Norman Parkinson’s fashion photographs are imbued with contradictions. His ‘action realist’ images juxtapose narratives of fantasy. He pioneered dynamic depictions of women in motion yet excelled in his arrangements of the female body in quiet moments of poised and pensive stillness. Despite Parkinson’s seven-decade career, his contemporary Cecil Beaton credited his ability to reinvent his photographic style ‘according to the necessities of the day.’ However, Parkinson was a self-proclaimed nostalgic photographer, admitting ‘nostalgia is for me one of the great emotions, I have to edit this tendency a bit’. Nostalgia permeates Parkinson’s fashion photography, hidden within his characteristically colourful and energetic compositions, which distinguished him from his contemporaries.
A flame-haired figure with a lily-white complexion, seemingly floating on an ocean of textiles, stretches her limbs as if in a fairy-tale slumber. Nicky Samuel, a socialite and wife to the owner of Granny Takes a Trip boutique, drapes herself across her richly furnished interior space. Parkinson scatters visual clues throughout the composition to create a sense of unease; a corkscrew and two empty glasses perhaps hint to hedonistic over-indulgence whilst also revealing that she is not alone. A discarded copy of Hollywood Babylon (a controversial exposé of Hollywood’s sordid underbelly of sex scandals and mysterious murders) transforms her dishevelled slumber into something more sinister. The lilies that tower over her, inevitably staining her porcelain face with sickly pollen, symbolise both purity and death.
In the late 60s and early 70s, the misty medievalism and mythology of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Victorian art movement, wafted into contemporary consciousness. This nostalgic influence was evidently not lost on Parkinson. The impression of submersion, the floral motifs, Samuel’s Pre-Raphaelite characteristics and the morbid undertones of the composition all call to mind John Everett Millais’s Ophelia. However, featured in British Vogue in December 1972, Parkinson’s image indicates how casually Pre-Raphaelite iconography seeped into fashion contexts from the late 1960s onwards. The similarities between Parkinson’s image of Samuel and Millais’ Ophelia are potentially non-coincidental. Although Pre-Raphaelite art had remained largely unpopular up until its revival in the 1960s, a 1967 exhibition of Millais’s work at the Royal Academy would have brought him, and Ophelia, to the forefront of contemporary artistic culture.
Direct comparisons can be drawn between Samuel and Ophelia. Both are seemingly floating atop a surface punctuated by flowers. While Ophelia’s saturated gown drags her into the watery abyss of death, Samuel’s heavily patterned chiffon dress, designed by Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, drowns her body in bold tulips and pulls her deeper into the ripples of patterns. Like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s ‘truth to nature’ philosophy, Parkinson was ‘not interested in anything that nature hasn’t smiled upon’, and he was reluctant to retouch his prints. Parkinson’s ability to capture the wider nostalgic resurgence of Pre-Raphaelite art in the 60s and 70s infuses his composition with a desire to return to a realm far removed from the synthetic modernity of post-war Britain. Yet, despite the arguably sinister undertones of Parkinson’s composition, there is something comforting in Samuel’s doll-like appearance and the ease of her lethargic pose.
Parkinson’s childhood memories of time spent in the countryside, espying ‘girls with loose dresses and a minimum of underclothes…lying around the lawn with languorous ease’ potentially informed his depiction of Nicky Samuel. Parkinson himself attests to this, stating that, throughout his career, ‘I photographed the memory of those well-observed weekend girls that I had seen through the fence’. This indicates that Parkinson’s photography is consciously informed by his nostalgic, and perhaps voyeuristic, tendencies.
Robin Muir argues that Parkinson ‘effortlessly transferred the spirit of neo-romantic pastoralism into a resolutely urban environment’. This is perhaps applicable to his depiction of Samuel, given that she is situated within her Chelsea home. Parkinson’s ability to bring the outdoors into the domestic realm conveys a suspension of reality. Parkinson himself claimed that ‘if you are going to be an artist – even a photographer – I think you have to major in fantasy.’
