Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Objects of desire, part 2

Marilyn Monroe “Cherie” iconic green and black-sequined leotard designed by Travilla for Bus Stop

Tallulah Bankhead silver lamé robe designed by Rene Hubert from A Royal Scandal

A second auction of Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood collection is set for 3rd December 2011 in Beverly Hills, and there are many more beautiful objects of desire up for sale this time round - if only one had the money!

The magnificent Debbie Reynolds Collection auction in June far exceeded its initial estimates, and earned a place in the Guinness World Records after selling Marilyn Monroe's iconic white "Subway Dress" for $5.52 million (£2.8 million), making it the world's most expensive dress. Will they break records this time around, I wonder?

Betty Grable heavily beaded aqua dance costume designed by Earl Luick from Springtime in the Rockies

Gladys Cooper aubergine period gown and coat designed by Edward Stevenson from At Sword’s Point

On sale this time are at least two of Betty Grable's shimmy dresses, Tallulah Bankhead's silver robe, several gowns by Adrian and Travilla including those worn by Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alice Faye, Sonja Henie and Norma Shearer, Marilyn Monroe's basque from Bus Stop, Mitzi Gaynor's feather showgirl hat, Barbra Streisand's swan outfit from Funny Girl, period costumes worn by the likes of Gladys Cooper and Olivia de Havilland, and outfits worn by Esther Williams in her Busby Berkeley aquatic extravaganzas...

My favourite of all the items must be this fantabulosa silver and black sequined star outfit designed by Donald Brooks for Julie Andrews in Star!


Debbie Reynolds - the Auction, part 2

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Glad indeed

Among the fabulous items to come on sale at a forthcoming Heritage Auctions jewellery sale in Dallas Texas are these gorgeous pieces from The Gladys Glad Jewellery Collection.

A principal highlight is Glad's Retro Diamond, Ruby, Platinum, Gold Jewellery Suite by Merrin of New York, estimated at $15,000+. The lot includes the original artwork for the earring design.

Of course that raises the question, "Gladys who?"

Ms Glad was apparently in the 1920s and early 1930s one of the highest paid showgirls on Broadway. She rose to fame as the most celebrated of Florenz Ziegfeld's renowned "Ziegfeld Follies Girls," and performed in the Ziegfeld productions Rio Rita (1927-1928), Rosalie (1928), Whoopee (1928-1929), and in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1931.

With her husband, columnist, movie producer and scriptwriter Mark Hellinger, she made up one half of a powerful Hollywood couple in the media of the day. After her showgirl career was over, she spent a few lucrative years dispensing beauty tips in syndicated newspapers. She lived on until 1983.

With the able assistance of photographer Alfred Cheyney Johnson, however, Miss Glad's ultimate legacy - her iconic beauty and style - is forever captured...

And here, for your delectation, are some of Miss Glad's coiffure tips:

More about the auction

Sunday, 27 November 2011


The young "in" group, 1967, by Lord Patrick Litchfield

Back row (left to right) Susannah York, Peter S Cook, Tom Courtenay, Twiggy, centre row (left to right) Joe Orton, Michael Fish, front row (left to right) Miranda Chiu, Lucy Fleming.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The "nickel-in-the-slot player"

Nov 23 1889: The first jukebox is installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco. It becomes an overnight sensation, and its popularity spreads around the world.

That first jukebox was constructed by the Pacific Phonograph Company. Four stethoscope-like tubes were attached to an Edison Class M electric phonograph fitted inside an oak cabinet. The tubes operated individually, each being activated by the insertion of a coin, meaning that four different listeners could be plugged in to the same song simultaneously.

Towels were supplied to patrons so they could wipe off the end of the tube after each listening.

The success of the jukebox eventually spelled the end of the player piano, then the most common way of pounding out popular music to a line of thirsty barflies.

