Showing posts with label womenswear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label womenswear. Show all posts

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Vintage Post

   Today, I'd like to ruminate on "vintage." Currently recognised as a market unto itself, it not only encapsulates clothes, furniture and underthings, but wildly ranges in price, from the cheap yet aesthetic baubles one can dig up at flea markets to the priciest of overly pricey rarities hung on the wall of a "high-end" trove in West London, which is all the more ironic when the best top-range pieces can be found in less saturated or more interesting areas like York, Peterborough or California. You know, the places where the actual makers of taste went to retire and die, leaving their belongings to either be passed down to their scions or absorbed into the dust inhalation-hazard zone that is the thrifting system. The truly fiendish and ingenious, meanwhile, put them up for auction, allowing stories of bitter bidding rivalries with the likes of Hamish Bowles to circulate across the interweb for amusement's posterity

   From the tone of that introduction, I hope you're not expecting me to be kind, dear Paraders

   Originally, this post would have followed its predecessors with recommendations to source nice threads, but other sites are more than capable of providing such information, and I suffer from thrift envy of the Americans, which encourages me to withhold my databank until I'm competing on more level ground. So, what with the slant Mode Parade has towards classicism, old films and the odd Fabulous Dead Designer, I felt that I should write a few words on the use of old things and classic inspiration in the present world. For I have seen many examples of it in the flesh, as well as on the world wide spiderweb, and it is my considered opinion that a great many people, as the kids say, suck at it


What of approximations of old styles? The fellow on the left pays homage to the Palm Beach holidaymaker/Go-to-Hell aesthetics once practiced by the likes of W Clifford Klenk, but the necessary colour sense, nonchalance, details and good cut quite obviously elude this evolutionary successor. On the other hand, he may know his way around a good cocktail

His shirt is vintage. As is his toilet paper

   The problem I see is a twofold one. There is an awful and comprehensive amount of total rubbish on sale in most second hand spaces. This is not an idle whine; on the two occasions that I tried vintage shopping in Camden, I wasted an hour touching more polyester than I have ever before done in my life. The second issue is pretty obvious - good taste is very much in its dearth throes and the only thing that separates most latter day, would-be Easter Paraders from the Jersey Shore guidos is that the former actually Mean It

   But then, this is being written by a man who describes himself to other humans as "a museum piece" and hasn't updated his mobile phone in four years

   Despite some previous and scattered thoughts on the topic, I am not disdaining the folks who, as far as I know, indulge in full period dress as a pastime, such as the attendees of the Jazz Age Dance Parties in New York or whichever appealingly decadent and fetishistic shindig the iDandy Andrea Sperelli is attending every other evening (his Marc Guyot-esque regular wardrobe is still fairly contemporary in its way, thanks to good fit). I'm just disdaining everyone else who's at it

Why go to the effort of a cohesive outfit when one can seek refuge in excuses like "Having fun" and "Retro humour"?
Thank you, Sparked. I was trying to keep a spit-free desk
   Gathering my thoughts on this became a chore; consequently, it's no wonder that the prelude to this post was published months ago. But then I was interviewed by a student from the London College of Fashion for an exhibition last month, and suddenly, my vitriol had a release. Naturally, little of that survived the  recipient's subsequent horrified editing, but that's why I hung onto the original

   We began with the obvious:
Why do you wear vintage?
BON: Primarily, for reasons of aesthetic tastes, quality and, if I’m lucky, rarity – a way of “waking the dead,” I suppose. Where a great many people take refuge in a specious sort of nostalgia, a rejection of the era they live in and/or simply want to be different (to varying degrees of success), I try utilising older stuff to supplement what I think are the best looks I can devise. I like the notion of re-incorporating past styles in order to refresh and juxtapose them with the times we live in, rather than simply donning a pastiche to signpost my “wicked free-thinking” and “seditious" ways; some of my favourite pieces are cut subtly enough to hint at the era they’re from, such as my father’s old suits, rather than advertise it
   Why didn't I tell the truth - that there was a burning envy that stirred within me when I started seeing photographs of Peter Wyngarde in his nut-hugging suits during the Jason King days? That I merely wished to take things back to the days when one could dress like a devout homosexual (or appear to be dressed by one) and still get women?

