Author Archives: Julia

Fashion Career Opportunities: An Interview with Tilly Macalister-Smith, Fashion Features Director at matches

Tilly Macalister-Smith is a London-based fashion writer and editor, and Fashion Features Director for She spent five years working for British Vogue, and has contributed to The Business of Fashion, RUSSH, and ShowStudio. She has also worked with several luxury brands and is part of an advisory panel for the British Fashion Council. She spoke to us about the changing nature of today’s fashion industry and shared her valuable advice on different routes into the fashion workplace.


Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with us Tilly.

 Of course! The fashion industry is changing so much at the moment. There are a lot of opportunities opening up that weren’t there before because of digital, and print media is having to adapt to that. There is a real shift occurring in the landscape of the industry as a whole, so it’s a really interesting time to be involved in it.

Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Matches- what can a typical day involve for you?

As Fashion Features Director, I oversee the digital womenswear fashion features content for our online publication The Style Report, and seasonal print editions. My days can vary between attending ideas meetings, writing designer profiles, representing the business at press events, travelling to Paris or New York or working with our video director- video is really expanding as a medium at the moment. I also work very closely with our product copy team to keep a handle on the tone of voice used across the site, making sure everything looks and sounds the way we want it to, and in a way that’s in keeping with our overall voice. Our readers are very interested in what goes on behind the scenes, so we work hard to keep our tone informative yet still intimate and accessible. We really have to maximize our material to make sure everything works in a very timely way, as well as keeping an eye on new emerging designers. It all requires a lot of organization!

You studied Fashion Communication and Promotion at Central St. Martins- how important is a fashion-specific qualification to working in the industry?

At Central St. Martins, the connections I made were invaluable, although you don’t realize it at the time- I was going to school every day with the designers, writers and stylists of the future, which was amazing. I think fashion-specific degrees can give you a more realistic approach to the industry as it’s not spoon-fed- you’re really thinking for yourself and that’s quite a learning curve. It was also great to have that chance to really explore all the different options available to you in this business.

What was your experience of internships like when you were first starting out? Internships, in the fashion industry in particular, have received a lot of negative press in recent years – do you think it’s important to see more promotion of the positive aspects of these placements?

Personally, I think it’s a shame that such stringent regulations are coming into force regarding unpaid internships because I think it will take away a lot of invaluable opportunities. I did unpaid internships for about two years and it’s hard work, but none of us were doing it for the money- we really loved it. I spent 3 months with the designer Jonathan Saunders at his London studio, which was amazing and I kept going back. Everything happened under one roof- the cutting, sewing, screen printing, planning the shows- so I was really observing the designer first hand. I was also able to accompany him to Paris and to New York when he first showed there. These young, emerging designers just cannot afford to pay their volunteers, yet it’s one of the best environments in which to learn about all the different sides of this industry. There aren’t many places left where you can be so immersed in it all.

I interned at Men’s Vogue in the US as I was interested in menswear at the time, and that was incredibly exciting. They had writers from The New Yorker and The New York Times who were writing about art, architecture, travel, everything really, and I loved that. Afterwards, I moved to British Vogue to intern and never left! When money isn’t involved, I think it sorts the wheat from the chaff really. You work out whether it is the right thing for you. 

How can someone distinguish themselves in such a fiercely competitive industry as fashion? There are so many options now in terms of fashion courses, internships and, of course, social media.

I would say don’t overthink it. People get far too caught up in trying to ‘distinguish’ themselves but there will always be a place for you if you work hard and you’re passionate about what you’re doing. There are so many personal style blogs out there, alongside things like Instagram and Twitter, but I think you should only do that if you truly love it. I think there might be a backlash against all that- some of the people I respect the most in this industry don’t buy into all that and, of course, it’s nice to keep something reserved. There’s no substitute for knowledge, enthusiasm and experience really, so my advice would be to educate yourself the best you can and be passionate. And, as with everything in life, timing is very important- if I’d interned at Vogue a month later, I may never have got that job. You have to be in the right place at the right time.

