Sunday, September 30, 2007


How I'd have loved to live in a time of daysuits, afternoon dresses, cocktail dresses and evening suits. Really, I would. Minus the oppression obviously. I just mean the dresses. Freedom AND couture.

The quote that kept popping into my head going round, or rather queuing to get round (more on that later) The Golden Age of Couture exhibition at the V&A was one by Diana Vreeland who, in her memoir D.V. informs us that in those days people would have had "Three fittings for a nightgown!"

Can you imagine? Swoon.

The exhibition is subtitled Paris and London 1947- 1957; 1947 being when Christian Dior presented his New Look collection which, as we all know, radically changed the way women dressed.

One of the first things you see on entering is a row of glass cases with quarter scale mannequins wearing couture outfits from the forties. This turns out to be what they did just after the (second world) war when no one had the money or the fabric to present their collections. They enlisted people like set designer Christian Berard and Jean Cocteau to make it into a travelling fashion theatre which toured Europe raising money.

My advice to anyone would be DO NOT GO TO THIS EXHIBITION AT THE WEEKEND if at all possible. Skive off and go on a Tuesday morning. We went on Saturday and although entrance times were staggered, you literally (being English and all) had to queue to get from exhibit to exhibit. There are lots of films, one great one of two models in the fifties dressing. They're helping each other into industrial looking foundation garments: corsets, pointy bras, shoulder pads tucked under the shoulder straps and attached to the hips, then fully dressed you'd never know the amount of rigging and padding underneath. Unfortunately it was hard to see the films properly because of the crowds, and to get past you always had to walk in front of people watching. I couldn't quite understand why they'd laid it out the way they did.

It was very dark (to protect the clothes, to stop people taking pictures? They REALLY didn't want anyone taking photos - of course I sneaked a couple for you). There were tall boxes dotted around which made narrow maze like corridors. These were covered with black and white prints of Paris buildings, then on one side of a box you'd have a display of tweed suits or an evening gown. Every garment was behind glass. Built into another side was a small screen showing old couture footage or a display of Roger Vivier shoes. This was in the first room and although I was interested in the content, the layout drove me - and everyone else mad.

The second room was much calmer. To the strains of Moon River, the first section is of iconic photographs of the age. You know the ones: Dovima and the elephants, and illustrations by Rene Gruau. But by far my very favourite image was this one:

Richard Avedon
Homage to Munkacsi
For Harper's Bazaar 1957

From here on there were so many outfits that I don't quite know where to begin. After the photography section there were day suits, not encased in glass so easier to see the detail - quite sober and dark. Then we moved into the cocktail section, my spiritual home. I was transfixed by this funny looking short lace babydoll dress by Balenciaga from 1958, pre-dating the '60s babydoll look by a few years. (At this point I'd been told off for taking pics twice so didn't dare.) Obviously there was much Dior, much Balenciaga, Balmain, not much Givenchy, a bit of Chanel. Now long closed houses were represented as well, but I suppose they had to curate the exhibition in the context of what people will recognise now.

Then the evening gowns. I kept seeing gowns donated by Princess Margaret and felt for her seeing what amazing (tiny) creations she wore in her heyday, the most shining It girl of the time perhaps, then how she ended up. Sad. Another grumble is that many of the dresses were black, against a black background, in a darkened room. I know it's very difficult to light black, but even I can work that one out!

They had a Balenciaga cape that Audrey Hepburn wore one of in Funny Face (1958), which they of course showed an excerpt of: Audrey doing her shoot in Paris with Fred, this bit.

The final room of the exhibition has a "couture timeline" and three (in my opinion) hideous, completely over the top "modern" couture outfits by John Galliano for Dior. I don't mean hideous really, just that they're costumes that no one could ever wear, not clothes. There's a place for that kind of showmanship and fantasy but for me it really jarred with what I'd just seen which were actually wearable clothes. I wished they'd chosen Chanel or even Anne Valerie Hash, because it seemed they'd chosen the most outlandish Galliano pieces on purpose. To reinforce the idea that couture is now only for the spectacle of it.

I've barely glossed over the content of the exhibition here; I only went yesterday so it hasn't really sunk in. The only thing I would say is that if you know your fashion, you'll enjoy it, but will be unlikely to learn anything new.

