Sunday, November 25, 2018

Biba's "Bohemian Rhapsody" Moment

Freddie meets Mary...and her coat

I don't usually talk in movies, but there was a point in "Bohemian Rhapsody" where I couldn't help it.

The pretty blond girl Freddie Mercury is flirting with tells him her fur-collared coat “is from Biba." And her friend follows with, "She works there."

I exclaimed out loud, "Biba!" That is a word to trigger memories, flashbacks and regrets (as in I shouldn't have given those clothes away). Biba was a store of legend never to be equaled. I've written about it here:

Freddie goes to look for the pretty girl, who is Mary Austin, the woman who became his great love and lifelong friend. As this is supposed to be 1970, that would be Biba on London's Kensington High Street. This was the brand's third store, which had previously been a carpet showroom.

Interior of an early Biba

Freddie has found Mary, the sales associate, near a display of women's pants. He innocently asks if she has the pants in his size. She proceeds to give him a mod makeover with a velvet jacket and long scarf.

Freddie after his Biba makeover

Increasingly more and more successful, in 1973 Biba took over the nearby former Derry & Toms department store, a 7-story Art Deco pile complete with roof garden. Biba refitted it in never-to-be-equaled Deco grandeur, rivaling any Hollywood set. Alas, through a mix of bad management and over-expansion—they were selling almost everything including baked beans— Biba closed for good in 1975.

Interior of  the last Biba
The reference to Biba will surely pass quickly over most viewers. I do always wonder when Hollywood gets its facts wrong—Mary actually worked in Biba public relations, not on the sales floor—what other bits of the "true story" may not all be true. And "Bohemian Rhapsody" has a few of those. But it's a good film, with great music, and—well—a little bit of Biba.

The real Mary and Freddie in later years

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

R.I.P. Glamour Magazine

Issue #1

Word has come down from on high at Conde Nast that Glamour Magazine will no longer publish in print. The January 2019 edition will be its last. Glamour will not quite have reached its 80th birthday.

Glamour was first published as "Glamour of Hollywood" in April, 1939. It soon stopped concentrating on movie stars and directed itself to "the girl with a job". That intensified after Glamour's merge with Charm magazine ("for women who work") in 1957.

Glamour promoted fashion and beauty, work and relationships in roughly that order. It became a bible for many young women; I was one of them. I started reading Glamour in 1956 when I was 13 and never missed an issue until I was unceremoniously let go in 1989.

But I digress.

Glamour was the road map for my future life. I knew I would leave Cleveland and move to New York City. I wanted to be a graphic designer, but my goal was not to be in publishing. As fate would have it (great expression) I ended up working in the design department of Glamour for 24 years, eventually becoming assistant art director.

My first issue: July 1965

I've written extensively about Glamour, especially my early days when the world of fashion was such a wonder. Although I actually found later jobs more fulfilling, Glamour is the one I go back to over and over. To have been a part of something that meant so much to so many...

To this day, when I tell people I worked for Glamour, there are nods of recognition and ooohs in wonderment. That magazine was important to almost four generations of women. How much we have changed in those 80 years!

The current editor, aiming to reach the millennials whose interest in fashion is only as a rebellious form of self expression, believes digital publishing is the way to go. The big difference is we read Glamour in hopes of becoming our best selves. This attempt smacks of hoping millennials will recognize themselves.

The past year of Glamour on the newsstands has been sad and embarrassing. I cringed when I saw a copy at the checkout counter. I'm almost glad it won't be there anymore. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Life's Lost Little Luxuries # 10: Department Store Deliveries

"...and send it please."

That would be my mother at the counter of Higbee's or Halle Bros. in downtown Cleveland. The time would be late 1940s into the '50s, before shopping centers and malls, when "shopping" meant going downtown with a list to the big department stores.

