Author Archives: gjohnstonwatt

5 Minutes With…Megan Stevenson

We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here, Megan discusses David Bowie, Paris is Burning, and her early fashion influences.

What is your dissertation about? What prompted you to choose this subject?

My dissertation is about David Bowie… kind of. I’m looking at the personae of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, focusing on three sources: Brian Duffy’s photoshoot in January 1973, Masayoshi Sukita’s photoshoot in February 1973, and D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (filmed July 1973).

I was initially inspired to research this area after learning about the close connection between Bowie and Japan, which made me wonder about the various influences that collaboratively produced his iconic personae. The incredible glam rock fashion of his Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane period made the choice of which area to focus on pretty easy. I’m really enjoying the research, as it’s allowing me to dig under the surface of visual media and find a whole network beneath. Along with Duffy, Sukita, and Pennebaker, I’ve been researching fashion designers Kansai Yamamoto and Freddie Burretti, make-up artist Pierre La Roche and mime artist Lindsay Kemp. My main realisation has been that there is an infinite list of contributors, collaborators, and influences that came together to produce the Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane imagery that we know so well. Even a rice cooker gets a mention for being relevant! It’s also been really interesting to trace the sources and their uses in various forms – my favourite of which being the Barbie doll dressed and marketed to recreate an image from the Sukita shoot.

Fig 1: ‘Watch That Man III’ by Masayoshi Sukita, 1973. (Snap Galleries)
Fig 2: Barbie as David Bowie, 2019. (Mattel)

What is your favourite thing you’ve written/worked on/researched this year?

My favourite thing would have to be my first essay, which was about the wearing of fur in Jennie Livingstone’s Paris is Burning, a documentary filmed in the late 1980s about the New York ballroom scene. I researched the history of fur as a material in fashion, and the social and cultural reasons fur may be worn in different contexts. Paris is Burning was a particularly interesting lens to view this through, as tensions between fur as a marker of distinction and anti-fur campaigns were dramatically rising. Not only that, but I could bring in a lot on gender and fashion – my favourite topic!

Fig 3: Still of Octavia St. Laurent in the film ‘Paris is Burning’ at 06:17, 1990. (Academy Entertainment / Off White Productions)

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing periwinkle blue trousers, a white t-shirt and a brown check jacket. The trousers are the most recent thing I’ve bought, I found them on Depop and am loving them. The t-shirt was given to me as merchandise when I worked on an event a few years ago, and it’s become a staple of my wardrobe. The jacket is originally from Motel, but I got it from a charity shop in Angel for £7. On my feet are a pair of Flamingos’ Life trainers, bought second-hand on Ebay. I’d really recommend Flamingos’ Life – they are plant-based, comfy, and don’t slip off the backs of my feet as I walk along.

As you probably noticed from that description, most of my clothing these days comes from some kind of second-hand source. I started trying to avoid fast fashion about 5 years ago and am really happy with the eclectic wardrobe I have built since. I’ve dabbled with making my own clothes, and the new series of Sewing Bee is inspiring me to dedicate more time to that this summer! I have been desperate for a brightly coloured co-ord suit that fits my body (Zara seems to think I need an extra 6 inches of torso?), so that’s what I’ll be aiming to perfect first.

This MA has really solidified my belief that clothes aren’t everything, but they’re a heck of a lot more than ‘just’ clothes. They are a way for us to customise this character we have been given, to make our day more comfortable, to support our lifestyle and to surround ourselves with softness and colour (at least, these are my main priorities).

Fig 4: Megan strutting her stuff on the streets of London

Do you have an early fashion memory to share?

A glowstick exploding all over my favourite lilac crushed-velvet tank top, age 6! I never fully recovered, and today I own a turquoise crushed-velvet strappy crop top… I actually had forgotten all about the glowstick incident until I thought about how to answer this question, and hadn’t made the connection between that top of 17 years ago and the crop top I now own and wear on nights out. Oh dear.

In terms of fashion media, I have strong memories of media which I think must have come from my big sister, because I was almost certainly too young to follow these when I first watched them. Charlie’s Angels (2000) has Drew Barrymore playing Dylan, and her blue-eyeshadowed rock-chic look definitely inspired me for better or worse. Ugly Betty (2006-2010) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) also felt like defining moments where I became aware of fashion. They were also both, in their own ways, trailblazing forms of media. I’m glad I could see their comedy, drama, and representation from an early age. (Special shout-out to Pierre La Roche, mentioned earlier, who also did the make-up for Rocky Horror and has been a feature of many of my interests without my realising for all these years. More people should know about him!)

Fig 5: Dylan in ‘Charlie’s Angels’, about to beat up many baddies. (Colombia Pictures Industries, Inc.)
Fig. 6: Hilda, Betty, and Justin Suarez in ‘Ugly Betty’. (ABC / Getty)

If I’ve got my timings right, then this is my final post for this blog! I’ve really enjoyed my time writing here and reading the wonderful words of my course mates. If you want to see more of what I’m getting up to then my Instagram is @megangalleria – I mostly post about museum, gallery, fashion and photography related things.

All the best!

Fig 7: Frank N. Furter gives a toast, ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. (20th Century Fox)

 

By Megan Stevenson

Images:

https://www.snapgaleries.com/portfolio-items/david-bowie-by-masayoshi-sukita

https://www.hamleys.com/barbie-david-bowie-doll

Livingstone, Jennie. Paris is Burning, cinematographer Paul Gibson (1990; New York: Second Sight Films Ltd, 2009), DVD

https://screenrant.com/charlies-angels-every-angel-ranked/

https://people.com/tv/mark-indelicato-didnt-know-what-playing-a-gay-character-on-ugly-betty-would-mean-to-so-many-people/

https://greenbelttheatre.org/blog-post/the-strange-journey-of-rocky-horror-from-box-office-flop-to-cult-classic/

https://rockyhorrorpictureshowpics.tumblr.com/image/1246180119

 

5 Minutes With…Claudia Stanley

We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here, Claudia discusses Ossie Clark, military peacocks, and what artists wear.

What is your dissertation about?

My dissertation centres around how temporality and nostalgia manifested in the designs of Ossie Clark and textile designer Celia Birtwell during the retro-mania of the late 1960s and early 1970s. From his seductive, transparent garments (often worn without underwear) to his hyper-feminine bias cut dresses, Clark was able to reflect contemporary notions of progressive female sexuality whilst simultaneously referencing past art movements and designers. Ranging from the Pre-Raphaelites to 1940s fashion, Clark and Birtwell’s past influences also translated into the fashion photography of their collaborative creations.

Celia Birtwell, Gala Mitchell in an Ossie Clark Dress with Celia Birtwell’s Acapulco Gold print, 1969

My virtual exhibition also focused on Ossie Clark, where one section, ‘Modern Retro’, sought to display the influence of history on Clark and Birtwell in an era of self-conscious modernity. I based my exhibition in Chelsea Town Hall, where Clark held some of his theatrical and often shambolic fashion shows. By the end of the project, I could really visualise the space and how the exhibits (and my imaginary visitors) would interact with each other.

Ossie Clark fashion show, Chelsea Town Hall, 1970

I wanted to convey the impression of an immersive, multi-sensory experience, where people could flow freely through the space. My visitors would be given headphones which would react to each display, playing music to coordinate with each exhibit. I hoped to create a solo, silent Ossie rave to help transport visitors to Swinging London. Having scratched the surface in my virtual exhibition, it’s been really interesting delving deeper into themes of history and continuity in my dissertation research.

What is your favourite dress history photograph?

To save this from turning into an Ossie Clark rant, I’ll opt for one of Horst P. Horst’s neoclassical images, featured in Vogue from September 1937. The model, adorned in a silvery gown by Madeleine Vionnet, seems to simultaneously embody a classical goddess and a modern woman. Posed to statuesque perfection, her bejewelled wrists, held above her modestly lowered head, are clasped together like the fastening of a necklace, metamorphosing her iridescent body into a precious pendant. Alternatively, the vertical pleats of her dress could also transform her into a Corinthian column. The outline of her thigh shimmers under the studio lights, hinting at the sensual body beneath. I love how tactile this image is. Just from looking at it, we get a sense of exactly what it would feel like to wear this dress and to have each delicate pleat ripple across the body.

