Wednesday, 27 April 2016

An Ode to Vogue at the NPG

What is it that makes a 16-year-old girl pick up a copy of Vogue? It certainly isn't to check out the latest £340 pair of heels or the prospect planning a stylish 'Capsule Working Wardrobe'. For me, aged 16, Vogue was a little life raft of pure joy and escapism. The sheer weight of its heavy, glossy pages acted as a barrier between myself and the real world of A Level exams, UCAS forms and teenage angst.

I was lucky enough to discover that at my local 6th form college (for reasons unknown but never questioned) there was a corner of the library which housed an endless supply of British Vogues, ordered chronologically and stretching back at least 30 years up to the present day. This was more than enough to keep myself and my best friend occupied. At lunchtimes, and study breaks, when we should have perhaps been practising our French past participles, we would go through the latest editions and analyse each model's outfits, announcing 'yes', 'no', ' or 'What were they thinking?' 

But, most importantly, we would scan the pages for the editorials. The extravagant fairy-tale like stage set-ups. Our favourites were the Tim Walker stories with girls dressed as China plates and doll-like models staring out in saucer-eyed wonder. These were the models of our generations; Lily Cole, Gemma Ward, Jourdan Dunn and Lily Donaldson. Faces which became familiar friends issue after issue. Only a couple of years older than us, their fantastical lives seemed, in our idealistic teenage brains, almost within reach.

What these hours and hours spent pouring over 'The Fashion Bible' did for us I'll never quite understand, but, to us, the spreads seemed as creative as an A Level photography project (although with the financial backing of a certain Conde Nast). They were magical and haphazard and unbelievably out of this world. It wasn't the brands or the prices (which we gasped at on a regular basis) it was the creativity, the putting together of outfits; the 'More Dash than Cash' spreads showing knee high socks with strappy Mary-Jane shoes. The youthful, excitable feel of discovering something that felt like it was made just for you.

Entering the National Portrait Gallery's Vogue 100 earlier this month - the exhibition dedicated to the magazine through the ages as it celebrates its centenary - was like walking into my teenage brain and roaming around for a bit. Seeing the Vogues I had collected so diligently at the age of 17 onwards on display behind glass cases was more than a little surreal. The editions I had cherished and which now line my bookshelves are seen displayed beautifully in chronological order. The cover of Kate Moss (yes there are many) reclining in a gold ball gown for the December 2008 issue and the Cara Delevigne's first solo cover a few years later are copies that seem fixed in time and bring me back to certain points in my life. 

There is something so intimate and emotional about these weighty fashion doorstops that seems more personal than anything I've seen before in a gallery. Of course the photography, created by such masters as Mario Testino, Nick Knight and, my favourite, Tim Walker are works of art in their own right. But, in my mind, the magazine seems to belong in on the bedside tables of teenage girls, to be poured over, cherished and well loved, with pages earmarked for future use and favourite outfits cut out and tacked on pin boards.

So, this is a little 'Ode to Vogue', to say thank you. Thank you for 100 years of fashion, creativity and escapism. And thank you for allowing an awkward 16 year old girl to carry around (in her tatty canvas tote bag) a piece of pure fashion magic.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Saul Leiter: Fashion Photography

Last weekend I happened to be back down in London and decided to take a look at the new exhibition on Saul Leiter at the Photographer's Gallery. I initially heard about it via the blog That's Not My Age - one of my absolute favourites - and she described Saul Leiter's work as being one of the main inspirations behind the cinematography of the film Carol. Of course, I was sold! I loved the muted colours found in Carol, the coral lipstick and camels coats, and was intrigued by this photographer that I had never heard of.

Although Leiter moved to New York in the 1940s intent on becoming a painter, his fascination with colour led him to explore the possibilities of colour photography using Kodachrome film. His photographs still retain a painterly quality – I  love the shot of a young woman in a pea green coat (below) - and he even experimented with using paint on actual photographs.

He began to take on commissions for fashion photography, and many of his images can be found within the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. One of my favourite images is of two young sisters looking out a window both wearing matching jumpers, one holding a cat (see below). I love their expressions and how he captured that sense of boredom and a sisterly relationship – all in the context of a fashion shoot – something that seems so rare nowadays.

The exhibition is brilliantly put together and is littered with quotes from the man himself. One of my favourites is "It is not where it is or what it is that matters, but how you see it." His snapshots of New York; of train carriages, fire escapes, and through shop windows capture the city perfectly. I love this quote in that it is applicable to writing, photography, art, whatever it is you do – use what is there in front of you.

What great inspiration for a rainy winter’s day!

I also wanted to mention how lovely the photographer’s gallery was. It’s hidden away behind Oxford Street and is  a little oasis of calm amidst all the bustle. Thank you Alyson for your wonderful blog post and providing me with some much needed inspiration!