What is your advice to aspiring fashion journalists in terms of getting your work out there and published?

There has been a huge surge in online publications in recent years that are always desperate for good ideas. As a fashion journalist, it’s not just about being able to put words on a page- you have to become an ideas machine! And remember that people will never not thank you for sending over those ideas. Make your application specific, do as much research as you can and educate yourself about the industry as a whole. Take my time at Jonathan Saunders, for example. I never wanted to design myself but that placement was invaluable from a journalistic perspective as I came to understand the whole process. Now, when I’m writing about a garment, I’m not just looking at what’s in front of me- I actually know what went into it.

A Biography of Objects: Second Floor: The Private Apartment of Coco Chanel by Sam Taylor-Johnson

Second Floor: Lion with Pearls
Second Floor: No. 5 Chandelier I
Second Floor: Sofa

Second Floor: Staircase II
[All photographs by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Courtesy of Chanel]
“Little events, ordinary things…imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story”– Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Haunting, evocative and profoundly intimate, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s series of photographs of the private apartment of Coco Chanel, exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, is a visual biography of emotion conveyed through the poignant rendering of objects, and the moments and memories of a life preserved in talismanic form. Although it is closed to the public, the Paris apartment, located above the Chanel boutique at 31 Rue Cambon, has long been the fabric of legend. Forming the ornate backdrop to iconic photographic portraits by Man Ray and Horst, it also regularly played host to gatherings of Chanel’s illustrious social circle and provided her with rare moments of solitude away from her atelier. Today, the apartment, which has stood untouched since Chanel’s death in 1971, is only frequented by a privileged few, such as Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld, who frequently draws inspiration from its famous Coromandel screens and décor saturated with symbolism. A mysterious, closely guarded shrine to its former inhabitant, the exotic opulence of the apartment’s interior stands as a living, breathing contradiction to the streamlined simplicity of the couturiere’s clothing designs. Yet look for the signs and they are there: the symbols and the spirit which form the beating heart of both Chanel the brand and Chanel the woman.

Familiar and recurring Chanel design emblems appear in the form of gilded lions (Chanel’s astrological sign), a chandelier of tumbling glass ‘5’ and interlocking double ‘C’ motifs and beige suede cushions which bear the same quilted effect of the iconic ‘2.55’ handbag. More personal and emotionally metaphoric objects, such as Buddhas, tarot cards, a smoky crystal ball and sheaves of wheat, sit alongside, hinting at a deep inner life characterized by intense spirituality, superstition and profound loss. A particularly poignant close-up image of a miniature jewelled cage containing two tiny pearl lovebirds serves not only as a tangible reminder of Chanel’s great love of precious materials but as, in the words of Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie, a ‘treasured amulet of a coupledom that was to elude Chanel’.

This photographic series was inspired by a conversation between Taylor-Johnson and Picardie, who wrote part of her acclaimed Chanel biography in the apartment and who, like the artist, has come to develop a very personal connection with the designer. For both photographer and writer, what appears to be the most striking and profound element of being immersed in the Chanel interior is its undeniably ethereal overtones, and its overwhelming and almost uncomfortable sensation of coming too close. Chanel herself described the interior of a home as ‘the natural projection of the soul’ and, indeed, it is within this intimate setting that her spirit still lingers, her loves, passions and even heartbreaks crystallized within the now abandoned collections of rare books, art and objects. What strikes Picardie most about Taylor-Johnson’s remarkable images ‘is that they capture absence, at the same time as presence’. Looking at these photographs, one suspects that Chanel’s own image may be glimpsed at any moment in the smoked glass mirror, whose octagonal form echoes the familiar shape of a Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle stopper, yet, simultaneously, the famous cream silk chair in which she reclined for many a portrait, its cushion worn from constant sitting, stands eerily empty.