Horst P. Horst, Sonia wearing a Vionnet dress, Vogue, 15 September 1937, Condé Nast

What is your favourite thing that youve written/worked on/researched this year?

I really enjoyed my essay on how military uniform was appropriated by The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in 1966 and 1967. The fact that such archaic and hyper-masculine garments were incorporated into progressively androgynous, peacocking menswear reveals an interesting point of tension in regards to modernising masculinity. The Beatles and The Stones arguably brought this counterculture style of dress to the forefront of contemporary consciousness, asserting their flamboyant individuality, which, ironically, created an impression of uniformity within, and between, both bands.

Gered Mankowitz, Keith Richards, Wasted, 1967, Gered Mankowitz Collection

What is your favourite thing youve read this year?

Charlie Porter’s What Artists Wear is something that I keep coming back to (mainly just to flick through the pictures). Porter highlights how the physical intimacy of clothing offers a more personal perspective on world famous artists, from Louise Bourgeois wearing her own latex sculptures, to Frida Kahlo’s politically-charged adoption of, and self-documentation in, men’s suits. I enjoyed how Porter centres debates around female artists’ bodies, which have been historically restricted by clothing. Dress has the destructive potential to limit bodily autonomy and, by extension, creative output. Yet, at the same time, dress becomes a canvas on which artists express themselves, a means to connect with viewers of their work, as well as autobiographical evidence of their life. It really makes you question what you choose to wear.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940, MoMA, New York

What are you wearing today?

I wish I was wearing my Anna Sui charity shop find (it’s either a short dress or long top, the jury is still out). Sui is an admirer of Ossie Clark’s work, and the clashing purple floral patterns could have been inspired by Celia Birtwell’s prints, and the flowy sleeves and handkerchief hem are quite Ossie-esque. It’s been fun wearing this to get into character to write my dissertation. I would have worn it over mauve flares, also from a charity shop, and my pistachio-green cowboy boots, you guessed it, from Shein. I jest. They’re from Oxfam.

What I’m actually wearing is an old Breton-striped top of my mum’s which is literally falling apart at the seams, old baggy shorts, and a straw cowboy hat. I look like a distressed, marooned gondolier. For context, I’ve been hacking away at my dissertation in the garden, not that that excuses my dishevelled appearance. Oh, and I’m also sporting some men’s clogs that have become communal gardening shoes. My tortoise is affectionately head-butting one clog as the opening act of his mating ritual. Aside from that, he’s been a very devoted research assistant. He’s wearing his custom-made tortoise-shell print shell suit which I’ve never actually seen him take off…

By Claudia Stanley

An Ode To Eurovision

Truthfully, Eurovision has always appealed more to my mother and one of my brothers than it has me. Although, I think this is perhaps partly to do with my mother’s near-obsessive determination to learn (or at least be able to mumble, sorry Mummy) each entry’s chorus before the *big* day, which was an annual occurrence in our household. Or was it the twenty-minute blind panic – yes really! – when the box filled with feather boas and sequin ensembles in red, blue, and white would go ‘missing’…despite being kept in the same spot in the same cupboard for over a decade.

In fact, Eurovision has held more of a significant place in our family than anyone’s birthday or Christmas for as long as I can remember. In reality this meant that for at least two months of every year, the Eurovision CD would be the only music which we’d listen to (forcefully or otherwise), and is undoubtedly the reason as to why we still have our trusty twenty-year-old Sony CD player, which continues to take pride of place in our kitchen at home in Edinburgh. And I suppose it also explains why I still have a soft spot for the United Kingdom’s 2007 entry ‘Flying The Flag’ by Scooch and can still remember at least 90% of the lyrics. No word of a lie.

Eurovision is also how my mother remembers my due date, as it coincided with the date of the Eurovision Song Contest back in 1999. Had I been born that day I’m certain of the fact that I would have at least ended up with the winner’s first name as a middle-name – Charlotte Nilsson who won on behalf of Sweden with ‘Take Me To Your Heaven’.

As such, I think it’s only right that we should be looking my top five favourite Eurovision fashion moments ahead of its 66th competition. Even if Eurovision isn’t for everyone, it’s a wonderful excuse to inject a bit of sparkle into any wardrobe and a time to be grateful for autotune (just kidding, or at least sort of).

FIVE: JACQUELINE BOYER (1960)

Jacqueline Boyer performing ‘Tom Pillibi’ at the 1960 Eurovision Song Contest, Credit: YouTube

 

This below-the-knee cowl-necked dress worn by Jacqueline Boyer is at once subtle and eye-catching. The billowing skirt, complete with four frontal pleats work to accentuate the waist and the tutu fabric hidden from view helps the skirt retain its shape. Although relatively simple in design, the piping featured at the bottom of the dress and at the neckline help offer a chic touch.

Last to perform on the evening, Boyer’s Tom Pillibi at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1960, marked the first time that the winning song had closed the competition. Quite the feat aged just eighteen! Moreover, her father Jacques Pills had performed at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1959, as Monaco’s first representative, but his performance didn’t fare so well, and he placed last, a rather less enviable position…

FOUR: LAURA VALENZUELA (1969)

Spanish TV presenter Laura Valenzuela at the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest, Credit: Campúa

 

This next look was worn by Spanish TV presenter Laura Valenzuela for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest. The high neck lace suit is chic as it is sophisticated, sexy yet understated. The high neck and long scalloped sleeves help ground the sheer fabric and the suit is tied together with a beige belt which looks to be made out of satin. The script and microphone for the evening form the host’s ‘accessories’ and a page is clearly earmarked for easy access. This lace jumpsuit recalls RTW S/S 20, specifically Look 19 at the Alexander McQueen show, which similarly features long frilled sleeves, a high neck and is tied together with a contrasting belt.

THREE: ABBA (1974)

ABBA performing ‘Waterloo’ at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, Credit: AFP

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Eurovision round-up without featuring the sensation that is ABBA. They graced us with their Eurovision presence in 1974, with their now-classic, karaoke or silent disco must-have song Waterloo, claiming the first-place prize – rightfully – as their own, despite the United Kingdom offering the song a scathing nul points back in 1974.

With icons come iconic looks and these outfits scream seventies. Metallic knee-high platform boots (a win!) are paired with tops which look like they’ve been attacked with a glue gun and are covered in glittery stars and diamanté studs, making it an easy fancy dress outfit to recreate. Just don’t get me started on Agnetha Fältskog’s lapis blue beanie…

TWO: SCOOCH (2007)

Scooch performing ‘Flying The Flag’ at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest, Credit: AFP

Now for anyone who thought I was being harsh on ABBA’s look might think my review of Scooch’s 2007 outfits contradictory or hypocritical… Regardless, I will continue to fight for these airline outfits that look like they’ve come from a vacuum packed Smiffys costume set or a knock-off version of Britney Spear’s air hostess outfit from her ‘‘Toxic’ music video. Either way, my opinion is definitely influenced by nostalgia (and the aforementioned retention of the song’s lyrics), the hilariously noughties frosted tips and the tiny pink headpieces. It also serves as a reminder that at least half of the Eurovision Song Contest entries nowadays are less than serious. With that said, it was a bit of a rough landing for Scooch and they came 22nd out of 24 contestants.

ONE: DANA INTERNATIONAL (1998)

Dana International performing ‘Diva’ at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, Credit: Peter Bischoff

This outfit undoubtedly stole the show back in 1998, merging fashion with costume. It was worn by Dana International, representing Israel, for her winning performance of Diva and historical feat as the first transgender woman to win the competition. This dress is from the 1997 Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture collection, and the multi-coloured parrot feathered jacket featured as Look 70. The simple, refined black V-neck maxi dress clings beautifully to Dana’s body and the feathery jacket forms an extension of her body, exaggerating every movement.

Furthermore, Gaultier is ‘a self-confessed Eurovision obsessive,’ as quoted in an interview for The Cut and has dressed several other high-profile contestants over the years, including Dana during her 2011 performance.

Dana International celebrating her victory at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, Credit: Peter Bischoff

While I appreciate Eurovision mightn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, seeing how much joy it brings my mother can’t help but make me feel warmly towards Eurovision. But perhaps that’s why they say absence makes the heart grow fonder…because I no longer have to put up with listen to the Eurovision CD on repeat for two months each year.

