So that’s it. No more Poirot. Done. Finito. Goodnight Vienna. Since 1989 David Suchet has been effortlessly bringing the little Belgian detective with the ‘egg-shaped head’ and immaculate moustache to our screens. Finally two weeks ago with the airing of Curtain; Poirot’s Last Case we waved goodbye to his little grey cells for good. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I simply wouldn’t be living the life I am today without Agatha Christie. Poirot and Miss Marple got me interested in both archaeology and vintage style, pretty much the two focal points of my daily life.
What started out as a light-entertainment ITV mystery show in the early series, with Hastings ‘Good Lording!’ about all over the shop and cutesy sub-plots regarding pet cats and Inspector Japp’s tea, later developed into pretty serious drama. From about the mid-noughties it seems as if the constant delving into the evil minds of murderers takes its toll on Poirot, he becomes quieter, quick to rage and melancholic. He loses his faithful Hastings and erstwhile Miss Lemon and is left to the sombre company of George the valet. In the later books and series he is jollied along by Ariadne Oliver, played by Zoe Wannamaker in the show. She is everything Poirot is not, untidy, scatty and entirely without tact. She does well to counter Poirot throughout his monk-like mission for justice and truth, but you never really feel like they are having fun. The days are drawing near, the music has faded and the party is definitely over. As the end crawls towards him it’s clear that Poirot is unsure whether he has ever really understood anything at all, people, evil or his ability to do good.
Why the clackity-crap it’s not been nominated for a Bafta since 1992 I literally have no cussing idea. I might start a petition.
In lieu of that however and with every ep. now in the bag I thought I’d throw together my top 10 David Suchet Poirots for your viewing pleasure. So in descending order we have…
10. The ABC Murders.
It’s just pretty dark really isn’t it? It mixes up the narrative perspectives in a way that is quite different to the other episodes, apart for the Murder of Roger Ackroyd of course. It’s perilously cold-blooded for a murderer to pick his victims and locations based on the alphabet and the whole episode just feels a touch more sinister than what has come before.
9. The Chocolate Box.
Poirot and Inspector Japp are in Belgium so that Japp can be honoured with a special award ceremony which he squirms all the way through and Poirot enjoys immensely. In between all of that however Poirot regales us with a tale of murder and treachery from his days as a young constable on the Belgium Police Force. I love this episode because it’s so darn cute seeing Poirot all togged up in his blue pill-box hat. Also of course we meet the one that got away. No, not a daring criminal mastermind but the lovely Virginine played by Anna Chandler (or duck face as she will always be known if you’ve seen Four Weddings). Beautiful, intelligent Virginine and sweet little Poirot can’t be together for reasons I can’t quite remember but as a token of her affection she gives him his famous vase lapel pin, which he always wears and of course always has a fresh flower in. On three now, 1,2…wahhhhhhhhhhh! Isn’t that the sweetest thing! I’ve never been able to look at that damn pin without thinking of Poirot’s little broken heart in that big barrel chest of his since I watched this episode. Also there are lots of nice shots of chocolates because you know, it’s to do with the plot and stuff.
8. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.
It’s Christmas, it’s snowing, there’s a big house and a horrible head of the family just itching for a knife in the throat by one of his disgruntled offspring –what’s more Christmassy than that!? I think this should be on every year on Christmas Eve like The Snowman and families up and down the land can sit together and watch a nice bloody murder and think about how lucky they are that they’ve got no money to leave otherwise over the course of the next 48hrs someone might do the same to them. I kid, Christmas is wonderful, really, it really…is.
7. The Halloween Party
Come on, Poirot and Halloween, together, have we met? Of course this was going to be on this list. It’s a first appereance here for Ariadne too, but it won’t be the last. I do always find it rather shocking that Agatha should choose to drown a school girl in a bobbing-for-apples bucket, it seems terribly callous, but then in the book she does go to pains to highlight that she wasn’t a very nice or attractive girl and she lied a lot so I suppose that makes it ok. Oh Agatha.
6. Appointment with Death
I always enjoy ‘Poirot on Location’, when he trades his usual grey three-piece suit for a lightweight cream linen and looks decidedly ill at ease tripping over dusty pebbled pathways. An Appointment with Death is set in Syria where the wickedly vile Lady Boynton is accompanying her archaeologist husband at his dig site. I wonder what’s going to happen to her? I lovely spa package? A nice trip to the sea? No of course not, a gruesome death in a highly original way is awaiting Lady Boynton. Of course Poirot is on hand to the clear the whole matter up and then it’s all home for tea and crumpets. This was the first archaeologically based Christie I ever read and it made me want to pack a bag and head off to the Middle East to dig things up. I haven’t quite made it yet but I’m getting there.
