Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The truly fashionable are beyond fashion. Review of Style Me Vintage by Naomi Thompson

After spending the day with Naomi Thompson, the lady behind Vintage Secret, I was immediately compelled to read her new book ‘Style Me Vintage: Clothes’.  And this I did – cover-to-cover in an hour!  I was really impressed with the tone of the writing.  It wasn’t dumbed down, nor was it elitist as often vintage writing can be (e.g. ‘if you don’t already know, we’re not going to tell you’).


The day started off with Leslie and I driving down to Naomi’s lovely flat in Portsmouth.  With views of the sea, it was the perfect place to conduct our interview.  We chatted a while about Style Me Vintage, The Vintage Mafia and generally about vintage clothes.  But I’m not here to relay the entire conversation – that’s what we have our cameras for!  What I’d like to focus on today is her book.  As I said earlier, I couldn’t put it down and found it really engaging. 

The book is in two parts, firstly a decade-by-decade guide picking out the key looks, features and details of each period ranging from the ‘20s to the ‘80s.  The second half contains hints and tips for the general care and purchasing of vintage clothes.  It also has dedicated sections on foundation garments (or shapewear) and swimwear. 

The book features a few stock photos, but mainly contains photos taken just for the book, with models some of you may recognise, (did someone say the Vintage Mafia?)  The clothes shown are mostly original, including some absolutely stunning 1940s hats and 1920s frocks, but I was pleased with the inclusion of some reproduction clothing as well.  Clothes from companies such as Heydey! and a personal favourite, Puttin’ on the Ritz , are an informed addition.  The ease of care and more uniform sizing of reproduction clothing make them a viable alternative to buying purely vintage, but one that is occasionally frowned upon by some of the more diehard vintage wearers.

I also liked the way each decade was split into day and evening looks, as it is able to show, especially in the earlier decades, how social change could sometimes be slow but precursors to some key looks could be found decades earlier.

There were a fair few tidbits I found really interesting, particularly Laver’s Law and the changes in hemline.  The book is also peppered with famous quotes about style and fashion, my favourite being ‘The truly fashionable are beyond fashion’, Cecil Beaton.

For the uninitiated, there are some indispensable tips on dating, buying and trying on vintage, which are great as shopping for vintage can be rather daunting.  I will definitely be taking a tape measure out with me next time I go shopping, I can’t believe I’d not thought of it before!

At the back there is also a pick of the best vintage fashion blogs, the best sort of places to source your vintage goodies, important labels you may not know and some choice online boutiques.

Overall, (as you can probably tell) I’m really impressed with this book, and I think it will be a boon to those with previous vintage knowledge and those just getting into it.  It comes out on February 1st and I’m sure it will be flying off the shelves (it’s currently sold out on Amazon).  Congratulations Naomi on a superb book.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Wallis Simpson - a woman of seduction, scandal but ultimately, of style.

I recently saw an advert for the new film W./E. and was quite intrigued as the story of Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII has always interested me.  http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2921176601/ 

Often decried as the woman that almost caused a constitutional crisis, who apparently picked up some 'persuasive' talents whilst in some rather dubious establishments in Shanghai and who met with Adolph Hitler in the advent of war, one thing is certain: Wallis Simpson was a very stylish woman.

Right and Left -
Dress by Schiaperelli, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, two people with whom Wallis Simpson was very much associated with.

Wallis Night
by Roland Mouret

She is still as relevant as a style icon as ever she was, even inspiring a new gold maxi dress from Roland Mouret, Wallis Night.  I imagine there will be lots of fashion magazine inches dedicated to the late Duchess of Windsor in the coming months, so expect sharp tailoring, bateau necklines and centre partings to be making more than a fleeting appearance.

Taken in the summer of 1936,
before the relationship was widely
known by the British public

As well as being tremendously elegant, Wallis was also smart, witty and outré, a little too much for the sensibilities of the day.  However, she immediately caught the attention of the then Prince Edward when they met in January 1931, who found her a refreshing change compared to his usual company.  Having had more than his fair share of dalliances with married women, an American socialite, who was already on her second husband, was no challenge.  It was not all Edward's doing though, in a letter to her Aunt after her initial meeting with the Prince, she wrote "I've had my mind made up to meet him ever since I've been here."  She also wrote of what a "treat" it had been to finally meet him.

Taken aboard the yacht Nahlin
in the summer of 1936
 Mrs Simpson was only granted a divorce from her second husband in October 1936, mere weeks before Edward abdicated officially on the 10th December.  The country, over whom Edward had ruled over for less than a year, had little time to react to the news.  There had been a 'gentlemen's agreement' stopping any British press from reporting the story (this wasn't the case in Europe where the relationship had been widely reported for years).  Parliament and the Church were worried about the influence someone foreign (with a questionable past) could have on someone so close to the crown (no one wanted another Rasputin, and anyway, Wallis wouldn't look good with that beard).  After the King gave his abdication speech, which was the first many knew of the seriousness of the relationship, the people of Great Britain seemed to be against Wallis (or 'That Woman' as she was sometimes called), especially as she was taking away a very popular King.

An intimate portrait taken by Cecil Beaton.

A favourite subject of Cecil Beaton, Wallis and Edward were photographed by him many times, with Beaton even taking the official photographs at their wedding at the Château de Candé in 1937.   

