Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is nearly upon us again, and as I sign off for a few days, I'll take this opportunity to  make a few wishes for you...





Have a very Happy Christmas - in whatever way you celebrate, I wish you the very best of everything. 

Christmassy photos of my house, by me.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Happy Birthday Miss Austen!

Watercolour of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra.

Today is Jane Austen's 235th birthday, and although accurate images of the lady herself are infuriatingly scarce, her legacy lies in her much-loved and oft-quoted words: words lovingly crafted and subsequently pored over.. words that have stood the harshest test of all: time. Social conventions may have changed and manners may have altered, but Austen's greatest theme remains as important today as it ever was.


"I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." (Mr.Darcy - in response to Elizabeth's question as to when he first fell in love with her- , Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 60).

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

History Lover's Gift Guide: The Eighteenth Century

Anybody know an eighteenth century fanatic in need of a lovely Christmas gift? It's not something I would usually do, but it's the season to give, and I wanted to share a few finds inspired by the 1700s that may help you in your shopping quest...

Ladies in Waiting Bone China Plate, Anthropologie, £22

There are four be-hatted and be-wigged ladies to choose from (designed by Florence Balducci), and it seems a shame to cover the designs with dinner...but once the turkey and sprouts are eaten, these lovely ladies will appear once more.

Glass Tumblers, Waddesdon Manor Shop, £20 each

Designed by Hanne Enemark, these tumblers are inspired by four paintings that hang at Waddesdon Manor. From left: The Pink Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, Lady Jane Halliday by Joshua Reynolds, Captain St. Leger by Reynolds, and Lady Sheffield by Gainsborough. The real paintings maybe priceless, but for £20 apiece, you can enjoy a scaled down version with your drink.

Beatrice & Violet Champagne Flutes, William Yeoward Crystal

Based on an eighteenth century design, these crystal flutes will allow you to coif champagne like a true eighteenth century socialite.

Sarah Siddons Silhouette Christmas Cards, National Portrait Gallery, £6 for 10

The dancing, silhouetted likeness of eighteenth century actress Sarah Siddons graces these National Portrait Gallery Christmas Cards.

Handmade French Masque Earrings, Etsy, $7 USD

I can't decide if these quirky earrings remind me of a masquerade costume or a lady highway-robber, but I like them all the same!

Masquerade Belle Nail Polish, Essie (Prices Vary)

Nail Polish and an Eyeshadow palette may not be very eighteenth century, but in the spirit of the other finds, it's the inspiration that counts!

Masquerade Eye Palette, Smashbox, $35 USD

Rosetta by Barbara Ewing

If a well written eighteenth century-set novel is what you're after, Barbara Ewing's Rosetta comes highly recommended. I've read and re-read this sweeping yet fantastically detailed tale of the title character Rosetta, and her travels to Egypt. It never disappoints. 

Best of luck with your Christmas shopping! 

All images (and for further details) courtesy of AnthropologieWaddesdon ManorWilliam Yeoward CrystalThe National Portrait Gallery, EtsyEssieSmashbox Amazon.

Monday, 6 December 2010

An Ode To Pie

We're a few days into December, so I feel it now only right and proper to talk about one of my great Christmas loves: The Mince Pie. Most countries have their own pastry or sweet treat that is traditionally served at this time of year, but the Mince Pie is peculiarly British, and as my (Canadian) boyfriend reminds me, something of an oddity which requires delicate elaboration. If your love of Mince Pies is as well established as mine, then grab yourself a cup of tea and another Mince Pie (If you take two, I won't say anything). For the uninitiated,  let me be your guide...

Festive Still Life, a joint effort between Laura & André.
The precise origin of the Mince Pie is one of those quirks of circumstance now lost to time, but the modern version bears only a little resemblance to its forbears. The similarities are, 1. Pastry 2. Spices and fruit. For example, Gervase Markham's 1615 recipe from The English Huswife calls for parboiled "legge of Mutton", or failing that, "you may also bake Beef or Veal." Added to the meat was also shredded suet, currants, dates, raisins and prunes, orange peel and sugar, which would then be baked in a pastry case. 