And let’s keep our fingers crossed that the United Kingdom isn’t destined for another – pitiful – nul points this Saturday at the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest.

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

Bibliography:

https://assets.vogue.com/photos/5d924ac6c210350009cb1540/master/w_960,c_limit/_ALE0191.jpg

https://campuafotografo.es/2014/05/11/el-festival-de-la-cancion-de-eurovision-de-1969-en-madrid-ante-la-camara-de-campua/19690329_festival-de-eurovision-en-el-teatro-real-de-madrid047_web/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYxRIujyKgg&ab_channel=huelezelf

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/swedish-pop-group-abba-performs-during-the-the-eurovision-news-photo/103813082

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/the-group-scooch-of-britain-perform-their-song-flying-the-news-photo/74133998?adppopup=true

https://media.gettyimages.com/photos/picture-taken-in-1974-in-stockholm-shows-the-swedish-pop-group-abba-picture-id951902272?s=2048×2048

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/dana-international-teilnehmer-f%C3%BCr-israel-sieger-beim-43-news-photo/179727513?adppopup=true

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/news-photo/dana-international-representing-israel-in-the-eurovision-news-photo/179730040

https://www.thecut.com/2013/05/gaultier-explains-the-eurovision-song-contest.html

https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-1997-couture/jean-paul-gaultier

https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2020-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen/slideshow/collection#1

Margaret Morris and her Merry Mermaids

Miss Margaret Morris and her Merry Mermaids, BFI Newsreel.

As the 1920s and 1930s ushered in a new obsession with health, and the healthy body, women across the UK, the US, and beyond, began developing new techniques, regimes, and moves designed to create the elongated limbs and taut torso which was desired at the time. One of the most well-known groups to come out of this was the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, a group who encouraged movement as a way to achieve peace. The league held women-only classes, had uniforms and rules, and focused on synchronised, repetitive movement. This allowed the League to develop into something much more than just a weekly exercise class: it became central to friendships, romances, health, and for many women, life.

Another key player at the time was Margaret Morris Movement (MMM). Morris was born in London in 1891 and from a young age starred in plays and ballets. Through Raymond Duncan (Isadora Duncan’s brother), Morris learnt Classical Greek Dance, which through its focus on lyrical dance, she felt offered more freedom and movement than traditional ballet. In the early 1910s, Morris set up a hugely successful dance school, and her style of unbound movement was growing in popularity. By the mid 1920s, the school was opening branches in French, Scottish, and English cities.

Margaret Morris, video still from ‘Miss Margaret Morris and her Merry Mermaids’, BFI Newsreel.
Women dancing on Harlech Beach, video still from Miss Margaret Morris and her Merry Mermaids, BFI Newsreel.

A 1923 newsreel courtesy of the British Film Institute shows a group of MMM students performing their dance moves on Harlech beach, in North Wales. Appearing under the title ‘Miss Margaret Morris’ Merry Mermaids’ the women and girls dance along the waters’ edge with fervent energy. The dancers simultaneously appear to be free, flowing, and natural in their movements whilst also clearly performing a choreographed and synchronised set of movements. The women then form a circle through their joint hands and run around in this formation on the damp sand. This frame feels familiar in the way that it is reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s 1910 painting, ‘The Dance’. Matisse’s painting depicts five figures holding hands and dancing in a circle on the grass, with a blue sky behind them.

Henri Matisse, The Dance, 1910, The Hermitage, St Petersburg.

I highly recommend watching the full clip on the BFI, it’s under three minutes long! BFI link: https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-miss-margaret-morris-merry-mermaids-1923-online

By Rosie Dyer

Bibliography:

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-miss-margaret-morris-merry-mermaids-1923-online

https://www.margaretmorrismovement.com/about/margaret-morris

https://www.irenebrination.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2015/04/margaret-morris.html

https://sheroesofhistory.wordpress.com/2017/06/08/margaret-morris-pioneer-of-movement/

https://www.istd.org/dance/dance-genres/classical-greek/

https://www.henrimatisse.org/the-dance.jsp

Styling Our Future, Looking To The Past

1930s fashion has always appealed to me. Whether the beautiful flowing drapery of Madeleine Vionnet or the sharp suits worn by Marlene Dietrich, much of the fashion of the decade developed the freedom in dress that we come to appreciate now – both in terms of gender fluid dress, and comfort.

The art deco movement was a key influence on fashion of the time, encouraging a celebration of technological developments and an optimism for the future in its luxurious style. Here and now, as we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic with a sense of relief, but a variety of sources for future anxieties ever-present, it is time for a reinvigoration of that same hope in human ingenuity, celebration of technological developments and optimism for the future. We need comfort, strength and vibrancy, and I think we should be looking to 1930s fashion for inspiration.

AMW
Anna May Wong in 1933, photographed by Paul Tanqueray
CN
“Fashion: Ladies’ Evening Shirts by Lanvin.” Vogue 84, no. 3 (Aug 01, 1934). Photo by Horst P. Horst. © 2012 Conde Nast

A range of comfortable ensembles are documented in the early 1930s. Anna May Wong wears an elegant, loosely fitted dress and leans against a doorway to convey her relaxed manner. Similarly, the model of Falkenstein in the August 1934 issue of Vogue leans against the wall. A rare appearance of trousers in early 1930s Vogue, the image shows a woman comfortable yet glamourous, wearing a tunic which resembles very stylish and eveningwear appropriate dressing-gown.

VD
Blues Musicians, Geeshie Wiley and L.V. ‘Slack’ Thomas wearing Beach Pajamas, 1930-31

Moving from comfortable formalwear to comfortable daywear, the beach pyjamas worn by Geeshie Wiley and L. V. ‘Slack’ Thomas are outfits not only that would still be incredible on any beach, but likely will be reflected by many at the Courtauld’s graduation ceremony this summer. Wide-legged trousers and a fitted waist have been in style already for the past few years, but I’d like to see the style with more bright colours and comfortable cotton fabrics.

MW
Été 1933, Madeline Wallis, V&A

And what should we wear when there is work to be done? An oversized cardigan with deep pockets in a stunning sage green, of course. An increase in sportswear and ready-to-wear in the 1930s led to a much higher interest in collegiate fashions, such as the varsity jacket and cardigans. The flip side of increased ready-to-wear was a rise in cheaper, lower quality garments. Today, with fast fashion booming and brands like Shein churning out an endless array of garments, it is more important than ever to find clothing that we love and will wear for many years, rather than single use pieces so cheaply made that they will inevitably end up on landfill. Clothing that can be styled in multiple ways, worn in many contexts and brings us joy is vital to us having a more sustainable relationship with our wardrobe. A deep pocketed cardigan perfectly fits the bill for me.

MD
Marlene Dietrich in Paris, 1933

Uncertainty and anxiety have prevailed in recent years. As we move past what has been a difficult period for many, it seems only right that we do so feeling empowered and true to ourselves. Whether or not this means buying your own power suit – you decide. But Marlene Dietrich provides inspiration not only in her incredible suit-wearing, but also in her certainty that what she wanted to wear, what she felt good in, was for her to decide. For all my advocation of a need to revive 1930s fashion, I would like to conclude by moving away from the styles that dominated that period, and rather draw attention to the underlying themes of self-assurance, comfort, and joy. It is these that we should carry with us and cultivate through our wardrobe.

By Megan Stevenson

Bibliography

Arnold, Rebecca. The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear and the Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s America (2009, London)

Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dream: Fashion and Modernity (2003, London)

https://www.reddit.com/r/costumeporn/comments/k5blr1/marlene_dietrich_in_paris_1933/

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/art-deco-fashion

https://vintagedancer.com/1930s/1930s-black-fashion-african-american-clothing-photos/

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O532676/%C3%A9t%C3%A9-1933-fashion-design-madeleine-wallis/

https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/gallery/9950/night-and-day-1930s-fashion-and-photographs/10

 

 

 

 

 

5 Minutes With…Georgina Johnston-Watt

We’ve been busy working on our dissertations, so we’re taking the opportunity to get to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Here, Georgina discusses Vogue, her scented virtual exhibition and fairy wings.

What is your dissertation about? What prompted you to choose this subject?

