“I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom
of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in
of the rolling level underneath him steady air”.
It’s hard to post only a snippet of this celebratory poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s like trying to stop music in mid-flow. Hopkins’ affinity with the shape and sound of words is apparent in every line that rings with internal rhythm. (The rest of the poem may be read here).
The poem also perfectly encapsulates the feeling of watching a bird hovering and diving. It's an almost vicarious pleasure – as though by observing the darts of movement we may glean a sense of what it means to fly. It’s a dizzying prospect.
I've noticed that there often seems to be a favourable connection between birds and fashion. Bird prints grace fabrics, and (sustainably sourced/ vintage) feathers prove a fine trim or texture for all manner of garments. The image of Ginger Rogers swirling across the set clad in ostrich feathers in ‘Top Hat’ demonstrates just how seductive a material they are. The bird is also an appropriate metaphor for the process of dressing – especially when concentrating on colourful and exuberant wardrobes. Many of us are creatures who, myself included, enjoy choosing and showing off our plumage. Tassels, trims, sequins, buttons and ribbons are all forms of adornment. Aside from the practicality of dressing for warmth, the human body presents a myriad of ways to be clothed and decorated. Unlike birds, we change these feathers on a day-to-day basis – transitioning from sparrows to parakeets according to mood or whim.
Whenever I use the words ‘birds’ and ‘fashion’ in the same sentence, my head immediately flutters to Alexander McQueen’s SS01 show (although birds were a repeated motif throughout his career). The images of a model, head bandaged, stuffed birds attached to her shoulders, are striking. Her attackers are suspended mid-action – a stunning taxidermy nightmare. Their talons are bound by teal fabric; the skirt suggesting movement in a heavy lightness of layers. Like many of McQueen’s best pieces, it evokes a very sinister beauty. Birds are both a source of fascination, and, occasionally of fear (one needs only to think of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’).
McQueen once stated that: “Birds in flight fascinate me… I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women”. He understood the importance of plumage – or perhaps even of dressage. He also recognized the capacity clothes hold to both inspire and disturb. There is a sense behind every crafted corset, behind every padded hip, behind every bead and stitch of embroidery, that there was an intelligent, highly imaginative thought process. McQueen’s collections were not merely a grouping of dresses, but a narrative. His designs told stories. They weren't always pleasant or pretty ones, but the depth and unpredictability was what distinguished him from many of his peers. Tales can be gruesome or scary, but it's the manner of telling that distinguishes the good from the memorably great. McQueen ‘told’ his collections with such talent and craft – a master tailor and storyteller.
This scarf similarly tells a narrative. The print even has a name - it’s ‘Meet in the Park at Night’ (although I must say that, due to my location, I thought it more evocative of nocturnal flights through woods). It is part of the ‘Front Row Society’ initiative – a website dedicated to “fashion democracy” that encourages designers to showcase their prints, with the public voting on which patterns are then produced as either handbags or scarfs. It aims to be 100% sustainable in the near future, and a small proportion of each purchase is currently donated to the Ethical Fashion Forum. My scarf was designed by Jennifer Dayrit. It arrived along with a small card detailing both the stimulus behind the birds' motif, and a short description of Jennifer, who trained in fine art before specializing in accessories. These personal touches make it an enticing package, at the other end of the wingspan from the plastic bags and mass marketing of the high street. Many thanks to the PR Jenna for sending it to me, and for alerting me to the website. I wanted to style it in a variety of different ways, and so the rest of the outfit was very simple. The black velvet shorts were cut down and customised from trousers, the top is from a charity shop and the towering wedges (so precarious that every other shot was of me staggering around and falling over) are from eBay.
It’s apt that the scarf design takes birds as an inspiration – as they are, of course, part of the natural world, and thus lend themselves to ethical endeavors. Maybe it’s a case of great minds thinking alike, but Olwen Bourke’s latest collection – entitled ‘Paradise Lost’ – also takes birds as one of its recurring themes. Each hand-made item uses re-claimed fabrics in part of the design. The use of a birdcage in the video is interesting. Birds are the ultimate symbol of freedom, but become poignant metaphors when in captivity - one of the messages also found in Alexander McQueen's SS01 collection. Some concepts are never old.