5. Dead Man’s Folly
Ariadne is back! I decided to add an episode from this year as I guess homage to the end of an era. I couldn’t put the final episode in, A, because it is too sad and B, I’m not entirely sure that I liked it and need a bit of time to work out why. So instead I’m putting in Dead Man’s Folly, ostensibly because Zoe Wanamaker has some simply outstanding outfits and I’m ever so slightly in love with Stephanie Leonadis as Hattie Stubbs. Oooh AND Julie Christie is in it and she has so much gravitas and beauty. I hope I can conjure some of that grace and elegance as I age. To be frank though in all likelihood I’ll be in a dressing gown covered in beans and ranting at the Big Questions because let’s be honest, a leopard never changes its spots.
4. Murder in Mesopotamia.
Again this is purely due to location (Iraq) and context (an archaeological dig). This book was another foundation to my love of archaeology. It was a snapshot into a time when archaeology was really glamorous after Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen. I feel particularly fond of this book now because after the breakdown of her first marriage Agatha travelled to the Middle East alone and had a wonderful time. There she met Max Mallowman the archaeologist, whom she married and accompanied on digs for the rest of their lives. I now study in the Institute Mallowman worked in and pass his office daily. It feels rather beautifully circular that she wrote about archaeological sites because of her experiences with Mallowman which inspired me to study archaeology and end up in the same building he worked in. It’s all very neat. There are also some lovely outfits in this of course.
3. The Mystery of the Blue Train.
I simply love this episode. It’s the one I put on first even though I’ve seen it tones of times. I can’t understnad why it’s not better known, but it’s not so here goes…
It’s the height of summer and the Blue Train from Calais to Nice is packed full of likely types all with secrets to keep and yarns to spin. Wealthy heiress Ruth Kettering is on board and of course so is Poirot. So too is perhaps one of my favourite portrayals of a Christie character bar the Lumley as Bunny Bantry and that’s Lindsey Duncan as Lady Tamplin (an aside but Lindsey Duncan would play my mother in the film of my life). In this Lady Tamplin is bombing about the Rivera hard up and out for fun, accompanied by her daughter Lenox and her equally daftly named boyfriend Corky. It’s a wonderful romp from go to whoa and is just brilliant to watch. It also has one of my favourite tunes in it…
There are scant few pictures of this episode for some reason so I’d urge you just to watch it, it will make you smile, and then book a ticket to the south of France.
2. After the Funeral.
I’m not going to lie; Michael Fassbender being in this episode plays a large part in its position in second place on this list. Yes you read that right peoples, Fassbender is in a Poirot. 2005s After the Funeral is also a really good mystery in its own right regardless of cast. It’s got a fab plot, a really nice script and is just all round great. Oh yes and did I mention Fassbender is in it playing a troubled cad, which by chance is my favourite sort of cad.
1. Five Little Pigs
When I first watched Five Little Pigs I almost forgot I was watching a Poirot. It has no apparent lineage at all to the bumbling comedy filtered Clapham Cook of 1989. It’s beautiful. I know I tend to throw that word around a lot but it really is. It’s shot in a dreamy haze of summer lakes and white chiffon tea dresses. The evidence is recounted ten years after the event so dialogues are mixed and muddled, it seems more like a Virginia Woolf play than an Agatha Christie and seeing as they are two of my favourite authors this makes me very happy. Rachel Stirling is as angelic and elegant as Julie Cox is vivacious and lush, doe lean and flicking her sharp black bob in draping embroidered kimonos. They read Plato’s account of the death of Socrates and it’s as if all of the characters go numb with the hemlock too, locked in a day in summer all those years ago when something awful happened. The end of summer and the end of innocence.
Someone who has been woefully neglected throughout all of the previous is the most stylish character of the entire show, yes it’s Miss Lemon. Surely modelled on the chic crispness of Wallace Simpson Lemon displays and array of outfits I would honestly question my morals to get my hands on. It’s just too, too good. Here’s to you Miss Lemon.