My dissertation is on Audrey Withers OBE, who was the editor of British Vogue between 1940 and 1960, having first joined the magazine as a sub-editor in 1931. I was introduced to Audrey Withers’ work through Julie Summers’ book and online talk on Dressed For War in late 2020. During the talk, hosted by Somerville College,  I learnt that Audrey Withers and I had shared the same undergraduate college, and, yet I had never heard of her name despite her many achievements and my pre-existing interest in fashion (with a keen interest in fashion magazines). I immediately became fascinated by her life and work, wanting to learn more about the tensions between her public and private personas – Audrey Withers was as a notoriously private character – and it was this which ultimately inspired me to apply for the Documenting Fashion MA at the Courtauld. Through my dissertation, I’m enjoying playing the part of detective, trying to uncover more information about Audrey Withers through her private correspondence, workplace memos and newspaper cuttings, as well as undo the misconceptions surrounding her, such as she herself became ‘interested in Vogue magazine when an undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford,’ as written in a Norwood News article of 1951. In fact, Audrey Withers was largely uninterested in fashion and instead ‘achieved her results by sheer intelligence’ in the words of Harry Yoxall, the chairman of Condé Nast. My dissertation will focus on her private and public lives and how they were designed to remain entirely separate, but that Audrey Withers’ role at Vogue required them to overlap at points, with family friends such as Paul Nash writing articles on all manner of things.

Additionally, I was fascinated to learn how Audrey Withers and Cecil Beaton destroyed the entire paper and photographic archive of British Vogue for 1942’s March issue (below) in response to the Paper Salvage effort and in the face of unimaginable hardship. I believe the coupled nobility and arrogance in this action – which reacted to contemporary uncertainty at the expense of future study – serves as an example of the undeniable tension behind justifying perceived ‘frivolities’ in an era of necessity as well as securing Audrey Withers’ status as a largely anonymous and unknown figure.

Vogue
British Vogue, March 1942

What is your favourite thing that you’ve written/worked on/researched this year?

I’m loving my dissertation – especially as it is something I’ve been mulling over since last summer – but I really enjoyed working on my virtual exhibition, which explored the power of perfume. Perfume is capable of so much: it has the power to evoke forgotten moments; perfume acts as a designer’s signature – yet invisible – autograph, the list could go on… What I’ve loved about this project was its focus on creating a visual argument. Unlike an academic essay where you might presume certain knowledge and expertise on behalf of the reader, I had to consider how to pitch each element to a wide variety of visitors in order to give them the best experience possible. For instance, I used text panels to introduce each section and broader themes, whereas the sample exhibition catalogue entry allowed for a more in-depth analysis.

I wanted to situate perfume within a retail space, reinforcing perfume’s relationship to commercial practices, and chose to set it in the historic Liberty Department Store in London. In keeping with the idea of it as a fantasy exhibition, I kept on imagining I was in ‘The Sims’ world each time I was working on my floor plan, visualising how a Sim character would walk through the exhibition space. I wanted to create an immersive, multi-sensory experience, and decided on a commissioned and interactive sensory wall, serving baked goods (and cocktails!) to create three ‘miniverses’ to reflect the perfumes and designers on display: Elsa Schiaparelli’s Shocking, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium and Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather. I found considering perfume’s position as simultaneously immaterial and material particularly fascinating and incorporated that into my layout.

What are you wearing today?

Recently, I’ve found that I’m wearing a ‘uniform’, which normally consists of jeans, a simple top, a fun statement blazer or coat and a bright red lip. Today, I’m wearing a pair of denim blue Levi’s, an M&S black thermal top (not so chic, but I FEEL the cold), my cherished checked old Celine blazer from Vestiaire Collective and a pair of slightly battered Axel Arigato trainers, plus my go-to vintage Mulberry laptop bag, which I nabbed from my mother. And, of course, my signature red lip. I’m also having a bit of a jewellery moment, so have layered it with a couple of Alighieri necklaces (including the ‘Invisible Compass’ as I’m always getting lost!), a gorgeous Katie Mullally Irish Coin Charm featuring an Irish hare (I’m born Year of the Rabbit which I feel is close enough) and an amber necklace bought in Edinburgh by two of my dearest friends for my birthday last year. I’m also wearing a pair of Motley X Alice Cicolini earrings and my usual rings, including one from my mother and a Gracie J prototype tear ring. It’s been a research day, which started with an exciting trip to Vogue House to meet with Julie Summers, where we talked about our love for Audrey Withers, and I was lucky enough to take a quick peek at some of the Vogue archives from the 1940s and 1950s. I then had lunch with a friend and have since been busy in the London College of Fashion Library looking at more Vogue archives where I bumped into fellow MA student, Megan, before heading home for a relaxed evening!

Do you have an early fashion memory to share?

When I was a child, there was a time where all I would wear was a dress with a tutu skirt, fairy wings, and green wellington boots. And jeans underneath if it was cold. Occasionally, if I was feeling very daring, I might try to pinch my mother’s clip on earrings to complete the look… From an early age, my mother had been quite happy for me to choose my own outfits, barring the occasional family event, and so I’d turn up to nursery dressed as a fairy. Complete with a little handbag with everything a fairy might need for the day, namely bubbles and a glitter pen.

As I would wear this outfit day in and day out, I must’ve worn it on the day we had an art lesson as my mother ended up receiving a call from the school. Initially assuming it was about one of my brothers who was constantly misbehaving, it was a surprise to hear that it was about how I had refused to take off my fairy wings when asked. Though the teacher was seemingly only concerned they’d get mucky during the arts and crafts activities, I continued to refuse to take them off and they were unable to put my painting overalls on. While neither my mother or I can remember the precise outcome, or whether I agreed to take my fairy wings off – even momentarily to put the apron on – I’d like to think that a compromise was eventually made, and I succumbed to reason. But knowing how stubborn children can be, there’s certainly a chance that I refused to cooperate.

In the photo below, it’s funny how the core of many of my outfits remains the same, even nearly two decades on. I often wear a white t-shirt and jeans, and the tutu dress and fairy wings have simply been replaced with a statement jacket. It would seem that there’s a part of me that still wants to be a fairy.

Wearing a tutu, fairy wings and wellington boots, circa 2003

Stanley Kubrick’s Cinematic Glimpses from New York City (1946-1950)

When one speaks of Stanley Kubrick, what comes to mind is often the world-renowned director’s timeless oeuvres as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). And yet, Kubrick’s brilliance was evident even in his often overlooked teen years, when he was just starting out in his career behind the lens, with photographs taken in the streets of New York.

At the mere age of 17, a young teen from the Bronx, Kubrick traded in life as a student after graduating from high school, when he was discovered by Look magazine and hired as staff photographer in 1946. Thus began his brief yet fruitful career as a photojournalist which in many ways paved the way to his stepping into Hollywood and becoming of a filmmaker.

1940s was the time of photo narratives/stories which had surged in popularity with Life magazine. A rival of Life, Look magazine’s aesthetic was focused on the everyday rather than the events of the globe. It aimed to convey the intimacy, eccentricity, and ordinariness of life in New York City. The city’s dynamism, chaos and its multiculturalism made it the perfect location to base the photographs and stories for which it was a source of endless entertainment. Kubrick’s photographs taken for Look between 1945 and 1950 are a reflection of the golden age of post-war America and boom of capitalism. The palpable energy of the city is very clearly translated to the viewer while the style of Kubrick in capturing everyday life reminds one of film noir, a genre he favoured in his films as well.

Kubrick’s career in Look, which ended in 1950 when he decided to leave the magazine behind to focus on making feature films, encompass over a thousand photographs by the famous director. They were often named as being proto-cinematic that signalled to his talent with the camera and unsurprisingly, interest in filmmaking. Although this talent was strongly nurtured during his time in Look that gave Kubrick the opportunity to focus on human interactions and how it could be reflected through the camera it is evident that he was already a naturally gifted storyteller. His genius in conveying the psychological depth and emotion of his subjects through the lens clearly shows through his adeptness at handling the camera, setting and framing scenes to push his narratives, which all formed the strong foundation for his filmmaking career.

