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.

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