A little public service announcement during this sticky old heatwave – carry a bottle of water and seek refuge in a nice cool gallery or museum.
It’s lovely being outside in the sunshine sometimes, especially when British weather is so changeable. A sunny day feels like a real gift and we should all make the most of it. But when the mercury is high, you’re trudging up Oxford Street with your eyeliner doing an Alice Copper and only a roasting tin of a train to look forward to, the cool, quiet marble of the National Gallery looks mighty tempting. Of course if this was New York in the 50s I’d be on a train upstate with the kids to sip lemonade by the lake for a month while T stays home to get that copy in to the ad men. But then Marilyn Monroe would move in next door and get her toe stuck up a tap, and errm, I can’t remember how it ends, something about a fishing rod I think. Anyway I’m not. I’m here in this city filled with air with the viscosity of marshmallow (I stole that of someone I follow on Twitter because it’s one of the most glorious phrases I’ve heard in a long time).
So with that all in mind, here’s an overview of some great exhibitions currently on in London which are well worth ducking out of the sun to see. Most are also continuing for a few months, so in approximately a week and a half when we have gale-force winds and sideways rain they will still be there to offer shelter of another kind.
The first is the V & As The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-1914. This ends on the 27th July so get hustling! I’d stake my cats that it’s going to be chock-full of incredible beauty, style and a whole lot of embellishment. Versace, Pucci and Dolce Dolce Dolce are sure to feature too.
Next is another V & A treasure, in the form of Wedding Dresses 1775- 2014. 200 years of frocks, personal history and a whole lot of lace. This one is running until March next year, so lots of time to take in the delights. (Lto R; Gwen, Ditta and Kate Moss).
Kensington Palace is showing its opulent Fashion Rules collection until summer 2015 and it’s surely worth a visit. It showcases the fashions of Royal women from 1950 to 1990. The British Royal family may be synonymous with pastel skirt suits and matching hat combos but this collection shows them generally after dark. There are multiple designer gowns encompassing varying degrees of glittery, tuelly and silky glamour.
The Imperial War Museum is back! Woohoo! After a multi-million pound re-fit the museum re-opened this week and boasts some very impressive sights, including the new WW1 galleries and their landmark exhibition, Truth and Memory: British Art of the First World War. I can’t wait to go.
This isn’t really vintage related but seeing as I’m in the process of writing 15,000 words about colour symbolism in archaeology, I’m very excited to see this at the National. Making Colour explores, well exactly that really; how pigments are made and the nature of colour in art.
For the futurist fans amongst you, the Estorick Collection is holding a display of Gerardo Dottori works until the 7th September.
The National Portrait Gallery recently opened Virginia Woolf, Art, Life and Vision. Virginia is just so fascinating to me and I’m soppily fond of her so I’m keen to see this collection of artworks and documents relating to her life. Not sure about the suicide note for some reason. Maybe I’m being over-sensitive and daft but it seems in rather bad taste to have that on display. Although I’m sure I’ve read it before somewhere, in a book perhaps so it must be in the public domain. And I’ve read her diaries. And letters. So yeah, I’m being over-sensitive. And a hypocrite.
Finally here’s one that’s not open yet but squirrel it away in your memory box for September. Horst: Photographer of Style is running until January 2015 and I’m sure will sell quick as a flash, so book early.
Right, now for a mojito.
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As some of you will be aware I am currently completing my MA in Archaeology. Adorning my department walls is an ever changing carnival of posters for multiple and varied conferences, lectures and projects covering a broad spectrum of historical and archaeological research interests. I’m not going to lie, most are pretty darn niche. However today I spotted one that I thought looked really interesting and was thoroughly deserving of a bit of a shout out.
