Tuesday, 26 February 2013

"All persons more than a mile high to leave the court."






She is recognizable through the details – the blue skirts, the insatiable curiosity, the endless questions. She doesn’t even need a second name. ‘Alice’ is enough. She can be found wandering around Wonderland, checking how porous mirrors are or finding that it was all a dream.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a richly symbolic and complex book. It’s also a deliriously lovely children’s tale. Part of its strength lies in its multiple layers. On one level it can be read for pure enjoyment; for tales of the mock turtle; the cries of “Off with her head!”; the constant shape-shifting from tiny to tall and back again.  But if one wishes to dip beneath the surface then there are plenty of linguistic games, joyous explorations of words and ideas, a fair few puns and a whole lot of intriguing nonsense to unpick and analyse. Many children’s books work like this (authors such as Maurice Sendak, Joan Aiken and Margaret Mahy come to mind) – a revisiting in adolescence or beyond revealing an entirely different perspective, or at least more to think about.
But unfortunately, at times it’s easy to think that Alice has been reduced down to an icon who, like Audrey Hepburn, has been a little bleached by overexposure. The powder blue dress, the starchy white apron and yellow block of bouncing hair. It’s a bit 2D. But this is just the Disney incarnation of Alice, all primary colours and animated sunshine. It’s a version that may be charming, but her legacy is a commercial one – filtering all the way down to the supermarket own brand, highly flammable children’s fancy dress costume. Imagination is subsumed by the desire to make money out of a culturally significant creation.
Luckily this isn’t the only reflection of Alice. Others include John Tenniel’s black and white illustrations that accompanied the original 1865 edition, the psychedelic adaptation directed by Tim Burton, the numerous actresses who have embodied Alice in various film, television and theatre productions. But it is not just the main character - so many of the images and objects featured in the book link themselves back to Wonderland quicker than you can say “curiouser and curiouser”: dainty tea cups, pink flamingoes, croquet hoops and hedgehogs, top hats, mad tea parties, Cheshire Cat grins, decks of playing cards, ‘eat me’ cakes and ‘drink me’ bottles, rabbit holes, pocket watches, caterpillars, hookahs and jam tarts. And that’s before we meet the mirrors, chess pieces and white queens that lie beyond the looking glass.  There is a resonance in many of the characters and items featured in Lewis Carroll’s two books.
There's also a visual richness. Perhaps one of the reasons for this story (and its sequel’s) endurance is the enormous scope for continual reinterpretation. From illustration to photography to cinematography, the concepts and characters formed by Carroll lend themselves well to imagery.
It also provides the inspiration behind the rather magnificent Richmond Tea Rooms - a miniature Wonderland in the midst of Manchester. The décor of this café-cum-cocktail-bar captures the sense of whimsy present in Carroll’s tales, with mirrors, velvet, teacups and bird-cages a plenty. The fabulous Florence Fox and I arrived at 7.30am in order to spend two hours modeling and snapping among the tables and chairs before it opened for business. The theme was a riff on ‘Alice meets Absolutely Fabulous’ by way of blue satin, glittering heels and plenty of floral dresses. The aim was a collaborative set of images for our photography blog ‘Renard et Rose’. In fact, these images are only a sneak preview – the full set can be found spread across three posts here, here and here. You can read a detailed description of the process on the blog.
I have now seen Richmond Tea Rooms from two angles – firstly from that of a customer enjoying the magical, early evening atmosphere; and secondly from an insider witnessing the space when empty in the early morning. But although these visits may have been on different sides of the mirror, both had something in common. Each allowed me (and Flo) to become Alice for an hour or two, quietly treading through a strange and wonderful world. 

We mainly styled ourselves in an assortment of vintage garments sourced from the depths of my wardrobe, with a few additions from Flo's. However, the dresses worn by me in the two top shots are from a brand that Flo has been working with recently called So in Fashion. The blue and white fifties floral dress pictured on Flo below was on loan from Bertie's Vintage. Thanks to all who lent clothes, to Richmond Tea Rooms for letting us dash around their rooms like two white rabbits with a limited amount of time, and to Florence for being a brilliant friend, photographer and model.  





Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Maypole and The Column









The resolution formed in January lasted all of eleven days. I would read all the books piled in my room before any more joined them. No more purchases until I’d taken in Tolstoy and finished The Odyssey. The promise might have been kept had I not, nearly two weeks later, found that I had nothing to read for an imminent café visit. I get antsy without a book in my bag; I was forced to visit the nearby charity bookshop. My resolve was broken, but I was richer for it - leaving with and consequently gobbling up Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Passion’, plus ‘A Book of English Essays.’
Winterson may be best known for ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’ but her other novels are just as exhilarating. Reading ‘The Passion’ feels a little like witnessing light and images as they bounce off a mirror. It is pared back to the point that each word has weight, but is executed with a light and joyful touch, one of those texts that you know immediately will become ever better with each subsequent reading.
The essays, however, accompanied me to London and back on my last trip (the next for LFW is taking place shortly). William Hazlitt filled my tube journeys and G.K. Chesterton provided food for thought as I enjoyed breakfast at Workshop Coffee. I was privy to insights on walking, cold mornings, knowledge versus understanding, shyness, the pleasure of the dark, ambition and many other subjects. Each topic, often concerned with something taken for granted or overlooked, opened up another area to consider. Of course, having first been published in the forties (with essayists spanning from the 16th through to 20th Centuries) there were outdated attitudes and omissions, not least the lack of a single female essayist. No Virginia Woolf, despite her being the most likely candidate, and a certain propensity for all individuals to be treated as a ‘he’.  
However, in the introduction the editor advised all prospective readers to turn to a particular essay on page 235 – Maurice Hewlett’s ‘The Maypole and the Column.’ I did just that. Hewlett begins by discussing the rural practice of adorning a maypole with streamers and flowers, before presenting the following:
“So they transfigured the thing signified, and turned a shaven tree-trunk from a very crude emblem into a thing of happy fantasy. That will serve me for a figure of how the poet deals with his little idea, or great one; and in his more sober mood it is open to the essayist so to deal with his, supposing he have one. He must hang his pole, or concept, not with rhyme but with wise or witty talk. He must turn it about and about, not to set the ornaments jingling, or little bells ringing; rather that you may see its shapeliness enhanced, its proportions emphasized, and in all the shifting lights and shadows of its ornamentation discern it still for the notion that it is.”
In my copy, I immediately underlined this paragraph in pencil. It expresses a little of what I aim to do with my blog. Each written piece doesn’t necessarily have to fall into the categories of ‘wise’ or ‘witty’, but I do hope to expand on, unpick or highlight particular ideas. It gives me the chance to discuss themes from feminism to the way we label clothes. Each week I enjoy talking about different subjects or engaging in debate.
Today the essay as a form has been largely replaced with the column, the book review and the memoir article. It still exists, but few now label themselves as 'essayist'. It’s a job title I'd like to aspire to in the future. Though in the meantime, this blog is my maypole, each post a ribbon, adding another set of clothes, photographs and words to those already there. 

These are just a handful of photos from a shoot I did with the extremely delightful and talented Vanessa Jackman last summer in London. (These images, plus more were posted on her blog a few weeks ago). I'm sure that for many, Vanessa needs no introduction as a truly gifted photographer. She arrived early one morning with wonderful Jessica Mieja in tow, whose expert touch with hair and make-up is highly skilled. The clothes are all mine apart from the loaned white lace dress which is Alice by Temperly  from My Wardrobe. So in keeping with my musings above, I suppose that this particular post is adorned with second hand lace, silk and satin - and a smattering of pale gold sunshine. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Walk a Crooked Mile





For once, there are photos here on my blog but the text is elsewhere. It can be found beginning on page 221 of the current March issue of British Vogue, where I have a three page article titled 'Twist of Fate' discussing my experiences of scoliosis, spinal surgery, recovery and body image. I am so incredibly thrilled to have been given this opportunity.
A copy of the magazine arrived on the same day that the skeleton previously exhumed from a car park in Leicester was confirmed as being that of Richard III. Photos showed a scoliosis very similar to my own. Irony or strange serendipity - take your pick. Photos above (taken by my Dad and Mum) inspired by Chanel's SS12 show where pearls were strung along models' vertebrae, while the images below show one of my x-rays prior to surgery and Richard III's spine.
In the article the fantastic photography skills of both Vanessa Jackman and Florence Fox accompany the text.