Oh, and these are the photos I nearly got kicked out for taking! Was it worth almost being banned from the V&A?

The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947- 1957
Victoria & Albert Museum
22 September 2007 – 6 January 2008

{Avedon image}

Friday, September 28, 2007


I think I am going to write a book, purely so that if I tell people I'm a writer and they ask me who/what I write for I can just say, "I'm writing a book." I should be able to stretch that one out for, ooh about six to seven years before people start wondering where the finished tome is. This would be far, far preferable to having to reel off a list of publications and endure the three second mental judgement consisting of whether said person has heard of said publication, (you information junkies would be surprised how ill informed most people are) then how it fares in their mental journalism ranking system and lastly, the shockingly common question of, "How much do they pay you?" Hello? I would never ask anyone that. Have I ever asked you that? In this case, a guide to etiquette might be a better book to read before delving into my imaginary one.

p.s. This is my 302nd post. And you know how I ramble on. Perhaps I could just print them out and bind them?

*J.R. Hartley

Friday, September 21, 2007


Do Kirsten Dunst and I share the same brain? (As well as a noted upon similarity in dental structure.)

Let's look at the evidence, using the new issue of Lula magazine, guest edited by Kirsten.

Oh look, a big juicy interview with Au Revoir Simone (Kirsten apparently chose them to be featured but it was only a matter of time - for they and Lula are made for each other).

Kirsten scrawls comments on the pages using exactly the same bright pink pen I use. OK maybe she didn't really, they may have faked her handwriting and decided to make it bright pink but...

The photography of Rinko Kawauchi (printed as Kaurauchi in the magazine - owchy. Who was it that commented last time I mentioned Lula about all the errors? Yes I notice them ALL now. I still love it though. I forgive them.)

In answer to the question: What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Kirsten answers, "My laziness to learn French."

Kirsten's favourite book is The Little Prince.

Don't know if this had anything to do with Kirsten, but one of my favourite *soon to be featured here* stylists Elisa Nalin styled two of the fashion stories.

There is an accessories story using CATS, big, fluffy CATS as models.

...p.s. let's just pretend we didn't see that Knightley girl taking up way too many pages shall we? Just flick past that part.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Sofia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni and Federico Fellini taken by Tazio Secchiaroli (the original paparazzo).

Love you Italia...

Friday, September 14, 2007


*Marc smokes like a trooper, eats vile looking nutritionist prescribed bile. Looks great on it.

*Sofia Coppola owns my dream Parisian apartment. Chevron oak floors ~ swoon.

*Mail ordering stuff (the DVD) from Colette is worryingly easy and speedy.

*Elizabeth Peyton is adorable.

*Those MJ end of year theme parties really do look like fun.

*Camille Miceli is adorable.

*The atelier staff at LV had better get paid waaayyy over the odds for all those sleepless nights and blisters.

*Irina Lazareanu is adorably annoying.

*Is Bernard Arnault wearing a syrup (wig)?

*Marc is consistently endearing and yes, adorable.

*Choice MJ quotes:

"Is it so horrible that it's good? No, maybe it's so horrible that it's just horrible."

"Yeah, trash it!" (about a garment they're working on)

"As screwy as it can be the better. I like it more fucked up."

"Defects are good."

"It's really good but it's really ugly. I know that and I like that. Don't worry. Wait until I get my clothes then I'll push it even further...We'll get hams thrown at us."

Thursday, September 13, 2007


So, first things first I think. There's this place where my friend A goes for lunch almost EVERY DAY (you'll see). It's sort of near the Rialto bridge but as with most places in Venice, just around the corner from swathes of tourists it's lovely and quiet. It's a small place, a bar really. You go in to see people milling around standing up, then behind the bar there's a father and son and another guy, a grill, various wines and a load of fresh ingredients. (No kitchen.) You (well, not me, I just grin inanely - this is where it pays to be either with locals or fluent in Venetian) have a bit of banter with them while they're doing five other things simultaneously - and after a bit of discussion they make you something for lunch. Like this:

This actually belonged to another customer but it was so pretty I had to take a picture...

