Monday, 25 August 2008

You talk like Marlene Dietrich and you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire

When Peter Sarstedt sang 'Your clothes are all made by Balmain, and there's diamonds and pearls in your hair', it's a pretty safe bet his muse wasn't wearing tartan bondage trousers and a lame singlet [much as I very, very much love Balmain's most recent offerings]. I want to live an elegant life like his St Moritz-hopping, Picasso-robbing heroine!

I like to think she would have looked like a cross between Grace Kelly and a Rene Gruau drawing.

I've become fixated on Gruau's drawings since a friend bought me a charming Gruau-illustrated birthday card the other week. They look the way I wish, WISH I could draw [and look] - all nonchalant, fearless brushstrokes, cigarette holders, inkpot eyes, insouciant, pointed little chins and ingenious bolts of colour. These are not chicks, girls, ingenues or even women - these here is LADIES.

He was the son of an Italian count and a French aristocrat - after they separated, he spent his childhood travelling Europe with his mother before pursuing a career in fashion illustration. Throughout the 1930s and early 40s he worked from Paris & Lyon, drawing for Marie Claire, L'Officiel and Vogue. After WWII, a meeting with Christian Dior injected his career with new energy - he created the inimitable image for the Miss Dior fragrance, and immortalised the New Look of the 40s & 50s and the designs of Dior, Balenciaga, Balmain, Schiaparelli and Givenchy. Right up to his death he was still illustrating for Elle, Figaro and Vogue - he never seemed to run out of inspiration and ideas.

[Images: Operagloves]

1910-2004. What a life!


Saturday, 23 August 2008

All quiet on the western front

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Just started a new job and it's keeping me busy. I've got a bit of a backlog of posts to put together, so normal service will resume shortly....


Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Belgian shopping

This wasn't quite the angle with which I expected to approach my stay in Belgium, but an interesting point on Make Do & Mend set me in mind of it.

It was a four-day trip and I stayed in Ghent, making day trips to Antwerp and Bruges. It became something of a shopping frenzy, as the soon-to-come photos will attest to.

I was really struck by the superb layout of their stores, particularly the smaller boutiquey ones. As Kate of MD&F rightly observes, many British stores really self-sabotage by cramming in so much stock that you can't see the wares for the trees, so to speak. One thing I like about Belgium is its pace, and this seemed to translate to their shopping - there's none of the frantic rail-to-rail nonsense that makes shopping an ordeal. In many of the stores I went into this week, boutique or chain, there was floorspace a-plenty, and goods wisely and pleasingly displayed with enough surrounding room to let them breathe and entice people. Some honourable mentions:

- Eva Bos, Ghent

Eva is apparently a teacher at Ghent's fashion academy and this is her own personal fashion display case. There's a mirrored golden pole outside the front door, and the interior is equally yummy. McQueen shoes, a small display of jewellery from the reasonable [45 euros] to the very expensive [800 euros], and perfect dresses [vintage couture and new designs] in black, red and powder pink, all in a low-lit jewelbox of a space.

- Iki, Bruges
My favourite second-hand shop in the world. Another ancient tiled floor, and the minimum of merchandise - one rail of clothes, a low wall shelf of bags and shoes, a cabinet of 30s and 40s jewellery, and occasional other pretties dotted here and there. Everything's shockingly inexpensive [10 euros for a sweet black suede 40s purse? 5 euros for a fetching short navy paisley men's scarf? Gosh...] and very well chosen - not one dud in the place. First time round, I bought out nearly the whole shop. Sadly it was closed on my return visit, but re-opens on August 14th.

- Bruphils, Bruges

An average-looking, well-laid out chain for elegant workwear at first sight, with a fairly pricy main collection and a younger concession range, until you notice the expertly cut sailor-waisted trousers and the oh-so-shiiiiiny patent boots, and the little garden out the back. Also, I enjoyed the awfully heavy, lime-green felt curtains on the changing rooms - a wee spot of well-placed childishness in an otherwise very grown-up store.

- Au Bon Marche, Ghent
A screamingly delectable little place with an antique tiled floor... a glass cabinet housing pretty snap-close purses and wallets made of such soft-looking leather, nothing less than 'succulent' describes it... eye-wateringly pricey, delicate handmade jewellery and funny little stationery and curiosities. Everything is far too expensive [triple-figures for the tiny diamante bracelets], but it's all so pretty and so well-displayed, one can't leave without spending at least 50 euros anyway.

- Episode, Antwerp

[Image: FashionFillers]

Pretty well known across blogland. Londoners know the Chalk Farm Road branch, with its orange shop front and somewhat unremarkable Camden-y 'vintage' stock. Antwerpers have it so much better. Imagine Mint of Covent Garden, but much large, better organised and with dramatically slashed prices, and a really nice, airy space lit by skylights and left to breathe. Again, ample space between the carefully ordered rails - relief! Some second-hand places are an explosion of headachey colour; this one's a rainbow. An hour and a half later I was still trying things on, to the probable chagrin of the staff who were too polite to request I leave so they could go home. I redeemed myself at the till with my debit card.