Furthermore, Parkinson’s portrayal of Samuel also mirrors his image from a 1956 location shoot in India for British Vogue. Like Samuel and Ophelia, model Barbara Mullen lies atop a watery expanse, in this case Dal Lake in Kashmir, laced with tulips, lilies and other exotic flowers. The dappled sunlight on the otherwise pristine surface of the lake reflects the clouded pattern of her dress. Yet, like Millais’ Ophelia, there are morbid undertones to this image. Mullen’s indifferent gaze into the middle distance and her partial submersion render her body totally passive. The boat on which she lies is obscured by, and overflowing with, flowers, which perhaps calls to mind a funeral boat. However, this image epitomises Parkinson’s excessively glamorous overseas fashion shoots in a time when long-haul travel was still fledgling.
Parkinson’s saturated use of colour is also notable. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that he was working almost exclusively in colour, and this vibrant image from 1956 would have been situated among the largely black and white pages of British Vogue. Parkinson himself stated ‘I’m sure all the best photographers use black and white, but… I dream in colour…for me colour has always held more magic,’ which further hints to the degree of fantasy that underlined much of his work.
In his depiction of Nicky Samuel, Parkinson’s composition not only embodies the nostalgic fascination with the Pre-Raphaelites that resurged during the late 1960s, but also his nostalgic twinge for his idyllic childhood and his own photographic oeuvre.
By Claudia Stanley
Anon., ‘Precious Original: Augustus John’s Chelsea Studio Regenerated by Nicola Weymouth’, British Vogue, No. 15, Vol. 129 (London, December 1972), pp. 128-129
Louise Baring, Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour (New York, 2009)
Robin Muir, Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion (London, 2004)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Very 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. This 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.
Looking 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’.
The 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
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)
As coloured photography started to seep into the pages of Vogue during the 1930s, it shifted the ways in which fashion consumers and spectators appreciated the dressed body. Simultaneous to this technological progress of fashion magazines was the modernisation and arguable liberation of the body itself. The first in-colour Vogue cover by Edward Steichen in July 1932 attests to this. Playfully raising a beach ball above her head, the model is sporting red swimwear with a white belted detail to emphasise her lean frame, and a white cap. Mirroring the colours of her ball, her vibrant body juxtaposes the gradated blue sky that upwardly intensifies behind her. This is an image of colourful contrasts; red stubbornly clashes with blue, white breaks up the composition, and even her shoes are two-toned. The depth of the colours evoke a sense of warmth and humidity. We can only hope to be transported to where she is and to look as chic as she does in a swimming cap. Perhaps buying Vogue will help get us there…
Although shot indoors in the studio using a 108-inch plate camera that Condé Nast insisted his photographers work with, Steichen’s lighting techniques evoke summer evening sun. This convinces the viewer that the model has spent an entire day of leisure and sport at the beach. The connoted low sunlight highlights the contours of the model’s armpits, her toned arms, wrist tendons, sharp elbows, the dents on her knees and the overall sculptural quality of her tanned body. The white segment of the beachball that orbits her athletic frame evokes a waning crescent moon, perhaps signalling that dusk is approaching. Her shadowed face creates a canvas of anonymity onto which the Vogue reader can project themselves. We can see that she is smiling in unapologetic enjoyment. Her averted gaze suggests that she is unaware of being watched, or even being photographed in an inorganic, staged setting.
Aside from a hint of feathery eyelashes, her body is totally hairless, stressed by the cap that protects her hair from seawater and the unrelenting sun. This evokes the smooth, marble-like texture of her skin. The primary colours evoke a sense of childish playfulness; this is a woman unshackled by social convention or responsibility. She embodies care-free leisure as well as women’s progressively and fashionably active lifestyles. Having been exposed to this vibrant image, it is hard to imagine what her body, or the overall composition, would look like in black and white.
Harper’s Bazaar’s swimwear editorial from June 1939 stands in stark contrast to the highly saturated cover of their rival Vogue. Shot in black and white, the models’ skin takes on the luminosity of classical marble statues. Unlike the evocation of the setting sun in Vogue’s cover, here we get a sense of bright moonlight illuminating exposed flesh. In the image on the left, a woman stands with her back to us, reflecting the pose of the statue situated in the centre of a pool within a secluded wood. This mirror-image establishes a direct connection between woman and sculpture, as if the touch of moonbeams has metamorphosised her from antique marble into living, breathing flesh. Her closed-off body language could suggest that she senses she is being watched in this intimate moment of midnight bathing. The article reads ‘five bathers beside the moonlit pool, four of flesh and blood, one of stone’, which heightens the idea of mythical transformations.