The machine was originally called the “nickel-in-the-slot player” by Louis Glass, the entrepreneur who installed it at the Palais Royale. (A nickel then had the buying power of $1.08 today.) It came to be known as the jukebox only later, although the origin of the word remains a bit vague. It may derive from “juke house,” a slang reference to bawdy house, where music was not unknown.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Farewell Baron Munchausen

"Dearest John, what a great actor, a great man and a great friend. I learned everything you need to know about the craft of acting from him: the energy required, the quality of danger you have to bring to everything you do, the importance of vocal and emotional clarity; he understood it all.”
Dame Judi Dench on John Neville (2 May 1925 – 19 November 2011)


John Neville obituary in The British Theatre Guide

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ladies' night

“The world hid its head in the sands of convention, so that by seeing nothing it might avoid Truth.”

“Our love may be faithful even unto death and beyond - yet the world will call it unclean. We may harm no living creature by our love; we may grow more perfect in understanding and in charity because of our loving; but all this will not save you from the scourge of a world that will turn away its eyes from your noblest actions, finding only corruption and vileness in you.”

"You're neither unnatural, nor abominable, nor mad; you're as much a part of what people call nature as anyone else; only you're unexplained as yet - you've not got your niche in creation."

"Language is surely too small a vessel to contain these emotions of mind and body that have somehow awakened a response in the spirit."

Radclyffe Hall (12 August 1880 – 7 October 1943), whose lesbian novel The Well Of Loneliness was judged "obscene" by Chief Magistrate Sir Chartres Biron on this date in 1928.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Puttin' on the Glitz

Odeon, Leicester Square

Carreras Cigarette Factory, aka Greater London House

The Moderne style

Daily Express Building

Midland Hotel, Morecambe

Saltdean Lido

Just some of the photos that form part of the Puttin' on the Glitz: The Golden Years of Art Deco Architecture in Britain exhibition currently showing at the magnificent headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in Portland Place, London, that we went to see on Saturday.

RIBA building

From their website:
Enjoy an exhibition that explores Art Deco architecture at its peak during the inter-war years, using vintage photographs from the RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection.

Art Deco was often applied to transient building types such as shops and restaurants, tending to obscure how ubiquitous a style it was. This exhibition seeks to redress the balance by displaying not only Art Deco classics such as Odeon cinemas, but also a host of lesser known buildings such as [opera singer] Conchita Supervia's flat in Lowndes Square, London, and a fish and chip shop in Sunderland.

It certainly is an impressive glimpse of the glamorous and hedonistic world of the 20s and 30s in Britain, where even the most mundane buildings were decorated with chrome, marble and neon details worthy of the most luxurious ocean-going liner.

All the ingenuity, aspiration and creativity of the time is on display here - not merely the buildings themselves but also the innovative photography that captured it. We loved it!

A complementary display, Art Deco Triumphant, is on at the same time in the Architectural Library. This selection is of prints, postcards and ephemera from the exhibition that began it all - the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925, and is equally fascinating.

Both exhibitions are on until 29 November 2011. For more information visit

Friday, 11 November 2011

The best-dressed woman with a safety pin

Last week the world of Haute Couture bade a fond farewell to a very influential woman, oft-called "muse" (although she loathed the term preferring "assistant") to the late Yves Saint-Laurent, the woman who inspired (some might say created) his infamous Le Smoking look - men's formal suits for women - and contributor to the development of "chunky" jewellery as an art-form.

Louise de la Falaise, better known as Loulou, was born in England to an Irish mother, Maxime, and French father, the Count Alain de la Falaise.

She was born into an aristocratic family that predisposed her to a life directed by fashion and art: her mother was a model for Schiaparelli (who photographer Cecil Beaton once told, "You are the only English woman I know who manages to be really chic in really hideous clothes"), and her maternal grandfather, Sir Oswald Birley, was the favourite portrait painter of Queen Mary. Maxime’s brother Mark Birley later opened Annabel’s nightclub in Berkeley Square.