If you spend any time at all in internet land, and by the very fact of your reading this that would seem to be to some extent an affirmative, you will likely be bombarded with people telling you to look at things from all quarters. Through Facebook, Pintrest and most prolifically Twitter I’m invited to look at hundreds of links to various things every day, more often than not with the words ‘check this out’ somewhere in the mix and usually by people I’ve never met. We send out links to friends like the Victorians left callings cards. In fact, thinking about it, that might have legs as a PhD thesis. There! Someone take it and run with it. I bequeath that idea to the nation because frankly I’ve got enough issues of my own in that particular arena to attempt it myself, but that’s a post for another day.
So back to the matter at hand. Links, sometimes good sometimes rubbish, sometimes I click, mostly I don’t. But when I get sent a link by my lovely buddy Chris and his equally lovely lady Laura I can be fairly sure it’ll be something worth seeing . Indeed they came up trumps again when they turned my head towards the work of photographer Kirsty Mitchell.
Kirsty spent the last decade working in the fashion industry and has many creative strings to her bow including design, art and costume. In 2008 Kirsty sadly lost her mother to cancer. She was subsequently inspired by the fairytales her mother used to tell her to embark on a series of photographs which served both as a way of working through her grief and also as homage to her mother’s imagination and spirit. The project snowballed into an all encompassing five year labour or love and this autumn ‘Wonderland’ was completed.
It’s a truly incredible body of work. Everything in the pictures from the costumes to props were made either by Kirsty or dedicated and kind friends. She developed her ideas through her dreams and whilst there are nods to historical and mythical iconography, specifically Gaia, she never aimed to create an accurate representation of a research topic and instead just let her mind overflow like a bathtub full of magic, nature, fables and dreams. Kirsty writes that being able to physically step into the physiological worlds she had created in order to escape her grief was the most rewarding aspect of the entire project. I can well believe this to be so.
The worlds she creates I can completely identify with. The foundation or ‘home’ of the images is largely the British countryside; the woods, streams and wheat fields. Her images are the worlds I see but sometimes can’t articulate, pixies in the undergrowth, spider webs on toadstools and spirit-ships wrecked in tree tops. Now I’m a practical and logical kinda’ dame, I don’t believe for one moment that fairies exist anymore than I do ghosts, pixies, Father Christmas or pleasant tasting beer. However allowing these characters to exist in some liminal world trapped between the scientific reality I trust and fantastical children’s’ books makes the space I live in rather more exciting.
Kirsty’s website has an incredible slide show of the entire project (best viewed with the music). There is also a wonderful section of diary entries documenting the creation of each image. We are able to go behind the scenes and see the crafting of props, inspirational visuals and the shoots in progress. It’s also lovely to read Kirsty’s own words about her work and the route that led her to the creation of this mammoth and remarkable project.
Wonderland has well and truly broken into the mainstream press since its launch and has received write ups from national newspapers and a plethora of bloggers. What Kirsty has achieved is completely inspirational and I could spend eons walking around her worlds, especially of course the autumnal ones. I hope you all like them too, and do take a look at the site where you can buy prints and read a lot more about the project.
All images – Kirsty Mitchell www.kirstymitchellphotography.com/
I wanted to take a short break from the usual run of things on this blog to pay tribute to Mavis Batey who passed away on the 12th Nov, rather touchingly, during Remembrance Week.
Mavis Lever was born in south London in 1921 and as a teenager managed to persuade her parents to take her on holiday to the Rhineland. From this experience she became interested in the German Romantic Poets and went on to study German at UCL. She was still there when war broke out and at the age of 19 she tried to become a nurse to help with the war effort. She was informed however that her German language skills could be of greater service to her country than her nursing. In a quote which sounds uncannily like something I would say Mavis describes her feelings about her new job…
‘So, I thought, great, this is going to be an interesting job, Mata Hari, seducing Prussian officers. But I don’t think either my legs or my German were good enough because they sent me to the Government Code & Cipher School’.
She worked in The Cottage of Bletchley Park with Dilly Knox, the genius if entirely unconventional cryptanalyst who had been breaking codes since WW1 and who now headed the team trying to crack the Italian Naval signal. Mavis credited Knox with encouraging her to think laterally and independently. There were no rules or guidebooks for the work they were doing, it was all new and as such ‘you had to work it all out for yourself from scratch’.