As we all know this year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War. I have already mentioned the great ‘Letter to an Unknown Solider’ project that I took part in recently (and you can too!). However this year The Council for British Archaeology are also commemorating the War by launching a four year project (2014-2018) exploring the effects of the First World War in Britain through previously unrecorded sites. The Home Front Legacy Project is asking you to get involved by letting them know about sites in your area which are historically valuable to the story of the First World War in Britain. This is your chance to flex your archaeologist elbow. But don’t worry, you don’t need to be experienced in the field or even get muddy. Much of archaeological work, which isn’t for some reason documented in Indiana Jones, is recording evidence (like a detective I like to think, which is equally as cool). Archaeology is a destructive process and so we replace what we remove with accurate records to preserve the site for future study. This model of recording is what the CBA are asking us all to do. They provide all of the tools needed on their website (along with a much more thorough brief than I have sketched out). The website will also serve as a repository for the information and will develop a UK wide map plotting newly discovered sites. The data will also be shared across multiple archaeological agencies and submitted to local councils to ensure that First World War sites are considered in any future planning decisions. Very cool indeed.
The sites could be anything, from requisitioned buildings, military sites or even documentary evidence such as photographs and letters.
I think this is a fabulous opportunity to preserve our relatively recent local history in a synthesised way and to ensure it doesn’t disappear over time.
Also I just really love doing detective work.
Follow the project on Twitter too @homefrontlegacy
So we got back from our much anticipated French holiday this morning. It was only been a short hop across the Channel but it may as well have been a different planet. The light, the air, the pace of life were all so far removed from busy and habitually murky London. I love the old girl don’t get me wrong, but it’s always nice to wake up to blue seas and white light.
So, back I am, in the fluffy bosom my cats and my own bed, but I’m not quite ready to return to reality just yet. That’s for tomorrow. I’m not one of these holiday-blues-getting types generally. I like my holiday, then I come home refreshed and ready to crack on with the next thing. However, this evening with the back door open and perhaps a little foggy from sleep deprivation, I still feel that I have a few toes floating on the surface of that bright blue sea.
So whilst I’m in this lazy twilight, I thought I’d post the first of several chapters about my time away. This first one is about Notebook basecamp, which was a beautiful apartment above Nice overlooking the marina. It could be best described architecturally as 80’s does deco, but in a fairly successful way which managed to avoid looking like Rodney and Cassandra’s flat in Only Fools and Horses in the later series when Rodders starts working for Caz’s dad and they go all young professional on us. This is my all round mental image whenever I hear the phrase ‘80s does 20s’. Even though I think that was actually in the 90s, but what the hey.
I didn’t want to stay in some super modern apartment with pristine white floors and glass everywhere. Glamourous they may be, but if I was going to France I wanted to feel I was in France and not just one of a billion holiday apartments in any country anywhere on Earth. This place ticked all the boxes. It wasn’t quite a bohemian garret apartment straight out the La Boheme that I might have plumped for (T put his foot down), but it was the perfect mix of luxury and character and I loved staying there.
You may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet this week here in Notebook-land.
That’s because I have been celebrating my birthday by swanning off to the Riviera for a bit. I’m currently in Nice, trying to look as chic as Brigitte whilst simultaneously stuffing my face with as many creme brulees as I can lay my sticky little fingers on.
Normal service will resume in a few days.
Au revoir mes petits cornichons.
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In this year marking the centenary of the First World War there’s a great project that some of you may like to partake in.
The Letter to an Unknown Soldier is an art project which invites the public to write a letter to an unknown solider. It can be about anything that you feel you would like to express – a familial story, an imagined letter from a sweetheart or a review of what we have learned about war since then. Then upload the letter to the website. The site will remain open until 11 p.m. on the night of 4 August 2014. This time marks the centenary of the moment when Prime Minister Asquith announced to the House of Commons that Britain had joined the First World War. After this the letters will be archived online by the British Library.
More info can be found here
I think this is a great idea and I’ve already submitted my letter. Which I’ve posted below for you all to read.
