Sunday, 26 April 2015

Nautical Chic

Ahoy there! Say hello to a wonderful new fashion book to add to your collection. Nautical Chic by Amber Jane Butchart charts our love of seaside fashion from its historical and practical origins to its present-day incarnation as a modern day style staple. I have always been a fan of the humble Breton stripe, there's something so eye-catching about those hypnotic horizontal lines than means I find it hard to go shopping without coming home with another stripey top. I feel similarly weak at the knees whenever I spot a sailor-style collar or a set of brass buttons and once owned a pair of wide legged blue sailor pants which I loved but was too scared to leave the house in!
I've long been an admirer of fashion historian Amber Jane Butchart, she has a great blog and has written another book Fashion Miscellany, a compendium of fashion anecdotes. Reading through Nautical Chic it's clear to see that Amber has a real love of all things nautical, rivera and pirate. I love how she goes into real detail into the origins of our favourite clothing, instead of using the usual tropes and references, she really gets into the hows and whys of the ways we dress.

The book is divided into five sections, each detailing a particular aspect or 'character' of nautical style: the officer, the sailor, the fisherman, the sportsman and, of course, the pirate. It's fascinating seeing how each of these individual influences have evolved to form what we now think of as nautical style. Amber incorporates both history and politics into her analysis of maritime fashion. I particular love the mention of the ship-shape hat that became popular in 18th century France at the time of Marie Antoinette, and then, much later became part of the inspiration behind milliner Philip Treacy's hat collection of 2013.
Nautical Chic also captures that chicness and sense of je ne sais quoi that is part of the iconic Breton top. Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn and Anna Karina and Edie Sedgwick all feature as stylish women who popularised the Breton top as 'a marker of effortless classic French chic' that is both 'bourgeois and bohemian'. 

The book itself is gorgeous and scattered with quotes, illustrations and beautiful photographs. If you have even the smallest interest in nautical fashion, I'm sure you'll find something of interest in this book, so much of what we wear today is influenced by these styles and I learnt so many wonderful nuggets of fashion history through reading Amber's text. Now that we're getting into some warmer weather I will definitely be using this as some much needed Spring/ Summer fashion inspiration. As you know, stripes never go out of style.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Savage Beauty

So it's finally here! Savage Beauty, the major Alexander McQueen retrospective, has hit the V&A in London, and at last the fashion designer's legacy finds itself back home. I don't think I've ever been quite so excited about a museum exhibition (which is saying a lot if you follow this blog) and never have I spent so long anticipating and imagining what it might be like.

Well, last week I was able to find out, sweeping past corridors of white marble statues and the familiar green glass sculpture to take it all in. Submerged into darkness and with the low thump of 90s club music echoing somewhere in the distance, it felt as though we were walking into one of McQueen's catwalk shows of the past. 

Inside were a series of interconnecting rooms, each representing a theme or show from McQueen's past. We met the gothic lacey gowns completely with S&M style leather straps, the romantic Victorian inspired pieces (my favourite) and the quintessential McQueen tartan, inspired by stories of the designer's Scottish heritage, as well as his final collection complete with space age shapes and those famous armadillo heels. 
I will try not to give too much away, as I hope that if you're reading this you will get the chance to go and see it for yourself. It really is a fantastic exhibition and both met and exceed my (incredibly high) expectations. The curators and staff at the V&A have done a  fantastic job at showing each collection and idea truthfully and allowing McQueen's genius to shine through. I loved the way that some of the outfits were placed within glass cases, as if they were ancient artefacts at a natural history museum.

The room of curiosities, which forms the centre of the exhibition, left us all in awe of McQueen's sheer force of imagination. Seeing each headpiece, corset and exquisitely tailored jacket in every nook and cranny of the crowded room, made me have so much respect for Alexander McQueen. How one designer had so many new, eccentric, genius ideas in his head I will never know. The deconstructed suits, the bumsters, the feathered jackets and tribal dresses all came from his imagination. I really appreciate the care and thought that went into every aspect of Savage Beauty, and also how the clothes were left to speak for themselves, with McQueen's personal life left unexamined and a background to his designs.

If you do get the opportunity to go and visit Savage Beauty then give yourself a good couple of hours to stare and marvel at the sheer genius on display. As you might expect, there are no photos allowed, so I've included a few postcards that I picked up afterwards, all showing pieces that are on view within the exhibition. I hope you're all enjoying the start of Spring, have a lovely weekend and I'll be back soon for some more fashion history goodness! xx

Friday, 3 April 2015

Fashion on the Ration

I tend to think of WWII as being a lot more 'ration' than 'fashion'. Utility clothes, hair nets and industrial boots tend do away with any sense of high fashion. And old black and white photos do little to dispel that image of dull and dreary dresses. But Julie Summers', in her new book 'Fashion on the Ration', depicts the Second World War as a moment awash with personal style, inventiveness and the unstoppable force of Vogue magazine.

Going along to the book talk for 'Fashion on the Ration', which also lends it name to a new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, I made my way to Oxford Literary Festival. Sitting in a lecture theatre in the middle on Corpus Christi College, (and feeling pretty high brow!) I listened along with a group of other attentive ears to hear Julie explaining the inspiration behind her book and some of the stories of those she met in the process of writing and researching. 

Julie talked us through some of the real life stories found in her book. From women making nighties out of unwanted silk parachutes, to altering coats so that they mimicked the emerging 'New Look' fashions, she demonstrated that sense of creativity and desire for personal style despite the relentlessness of rationing.

The idea of 'Beauty as Duty', one of the chapters of the book, was particular interesting in that it showed a woman's duty to appear primped and primed to perfection in order to send a message to the enemy that everything would continue as normal. Although, I found this whole notion more than a little uncomfortable, and from a feminist point of view this leaves a lot to be desired, there is something powerful in our use of 'war paint' as a means of warding off dull days. And it's fascinating to look at the effort that went into dabbing on a dash of red lipstick and perfecting that wave of hair as a powerful way of refusing to give in, especially in a time where clothes scarce and were re-worn year after year.

The book also discards that notion of the 1940s as being a time of drab frocks and tea dresses. As Julie, wearing an original rayon dress in fabulous terracotta, told us, the fabrics, scarves, hats and accessories of the time were often full of colour. As shown in the book, wartime adverts see women with bright greens and yellows, pinks and magentas, which were all available to buy in shops or imitate through dress patterns. I love the uplifting quality that these images produce, evoking a world where street style was perhaps more colourful and individual than it is today.

What really comes across in the 'Fashion on the Ration' is that, despite having often been denigrated as frivolous and trivial, fashion meant so much to these women. The efforts that they went through to keep their sense of style and to keep up with fashion, be it through saving up ration cards or creating new dress patterns, is pretty impressive. And it was interesting to learn that the revered pages of Vogue where just as treasured in times of war. Despite a number of setbacks, including having to relocate its London offices due to air raids, Vogue never stopped printing during the years '39-45 and steadfastly provided women with the latest trends from Paris, as well as ways to 'Make Do and Mend', giving women at home a little bit of hope and inspiration during times of such uncertainty.

I really enjoyed learning more about fashion from a historian's point of view as well as hearing about what my grandmother might have worn during WWII. If you have any interest in 1940s fashion I would highly recommend picking up this book, or heading over to the IWM in London to see some of the outfits for yourself! Have a lovely Easter! xx