For many, the glossy chiaroscuro of these large-scale photographs will be the closest they will come to experiencing this secret inner sanctum. Taylor-Johnson’s powerful and intriguing rendering of Chanel’s most cherished items, however, undoubtedly succeeds in drawing its viewers deeper into the authentic and indissoluble aura of Chanel, forming a portrait of a woman and the narrative of a life told through objects that is, at once, both elusive and inescapable.


Second Floor: The Private Apartment of Coco Chanel by Sam Taylor-Johnson was exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, London in September 2014.

The book Sam Taylor-Johnson: Second Floor will be published by Steidl on 24th November 2014.



Morand, P. (1976), The Allure of Chanel, trans. E. Cameron, London: Pushkin.

Picardie, J. (2014), ‘Kindred Spirits’ in Harper’s Bazaar, London: September 2014.

Picardie, J. (2011), Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, London: HarperCollins.

Fashion Week Reactions Part 4. Redressing Feminism: Chanel’s Fashion Riot


Under the glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais, a protest is taking place, a procession of women, signs held aloft, calling for female empowerment, as they stride confidently past the large crowds they have attracted. Its setting is a monumental screen print of a typical Parisian rue dubbed the ‘Boulevard Chanel’; its demonstrators, eighty models centered around such high-profile names as Cara Delevingne and Gisele Bündchen; the props, quilted megaphones and handbags dripping in Chanel iconography.

Indeed, the finale of Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2015 ready-to-wear show possessed all the ingredients for a potent collision of fashion and feminism, yet it left many a critic cold and confused as to its underlying intentions. A prevailing mood of discomfort regarding Lagerfeld’s seemingly hollow hijacking of the feminist cause for publicity purposes immediately permeated the international press, giving rise to concerns as varied as they are, perhaps, unfounded. While some dwelled on the apparent hypocrisy of this multi-billion dollar luxury brand’s attempt to promote a liberated individualism by way of exorbitantly expensive garments, others bristled at the narrow spectrum of ‘ideal’ female beauty represented by the designer’s casting of professional fashion models in the role of feminist activists. Protest signs carrying such slogans as, ‘Tweed not Tweet’, ‘Ladies First’ and ‘History is Her Story’ were widely derided as empty and naïve attempts to exploit the gravity of a highly topical social issue. Journalist Alexander Fury even went as far as to suggest that the show had been the very ‘artifice of anarchy’, a noisy, fussy publicity stunt lacking in any real, honest political statement.

But as debates raged over potential misinterpretations of that significantly weighted word – feminism – and accusations of trivialization poured forth, the very point of the show itself appeared to have been not just overlooked, but also largely, and sadly, missed. The true stars of the show were, in fact, the clothes themselves, which formed, in the words of Vogue’s Suzy Menkes, a ‘back-to-Coco parade’, one which confirmed that the dynamic spirit of the label’s fiercely independent female founder still endures, nearly a century after its sartorial debut. Gabrielle Chanel herself was fashion’s greatest inadvertent feminist. She bestowed a freedom of movement and gender blurring right to comfort and function upon women, whose experiences of dress had, thereto, been characterised by restriction, adornment and submission. This specific collection’s layering of menswear-inspired elements (boxy tweed jackets, wide-leg trousers and sailor stripe knits) atop feminine basenotes of florals, unusually vibrant prints and classic Chanel monochrome palettes travelled to the very heart of the brand’s unique heritage, while, simultaneously, allowing the image of the modern, active woman to be effectively reimagined and updated for a post-Coco society.