To an Unknown Solider,
I’m writing this on a train. I had meant to sit and write this peacefully at my dining room table, taking a few brief organised moments to reflect on you and your war and your sacrifice. But that didn’t happen because this world is busy. My world is busy, chaotically busy. But my world is peacefully chaotically busy. Sitting across from me is a lady with a cup of coffee in her hand. The steam raises and twirls in the rattling carriage. I think of your fingers, frozen and bent. Hunched in the winter night, roaring guns and shuddering bones. What relief a good cup of coffee would have been to you. It’s warmth as you held it, sipped and swallowed. Filling for a moment the hollow form in the uniform. Now I can smell it, so familiar to me – rich, nutty and transportive, to a world of soft sofas and Sunday morning newspaper reading. In my world we call a cup of coffee a ‘little luxury’. We buy overpriced cups topped with creamy foam and chocolate dust (sometimes in the form of a heart) because we’ve earned a little treat. We made it through that boring meeting, or our gym session, or its Friday and we all deserve extra love on a Friday. This is my world – full of daily luxuries. It’s not like this for everyone. Somewhere in this world someone would still grasp a cup of coffee as you may have done, as if it were life itself. But my world, my world that I ride this train through is not that brutal. It is safe and warm and full of luxuries because of you. Thank you seems feeble, but it is sincere.
A very grateful woman on a train.
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My earliest encounter with Jean Paul Gautier was the transparent peach toned form with perfect breasts and slim curving waist that stood in the bathroom of my childhood home. I don’t remember ever lifting the cap and squirting a sharp, pert gust from the neck of the headless lady, like a fragrant tracheotomy. Perhaps it never occurred to me that there might be more to the object than its perfect form. The bottle belonged to my mother, so it seemed apt that we visited the exhibition currently on display at the Barbican together – The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.
Perfume, corsets and stripes remain synonymous with Gaultier and they were the backbone of the exhibition. His signature stripes unashamedly assault you in the first space you enter, which for a stripeophile such as myself was a wee bit of a fetishistic experience. Gaultier is however more than Breton and cone bras, which if I’m honest is something I had slightly forgotten before attending the exhibition. Catholicism, punk, pop culture, Britannia, ethnicity and surrealism are all as much a part of the great man’s work as unwavering humour and kitsch French irony.
You are guided through the facets of Gaultier’s wonderland-esque aesthetic by talking mannequins, their hologram faces blinking beautifully if vacantly and speaking largely unintelligible snippets that I feel I should recognise or understand, but invariably don’t.
There is of course the man himself, Jean Paul, has any designer ever been more their own brand ambassador? Westwood perhaps, I think idly as I wander in to the punk themed section and am besieged by raggedy double denim and tartan kilts.
It’s the connections that struck me I suppose. Gaultier seems tied to everything beautiful and fun, through his creations, collaborators and muses. His long partnership with the photographers I love, Pierre and Gilles and also David LaChappelle. His models become his best friends, there are even dreamy sketches of them along one wall; Naomi, Dita, Beth Ditto, Kylie, Erin O’ Connor, and of course a certain tiny lady beginning with M.
Seeing that Madonna corset in person was like seeing the Mona Lisa in the flesh. ‘But it’s so small’. It’s an icon of my life. I saw it before I even understood what it was. It used to look silly to me as a child, now I see it for what it is – power encapsulated in cloth. Has any garment ever been as powerful? Trousers, miniskirts, hijabs, yes all of these are iconic. Some may be divisive, offensive, bold or a statement, but one individual item of clothing, alone? I’m not so sure any has had the cultural impact. Tiny, shiny and softly crafted from 1930s lingerie, surely on paper it should be soft and malleable. But it’s not, it’s so bloody tough. And small, very small.
I know of course there was more than one cone corset, quite a few of them are on display. The oldest however features on Jean Paul’s childhood teddy. Threadbare and worn as he is now, he bears the unmistakable cone mounds on his chest, crafted lovingly by an infant Gaultier from newspaper. Heartbreakingly sweet.