‘Everyday’ in New York City that Kubrick captured with his camera encapsulated ordinary people in parks, subways and stores to TV and Hollywood celebrities going about their lives. Kubrick’s ability to turn the ‘everyday’ and ‘ordinary’ into a visual story, and a compelling one at that, was evident early on. Although many of these photographs were spontaneous instances from everyday life, many of them were staged, which also perhaps nodded to Kubrick’s passion for storytelling and interest in film. Kubrick was given assignments, shooting scripts to construct and align his photographs/photo-essays accordingly. He also presented his own themes which were often accepted by the magazine. The given narratives strengthened the filmic quality of Kubrick’s photographs.

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Stanley Kubrick, Bronx Street Scene: The Camera Catches an Offguard Episode over a Hairdo (1946), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

One of the main themes of Kubrick’s photographs was genuine human interactions embedded in daily life. His series for the 1946 November issue of Look feature photographic sequences from the street titled Bronx Street Scene: The Camera Catches an Off-guard Episode over a Hairdo. In a series of photos shot consecutively, two women are first seen chatting in front of a shop which is then followed by another shot that show the entrance of a passer-by, another woman into the frame and the two women fixing her hair and having a laugh over the matter. A different strip shows a couple smoking and chatting on the street in front of a store. The naturalness of the gestures and facial expressions coolly emanate from the frame, mesmerising us and insinuating that we have caught glimpses, instances from life with these people and watching from afar in a discreet manner. The consecutive shots and usage of the same vantage point here that reveal the continuation of these two different events very clearly refer to filmic techniques.

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Stanley Kubrick, People Conversing on the Street (1946), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

Kubrick caught spontaneous scenes from the street. Some he turned into scenes with consecutive shots as seen here. Others instead, were single shots that entailed an overarching theme, such as Park benches: Love is Everywhere series created in 1946 for May 1st issue which was a love series where Kubrick captured young couples on benches, fire escapes and street corners, embracing. Kubrick’s usage of infrared film and flash intensified the candidness of the scenes. The couples were often seemingly caught in unexpected moments, especially at night-time, similar to paparazzi shots which highlighted the voyeuristic tones that Kubrick’s photographs often carried, resembling the technique that was frequently used by famous tabloid photographer Weegee.

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Stanley Kubrick, A Couple Embracing on a Fire Escape, (1946), Museum of the City of New York

A Couple Embracing on a Fire Escape is one of the most unique shots in the series that seems to have a sinister undertone. With not only the oblique angle, the awkward positioning of the couple on the fire escape but also the overpowering flash that has overly whitened the eyes and skin of the couple, transforming them into ghostly figures, reminiscent of deer caught in headlights, which speaks to Kubrick’s genius with the play of light.

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Stanley Kubrick, Park Benches: Love is Everywhere, (1946)

 

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Stanley Kubrick, Life and Love on the New York Subway, (1947), MCNY

The New York subway offered a microcosm of the city. Spending time at the subway for almost two weeks, Kubrick shot discreet photos of people riding the subway with a hidden camera for another assignment titled Life and Love on the New York Subway in 1947 that fit the everyday life of New Yorkers narrative. Placed amongst the candid photographs in the subway spread, some of the photographs such as this one that show a couple, in fact Kubrick’s friends Alexander Singer and Toba Metz, sleeping, were argued to be staged. While the low vantage point, the dramatic contrast between black and white made scenes as the photograph with the couple embracing cinematic, it also put forward the harsh realities of big city, with the homeless man sleeping in the background, somewhat taking the focus away from the romance in the shot.

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Stanley Kubrick, Life and Love on the New York Subway, (1947), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

The shots that focus on individuals and their facial expressions show a study of psychological depth that also belongs to the cinematic verse. Glorifying the normalcy of everyday life of ordinary people in the big city stretched from photographing people waiting in line to do laundry, waiting in the subway and shopping in the city. What all of them shared in common was the focus on large crowds to highlight the act of looking. We see people watching other people and then we realise we are also watching these people through Kubrick’s lens.

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Frank Bauman, Stanley Kubrick, Tom Weber, Advertising Sign Painters at Work, (1947), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

This theme was made central in a series that Kubrick had created, capturing in separate ‘reaction shots’, the confused and surprised expressions of people watching a publicity stunt with a model triumphantly posing next to a group of sign painters in front of a billboard for a Peter Pan bra advertisement high up on a building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (September 3, 1947). In this collaborative work with Frank Bauman and Tom Weber, Kubrick’s interest in film became more poignant, whilst also showing that entertainment and spectacle were always around the corner in an ordinary day in New York City, embedded in the spirit of the city.

In another series for Look, Kubrick started to focus on individual profiles. In this spread he celebrated the balancing act of a young shoeshine boy named Mickey, documenting a day in his life. Son of Irish immigrants, Mickey made a living by shining shoes to support his family. Taking around 250 photos for his first long photo-essay assignment, Kubrick presented the young boy’s life, showing him playing and conversing with friends in one shot, working, doing laundry, or contemplating life in a mature manner on a rooftop of a New York building in the next shot. Showing Mickey’s difficult life stuck between trying to provide for his family whilst simultaneously trying to enjoy his young years, Kubrick poignantly captured the difficulties faced by lower classes in attempting to survive in a thriving, chaotic city. The fact that this series was not published shows that gruesome realities of a big city were mostly glossed over in Look compared to Life. This photo series that contrast shots of Mickey with friends and ones where he is wandering the city alone poignantly intensify the difficult double life he leads, both, juggling adult responsibilities.

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Stanley Kubrick, Shoeshine Boy, (1947), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

Edging closer to his interest and career in film, Kubrick’s photographs after 1948 started to focus on well-known faces from TV and Hollywood. Kubrick offered the most psychologically complex portraits from these people’s lives. One series that showed the disparity between public persona and private, backstage reality, was another ‘unpublished’ photo narrative series from March 1949, where Kubrick captured a day in life of a showgirl named Rosemary Williams. Williams was a young girl that had come to New York City dreaming of becoming an actress.

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Stanley Kubrick, Rosemary Williams-Showgirl, (1949), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

However, struggling to make ends meet as an ingénue in the big city, Williams became a showgirl by night to attempt to make it as actress by day. It was evidently a far less graceful lifestyle compared to that of an actress, as Williams often performed in revealing clothes for the pleasure of men. Captured walking in the streets of New York, having coffee, reading in the privacy of her home to posing in front of the camera and in the backstage getting ready to go on stage, Williams’ life is documented in around 700 images, amounting to one of Kubrick’s longest narratives.

Her professional life is shown through shots of her either conversing or dancing with men or posing in front of the camera. These photographs that show her with company, emphasize the overpowering male gaze that is directed on Williams that signal to her profession and the tool that allows her to sustain her dreams in the big city. Kubrick captured Williams’ despair resulting from the hardships she faces perfectly in her demure expressions and often contemplative manner, from moments of leisure when she alone appears within the frame, much like the aforementioned Mickey. Perhaps the most intriguing photograph of Williams is the in-between public and private realms, where she is getting ready in the backstage in front of a mirror before her performance. Yet, Kubrick haunts this scene with a menacing stare and manner, with a camera in hand which is strategically lowered as he looms large behind Williams as she carries on preparing for the stage, seemingly unaware. Insinuating the voyeurism of the male spectator and the life of a showgirl – which is one that is under constant scrutiny of the male gaze due to the exhibitionist nature of the profession – is perfectly reflected here not only with Kubrick’s sinister placement at the back, intensely staring at Williams getting ready, but also with the mirror and the camera that appears to be subtly filming her below vantage point. Undeniably eerie, the genius of Kubrick lies in the blurring of the concept of the gaze. Perhaps a reference to Velazquez’s Las Meninas the subject of the photograph also becomes the viewer. The viewer is caught in the act of watching Williams in a private moment. Williams is caught between a crossfire of gazes as the camera directed to the viewer reminds us that we are also active voyeurs. The widened frame and the surrounding sense of mystery contributes to the filmic elements of this scene. It becomes evident that the running theme of the ‘unpublished’ spreads were harsh and forsaken reality of the city that Kubrick attempted to unearth and present to the wider public in the manner of Life magazine yet one that was often hindered by Look. This perhaps became a further push for Kubrick in the direction of cinema where he could tell his stories freely.

