5 Things to Do This Bank Holiday

Bank HolidayOk, so spoiler alert there isn’t a Wowcher code in this post for you to walk on a beach with Adrian Brody and a pack of dalmatians. Sorry. You will have to make that reality your own. There are however a few things that I think contribute to a rather lovely Bank Holiday weekend, should you be so inclined. If you want to sit on the sofa with a duvet and watch Archer for three days, you also have my full and unswerving respect.

1. Visit a museum

This may come as a shock to no-one given the archaeologically inclined bent of this blog, but I think a Bank Holiday isn’t really a holiday unless you partake in a little culture. I’m lucky to live in the museum capital of the world here in old London town, however there isn’t a Shire in the land that doesn’t offer some sort of local history institution within fairly close proximity. Museums are wonderful establishments and in this era of massive funding cuts in the heritage sector it does them good to keep visitor numbers up and with the ever changing exhibition schedule of many major museums, there is always something new to see. I myself am off to the Tate Modern to take in the new extension project.

2. The Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Caves in West Wycombe are a weird and wonderful product of British eccentricity mixed with the unlimited resources of a largely bygone landed gentry. I won’t go into a full history of the caves but the very abridged version is that Sir Francis the 2nd Baronet commissioned them to be dug in the mid eighteenth century, ostensibly to create jobs in the local area, but this reasoning probably belied a vanity project of sorts, an argument further strengthened by the impressive Dashwood family mausoleum that stands directly on top of the caves. The Hellfire Club used the caves for meetings and mysterious happenings, and Benjamin Franklin even paid a visit. Exploring the caves today is a really fun day out, not least because they serve a rather nice cream tea in the cafe.

3. Make a rumpus in a park

Since recently moving I now have lovely Richmond park on my doorstep, which I have been tramping about in over the last few weeks and taking pictures of the deer who observe me with the languid disdain that I do tourists near Big Ben. Even if you don’t happen to have a Royal Park and grumpy deer near you, go and run about in some woods or parkland for a few hours. If you can kidnap the neighbour’s dog, so much the better. Then go to the pub for a roast and get squiffy on cider. Ah, weekends.

4. Bargain Hunt

Go to a car boot! I love a car boot. Where else can you have a grand day out for a tenner and come home with a two new table lamps, some Jem and the Holograms videos and a pair of 70s pixie boots with money left over for an egg bap? My particular fave is Denham Car boot sale, but you know the drill on Bank Holiday weekends, there will definitely be one near you.

5. Get drunk

Not to play into the age old British stereotype of binge drinking or anything but there is a particularly special thrill in cracking in to some cocktails on a Sunday night when you know you don’t have to be in school (read – grown up work) the next day. Find a swanky cocktail lounge (somewhere like this), get tizzied up in your diaphanous finest and have a few laughs with your friends. Make mine a White Russian (obviously).

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Sig

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

What Lies Beneath: Undressed at the V&A

Title

Much like its predecessor, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain the V&A’s latest offering Undressed: a Brief History of Underwear takes a functional item of personal dress and charts its progression, elaboration and inevitable fetishisation over several centuries. Undressed begins in the 18th century when few women wore knickknocks and underwear consisted of basic cloth under shirts, worn for hygiene as a barrier between the skin and clothing. Men tended to wear that stalwart of Mills and Boon books the world over – breeches (gosh such a filthy word). Women wore stays, less for practicality and more for modesty, a women who was tight-laced showed good moral character and a ‘loose’ woman was so in every sense of the word.

f

Moving on periodically, crinolines became de mode and are displayed in the exhibition to show the variety, specifically between the French fan style and British square style from 1740-1770. It was at about this point that I started reimaging my life as it might have been had I studied fashion history (and actually done some work) during my first degree at Goldsmiths, instead of Drama. I could have a very nice life as a costume designer or fashion historian, or at the very least be able to sew a replica Marie Antoinette outfit for a fancy masked ball that a handsome red haired member of the British Monarchy suddenly invited me to when we casually bumped into each other in Kensington Palace gardens… sorry, what was I talking about. Oh yeah, pants.