How they came to be associated with Christmas has long been debated, but never definitively answered. They were sometimes called Christmas Pies, and for a time, during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, outlawed along with other Catholic and Pagan symbols of celebration. Oddly enough, eating a Mince Pie on Christmas Day is still illegal (according to The Law Commission and this BBC article from 2006), although it would take Ebeneezer Scrooge in a police officer's uniform to enforce the rule!

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mince Pie recipes still included meat that was added to a mixture of dried fruits, orange or lemon peel, sugar and sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and mace. Somewhere along the way the size of the pies shrunk from large to the small, individual pies we bake today, and more importantly, the meat was removed from proceedings altogether. 

Most modern recipes (such as Delia Smith's version here) also now include alcohol of some kind, but still have the same spices, fruits and suet. (For a vegetarian version by the ever-decadent Nigella Lawson, see here). Nowadays, the mincemeat (as it is still called despite containing no meat at all) is usually made ahead of time, simmered on a stove and then stored and left to mature before being spooned out into individual pastry cases which are then baked. You can also buy ready prepared jars of mincemeat, and I happened upon a very spirited debate in Marks & Spencer the other day between two elderly ladies who had themselves stumbled across jars of chocolate mincemeat for sale. The thought of it genuinely horrified them, and I can't say I was much taken by the idea of it either.

I love Mince Pies and often say that I could eat them all year round, but perhaps one of their joys is that they're not made or sold all year. I have no definitive recipe myself; my excuse is that my pastry making skills border on the abysmal, and I'm more than happy to stuff myself with the lovely ones that my Mum bakes for as long as she keeps on churning them out of the oven. Her pastry is light as a feather and she always serves them with a sprinkle of icing sugar. It's an even more barefaced and shameless admission when I also admit to buying and eating shop-bought pies. I don't really enjoy Christmas Pudding or cake the way some people do, but there are not many mince pies I won't eat. Besides, I've always been told that it's rude to refuse one...

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Thank You!

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win a prize in a lovely giveaway hosted by Ingrid at Fashion is My Muse. To mark her 350th post and second blogging anniversary, Ingrid invited her readers to tell her about their favourite post of hers in order to be in the race to win. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that I was a winner! Yesterday my parcel arrived, and from within I pulled a set of notecards and two gorgeous textile pieces featuring an eighteenth century lady and gentleman. Ingrid you see, is a lady of many talents; a Toronto based artist who creates meaningful, beautiful pieces that resonate and delight. Fashion really is her muse, and in both her art and her blog, Ingrid delivers thoughtful and perceptive commentary about the meaning and power of clothing and it's links with our identity. If this interests you as much as it does me, then I urge you to visit Ingrid's blog and follow links to her art from there, too. 

(And if you happen to be in Toronto, Ingrid's next show, All is Vanity, is running between the 22nd January and 13th February 2011 at The Loop Gallery, 1273 Dundas Street West). 

Ingrid, thank you so much for my prizes; they will be displayed with pride. In return, I give you wine and dahlias (in photographic form!)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pastel Hero

In the eighteenth century portrait artists' hall of fame, the names you're most likely to hear are Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, and justifiably so: they were the painters of choice to the rich and famous of eighteenth century society. Their likenesses were highly sought after and their respective businesses boomed as aristocrats and actresses alike flocked to their salons to be painted. Yet in the sea of eighteenth century portraitists who have become half-forgotten through the passing of time, there is an unsung hero and champion of the delicate art of the pastel. 

Jean-Étienne Liotard, Self Portrait, 1773
His name was Jean-Étienne Liotard; an unassuming looking Swiss-born artist who studied in France and Italy. Throughout his career, he enjoyed remarkably prestigious patronage, painting and drawing the likes of the Pope and the Austrian royal family and travelling the length and breadth of Europe, dressed in his favourite Turkish costumes.