If the list were long and/or the packages big you wouldn't want to haul them around all day, especially if you were with an 8-year-old, more hindrance than help. It was much easier to "send it please" and have the boxes show up a day or two later at your doorstep. PS If you were my mother, you were almost always home—in the suburbs, no car, with a house and family to take care of.

I can clearly see those delivery vans in my mind's eye—green like their boxes for Halle's, brown with discreet gold lettering for Higbee's. I imagine May Company and Taylor's had trucks too, but the good stuff came from Halle's or Higbee's.

Outside Halle Bros. 1940

I still get pretty excited when UPS or Fedx pulls onto the street, a little less so for the postal van. But a department store delivery was a "welcome home" to what you had carefully chosen just a few days before.

I don't remember when the parade stopped. We moved to an apartment. My mother went back to work—downtown. There were now shopping centers, soon to be malls. One-stop shopping and load it in your car. I started shopping for myself and wanted it THEN.

It is ironic that Sears, which began as a mail-order company, recently closed locations and lowered expectations because it couldn't compete with home delivery like Amazon. What no one seems to mention is we have even become disinclined to venture away from our keyboards and actually visit the store.

The thrill is gone, along with boxes, tissue, paper tape, tea rooms and delivery vans.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Stylish Cinema: "Two for the Road"

I recently watched this 1967 film for the first time in many years. I was amazed how my perception had changed over time. "Two for the Road" was originally billed as a romantic comedy, but it takes a thought-provoking look at relationships and marriage. What I once saw as a vehicle for Audrey Hepburn in some great clothes, I now realize was a tragi-comedy with a questionably happy ending.

This time, too, I realized the power of those clothes. Someday the art of the cinema wardrobe will be better recognized for the role it plays in movies. Not just the gaudy and/or delicious costumes, the ordinary "stuff" that defines a character.

As in life when we adopt different styles, to blend in or define who we are, Audrey's character is identified by what she's wearing. Director Stanley Donen had to make that clear as he chose to trace 12 years in the relationship of Joanna (Audrey) and Mark (Albert Finney) in scenes that flash in and out over time.

As student Joanna in the mid '50s, Audrey wears blue jeans and a pullover sweater. These are the clothes of someone happy to blend with her contemporaries, but they are timeless choices as well. I wonder if Donen was trying to say something about the timelessness of first attraction?

Newly married, her clothes are a bit more grown up. There's a trench coat in one scene. I remember thinking that was a "must-have" when I was a young working woman. She becomes a mother, and it's practical tops and bottoms. The present-day (1967) Joanna, wife of now-successful architect Mark, wears the latest fashions (and looks fabulous). This was a "new", sophisticated Audrey. I remember coverage in the fashion press of her cropped hair and outfits from the film.

Suit by Michele Rosier, Vogue, 1967

By this time Audrey Hepburn was associated with Givenchy as her designer of choice in films and private life. In "Two for the Road", however, Audrey wore "off the rack" clothing, including some fancy racks like contemporary stars Paco Rabbane, Andre Courrèges, Mary Quant, Michèle Rosier, Foale and Tuffin, and Ken Scott.
The fabulous Paco Rabane outfit
Hair plays an important role as well. Because of the flashbacks it was important to easily determine the year of the relationship, and the hairstyles do that fairly well. Joanna as student has simple Alice in Wonderland hair. Newly married, she has bangs. A few years on she has her hair short and fluffy. As a mother, it's simple and long again. The 1967 Joanna has short hair precisely cut in the Sassoon style of the day.

Student and newly married...
Young married and mother...
Sleek sophisticate

Something else colored this viewing of "Two for the Road". Audrey's marriage to Mel Ferrer was breaking up; they divorced shortly after filming. I have it from a very good source that Audrey and co-star Albert Finney had both great on-screen and off-screen chemistry. It was in fact a serious affair; in the end Albert Finney broke her heart. Audrey needed time to recover, and my source provided her with a safe haven. I can't say anything more unless the lady herself wishes to, which I doubt. Knowing that, the "chemistry" is like watching fireworks, bittersweet on account of Audrey's eventual heartbreak.