And work it out she did because in March 1941 Mavis broke into the Italian Naval system and read a message that stated, ‘today’s the day minus three’. In characteristically modest tones Batey later said, ‘why they had to say that I can’t imagine, it seems rather daft but they did’. They spent the next three days ceaselessly decoding messages trying desperately to gather more information. Mavis worked through the days and nights with no sleep and fuelled merely by tar-like black coffee. Eventually a message came in which described at length the details of a planned attack on a Royal Navy supply convoy in the Mediterranean. Cruisers and submarine numbers where passed directly to the Admiralty and as a result the Royal Navy where able to confront and surprise the Italian fleet at Matapan.
Batey would then go on to work with Knox and Margaret Rock to break the German Abwher Enigma cipher. It was through this success that the XX Committee, who were running German spies in double-cross intelligence missions, could send faked intelligence to the Abwher and know through the deciphered messages that the information was being believed. It was through this duplicitous intelligence exchange that Britain could pretend that allied forces would land at Pas de Calais and not Normandy as planned.
The work of the code breakers at Bletchley Park was integral to Allied success during the Second World War, and Mavis was unequivocally a fundamental part of that. Some have called her one of the best female code breakers of the war. I think this is an unsatisfactory title. Her gender has nothing to do with her work or her mind and she was one of the best code breakers of the war, period. She was intuitive and realised that the systems she was trying to break weren’t just inanimate machinery but also the people at the other end, the users of the equipment; it was these people she tried to break in to more than the systems themselves. In one example, she realised that an Italian dummy message which came through contained no L’s. The Enigma machines would never replicate a letter as itself and so she realised that the operator had simply and rather lazily sat with his finger on L to send the dummy message. It was this sort of inspired thinking which made her so important and successful.
After the war ended Mavis and her new husband Keith, another Bletchley Park code breaker moved to Oxford and as Keith worked for the University Mavis devoted herself to the protection of historic gardens and parks. She worked with the Historic Buildings Council and served as president of the Garden History Society until her death. In 1987 she was appointed MBE for her efforts in this field.
Mavis’s practical yet humorous and self-deprecating accounts of her war work make up a large proportion of the first hand experiences in Ian Sinclair’s excellent ‘The Secret Life of Bletchley Park’. She was a popular speaker at various events, lectures and for interview after the veil was lifted on Bletchley during the late 1980s. I love listening to and reading her stories and am always inspired by her no-fuss attitude to life. As silly and sentimental as it may sound I do think of Mavis working in the freezing cold, hunched over a desk and fending off sleep with awful coffee for twelve hour shifts when I’m sitting up myself in the small hours and feeling totally overwhelmed by work (even though, it hardly needs to be said that the work she was doing was undoubtedly of much greater consequence than mine!)
Mavis died on 12th November 2013 at the age of 92, inspiring, indomitable and totally and utterly brilliant.
I’ve become mildly enamoured with colourised historical photographs of late. I find them completely fascinating.
Colourisation of photographs is no new enterprise but it does seem to have garnered something of a head of steam in recent years and there are now Twitter accounts and websites dedicated to amateur enthusiast showing off their work. I follow ColorizedHistory on Twitter and the Reddit sites /r/colorization and /r/colorizedhistory are both an absolute time sucker and where all of the pictures in this post are from.
I suppose I don’t really need to talk too much about why they are so appealing and captivating. With black and white images there will always be a level of disconnect with modern viewers who are confronted daily with thousands of technicoloured images. Black and white will always hark to a bygone era; a time when things were that bit different, even pictures from only a few decades ago shot in black and white or sepia feel slightly more alien than coloured. The pictures I enjoy most are the older ones dating to the nineteenth and very early twentieth century. Seeing sights, such as Civil War soldiers in colour is something I always daydreamed about when staring into textbooks during GCSE history classes. I thought I’d never ever see such a thing, in the same way that I’ll never really see Elizabeth I’s red hair or hear Cleopatra’s voice. However now due to some wonderful people with far more patience than myself I can see these things.
Now I know some purists will say these images aren’t authentic. And of course they are entirely correct. Do we know if the tones and shades are exactly accurate? No of course not, and some efforts are I’m afraid just better than others (as is evident from the selection here). However I think images such as these, as long as they are correctly identified as colourised and not passed off as originals are an incalculable good to the human experience of history. It makes it relatable on a level not before possible. To see the flush in the cheek of someone born perhaps nearly two hundred years ago to me feels like the very essence of what it is to have a past reaching out through the years of swirling clock hands to meet your gaze. It kicks you somewhere inside to share in the world like that.