I spent most of the time walking around murmuring, ‘so much, so many clothes. He’s done so much’. The inventiveness, the joy, the celebration of this weird old world and the people in it. The bones and the lace. The feathers and the furs (which I can’t really condone but its a nice phrase). There’s so much life in this exhibition. Blood rubies, azure blue veins and black leather. The fabrics, textures, and senses of life. Beating and pulsing and dancing on our merry way draped in silk and falling head over our platform heels in love with beauty, however it presents itself.
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I don’t do summer very well. I’ve bemoaned my issues with summer clothes often in the past. Essentially I don’t really like florals, or Hawaiian prints, or pastels (unless they are in the form of a 60s shift dress and matching coat). Needless to say I don’t like the above ON ME. I think other ladies rocking a hibiscus print dress look lovely, I just don’t feel like myself in them.
So with this spell of lovely warm weather I thought it was high time I invested in some summer clothes that made me feel happy. I read a thing a while back which said that style was easy, you just find the pieces that make you feel most like you and wear variations of them every day, well I very much feel like me in this. I will henceforth be wearing the below for the next month or two. I call this look ‘summer witch’.
Kimono, skirt and top all H & M. Hat from Denham Car Boot sale.
And of course every witch needs a cat….
The greatest gift my lovely little Frank ever gave me, apart from her friendship, was introducing me to Tori Amos. Tori had until that point just been that red haired woman who sang Cornflake Girl. She remains so to this day. She is also a whole lot more. Since she bounced out of my mid-nineties multi-cd combi tape and radio sound system with a jingly jangly ‘You bet your life eeeeeeeeeeeeet iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis!’ she has gone on to release fourteen studio albums, and unfailingly tour roughly every two years. Some people may not like Tori. They may not like her constant self-analysis, the metaphorical lyrics so twisty turny no-one’s entirely sure what they mean and her impy mischievous style in interviews. Well I’ll say the same thing to those people that I say to those who don’t like Wes Anderson films, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re wrong.
Sitting in piles of books and ashtrays with Frank for three years and listening to Tori led me in to a world of magic and melodies. A world of women throughout time and myth; Guinevere and Jackie Kennedy, searching, talking and trying to connect with one another. There is cruelty in Tori’s lyrics, and yet wit and helplessness and strength. Every aspect of womanhood is picked over in her songs, from lipstick to the mother Goddess, and I feel so bloody thankful to be one when I listen to her music. It’s not just some exclusive self-righteous club of sisterhood though. Men, women, politics, war, food, murder and much more are all given a liberal dollop of Tori insight in her songs. These investigations somehow create links for me in this big, beautiful and confusing world. Illuminated yellow-brick roads in the night sky, guiding me to seek and understand and be as kind as I can be to those who are riding a different wave.
I went to see Tori play at the Albert Hall a few weeks ago and it was very special and poignant for many reasons, one of which was that I went with my Dad and she played Winter which was a lovely moment.
It was the third time I had seen Tori live and she never fails to bring a hint of otherworldliness to her shows. I drifted off in to willow trees and fireflies and then she cracked into a haunting rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit and I was eight years old, sitting on a brown carpet hearing Kurt’s snarl for the first time and realising that my mind had shifted from its usual axis just a little.
Coming home I thought about how Tori has influenced me in another way which seems pale and shallow in comparison to the crashing pillars of human fragility and the unknowing enormity of the cosmos that she normally makes me consider.
She’s affected my fashion sense. Not in any hugely perceptibly way. I’ve never hennaed my hair and donned denim dungarees, but then Tori didn’t do much of that either really. She rocked those late nineties threads like the best of them but in the last fifteen years she has carved out a style which is truly impressive. It’s chic and flowing, luxe with a hint of the ethereal. Always perfectly tailored and usually with some statement leather or killer heels thrown in to the mix to toughen things up. All in all, it’s a good bloody look.