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Stanley Kubrick, Rosemary Williams, Show Girl, 1949, Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection
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Stanley Kubrick, Rosemary Williams, Show Girl, 1949, Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection

Look magazine also differed from Life in the sense that it aimed to show the ‘real’ lives of Hollywood and TV figures to instil the sense of normalcy around famous people, showing them both on and off camera. Yet, Kubrick still offered heavily staged photographs. Williams’ story was most likely swapped for a high-profile celebrity spotlight issue on Faye Emerson titled, Faye Emerson: Young Lady in a Hurry. Emerson was considered as picture of elegance, grace and intelligence. TV was on the rise and was slowly becoming a rival to radio and print. A Hollywood actress recently turned in to TV presenter, Emerson was regarded as ‘First Lady of TV’ and listed under ‘Top Female Discovery of 1949’ list, which, alongside her career switch, made her worthy of a cover story according to Look magazine. Emerson in this photographic series created by Kubrick for the August 1950 issue, is presented as joyful, both behind and in front of the camera: whether she is distributing autographs for eager fans, interviewed near the Plaza hotel, captured having a laugh with the society columnist Eleanor Harris, casually sitting for a portrait with a phone in hand making calls whilst also getting her hair done.

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Stanley Kubrick, Faye Emerson: Young Lady in a Hurry, (1950), Museum of the City of New York. The Look Collection
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Stanley Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick with Faye Emerson from “Faye Emerson: Young Lady in a Hurry”, 1950s, SK Film Archives/ Museum of the City of New York

Emerson never ceases to smile in the photos despite her evidently busy schedule, forming part of Kubrick’s constructed story surrounding Emerson, promoting the busy yet elegant and content lady to aspire to, which the title clearly insinuates. In one photograph, Emerson is captured whilst getting ready in her dressing room. Kubrick uses the same style and framing with the mirror he used in the unpublished photograph of Williams backstage, placing himself behind Emerson with a camera, watching her whilst she’s getting ready. Yet the difference here is that Emerson is aware of being photographed by Kubrick and almost poses for him whilst getting ready to be on screen. Usage of a mirror cleverly conveys the duplicity of TV personas, and their elaborate yet fabricated self-creation for TV.

PicVery similar to Emerson’s profile was one created for Betsy Von Furstenberg. Furstenberg was the daughter of a German aristocrat and was also as an actress in New York. Another, ‘Day in the Life of’ piece, her everyday life was represented in a cinematographic and theatrical way in these photograph series by Kubrick. She is shown engaging in a variety of ‘serious’ and normal activities such as preparing for a role in her home, socialising with friends as well as silly moments from peeling a banana in a fancy restaurant to sleeping on the steps of the Plaza hotel next to John Hamlin. These pictures were featured in Look magazine’s spread from July 18, 1950 with the title The Debutante Who Went to Work. Photographs represent the juggling of day-to-day life with a highly glamorised one with comedic effect, evident from the awkward moments, humorous gestures, and facial expressions of Furstenberg. Whilst a more psychologically in-depth narrative was worked on for the earlier photographs of Williams was ultimately shelved, favouring a feature that was created around a lady that worked despite her aristocratic background. PicThis shows the elegant façade that sought to represent life in New York City, with the gruesome realities of hardship were kept very deliberately hidden. A debutante that balanced life and work was one to be aspired to while a showgirl trying to make ends meet was one that was far too real and far less glamourous. Von Furstenberg’s story was about elegance, and, on the surface a light-hearted, innocent story of how to make it as an actress in the big city, despite being further removed from reality. The theatricality of the mimics and gestures of Von Furstenberg is in high contrast with that of Williams which almost insinuates the fabricated nature of this narrative and lifestyle.

 

 

PicLooking back at his brief time as a photojournalist in 1972, the director himself commented: ‘By the time I was 21 I had four years of seeing how things worked in the world. I think if I had gone to college I would never have been a director.’ Photographs such as these taken in the streets of New York put forward the theatricality of the city which Kubrick presented in his characters, personas and well-known faces that made up the city, delving into private lives of public figures, producing intimate and psychological portraits. Whether watching these figures from afar, standing in the crowd beside them or even in their private quarters, Kubrick always placed the viewer in the intimate world of his subjects. The photographs offered a genuine image of New York City, shining light on different lifestyles of those from a variety of backgrounds, showcasing moments that revealed the everyday routines of people from different classes, with everyone united in their common goal of attaining ‘The American Dream’.

PicThe director’s final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999), set in New York, caused quite a stir in its exploration of the mysterious and dangerous sides of the vibrant city of New York, focusing on an elite cult. This suggests that the famous director was perhaps making a nostalgic tribute to his time as a young photojournalist in the midst of this chaotic city he found himself in, and the vibrant scenes he caught glimpses of with his camera as a teenage boy. Today, Kubrick is better known for his 12 feature films yet his strength in visual storytelling was implanted in his little-known early career as a photojournalist. It is evident that for Kubrick these early photographs, as Sean Corcoran (the Photography Curator at the Museum of the City of New York) stated, allowed him to master the art of framing the composition and opened his eye in different ways of seeing. Kubrick himself said: ‘Generally speaking, you can make almost any action or situation into an interesting shot, if it’s composed well and lit well.’ Kubrick’s genius seeps from his œuvre produced in his short time as a photojournalist, right on the brink of his career as a director.

By Ipek Birgul Kozanoglu

Bibliography

Albrecht, Donald; Corcoran, Sean. Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs, (Köln & New York: Taschen, Museum of the City of New York, 2018)

Mather, Philippe D. Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine Authorship and Genre in Photojournalism and Film. (Bristol:Intellect, 2013)

https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/11004/how-stanley-kubricks-early-photographs-foreshadowed-his-filmmaking-career

https://www.vanityfair.com/london/photos/2019/08/through-a-different-lens-stanley-kubrick-photographs

https://museemagazine.com/culture/2018/7/31/exhibition-review

https://www.mcny.org/exhibition/through-different-lens

https://ny.curbed.com/2018/5/1/17305690/stanley-kubrick-photos-museum-of-city-of-new-york-exhibit

https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2018/06/entertainment/stanley-kubrick-cnnphotos/

https://www.indiewire.com/gallery/stanley-kubrick-photo-album-early-photographs/x2011_4_10292_039b_retouched/

https://www.theguardian.com/film/gallery/2018/may/14/life-on-the-street-stanley-kubrick-early-photographs-of-new-york

 

A Little Love Letter to Meadham Kirchhoff SS14

A brand born out of Central Saint Martins in 2006, with Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchhoff at the helm, Meadham Kirchhoff had a short-but-oh-so-sweet 9 year run full of awards, Fashion Week shows, and their Topshop collaborations.

Distinctly kitsch, cutesy and a little bit edgy, it is no surprise that Meadham Kirchhoff rose to fame during the ‘twee’ era of the 2010s, and as the trend’s revival is now upon us, it makes sense to take a closer look at one of my favourite Meadham Kirchhoff shows, SS14. 

Conceptualisation

Edward Meadham described his mood boards as containing ‘a random mix of Jacobean and Elizabethan portraiture and lots and lots of Bowie’. This eclectic mix hints that the very fabric of the show is made from opulence, excess, ruffles and lace, the subversion of gender, and an interesting mix of bold black and white, dotted with pastel shades.

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Edward Meadham’s mood board featuring lace and ruffles. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Edward Meadham’s mood board featuring David Bowie, drapery, and portraiture. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Edward Meadham’s mood board featuring hints of red. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Edward Meadham’s mood board featuring pastels, vintage beauty images, and ceramics. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Edward Meadham’s mood board featuring an elvish illustration, ruffles, and sunglasses. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.

The collection was called ‘Ante Dominai [sic]’ meaning ‘anti-society, anti-mainstream culture. Do what you want, create your own alternative, your own narrative, and your own set of codes and morals.’

The Show

The show itself ran smoothly, despite a few technical issues such as the wrong music being played. It is immediately clear how Meadham Kirchhoff took their inspiration pictures and reworked, reinvented and re-inspired them into this eccentric show which somehow marries images of Seventeenth-century witches, Eighteenth-century royals, and kitsch pastel kittens.

Here are a few of my favourite images from the show, taken by Eleanor Hardwick, which might inspire your spring wardrobe now that the Northern Hemisphere is warming up a teeny, tiny, little bit.