There are of course also the impacts for historical research; textiles, materials, tones, furniture, paints, fibres and hundreds of other artefacts all come literally in to focus when colourised. I don’t believe they should be used as historical proof but as a tool for imagination and context they are amazing.
So enough chit chat, let’s look at some…
If you have a spare few hours I would recommend a visit to some of the links above, they are a treasure trove.
Can you ever really have too much mix n’ match knitwear?
No I don’t think so either.
One of my all time favourite annual rituals alongside carving pumpkins and eating nothing but chocolate for breakfast for a solid three weeks after Christmas, is putting on two extra layers of everything and heading out into the frozen night air to watch fireworks. Tights, woolly socks, several jumpers, gloves and hat preferably all heated on the radiator for a while first. Once you bundle all of that lot on you end up looking a bit like this…
Of course I could have gone out wearing a replica Cher unitard circa ‘Turn Back Time’ in reality because what do we all do for about ten months of the year when leaving the house? Throw on a great big coat and cover up whatever outfit we’ve put together.
I went to a friend’s bonfire party last night and it was lovely. Is there any better smell on Earth than a bonfire? I came home reeking of smoke and I’ve happily been smelling burning leaves in my hair all today.
I tried to take a few pictures of the fireworks but I only had my camera phone on me which seems to be on a go-slow so it was a bit tricky. T said I should just Google image some fireworks but I’m not going to lie to you dear readers, so here are a few slightly undramatic but resolutely genuine shots of the action.
Moi just about to realise my sparkler had died, oh woe.
But it’s ok because then I got a double one!
So when the leaves have turned, the twigs have snapped and the last marshmallow has been toasted it’s time for bed.
Halloween fell on a Wednesday this year, which let’s be honest, is no fun. Halloween should be on a Friday night by law so that we can all get nice and sozzled on witches brew. Wednesday night just doesn’t really scream ‘party!’ However I think even a night in with a few spooky films and some good food can feel a bit magical with a smattering of spells, candles and potions. One particular potion was an amazing cauldron (well slow cooker) full of pumpkin cobbler from a recipe my lovely friend Laura gave me. It’s like Halloween in a bowl. Perfect! The rest of the Witching Hour (or five) looked a bit like this…
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
So I had planned on posting a bit of a Halloween Bonanza Spooktacular and writing some more about how much I love Halloween in all of it’s inky black magic. It’s fortunate that I have covered a lot of that ground in the past because I had a slight Halloween nightmare of my own this afternoon when water from my upstairs neighbour’s flat began to leak pretty spectacularly through my ceiling. As I stood and watched my hallway transformed into a lunar landscape of saucepans, monotonously and stubbornly filling up with drips, the detective in me (who has watched far too much CSI over the years) imagined for a moment that something awful had happened to someone whilst in the tub and that I’d have to break the door down and perform CPR, which would have been tricky because I don’t know how to. Luckily for me and the imaginary cadaver upstairs it was merely a plumbing issue. Then I managed to get stuck in some unholy traffic for about three hours driving out of central London tonight so long story short, no extensive spiel about potions and toffee apples with lots of beautiful pictures and a round up of good films to watch and events on in London tomorrow, with a few recipes thrown in for good measure. Just, I’m afraid a little playlist to get you in the mood as you smear on that white face paint (I love that smell) and tie up your capes.
It’s now also just past midnight as I write this so it’s officially Halloween!!! Have a spooky day witches and wizards.
I baked a cake, it was tasty, and so I thought you might like to see it. I chose a recipe from Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth cook book for my Mum and older sister’s joint birthday cake. It was a bitter chocolate orange cake however I decided to forgo the large chocolate shards on top mainly because I thought they’d be a bugger to carry on the tube.
So I was just about to start copying out the recipe when T piped up and asked if that was, ‘you know, ok?’ Truth be told I have no idea how copyright regarding recipes works so I’ll err on the side of caution and not type it up but, word to the wise, if you put ‘Lilly Vanilli Bitter Chocolate Orange Cake’ into something rhyming with Poodle you can find the same recipe everywhere.
One note of caution, if you are someone who watches what they eat put the wooden spoon down and move away from the mixing bowl. This recipe is Nigella Lawson-esque in its extravagant use of every sugary or fattening ingredient known to man.
Right, that aside, let’s go baking!
I have to say when the sponges came out of the oven they were beautifully light and pillow soft and would make a delicious pudding on their own with just some cream and maybe fresh fruit. However after a few layers of ganache and a night in the fridge everything compresses and becomes very dense and rich, equally scrummy, it’s like two cakes in one really. Nom nom nommy nom.