Maria Johanna Gabriela of Austria, 1762
Drawing with pastels is difficult to get right. I've tried it many times myself and never been completely happy with the results. Liotard succeeded where many before and since have failed: his drawings have a lightness of touch but are also full of depth. The above portrait of Marie Antoinette's older sister (sometimes marked as a portrait of Marie Antoinette herself) shows Liotard's skills to great effect. The whole sketch jumps from the screen, from the row of silken bows to the softly rouged cheeks.

Maria Gunning, Countess of Coventry, 1749
Looking at this image of Maria Gunning dressed in fantastical "oriental" costume, you would be forgiven for thinking that the medium used is not pastel at all. With skilful shading and blending, Liotard created remarkable likenesses. To my modern eye, his portraits have a photo-realism in a time when the camera was over a hundred years away into the future.

The Chocolate Girl, 1743-5
Perhaps the most well known of Liotard's pastel drawings is that of The Chocolate Girl. His model was not an illustrious figure, but Liotard has rendered her beautifully and with great care, from the smooth texture of her skin to the creases in her apron. Delicacy with substance and an eye for tiny detail, Liotard's images remain etched in my mind long after my eyes have stopped looking at them.

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


I'm going to mention the "C" word now. Yes, the "C" word. Christmas. The great British high street would have you believe that it's been the season since October at least, but for my own part, I've only started to think about it with any seriousness over the past few days. 

Parties and Christmas go hand in hand; some small, yet some large and extravagant and all filled with too much rich food and drinks you wouldn't consider at any other time of the year (sweet sherry anyone?) I've always wanted to either host or attend a Masked Ball, dreaming of gorgeously decorated masks and elegant costumes. Masquerades, both public and private, were immensely popular affairs during the eighteenth century; parties of spectacle and excess and of sublime and ridiculous costumes.

Nowadays, masked balls are usually a Christmas event only, in the form of annual winter functions and charity galas. So, if you're lucky enough to be going along to one this year, you might just be in need of a little inspiration. Enter model-of-the moment Lara Stone (photographed for Vogue Paris' 90th Anniversary October issue) and the bonkers-but-brilliant Lady Gaga. 

(L) Lara Stone for Vogue Paris, October 2010 Issue. (R) Lady Gaga
at the Brit Awards, February 2010.
If your party calls for fancy dress, then vertiginous hair is one possibility as sported by Lara Stone and Lady Gaga, but if it's a little more of a restrained event then a stylish mask is the best nod to eighteenth century glamour (better to leave your Gaga-style meat dress and telephone hat at home). I came across Nottingham based mask-designer Samantha Peach the other day and have been happily browsing through her creations ever since. The following is a selection of my favourite designs which are more than a little eighteenth century inspired...

Plain Black Domino Mask
For minimal tastes, a classically shaped Domino style mask will have other party-goers wondering who the mysterious stranger in black is...

Silver Lace "Belle of the Ball" Mask
A plume of ostrich feathers could help you channel your inner Georgian trend-setter...

Marie Antoinette Venetian Mask
...while a touch of ivory Nottingham lace and beadwork might make you feel like royalty...

Oriental Venetian Mask, Limited Edition Design
Flame coloured silk in a simple shape will make you stand out from the crowd...

"Dorothy" Red Glitter Venetian Mask
...while a mix of red glitter and organza ribbon will cause scandalised whisperings about the scarlet woman...

Dr. Parnassus Mask
....and finally, if you enjoy a good conversation piece and a comedy nose, you could always opt for the father of all Venetian Carnevale masks...

My only wish is that I had a masquerade to go to!

For prices and more masks, go to Samantha Peach's website. All mask images courtesy of Samantha Peach, images of Lara Stone and Lady Gaga courtesy of

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Eleven. Eleven. Eleven

Britannia Salutes the Fallen; Centotaph, Staffordshire.
Words are often used to remember; speeches often written to honour the fallen.
Yet sometimes, silence is the most powerful rememberance of all.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we stop to be still and quiet. We bow our heads and remember; we never forget.

