Friday, 21 October 2016

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual...

...just like today's much-missed birthday girl, the incomparable Celia Cruz!

Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso (21st October 1925 – 16th July 2003)

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Swans reflecting elephants in a Surrealist jungle

Edward James, 1930s, by Cecil Beaton

“We still have two lobster telephones, so we have to ask ourselves, we obviously need a lobster telephone, but do we really need two? We also have three Mae West sofas, and that’s just greedy, isn’t it?"

Lisa Fonssagrives on Dali's "Mae West's Lips" sofa, by George Platt-Lines

Thus the director of West Dean College justified the forthcoming sale - which will be conducted by Christie's in December - of parts of their vast collection including the two aforementioned works by Salvador Dali as well as paintings by Pavel Tchelitchew, all bestowed upon the college (along with the vast mansion and grounds in which the college resides) by the eccentric millionaire philanthropist and collector of Surrealist works Edward James.

Edward James with composer Igor Markevich, by Norman Parkinson

Their benefactor Mr James certainly does seem to have been fabulously eccentric... According to The Guardian:
[He] lived mainly in nearby Monkton House, which came to him as a modest, plain home designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens as a refreshing break from the opulence of the main building. James painted the walls a searing purple, added two-storey palm-tree trunks and murals of washing hung out to dry, and heavily padded the interior walls.

He slept in a bed modelled on Nelson’s hearse, and when he married Tilly Losch, an actor and dancer, he commissioned a green carpet woven with her footprints. The marriage did not last, with James accusing his wife of adultery and Losch suspecting her husband was gay. When they separated he had the carpet replaced with one woven with his Irish wolfhound’s paw prints.
As well as Dali and Tchelitchew, Edward James supported numerous renowned artists and writers during their careers, including John Betjeman, Brian Howard, Bertold Brecht, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya and George Balanchine. One of his favourites René Magritte made him the subject of not one, but two of his most famous paintings. He went to school with Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton, and counted among his social circle such luminaries as the Mitford sisters, Lord Berners, Sergei Diaghilev, Boris Kochno, Gertrude Stein (till they fell out) and Pablo Picasso. The refurbishment of Monkton House was done by society interior designer Syrie Maugham. His autobiography Swans Reflecting Elephants was written with the assistance of fellow Surrealism fanatic George Melly.

His greatest indulgence, however, was the creation of the magnificent Surrealist gardens of Las Pozas in Mexico.

Tilda Swinton at Las Pozas

From "W" Magazine:
For 20 years, he dedicated much of his time and wealth to the design and construction of a spectacular series of concrete sculptures amid the luscious vegetation of Las Pozas, his vast estate in a tropical rain forest high in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains near the tiny town of Xilitla, about an eight-hour drive north of Mexico City.

Some of the sculptures were inspired by the shapes of exotic plants and trees in the surrounding jungle; others, by the convoluted forms in the immense collection of works by the surrealist artists James had assembled back in England. Among his fantastical structures were totem poles, hidden rooms, teetering towers, and staircases leading to nowhere. James gave them baffling names like The House With Three Storeys That Could Be Five and Temple of the Ducks and instructed the hundreds of artisans who’d worked for him over the years to leave many of them unfinished.

Now the gardens are being restored to their former glory, and the college is intending to use its auction earnings to provide a home for a permanent exhibition of Mr James' bequest (what remains of it, which was quite a lot) - so, thirty-two years after his death, the man's eccentric legacy lives on anew...

Edward William Frank James (16th August 1907 – 2nd December 1984)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Consort

With the death announced today of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, not only is this the end of the longest reign of any monarch on the planet (70 years - now superseded by the reign of our own dear HM Queen Elizabeth), but also the end of the longest tenure as consort - that of the impossibly glamorous Somdet Phra Nang Chao Sirikit Phra Borommarachininat, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit...

Who'll wear those tiaras now, I wonder?