I can't wait to go back to Belgium and explore more. I can see myself moving there one of these days.


Monday, 11 August 2008

Missing the point which your correspondent veers off course, incensed by inadequate arguments in Richard Dawkins' futile documentary.

Brit readers might have just finished watching episode two of Dawkins' The Genius Of Charles Darwin. Such a promising programme, much as my agnostic mind detests Dawkins and his misfiring attacks on religion as a whole. Such a disappointment, in the end - he doesn't tackle any of the things you hope he might [or even, in the end, talk a great deal about Darwin]. He just uses Darwin's theory to state the obvious - not even covering the whole of it - and it's so unsatisfying.

Tempting as it is in this context, I won't launch into my own opinion on evolution, religion's place in society etc - suffice to say as someone pitched between agnosticism and atheism, I think its existence - as a construct in the human mind and society - is wholly logical and simply badly used. I'll save the full lecture for the day I get to sit down in a room with Dawkins and tell him I think he's a reasonably clever idiot.

But I find it so frustrating the way he totally misses the point. He preaches the basics of evolution to a viewing audience who, if they've settled down to watch the show, likely already agree with him and know the theory of evolution. The show might have been better if it involved a panel discussion between intelligent people of varying - moderate & otherwise - opinions. We might then have learned something.

He begins conversations with people of opposing beliefs with deliberately inflammatory, rhetorical questions [asking a creationist bishop in Africa "Are you an ape?" - of course the guy's not going to say "Yes, Richard, yes I am - how kind of you to notice", is he??] designed to start an argument before expanding into a lecture. [The fella, to his credit, clarifies his argument peaceably, and then has to listen as Dawkins lectures him on the basic mechanics of evolution.] It's not a dialogue - he picks out people he believes less factually or intellectually equipped to argue with him [e.g. the bishop, who appears to have been unaware of the finer points of man's relation to other primates], and bashes them about the head with his version of the world.

He launches into his ideas about altruism, and terminates his argument at the conclusion that it is exists solely to make creatures sexually attractive and to enable friendly relations among familial groups, and remains in humans as a throwback to this, much like the sexual instinct existing alongside contraception. I wish he had considered the idea that maybe as our brains developed and we think about the future of our species, the altruistic instinct remains as a sensible mechanism [the better part of human nature vs the fear/mistrust/destruction instinct?] to promote harmony [and therefore longevity] to our species and the world we live in.

I'd like to take him by the shoulders and shake him.


Girls on film

I find I have been drawing out my birthday over as long a period as humanly possible, and to that end, I will be celebrating at the end of the coming week with a costume party [I will be a flapper, if I can find a cigarette holder]. And I just spent a week in Belgium, enjoying its many shops and birthday-gifting myself. More of that later, when I've photographed what I bought.

Meantime, here is a picture of the unutterably fetching birthday present a close friend gave me yesterday. I am more charmed by it than I can describe. It just remains to be seen whether I can find the requisite 4x4 127 film [some places in Canada still make it...?], flashbulb and funny looking flash battery and capacitator. If not, it will just be the prettiest ornament I ever did see.

Beautiful, beautiful 1958 Sawyer's Mark IV twin lens reflex camera. You open the top and look down into the camera, and out through the top lens [the bottom takes the photo]. Sawyer's was the American branded version - it's basically a Japanese camera, otherwise known as the Primo Jr.

I can't find a picture of the superb flash unit, but it's basically a version of the below, except not Ricoh - Sawyer's, like the camera.

The camera and flash unit come prettily housed in brown leather cases. I'd so love to request a photopass for a generic indie gig, turn up in the photopit with this and catch the looks on the pro photographers' faces. They'd be pitched somewhere between "WHAA" and "LOL".

For now I will put it next to my old Russian Zenit camera and let them pose it out in a walk-off. Zenit can be Stiller, and my Mark IV baby can be Wilson.


Friday, 1 August 2008

Though you were just a little swirl, you understood every word

A lady on Livejournal posted this photo in a list of her fashion inspirations for this season, as part of the new romantic [soft goth? I hate that label but that is, if one is to adhere to Vogue's lexicon, what they're calling it] look.

It has just occurred to me that I used to dress almost exactly like that when I was eight. I don't think I had the high heels, but velvet shorts, black tights, hippie-ish brown top, pendant - check, check, check, check. My hair was much shorter and distinctly mousy, but I was only eight, so... fcuk all y'all.

Now I know there's something of a nineties revival going on, but was this actually in fashion back then? I don't remember it being so... or if it was, I don't remember being aware of it, though I do remember there were always piles of Vogue and Harpers & Queen in our house. I was eight, and all I wanted was to be a mysterious looking hippy-goth. It is doubtful whether I succeeded. Whether Peaches succeeds now or not is, perhaps, a separate discussion entirely.