The model’s striped swimsuit takes on a silvery quality and the low scooped back exposes the gentle curvature of her spine. The image on the right depicts three more models poised tentatively on the edge of the pool. They resemble mythological nymphs bathing out of view of mortal eyes. Their poses are fairly natural; their bodies have not been manipulated to cater to the male gaze, perhaps explained by the female photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe and the predominantly female readership of Harper’s Bazaar. By presenting the female body at different angles, it offers a three-dimensional, sculptural appreciation of the body as well as a well-rounded impression of the swimwear. Their toned bodies highlight that these are active, modern women. There lingers a sense of seclusion and privacy through the implicit separation from the male gaze. Fashion magazines including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar promoted exercise regimes linked to classical ideals of athleticism, which were often untaken in separation from men. This image potentially evokes this secure seclusion away from prying eyes. In this instance, even when women are depicted as active and exercising, they still retain a sculptural quality. Perhaps if this image had been captured in colour, it would imbue their statuesque bodies with vitality and thus reflect the cultural shift towards women’s more dynamic and active lives.
By Claudia Stanley
Rebecca Arnold, ‘Movement and Modernity: New York Sportswear, Dance, and Exercise in the 1930s and 1940s’, Fashion Theory, vol. 12, no. 3 (Oxfordshire, 2008), pp. 341–57, https://doi.org/10.2752/175174108X332323
SusannaBrown, ‘Introduction: Inventing Elegance’,Horst: Photographerof Style, exhibition catalogue, Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 2014), pp.11-21
Harper’s Bazaar, June 1939, New York Vol. 72, Iss. 2724
During last week’s study trips, we were lucky enough to snoop around Hampton Court Palace’s Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Items within their collection of 10,000 objects date from the late sixteenth century to the present day. They range from Queen Victoria’s monogrammed underwear to That Dress worn by Princess Diana when she danced with John Travolta at a White House dinner in 1985. All of Hampton Court’s archive storerooms are located in converted palace apartments and, rather fittingly, the dress collection is housed in an old laundry room. Curator Matthew Storey kindly showed us some highlights of the collection which sat neatly within the 1920-1960 timeframe of the Documenting Fashion course. From ambiguously-shaped white garment bags suspended ghoulishly from rails, he revealed two examples of menswear with royal significance.
The first was a tweed suit belonging to the Duke of Windsor, previously titled the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VIII before his abdication in 1936 in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Made by Savile Row tailor Fredrick Scholte in 1932, the jacket embodies the Duke’s philosophy of ‘dressing soft’. Prioritising comfort and movement, the Duke severed ties with social rituals of dress and became an icon of men’s style in Europe and America. His sense of ease helped loosen the stiff grip of conformity in relation to men’s tailoring. Most noticeable about the garment itself was its own movement. As it was handled delicately by gloved hands, the double-breasted jacket billowed of its own accord with an unusual fluidity for such stiff tweed. The movement of the garment itself catered to the dynamism of the wearer. Scholte’s expert tailoring, known as the English drape or London cut, included more material across the chest and back, enabling this ease of movement as well as creating a broad, masculine silhouette. In his own words, the Duke praised Scholte’s ‘rigid standards concerning the perfect balance of proportions between shoulders and waist in the cut of a coat to clothe the masculine torso’.
In this image, the Duke manages to look suave whilst posing with bunches of asparagus. Pipe clasped between teeth, he stands with one leg raised. The double-breasted cut, broad lapels, sloping shoulders and buttons on the cuffs are all similar, if not the same, to the tweed jacket held within the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection (it’s surprisingly difficult to identify patterns of tweed by squinting at black and white heavily pixelated reproductions of houndstooth without inducing a hefty migraine). Despite pulling across his abdomen, the jacket holds its shape over his chest and shoulders, maintaining its neat, square silhouette. Curator Matthew Storey explained the difficulty of finding a mannequin to best display this garment, looking for images of the Duke in swimwear to get an understanding of the body held within the garment. Under the broadening silhouette of Scholte’s construction, the Duke’s frame is almost surprisingly slender but still athletic. Usually mannequins are built to fill a garment and offer bodily support. However, with Scholte’s English drape, the jacket is designed to hold its shape with minimum support even on a humble hanger.