When I initially saw "Two for the Road", I had not yet found my own Mr. Right. I only saw the surface gloss—from the bloom of young love to that (possibly) happy ending. Today I know it's not easy for relationships to survive, but they can and do.

Amazingly the fashion in "Two for the Road" still looks good and wearable after 50 years. That may have been Audrey Magic and why she remains a style icon to this day.

Monday, October 22, 2018

What's Wrong with Fashion Today

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, I've written my piece. Above is one half of a real two-page Gucci ad in the October Harper's Bazaar. This is frightening and depressing. 

Fashion does not have to be practical. It doesn't have to be pretty. It can be provocative, thought-provoking, curious, understated, over-stated, minimal, maximal, or even boring. It should engage both the viewer and the wearer. While it's easy to be caught up in the trend of the moment, time and a wise eye let you know what's right for you.

All this is rather cerebral. Our first fashion reaction is usually either "I like it" or "Not for me". Forget about whether we would really spend $1350 for a rainbow-striped puffer vest, cute as it may be.

Burberry, $1350
What fashion shouldn't elicit from you is "Oh my God! What is this?" or a plaintive "Whhhhhhy?" I can't justify the deliberately ugly. The whole idea of making oneself look laughable or grotesque on purpose escapes me. It's just a bad sign of how far off the track we've gone and a terrible reflection of everything that's wrong in the world—you name it.

If Alessandro Michele at Gucci doesn't really expect us to don a sock money ski mask, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill sweatshirt or hang a bus conductor's coin purse around our necks (all three together mind you), why show it, and on a 15-year-old on a bare mattress in the attic? If he's trying to make a statement about the state of the world I got that already. Please, not Fashion too.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Stylish Read: "Fashion Climbing"

"We all dress for Bill."
Bill Cunningham was New York's most popular party guest. He never ate or drank and didn't stay long. He mingled with guests but said very little and had more invitations for an evening than he could ever attend.

Bill Cunningham divided his time between photographing the stylish of New York society and the stylish on New York City's streets. It was his third, fourth or fifth career.

His posthumously published memoir, "Fashion Climbing" is about those early careers—stock boy for Boston department stores, army tour guide extraordinaire, hatter and all-around madcap, then fashion reporter for Woman's Wear Daily and others. The photography gig that made him famous is barely mentioned.

Reluctant to talk about himself, he participated in the wonderful documentary "Bill Cunningham New York", but revealed little. It was quite a surprise when relatives discovered this unpublished memoir. Even more surprising is how warm, funny and chatty a read it is.

Young Bill the Hatter

It's not clear when "Fashion Climbing" was written. It seems to end mid-60s when Bill was still reporting on fashion but no longer for Woman's Wear Daily. St. Laurent has taken over at Dior but Balenciaga is still alive and designing.
The term "fashion climbing" is one I had never heard; he uses it to represent social climbing with clothes. I might take exception as he states that this began after World War II, when women no longer "wore lovely clothes for the sheer pleasure and joy of pleasing their friends." I would think status dressing has always been a thing, from the days of the House of Worth to having a "store bought" as opposed to a "home made" dress.

For one who first became aware of fashion when women really did still wear hats, his stories of New York City, late '40s through '50s, showed me how much I missed. No other American city was so tuned to the power of fashion. What a show it was, and Bill Cunnigham relished watching every minute of it.

Editta modeling a hat for Bill

He doesn't always name names, but it's easy to figure out a few of the unnamed. I immediately recognized Editta Sherman, his long-time friend and neighbor at the Carnegie Hall Studios. A photographer herself (that's her on page 231), she would rent her studio to visiting foreign photographers. By the mid-'60s I would often be sent to pick up processed film as part of my duties at Glamour Magazine. Unfortunately I never saw Bill there.