Tori teamed up with stylist Karen Binns early in her career. When Binns met her Tori apparently looked ‘like a teenage bag lady, completely out to lunch’. Over the course of their partnership the women have created some truly iconic looks. Tori tends to embrace a new persona (or several) for each new (usually concept) album. The women she presents are extensions of herself, Vivienne Westwood bedecked submersibles sent to explore the depths of Tori’s psyche and bring back pretty and disturbing creatures for us to study. This MO was most clearly played out with The American Doll Posse album of 2007 (stylistically my personal favourite). For this album Tori and Binns created five elemental characters, associated with Greek goddesses, separated for centuries by the autonomy of the patriarchy, now being united as one woman. Each had her own tracks and of course, wardrobes. Santa is sensual and dons appropriately tactile silks and satins. Pip is a warrior and wears her battle dress of black leather and a helmet of jet hair. Clyde is inward looking, trying to understand humanity for what it is, she wears autumnal tones, has touseled brunette hair and is, perhaps unsurprisingly, my favourite of the bunch.
As you can see, this stuff ain’t just cosmetic with Tori. The clothes are the story as much as the lyrics. Tori uses aesthetics exactly as the should be used, for whatever darn reason she pleases.
As such, I’ve complied a wee homage to Tori’s insurppressible sense of fun, expression and visual creativity.
Scarlet’s Walk was all about America after September 11th. It was a journey across the US and the character of Scarlet was both woman and country. Her clothes were light, floral and full of mid-west nostalgia. 2002.
The Strange Little Girls album of 2001 was Tori and Binns at their Cindy Sherman inspired best. The concept album consisted entirely of songs by men re-visited by women, each of course played by Tori. The transformations were completed by the make-up artistry of the great Kevyn Aucoin.
I am obsessed with the styling of this album.
Sticking with fashion forward high glamour, Tori’s next album was Abnornally Attracted to Sin.
Night of Hunters, 2011
These are just a few more shots I quite like.
Here she is teaming up with Kevyn Aucoin again for his fabulous Face Forward book.
I really love her stage style too, it looks so comfortable and yet utterly glamourous. It usually consists of slinky tunics or kimono style gowns with statement leather or wet look leggings underneath.
I also like this picture because I had this top/dress too about ten years ago. Topshop innit.
I’ve got a bad case of hives. Beehives! In the second instalment of The Locked Files I’m going to explore that most fabulous of do’s – the hive.
For years, when my hair was long, I would wear it in a hive of sorts. It was usually backcombed, messily pinned up with a multitude of Kirby grips and had pieces hanging about the front framing my face. I had totally forgotten that I ever used to do this until recently. Now, after my Christmas hack, my hair is getting longer and I’ve been re-visiting the look. I’m not sure if it’s really and truly to be considered a beehive though, and herein lies the problem.
How to define a hive? Are we purely talking about the narrow cones of the Ronnettes or the wider, poofier and messier Bardot? Is Patsy’s famous and fiercely immovable bouff a hive or just a French twist? Is Audrey’s hair really a hive as so many always describe it? Is there a height limit? Is there a width criteria? Essentially, what’s a beehive and what’s just an updo with volume? Well like the mysteries of the Sphinx, I’m not convinced anyone really knows. As such I’m going to use my own definition, which is; if it’s had a degree of back-combing and is pinned up with an air of ‘yeah I’m a hive, and?’ then it’s a beehive.
I think at its heart the hive is as much about attitude as it is height or form. I think that’s why I love it. I can’t think of a more kick-ass-I’m-a-woman-with-a-signature-fragrance-and-impressive-collection-of–spendy-underwear do than a hive. It’s so confident, bold and peacocking to backcomb your locks in to a huge matted nest and then stick it on top of your head like a massive sexy sign which screams, ‘GIVE ME ALL OF YOUR SK-II SKINCARE, THAT GREAT JOB OVER THERE IN THE CORNER AND HALF A POUND OF CHARBONNEL AND WALKER, STAT’. A woman with a beehive never gets told to ‘cheer up love’ by some patronising git on the street. She never gets ID’d for cigarettes when she’s left her drivers licence at home and has to get her boyfriend to buy them for her, despite being 27. But most importantly, she never, ever gets asked when she’s going to have a baby because everyone knows that the other stuff she’s’ got going on, like do the cha-cha in Monaco or being a cat burglar, is frankly just a bit more interesting. In short, a beehived woman is a woman to be respected.