Loulou spent her teenage years in London, which was a bohemian period for her. She worked as a fashion editor for Queen - now Harper’s Bazaar - magazine. As the Sixties were coming to a close, Loulou followed her mother to New York, where Maxime remarried to John MacKendry, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum.

In New York, Loulou soon found friends; amongst them, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol. Her long career in fashion was about to take off. She modelled for Vogue; and like her mother, who had posed for Cecil Beaton, Loulou would model for fashion’s favourite photographers: Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, amongst others. She also designed prints for Halston.

Passing through Paris in 1968, Loulou was introduced to Yves Saint Laurent at a tea party given by Fernando Sanchez. Two years later he would ask her to join his team, and in 1972 she entered the house of Yves Saint Laurent. No one was closer to Yves than Loulou, and he gave her the responsibility of the accessories department.
“She has an extraordinary lightness of touch, along with a faultless critical view of fashion. Intuitive, innate, individual. Her presence at my side is a dream.” Yves Saint Laurent

Loulou de la Falaise had a style that was all her own, and no doubt inspired Saint Laurent in his collections. She was ahead of her time in her ability to apparently haphazardly throw together outfits that just worked. She was one of fashion's greatest magpies. Her bold approach to jewellery and accessories in particular is one that continues to inspire countless designers and stylists.

She said:
"Accessories have an important role in our busy lives. If you’re going out to dinner but don’t have time to change, you can take your jacket off and put on a jewel that you’ve had in your briefcase, or downsize your handbag. Much easier than carrying an evening dress on the metro to work..."

"It was her creative way with colour and texture and mixes of clothes and jewellery that attracted Saint Laurent. She knew how to finish off an outfit with a giant crocodile belt, a jangle of earrings, or a cluster of oversized wooden bangles. Accessories were her playthings. She would wear brightly coloured turbans, cossack boots, gypsy skirts mixed with a beaded couture jacket. She shared with Saint Laurent a penchant for mixing up off beat colours - red and purple, gold and red. There would always be a nod to an exotic, far flung place - Moroccan amber beads, or Chinese jade. It is a style that many women like to try to emulate, but it her chic nonchalance is difficult to imitate if it is not something you are born with." Fashon writer Tamsin Blanchard

In an interview in 2003, de la Falaise said,
"I never think ahead about what I'm going to wear. I get out of my bath and then I dress. Sometimes, it's a new pair of shoes and I work around that. But sometimes it simply depends on what's at the cleaners and what's around." Her style was totally instincitive and un-self-conscious: "I'm actually terrible about thinking ahead. When people say, 'What are you going to wear?' - that gets me very nervous. When I throw things together at the last minute, I'm happy."

Her legacy is everywhere in modern jewellery and fashion, inspired by her ability to turn the ordinary onto the extraordinary.

As her mother Maxime said, "All we had were rags and Loulou could turn them into riches and create a new look. She was the best-dressed woman with a safety pin."

Loulou's obituary in The Guardian

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The world of tomorrow

“The clothes I prefer, I invent them for a life that doesn’t exist yet – the world of tomorrow.”

Pierre Cardin came from obscurity but very quickly became one of the top fashion designers in the world.

He was the trailblazer for the soft and floppy fashion look of the 1950s and 1960s, but in the latter decade his designs became increasingly fanciful, with bright colors and wild "Space Age" influences.

Knowing that some of his customers would not wear many of the avant-garde creations that he was producing, however, he soon began designing more traditional lines for department stores and retail outlets.

Having literally invented the concept of designer fashion for men, he paved the way for other future giants like Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani who were able to start their careers as men's designers - a discipline that before Cardin, didn't exist. He even invented the Beatles "look", designing their collarless jackets.

Monsieur Cardin continually changed and expanded the world of fashion with his creations over the years, and at 89 years old is considered a living legend in the fashion industry.