Wyngarde and his bulge accept the Male Personality of the Year Award from 1969's winner Barry Gibb, London, 15th August 1970
   Like two people hitting their teeth together during a premature bout of kissing, we then segued awkwardly into the philosophical:
What does vintage mean to you?
BON: A catchy label that goes better with alcohol and fragrances. But then, “antique clothing” has more of a fusty and inelegant flavour to it, so I can’t win
When did you first start wearing vintage?
BON: I’ve been wearing various pieces that were my dad’s since I was a teenager, but as I don’t consider post-1990 clothing to be vintage, I’d say since my early 20s
What piece means the most to you?
BON: The stuff that is genuinely irreplaceable, naturally. In this case, my Tommy Nutter leather duster, along with my Deborah & Clare shirts and Mr. Fish kippers from the 1960s-‘70s
We continued with the prosaic:
How far does vintage style extend into your daily life?
BON: A lot of my stuff is old, it’s true, and consequently, there will be at least one outfit component that’s lasted a while, usually before my birth. On a daily basis, I actually tend towards more modern clean-cut looks and tend to save my Peacock-era and old school politician references for my off-duty mode
And finally, we concluded with the depressing:

What is your perspective on the London vintage scene?
BON: Frankly, most of the good stuff, especially where men are concerned, is either online, in another town or in America. And, of course, prices are another issue; the confluence of all these factors does little to recommend London as a hunting ground. Moreover, interest seems concentrated on the first four or so decades of the 20th century, which weren't the most interesting for young people who actually lived through them anyway, and the scene, which I’ve always found fun in places, but narrow in others, tends to present as a costume-fest. There’s too much calculation, not enough spontaneity and I sometimes detect a clique-like mentality of broad, cheap shots being taken at different dressers. On the other hand, a number of the ladies look very good

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Notes on The Second Modecast

   Discussions of dandyism, dilettantism, drinks and death were just some of the features of last Sunday's Modecast as Danielle of Final Fashion and I dived once more into the digital dead pool:

Watch live streaming video from modecast at

   Here be cliff notes:

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Vintage Prelude (Fashion for Women)

   I am in the midst of slapping together my general thoughts on the state of the vintage clothing, as seen through the eyes of an overdressed, bi-cultural West African in late 2011 London; as such, the article is guaranteed to be impractical to all that are interested in quality guides, reputable dealers and low grade polyester

   Fortunately for everyone else, there are enterprises such as Devoted 2 Vintage that care for the practical side of informed decisions. As such, when I received an e-mail this morning offering '5 Tips to Identify Real Vintage,' I saw no reason not to disseminate it in the column. It concerns women's vintage entirely, which is perfect for my purposes - my eventual article will have a decidedly XY slant:

5 Top Tips to Identifying Vintage Clothing

Have you ever bought a "vintage" dress or shirt only to find out later that it is actually a modern reproduction? Well you are not alone, we see modern clothing everywhere you go purporting  to be vintage either because the seller doesn't have the experience or are simply trying to cash.
We would like to share some of our experience with 5 Top Tips to help you avoid making this mistake and maybe find that hidden vintage gem. There are always exceptions but by following these simple checks you should be able to avoid many mistakes.

Indicator 1 - Look at the Zip! 
 Does the dress have a metal or vinyl zip? Vinyl zips were not widely used on dresses until mid-late 1960's so the presence of a metal zip could indicate a pre-1970's dress. The location of the zip is also a key indicator. Also the location of the zip is important. Up to the 1950s the zips were often placed at the side of the dress, moving to the back during the 1950s and 1960s.

Indicator 2 - Look at the labels.  
There are three types of labels to look for; the makers label, the size label and care label. There is an excellent vintage label resource on the Vintage Fashion Guild web page were you can look up most important vintage labels. If you can't find your label here look at the other labels. Before the 1960's the size labels typically indicated the hip size in inches, after this sizes such as 12, 14 etc. were more commonly used. These standard sizes have change over the years so a 14 in the 1960s is equivalent to a 1970's size 12 and modern size 10 so check the bust measurement. Care labels are also a good indicator; they were only introduced in the mid 1960's and only became widely used in the 1970s. The Pure New Wool symbol was only introduced in the 1970s. The absence of any labels would normally indicate that the dress was home made and very common before the 1970's

Indicator 3 - Look at the Garment Construction.  
Vintage dresses are more likely to be hand made with details like hook and eye fasteners and poppers to secure the garments. Also, internal bra straps were common in the 1950s. Underskirts were common in the 1950's; look for net and muslin underskirts, often with metal hoops sewn in the hem to give the skirts more volume.