 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Shaping Up







To talk of shape when discussing fashion seems rather obvious. But sometimes the obvious is interesting. The fact that a garment is structured – composed of pieces, seams, darts and tucks – is taken for granted, in the same way that one might expect a novel to have paragraphs, dialogue and a narrative. But within that expected framework, there are an almost infinite number of variations. Will the skirts be full, A-line or pencil tight? Will bodices be fitted or loose? How will collars, cuffs and hems add to the overall appearance?
Some designers are more interested in shape than others. Corrie Nielsen’s ‘Florilegium’ collection is a case in point. The tailored mimicry of petals, stamens and other parts of plants provide much of the beauty. Nielsen’s “couture-like”, “sculptural” and “architectural” shapes are often mentioned in reviews and articles, indicating her prowess when it comes to cut and drape.
Shape is a skeleton composed of thread and fabric. It provides a backdrop for beads or paint-splodge florals. Of course, it is built to fit around another skeleton – that of the human frame. It is designed to flatter, accentuate or skim over shoulders, chest, hips, legs. The body is the armature beneath the clothing. A transition is made from static to movement when a dress or coat is given a living form to fill it. Most garments are constructed on a mannequin – a facsimile figure – before being fitted to a model. But as one size does not fit all, it is often interesting, when observing a catwalk collection, to muse on how these pieces might look on different shapes, sizes and ages of women. 
Some use form more creatively than others. Fyodor Golan presented a porcelain corset moulded to the model’s torso in their SS13 ‘Blue Tattoo’ collection. Material was often ruffled into wave-like crests or sewn into a lattice-work of blue. Their designs had both structural and narrative shape, with the clothes intimating a tale of loss and survival in the desert. It was a very different location evoked to that of Nielsen’s Kew Gardens' flowerbeds and greenhouses, but both presented loose stories composed of colour, pattern and shape. 
Designers, like authors or poets, can have distinct 'voices' - not written, but woven and stitched. Some change their register from year to year, whilst others build on a core set of features. Burberry Prorsum’s trench coats set the pitch of their show each season. This season's miniature capes just covering the shoulders and corset-cuts are a delicious variation on a well-known theme. Similarly, Roksanda Ilincic’s slightly voluminous sleeves and colourful collars in blue and mustard are distinctive, but still characteristically elegant.
To look at shape is not to ignore the texture, shades or embellishments that go into making a garment. It is just to appreciate the craftsmanship of scissors and sewing machines. Such skills are demonstrated in various SS13 collections: Christopher Kane’s dresses and jackets with their loops and folds of fabric like paper concertinas; Erdem’s use of layered opaque and translucent fabrics; Holly Fulton’s rose motifs climbing over flared skirts and collarbones; Osman’s exaggerated collars and peplums; Bora Aksu’s balance between flared and fitted and Mary Katrantzou’s boxy sleeves and shifts (although of course it is the postage stamp prints that claimed attention). Some designers experiment with structure more than others. The results may not always be - to use an industry buzzword - easily ‘wearable’, but they are often theatrical in the way that they startle and awe an audience.

This outfit is a homage to the voluminous shapes of Corrie Nielsen, the sweet-wrapper shine of Burberry and the pastels of Bora Aksu, Erdem and Christopher Kane. This is a rather wintery incarnation of such spring-summer 2013 inspiration though, with the recent week-long bout of snow necessitating the addition of vintage gloves, a vintage Jaeger jumper and second hand furry hat. Dress from charity shop.