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Top 5 vintage styles – Oscar nominee actresses

Most Oscar fashion talk revolves around the movie stars’ red carpet style. In fact a huge part of Oscar talk full stop is about off-screen style. Who’s more red-faced than red carpet? That kind of thing … So I thought let’s take a look at some of the styles from the films themselves. Here’s my selection of vintage fashion worn by the characters played by the five Leading Actress nominees. Each of the five pieces could be picked up in vintage or high-street stores but I’ve tried to opt for classics rather than fast fashion.

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo Garcia, 2011)
The Tuxedo/Le Smoking

An androgynous fashion choice here. In the film, Glenn Close plays a woman who passes as a man, Albert Nobbs, to make a living and survive in nineteenth century Dublin. There are many different kinds of androgynous looks to choose from baggie pants to brogues. And after seeing a friend make an entrance in a bowler hat recently, I think this could be a way to work the Albert Nobbs look. It’s a definite stylish statement.

But for this movie, I’ve opted for the tux. Here we go from the androgynous looks of 1920s La Garconne to Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking in 1966 and its various incarnations season after season. I love this look on other people but have never really used it as an alternative to an LBD or any dress. Maybe I’ll give it a go. As Yves Saint Laurent said, “Fashions come and go, but style is forever.”

Viola Davis – The Help (Tate Taylor, 2011)
Sunday best hat

As Aibileen Clark in The Help, Viola Davis is mostly dressed in a blue housekeeper’s uniform with a white apron. The colourful, pretty clothes of the white characters (and the lack of attention given to African-American characters in fashion spreads) illustrate their social position in the movie.

So I thought I’d leave the floral full dresses and the pretty playsuits and go for an accessory – a 1960s hat.  As we don’t wear hats as much in Western society now, when we do (unless it’s woolly) it makes a statement. Often worn in the burlesque scene, it’s easy to pick up 1960s hats from vintage shops so you can look your Sunday best every day.

hat with a veil.Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011)
Black biker jacket

Another androgynous look from Rooney Mara, who plays Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s remake of the Swedish thriller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s a grungy, punky look, establishing her as an outsider with goth dyed hair, tattoos and piercings. These elements of alternative lifestyles have been incorporated into the mainstream from catwalk to high-street. The same goes for the rebel choice of outerwear – the leather biker jacket. Although it’s one of those items, where if it suits you, I think you can comfortably ignore those tweaks from the designers. Does the rebel need a wool version?

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)
Pussy bow blouse

“The pearls are non-negotiable”. I love this line from The Iron Lady when Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher is encouraged to deepen her voice and get a new do. Thatcher politics may have inspired 1980s power dressing but her look was more boxy suits, blouses, structured handbags and pearls. In blue or blue of course. Although an unlikely fashion icon, I do love blue, have recently bought some pearls and have been known to tote a granny-chic handbag. But my vintage piece from The Iron Lady, is the pussy bow blouse. It’s another classic – ladylike with a sexy wink.  You can find different versions through the decades in vintage shops from 1950s sleeveless numbers to the puffy shouldered 1980s. Check out Vogue for lots more on the Iron Lady’s style, including sketches of the film’s designs and for the seamstress in you, here’s a how to make a pussy bow blouse (blue’s optional).

Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)
Black polo neck

With Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe circa 1956 it is difficult to pick one fashion piece. My Week with Marilyn, is an adaptation of Colin Clark’s memoir about the time he spent with the starlet on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl (Laurence Olivier, 1957). So it’s about “Marilyn” in down-time style as well as “Marilyn”, fashion icon. Which piece to choose? The star must-have – shades and headscarf – to escape the paparazzi (though head-scarves can look more rain-mac on us mere mortals)? The sexy, curve-inducing dress, the lush wrap woollen coat or the simple pencil skirt?

Marilyn Monroe in a roll neck sweater.

After some consideration, I’ve opted for a sweater – the turtle, polo or roll-neck. It’s a look that still says hip beatnik cool to me. It can be difficult to pick up vintage knitwear but if you buy carefully you can find gems. A high-street polo doesn’t seem too fast-fashion wasteful as it never really goes out of style. OK, so you may not look like Marilyn but at least you don’t look like you’re trying too hard to channel her (think that white halter-neck dress).

Who’s the Oscar fashion winner?

The Oscar nominees don’t have long to wait to find out who’s won for their acting ability. But who would you pick for fashion style? Get in touch and let me know.