Indicator 4 - Feel The fabric.  
This is a skill that will be developed by handing vintage clothes. Modern mass produced fabrics are rarely the same quality as vintage fabrics. So it is worth spending time in a reputable vintage shop feeling the fabrics, when you then compare this with a modern dress the differences are apparent. The type of fabric used is also a good way of dating dresses. Rayon and taffeta were widely used in the 1950's and in the 1960's polyester; nylon and Crimpolene were commonly used. Lycra was only introduced in the 1980's.

Indicator 5 - Look at the Style of the Dress.  
This alone is not an accurate indicator because there are many vintage styles have been reproduced over the years. The 1940's shoulder pads were widely used but were also popular in the 1980's. The two most popular styles in the 1950's were the shirtwaist dress, with buttons to the front, a nipped in waist and full pleated skirt and the wiggle dress with lovely fitted hourglass shape. The 1960's saw the introduction of the classic mini skirt and simple shift dress. The maxi dress became more popular in the late 1960's and into the 1970's. The more flamboyant 1970s demanded more fitted styles with plunging necklines and angel sleeves.

Using all these key indicators should lead you through the minefield of buying vintage and help to prevent you from making mistakes. As your collection grows so will your experience and confidence but as long as you buy items that you love then even the mistakes don't matter too much.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Trigère’s Grace

 Via Vegas Laveau Vintage on Flickr
''Fashion is what people tell you to wear. Style is what comes from your own inner thing.''
  Thus spake Pauline Trigère (1908 - 2002), grande dame de la mode:

   Possessor of intrinsic fashion talent:

   And bouillabaisse connoisseur cum stove saleswoman:

(Of note for the the first video: Ms. Trigère was also known for having said, “When you’re feeling blue, wear red”)

   Of course, her meteoric rise from French birth to American success began with all the right ingredients: progeny of a tailor and a seamstress, a close escape from the Nazi regime (continued survival is the best sort of insurance for future success, I feel) thanks to her husband that she described with signature brevity (“Hitler — need I say more?”), leading to her New York incarnation as divorced single mother turned arbiter of feminine glamour. Also of note; she was, in 1961, first of the famous designers to utilise an African-American model to walk for her and also had a proclivity to take to the runway and discuss each of her designs as it was sent down. Rare is the catwalk that actually finds a micro-managing aesthete delivering real-time analyses. Perhaps such a technique could be employed to liven up Bloomberg

The preceding from Trigère's Autumn/Winter 1972 presentation, via WWD

Trigère's thrice deployed rhinestone bra, as first introduced in 1967

   Semi-regular readers may be aware that I've a fondness for the outspoken. And it's satiating to know that if there's one thing Pauline Trigère was not fond of, it was being reserved. Here are some highlights from the obituary:
On occasion a prima donna, a description she never challenged (she once told an assistant ''There is room for only one prima donna around here, and that's me''), she was often impatient. But her displays of temper were brief. She admitted that she was outspoken to a fault, but seemed to revel in that image. A woman meeting her at a social event once gushed, ''Oh, Miss Trigère, I have a dress of yours that I've worn for 25 years.'' The designer fixed her with an icy glance and said, ''Just what am I to do with that piece of information?''
Once, when she was approached by two retailers while dining in a restaurant after one of her shows, she asked them, ''Did you come to copy or to buy?''
   Of course, when one is an innovator (she lays claim to introducing the jumpsuit to the wardrobes of many a woman), I suppose that there is a degree of latitude with which to be offhand, forceful and yet measured with it. Take Trigère's personal mode. Its basal approach was rooted in professional, expensive-looking dresses and suits, whose severity or simplicity could be offset or upended by a forceful colour choice or a print shirt; habitually, she accessorised carefully and tastefully with jewellery, adding the intelligent touch of signature eyeframes. For the big finish, she utilised a factor that only a handful possess anyway: great poise

   I am no costume historian, but even I find much to appreciate about her work. Collectors from the four billion corners of the internet rhapsodise about her garments and the applications of her taste, and it must be said that the archive photography bears that out. Of particular interest is the lineage of tailoring that remained discernible in the pleats, drape and forms of her creations, bearing out her long-nurtured passion and her training:

   For all the success that Trigère's product enjoyed, I actually think it for the best if the house never revives. Some things need to be unearthed and admired for how intrinsically driven they were by a singular personality, particular one such as Pauline's, with her fondness for elegance, yoga and turtles - the sort of idiosyncrasies that make legends out of fashionable people. Besides, as one who got to do it her way for so long, I would hazard that where the clothes bearing her name are concerned, as it was in the beginning, it should always remain Pauline's path to tread

Friday, 22 July 2011

Psych Couture Deux

Nigel Waymouth, a leader of fashion, poses in front of his infamous shop   

   Granny Takes a Trip, founded by Nigel Waymouth, Sheila Cohen and John Pearse, remains one of the most indelibly memorable of the boutique clothing operations that characterised the mod and psychedelic eras, hewing more to the latter aesthetic, as if one cannot tell by its naughty name 

   The link above directs to The Look's more involving article on this trailblazing concern and its myriad shopfronts. The video is an excerpt from the BBC's excellent 2008 documentary series on this country's protean 20th- 21st century fashions, British Style Genius:

   The ever so taciturn Mr. John Pearse (not to be confused with the late folk guitarist), who trained at Hawes & Curtis when it was still a bastion of impeccable quality, still operates today in Soho's Meard Street, roughly opposite the former home of deceased (and occasionally diseased) London-based sybarite Sebastian Horsley, one of his numerous clients. In addition to conservative-but-clever outfitting, his past is oft evoked in the bright suiting, print-or-patchwork shirting and the odd hand-painted kipper tie in raw silk, whilst even his most sober stuff bears a characteristically colourful melton underneath the coat collar. GQ US's Style Guy, Glenn O'Brien, is just one of his faithful patrons

Glenn O'Brien sports his John Pearse blackwatch tartan raincoat over an old Anderson & Sheppard suit, a Charvet shirt and a Dries Van Noten necktie

Vintage Granny, via Child of the Moon 

John Pearse bespoke tapestry jacket inspired by a William Morris print ordered from Granny Takes a Trip and worn by Ossie Clark. Orange cashmere bespoke peacoat tailored by Richard Anderson. All via James Sherwood

Monday, 16 May 2011


Outside of perusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn-related articles, Liz Armstrong's article on nude bodysuits, fresh from Jane Pratt's new concern, xoJane, is the most diverting thing I've read all day. If she can do it, then maybe all of you Paraders can, too

I wonder if they come in medium brown

Friday, 29 April 2011

Sarah and Catherine

   My celebrations for today's Royal Wedding, which was indeed less moving though more stirring than I expected, were mostly horizontal. This is a common occurrence when one lives rather close to a 24-hour convenience shop, I candidly admit


   Having spent the past month fielding a number of personal questions regarding the most famous nuptials on the planet since, I don't know, Michael and Lisa Marie (though I regretfully think William and Kate will not be making high comedy out of a Nightline appearance any time soon), I was prepared to affect a vaster-than-usual emotional distance from the spectacle, pomp and grandeur - diminished since 1981's Big Day, naturellement - but seeing Sarah Burton's virtuosity at play on the former Catherine Middleton's body (oooh, matron!) has fired up the prolix machine that is Mode Parade just to say, "Damn good job, woman." Between this prestigious commission and her appointment as creative director of Alexander McQueen last year after its namesake founder's unfortunate existence failure, her position in couture history may now be ironclad

Burton is pictured on the left, via Creative Minds

   Firstly, the dress is of a fittingly demure characteristic; the better to complement the decorum of the occasion and how very pretty the new Duchess of Cambridge is. Secondly, despite the archaic medieval aesthetic it seems to identify with, it is gratifyingly stylish in an intelligent way: aware, rather than subsumed by, tradition yet open. I remember when Jigsaw tended towards "cool," so it is difficult to watch a former employee circling the public eye whilst dressed as a woman ten years older with a penchant for purchases from the clothes shops of Tunbridge Wells. Thirdly, it is a balancing act, like all clever dressing is; the plunging 'V' juxtaposed to the elegant sweep of the train and the graceful embroidery on top of the pellucid lace says "I'm a blushing bride on the happiest day of my life, but this might be easier to remove than you might think, dear husband"

   Naturally, the collaboration does not end here; those of us who have already started pondering if Burton might become the Mainbocher to Kate's Royal Wife forebear, Mrs. Simpson, will be mustering additional words for the second and also rather tasteful dress the Duchess adorned for the rest of the festivities. William does indeed work fast:

Fuzzy dice for newly minted brides?