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The model line-up for the show. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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A model getting her make-up done backstage. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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A backstage shot of a model from behind, showing the criss-cross detail of the dress, the long bright curls, and the snakeskin ribbon adorning the hat. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Another image showing the long orange curls, very similar to the elvish illustration on Meadham’s mood board. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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A model backstage, dressed in white, long pale curls, complete with minimal eye make-up and a bold red lip. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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The models walk onto the catwalk. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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One of the darker looks from the collection featuring snakeskin, sunglasses, red hair bows and a red lip. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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A model looking like the picture of an Edwardian woman in the city. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Three models stood waiting to walk. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.
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Three models backstage, adorned in orange curls. Photograph by Eleanor Hardwick.

I hope you’ve loved this show as much as I do. It feels opulent, rebellious, and youthful. I also think it’s quite clear where my love for Simone Rocha’s ruffles and pearls was born from…

By Rosie Dyer

Bibliography:

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/photos/meadham-kirchhoff-runway-london-fashion-week-ss14

https://www.rookiemag.com/2013/10/meadham-kirchhoff-visit-5/

https://mashable.com/article/twee-tiktok-trend

Zooming In On Margaret Bourke-White

A little while back, I stumbled across Margaret Bourke-White whilst looking up 20th Century female photographers, discovering her work among others such as Germaine Krull and Grete Stern. It goes without saying that each of these women were respectively brilliant at working behind the lens, and each are deserving of a writeup, but I was especially drawn to Bourke-White’s photographs of Marina Semyonova (fig. 1).

 

Ballet
Figure One: Marina Semyonova by Margaret Bourke-White. Photo: MOMA

 

Taken at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, this photo shows Semyonova – the first Soviet-trained prima ballerina – preparing herself ahead of a ballet performance. Semyonova’s body is folded into itself, revealing the physical contortions and movement required of her in order to reach and tie her ballet shoes. Her posture is considered, and the chair acts as a prop to help elongate her body and better display her ballet shoe all the while creating a tension between her body and the billowing tutu which surrounds her and presses upon the back of the chair. Semyonova is artfully staged, and her pose emulates the exaggerated stillness of the photographic form, reinforcing the expectation for ballerinas to always appear elegant, not just during a performance. Her left leg is deliberately aligned in a nod to her profession, recreating one half of the en pointe position and her outstretched arms provide an extension of the en pointe motif. This creates a clear shot for which Bourke-White could effectively capture Semyonova, allowing Bourke-White to play with light to illuminate Semyonova’s body and project a shadow onto the far wall.

With that said, what I found most appealing about this photo, is despite this photo having an editorial-like feel, the loose threads on Semyonova’s ballet shoes offer a reminder of the countless hours of practice required to become a ballerina, displaying the real-life implications of such a profession. This suggest that whilst Semyonova displays poise and elegance, these attributes have been mastered over time. However, the loose threads could also be linked to the USSR in relation to its second five-year plan which sought to prioritise agricultural and self-sufficiency ahead of consumer goods and frivolity, and the loose threads thereby reveal the unravelling of previous political and cultural practices.

Through considering such a beautiful photo, I wanted to discover more about Bourke-White’s work, particularly as this photo was taken during the political unease of the Soviet Union. My research revealed that Bourke-White excelled as a photographer and whose accomplishments were plentiful. Born in 1904, Margaret Bourke-White would go on to set up her own photography studio in 1928 in Ohio, but her work would soon take her abroad, namely to the likes of Russia, South Korea, India and Pakistan where she was commissioned to document moments of political divide, wars and social unrest.

To name but a few of her impressive feats, Bourke-White was the first US photographer to enter the Soviet Union, the first US accredited female war photographer during WWII and responsible for the first cover for LIFE Magazine (fig. 2).

 

Life
Figure Two: Cover of ‘LIFE’ Magazine (23 November 1936). Photo: ‘LIFE’ Magazine Archives via Google Books.

 

This cover highlights Bourke-White’s unique ability to take an imposing architectural structure and create a striking and an arresting image. She was commissioned to photograph this multi-million-dollar project of the Columbia River Basin and the construction of its impressive dam. The angle at which Bourke-White captured this photo and its emphasis on the symmetry of each of the concrete structures makes them appear – at least in my mind – as gigantic chess pieces bearing a similarity in shape to the ‘Rook’, with the two individuals symbolically positioned as pawns within this almighty chess board. The vibrant orange of the cover contrasts with the black and white image, at once cropping and framing the two individuals stood at the foot of the structure. The shot appears to reinforce the idea that these structures are in fact man made, with the two individuals attesting to the labour required to build such structures, and yet conveys the structures as colossal, unnatural, and otherworldly. Indeed, the editors notes that in commissioning Bourke-White they unexpectedly received, ‘a human document of American frontier life which, to them at least, was a revelation.’ This very observation highlights the talents of Bourke-White, and her ability to capture life within an otherwise intimidating concrete structure. This style of photography also calls to mind El Lissitzy and his photomontages for the SSSR na stroike (trans: USSR in construction) in 1932, with the overall global emphasis on self-sufficiency, driven by its workforce, who become the centre of El Lissitzy’s photomontage (fig. 3). This theme is echoed in Bourke-White’s photography, and the two share similar aims in trying to establish the strength of their respective cities and nations. To this effect, Bourke-White’s photography could be considered an artistic response to Constructivist periodical layouts and El Lissitzy’s earlier work.

 

USSR
Figure Three: Photomontage of SSSR na stroike (trans: USSR in contruction) by El Lissitzky. Issue 10 (1932). Photo: Bookvica.

 

The final photograph I would like to discuss is a self-portrait, rumoured to be Bourke-White’s favourite self-portrait, made with the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1943 (fig. 4).

 

Self-Portrait
Figure Four: Margaret Bourke-White’s self-portrait made with the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1943. Photo: The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock.

 

In a similar vein to Bourke-White’s cover for LIFE Magazine, this photo marries machinery and industrial elements with humanity. While the airplane’s jets have been switched off, this photo conveys the necessity to be on constant standby, responding to any changes quickly and efficiently. Bourke-White has a tight hold of the large camera, figuratively and literally held down by the camera, and carries her flying helmet and goggles in her other hand with comparative ease. To this effect, this photo is suggestive of the precarity of the war and the need to be on constant alert as well as Bourke-White’s role to document the events. This is further reinforced by the inclusion of the plane in the frame – its proximity reinforces the fact that it is only a matter of time before this unit needs to reembark the plane.

At the same time, Bourke-White’s stance is relaxed yet upright, smiling as the wind blows through her hair. The tongues of her shoes are flopped over, giving the impression of a rare moment of respite, reinforced by the fact that their surroundings appear bare and uninhabited, suggesting a minimised threat or danger. The aviator jacket is fit with shearling trimmings, and complete with matching trousers, also lined with shearling, featuring leg-long zips and stained with a white powder residue. The crease patterns, particularly on the trousers, suggest the cramped conditions of the plane and it would appear as though Bourke-White has barely stepped off the plane. While her stance is relaxed, and she is surrounded by an expansive empty landscape, the trousers act as her ‘second skin’ and become a reminder that she did not have the luxury of space a few moments ago, and the trousers have not yet and will not likely get the chance to mould to their new surroundings, complete with the luxury of space, or Bourke-White’s standing pose.

Sadly, Margaret Bourke-White contracted Parkinson’s disease in 1953 and completed her last assignment for LIFE in 1957. With that said, she displayed great determination in trying to overcome the symptoms of her Parkinson’s, undergoing risky surgeries, and in true documentary photographer style, publicised and documented her fight against the disease, cementing her status as a formidable character and individual (fig. 5). She sadly passed away in 1971 but while her career was cut short by Parkinson’s, Bourke-White was rightly recognised in her lifetime as a true pioneer in documentary photography, particularly as a female photographer for her ability to uniquely capture people and places in and amongst periods of great change, showcasing their struggles and strengths.

 

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Figure Five: A nurse aiding photographer Margaret Bourke-White during a therapy session by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Photo: The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock.

