Monday, February 28, 2011

Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd

Tomorrow is Saint David's Day, and Wales and myself will be celebrating!

Without going into a long drawn out history of Saint David, he is the patron Saint of Wales of which there is a shortage of real historical evidence. This is more than made up by the colourful legends that abound about his life and work. What is known is that he was born at Henvynwy in Ceredigion sometime between 462 and 512 and is believed to have died on Tuesday March 1 in 589.

It is tradition in Wales to wear leeks or daffodils on your clothing for Saint David’s day.

According to legend St David advised the Britons on the eve of a battle with the Saxons, to wear leeks in their caps so as to easily distinguish friend from foe. This helped to secure a great victory. It is also a surviving tradition that soldiers in the Welsh regiments eat a raw leek on St David’s Day. The Welsh for leek (the original national emblem) is Cenhinen, while the Welsh for daffodil is Cenhinen Pedr. Probably over the years they became confused until the daffodil was adopted as a second emblem of Wales.

Either will do, so celebrate the day with a little savoir faire and wear a leek (not too sensible) or a daffodil, and in the words of Saint David "Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd" or "Do the little things in life."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let's Go Bowling!

What is more quintessentially English than the Englishman sporting a bowler hat and pinstripe business suit? What would Charlie Chapman or Laurel and Hardy be without their respective bowlers?

The bowler hat (typified by the rounded crown) was devised in 1849 by the London hat makers Thomas and William Bowler to fulfill an order placed by the firm of hatters Lock & Co. of St James's. Lock & Co. had been commissioned by a customer to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect his gamekeepers' heads from low-hanging branches while on horseback. The keepers had previously worn top hats, which were easily knocked off and damaged. Lock & Co. then commissioned the Bowler brothers to solve the problem. And thus a classic iconic form of headwear was born!

Now significantly recognised as being the uniform of the English businessman, the bowler is much more than that.

The bowler has showed up in more than one unusual setting and has been adopted by the most unlikely people. The bowler, not the cowboy hat or sombrero was the most popular hat in the American West. Cowboys and railroad workers alike preferred the hat because it wouldn't blow off easily in strong wind, or when sticking one's head out the window of a speeding train.

The bowler, called a bombin in Peru and Bolivia, has been worn by Quechua and Aymara women since the 1920s, when it was introduced to Bolivia by British railway workers.

Magritte was significantly enamored with the bowler as it appears in two of his most famous and recognised paintings “The Son of Man” and “Man in a Bowler Hat”.

Helena Rubinstein was known for her signature bowler hats which she wore continuously in later life. The once traditional masculine accessory on Madame’s head was given a more feminine fashion aesthetic, which was immortalized by Liza Minnelli in Cabaret.

On one side the bowler is the representation of the polished self assured businessman and a symbol of the establishment, however in “A Clockwork Orange” it is the establishment’s antithesis. The symbol is turned upside down, where the hat and its wearers symbolise everything the establishment is not. Anarchy and violence.

Men, look very polished and fashion savvy when wearing a bowler as it denotes a sense of self confidence. As we all know placing an article of apparel on ones head is not done unselfconsciously. Whether the wearer is making a statement about his liberation, or being glib or ironic, the fact is that both the union man and the banker all have worn the same hat at some stage or another.

I have the Blues! (and Whites)

With wonderfully classic shapes, Chinese blue and white porcelain is one of those mediums that can adapt its self easily to decorating. Long being the inspiration for many a person and manufacturer, it adds a sense of calm oriental savoir faire to any room or tablescape.

Such was the popularity of Chinese blue and white porcelain, can be seen in the fact that every major china manufacturer over the last 300 years or so has imitated it in some form or another. The most well known example being the English willow pattern, with truth be told is a purely English invention and not Chinese at all. The pattern itself was strongly influenced from Chinese export porcelains of the 18th Century. The willow pattern was, in turn, copied by Chinese potters, but with the decoration hand painted rather than transfer-printed.

Usually white pottery or porcelain which is decorated with a blue pigment under the glaze, the technique was fully developed in China with porcelain technology in the 14th century.
The earlier Chinese blue and white while not as refined as more modern examples has a very rustic nosatlgic feel about it. Many of the techniques and designs drew their inspiration from nature and everyday life.
Now readily available from a large variety of sources from high end million dollar antiques or just a visit to your local Chinatown, the look can be achieved within many a budget.
The earlier Chinese blue and white while not as refined as more modern examples has a very rustic nosatlgic feel about it. Many of the techniques and designs drew their inspiration from nature and everyday life.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Sixties Had IT!

There seems to be something about the girls of the sixties who were dubbed the “it” girls. Not necessarily classically beautiful, they all had something that stood out. The women I have included below have an unusual almost ethereal quality about them and as they got older in my opinion only got better.

Jean Shrimpton

Charlotte Rampling

Jane Birkin

Julie Christie

Penelope Tree


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The French Are Coming!

What did Christian Dior and Soviet Russia have in common in 1959? Not much you may say however the answer just might surprise you!

Even though the Cold War was starting and had started to grip the western world, Nikita Khrushchev and his more liberal policies (anything was liberal compared to Stalin), changes were being made in many aspects of Soviet Life. Fashion was one of them.

High up on the Politburo level decisions were being made that Soviet fashion designers should start learning their trade off their French counterparts, which basically meant that the government was taking this seriously.

Back in the 1930’s Stalin had experimented with this idea, and Schiaparelli had made a tour to the USSR, however nothing became of the experiment.

In 1959 Dior was approached to organise a fashion show in Moscow for the Soviet elite and the highest members of the Communist Party. Dior was chosen for several reasons, the main one being that the Soviets regarded the fashions coming out of the house as classic, regardless of the season or collection - and this suited the Soviet manufacturers immensely. A "classic" cut of a suit would be considered "ideologically neutral" by the Soviets, as well as stable and practical. It would also mean lower production costs, as after having produced a set of patterns, the clothes makers could go on releasing the same clothes for years.

The show took place in House of Culture "Wings of the Soviets", decorated in the French tri-colours.

As a part of a prelude and teaser to the show, a walkabout, through some of the centre of Moscow was arranged so that the regular proletariat could see the fashions. Red Square, local streets and markets and the GUM department store were visited.

The photos taken by Howard Sochurek are a wonderful archive of the dissimilarities between West and East during this period.

They generally show the Moscow populace not only in awe but also bewildered by this small tantalizing glimpse into western culture. People just do not know what to make of these tall elegant western women, dressed in a style of dress that they have not seen before. It would seem too many to be akin to an alien from outer space landing in their midst!

The photos document perfectly the clash between western ideals and culture and the soviet ideology prevailing at the time. Sometimes I am not too sure, however some of our Soviet citizens faces and expressions seem tinged with resentment or jealousey.

After the show Pravda wrote that some of the styles were too open and short, and that "they would not look nice on women who are stout and of short stature." It was evidently taken for granted that the majority of Soviet women were stout and not tall. One of the Soviet magazines of those days described narrow skirts and spike-heeled shoes thus: "Bourgeois fashion makers come up with such styles that the woman has difficulty walking and must wrap herself around her man."

Whether after the show the Politburo had a change of mind or whether just the thought of turning Soviet mothers into walking fashion plates was too daunting the whole project was literally dropped. Clothes were adopted and manufactured however the implementation of new styles and techniques was inhibited by the overall conservatism of the state. The decorative elements of dresses were often omitted (Russian women were considered to be above cheap frills), and the cuts were simplified not to let the seduction slip in.

How different things might have been, if this was adopted with the zeal and fervour of a five year plan!
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