Photo by me.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Fifth Of November: What We Actually Remember

Guy Fawkes Night may have been a total weather-washout in my part of the world, but as it was a Friday, the celebrations extended well into the weekend. For my own part, it was marked in two ways: a huge public bonfire and fireworks display and also by an impromptu display at my cousin's eighteenth birthday party. I've done my fair share of trudging through muddy fields in the past few days, and was glad of strong boots and a hat that covered my ears. The scent of gunpowder clung to the night air; thick with smoke and mist and punctuated with the whistling, screeching and banging of fireworks.

It seems more than a little odd to celebrate an event with the lighting of a large fire, yet it is a traditional English form of celebration that has deep-reaching roots into ancient times. I'm not exactly sure what a love of fire-lighting and sparkly explosives says about a collective national identity, but I'm going to say it's a good thing!

To be a Catholic in England in 1605 was against the law. Fervent Catholics took their faith underground, and an extreme few planned ways to stage a coup in which the Protestant King James I would be killed and replaced with a new Catholic monarch.

Following the discovery and failure of the conspirators' plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament and with it, the King himself, ordinary English people in towns and villages around the country marked the failure with the lighting of bonfires. Sensing an opportunity, parliament later passed the Thanksgiving Act, in which it decreed that every November the 5th should be marked with the lighting of fires (not to mention mandatory church attendance). 

And so, today we still celebrate Guy Fawkes Night because the plot failed, not because the plot was ever entertained in the first place, and it is a tradition that has endured over the decades. It's observance has waxed and wained, through civil war and interregnum and beyond until the scapegoat, Guy Fawkes, has become less vilified and something more of a romantic anti-hero.

Photos by André.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Remember, Remember

Engraving of the thirteen Gunpowder Plot Conspirators, Crispijin Van Der Passe.

A timely viewing of V For Vendetta last night brought about thoughts of The Gunpowder Plot and, of course, tonight's holiday - Bonfire Night. Not a holiday in the taking-an-extra-day-off-work sense of the word, but a reason to make a bonfire, light fireworks and stand around in fields or back gardens staring up at the sky. I've been studying The Gunpowder Plot in some way or another since primary school; the above engraving being the usual teaching aid of choice to point out the nefarious conspirators. I could honestly say that I've looked at this engraving virtually every year of my school-life, from the age of four to the age of eighteen, and then even again at university. It's an ingrained and deeply rooted tradition; fun, but with a sinister little kick that's quite unique.

So, on this night in 1605, the cellars of the Houses of Parliament were searched for gunpowder and Guy Fawkes was the man with the very dubious honour of being caught red-handed. He was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where he was subsequently tortured and interrogated. The rest has gone down in the annals of history: Fawkes confessed, his co-conspirators were either killed in a gun battle or arrested and executed along with Fawkes himself.

Top: Guy Fawkes signature after torture. Bottom: His signature a few days later

Most interesting for me is the mystery which still surrounds the anonymous "tip-off" letter that led to the uncovering of the plan. Some historians believe the culprit to be Francis Tresham, a named conspirator in Guy Fawkes' confession. It is certainly curious that although Tresham was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower, he was not executed. It is also suspected by some that his death, attributed to natural causes, may have actually been caused by poison. Hundreds of years later, the plot is still as thick as ever...

Have a great weekend, whether it be firework-filled or not!
All images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Swinging Minis

Austin Showroom, 1960s
The 1960s and minis: two words that you often hear spoken together. But it's not just tiny little skirts that are synonymous with the period, but tiny little cars, too. I might not know much about cars, but I do know that one day I'm going to own a Mini. Forget the new version masquerading as a Mini under a well known German car label; it's the Austin Mini that has the real style...

Mini, 1968.
Yes, they're tiny and unfortunatley not designed with tall people in mind, but it's a perfect little car for haring around windy English country lanes. They rattle, whine, vibrate; the suspension is hard as a rock and your head's proximity with the car ceiling means that humps in the road can cause lumps on the head...but all that said, it's brilliant fun. And I want one...

Mini Cooper & Mini Cooper S, 1967.
I often see beautifully restored Minis out on the roads and they always turn my head. The design is instantly recognisable and iconic: a bulbous little head with those round headlights and petite curves. I can never decide between racing green or bright red, nor can I decide on where the Union Jack flag should go (because there has to be one somewhere)...