It is important that such a presentation is not taken out of context as, after all, it seems illogical to dismiss the theatrical spectacle of the show’s format as mere ‘publicity stunt,’ when the very function of a fashion show is that of self-promotion and commercial endorsement. Unlike the design philosophies at the root of the Chanel brand, gender equality debates can arguably never truly be timeless, as constantly shifting social mores require them to move and morph with their times, never standing still. Therefore, to accuse Chanel of presenting a reductive view of diluted feminism seems a step too far, and the very fact that it is engaging in the discussion at all should be applauded. Fashion, viewed through the lens of feminism is likely to remain a problematic concept on many levels, but it should be recognized that attempts to exclude it from the conversation would only be counter-productive. The most negative aspect of feminism’s fraught relationship with fashion does not lie in the sartorial embrace of what it means to be a modern woman, in any era, but in the fact that the two spheres are being forced to uncomfortably co-exist as conflicting and contradictory ideologies. Lagerfeld’s riot of a show may not have brought about longed-for permanent change, but it has taken us one step closer to breaking down the seemingly obligatory boundaries between the two by, at last, allowing them to assume a much-needed dialogue that is imperative to the future success of both.



Florence: Italian Fashion’s Forgotten Capital

Nestled in a Tuscan valley, the ancient terracotta cityscape of Florence boasts a rich history as the birthplace of Renaissance art, literature and architecture, yet its starring role in the evolution of Italian fashion has long been overlooked and disregarded. Following the success of the V&A Museum’s 2014 exhibition The Glamour of Italian Fashion, the spotlight has once again fallen upon this national school’s distinctive blend of luxury craftsmanship and often family-run tradition. Florence has begun to emerge from the dominant shadow of Italian fashion capitals such as Milan.

As the birthplace of some of Italian fashion’s most prestigious designers, including Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli and Guccio Gucci, Florence formed the backdrop to Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s landmark fashion show in 1951. This fashion show is widely credited as Italian fashion’s first introduction to an international stage, and continued annually until Giorgini’s retirement in 1965. Driven by the prevailing appetite for post-war reconstruction, Giorgini invited an audience of primarily American department store buyers to his spectacular Florentine villa in order to showcase haute couture, knitwear and textiles that could equal and, occasionally surpass, the quality of their celebrated Parisian counterparts. In 1952, Giorgini also became the first designer to send a male model down the runway. Carmel Snow, the influential editor of Harper’s Bazaar, encapsulated the spirit of Giorgini’s shows when, writing in 1953, she stated:

If there were no other reason to go to Florence…just when spring begins to whisper, Italian fashion would fully justify our going.

Six decades later, Florence is still at the forefront of Italian fashion design, manufacturing and curation, with 2014 shaping up to be an exciting and prolific year for its industry. This year, the prestigious Florentine Centre for Italian Fashion, chaired by designer Stefano Ricci, celebrates 60 years of nurturing and supporting Italian tailoring traditions and emerging avant-garde talents, while the Costume Gallery of the city’s historic Palazzo Pitti continues to boast an important collection of dress to rival those of its international counterparts, including the first exhibition dedicated entirely to hats. The Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a museum devoted to the work of the prominent Florentine shoe designer, who is widely credited with the invention of the wedge heel, and whose loyal clients ranged from royalty to Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, has just launched its latest exhibition Equilibrium, which runs until Spring 2015. Innovative and dynamic, the exhibition seeks to explore Ferragamo’s dedication to the scientific craft of shoemaking, through close links to art, dance and history, and investigates the designer’s desire to achieve a symbiotic harmony between balance, movement and style.

Described by Dolce & Gabbana designer Stefano Gabbana as an ‘open air museum’ rather than a city, Florence’s dense concentration of museums, galleries and cultural institutions forms the historic setting for one of fashion’s forgotten capitals, one that is only just beginning to reassert itself as a nucleus of Italian luxury, craftsmanship and steadfast style.


The Costume Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence:

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence:

Ciulli, M. I. (2014), ‘Dolce & Gabbana: One mind in two bodies’ in Firenze No. 30, Florence: FM Publishing.

Stanfill, S. ed. (2014), The Glamour of Italian Fashion Since 1945, London: V&A Publishing.

Adorned in Myth: The Significance of Mythology in Chanel Jewellery

The jewellery designed and worn by Coco Chanel and, by extension, the modern-day incarnation of Chanel Fine Jewellery, presents a precise reflection of her overarching mythology, weaving together the three crucial components of this myth – design, biography and contemporary image – into an aesthetic shorthand for its contradictions and consistencies. The jewellery’s positioning as a perpetual counterpoint to the design philosophies Chanel signified through her clothing designs subverted and, at times, reversed the relationships between intricacy and simplicity, abundance and absence.