   "Damn good job" to both women, indeed. If editors, trend watchers and the middle classes the world over are very lucky, this could be the start of a beautiful something

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Hello, Toto

   I recently became intrigued by the one-time model/actress/socialite Catherina "Toto" Koopman, whilst perusing a biography of the industrious newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook. This was a woman who was a visible biracial beauty in a time where it was decidedly not fashionable to be so; moreover, this elegant half-Dutch, half-Chinese luminary led quite the intriguing life, from her upbringing in Java to her education in Holland and England; from her work for Chanel to her poise and poses in photography shoots by Edward J. Steichen and Hoyningen Huene 

   More interestingly, she was involved with both Lord Beaverbrook in 1933 or '34 and later, his son, Max Aitken, from 1935 to 1939. Lord Beaverbrook was incensed and troubled by Max's involvement - apparently due to sexual jealousy and distaste at the idea of a Javanese daughter-in-law - to the point that he gave them sums of money and a flat in Portland Square off Oxford Street to remain unmarried, whilst perennially desiring to break them up. She was also pursued by Viscount Castlerosse, incensing his wife to the point of threatening to have Koopman named in their long-mooted divorce case

   Matters become more interesting and opaque still regarding her wartime activities. Koopman is thought to have performed as a go-between for British intelligence in Italy, until she was double-crossed, compromised and interred at Ravensbrück concentration camp for two years, during which time she performed heroically, whether by trying to save those marked for death or smuggling food to her maltreated fellow inmates. Even after such a harrowing time, she continued enriching those around her by running the Hanover Gallery with her lover and fellow war heroine, Erica Brausen. Amongst the careers they guided was that of one Francis Bacon

   Not entirely lost to history, Koopman is recognised as one of the early lights of the modelling world, as well as an arbiter and a saver of lives, with an enviable fortitude to handle anything that was thrown at her. We should all have girlfriends this tough

It really was another world. One dressed not to please men but to astound other women

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Richard Lester - Boutique London


   Recently, I had the pleasure of finally reading this well researched tome and would recommend it to all Paraders with an ounce of interest in the period and the book's unique yet obvious premise of grounding the 1960s and '70s clothing experience where it truly took flight - in its shops

  Without scans, it's difficult to review this meaningfully - hence the quoted copy below - but it is a very worthy compendium of photographs and Malcolm English artwork that is only intermittently available from other immediate sources (like something called "The interweb," apparently) and, without directly stating it, places much of the emphasis on the now undervalued concept of shopkeepers designing their own desirable products; to do this in a time when practically anything was permissible, desirable and born from one of the boldest cultural intersections in living memory would always ensure these luminaries' places in stylish and entrepreneurial history

   For the record, my favourite portraits naturally feature, or relate to, Hung on You's Michael Rainey and Christopher Gibbs, The Beatles' Apple Boutique, Michael Fish, Blades of Savile Row and Tommy Nutter, as well as the beauties that modelled for BIBA and Annacat. I'll be forever glad, also, that there was ample room for Vivienne Westwood and the late Malcolm McLaren's concern, Sex 

   It is affordable, unfussy to the point of sparseness in its writing and is fundamentally a well presented snapshot of a diversely presentable time. More helpfully, it compiles all the names of all those faces that made this scene one that hasn't lost its large footing in the cultural consciousness into one neatly packaged book. Groovy, Lester
To any style conscious Londoner in the sixties just two places mattered: the King's Road and Carnaby Street. By the end of the decade the whole world came to see and be seen, to take part in the theatre that played out of the new boutiques and onto the street. From the sleek modernist tailoring of 'Top Gear' and 'His Clothes' to the nostalgic dressing up box style of the World's End boutiques, at the heart of it all were the young designers whose conviction to make and sell clothes on their own terms generated an explosion of talent which lasted and evolved over twenty years, leaving an indelible mark in fashion history. 'Boutique London' follows the journey of the first risk-takers like Mary Quant and John Stephen, to the celebrity salons of Ossie Clark, 'Mr Fish' and 'Granny Takes a Trip', stopping along the way to include the weird and the wonderful, the glamorous and the bizarre. With in-depth profiles of over thirty retailers and lavish illustrations, the clothes, interiors and characters of 'Boutique London' are as diverse as they are colourful, vividly bringing to life a vanished London, which changed the way we shop forever.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