Friday, 15 January 2016

My Top 5 Exhibitions of 2015

If you've read my blog for a while, you'll know that I love a good exhibition. And 2015 was no exception! Scanning through my diary I realised that I've visited a whopping 15 exhibitions at 9 different museums and galleries over the last 12 months including galleries in London, Paris, Bath, Budapest and little old Eastbourne. My ArtFund Pass definitely worked out overcome and more than paid for itself! So, I thought I narrow them down to my top 5 museum events of the year and have a good ol' reminisce about my favourites.

1. Savage Beauty at the V&A

The Alexander McQueen exhibition was one of the most anticipated of the year and I remember logging on to my computer the moment tickets came on sale. I was not disappointed - this was a showstopper in every sense of the word. Beautifully displayed outfits in glass cages conjured up a cabinet of curiosities feel and showcased McQueen's sheer creative genius perfectly. Read my full review here.

2. Sonia Delaunay at the Tate Modern

I hadn't heard much about Sonia Delaunay before exploring the summer exhibition at the Tate, but now she is one of my absolute favourites. A textile designer, painter, tapestry weaver, and fashion designer; the sheer abundance of her creative output is so very impressive. I couldn't help but be inspired by her as you can read in this blog post here. She truly was an incredibly talented woman.

3. Silent Partners at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Back in January I visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for the first time and saw the Silent Partners exhibition. The 'silent partners' showcased were artist's dummies of all different types and varieties, from wooden mannequins and childlike dolls to more sinister creations. This was one of the most eery and magical displays I saw this year and something a little bit different!

4. Liberty in Fashion at the Fashion & Textile Museum

When I heard that the Fashion & Textile Museum in London (one of my perennial faves) would be putting on an exhibition of Liberty fashion in the autumn I knew it would be right up my street. Florals and fashion are a match made in heaven, and the exhibition gave a wonderful look at how Liberty has influenced what we wear through the decades, from smocked blouses to ditsy print dresses. Read my full review here.

5. Splendour and Misery: Pictures of Prostitution at the Musee D'Orsary

Earlier this year I went on a mini weekend break to Paris with some friends. Luckily they also enjoy museums and were happy to come along to the Musee D'Orsay where there was an exhibition on prostitution in art. Not your average topic for a fine art gallery but I really loved what they did with this concept. Aside from some rather risque photographs from the Victorian era that would make your grandma blush, there were some beautiful paintings by Toulouse Lautrec, Degas and Manet. It was so special to see these in real life and the whole exhibition really opened me up to look at art in a different way and to see how women in Paris were seen by these predominately male artists. 

So that's my round-up of what I saw in 2015. Let me know what exhibitions you loved last year and what you are looking forward to in 2016. Here's to many more hours spent in museums and galleries!

A bientot!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

New year, new books

Happy new year! I hope you've had a peaceful and restful Christmas and are looking forward to all that 2016 may bring. After a few months of being in a bit of a reading slump, I was very happy to receive some lovely books from friends and family, which look tempting enough to tear me away from Mad Men (Season 4, I'm obsessed!). Last year's Christmas Reads post was pretty popular so I thought I would share with you a few words about which books I was lucky enough to be given this year. The only problem now is which to read first!

Public Library by Ali Smith

I've had this on my wish list since before it was published but somehow managed to hold off buying before Christmas. I've really got into Ali Smith over the past year after first falling in love with How to Be Both followed by Artful and then The Accidental. I can't wait to dig into this collection of short stories, all about the wonderful places that are public libraries.  I owe a lot to my local library which has provided me with copious amounts of fashion books, recipes and the classics over the years. Hopefully, there will still be some left to visit in the future!

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Not much really needs to be said about Donna Tartt, she is a literary genius. Ever since reading The Goldfinch and then wolfing down The Secret History (whilst simultaneously trying to savour ever word) Donna Tartt has quickly become one of my favourite authors. I knew I had to get my hands on her other novels and was so pleased to discover this one on Christmas Day.

M Train by Patti Smith

Ah, Patti! If I could fan-girl about anyone it would be her, she is such a legend. Just Kids is one of my favourite books, it is so beautifully and poetically written, and Patti's sheer drive and creative nature shines through in every word. I cannot wait to be swept into her world again with M Train.

Women in this Town by Giuseppe Santamaria

My friend Grace surprise me with this gorgeous street style book. Based on the blog Women in this Town it captures women from across the world, documenting their personal style. Each section is divided by city, be it London, New York, Tokyo etc. and it's fascinating to see how each metropolis has its own unique style. I'm looking forward to flicking through this and hopefully gaining some inspiration and perhaps the impetus to be a little braver with my style choices in 2016.

VOGUE Colouring Book by Iain R Webb

Last but not least, a fun one to end with. Colouring books for grown ups have been inescapable this year and I was secret hoping I might receive one for Christmas. Low and behold: The Vogue Colouring Book - perhaps the chicest of them all?! My lovely mum scouting this one out and I had the best afternoon spent colouring in whilst watching It's A Wonderful Life! What I love about this book is that it's so beautifully produced with drawings straight from the pages of 1950s Vogue magazines, complete with captions describing each item of clothing in glorious detail. Once I got over the fact that I had to DRAW ON A BOOK(!) I had loads of fun deciding which colour gown each model should wear. Hardly the worst dilemma to have!