Happy Birthday Mum and Chezzie xxx
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
I want to start by saying that all of the below is in reference really to the purely visual aspects of vintage. I appreciate that there is a lot more to vintage life than just clothes, hair and makeup. People who dress in a particular vintage style invariably have a passion for all aspects of their preferred era such as films, music and social-cultural history. However what I’m interested in with this post is really just the outer shell.
Something I’ve been pondering often and for a long time is the notion of authentic vs. what I’m terming ‘artistic vintage’. What I mean by ‘artistic’ or interpretive vintage is perhaps very specific to my mind and hard to define but I’ll try. I mean really a vintage look with the contrast on high. Usually not 100% historically accurate but more than merely, that bane of eBay seekers the world over, ‘vintage inspired’. It seems that ‘vintage inspired’ is a term slapped onto any dress that falls to the calf and means that you have to wade through 500 pages of last year’s Per Una and Primark frocks before you find what you are looking for. This is not to say that both of those brands don’t make nice clothes but it’s undeniable that the overuse of the dratted ‘vintage inspired’ causes a lot of extra legwork. ‘Artistic vintage’ is a vintage look with the volume turned up to 11. There will be an extra lacquer of rouge or pencil or glitter. The hair will be a bit bigger, the lipstick that bit darker and with a nod to the carnival, gothic or stage muddled into everything. I suppose some could argue that this definition is applicable to the Pin Up or Rockabilly styles and to a point they would be right. However to me those looks are linked into a well established sub-culture of music, dance and to a certain extent tattooing. What I’m trying to describe is something largely just aesthetic, a look to be created and washed away. Something perhaps like this…
I think we firstly have to be fairly careful when we bandy about words such as ‘authentic’. What does it really mean when discussed in a vintage context? I often hear people say things such as ‘I don’t care what era someone goes for as long as it’s accurate’. Well accurate in accordance to what? I think we need to consider our sources. The eras I’m most drawn to are the 1920/30/40s however I’m not restrictive, some days I may want to look like Mina Harker, some days Tippi Hendren but mostly I will look like a goth Miss Marple. I think the look most people would imagine when you shout ‘1920!’ in their face is something like this….
And 40s would be …
However how ‘accurate’ are this images of what people really looked like in those times? The vast majority of our sources for fashion, hair and beauty for past decades even up to I would argue fairly recent times come from Hollywood. Today we all carry a phone in our pocket and take selfies and stick them on the internet so we have access to billions upon billions of different ‘average people’ and the looks they happen to be rocking. However we simply don’t have the same extent of material for past eras. Hollywood actresses where the aesthetic ideal of the time. Upon signing to a studio they would usually be given a top to toe makeover, hair dyed, eyebrows shaped and perhaps even cosmetic surgery as with Marilyn Monroe.
This may not sound a million miles away from Hollywood stylists today and I suppose the tradition is still there however in the 20s, 30s, and 40s in particular it was the organised and regimented aspect that made the looks so potent. Actresses, but also actors too where moulded into largely preconditioned archetypes, the vamp, the girl next door, the bombshell. Actresses became the catwalks of the day and their looks where copied feverishly. But by who? Not every single woman on the planet cut her hair and waved it in the 1920s. Not every woman plucked her eyebrows into arched thin lines and not every woman in the 1940s sported pristine crisp victory rolls. The vampish make up of 1920s actresses needed to be obvious so that it would be visible under the studio lights and to early cameras, but I’m always surprised by how little or even no makeup ‘real-life’ women of this period are sporting in photographs. It’s also usual for many of these ordinary women to not be stick thin with tiny bird like limbs protruding from beaded flapper dresses. The ideal of the time as attested by multiple editorials and advertisements may have been for tall, slim models who could show off the clothes to their best advantage however as today, that doesn’t mean that the entire female population suddenly became a size 4. I asked my grandmother who lived through the 20s, 30s and 40s (and of course many more decades subsequently) how she finger waved her hair back then. She looked at me as if I were mad and told me she never did and I’d stake my house that she never thinned her eyebrows either. Now I think it’s fair to say that my Grandma wasn’t the sort of woman to go tripping the light fandango at the hottest London nightspots, but never the less she betrayed a far more relaxed attitude to beauty and style at this time than the ubiquitous nature of the contemporary sources would have us believe. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that non-Hollywood types didn’t Marcel wave and pluck themselves into incredibly beautiful swan-like deco masterpieces, of course they did. Fashionable and one would assume to a certain degree, wealthy women of the period did indeed replicate the aesthetics of Hollywood but would a woman working in a factory in Birmingham without a ladies maid or the resources for a weekly salon visit really be finger waving her hair every other day?
