Saturday, 20 June 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain


I've always had a bit of a love-hate relationship shoes. Whilst on the one hand (or should I say foot?!) they can be undoubtedly pretty, stylish and glamorous, and give a much-needed boost to my 5 foot 2 inches, but they can also hurt like hell. Which is why the V&A's new shoe exhibition 'Shoes: Pleasure and Pain' is so perfectly named. 

On display are hundreds of shoes through the ages, each encapsulating a specific aspect of footwear. There is an area dedicated to shoes inspired by the fairy tale, including the iconic red ballet slippers worn by Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes as well as Lily James's glass heel from the recent Cinderella. Another display showed shoes worn by royalty, from Queen Victoria's pumps to Kate Middleton's nude LK Bennett's. 

The exhibition also delved into the more psychological aspect of our relationship with shoes. In a room hidden behind a velvet curtain were a collection of shoes chosen for their connection to desire and fetishism. For hundreds, if not thousands of years, shoes have been worn to reveal and conceal, and like any piece of clothing they say something about the wearer. In the 18th century, a fashion for shoes laced low on the foot was thought scandalous, as it revealed the wearer's coloured stockings beneath. And, of course, who can forget the stiletto, synonymous with femininity, sex, power, and one Carrie Bradshaw.

Pleasure and pain go hand in hand when thinking about the 'lotus' shoes worn by Chinese women right up until the early 20th century. These tiny, intricately embroidered shoes showed the extremes women underwent through the tradition of footbinding to gain a shoe size and gait that was deemed attractive. It's incredible to think that this was still in practise just a little over a hundred years ago.

Another aspect of the exhibition explored our need to collect and display shoes. Showing various shoe collections, from a society woman of the 1920s who kept her shoes in a specially made vanity case, to a more contemporary Reebok trainer collection, there is definitely something special about shoes that makes us want to cherish and preserve them, and showcase them as pieces of our personal identity.

A final showreel of cinematic shoe moments is displayed at the end of this expansive exhibition and if you ever needed a reason to re-watch the likes of Belle du Jour, The Red Shoes or Sex in the City, you'll want to now, if only to observe the beautiful shoes.


Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Secret History of Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland fever is everywhere at the moment. The much-loved story turns 150 this year, and unless you've been living under a rock you might have noticed a few white rabbits, mad hatters and March hares cropping up around the UK. I've always felt a connection to these stories, and now that I'm living in Oxford, I'm not too far from where Lewis Carroll first met Alice Liddell, and where it all began.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to win a couple of tickets to the Charleston Festival, and of course I chose the talk on Alice. 'The Secret History of Wonderland' took the form of a conversation between two writers. The first, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, recently published a book entitled 'The Story of Alice' which chronicles the life of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and his relationship with Alice Liddell. The second author was Vanessa Tait, who is the great-granddaughter of Alice herself, and whose novel 'The Looking Glass House' retells the story of the Liddell family through the perspective of their governess.
It was fascinating to hear from Vanessa Tait about the experience of having such a famous relative, and one who was a literary heroine. Vanessa spoke about growing up in a house filled with Alice's memorabilia, from gloves and jewellery to treasured first editions of the Alice books. There is a real sense of mythology surrounding the story of Alice, from the photographs of her as a street urchin staring unflinchingly at the camera, to the nature of her relationship with Charles Dodgson, so much is unknown and unexplained, and both authors spoke of this uncertainty openly. Whilst we'll never know many of these unanswered questions, there must be something special about Alice in Wonderland. The book has become such a widely used cultural reference, from Japanese Harajuku costumes to Beatles lyrics. I can't wait to go back and reread the stories and be inspired once again.

These photos are of the house and gardens of Charleston, which is just so beautiful in the summer months. See last year's review of the festival here.

Have a great weekend! Xx

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Riviera Style

Over the Bank holiday weekend I took the opportunity to visit the new exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey. The FTM is one of my favourite museums, in part due to its very chilled and friendly atmosphere: you really feel that you can get up close and personal with the clothes and I always leave with my head full to the brim with inspiration.

The museum's latest offering is 'Riviera Style: Resort and Swimwear since 1900'. On display is a wide variety of beachwear throughout history, spanning Edwardian-era knitted bathing costumes, to fifties patterned playsuits and the more revealing cut away bikinis of the 60s and 70s.
The swimsuits from the turn of the century were perhaps the most fascinating to see in real life (see below). I was amazed how these little pieces of fashion history have survived all these years. The demure pantaloon-style suits were made of thick cottons or heavy wools that soaked up the water like nobody's business, making for a challenging paddle in the sea. Never have I felt more grateful for the invention of lycra!