The matching trousers, made by Forster and Sons, are also cut in a quintessentially English way; they are high-waisted to elongate the leg, with loops for braces to be attached. They also feature a zip fly, a fairly recent innovation, instead of buttons, which further adds to the idea of ease and practicality promoted through the Duke’s clothing. His clothing was customised, such as the left pocket of his trousers being bigger to accommodate his cigarette case. However, the Duke stated ‘I disliked the cut of [English trousers]; they were made…to be worn with braces high above the waist. So preferring as I did to wear a belt rather than braces with trousers, in the American style, I invariably had them made by another tailor’. Following his abdication, his style was progressively Americanised as he severed ties with his regal roots. The Duke sent his fabric to H. Harris in New York, to be tailored in the low-waisted American style. The Duke ‘gave [H. Harris] a pair of my old London trousers, and he copied them admirably. Since then, I have had my trousers made in New York and my jackets in London, an international compromise which the Duchess aptly describes as “pants across the pond”.’
In 1924, Men’s Wear magazine stated ‘the average young man in America is more interested in the clothes of the Prince of Wales than in any other individual on earth’, revealing the global impact he had on the relaxation of men’s fashion. In his autobiography A Family Album, the Duke articulated that ‘I was in fact “produced” as a leader of fashion, with the clothiers as my showmen and the world as my audience. The middle-man in this process was the photographer, employed not only by the press but by the trade, whose task it was to photograph me on every possible occasion, public or private, with an especial eye for what I happened to be wearing.’ The Duke expressed how fashion is an ongoing, collaborative process and an ever-advancing expression of self-image.
In total contrast to the Duke’s understated yet trail-blazing style, court dress, worn in the presence of a royal, remained stubbornly rooted in the past. It exists outside trends and time itself. From the collection, we were also shown a court coat worn to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The rank and status of the wearer is communicated through the sheer splendour of the silver and gold gilt embroidery, adding a symbolic and literal weight to the garment. The embroidery stretches proudly across the chest, evoking the gold braiding that adorns military uniforms. In 1820, King George IV lessened the strict regulation of court dress, meaning that garments resembling military uniforms usurped men’s colourful court coats. Instead of evolving with the times, these garments remained cemented in the past, due to tradition and ceremony that are intrinsically woven into the formality of court dress. On first inspection, a court coat from 1885 created by Henry Poole & Sons on Savile Row for Lord Boston is almost identical to the 1953 garment in the opulence of its decoration (the triangular embroidery around the collar is slightly different).
This demonstrates that court dress exists outside of the magnetic field of fashion and resists the thrust towards modernity. In contemporary civilian dress, any peacocky ornamentation was regarded as subversive to traditional notions of masculinity. In 1930, C. Flügel’s The Psychology of Clothes explored the notion of ‘the great masculine renunciation’ of elaborate elegance. For men, fashion was inherently feminine, and to be too invested in your clothing was to deny your own masculinity. Yet the court coat is separate from this. It seems to embody male vanity, neatly interweaving tradition, militant male aggression, and the feminine flair of decorative embroidery.
The masculine rejection of trivial fashion remained firmly in place until the 1960s, when androgyny and experimentation became the new mode. Almost ironically, youth subculture groups appropriated archaic military dress as a means of breaking away from traditional masculinity. The Portobello Road store I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet sold on army surplus as well as vintage military jackets throughout the 1960s. Rockstars, such as Jimi Hendrix, flaunted their military gear, to protest against the Vietnam War or to sever themselves from the dull mundanity of conventional drab-toned suits. Or, like the court coat, perhaps military jackets served the purpose of self-promotion and performative male fortitude.
By Claudia Stanley
J. C. Flügel, ‘The Psychology of Clothes’, in The Rise in Fashion: A Reader, ed. Daniel Leonhard Purdy (Minneapolis, 2004)
Maria Costantino, Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century: from frock coats to intelligent fibres (London, 1997)
The Duke of Windsor, A Family Album (London, 1960)
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
Over the weekend my Instagram feed was graced by an image of Audrey Hepburn (Eliza Doolittle) at the Ascot Races from the 1964 classic film My Fair Lady. I was immediately struck by the photograph, not solely for its aesthetic splendor but rather by the questions it raised in my mind surrounding the relationship of high fashion to sportswear within an Edwardian equestrian microcosm. It may also have left a lasting impression as it reminded me of a black and white cocktail dress which has been lingering in my online shopping basket for a number of weeks now, but that’s beside the point. In any case, throughout this blog post I’d like to discuss the fascinating juncture of style and sport which has manifested itself throughout history at the cultural scene of the horse race.