Cecil Beaton, writing in the year of Chanel’s ‘comeback’ in 1954, contemplated the logic behind the designer’s promotion of rational simplicity within her clothing designs. Bypassing typical attributions to notions of modernity and shifting social mores, Beaton suggested an alternative interpretation: ‘possibly she turned to nature and…reaffirmed, the fact that the female of the species is generally unadorned, that female birds are drab compared to the males’. The dualism inherent within the wider Chanel mythology, however, finds its full force in the couturière’s consistent contrasts: between this minimalistic clothing and a mode of ‘adornment’ defined by luxury, but never ostentation; artistry, but never economical value. She deconstructed the notion of ‘adornment’, stripping it from its conventional space on the clothing’s surface, only to reconstruct it through the medium of jewellery and, subsequently, making this juxtaposition an integral part of her image and identity, both personally and through her brand.

Chanel’s clothing designs appeared to be simple, with their streamlined silhouettes and reductive aesthetic, yet they both contradicted and complemented the bold, graphic qualities of her costume jewellery and the fantastical profusion of her 1932 foray into diamond jewellery. Her ability to incorporate seemingly oppositional elements, such as authentic and imitation stones, as seen in photographic representation of her wearing her own jewellery, alongside the consistency with which she employed recurring motifs and design features – the star, the feather, the lion – as seen in both the 1932 and 2012 collections, is part of her inherent mythology. However, the tensions that surface between contradiction and consistency within Chanel’s jewellery, and indeed clothing, are not limited solely to design. The frictions that have inevitably arisen between Karl Lagerfeld’s desire to respectfully reanimate the iconographical traditions of his predecessor while, simultaneously, avoiding an overtly reverential methodology create a contemporary layer of paradox atop a pre-existing mythology. Similarly, Chanel’s own conscious presentation of a cultivated ‘personality’, which sought to rewrite the more humble and tumultuous aspects of her personal narrative, was crystallized within her own use of adornment. However, an excessive biographical focus in relation to the Chanel ‘myth’, due primarily to a recent cultural propensity to amplify and ‘commercialize’ this particular aspect, can certainly eclipse vital components of a mythology that, in fact, extends further than mere biography. However, without any consideration of Chanel’s heavily mythologized personality, the ‘myth’ as a whole remains incomplete, owing to its significant contribution to the durability of her overall image.

The myth’s three central components are therefore inextricably interlinked in its establishment. Thus, both the jewellery’s design and representation enabled the expression of a mythology that extends beyond design in order to encompass interdependent notions of personality and contemporary image, and which, subsequently, becomes an embodiment of the Chanel brand’s modern, contradictory and indissoluble identity.


Beaton, C. (1954) The Glass of Fashion, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Bolton, A. and Koda, H., eds. (2005) Chanel, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mauriès, P. (2012) Jewelry by Chanel, London: Thames & Hudson.

A Juxtaposition of Femininity in The Great Gatsby (2013)

Illustration: Catherine Martin/Warner Bros
Illustration: Catherine Martin/Warner Bros
Illustration: Catherine Martin/Warner Bros
Illustration: Catherine Martin/Warner Bros