It was only until the early 60s that truly practical swimwear really took off, until then there was a lot of making do with hand-knitted costumes and shearing elastic which sagged and filled up with water when you attempted to leave the pool! But the lack of synthetic fabrics and swimwear technology was not at the expense of style. The 1920s and 30s, one of my favourite eras on display, was when 'riveria' style was born, and beachwear became chic and glamorous. As you can see in the photo above, Japanese-style kimono jackets and slouchy pyjama bottom in gorgeous prints were all the rage, as were chic rubber swimming caps much like those worn by Keira Knightley in the film Atonement. 
Many of the items on display were of course nautical-inspired. Blue and white stripes, anchor motifs and brass buttons were in abundance throughout almost every decade. Sailor suits were popular as childrenswear at the turn of the century, thanks to Queen Victoria's penchant for dressing her children in them (even as a 90s child was put in an M&S sailor suit aged 2!). There is also a whole room dedicated to Amber Jane Butchart's new book 'Nautical Chic' (I reviewed it earlier on my blog here) which goes into more detail about our fascination with sailor style, and it was lovely to see some of the clothing featured in the book out on display.

There's definitely something about the seaside that makes us want to dress up and show off. The image below shows outfits a family of four might don when taking in the sea air in the early 1900s. These heavily starched suits and dresses were probably not the most comfortable of outfits on a hot summer's day, but were perfect for to show off for Sunday best. Fast forward through the decades and beachwear still needs to impress. From the sumptuous, oriental-inspired kimonos of the 20s to the barely there monokinos of the 70s and the teeny-weeny Daniel Craig Speedos of more recent times, beachwear seems to have always been an excuse to flaunt our fashion credentials.
Although I'm not all too great at dressing for summer (I blame this on typically rubbish British weather), I now feel a lot more prepared after this exhibition and have an army of ideas for summer outfits. If you're in need of some summer style inspiration, or just fancy gazing at some beautiful pieces of vintage clothing, I'd heartily recommend popping along to the FTM for inspiration. I'm particularly coveting a floral playsuit or some wide leg trousers. Now to book that holiday! Xx

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Georgians at the Fashion Museum



To me, Bath is synonymous with fashion. The city conjures up images of Jane Austen characters buying ribbons, or of well-to-do socialites dressing up to take the waters at the Pump Rooms. So it's very fitting that Bath has its own dedicated Fashion Museum. A couple of weeks ago I dragged my sister along to the museum to visit the new exhibition 'The Georgians.'
The Georgians, as you might have guessed, is a collection of Georgian clothing and accessories from the 18th century, a period which holds close ties with Bath from its heyday as the centre of the social season, a city where Austen stayed and based some of her novels (notably Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), and where wealthy aristocrats would take the opportunity to show off their latest purchases when promenading along the streets.

On display were some beautifully embroidered gowns, my favourite being the black dress with red roses (below). Many of the dresses had been altered and re-altered to adapt to the changing fashions of the time, with panels added and taken away or sleeves lengthened according to changes in body shape or style. Much like the Fashion on the Ration exhibition at IWM, 18th century women would consider dresses as a investment, to be reused and worn for many years, but this didn't meant they were averse to the whims of fashion.
One trend on show that I particularly loved was the light, embroidered jackets which were worn over nightgowns. These were so meticulously detailed that nowadays it would seem a little ridiculous to wear them to bed, and its almost a shame that they never got to see the light of day. I could imagine these being recast as some sort of modern day kimono jacket, I would wear one in a heartbeat!

I also loved the style of dress known as the 'sack back' due to its loose sack-like box pleats falling down from the shoulders. There's something very modern about this loose style of clothing, which wasn't what I was expecting from 18th century style. Here is the dress in its full glory.
The exhibition also had some examples of Georgian menswear including frock coats with beautifully embroidered sleeves, and of course, the iconic bright red military jacket which features in so many of Jane Austen's novels (often to signal someone an unsavoury character such as Mr. Wickham!). 

I loved mooching around this beautiful museum in Bath, and learning more about Georgian fashion. If you find yourself in the city then I'd recommend having a nose at all the sartorial gems they have inside, and let me know what you think! 

