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.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

There's something about Audrey

Audrey Hepburn. Two words that conjure up more than simply one person. A ballerina, movie star, model, mother and Unicef ambassador - Audrey played more parts than seems possible to fit into one lifetime. Which is perhaps why the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition 'Portraits of an Icon' is titled so perfectly. Audrey Hepburn is iconic in that she can't be categorised. She lives on in films, in posters on the walls of student digs, on mugs and fridge magnets. She is everything and anything - a dream figure who everyone wants to be.

Audrey has been so often written about and discussed that she has become her own sort of cliché. The words gamine and elfish have been bandied about so often that they now seem slightly stale, especially when set against the actual photos. Looking at the many faces of Audrey in the NPG, was like discovering her afresh. The display maps out her life through photographs, from childhood days in Belgium, through ballet school and into her more famous and iconic years of the 1950s and 60s. Often set against the most plain of backdrops, Audrey is captured by photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn to show off her personality and grace rather than fashionable outfits. 

What I loved most about the exhibition was seeing Audrey photographed in more candid and spontaneous moments, in photos I had never seen before. Seeing her on set surrounded by cameras and chatting with cast members was fascinating and really showed a passion and enthusiasm for her work. Photos of holidays, days out with her children and even a shopping trip with her pet deer Pippin show give a small idea of her energetic - and somewhat eccentric - personality. Towards the end of the exhibition there is a collection of photographs showing her at work as a Unicef ambassador, a role she carried out for much of the 80s and 90s. It was lovely to see that there was so much more to Audrey Hepburn than we are often led to believe, and that there was a very real and genuine person behind the iconic beehive and cigarette holder now frozen in time.

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of An Icon is on until 18th October.

I'm now off to watch Breakfast At Tiffany's!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

100 years of Fashion Illustration

What is it about fashion illustration that makes my heart leap? There's something about it that I find just captures the essence of fashion, breathing life into clothes so perfectly, perhaps even more than photography. 100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman documents the changes in fashion illustration, from the thin art deco lines of the 1920s, to  the computer-led graphics of the noughties. What I love about these images is their ability to conjure up the entire feeling of the era in which they were published. Take Barbara Hulanicki's Biba girls; their oversized lollipop frames and doll-like eyes just scream the 60s. Whilst Celia Birtwell's drawings (below) have that unbounded sense of freedom and effervescence, like two Chagall figures gliding off into the night.

The book shows just how central illustration was to the fashion industry. These images were found on magazine covers, on dress patterns, in advertorials and on billboards. Fashion illustration dictated what what women should aspire to, it captured the whole feeling of the new season. Flicking through these pages, it seems that it was not merely the clothing that represented how women should spend their money, but the girl on page. She is often hidden under hats, glancing away, or completely absorbed by the letter or book she's reading. In short, these women, rather than staring out blankly from glossy magazine spreads, are shown to live their lives in these new fashions, whilst we are left to imagine the exciting goings-on in their lives.

My growing obsession for Mad Men has made me appreciate fashion illustration even more. Once considered to be simply adverts for products, many images of fashion illustration are now admired as museum-worthy works of art. Some of my favourites include Rene Grau who is known to have inspired David Downton, as well as Barbara Hulanicki's illustrations for her Biba designs.

Will the heyday of fashion illustration return? I really hope so! Instagram seems to be the best place for searching out talented illustrators who hark back to those good old days but are also creating something new and exciting. Some of my favourites working at the moment are: Kelly Marie Beeman, Drawing Feever and Unskilled Worker. Let me know any illustrators you are following at the moment, I would love to discover more. 