The representation of fashion in the 2013 film adaptation of the novel The Great Gatsby, directed by Baz Lurhmann, has raised a number of significant questions with regard to both its role in the portrayal of key notions of femininity and fantasy, but also the tense relationship between the past in which the film is set and the present in which we view and interpret it. In her first scene, the character of Daisy Buchanan, played by Carey Mulligan, wears a cream sleeveless dress consisting of a structured lace bodice and full skirt of organza ‘petals’, cinched at the waist by a flowing beige tulle sash. Daisy’s portrayal of femininity, however, assumes a complex and problematic nature due to its play with the familiar binaries of feminine representation. The delicate elegance of her dress contributes to an ideal, or even potentially overly idealised, image of purity and incorruptibility yet its form-revealing bodice, fleshy tones and transparent panel are highly suggestive of a corporeal sensuality that does not correspond so comfortably with this ideal. The viewer is invited to realise Gatsby’s sexual attraction to Daisy while, simultaneously, fully comprehending her prevailing untouchable nature. Aesthetically, her presentation is undoubtedly beautiful, impeccably and ethereally so. Yet through an emphasis on a dreamlike fantasy of exaggerated femininity, the portrayal of her character is weakened and the audience’s view of her on the whole becomes, much like Nick and Gatsby’s in the narrative, characterised by a certain distance.

Conversely, the viewer’s introduction to the character of Tom Buchanan’s mistress Myrtle Wilson, played by Isla Fisher, is defined by a heightened fantasy of blatant and unashamedly erotically suggestive imagery, as she appears in her husband’s garage in a blur of glossy Bakelite bangles, heavy make-up, brightly coloured prints and fishnet stockings. Although the most significant and obvious function of this depiction is to offer further juxtaposition of the figures of devoted wife and wanton mistress, the viewer’s sensory perception of each operates very differently. Every element of Myrtle’s physical appearance, from her red lipstick to the vivid clash of green headscarf against tight, red curls of hair, visually magnifies her sexuality to the point that it begins to border on clichéd fantasy and even caricature. We can see how the fabric of her dress clings to and reveals her physical form, and a mass of red ruffles draws the eye towards a historically anachronistic display of cleavage. The notion of touch is only a secondary consideration in this instance since the flat, graphic lines of the dress and texture, which is suggestive of a cheap synthetic quality, is offset by the plastic sheen of her stacks of smooth, thick bangles.

By contrast, throughout the course of the film the presentation of Daisy’s dress is dominated by an engagement with touch, from her variously embellished dresses to the juxtaposition of a luxuriously soft fur coat and intricately textured lace dress, which are worn in the final scene. The use of conventionally feminine colours, such as cream, pale pastel and shades of gold, displace the sensual emphasis of sight and transfers it to touch, by allowing the muted hues to provide a foil for the textured fabrics, iridescent pearls and hard glitter of diamonds. These present an overall and lasting impression of luminous wealth and decadence rather than, as in Myrtle’s case, sexual availability and immediate sensual gratification.

The film’s emphasis on fashion, hairstyles and visual display can be considered an essential factor in the film’s overall audience appeal. The decorative excess of these visual codes, however, is also necessary in the formation of a feminized world in which extravagant and exciting performance predominates, thus creating a pleasingly disordered synthesis of historically conflicting styles and influences – all wholly appropriate, of course, to the original novel’s privileging of desire and escapism.

A Collector of Thoughts: Review of ‘Dries Van Noten: Inspirations’

The popularity of the fashion exhibition has gained increasing momentum in recent years, transforming itself from selections of historical examples hidden in the darkened recesses of permanent collections, into a rapid succession of lucrative  blockbuster temporary exhibitions highlighting contemporary trends and designers, which typically draw in millions of visitors each year. The complex reasons for this growing trend are the subject of much debate, but one thing remains certain: both the accessibility of fashion and its ever more assured cultural status only continues to grow.

Dries Van Noten: Inspirations is one such example of this recent international phenomenon, and is currently on show at the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. However, this tribute to the Belgian avant-garde designer, whose distinctive combination of curiosity, humour and artistry has consistently challenged the creation and interpretation of fashion for more than two decades, is neither a retrospective nor a simple celebration of the clothes themselves. It is, rather unusually in the sphere of fashion exhibitions, a kaleidoscopic exploration of his extraordinarily vast range of inspirational sources, oscillating between music, film and art, historical textile samples and iconic figures of style, alongside examples of Van Noten’s own designs. Olivier Gabet, the Director of the Musée des Les Arts Décoratifs, has commented on this fresh and dynamic approach:

“In a world saturated with pictures, names and events, there are a thousand different ways to go about exhibiting fashion. Yet the singular dimension of a museum whittles this number down to just a few of any value…[Dries Van Noten] assumes that delicate balance which implies that a fashion exhibition is much more than just a show of objets de mode…instead offering that unique moment, that totally new experience of something completely new.”