RIP His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (5th December 1927 - 13th October 2016)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Struttin’ her stuff on the street

It's the birthday today of the original "fierce rulin' diva", Miss Nona Hendryx - one third (with Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash) of the faboo LaBelle, and the creative genius behind most of their songs. Her role in transforming the way women performed on stage was an abiding influence on many of those "ladies with an attitude" who followed - Grace Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Janelle Monáe, Chaka Khan among them - as well as male musicians such as Prince. But it's the phantasmagorical "Space Diva" look that Nona and the girls perfected in their '70s heyday that probably appeals the most...

Of LaBelle's ground-breaking appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1974, the LA Times said (in an article back in 2008):
The crowd watched as two women - wearing so many feathers they looked like birds - descended from the rafters to join a third onstage. The trio's harmonies were so close that their voices seemed to merge in a swirl of gospel, rock and soul.

This was Labelle in the mid-1970s. They were not just a pop group with one enormous hit, Lady Marmalade, but a phenomenon whose music helped change the very idea of what pop and the artists who made it - especially women singers previously confined to "girl groups" - could be.

"People were looking for three outrageous women who might sing and say anything," said Patti LaBelle.

After spending the 1960s as the vocal group Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles (who, among other accomplishments, toured with the Rolling Stones) the group, guided by manager Vicki Wickham, enacted one of pop's most remarkable transformations. They traded in their wigs and satin gloves for futuristic costumes by rock designer Larry LeGaspi, began recording Hendryx's politically forthright and erotically charged songs, and developed a stage show that was part gospel revival, part circus, part love-in... They supported The Who and the Rolling Stones, recorded an album with Laura Nyro and followed Bette Midler's famous engagement at New York's gay mecca the Continental Baths.

"It wasn't really accepted that black girls could sing these songs," said Wickham, who also managed Dusty Springfield. "A lot of Nona's songs had double entendres, it wasn't like radio was going to jump on it. The time really wasn't right, but I also think that we were so big on doing it live and having great audiences that nobody really said, 'Hang on a second, you need to have something that goes on radio.'"
On reading more about the magnificently camp rise of LaBelle, however, one name seems pivotal - that of the man who created those avant-garde designs that made the group's stage appearances quite so startling: Mr Larry LeGaspi! A name that seems largely absent on the interwebs these days. I've had to dig deep to find more about the man...

The earliest mention I can find is in Cheap Chic: Hundreds of Money-Saving Hints to Create Your Own Great Look (by Caterine Milinaire and Carol Troy, 1975):
Larry LeGaspi works out of Moonstone, a small design studio in the Village. His influence, however, is far wider. The incredible, soulful LaBelle flashed his space clothes all over the world, from Soul Train to Paris, from the Continental Baths to the Metropolitan Opera. The sliver breasts which flashed off their costumes at the Met were made by Larry's partner, Richard Erker, who works with him on all their spacey silver jewellery. Some weeks, when a show is about to go on, Larry doesn't get to sleep until five or six in the morning.

"My design ideas come from my childhood fantasies. I dream of other planets. I'm always finding myself in very strange places in my imagination! ... Space seemed to me the only direction for me to go, because the Seventies just seem to be a repeat of the Thirties through the Sixties. I see my work as a kind of "Space Deco". I'm trying to get a lot of fluidity in the skirts and cutting the jersey on a bias, but I think the Deco look should have more of the future in it. ...

"Half my customers are entertainers. My clothes are mainly for performers, because people are going to turn around and look at you in these things. Last week I got stopped by the police for stopping traffic in my white leather and fur coat!"
According to Disco Chic: All the Styles,Steps and Places to Go, Mr LeGaspi's store was "decorated like the surface of the moon, with a silvery moonscaped floor and twinkling stars overhead," so must have been a sight to behold. Unfortunately his retail business was not such a great success [Moonstone went bust], but the fashions he designed were [especially during the excesses of the Disco era] - and in addition to the Labelle girls, he also created iconic "looks" for KISS, Divine and Funkadelic.

Whatever became of Larry LeGaspi eludes me [one mention on a blog comments section says he died on 26th April 2001, but it's not verified] - but his (and Miss Hendryx's) influence lives on!