But I suppose that if a Union Jack on the car itself isn't possible, I could content myself with these glasses instead. Groovy!

All images courtesy of SwingingLondon via Flickr.

NB - I know that Blogger's idiosyncratic formatting issues are legendary, so wanted to know if anybody else struggles with posts that include a lot of images, like I did with this one? I finally gave it up for a lost cause after much messing around and looking at HTML codes etc, but really dislike the irratic look of certain posts. Does anybody have a quick and easy fix for the spacing around images? I would be eternally grateful! :)

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Coiffeur & The Queen

Marie Antoinette (Print), Jean-Francois Janinet, 1777, The British Museum
There are no shortage of celebrity hairdressers in today's world: hairdressers who tend to the styles of the rich and famous and who, in turn, become celebrities themselves. It may seem like a decidedly modern phenomenon in a culture of gossip magazines, reality TV shows and tabloid stars, yet it was the eighteenth century which saw the birth of the first true celebrity hairstylist; a man who enjoyed the patronage of a queen and the ensuing feeding frenzy this caused.

Simply known to his clients as Léonard, he was first introduced to Marie Antoinette in 1774 via her couturier Rose Bertin. Already a known name in French society, Léonard created the now infamous towering style known as the pouf, and thus enchanted the young French queen. As seen in the above print, the hair was combed and lifted high, not only off the forehead, but in fact, the whole head itself. Real hair was combined with false, teased around wire constructions and horse hair pads that gave the structure some integrity. Long strands were curled to hang loose over the shoulders, and the whole, teetering construction was secured with grease-like pomatum and powder. 

Marie Antoinette's wholehearted adoption of the pouf caused a sensation, as French women vied for Léonard's time and attention. Just as Rose Bertin boasted about the fashions she had presented to the queen, so too did Léonard make the most of his royal connection. Interestingly however, Léonard himself only visited the queen once a week, on Sundays; the rest of the time leaving the work to his assistant so that he was able cultivate non-royal clientele at his salon.

Reportedly arrogant and temperamental, Léonard's cutting remarks and aristocratic pretensions (it was even said that he had somehow acquired a pair of red-heeled shoes - the exclusive domain of aristocratic manhood) amused Marie Antoinette and were indulged by clients who still came back for more.

Yet by the late 1770s, there was a very distinct problem with Marie Antoinette's hair that no amount of clever arrangement could conceal. Léonard had to admit defeat: the queen's  hair was falling out. It is thought that a combination of stress and pregnancy (not to mention the application of too much heat) caused her hair to thin and shed over a number of years. In a daring move, Léonard suggested a new cropped hairstyle to his queen and she agreed: the coiffure a l'enfant was born.

The queen's dignity was maintained, Léonards reputation as an artist was once more secure and the great and the good of French feminine society? They flocked to the hairdresser's salon to emulate the latest and most fashionable look. And so, Léonard went where the likes of modern day stylists have followed...a celebrity hairdresser to the ultimate eighteenth century celebrity.

NB- It's worth noting that I have never been able to find an image of Marie Antoinette sporting her short style. Has anybody else ever come across one at all?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Hallowe'en Chills

As the nights continue to draw in around us, Hallowe'en will soon be here. I'm unfortunately too old for trick-or-treating so I have to get my creepy kicks elsewhere. I'm not a fan of gory horror films, and can do well without the likes of Freddy, Jason and the rest. For me, scary films that manage to deliver eerie atmosphere with a good dose of psychological suspense leave a much more lasting impression. I wanted to share my choices for perfect Hallowe'en films to watch with the curtains drawn, lights out and something (or someone!) to hide behind, and wondered...what would yours be?