   Here is where I've been spending some of my online time of late:
  • The Cutting Class. Having come across this via Twitter this week, I've had an edifying time reading its breakdowns of garment patterns and fabric usages in runway collections; a stimulating form of dissection, to be certain. Intelligently and confidently written, it may become a reference when I begin moonlighting as a dressmaker under a particularly flamboyant sobriquet one day (my heart is currently set on "Lazlo T. Funkenschmeiter," by the way)
  • In light of the imminent Royal Wedding, I have been perusing the details of its predecessors at Vintage Connection, purely out of interest in the passing of fashions and aureate displays of affection and happiness like the real gold charms that filled the cake at the Queen Mother's nuptials
  • Daniel Copley, writer and cynic, is one of the few I follow on Twitter. Recently, he has decided to consider online dating. Since I feel he is sure to follow through on it, it may be worth keeping an eye on his blog over the ensuing months. It could possibly turn out to be Humiliation Theatre
  • The Big Bark Blog. Because my friend Sasha's burgeoning film reviews column saves me quite the chunks of change that would otherwise be spent sitting in a darkened theatre myself. I'm duty-bound to divulge, however, that I often skip her writing to stare longingly at her Sophia Loren wallpaper instead
  • Slashdot. Sample headline: "Meth Dealer Faces Loss of His Comic Book Collection"; how much more entertaining can "news for nerds" get?
  • Gregory Parkinson. Because he creates vivaciously refreshing womenswear, all filled with psychedelia, drape and a certain sense of hippyish abandon. And because his nephew suggested it

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


   Also fabulous, dead and born on this day (68 years ago, to be precise) was Raymond 'Ossie' Clark, a King of the Swingers and of the King's Road in the 1960s and 1970s. And whilst he was off swinging every which way he could, he also took time to clothe the beau monde and become one of the Great Remembered of the late 20th century

   Reputedly able to cut a perfectly fitting dress for a woman by running his hands over her body, Clark was charismatic, multitalented and driven, although like a number of creators in this life, his talent did not come without its drawbacks

   One of them even evolved out of his desire for self-betterment: in a Larkin-like twist, the stimulants given to him by his mother when he needed the presence of mind for early commutes to design school eventually lead to his drug habit

   Naturally, Clark's work for the retail operation Quorum and Ossie Clark for  Radley - the house that purchased Quorum, bailing it out as it did so - has been venerated by nostalgists, collectors, editors, stylists and students. With the highly enticing printwork and intelligently devised textiles by his then-wife, Celia Birtwell, and his nous for cutting, patterns and design, melded with a taste for chiffon, gauze, moss crepe fabric and snakeskin, it couldn't help but be loveable

   Patrons included Twiggy, Ali MacGraw, Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Taylor, Sharon Tate, Liza Minnelli and Marianne Faithful. The Beatles were also recipients of his imagination, and he launched a menswear line in 1968. Mick Jagger, legendary for his parading and preening, also became a client

   Idle talk has it that Clark did more than a little parading of his own with David Hockney, whom he had known since college. It is certainly accepted that Hockney's 1970 portrait of his hardcore bisexual friend and Birtwell, 'Mr and Mrs Clark with Percy,' is one of Britain's most visited artworks

   Following a career and personal decline, a tentative renaissance ended with Clark's 57 stab wounds and a broken skull from a teracotta pot in his Holland Park flat; the fatality was carried out by his drugged out former lover, Diego Cogolato, who received a manslaughter conviction and six years' incarceration

   Fashion designer André Courrèges may have bemoaned that as a result of Clark's popularity, “Haute couture is as good as dead. The streets of Paris are beginning to look like Portobello Road,” but few designers of that time could turn their moment into nearly a decade of pure form and remain memorable and referenced for further decades to come

   Some still struggle with it today

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Talent Embargo

For I saw this and had high hopes

   Over the weekend, I attended the presentation of a number of indigenous fashion lines as a guest of my cousin, a dressmaker and cutter of no small aptitude herself. Constantly in thrall to my own cultivated cynicism, I nevertheless recognised it as an opportunity to potentially overturn The Dearth that characterises the stylistic modes here. For you see, there is usually more than one way around the pernicious effects of limited resources – I find a large helping of imagination in a vigorous threesome with refinement and wit often carries the day