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An Eye for Vintage Fashion – Norman Parkinson

Eye for Fashion M-Shed, Bristol

What a lovely way to spend a Saturday. Lie in. Awake late to snow. Perfect chance to wear new 1960s style swing coat, faux fur hat and hand-warmer (crafted by my talented friend at Come Step Back in Time) Then off to An Eye for Fashion to see glamorous 1950s and 1960s fashion photos in a pretty, pastel-shaded space…

An Eye for Fashion at M Shed in Bristol (UK) focuses on influential fashion photographer, Norman Parkinson’s shots of British Designers from 1954 to 1964 as featured in Vogue and Queen magazines. Visitors can follow the intertwined fashion and societal changes from the austere 1950s though to the swinging 1960s, illustrating the shifts in lifestyles being sold to women through these magazines.

The show is a collaboration between the Angela Williams Archive and the M Shed. Sixty rare prints were chosen from the archive, many of which have not been displayed before. Angela Williams, a successfiul photographer in her own right, enjoyed a creative partnership with Parkinson starting in 1962 when she became his assistant.  The M Shed delves into its collection of vintage fashion to complement the photos on display so that we can see how the designer looks played out on the high street.

Vitality, cheekiness and 1960s optimism abound in the shots. Parkinson is well known for taking fashion photography out of the stuffy studio to outdoor locations in dockyards, streets and alleys as well as exotic locations. Parkinson said, ‘My aim was to take moving pictures with a still camera.’ (An Eye for Fashion catalogue) As fashion photography is of the moment, it is wonderful that these images have been preserved for future generations, especially the photos that didn’t make the final cut for the magazines.

The catalogue tells us that Norman Parkinson liked to take photos of ‘real’ women rather than ‘ice queen’ debutantes. Taking a different sense of ‘real’ women, as someone who buys Vogue as a guilty pleasure, it was interesting to see the way in which the models did indeed look more natural here and less ‘fake’ than their modern photo-edited versions.

10 years is a long time in fashion…

The 1950s  fashion magazine shots on display are targeted at the Vogue reader of the time – older, affluent middle class women. The photos reflect this with images of Ladies, “Mrs so and so” shopping, parties in stately homes, and twinsets and pearls. The aspiration is to be like these upper/upper-middle class women with their glamorous, champagne lifestyles. To complement, these shots, we see fashions of the day. A hyper-feminine, lacey pink prom dress with fitted bodice and full skirt caught my eye, which you could imagine a contemporary girl toning down with sneakers. Another display features two suits with fitted waists and calf length straight skirts – a common 1950s silhouette. Very ‘ladies who lunch’.

Swinging sixites

Then the swinging 1960s arrive – less Hardy Amies, more Mary Quant and Jean Muir. This decade saw shorter hemlines, nylons, bolder colours replace restrictive hemlines, stockings and dressing like your mother. The iconic shot used on the catalogue of Jean Shrimpton epitomises the decade’s cool confidence. Musicians start to appear in fashion shoots; see ‘How to kill five stones with one bird’ featuring Nicole de la Marge in Mary Quant with the Rolling Stones. From the M Shed’s archives, they pull out a cool Mary Quant style raincoat (which I would wear) and a psychedelic monochrome top (which interestingly feels more dated).

Jean-Shrimpton---Plain-Girl-campaign---Norman-Parkinson-catagloue

There is an energy and excitement in the photos and a cheeky sense of wit but also an innocence. Take Jill Kennington and Melanie Hampshire chatting to London bobbies on the beat (see a similar photo from the National Portrait Gallery) – Parkinson’s commission for Life Magazine in 1963 to promote Brit style state-side. You can imagine that these young women had just arrived in the big city intent on making their way in the world.

Another shot I love is a Daks advert in Vogue, 1961. The model is posed side-saddle on the cool mode of transport at the time, a vespa with leopard skin head scarf, tight cream skirt and tie blouse completed with ankle boots. A vintage style which could easily be given a 2012 twist.

If you have an interest in vintage fashion or social history, it’s well worth giving this exhibition a visit. An Eye for Fashion is on at the M Shed in Bristol until 15 April 2012. I’m in for the Vintage Weekend on 24 and 25 March. Hope to see you there!

Watch the private view and take sneak peek at the exhibition!

Vintage Fashion Movie Icons – Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde vintage fashion

What makes Faye Dunaway’s style so memorable in the 1960s movie Bonnie and Clyde? Its place in fashion history is won as it teaches about vintage style itself – how to manage that tricky balance of distilling the essence of period whilst updating with elements of the contemporary. Bonnie’s look reworks 1930s Depression era fashions with 1960s French New Wave chic.

Read more in my first guest post in the must-read blog for history lovers – Come Step Back in Time.