Sleepy Hollow (1999) Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci:

Being a massive fan of Tim Burton's gothic vision of the world, it's always hard to choose between his films. In his version of Irving Washington's story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane steps onto the screen as a contemplative hero (unlike the self-serving, snivelling character of the book) in favourable contrast to the all-brawn-and-no-brain of Brom Van Brunt (the actual hero of Washington's story). Plot and character changes aside, Sleepy Hollow is a half-slumbering, half-fearful village swathed in mist and old superstitions, terrorised by the psychotic, ghostly Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken with a fantastic set of sharpened teeth). Constable Ichabod Crane is dispatched from New York to investigate a series of beheadings which the villagers attribute to the Horseman, determined to prove that the killings are the work of live human hands.

Laura (1944) Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews:

If you need a good introduction to film noir, look no further than Otto Preminger's Laura, because it has it all: the serenely beautiful heroine who may be harbouring a dark secret (Gene Tierney playing the eponymous Laura), the wise-cracking, beleaguered yet good-hearted police detective (Dana Andrews), stylish sets and costumes, moody cinematography and a crisp, witty script. The film opens with a murder - Laura's murder, as we follow Detective Mark McPherson's investigations and his increasing fixation with the victim herself. I don't want to spoil the story for you, but the film has a now classically famous plot-twist that leaves both the detective and the viewer confounded.

The Man With Two Brains (1983) Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner:

A completely insane film that always makes me laugh, and perfect viewing if you like your Hallowe'en films to be about mad scientists, disembodied brains and inventive murderers, with a healthy sprinkling of stupid sound effects, bizarre scientific apparatus and impossibly silly situations. Steve Martin plays pioneering brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, who accidentally mows down the gorgeous Dolores Benedict (Turner) and saves her life by performing emergency surgery on her. The couple are soon married, but unbeknown to the doctor however, Dolores is a scheming gold-digger. Chaos, attempted murder, actual murder and a love affair with a brain in a jar follow...

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) Hurd Hatfield, Angela Lansbury:

Forget last year's version of Oscar Wilde's story: this is the adaptation to watch. There are certain liberties taken with the plot, but this is a far more atmospheric and subtle version that stays more true to Wilde's vision of a charmingly brittle young man who becomes so obsessed with the idea of staying young and handsome that he sells his soul. The price of eternal youth: that his life of debauched decadence never shows upon his beautiful face, but instead twist and changes a portrait of him so horrifically, that it is locked away from view. The London of this 1945 version has a smoky, grimy underbelly, glittering town-houses and an unsettling depiction of Dorian Gray's repulsive portrait.

Hocus Pocus (1993) Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker:

The only film on my list that is actually about Hallowe'en itself! Disney's cinematography is a chocolate box painting of the town of Salem, but with a twist. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy play three seventeenth century witches, hanged for their crimes but unwittingly brought back to life by a group of children. Determined to stay alive, the wicked sisters set about brewing potions, conjuring spells and unleashing bedlam onto the holiday going townsfolk (even finding time for some song-and dance routines along the way). It's worth watching just to see Bette Midler playing head-witch Winifred with pantomime evilness and a ridiculous, plummy English accent. 

And, if all of those choices leave you wondering - what-no-zombies...? I'll concede that Shaun Of The Dead is a brilliant film...

Monday, 18 October 2010

A Little Bit of History Repeating

For me, one of the most interesting things about fashion is that trends can more often than not be attributed to something that has gone before, and maybe even more than once. My mother has often told me that I'm wearing something that reminds her of something she once wore, and I know I'm not alone in this line of thinking. Take this winter's "new" shape trouser; a beautifully tapered cut that is high-waisted, slim at the thighs and wide at the ankles; they borrow their look heavily from the trouser shapes of the 1970s. You could also take it one step further and say that that womens' wide-legged trousers have been in existence in one form or another since the 1930s. They are an elegant idea that is ripe for constant reinvention and innovation. 

 (Then - 1970s) Charlie's Angels, (Now- 2010) Chloé's Autumn/Winter Campaign.

Adaptations and rethought versions of bygone style are not strictly limited to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, either. A beautiful example can be seen in the penchant for high-waisted bodices and narrow, draping skirts in the years leading up to the First World War. This evening gown from 1912 was designed by the aristocratic couturier, Lucile, in striking black and white silk. Note the high empire line of the bodice, (which stops just below the bust line and much higher than the natural waistline) and the softly draping folds of the skirt. 