The professionalisation of sport at the turn of the twentieth century marks an important moment when looking to understand the existence of horse racing events as platforms for fashionable display. The social and economic character of spectatorship shifted radically towards consumption and the need ‘to get people through turnstiles’. This helped foster the symbiotic relationship between the crowd and the actual sporting event of horse racing as the audience became part of a now choreographed performance of athletic spectacle. The centrality of the spectator to the races, and, further, the significance of the clothes they wore as an essential element of the sporting event is thus highlighted, as aesthetic display became inherently tied to the successful execution of the affair. Dress historian Valerie Steele explains how fashion ‘can only exist and flourish in a particular kind of dramatic setting with knowledgeable fashion performers and spectators’. A horse racing event can therefore be understood as an occasion placated upon an attendee’s dual responsibility to contribute to the overarching fashionable spectacle, and to equally function as an aesthetic viewer. The fashionable spectator was not relegated to the side-lines of the event taking place, but rather played an active role in generating the action which characterized race-day culture. The crowd, and those elusive celebrities or flamboyantly dressed individuals which composed it, were as much sights to be studied as the horses and jockeys themselves.
Consumption lies at the heart of horse-racing fashion culture in terms of both garment shopping and the subsequent reporting of the events in newspapers and magazines. From the early 1910’s the emerging allure of race-day fashions can be charted throughout print media, as the sporting occasions became voyeuristic opportunities to ogle at the extremities of ostentation. In this sense it is clear to see how horse racing fashion served as yet another social catwalk for an elite class who had disposable incomes sizable enough to afford both a race day ticket and outfit, as well as funds to spend on betting. In this way I feel that the advent of an elaborate media coverage at these events elevated their societal weight. To quote the article featured in Figure 2, ‘The apogee of fashion is reached at the spring Paris races and horse shows where the modes worn by the smart world receive their final stamp of approval’. Clearly, race-day fashions were viewed as social barometers to the current state of stylish aesthetic taste, yet, what I believe differentiates them from other forms of public display are their inherent ties to affluence. Unlike other forms of entertainment such as the theatre (which was becoming increasingly accessible to the general public at the turn of the twentieth century), horse racing retained a level of exclusivity which rendered its fashions deeply aspirational.
The rarefied environs of the Royal Enclosure at a race such as Ascot, alongside a crowd composed of well-known figures and public leaders served as a direct taste-making source for the socially aspirational. Using print media this influence was aided in its spread across previously oblivious sections of society, and thusly race-day fashions became associated with a wider public understanding of taste.
At this juncture the emerging place of sportswear within the wider ‘equestrian-wear’ culture of the Edwardian period should be addressed and noted as distinctly separate from the conversation held thus far surrounding extravagant race-day fashions. By the end of the 19th century it was becoming exceedingly evident that the traditional, ornate women’s riding attire of earlier periods was fading in popularity. To quote Power O’ Donaghue in Ladies on Horseback from 1889 – ‘A plainness (…) is to be preferred before any outward show. Ribbons, and coloured veils, and yellow gloves, and showy flowers are alike objectionable. A gaudy “get-up” is highly to be condemned, and at once stamps the wearer as a person of inferior taste. Therefore avoid it.’ The image below can be considered an exemplification of this dying style.
Therefore, by the turn of the century women’s equestrian fashion was in a state of unparalleled flux as riding sidesaddle began to fall out of favour, and the wearing of jodhpurs became acceptable for females. I would argue that this understanding of the practicalities of female equestrian-wear links directly to the conversation already held surrounding race-day fashions. As discussed in the 1923 Vogue article below, horse racing began to emerge as an increasingly feminine exploit.
Women constituted almost half of all competitive horse owners by this period, and thus squarely located the culture of the sport within an increasingly feminine sphere. In this sense I feel that both in practical and deeply artistic terms the fashions of the equestrian world during this revolutionary period offer an insightful perspective on the nuanced state of early twentieth century femininity. Whether parading in a Royal Ascot dress or donning a pair of jodhpurs in a stable yard, an exploration of equestrian fashion conventions provides a compelling platform from which to analyze a period of significant historical upheaval.