The beehive itself was created at the dawn of the 1960s by Margaret Vinci Heldt. She was asked in by Modern Beauty Salon magazine to design a new style that would ‘reflect the coming decade’. It became so popular that the Cosmetologist Chicago trade association created a scholarship in her honour.
The subsequent decades saw the look falling in at out of mainstream fashion, evolving in to other styles and just generally kicking about in our lady arsenals to be pulled out in times of need.
What a do.
So here’s my homage to that entirely unapologetic and fabulous look.
First things first, let’s see how we make a hive. I stumbled across this video a few months back of Gizzie Erskine doing her signature hive on her mate Sally Hughes which I thought was pretty helpful and fun….
Also for a more detailed, blow by blow account, here’s the ever lovely Cherry Dollface with her tutorial.
Right, now we all know how to do them, lets start with those gals who began it all, the Ronnettes. They of course weren’t the only 60s girl group to sport the look, but it will forever be synonymous with them.
The 90s saw a second honeymoon for the beehive as it became rebranded the French Twist. Well if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…The likes of Ivana Trump popularised the style and made it the power-do for women in royal blue blazers and statement gold jewlery.
The beehive seems to be constantly re-invented by each new decade. It currently remains the darling do for fashion editorials the world over, combining vintage nostalgia with luxe glamour.
Then there are of course those modern ladies who have made it their trademark look.
So I suppose the moral of the tale is that the hive can be anything you want it to be. Big, small, neat or messy. So go out there and get teasing. And if you really want, try out one of these varriations…
There are two types of busy. There’s the type of busy where you have lots and lots of things to do by a certain date. This type of busy is the state in which I generally live my life, and it’s entirely manageable, usually. Then there is the other type of busy, where every day is different, constantly changing and you never know what you are doing from one hour to the next. This is the type of busy I’ve been dealing with for the last month. Every day plans altered, locations, times, motives, aims, everything seemed to be constantly shifting which meant this wee bloggy had to take a back seat. However this has all now calmed down significantly and normal service shall resume.
In amongst all of these tidal days of flux, I’ve done some fantastic things. Such as sitting in the front row of the Barbican and watching Salif Keita a few weeks ago.
Salif Keita was born in Mali in 1949 and claims direct descent from Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Malian Empire. He was however cast out from his village of Djoliba and abandoned by his family due to his albinism, which was, and still is considered bad luck in some African communities.
Salif joined The Rail Band which served as a fertile and formative environment for many well-known Malian musicians. Salif would move on to join the Super Ambassadeurs before enjoying many years as a solo artist from the 1980s. Keita has campaigned for many years for albino causes and continues to do so today.
I have to be honest and say that I am no aficionado of Malian musical history. It is diverse and varied, with many ethnic and cultural nuances that I certainly miss. My GCSE French may have taught me how to ask for a train ticket to Lyon, but I’m afraid it falls rather short of understanding the intricacies of what Keita sings. Sitting twelve feet away from the man himself however, the one thing I did understand was how his voice made me feel.
His voice is full of pain and anger, and yet it holds within it a softness too. I was aware that amongst all of the sorrow and suffering reflected in his voice, there is beauty, goodness and hope for the world. If nothing else, there is music. The hours I sat watching him, and his musicians and the beautiful, elegant backing vocalists in their glistening purple outfits, were truly transportive. I wasn’t in London, I wasn’t in Mali, I was in some other land with red clouds and turquoise trees. It was a place where people sing with open voices and without embarrassment because that’s what feels natural and good. We as humans are designed to make sound. We’ve crafted instruments to carry this need for sound further, beyond the reaches of our bodies. We’ve shaped our material world to harness sound with wood, stings and skins. We’ve done this to tell the stories and express the things that speech alone can not. It unlocks us, calms us and cleanses us. Essentially it makes us better, in every sense of the word.