Valentine’s Day Movie – In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)

I don’t really do Valentine’s Day. The only nod to cupid was going to see Casablanca (1942) at the movies. And how could I not, as my other half – a huge film buff – hadn’t seen it. Since then, we’ve got a Valentine’s tradition of watching romantic movies – but at home – no listening to noisy couples in the cinema or meal surcharges for us canny lovers.
And this year’s picture is one of my favourite films – In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000). Although the pre-titles warn that this is not going to be a romance with a Hollywood ending…

‘It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered to give him a chance to come closer. But he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.’

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, the film depicts the relationship between, secretary Mrs Chan, (Maggie Cheung) and Mr Chow (Tony Leung) who discover that their spouses are having an affair. The elements of repressed desire and social pressures are reminiscent of that classic of unrequited love, Brief Encounter (Lean, 1945). With an unusual twist, In the Mood for Love’s couple imagine how their partners began their deceit and rehearse how to confront them, determined not to become like them. However, as Mr Chow says, ‘feelings can creep up just like that. I thought I was in control.’

When I first watched the film, I was blown away by its sheer elegance and poignancy. Indeed it would win a place in my top 10 films of all time. Director Wong Kar-Wai (whose oeuvre includes Days of Being Wild (1990) and 2046 (2004) which make up a trilogy of sorts with In the Mood for Love) and his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Doyle produce a stylish dance of repressed desire, loss and regret.

In an interview Wong Kar-Wai likened In the Mood for Love to “a dance, a waltz between these two characters”. Coincidence brings them together but later social mores and repressed desires means they dance past each other. Their lovers’ song, Yumeji’s Theme, composed by Shigeru Umebayashi, stays with you long after the movie has ended. On re-watching, I found that while I looked forward to the moments when their theme comes in and the ‘dance’ begins again, it was tinged with a sense of melancholy that they would come achingly close to each other but not quite meet.

A key scene which illustrates the stylistic elements (music, lighting, time shifts, repetition, film noir shading) that recur in the film is when Mr Chow and Mrs Chan pass on the stairs to their apartment.

Mr Chow is shot to left of the screen in film noir shadows, then their theme starts up as Mrs Chan walks down narrow darkly lit steps to get noodles in slow motion. As she returns up the staircase in the dark, the camera slowly lingers on a street light. Mr Chow goes past leaving the viewer unsure if they’ve seen each other off-screen. A simple visit to the noodle stand becomes a beautiful dance of anticipation and these choreographed scenes recur throughout the film.

In the Mood for Love visualises and plays with memory. Its original Chinese title, also a song from a 1946 film, meaning ‘the age of blossoms’ or ‘the flowery years’ is a metaphor for the short-lived time of youth and beauty. Indeed the film shows the transience of love and how we may attempt to hold on to these lost moments. Many of the shots are blurred around the edges, as though we’re watching the past unfold through the haze of memory. The slow motion cinematography works to freeze the couple in time as in still photography. This emphasises their loss; as we can only remember those happy moments of the past, not relive them. The colour of the film too is steeped in memory, muted with a warmth like an old 1960s photograph.

Their loneliness is represented through the claustrophobic setting – though close to each other, they are far apart as they cannot express their feelings because of social propriety and their own repressed desires. The Age of Blossoms plays on the radio – a dedication from Mrs Chan’s husband – after the cuckolded couple have ended their relationship, signifying the end of her blooming youth. As the Age of Blossoms plays, the camera cuts from Mrs Chan’s room to Chow’s and back again.  Her gossipy landlady tells her it’s good to enjoy herself when she’s young but not too much – a warning to end her relationship with Mr Chow.

The film slows time down by focusing on simple details, such as the smoke from Chow’s cigarette or raindrops, which heightens the emotional tone. Just as the couple are restrained in their affair (their love scene was filmed but edited out), the camera shows restraint by holding back. Their loneliness, distance from each other and from society is shown through the camera work. The camera peeks at the couple from under the bed, from the wardrobe and through bars, shadows and doorways. The camera hangs back in the scenes in the apartment as though we’re on the edges of the action.
The viewer often sees characters talking to someone off-screen – showing the separateness between individuals. Mirrors too are used to emphasis the difficulty in making connections (for instance, when the couple get caught in Mr Chow’s room together we see them through mirrors).

I would love to watch this lovers’ dance unfold in all its lingering detail on the big screen! I hope I’ve convinced you to watch but if you need more encouragement here’s the trailer.

I haven’t even mentioned a feature of the film that is breath-taking – the costume design and Maggie Cheung’s manifold cheongsams. Look out for a blog coming soon … (The film’s fashion is so pitch perfect that even my boyfriend mentioned it!)

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on In the Mood for Love or any other Valentine’s Day (or anti-Valentine’s) movies you love.