Black & white silk evening gown (1912) by Lucile, V&A Museum

The Lucile gown of 1912 is in many ways similar to this gown (below) made between 1807 and 1811. It is this period that epitomises true Regency style; a perceived revisitation of neoclassical ideas about simplicity of dress which, for women, culminated in the empire line gown seen below. The bodice ends below the bust line and the skirts beneath are straight, but with a hint of classical style draping at the back. Women were to be as statuesque and as simply attired as their Greek and Roman counterparts, and indeed, for the first few years of the nineteenth century, the truly fashionable colour palate only touched upon whites, creams and light colours. It was only as the years progressed that colour and decorative trim became accepted once more.

Red gauze evening gown (c. 1807-11), V&A Museum.

Fast forward a hundred years and this column-like style becomes popular again, albeit with a distinctly twentieth century twist. It's certainly no bad thing to say that fashion history repeats itself. 

Velvet and satin gown with lace, net and bead trim (1910) by The House
of Worth, V&A Museum. 

Designers and consumers both take inspiration from what has gone before, as feelings of nostalgia point us back towards shapes and colours that we were once fond of, and makes us see the beauty of them again. From a designer's point of view, they make the old and tired seem both new and palatable again. There is certainly no need to reinvent the wheel, but to make it attractive once more is where the real skill lies.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Things To See: Art Deco Glamour At Upton House

On Sunday, we visited Upton House in Banbury, Warwickshire; former home of the Bearsted family (otherwise known as the founders of Shell oil). It was such a warm, beautiful day and a real pleasure to walk around outside and admire the house from every angle, which is an especially nice memory now that we seem to be well and truly into  a succession of grey autumn days. The house is Georgian and built of golden Cotswold stone; long and sprawling, and the gardens and grounds expansive and beautifully thought out. The National Trust have taken particular pains to maintain the ambience of the 1930s, both inside and out, and somewhat unusually, the house retains that comfortable feeling of a true home. A record player  sits in Lady Bearsted's bedroom; an evening gown hangs out ready for wear and beneath it sits a pair of shoes. There are many little details like this scattered around the house, together with a myriad of family photographs. 

The 1920s and 30s were when the house was really in it's heyday and it is a testament to Art Deco style. Best of all for me is the astonishing bathroom, commissioned by the then Lady Bearsted to be an opulent place of wonder. The room really is silver; in fact, the walls and ceiling are covered in aluminium leaf, which at the time of building, was an even more expensive commodity then gold. It is garish, angular and ostentatious, but stylishly so in a way that a lot of Art Deco interiors are. Lady Bearsted wanted her personal bathroom to be a place where she could lounge in splendour; her husband's wealth on conspicuous show.  You can imagine many long, bubble-filled hours spent in the deep bathtub, or preening before the huge mirrors. The luxurious nature of the bathroom was part of a growing trend for beautiful, purpose built bathrooms in an age where ordinary people were still getting used to having separate rooms for washing and bathing. The National Trust have restored the lustre of the silver and red scheme and reinstalled the bathroom's fixtures and fittings as they would have been in the 1930s, right down to commissioning a replica of a small vanity mirror photographed in situ after the bathroom was first finished.

Upton House is well worth a visit; not just for the bathroom (although you could stand slack-jawed in there for a good long while), but for it's beautiful art collection, vast gardens and complete charm. A lot of Trust properties close their doors to the public during the winter months, but Upton House stays open all year round, and I imagine would be wonderful to visit in December for an Art Deco flavoured Christmas. See you there for cocktails, perhaps...?

Image courtesy of The National Trust.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Genius Of British Art

If you were lucky enough to catch the first episode of The Genius of British Art on Channel 4 on Sunday evening, then I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If not, I'm sure that if you head over to the channel's On Demand website, you can watch it, too. That is, if you're a fan of David Starkey (like me) and find anything he does nothing short of hypnotically interesting. The Genius of British Art is a five part lecture series being screened by Channel 4 in conjunction with The National Gallery, London. David Starkey's contribution, Power & Personality, charted the portrayal of British royalty in art, from Hans Holbein's striking images of Tudor aristocracy through to modern day images of the royal family.