By Victoria FitzGerald
Goodrum, Alison. ‘The Style Stakes: Fashion, Sportswear and Horse Racing in Inter-war America’ Sport in History 35, no.1, (2015), pp.46-80.
Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 247-264.
** 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):
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…
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…
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…
Yesterday I visited Amy: Beyond the Stage, the Design Museum in London’s eclectic tribute to Amy Winehouse. Amy is my favourite artist of all time; she was my number one listened-to artist on Spotify last year, and He Can Only Hold Her was my most streamed song. So, as you can imagine, I had high expectations for this celebration of her life and musical career. The intimacy constructed by the exhibition between viewer and Amy’s dresses, interviews and music did not disappoint.
From the moment you descend the narrow white stairwell into the exhibition, you are immediately transported into the world that was Amy’s. Pages from her childhood notebooks are pinned to the wall as you enter the first room; her jotted poems and shopping-lists speak of the charm and wit she had as a child and flourished in her public presence in the early years of her career. In the next room, a great screen plays videos of some of her best moments on stage as you read her hand-written lyrics and pick up headsets to listen to her in interview or in the recording studio. These deeply personal moments are punctuated by mannequins wearing her playful ensembles, with pieces from noughties high-street labels like Dorothy Perkins and Karen Millen that made her both charismatic and relatable to her fans. These mannequins, while scaled to her petit frame, are almost unable to capture how her clothes worked with her: sculpting not only to her figure, but also her spirited personality. After all, she was never an artist who required costuming to forge her on-stage presence: the clothes never outshone her, but became an indelible part of her iconic appearance.
Some of the most affecting moments of the exhibition occur not in the audio experiences, but in the small labels beside each exhibit. Each one describes the item next to it, whether it be her baby-pink retro Roberts radio or a pair of Dolce & Gabbana stilettos, with a reverse-embossed lyric and love hearts in Amy’s handwriting. The detail is ghostly but touching, permeating each object with her inimitable character. Anecdotes from her stylist, Naomi Parry, are testament to the significance of fashion in Amy’s life and career. One label reads: ‘we found a style that she was really comfortable with, and it became synonymous with her. It was like her armour – she put that on and she became Amy Winehouse.’ Accordingly, the third room of the exhibition, with a tiered stage of mannequins wearing her classic rockabilly styles, literally presents us with an army of Amy’s. Small glass cases on the lowest tier contain some of her accessories, many of them thrifted in Camden market. On the wall facing these mannequins is an exploration of her emblematic beehive hairstyle, and its 1950s girl-group influences, with a poignant label quoting Amy: ‘The more insecure I feel, the bigger my beehive gets.’ What prevails here however is a joyful celebration of her style, each piece imbued with a memory from her electrifying rise to stardom.
The only thing I wished for in the exhibition was more film and photographic documentation of Amy wearing these specific pieces, seeing as so many of them were worn at significant moments in her career. Here are just three of my personal favourite outfits showcased in the exhibition, worn by Amy herself:
This red Adidas zip-up dress appears in the section of the exhibition dedicated to her first studio album, Frank (2003). Amy wore the dress at several performances to promote the release of the album. The loose-fit lycra dress is elevated from being mere sportswear with the addition of a black lace bra that peaks through the drawn zip, giving her a sultry appearance to match the jazzy R&B aura of the album. Here she is as she takes the stage at an HMV store in Birmingham, beaming to the crowd before her. With her ‘Sonic Blue’ Fender Stratocaster guitar in hand (which is also in the exhibition), the sporty dress shows Amy ready for action as her career takes off.
This black Dolce & Gabbana mini dress is seen on the stage of mannequins in the exhibition’s room dedicated to her style, and was worn in possibly my favourite Amy moment. Amy donned the dress in 2008 as she was awarded ‘Record of the Year’ for the track Rehab, from her second studio album Back to Black (2006). The camera pans to Amy as Tony Bennett reads out her name as winner, and at first she seems oblivious to the announcement. Realisation suddenly dawns on her and she gazes up to the screen in disbelief, members of her band rushing to her side to celebrate their win. They embrace her in a group-hug so that all we can see of her is the flowers pinned into the back of her beehive. As she musters an unexpected acceptance speech, she proudly declares: ‘This is for London, ‘cause Camden town ain’t burning down!’