"Fashion Climbing" could have used a good editor in places, but then it wouldn't have been like having a conversation (over tea and a sandwich at Schrafft's) with such a wise and slightly wicked charmer.



Thursday, October 11, 2018

Jane Arden, Fashionable Girl Reporter

I wish I'd known Jane Arden; looks like I really missed something. Jane was a "spunky girl reporter" who romped through the comics from the '20s through the '60s.


Jane differed from her girl reporter comics rival Brenda Starr in that readers were able to send Jane designs for her (very extensive) reporter's wardrobe. No simple, sensible suit and white blouse a la Lois Lane for her. Jane's wardrobe is a fanciful yet insightful look at what women wore (or dreamed about wearing) for over 40 years.

Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane

First syndicated in 1928, Jane Arden appeared in newspapers and comic books, movies and paper dolls. She never achieved Starr status in the United States but was quite popular in Canada and Australia.

The Beyonce of the comics

Katy Keene was a comic queen with reader-inspired dresses, but she was too much of hot tamale for my taste. I would have sent in contributions for Jane, earnest girl-with-a-job and on a mission, many missions.

The reader contributions never took up much space on the comic pages (about 5" x 6"), but they must have been lovingly saved by generations of readers. Many page clippings are listed for sale on ebay. There is also a reproduction 1942 paper doll book. I'm eyeing that. Never too late for fun with paper dolls.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Dress Like Florence...for $9.99

I'm still on a high after seeing Florence and the Machine in concert last Sunday. I've written about Florence before. You can find it here:

Florence has been a muse of Gucci for several years, and the brand's Bohemian style suits her. That night she performed in a dreamy chiffon Gucci dress. Florence twirled and danced on and off the stage (barefoot); it was no surprise to see raw skin on her knee and smudges of blood on the dress. Not missing a beat, she said, "You know it's a good night when you get blood on a Gucci dress!"

The latest H&M collaboration was unveiled today.  No, it's not with Gucci, but this textured chiffon blouse reminded me of Florence. Amazingly it's only $9.99!

H&M has partnered with Morris & Company. The British wallpaper and fabrics brand was started by William Morris and some fellow pre-Raphaelites in 1861. The style was known as Arts and Crafts; Morris' intricate nature-inspired patterns surely influenced Art Nouveau.

Although the firm officially closed in 1940, the designs are still popular. Liberty of London, custodian of the archive, worked with H&M to create the collection. I would suggest you get to your nearest H&M fast, because it won't last. Everything is wearable; the quality is decent, the prices are fair, and there is that incredible $9.99 blouse.

I really think Florence would wear this, maybe on a non-Gucci day. Certainly you could too.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Madame Predicts: Turn Up the Volume


Though I've quipped and quibbled in posts past about the crazy notion of multiple layers and football player shoulders, it's fair to say I think this is where we are heading—volume. It's also camouflage and protective layers. I have not a doubt in the world that this is in response to a primal need to dig deep and burrow, the polar opposite of reveal and flaunt. Could a thing like fashion possibly be influenced by politics and world order? Oh please, this is the real reason I loved history. Early on I saw the connection.

Too bad I couldn't form the same bond with math.

We expect New York Fashion Week to give us an idea what we may be wearing as we expect what's shown (or reasonable versions thereof) to be in the stores. We give London Fashion Week a bit more leeway, as I think there is a lingering question where it falls. The Brits were never known as Fashionistas, but then everything went global. Paris would be disappointing if it didn't seem far out. This time (Spring 2019) the Paris shows have struck a nerve and their outrageous does not seem that impossible. Be prepared.

Dies Van Noten

It wasn't all volume, but there were still signs of belted repression and hidden identities:

Ann Demeulemeester

Nevertheless I see plenty to love without giving up on society entirely. This dress is dreamy, though I would ditch the belt-worn-as-necklace and go for some sandals instead of boots. I already have a straw bag.