   I’d certainly venture that selecting the relatively lengthy poolside at an ostensibly five star hotel next to a more appealing beach and serving questionable sparkling alcohol and something I believe to be called “Vitamilk” was some wag’s idea of a gag. The mode parade for the evening consisted of collections from Ghanaian – and the odd passing Nigerian – designers looking to balance the worlds of Necessity and Interest – which is to say, the worlds of Commerce and Craft, which would account for the spectacle of garment-based identity crises I saw. Now, Ghana is mostly a conservative society but when its sons and daughters approach “Baller” status, aesthetic modesty and restraint don’t enter into the uninhibited dive into profligacy that follows. They like it bold, flamboyant and often as tacky as possible, like citizens of most other countries with higher social positions and gatherings that they don’t truly know how to appear for. The difference is that there is a filter missing here that prevents questionable ensembles from appearing as the only option (then again, an import copy of Vogue costs the equivalent of almost £20)

   This attention to decorum applies to organisational structures, for whilst we arrived over an hour late, expecting to miss the speeches and emerge straight into the catwalk, we discovered that there was still another 20 minutes of oratory to be seated for. Also unanticipated was the revelation that the sashaying we were about to witness came with auctioneering as the designers sought different ways to raise their orders (the "Chinese - or was it Indian? - Auction" we later witnessed, which was predicated on the bidders paying the difference between their bid and that of the previous bidder, only sprang to life when the MC raised the bid to a more favourable level, leaving him holding the purse strings for 77 cedis (around $60) in the process)

   There’s always an alarm bell that rings when one attends an invite-only event in Ghana that is non-payable and yet asks for money anyway – there is always a tendency to presume that everyone, no matter what function they are serving in their invited capacity, is Rich. And in a culture that encourages the hire of dancers who expect guests to pay them on the spot, such is anathema to good will, which does help to explain why High Society here is partially founded on peacocking, inverse snobbery and bitchiness

   Even the young fellows proffering distinct shirts, redolent as they were of the long cut, Mandarin collared confections of prime Pierre Cardin, responded to my innocent inquiries about their range, pricing and collection with requests for my phone number – “I’d really feel more comfortable if I had [it]” – and my measurements. The pricing and detailing certainly proved to me that I was on firmer ground with the likes of W.W. Chan and Turnbull & Asser

   Meanwhile, it seemed the intent was that the event be timestretched for as long as possible. Whilst the organisers may have been in thrall to the hotel to add publicity, this was still a mistake, for they were to show enough collections to fill around 3 hours at the least, interspersed with auctions and without recourse to respite. I’ve never been a captive audience member when I can help it, so suffice to say, I left once I’d seen enough. Even so, my critical eye had much to take in

   I don’t demand craft on the level of a Saint Laurent or a Mainbocher or a Watanabe but I’d be curious as to how many women desire to be draped in long, bright yellow gowns with a transparent ribbon panel across the thighs and ornamental bobbles that resemble the haute couture fantasies of a Cantonments prostitute (“ashawo”) with a curious fetish for 1970s British lampshades, nor overly long dresses that sweep the ground with the efficiency of a cleaning unit, the grace of an exuberant shaggy dog moving on its joints and the freedom to hit any and all snags between leaving the bedroom and descending the stairs. Similarly, what male tailoring was displayed delighted in unorthodox cuts but lacked a true intuition in the patterns to create pieces that complemented even the mostly athletic models parading them, whilst continuing to perpetuate the grotesque myth that high shirt collars are flattering to the physiques of African men – our “length cliché” does not at all apply to our necks

   Speaking of which, the choice of models ran the gamut from acceptable to bizarre. Whilst some wholeheartedly captured the android/gynoid inflections intrinsic to this line of work, others interpreted swaggering as shambling and I may never be able to scrub the image of the girl who was half gazelle, half freeloading, bellicose alcoholic from my memories. I remain uncertain as to whether the 5'5" male model was involved to fulfill a proportional representation of some sort, but clothing him in double pleated trousers was perhaps the least of his ensemble's inadequacies. Also to their detriment was the coordination that required one model to wait in full view of the audience for up to 30 seconds at one end of the pool for the other to complete a single walk before taking their turn

   I thought that the magazine sold at the show, “In-Thing Maglogue,” was more valuable than the event itself, primarily because appealing designs could be sought in it, provided I scrutinised closely enough. Priestar Creations, for one, has a certain potential. Nevertheless, this assessment became all the more galling once I’d acquainted myself with various Nigerian labels in 20 minutes of Google searching