 

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

Sources:

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=N0EEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=fr&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=margaret&f=false

https://www.bookvica.com/pages/books/1291/el-lissitzky-and-his-photomontages-sssr-na-stroike-i-e-ussr-in-construction-10-for-1932

https://www.life.com/history/great-lady-with-a-camera-margaret-bourke-white-american-original/

https://www.life.com/lifestyle/parkinsons-disease-life-magazine/

Three Beautiful Films: A 50s, 60s and 70s Film You Must Watch Purely for the Visual Pleasure:

** This blog post contains spoilers for Mad About Men (1954), La Piscine (1969) and Mahogany (1975) **

Sometimes I want to watch a film, not really for the plot, but for either the fashion, the cinematography, the set design or even just the general aesthetic. So, just in case anyone else has the same penchant for beautiful films, I’ve comprised a short list of three recommendations from the 50s, 60s and 70s respectively.

Mad About Men (1954):

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Mad About Men Movie Poster, IMDB.

Mad About Men is the charming sequel to the 1948 comedy film Miranda in which a lonely mermaid captures a young man and only offers to release him on the basis that he will take her to London. In Mad About Men, set in Cornwall, Miranda Trewella (Glynis Johns) returns and convinces her distant relative and doppelgänger Caroline Trewella (Glynis Johns) to let her take her place whilst Caroline goes on a biking excursion with a friend. In order to do this, Caroline fakes an accident which leaves her wheelchair bound, explaining Miranda’s inability to walk and need to keep her ‘legs’ covered with warm blankets. The pair also hire Nurse Carey (Margaret Rutherford), who knows Miranda is a mermaid and helped her in the first film too. However, even though Caroline is engaged back in London to the dull but stable Ronald Baker (Peter Martyn), Miranda playing as Caroline cannot help herself when she meets some of the town’s most handsome men, and she flirts, dates and kisses both Jeff Saunders (Donald Sinden) and Colonel Barclay Sutton (Nicholas Phipps). When Ronald comes to visit ‘Caroline’ in Cornwall, Miranda takes an immediate dislike to him and ends up pouring cold fish soup over his head. The Colonel’s wife is suspicious of ‘Caroline’ and ends up discovering her secret, so, in a plot to expose her, she agrees to let ‘Caroline’ sing at a charity concert and plans to reveal her mermaid tail on stage. However, Caroline gets back from her trip and takes Miranda’s place on stage whilst the Nurse feeds the microphone down to the cove where Miranda lives so her siren-esque singing voice can still be heard. The film ends with the real Caroline and Jeff Saunders sharing a kiss whilst Miranda is safely back in the Cornish Sea.

Despite mentioning earlier that plot isn’t important when watching for purely aesthetic reasons, this film is so fun and light-hearted it is difficult not to enjoy the story and fall in love with Miranda whilst you watch it.  However, where this film really shines is in highlighting the wistful and whimsical beauty of Miranda and the more prim and proper styling of Caroline.  Joan Ellacott’s costuming and Glynis Johns’ acting allows for viewers to differentiate easily between the Trewella girls. Here are some of the best style/aesthetic moments…

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Caroline Trewella on the train from London to Cornwall. Still from Mad About Men (1954).
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Caroline and Miranda’s first meeting. Still from Mad About Men (1954).
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Caroline’s charity concert dress. Still from Mad About Men (1954).
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A full length view of Caroline’s concert dress. Still from Mad About Men (1954).

La Piscine (1969):

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La Piscine Movie Poster, IMDB.

If you’re craving some warmth, you must watch 1969’s La Piscine, a film where the Southern French sunshine seems to seep through the screen. This film is the epitome of ‘embodied viewing’ where you can feel the sun and water on your skin, and you can smell the heat in the air. La Piscine is set in a villa on the French Riviera where a couple, Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) are enjoying the summer. After finding out Marianne and Jean-Paul are nearby, the couple’s old friend Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin) come and stay. Whilst this initially consists of old friends catching up and new memories being made through extravagant parties, tensions soon begin to rise when Jean-Paul realises that Marianne and Harry were once lovers. The situation further complicates itself when Jean-Paul decides to seduce Harry’s 18-year-old daughter Penelope. The two men, whilst drunk, end up getting into a fight which culminates with Harry falling into the swimming pool. From here, instead of helping him out, Jean-Paul proceeds to drown him and then stages the scene to look like an accident. Marianne eventually finds out what Jean-Paul did but both continue to lie to the police and eventually the case is closed with Harry’s death being marked as an accident. The film ends with Penelope returning to her mother and Jean-Paul seemingly forcing Marianne to stay with him at the villa.

This film is beautiful all-round. The French Riviera location, the impressive villa, the cast and, perhaps most importantly the dressing and undressing of bodies. The theme of the body is central throughout this film, with long, toned and sun-kissed limbs filling the poolside shots. Here are some of the most beautiful outfits, shots and scenes…

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Jane Birkin’s Penelope wearing the dreamiest gingham poolside cover-up. Still from La Piscine (1969).
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Penelope’s fabulously oversized sunglasses. Still from La Piscine (1969).
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Jean-Paul’s combo of an open shirt tucked into blue jeans is giving me lots of Spring/Summer inspo. Still from La Piscine (1969).
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Penelope wearing maybe the shortest dress ever worn to a funeral ever? Stylish though! Still from La Piscine (1969).
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The calm before the storm… Marianne and Jean-Paul enjoying the swimming pool. Still from La Piscine (1969).

Mahogany (1975):

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Mahogany Movie Poster, IMDB.

First things first, the men in this movie are awful. Truly, every single one of them is just unbearable. But with that aside, Mahogany is firm favourite in every fashion lovers’ movie list. The film stars a post-Supremes Diana Ross as fashion student and department store secretary Tracy Chambers. Set in Chicago, the film shows Tracy living in the ‘slums’ of Chicago’s South whilst working at a high-end department store and harbouring dreams of becoming a high fashion designer. Tracy meets and begins dating Brian Walker, an activist fighting against the demolition of housing in primarily black neighbourhoods. Brian, whilst seemingly having a good heart and high ambitions for himself routinely brushes off Tracy’s goals as trivial and devoid of real meaning, insisting fashion is unimportant compared to his work within the neighbourhood. This means that when Tracy meets and befriends the renowned photographer Sean McAvoy who sees her as having real potential as a model, Tracy jumps at the chance to find an in to the industry which means so much to her. After a fight with Brian, Tracy moves to Rome to pursue modelling with Sean, who gives her the stage name Mahogany. A classic movie montage shows Mahogany’s modelling career take off and her charm and charisma capturing both the wider fashion world’s attention as well as Sean’s, who is interested in pursuing her romantically. Sean becomes increasingly possessive and struggles with Tracy’s free-spirited nature and inability to be controlled. Brian visits Tracy in Rome and gets into a fight with Sean involving a gun; Brian leaves Rome alone. At their next fashion shoot in which Tracy is posed inside a sports car, Sean is trying to ‘capture death’ and ends up getting into the car and begins driving erratically. Eventually, with Sean at the wheel, the car crashes leaving Tracy badly injured and Sean dead. In the aftermath of the accident, a wealthy count lets Tracy recover at his villa and sets up a design studio for her there. Instead of feeling fulfilled by finally reaching her dream career, she is left feeling frustrated, lonely, and unhappy despite the huge success of her first official collection. Tracy realises that success means nothing without Brian by her side and she returns to Chicago to be with him.

Despite Tracy’s life being littered with frustrating men who seem desperate to keep her potential hidden away, she does look incredible throughout the film. As a little sidenote, Diana Ross actually designed a lot of Tracy’s outfits as she trained in dressmaking before her career took off! Here are some of her best looks…

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The outfit Tracy designed and wears for the first time she is photographed by Sean McAvoy.
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Tracy looking incredibly chic in Rome whilst her Harper’s Bazaar cover hangs behind her.
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Perhaps one of the most iconic looks from this film. Tracy’s purple ensemble which becomes a billboard advertising Revlon ‘Touch & Glow’.

 

By Rosie Dyer

Bibliography:

https://www.whowhatwear.co.uk/diana-ross-style

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047199/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064816/?ref_=ttmi_tt

https://www.alamy.com/mad-about-men-1954-nicolas-phipps-anne-crawford-donald-sinden-glynis-johns-ralph-thomas-dir-moviestore-collection-ltd-image243659713.html