I hope you all had the loveliest festive season and have loads of good books and mulled wine to keep you company during winter! Let me know if you have any recommendations in the comments, I would loving to hear them!


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Liberty in Fashion

The new exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum combines two of my favourite things: fashion and florals. Liberty In Fashion charts the history of the famous London shopping destination and the impact the brand and its designers had on British fashion. At the grand age of 140, Liberty has seen many changes in fashion and design but has maintained its place as an iconic institution, pioneering beautiful prints and bohemian designs.

The exhibition itself is a treasure-trove of ditsy prints, intricate embroidery and bright colours. It starts with the company's early days when it was set up by Arthur Liberty as a warehouse supplying fashionable goods and textiles from the Far East in the 1870s. Liberty then moved into creating beautiful embellished gowns, befitting the wardrobe of a Downton debutante, as shown in the image of the delicate ivory capelet below.

The beginning of the 20th century saw Liberty embrace the idea of 'Aesthetic Dressing'. Long, flowing kimonos inspired by japanese paintings became sought after lounge wear for the bohemian woman. Liberty began to not only look to the East for inspiration but started to reinterpret the farm labourer's staple - the smock - for modern women. Smocks were loose, comfortable garments which carried with them an air of nostalgia for a rustic and rural life, but also hinted at the wearer's artistic temperament as the perfect outfit for painting and writing. I particularly loved this embroidered smock below, with it's palette of green purple and white echoing that of the Suffragettes' uniform.

The fashion for smocks also extended to childrenswear and both boys and girls wear dressed in these smart but loose-fitting tunics. Children's author Kate Greenaway's illustrations, which revisited the clothing styles of the 1880s and 90s became inspiration for Liberty's childrenswear. I found it fascinating that imagined dress from storybooks could lead to real-life changes in children's clothing and remember the vogue for this as a nineties child dressed head to toe in Laura Ashley floral smock dresses!

Perhaps what Liberty is most associated with is it's iconic ditsy florals. These rose to fame in the interwar years of the 1920s and 30s when small prints on dark backgrounds of black or brown where popular. The lighter, more optimistic blues and pinks were favoured in the 1940s and were often made into pretty tea dresses (see below). Just looking at these gorgeous war-time outfits, with their nipped-in silhouettes and bakelite belts cheered me up. You can see where Cath Kidston get some of their nostalgic print ideas from. 

Although Liberty reluctantly (to begin with) veered into more outlandish and vibrant prints in the 60s and 70s, when many of their prints were designed by the fabulous duo Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell, they returned to their trademark bohemian look in the 70s, with their floaty and romantic dresses (below). The smock dress made a triumphant return and prints were produced in beautiful muted browns and mauves. I loved the patchwork pinafores - they looked so practical and easy to wear.

Although I am probably biased, being already obsessed with prints and florals, I loved this exhibition of Liberty London. It was wonderful to learn about the shop's history, from its origins transporting textiles from across the world, to the work of its creative printmakers and design talents. Liberty will always hold a sense of nostalgia for me, but it was fascinating to see how often the brand has borrowed from the past to create something refreshing that echoes current fashions. Never more have I desired a few metres of Tana Lawn to make a ditsy print dress!

Let me know if you've been to the exhibition and what you thought of it - I'd love to know!

Liberty in Fashion is currently on at the Fashion Museum until 28th February 2016.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The painter that Britain forgot

The Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne is one of my favourite places to visit when I'm back down south. It's a lovely space with great coffee and wonderful gift shop (containing these cushions of dreams). The Ravilious Room is really special and contains some of Eric Ravilious's most famous works, all featuring scenes of the beautiful Sussex Downs.

But the reason for going along this time was to see the Towner's latest exhibition: 'William Gear: The Painter that Britain forgot'. William Gear was an abstract painter working in the 1940s and 50s who produced some radical and highly controversial pieces. Autumn Landscape is perhaps his most well known paintings, deemed an extravagant waste of money when it won a £500 prize and was exhibited at the 1951 Festival of Britain. Although at the time this radical anti-establishment style of painting brought Gear fame and recognition, his work, both as an artist and as a pioneering curator at the Towner, seems to have been largely forgotten.

It was so inspiring to see and learn about these paintings, and to discover them anew. It seem such a shame that these incredibly dynamic works of arts have been hidden from view and have largely escaped the pages of art books. They form part of Britain's art canon and were an important part of that wave of artistic creativity that boomed in the 1950s.

William Gear's paintings are bursting with colour. I particularly like the two pieces below with their pale greens and lilac clashing and contrasting with the stark black patterns. Everything about his work seems vibrant and alive. I feel very lucky to have had a little glimpse into his world and learn a bit more about the history of the Towner and a forgotten artist whose paintings are now once again centre stage.