How do you say raw prawns in a nice way in English? Natural super fresh prawns simply with olive oil and the teensiest bit of lemon juice. Also some other kind of deconstructed flobbedy (what, spellcheck doesn't know flobbedy?) prawn type sea creature (bottom left) the name of which I don't know but it was all delicious...

Octopus? Squid? ink spaghetti...We also had tuna tartare which was gorge, but apparently my fork was faster than my camera...

Porcini mushroom and prosciutto little appetiser. They took it upon themselves to knock this up for us to have while we were waiting for our sandwiches. Love those guys.

Sorry if this is a really obvious thing to say, but lunch there is cheaper than Starbucks or Pret A Manger. I can't help but make that comparison, daft though it may be. Or maybe it's not daft since people go there every day on their lunch breaks. Waaah. I have no doubt in my mind that the guys at this place are artists. The way they put ingredients together, all day long without a break, always thinking about the taste, the colour, the texture. Mind sufficiently blown. Oh, and it's about four minutes walk from the little Cipriani ice cream outlet so you can go there for dessert afterwards.

Oh, and this is only the coolest thing in the entire world. You pull up to the window in your boat, shout whoo hoo, ciao! through the window, order your pizza, beers, whatever. They cook it and pass it to you through the window and off you go down the canal again. It's the Venetian version of a drive-thru. Don't ask me where it is. It's on a canal. Next to a bridge. Somewhere in Venice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Am back. Am alive. Venice was wonderful. Despite my belief that it's almost impossible to take a photo in Venice that doesn't look like a postcard, I took 127 photos.
I will be back with a proper post once I've dealt with the avalanche of post, emails and mundane yet important things I must attend to. Tax return! Rusty car! Builder gone AWOL! It's not all glamour at Maison Lola you know.

But I'd rather be sitting in a friend's boat on the grand canal eating pizza...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I anticipated that I would be waxing lyrical about tomatoes and arias wafting from open windows. I did not however, anticipate that I would need to bring my Depp Stalker Hat (don't worry I also have the Keira Repelling Spray).

Also, they say he's already gone, but between you and me, that's just to throw the paps off the scent so they don't discover our secret love...

Peggy Guggenheim pic by David Seymour
George pic from msn

Monday, September 03, 2007


American Girl in Italy. Florence, 1951 by Ruth Orkin.

"Gli Italiani Si Voltano" (Italians turn their heads), was taken in Milan in 1954 by Mario de Biasi.

And the third is a postcard I'd had on my wall all these years, until I took it down because people kept asking if it was me (yeah, me and my bazookas often wandered through Florence wearing a semi transparent dress) taken in 1991 by Max Perissi.

In American Girl in Italy, the (top) famous original picture the girl looks like a rather bluestocking'd student, uncomfortable with the male attention, as if she's trying to get past them as fast as possible. In the second picture, we don't see the woman's face so it's hard to know her thoughts, though from her sexy outfit and '50s wiggle straight towards the men you get the impression she doesn't have a problem with all eyes being on her - she looks powerful. To me, even if this second picture was inspired by Ruth Orkin's photo, it has a different intention and evokes different feelings. The third picture, if seen without the other two, is acceptable, funny even. It must have said something to me that I bought the postcard and kept it all this time. But seen in the context of the other images, the third photo becomes just an outright set up imitation of Ruth Orkin's original work - even down to being taken in Piazza della Repubblica as hers is. It also has an added dubious element of the girl in the photo's expression being that same one of shyness and intimidation at being leered at, though she's been made to wear a practically see through lace/crochet what the hell is that? dress.

It's something I've been pondering lately, the nature of ideas and creativity. Who can be said to own an idea? There have been a few major instances where I've had an idea, maybe not executed it fully but talked about it, or not been fast enough to act on it, then seen someone else execute "my" idea.

I think that the difference lies between copying something and that very modern word, referencing. Sometimes it seems that our age is nothing but continual referencing of other eras, which in turn referenced another. With all the information we see and hear all the time, it's not surprising we can't even tell sometimes when we've been influenced by someone else's work. A creative person will internalize all the references and turn them into something unique to them. Others may think that's what they're doing.

Maybe we can't hope for originality, only individuality.

“Originality is the art of concealing your sources” ~ Benjamin Franklin.
"Originality is undetected plagiarism" ~ M.C Escher.