To the far-right of the stage, a few mannequins down from the Grammy dress, is an assemblage of some of the pieces created in a co-designed collection between Amy and Fred Perry. She regularly wore Fred Perry clothing off-stage, a brand which has proclaimed itself as ‘a badge of honour for just about every music-led subculture from ska to hip hop’, and also emerged as a staple in British streetwear in the 1950s. The collaboration was thus a perfect homage to Amy’s style: merging her rockabilly influences with her unrelenting dedication and love for London. While the ensemble shown here is not a direct match of the skirt and polo-shirt outfit in the exhibition, I think the elation Amy found in her style is captured perfectly in this instance. Her iconic silhouette – her waist cinched in with a characteristically large belt and her towering beehive – draws attention to her face as she laughs during the shoot.
For me, the most poignant moment of Amy: Beyond the Stage occurs at the very end of the exhibition. In a small curtained-off room, a performance of Amy singing Tears Dry on Their Own is projected onto a translucent screen as the music floods the compact space. The projection is like a painting in motion, its brightly coloured brushstrokes capturing Amy for a fleeting moment before they dissolve and reconfigure elsewhere on the screen. As the music fades, the projected curtains close on the screen, marking the end of the exhibition with a moving silence. Despite the absence of Amy Winehouse today, what is left is the feeling that the legacy of her music and her dynamic character will endure long into the future.
Here is a link to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity established in Amy’s memory ‘to inspire children and young people to build their self-esteem and resilience, so they can flourish’: https://amywinehousefoundation.org
Truthfully, I’m rarely one for New Year’s resolutions and if I ever do commit to making a change, it’ll just so happen to be something which I’m already willing to reduce or eradicate in its entirety. This year, however, I’ve decided to truly revamp my attitude – and wardrobe! – by committing to only buying second-hand clothes.
For the last few years, I have made a concerted effort to buy a maximum of three garments which could be categorised under the term ‘fast-fashion’ a year and thus the goal seems attainable; however, this would invariably creep up to five or so items having fallen for the countless marketing ploys à la Black Friday and during other heavily advertised sale periods.
During the first few months of our MA, we have studied how people are drawn to buying clothes, often not out of necessity, but rather due to numerous social factors. Individuals, quite willingly, can be seduced through the socially acceptable (and usually passive act) of following a trend and statements such as ‘because they’re in fashion’ may be offered as a legitimate explanation for adopting any one of more items of clothing. Indeed, the wearer themselves might not even claim to know why they are wearing any one garment beyond this very reason. Such attitudes can create a unique position whereby those who subscribe to blindly following trends also police others to see who is adhering to any specific trend, passing judgement based on what they see. Furthermore, it is largely accepted that clothing forms a large part of the first impression we make on others; indeed, as a cohort, we each expressed the heightened considerations regarding our outfits and additional pressure placed for the first day of our MA, offering as it did for the majority, the first time meeting one another in person.
Such considerations in fashion – at least for me – evoke the much-quoted and adored cerulean blue scene in TheDevil Wears Prada where Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) quite literally gives Andrea (Andy) Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway) a dressing down after she shows her contempt for the fashion world, claiming to be ‘exempt’ from fashion (fig. 2). Priestly’s speech serves to suggest that Andy’s choice of jumper is the prime example of a trend being spotted at fashion shows and then trickling down to high-street retailers. In other words, people are unable to be removed from fashion and thus (sub)consciously make specific choices and associative statements with what they choose to wear. As philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky writes: ‘With fashion, human beings begin observing each other endlessly, appreciating each other’s looks, evaluating nuances of cut, colour, and pattern in dress.’ Moreover, it is this constant observation that has become all the more heightened through social media, and this is especially true of platforms that focus on the dissemination of images.