Have a great Sunday! Xx

Illustration credits: (
1) Bill Baker, 1966 (2) Celia Birtwell, 1970 (3) Marcel Vertes, 1940 (4) Rene Gruau, 1967 (5) Tod Draz, 1950 (6) Alfredo Bouret, 1957 (7) Rene Gruau, 1954.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Beautiful Brighton

I think Brighton will always have a little piece of my heart. Although I now live over 100 miles away, I try and stop by as often as I can. There's just something about the city that makes me feel more myself. It's filled with memories of teenage angst, nights out, shopping with friends, vintage fairs, people watching. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spent a month volunteering in the Brighton Museum, which is a beautiful building sitting just across the road from the Brighton Pavilion. I spent many happy hours cataloging and sifting through acquisitions books, marveling at their extensive collections of costume and decorative arts. The have a great permanent exhibition of ceramics and tea sets as well as chairs and furniture through the ages. It's all well worth a look.

It was wonderful to go back this Bank holiday weekend and potter around the same streets. We wandered through the North Lanes, stopping for a massive slice of carrot cake, rooting through the second hand bookshops and visiting my absolute favourite vintage shop 'Hope & Harlequin'. Perhaps one day I will have saved up enough pennies to treat myself to one of their fabulous dresses.

I also spotted some new (to me at least) graffiti art on one of the walls near the museum (see photo above). I love that it shows sketches of what looks like two sisters sitting together, as it's been lovely hanging out with my own sister the last couple of days. I hope you're having a relaxing Bank holiday and I will be back very soon with more posts on all good things like fashion, books and museums.

"I've never changed. It's like those sticks of rock: bite all the way down, you'll still read Brighton."
Graham Greene - Brighton Rock

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Poetry in motion: Sonia Delaunay

Summer exhibitions at the Tate are always a treat, but I wasn't quite prepared for just how inspiring the Sonia Delaunay exhibition would be. To be quite honest, I hadn't previously heard much about her as an artist, but I decided to go in with an open mind, and I'm so glad I did.

On entering the first room, we were welcomed by Delaunay's incredible paintings. Each painting is divided into segments of vivid colours which fit together to create a whole. We learnt that Delaunay was heavily inspired by music and dance and was part of what was known as simultanism: a group of artists inspired by different art forms coming together. One of my favourite paintings was the image below of a young girl lying across a couch. I love Delaunay's focus on women as pensive and introspective, completely absorbed in their own worlds. Look closely and the young girl is made up of a range of hues, from sickly greens and yellows to bright reds, colour combinations that seem so unusual, but create such an otherworldly atmosphere.

What I found so wonderful about Sonia Delaunay as an artist was the sheer extent of her creative output. I found it incredibly inspiring that an artist explored so many different mediums so effectively to create her own complete world that was so distinctively hers. For a female artist at that time to have such creative freedom over every aspect of her work is inspiring and motivating, even today.

Aside from her work in abstract art and portraiture, Delaunay was also a successful fashion and textiles designer, creating dresses, shoes and beachwear, as well as working on textile commissions for department stores such as Liberty (see images below). Although part of a set of Parisian bohemians, she was not averse to more commercial enterprises, and fashioned designs for the forward-thinking modern women to wear. Delaunay is also known for her work on the costumes for the 1918 Ballet Russes production of Cleopatra, which were also on display. It was wonderful to see these pieces of ballet history, still intact nearly 100 years later.

Sonia Delaunay was also fascinated by the relationship between clothing and literature. Her idea for a 'poem dress' is something I found absolutely incredible. Delaunay collaborated with some of her poet friends to create dresses embellished with poetry, created movable figments of art. She also worked on a short story which she designed to be printed onto a long scarf so that with each fold, a new chapter could be read in small fragments. I completely fell in love with this idea of clothing and fiction complimenting each other and forming part of the same piece of art. I wish more designers would employ some poetry into their work.

My experience of Sonia Delaunay at the Tate was such an overwhelming but inspiring one. Delaunay was such a powerhouse of creativity and I defy anyone to not become motivated and filled with new ideas when visiting her work. I'd love to know what you thought of the exhibition if you managed to make it? Have a lovely weekend! Xx