Hans Holbein (the Younger), King Henry VIII, 1540

Throughout the programme, Starkey gives insight into the symbolism latent in so many royal portraits; the perfectly arrogant stance of Henry VIII, fruit and flowers littering a 1562 portrait of Queen Elizabeth I to announce her burgeoning fertility, or the fact that Anthony Van Dyck preferred to paint King Charles I on horseback to avoid the embarrassing problem of his diminutive stature.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of King Charles I, 1633

By focusing on royal icons through the ages, David Starkey effectively shows that the depiction of royal power has remained largely unchanged since the early modern period. Only recently, Starkey argues, have the royal family had to accept a more informal approach to their public image (and in more ways than one). I always enjoy watching just how Starkey picks apart his chosen images, giving fresh perspective and wonderful insight into signs and symbols increasingly lost in a modern age.

Next Sunday sees Gus Casely-Hayford makes his contribution in Art For The People- a discussion on the pioneering artwork of William Hogarth in eighteenth century Britain. As well as the Sunday night programmes, (Flesh- Howard Jacobson, Visions Of England- Roy Strong and Modern Times- Janet Street Porter) The National Gallery are also hosting talks given by the series speakers.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Le Pouf: Claudia Style

Some eye candy for Friday afternoon! Photography magazine Stern Fotografie commissioned Karl Lagerfeld to produce a series of images for their 60th anniversary issue. The result is a whole series of photographs featuring supermodel Claudia Schiffer. As soon as I saw this one of her sporting an eighteenth century pouf hairstyle, I knew I wanted to share it. If like me, you long to try this hairstyle out one day (just once, just to see what it was like), then enjoy!

Image courtesy of

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Sliding Into Memory

Some weeks ago, a small package containing a solitary roll of film found its way from England to a laboratory in Switzerland. Just the other day, a sleek little box came back. Why send a roll of film all the way to Switzerland just to get it processed? Well, because this wasn't just any old roll of ordinary film; this was colour slide film by Kodak, otherwise known as Kodakchrome. In a truly digital age, I know it might seem odd to some that this much trouble and time was gone to in order to get a few images, but believe me when I say, this was worth it. Kodachrome film was finally discontinued last year after spending 74 years on the Kodak product list. In a way, I can see why. The film really is a bit of a dinosaur, especially given the fact that it has to be sent to Kodak directly in order to be processed (due to the complex nature of the film). Other slide films have been developed that give beautiful results without the long waiting time, but perhaps more than that, film as a medium of photography is being used much less.

It's sad, but it doesn't mean that we still can't enjoy the inimitable qualities of film. Lately, I've been experimenting with different types in a way that I never have before. My boyfriend has been more than experimenting for years now, and has been teaching me all about its subtle complexities and nuances, both in colour and black and white. I'm very happy to learn through the view finder of my brother's Nikon film SLR (on a laid-back, long term loan period!) and now that the slides from my first roll of Kodachrome have returned, I'm even happier to see the results. (We managed to buy three rolls a few months back in Boots, but I think it would be virtually impossible to find now).

Steve McCurry, Sharbat Gula, Afghan Girl, at Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, 1984.
So what makes Kodachrome such a wonder? In the words of my boyfriend, it has "just right saturation, fine grain and smoothness over the whole dynamic range." The richness of colour renders that view you captured even more impressive. Bursts of colour all but explode from the little slides as you hold them up to the light. Over the months that I've been shooting away onto Kodachrome, I captured mist and snow on the moorlands in Yorkshire, gardens in the last throes of summer; dahlias, box hedges, golden sunlight. There are blue skies, grey skies, even inbetween skies and texture of amazing depth.

Now all that remains is to find a high-resolution scanner that will do these slides justice and to keep on shooting until the rolls are spent. This final dance with Kodachrome will be a lot of fun...

Image shot on Kodakchrome by Steve McCurry, courtesy of the Kodak 1000 Words Tribute.