Women working in the Rowntrees factory in the 1920s.
Quite far removed from…
Now I appreciate that for every picture you can find of a woman with unstyled hair in the 1920/30/40s you can find one with beautifully coiffured tendrils however that is almost entirely my point; contextualise your sources. Who is being photographed? Is she a model? Actress? Singer? Society Lady or working mother of five? Where is she? In a well lit studio or on her way to the shops? Is she posed or candid? These are all questions that run through my head when looking at vintage sources. Having your photograph taken was not an everyday occurrence for most people until relatively recent times. If a woman knew she was going to have her photograph taken maybe she would take special preparations to have her hair fashionably set or buy the latest dress, but does that mean she always looked like that? Conversely did a factory worker with scrapped back hair and no makeup always look so or did she get all gussied up in the evenings? Photos are not our only resource; there is a wealth of magazine articles, beauty advice columns, hair setting patterns and cosmetic advertisements that all give a good insight into authentic methods of beautification. But how widely where these resources used or adopted? I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually followed a ‘how to’ hair tutorial from a magazine in my own life so how can we estimate how widely these magazines would have been read and most importantly by who in society? I of course don’t have all the answers to these ponderments but I just want to highlight that talking about ‘authentic vintage’ can be a sticky wicket sometimes. If you are going to seek authenticity you also have to consider where it ends. Should we consider using the styling tools of the age such as heavy and uncoated heating tongs? Or the makeup of the era in all of its thick cakey glory? Something I always wonder about is pants, should we if we’re striving for accuracy only wear flimsy silk tap pants and never a pair of M&S cotton high legs? Its tricky terrain and ultimately personal.
I sometimes like to go for an out and out ‘on point’ 20s or 30s look. I’ll wave my hair and shape my brows and wear literally the genuine article and it’s wonderful. But I don’t do it every day. There are some bloggers and Instagraming types who look bang on the money 100% of the time. Their finger waves make we swoon and they surely must be running illegal gambling dens to fund their Bakelite collections. I heartily and with sincere admiration salute these women and of course men too. They are truly inspirational and fabulous people who are preserving the skills, knowledge and techniques of the past for all of us. I myself though feel I need some contrasts. I like mixing up my look and not staying in the same place. Since the age of about ten I’ve gone through various clothing incarnations which ran something like this; hippy, glam punk, riot girl, skater, goth, Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite, ‘fucking Stevie Nicks in hippy clothes’, 20s, 30s, 40s and now I’m just a mix of all of the above. I think one of the issues I have particularly with a very authentic 30s look is that it’s quite unforgiving. The classic arched brow, minimal eye makeup and softly powdered cheeks can be quite hard to pull off. For me the whole look is in the eyebrows, and whereas I appreciate that not everyone had them, they are the hallmark of the age to speak in archetypes. I’ve experimented with very thin brows over the years and the simple fact I had to resign myself to is, they don’t suit me. I look less Dietrich or Davis and more 14 year old let loose with some Tweezermans for the first time. My face just doesn’t have the right dimensions to pull it off. I also really, really like dark eye makeup. I like the smoky, sleaziness of a sooty eye and I never feel quite myself without a nice coating of the black stuff. Margo Tennenbaum meets Morticia Addams is my desired level of dark. All in all it’s tricky for me to pull off an ’authentic’ 30s look and if truth be told I don’t feel I look my best when I do no matter how wonderful it feels to look ‘accurate’. Some reading this may be thinking that this is all too prescribed or overblown and that frankly if I can’t take the heat I should get out of the kitchen. I know that vintage dressing and style should be about what you feel the most comfortable in and that if there are too many obstacles to looking how you want then clearly this ain’t for you babe. Well I’d go along with that to a certain extent. But I also don’t believe in hard and fast rules. The approach I like to take is one of this rather twattishly self named ‘ artistic vintage’, taking the beautiful bits, the archetypes, the feel and twisting it, squishing and blending and pumping it into something macabre and ghoulish yet flimsy and fun.