Have a fabulous Bank Holiday weekend! Xx 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Great British Drawings

As I write this post, it's one of those typical moody, rainy days in Oxford where all I want to do is hide away and drink many cups of peppermint tea. But days like these are also perfect for whiling away a few hours in a museum or gallery and taking in a little culture!

I've been attempting to visit more local museums over the last few weeks, and decided to start with the beautiful Ashmolean. The Ashmolean belongs to the University of Oxford and is the world's first university museums. It all started with a cabinet of curiosities and now houses objects and artefacts spanning thousands of years.
Their main exhibition at the moment is Great British Drawings, a display of over 100 drawings by Britain's greatest artists including Turner, Rossetti, Millais, Ruskin, Hockney and Ravilious. Although my knowledge of fine art is very limited, I loved just walking around the gallery and taking it all in. I was most excited to see some of the Pre-Raphelite drawings, especially the image of Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (featured on the leaflet above), which shows the gorgeous red headed ideal of Victorian beauty. 

Another favourite of mine was the small drawing of a rabbit by Edward Lear which forms part of his famous Nonsense Book of Poetry, and would lovely framed up on a wall. I also enjoyed seeing some more modern pieces by the likes of David Hockney and the wonderful Eric Ravilious's drawings of the Sussex countryside. 

The Ashmolean is one of those places where you can simply wander around with a pencil and sketchbook and feel incredibly inspired. I'm trying to make more time for sketching and drawing and whilst my attempts will never make it beyond my ratty old notebook, a little bit of calm and creativity woven into daily life never goes amiss.

Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Extraordinary World of Tim Walker

Just over a week ago, I experienced my first ever Vogue Festival. I have long been intrigued by the concept since it was launched a few years ago, but had been a bit put off by the price of tickets, which are a little steep..! But, when I heard that this year Tim Walker would be attending, I knew I had to bite the bullet and be there.

I have followed Tim Walker's fashion photography ever since I got my hands on British Vogue. At Sixth Form college, the library had an enormous back catalogue of issues, and I spent many a lunch hour pouring over the fashion stories, always admiring Tim's work above any other. The brilliant colours, doll-like models and fairytale-inspired stories completed held my gaze and inspired me no end. In a world of minimalism and bright studio set ups, here was someone eccentric and extraordinary!
Tim's talk was, aptly, held at the Royal Geographical society, where he was well placed to talk about travel and locations within his work. Walking to the lecture theatre, we passed walls lined with maps of far off places as well as dark wooden cases containing all sorts of Victorian travel memorabilia, reminding us of an era of travel not unlike those conjured up in Tim's images. Tim was joined in conversation with stylist Kate Phelan, as well the whole team of creatives that accompany him on location, from the hair and make up artists, to the fashion and photographic assistants. It was lovely to see what a close knit group they have formed over years of working together. Kate described Tim as "an adventurer" and talked about needing "to go with the person that's got that adventurous spirit" when shooting fashion in exotic places.

If you're a committed reader of Vogue, you'll know that Tim's most recent fashion story was shot in Bhutan and features a fiery-haired Karen Elson (see below). Tim described Karen as "a conduit for the fantasy in my head, she becomes the living thing!". It's clear that this really is a team effort with everyone mucking in and coming up with ideas to create the perfect image. Tim emphasised that need for spontaneity and freedom within his images, and although he plans the locations and proportions of images meticulously in his scrapbooks, he made it clear that some of the best photos are those filled with dancing or movement, or when the weather suddenly changes, or a butterfly comes in to shot.

What I loved most about the talk was hearing how down to Earth Tim was about the fashion industry. He admitted that "clothes can sometimes be boring". It's putting clothes into a fantastical location or embedded within a wild, imaginative story that "makes fashion come alive". Despite his reputation as a fashion photographer, it seems that Tim is not at all precious about clothing. This is a man that is all about the image, he thrives on what he calls a 'seeking out of beauty', to find that moment of magic that can only be captured on film.

I'm so glad I went along to this short talk, if only to be re-inspired by fashion imagery in a time were fast-fashion, selfies and the huge momentum of the industry can make it all seem a bit lacklustre. In his images, Tim Walker takes the slow and traditional approach to creating a photograph, using film cameras and natural lighting, and I'm excited to keep following his work and see what he comes up with next.