding despite its total lack of obscenity.  The impact is in what it doesn’t say. Is her Woman in the Woods series about World War 2 collaborators?  The models are lined up in woodlands or against bales of hay as if for a firing squad, passively miserable faces on each one.  Turbeville remains enigmatic on the subject.

The book covers highlights from Turbeville’s career from 1970 to the present, all varied, all beautiful, but all products of a broken, post-apocalyptic world. The haute couture is a reflection of a world gone by, the woman all waiting for some hallowed time to come again – all to no avail.  Her photos of Russian ballet dancers are what I imagine a Degas painting would look like if it was a photograph – wistful, beautiful, elegant, snatches of a moment.  Turbeville’s scrapbook style, photographs piled in on one another organically, sometimes scratched or blurred almost beyond recognition, go well with the handwritten titles and typewriter fonts.  It’s like a luxurious, hardback zine, the product of one utterly original and painfully personal vision.

At the end, Turbeville lets us in and tells us a story of tragedy and intrigue.  And on the very last page, she shuts the door on us again.

Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

Inspiration: French Women

Is it just me or is November a little, well, flumpish?  You know, it gets dark at six and it’s cold and rainy and it seems that nothing is very inspiring.

I bet French women don’t have that problem.

Lou Doillon

Francoise Hardy

Sonia Rykiel

Francoise Sagan

Emmanuelle Seigner

All illustrations by Isaac Bonan for Milk Magazine.

The Reading List: Celia Birtwell

Celia Birtwell isn’t a relevatory memoir, nor is it a rollicking trip through one of the most dynamic periods in British design.  And thank God for that.

Instead, Celia Birtwell and fashion writer Dominic Lutyens have compiled a thoughtful, beautifully illustrated overview of one exceptionally talented woman’s life in design.

Celia Birtwell has always been one of those shadowy, enigmatic figures in fashion. Overshadowed in terms of scandal by her flamboyant husband and partner in design Ossie Clark and seen through the prism of David Hockney’s view in his many paintings and drawings of her, we have never had a real chance to see Birtwell as she would like to be seen. It’s a rare opportunity to read a book that has for it’s subject a person who is both creator and muse.

As a retrospective, this is long overdue.  Birtwell’s career has spanned decades, from couture to homewares to a much lauded collection for Topshop, she’s been there, done that and designed the t-shirt (or crepe de chine blouse, more likely).

It’s sumptuously illustrated – with the perfect mix of sketches, personal photos, artworks and fashion photography.  And from the centre of each page, Birtwell shines out, either in her designs or as a twinkly-eyed, Pre-Raphaelite maiden.

The book is meticulously referenced; every person, place or thing that makes an appearance in the book is given pride of place.  Every print has a name and a history.  Every influence is of equal importance.

If you’re looking for scandal and intrigue, you’ve picked up the wrong book.  While never giving the reader the impression that she’s holding anything back, the heartbreak and difficulties that she had to go through are never dealt with in any deep, personal way.  However, we get the impression that this isn’t becuase Birtwell is knowingly concealing facts, but rather because her personality spurs her to take everything on the chin and keep looking towards the future. An admirable (and unusually rare) trait. One of my favourite books this year.

Celia Birtwell is published by Quadrille and is out now.

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?