   At least I knew where the exits were


   Viewing Mark Levin's peppy HBO docufilm, Schmatta: From Rags to Riches to Rags, last night, I saw the Made in America garment trade fall from 95% mainland production in 1965 to 5% in 2009 in an hour and 12 minutes. For many involved through this decades-long history of the New York Garment District, their reversal of fortunes may have seemed a mere eyeblink to them, also

   In between garrulous soundbites from former sportswear emperor and reformed quasi-dictatorial hothead Irving Rousso and an industry pride oratory masked as a bombastic anthem sung by the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union in a televised spot, the film encompasses deregulation, outsourcing, the rise of designer personalities as embodied by Halston and Calvin Klein, the Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal, Reagan Red and concludes as a visual threnody for a once advanced embodiment of American enterprise, undercut and eventually dispossessed by the Reagan and Clinton administrations in particular

   But it is no spoiler to point out that whether American, Indian or Chinese, over the decades and the shifts of landscape, it is always the little guy who is shafted hardest

Monday, 17 May 2010

Museum Piece

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Flapper Room

   Another negative regarding my lack of a New York City residence is revealed to me:

... Two outstanding examples of high-fashion exhibitions, mounted collaboratively, can be seen at major New York museums in different boroughs. “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” is the annual, widely anticipated extravaganza of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art... “American Woman,” which has been organized by Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, benefits from, and celebrates, the exponential expansion of the institute’s holdings in one fell swoop in January 2009. That was when the Met took over the care and storage of a larger, older collection of fashion belonging to the Brooklyn Museum, which could not afford to maintain it.

On its side, the Brooklyn Museum has assembled “American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection” as a form of proud semi-farewell — semi because the transfer agreement allows the museum to borrow back works from its former collection. The show, composed entirely of pieces from the Brooklyn collection, is rife with what are justifiably being called “masterworks,” which have not been exhibited for decades, if ever. The collection includes deep holdings (even drawings) of genuine geniuses like the French shoe designer Steven Arpad and especially the inimitable Charles James, whose astounding “Diamond” evening dress is one of the show’s high points. But it is also rich in accessories, idiosyncrasies and objects steeped in history.

   A friend tells me that James - whose innovative sculptural couture would bestow upon him an iconic stature in any decade -  was believed to prefer teenage boys over women as fit models due to "too much 'hip'" - a practical consideration not unbelievable for a man who revolved each facet of a detail around in his psyche to the point of monomania and is noted for a large expenditure on a single sleeve

   Given that I've only ever viewed one or two garments at the V&A, I'm certain that the appearance of  his other works in the Brooklyn Museum's show would impel a gleeful edification on my part were I in the neighbourhood. James evidently understood that an Aesthetic is at its most attractive when there is artistry, care and thought on the parts of the creator and the wearer. Just look at the complex simplicity of his "Diamond" dress, included in the article's slideshow

   History to be swathed in

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

More Gems of Ghana

   Orleans Designs A/W 2010:

Spicey earthy tones mixed with sharp layers embody the pieces in this  2010 Autumn/Winter JAHAN collection. Orleans Designs continues to contemporise African texutres by fusing it with delicate silks.

Hazel Aggrey-Orleans, the creative force behind the label draws her inspiration from her colourful memories growing up in the culturally dynamic city of Lagos, coupled with her Germanic roots.

West African prints and symbols form the basis of her luxurious silk patterns instead of restricting herself to the traditional cottons.
Of mixed heritage, Hazel has cleverly combined her two worlds into her work. This results in more contemporary garments.

With Hazel’s continued passion for colours, she seeks to create bold unique pieces that cannot be found anywhere else.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Fab Gear

   These are mostly his 'n' hers styles immortalised by Bill Ray in 1968, as published by LIFE in its august days. A mixture of luminaries and scenesters, these were mainly shot in London, as well as France and, one presumes, Italy

   What we have here is a diverse look at the culture crashes that flourished into the iconography of the late 1960s' fashion language, but an emphasis on an air of refinement and an existence predicated on leisure persists. Moroccan caftans juxtapose with matching Mr. Fish shirts, waisted velvet corduroy frock coats, idiosyncratic beachwear by Ken Scott and the earlier designs of Valentino; for the people wearing them, they seem no more than representations of their good fortune. Nonchalance counts

   There are various LIFE collections available. I've always wanted to see Ray's work stand alone, however, and this will suffice for now:

Jane Birkin and Gervase may be the most well known of Ray's various subjects here

   Bang the drum for the days of yore