Sibling's Autumn/Winter 2016 show for London Fashion Week

Nona Hendryx (born 9th October 1944)

More LaBelle here, here and here

Thursday, 6 October 2016

There is no heaven but here

The edition of the Rubaiyat that we have on our shelves here at Dolores Delargo Towers, with illustrations by Elihu Vedder

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

As National Poetry Day draws to its close, so I have just enough time to encapsulate two great loves of mine - one of the greatest of thinkers, the late, lamented Christopher Hitchens; and that most magnificent of poetic works [my absolute, utter favourite] The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, from which he here reads...

The bird of life is singing on the bough
His two eternal notes of “I and Thou” -
O! hearken well, for soon the song sings through,
And, would we hear it, we must hear it now.

The bird of life is singing in the sun,
Short is his song, nor only just begun,
A call, a trill, a rapture, then - so soon!
A silence, and the song is done - is done.

Yea! What is man that deems himself divine?
Man is a flagon, and his soul the wine;
Man is a reed, his soul the sound therein;
Man is a lantern, and his soul the shine.

Would you be happy! hearken, then, the way:
Heed not To-morrow, heed not Yesterday;
The magic words of life are Here and Now -
O fools, that after some to-morrow stray!

Were I a Sultan, say what greater bliss
Were mine to summon to my side than this,
Dear gleaming face, far brighter than the moon!
O Love! and this immortalizing kiss.

To all of us the thought of heaven is dear -
Why not be sure of it and make it here?
No doubt there is a heaven yonder too,
But ’tis so far away - and you are near.

Men talk of heaven, - there is no heaven but here;
Men talk of hell, - there is no hell but here;
Men of hereafters talk, and future lives,
O love, there is no other life - but here.

Look not above, there is no answer there;
Pray not, for no one listens to your prayer;
Near is as near to God as any Far,
And Here is just the same deceit as There.

But here are wine and beautiful young girls,
Be wise and hide your sorrows in their curls,
Dive as you will in life’s mysterious sea,
You shall not bring us any better pearls.

Allah, perchance, the secret word might spell;
If Allah be, He keeps His secret well;
What He hath hidden, who shall hope to find?
Shall God His secret to a maggot tell?

So since with all my passion and my skill,
The world’s mysterious meaning mocks me still,
Shall I not piously believe that I
Am kept in darkness by the heavenly will?

The Koran! well, come put me to the test -
Lovely old book in hideous error drest -
Believe me, I can quote the Koran too,
The unbeliever knows his Koran best.

And do you think that unto such as you,
A maggot-minded, starved, fanatic crew,
God gave the Secret, and denied it me?
Well, well, what matters it! believe that too.

Old Khayyám, say you, is a debauchee;
If only you were half so good as he!
He sins no sins but gentle drunkenness,
Great-hearted mirth, and kind adultery.

But yours the cold heart, and the murderous tongue,
The wintry soul that hates to hear a song,
The close-shut fist, the mean and measuring eye,
And all the little poisoned ways of wrong.

So I be written in the Book of Love,
I have no care about that book above;
Erase my name, or write it, as you please -
So I be written in the Book of Love.


My tribute to Christopher Hitchens over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on Wikipedia.

National Poetry Day

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

To the extreme

More than 100 performers. Five hundred costumes. Feathers. Chains. Kilts. Leather harnesses. Bare-chested boys (and girls).

It could only be the work of Jean-Paul Gaultier, he of the most outrageous fashions ever to hit the haute couture catwalks of Gay Paree...

Described by none other than style bible i-D Magazine as “Arty to the extreme”, M Gaultier has (finally, one might say) added his particular brand of over-the-top campery to a new revue show - choreographed by our own Craig Revel Horwood and produced by the FriedrichstadtPalast's veteran showgirl-revue-meister Roland Welke - THE ONE Grand Show, which looks likely to take Berlin by storm as it is launched this week!

"Divine decadence, darling!" Indeed.

And here's a preview of this spectacular:

Read more and book tickets at the FriedrichstadtPalast Berlin website

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Stay Peculiar...

...Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has arrived!

Tim Burton's first film for ages without either Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham-Carter, it's had mixed reviews. But it looks to me like something that might appeal...