Divided into themes ranging from ‘Uniform’ to ‘Francis Bacon’, each section of the exhibition focuses upon a specific aspect of Van Noten’s diverse and vibrant creative influences, be it a certain colour, culture or aspect of nature. The opening section, entitled ‘Punk’, immediately challenges and even overthrows the visitor’s expectations and interpretations of the theme by displaying not only predictable imagery, such as 1970s photographs of the Sex Pistols, but also incorporating an original ‘New Look’ ensemble from Christian Dior’s famous 1947 collection, among other seemingly anachronistic examples from art and fashion. Elsewhere, a section devoted entirely to the theme of Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano exhibits surviving examples of Victorian dress alongside Marcel Broodthaers’s 1965 sculpture of a pot of mussels.

Through this unconventional approach to fashion curation Dries Van Noten and curators at the Musée des Les Arts Décoratifs present an innovative new lens through which to consider the entire ‘process’ of fashion – from the very first flicker of inspiration, to the creation of a fully-fledged museum show. Intriguing juxtapositions between old and new, masculine and feminine, the decorative and the stripped back serve to highlight the designer’s characteristic tension between tradition and modernity, thus exposing the eclectic variety that, ultimately, lends Dries Van Noten’s work its singular richness and unique place within contemporary fashion.

‘Dries Van Noten: Inspirations’ will be held at Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris until 31st August, 2014. 


Bruloot, G. ed. (2014), Dries Van Noten, Tielt: Lannoo.

The Social History of Lipstick: Why 1920s Beauty Journalism is useful for more than just retro make-up tips


“Beauty is the last true thrill left us in a mechanized age,” wrote American Broadway impresario Florenz Ziegfeld in his foreword to beauty editor Josephine Huddleston’s 1929 book Secrets of Charm, “it is a precious gift that cannot be standardized. Everything else is routined and regulated and ordered but beauty cannot be had for the asking”. Ziegfeld’s opening declaration to this comprehensive volume, which details everything from skin and haircare to ‘how to cultivate a sweet smile’ immediately reveals more of the changing social climate of 1920s America than even the most ironclad social manifesto. The advent of new technology and social order dominated contemporary thought, while evolving attitudes to traditional femininity remained central to shifts within gender roles and occupations. It is for this reason that such unintentionally political literature assumes a significant value to anyone hoping to analyse or investigate the social landscape of any given historical period.

As the editor of a beauty column which boasted a readership of nearly seven million American women, Josephine Huddleston had “an unusual opportunity to study women’s needs” from the 1920s onwards. Years of such accidental research resulted in a publication that offered advice on not only the practicalities of maintaining a period-specific aesthetic allure (‘applying bleach paste for stubborn freckles’ and ‘how to promote growth of lashes’ are just two examples) but, more crucially, on the cultivation of an inner “charm [that was] far more vital than physical beauty alone”. Her descriptions of this so-termed ‘charm’ illuminate contradictory feelings about both the role and desires of women of this period:

It is the power that takes a chorus girl out of tights and puts her name in electric lights. It is the power that makes the Only Man place a diamond circlet upon the finger that tells the world you are his to love, cherish and protect for as long as you both shall live. And it is the power that makes most women hate with a burning intensity the woman who has it, for women know its great influence.