One of the most complex and controversial components of women’s underwear over the centuries has been corsetry. Many doctors of the 1700-1800s saw corsets as a preeminent cause of illness in women, including spinal and respiratory problems. However, as with the earlier stays, corsets spoke not just of fashion but also morale character, an uncorseted woman appeared bohemian and not at all the thing. The restrictive lives many women lead in this period, decency, women’s bodies as unknown shielded off entities to be feared or controlled, bound, twisted and damaged, the metaphors write themselves. The subsequent fetishisation of corsets may be seen as a reclamation by women, and now corsets are a symbol of sexuality, kink and seduction. Corsetry is often worn as outerwear and serves as an icon of the Burlesque tradition, an art form which celebrates the body by literally striping away its coverings.

hk

The interesting recent trend for ‘waist training’ inspired most notably by the Kardashians was also covered in the exhibition. Waist training is a method of strengthening the core to create a smaller waist and more defined hourglass shape by using a specialised ‘waist trainer’ akin to a girdle belt. Waist training is prone to many of the same criticisms of its earlier predecessor, and in so doing raises all kinds of dichotomies about what women decide to do with their bodies, who if anyone has the right to debate their choices and where are our standards of beauty originate from. God, who knew unmentionables could be so political eh?

Altogether more comfortable but no less controversial upon their invention, was the trend for the basic bra or bralette, which was developed in the 1920s for the then preferred flattened chest. Much of the underwear I personally like most dates perhaps unsurprisingly from the 20s and 30s, where I have the impression that bob-haired pastel sprites skipped around in peach satin tap pants, nymphet limbed in eternal summers of chiffon and lemonade.

jSilk knickers from the 1920s showing a riding scene.

The girdles of the 1940s and 50s brought back the restrictive nature of underwear and with it an undeniable kink exemplified in the iconic pin up aesthetic of the era. Bras became political again in the feminist and counter culture movements of the 1960s. Hang on, has there ever been a time when women’s underwear, ergo, their bodies, wasn’t seen as encompassing some sort of political statement? I smell a rat here Scooby. One great quote I spotted in a magazine article of the time from a woman wearing a purposely transparent blouse sans bra was ‘I believe in God, that should be enough’.

cDita’s Mr Pearl made corset from her Canary act.

The upper floor of the exhibition houses items of pure beauty where the themes of the ground floor are extended further; Kate Moss’ famous transparent Calvin Klein dress, a burning ember of the 60s which saw her as a self-styled 90s Marianne Faithful. The froufrou kitsch of the 20s flapper girls re-imagined in contemporary chiffon rompers and the Bettie Paige sensuality of the 50s in Agent Provocateur’s seductive, chic and dark style.

bThat Kate Moss dress.

dA 1930s net dress and in the background a Dolce and Gabbana wicker corset dress.

leA dress owned by Denise Poiret. Poiret was against corsets and instead preferred the natural flow of the body as highlighted in the design of this gown.

All in all there was a lot more to pants than I had imagined. Underwear is practical yet political, sensual yet innocent. It can, as all aspects of our aesthetic creation should, transform and also shout out loud of our identity and our wants to the world. It is underneath but oh so outer, not just in Madonna inspired cone bras, but in a VPL, a stocking top or bra strap, sometimes intentional but often not. Underwear is not undercover. It changes the way we hold ourselves, corrects our spines or trims our thighs. In some pants we can climb Everest, in others barely make it up a flight of stairs. I went to this exhibition with the hope of glimpsing beautiful things; lace and rayon and silk, but I came away with a new found appreciation for all things underwear related, M&S cotton briefs and all.

Sig

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Culture Dossier – Ishiuchi Miyako Frida

A few weeks ago I went to the Ishiuchi Miyako Frida exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery. After her death, Frida’s husband Diego packed away the majority of her possessions in a old bathroom of their famous Blue House in Coyoacán and closed the door. 50 years later the items were rediscovered and Miyako was allowed access to photograph them. I spent most of last year studying artefacts of the past and trying to understand how humans interact with past objects, so the relationship between Frida, her possessions, the camera and the viewer was really intriguing to me. I’m not sure what Frida would have made of a picture of her stockings being sold for thousands of pounds, maybe she would have laughed.

The gallery is very strange and hushed. The pictures on the walls seemed a bit alien to be honest. But making my way upstairs I came to a room with a table that was populated solely by about half a dozen women. On the table were an array of books  and one full catalogue of the images, many of which weren’t on display. We stood around quietly as one of our number sat with the book in front of her and turned the pages for us while we looked over her shoulder. It was like a quiet scholarly coven which had come together in a moment of Frida pilgrimage. When the final page was turned and the book closed we all went our separate ways, back to our own lives in whatever corner of the city we had emerged from.

These are just a few of the images I took from the book….

Frida Kahlo Exhibit

It seems Frida liked the legendary Shalimar perfume from Guerlain. Paris’ finest juxtaposed with a flint necklace.

Frida Kahlo Expo 1

A fabulous cigarette case and a very beautiful gown covered in sequins. I was struck by how pretty and delicate the dress is because Frida is so synonymous with strong colours and prints, inspired by indigenous Mexican culture. This is so fragile and ghostly.

xxx

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share