Wedding dress by Mainbocher in 'Wallis
Blue', photograph by Cecil Beaton

The designers of Wallis' trousseau read like a 'who's who' of 1930s fashion.  Mainbocher created her beautiful crêpe satin wedding dress in 'Wallis Blue'.  'Wallis Blue' was in fact Windsor Blue (fitting really, as she was the new Duchess of Windsor) and was the colour of ribbon worn by those bestowed with the Order of the Garter.  Schiaparelli (who was a favourite of Wallis' and whom she modelled for) provided  a black crêpe day dress replete with white turtles as well as an evening dress (again in 'Wallis Blue') with yellow butterflies.  The butterfly motif appeared to be a favourite of the newly married Duchess of Windsor as it was again seen on the lapels of a blue tweed jacket and a variation of the famous Dali lobster gown.  Molyneux, Chanel and Paquin also contributed to the bride's wedding wardrobe, with her matching Bridal hat (of blue straw and pale blue tulle) made by Reboux.  When Edward first saw Wallis in her wedding gown, he remarked "Oh, so this is the great dress? Well it's lovely, very pretty".
Wallis modelling the famous
Schiaparelli gown with a lobster
painted by Dali (1937)

Much of Wallis' personal wardrobe was designed by Mainbocher who was perhaps chosen over Schiaparelli as Wallis wanted something slightly more demure for her wedding, no lobsters this time!  
Customarily sporting a centre-parting in her raven hair, with the subtle make up of the day, it was her clothes that made an immediate statement as well as a vast selection of sumptuous jewels and accessories. 

In 1934, Edward lavished his 'friend' Wallis with £50,000 worth of jewels for Christmas before deciding it wasn't quite a generous enough gift and presented her with a further £60,000-worth within a few months.
Despite being refused the style 'Her Royal Highness', Wallis maintained a very regal air throughout all her social engagements.  The couple were known for throwing lavish parties at their home in France and continued to be the toast of European society.
After a self-imposed exile to France following the wedding, the couple planned to return to England after a couple of years.  They were resolutely told by the King (George VI, Edward's younger brother) that they were not welcome without an explicit invitation.  After a few years during World War II in the Bahamas, where Edward was Governor (to keep the Nazi-sympathetic pair out of Europe and a position of political influence) they returned to France where they spent the remainder of their lives.  Even though they only made infrequent visits back to England, the couple remained darlings of society for the next 35 years until Edward's death in 1972.

Whatever your opinion of her as a woman, it cannot be denied that she amassed a beautiful wardrobe and we are lucky that there are so many photographs of one of the most stylish women of the 1930s. steel boned corsets by What Katie Did

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...

As happens to a fair few of us around Christmas time, I became rather languid and as such neglected my duties of reporting to you on the happenings of the vintage scene.  Well, there was homemade Turkish Delight that just had to be eaten! 

Before I became a slave to Christmas and all the wonderful food it provides, The Vintage News went to the festive edition of the Candlelight Club.

We were greeted with the warming aroma of cinnamon, cloves and other festive spices.  This, added to the candlelight, made for an intimate atmosphere, the sort of thing Bing Crosby would sing about and then hit stuff with his pipe.      Christmas trees bedecked in glistening decorations added yet more to the festive feel of the evening.

The musical entertainment of the night was provided by Albert Ball’s Flying Aces.  An amazing band, of whom we had previously been unaware, they play popular hits from the Great War on authentic instruments.

Named for the highly decorated pilot, they perform glorious renditions of ragtime, jazz, music hall, blues and polkas from across Europe.

Projected on the wall behind the bar was ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, well what would Christmas be without it?

The dancer of the evening was the impeccably dressed Josephine Shaker.  Tap-dancer extraordinaire, she regaled us with stories of the greats (of course, Astaire and Kelly) when we interviewed her.

Once again, we were fortunate enough to be able to interview with one of the organisers, Clayton Hartley. 

The room in which we conducted our interviews was glamorously dishevelled, think Sunset Boulevard.

All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.  I had a bit of trouble deciding between two dresses, so in the end I wore both!  I had an emerald green pencil dress (to which I attached black velvet trim and halterneck) which I found in a charity shop.  The skirt was from a Vivien of Holloway circle dress which was folded under.  The join was ‘masked’ by more black velvet and a large silver brooch.   I had green and red flowers in my hair, to be in-keeping with the Christmas theme of course.

A lovely touch was the inclusion of a roast dinner available in the courtyard.  It smelt delectable but we had to save room for all the wonderful cocktails on offer.
My favourite cocktail of the night had to be Cherry Christmas; a delicious concoction of gin, cherry brandy, cherry bitters, rosemary tincture and cranberry juice.  The cranberry made it seem almost cleansing!  Other alcoholic offerings included the mincemeat vodka based Mince Flip, Ginger Snap with rum, advocaat, ginger wine, ginger beer and Boker’s Bitters(that could’ve been one of mine!).  Other yuletide ingredients included chestnut syrup, Frankincense bitters and nutmeg.

While the footage from this event is being edited, here is a link to the last time we went to the Candlelight Club

Oh, and you may have noticed in the latest New Sheridan club newsletter, a few pictures of myself and my fellow comrades at their Christmas bash.