Huddleston’s conclusion that charm and beauty are essential to both a woman’s accomplishment of individual professional status and the securing of a husband who can provide for them is highly telling of a contemporary tension between women’s growing independence and an attitude to domestic ‘destiny’ and desire that might, today, be considered borderline sexist and stereotypical. “To be beautiful, one must be in love”, she declares, before adding: “it is not essential that one be in love with a man, but one must have something…whether it be husband or hobby”. Huddleston obviously remains acutely aware of such conflicts, and it is thus through the use of cosmetic preparations, fashion, exercise and deportment that she suggests a solution to this double-edged sword of femininity:

It is true that women, in surprisingly large numbers, are nursing the idea of economic independence because they are bringing home round dollars in sizable amounts each week- dollars that have been earned by their own efforts. But…Man is still the controlling figure in the world…[and] he expects women to profit by his efforts in an intelligent way and his idea of intelligence is beauty and charm. We may rebel at the idea, but we can’t change the fact.

To a modern reader, this book is undoubtedly a fascinating vintage gem, brimming with humorously outdated advice on sick bed beauty and superfluous body hair while simultaneously revealing the origins of much sworn-by old wives’ tales and cementing their tried-and-tested effectiveness. Yet, within its yellowed pages, we also become privy to a unique condensation of contemporary attitudes, norms and yearnings that reveal as much about the precarious position occupied by Western women during the 1920s as the correct medium for painting one’s lips at the time of press (good old-fashioned rouge, now you ask). Of course, it is only with the benefit of historical hindsight that such conventions and prejudices are truly exposed, but the book’s underlying philosophy is one that still rings true today, and can be related to whatever our social status, romantic situation or professional occupation: “is there anything lovelier than the habit of beauty?”


Huddleston, J. (1929) Secrets of Charm, New York and London: G.P.Putnam’s Sons.

Fashion in Amateur Film: I’d Be Delighted To (1934)

A phone rings. A woman begins to bathe, tentatively dipping her toe into a tub of warm water, before slowly pulling a stocking up her shapely calf. A man douses his shaving brush in cream before selecting the perfect pair of cufflinks. I’d Be Delighted To, an amateur film made in 1934, portrays a couple preparing themselves for a romantic dinner, every small step of their separate dressing rituals, and the evening itself, shown in close-up detail. This is not, however, a conventional visual narrative- the silent 14-minute film is played out solely through close-up shots of the couple’s hands and feet, as they engage in washing, dressing, drinking and dining, in a technique that shares affinities with the avant-garde cinema of the period and its alternative approach to that of Hollywood. These carefully angled shots of almost anonymous body parts, combined with inanimate objects, build up a powerful overall sequence, isolating specific details in order to form strong thematic associations between them and the viewer and therefore dramatically increasing the significance of their meanings. The direct result of this technique is a prevailing ritualistic mood and a sensual emphasis on clothes as tools for glamour and seduction. The tactile qualities of the clothes’ textures, such as the woman’s fur coat, glittering jewellery and silk dress is consequently illuminated in a manner bordering on the fetishistic, and the visual appeal of the garments becomes inextricably linked to desire and imbued with an erotic energy. The romantic tension between the couple is therefore heightened through the use and depiction of dress, presenting both a sensory experience of everyday activities such as dressing and dining and blurring the boundaries between intimacy and anonymity. The fleeting presence of a maid character, who assists with the preparation and serving of the meal, is enforced through a similar focus on dress. However, this time it is labour rather than luxury that is imposed upon the viewer as the decadently sumptuous elements of the female diner’s garments are sharply juxtaposed against the strictly utilitarian aesthetic of the maid’s plain ensemble. The overall resulting impression of this amateur film technique is an intriguing blend of both detachment and engagement, erotic charge and ambiguity; one that manages to distil its simple narrative with as much poignancy and visual force as any Hollywood sequence.

See ‘I’d Be Delighted To’ (1934) here (courtesy of the East Anglian Film Archive):

This commentary is based on a lecture given by Dr. Charles Tepperman, assistant professor of film studies at the University of Calgary entitled ‘“We are all Artists”: Amateur Film, Fashion, and the Art of the Everyday’. The lecture was given at the Courtauld Institute of Art in January 2014 as part of the Friends Lecture series based on the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation MA course ‘Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Film and Image in Europe and America, 1920-1945’.