Something like this…
Some photographers who really capture what I’ve been trying to explain are…
Ellen von Unwerth
Pierre and Gilles (who I’ve already written about here)
And also work by stylists such as the majestic Grace Coddington.
Some ladies who seem to be able to convert this spirit into reality and who I admire greatly are…
Karen Elson, part Lizzie Siddal, part carnival queen of the mid-west.
Sarah Sophie, who looks like an absinthe fairy come to life.
Vanessa Paradis who particularly a few years back sported an enviable collection of souped-up 20’s looks on the red carpet.
Dita, who despite being the uncontested Grand Dame of all things vintage style, actually doesn’t wear 100% vintage very much at all. She has talked openly about the ‘quick fixes’ she uses to achieve her look in very modern ways and is usually carrying a new designer Miu Miu bag rather than a period one. She mixes the chic glossy lacquer of the modern hotel bar with the ethos of the past.
And last but not least the unadulterated Queen of ‘artistic vintage’ (I really should come up with a better name) Helena Bonham-Carter who has been rocking her unique blend of Miss Havisham goes to Halloween Town for as long as I can remember.
Now the astute amongst you (and incredibly lovely if you’ve actually read all of the above) may bellow in my direction, ‘aha! Young madam, aren’t you just using examples from fashion and film in the same way that you said we shouldn’t when discussing authentic vintage style earlier?’ Well yes, but there’s a difference. With the aforementioned access to nose into other people’s style be it street style as in the brilliant Fruits or on Instagram or blogs it’s clear to me that there are many, many, many wonderful peacocks and harlots out there working their very own unique brand of what I’ve termed ‘artistic vintage’. I can’t tell you how much I love it. It’s glorious to see people flirting and dancing with different styles and eras and creating incredible fantasy lands of froth and wigs and powder puffs. I don’t want to put up pictures stolen from others Instagram feeds because that seems frankly creepy but I’d urge you to go forth and explore, go see the dancing girls and noir dames in all of their tulle and black. Now I must go and powder my wig and paint my talons blue.
There is a fine line between observant and nosey. This is a line oft debated in my house in exchanges which usually end with me saying, ‘look would you call Sherlock Holmes nosey? No, exactly. Now be quiet and pass me those binoculars’.
Maybe it is this insatiable errm… observant streak in me that meant I really enjoyed the ‘What’s in my Bag?’ posts Nubby Twiglet used to do on her blog. I really love Nubby/Shauna’s blog and have been following her world domination of the blogosphere for many a year now. I like her laser-focus dedication to a black, white and red ascetic and also her business-like approach. She’s clearly a pretty smart cookie and knows her onions about how to get her vision across. I would heartily urge anyone vaguely interested in design, blogging, marketing or typography to take a look at her site. It’s a vast and excellent resource for helpful Q and As, tips and tricks and general ‘how to guides’ for bloggers and freelancers of all spheres.
Anywhooo, back to the nosing. As I said, in a move totally ripped off from Nubby I thought I’d let you take a look inside my bag because if you’re anything like me you might find it vaguely entertaining.
Bag – from Handmade in Hammersmith
1. Paperblanks Diary. If there’s one thing I never mind shelling out for it’s a decent diary. My diary is my bible and my anchor and I would be lost without it. I don’t think you can beat Paperblanks beautifully embossed and intricate designs and the numerous pockets, notebooks and added extras that come with each diary.
2. On the go make-up, Besame Rouge, Touché Éclat, lip liner, Burt’s Bees lip balm, Besame Lipstick, Laura Mercier Powder and a beautiful blue enamel pocket mirror that my dear friend gave me.
3. Make-up bag, also from Handmade in Hammersmith.
5. Notebook. I rarely leave the house without a notebook. I have about ten that have seen me through over the years full of to do lists, scribblings and other useful things. This is just a standard Moleskin notebook onto which I stuck a postcard that my Dad sent me from France to jazz it up a bit.
6. 1940s billfold purse.
7. Headphones, these happen to be Skullcandy but in my humble opinion life’s too short to care about things like that, as long as I can listen Dolly Parton on my walk to the shops I’m happy.
8. An assortment of various storecards that I always forget to use.
9. Umbrella, always, because I live in Britain and I’m not a masochist.
10. Pencil case and pens and yes, I may have a tartan substance abuse problem.
11. Homework diary because I’m six.
12. Work pad.
13. Teeny hairbrush and bobby pins. Never leave home without some!
Have a nice rest of your weekend lovely people!