Indeed, my resolution to buy ‘nothing new’ relates to this constant observation, and perhaps unsurprisingly as a student of History of Dress, my desire to stand out and communicate specific messages in what I wear. Therefore, for me, buying vintage and second-hand is about making considered purchases, often over a period of a few months or even a year. It presents a new opportunity to literally trawl through vintage shops in the hopes of finding something incredible with expectations that may crumble upon seeing the fifth moth-ridden jumper in a row but can instantly be restored as soon as I’ve spotted the perfect jacket (fig.3 aka the dream jacket). Buying second-hand and vintage can certainly be a frustrating process, too, such as when an item you’ve been eyeing up is no longer available; or, the gut-wrenching moment when someone outbids you on an eBay listing in that *last* second, coupled with the misplaced confidence in thinking you were the only one who was going to bid on the item.
Moreover, where possible, I love reaching out to the buyer to see if they can offer any anecdotal information surrounding the garment to construct a complete mental image and history, ‘revealing the wearer’s identity, character or physiognomy,’ as analysed by Kitty Hauser. Without a doubt, one of my favourite vintage purchases included a beautiful hand-written note from its previous owner which outlined how treasured it had been, but also how it ‘will have another chapter in its fashion life’ which I think perfectly sums up the special feeling one might have when buying something second-hand.
Recently, I’ve found that compliments relating to clothes between friends and strangers alike are more increasingly being met with the following explanations: ‘It’s vintage’; ‘I’ve had it for [insert length of time]’; and, ‘I got it from a charity shop for a fiver’. Each of these explanations suggests a new way of justifying past and present purchases as individuals are becoming abundantly aware of the environmental implications of their purchases and want to alleviate guilt or the notion of being ‘part of the problem’. However, it also creates an issue that goes against the very origins of the second-hand clothes market, dating back to the 1700s, which was set up to help people purchase clothes at more affordable prices, something that Barbra Streisand’s Second Hand Rose notes as rendering it less desirable, an attitude which has greatly changed in recent years (fig. 4). Today’s appetite for vintage pieces can see prices skyrocket as specific eras and garments are (re)interpreted as trendy, once again creating the issue of affordability which has long defined – and plagued – the fashion industry.
THE NEED TO ACT
Recent conferences such as COP26 have put pressure on the need to truly change our consumer habits, particularly as statistics show that the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gases a year as the entire economies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. This was reported in a recent McKinsey and Co report which found that the fashion industry alone had emitted a mind-blowing 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018.
Moreover, people in the United Kingdom buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. In sum, the amount of clothes that many people in the UK own is nothing near a ‘normal’ amount as fewer people buy to last, the expectation that an item of clothing’s lifespan is limited to a mere few months, or a singular outing is a bleak state of affairs indeed. This is partly driven by the fact that 69% of new clothes are produced from synthetic fibres and plastics, set to reach an alarming 75% by 2030.
The statistics are alarming, and our desire to consume fashion leads to some of the worst working conditions, only exacerbated by fast-fashion retailers such as Pretty Little Thing introducing a mind-blowing 100% offduring last year’s Black Friday in a bid to get rid of excess stock and drum up publicity and excitement with its consumers (fig. 5).
In order to help track the individual impact of reducing our clothes consumption, initiatives such as the Count Us In ‘Wear Clothes to Last’ pledge work to calculate the estimated reduction in an individual’s carbon pollution throughout the year. At the time of writing, 1,709 people have signed the pledge.
Let us now turn our attention now to some of the solutions which have helped reduce my desire to buy new clothes.
HOW TO RESIST THE TEMPTATION
Unfollow brands and individuals who promote a fast-fashion lifestyle, especially if they are being sponsored by fast-fashion conglomerates to do so.
Tailor your cookies or use ad-blockers to help reduce the number of pop-up adverts you receive.
Unsubscribe from unnecessary marketing emails from fast-fashion brands
Actively search for sustainable alternatives.
HOW TO SHOP
Buy to last (and take care of your clothes!)
Donate/repurpose/sell unwanted clothes
Second hand, both online and in person
Vintage Shops and kilo Sales (details often found on Facebook)
Local Charity Shops
eBay; Etsy; Depop (@5thSeasonVintage is a personal favourite)
Vestiaire Collective; HEWI – premium brands
By making my pledge public, I am hoping to be held accountable by friends and family for any purchases I make throughout the year.
By Georgina Johnston-Watt
Hauser, Kitty, 2005, ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin,’ in Christopher Breward and Caroline Evans, eds., Fashion and Modernity, pp. 153-170
Lipovetsky, Gilles, 1994, ‘The Enchantment of Appearances,’ in The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy pp. 18-54