Pierre Cardin in the 1950s

From the BBC
Pierre Cardin came to Paris during World War II.

He was an exceptionally handsome young man. "My physique was what the times regarded as desirable," he says.

He began his career making costumes for the film-maker Jean Cocteau. Christian Dior took him under his wing and he launched his own label in 1950.

Our conversation takes us back to the golden years. How did he get on with the other great names like Yves Saint Laurent?

"They looked down on me, you know," he says. "I would invite them out, but they would never invite me back."

In 1959, Cardin courted their further contempt when he launched the first ever "pret-a-porter" (ready-to-wear) show for the mass market. Later he went into merchandising in a major way, with hundreds of Cardin franchises all over the world, many of them not exactly top-of-the-range.

But today he answers his critics with glee. "Look at me now, I am patron, artisan, proprietaire [owner, manager, craftsman]. Still! Every day I work at my designs, and I control every cent.

"All the others - even if they were alive - their names are now the property of big multi-nationals. They've been taken over.

"And then they accuse me of degrading the brand because there are cheap Cardin shops in India and China. But I know how much a bottle of perfume costs to make. It is nothing!

"I have called their bluff. I am the one who has really brought fashion to the people."

Pierre Cardin's empire is now worth around £900million, and not only includes couture, perfumerie and luxury goods but also world-renowned entertainment venues such as the top restaurant Maxim's of Paris, and a creation of his own imagination, the Palais Bulles (Bubble House) on the Cote d'Azur.

He reportedly intends to sell the whole business, on one condition:
"I want to remain as creative director," he says. "It would be in their interest for the brand's image."
Pierre Cardin website

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Style is what makes you different

Vanity Fair, September 2010:
On the evening of December 5, 1969, the beau monde was assembling for dinners at the most elegant tables in Paris, pre-gaming for the fancy-dress party of the year, if not the decade — Baron Alexis de Redé’s “Bal Oriental.” Among the most impenetrable of these preparatory gatherings was that of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the international jet set’s de facto king and queen.

Dining with the elect at the Windsors’ that night was couturier Oscar de la Renta. “The first course, the second course, the third course, and finally dessert arrived,” de la Renta recalls, “and still Jacqueline de Ribes had not appeared. The Duke was furious!” Suddenly the dining-room doors opened, and in glided the Vicomtesse de Ribes. An exotic vision, the aristocratic beauty was swaddled from the pinnacle of her tasseled hat to the tips of her pointed slippers in a fantastically opulent Turkish disguise, ingeniously cobbled together by the Vicomtesse herself from three of her old haute couture dresses; organza lamé from a remnant market; and a sable cape, acquired from an impoverished ballerina. Recalls de la Renta, “It was a show. And she was the star. No one knew like Jacqueline the power of an entrance.”

People magazine, December 1985:
Yves Saint Laurent once gushed, "She is the pearl in the king of Poland's ear, the Queen of Sheba's tallow-drop emerald, Diane de Poitiers' crescent tiara, the Ring of the Nibelungen. She is a castle in Bavaria, a tall, black swan, a royal blue orchid." Yves, in short, kind of liked her.

Her idea of the common touch is to wear Calvin Klein jeans at home. If the candles in the candelabra aren't all the same height, the servants get a stern lecture.

New York Times, 12th April 2010:
Fashion and style are two of the great loves in the life of the vicomtesse, who was launched into society by her marriage in 1948 at age 18; and who was on the Best Dressed list so often that she had entered the Hall of Fame by 1962. By then photographers such as Richard Avedon, Horst and Irving Penn had captured her elegant profile above the silhouette that her husband described last week as of a "magnificent gazelle."

"They say I am the last survivor of the Beistegui ball - it sounds like surviving the Titanic," said the countess, referring to one of the grandest social events of the 20th century: the masked oriental ball thrown in 1951 in Venice by Mexican/French heir Carlos de Beistegui, with the clotted cream of international society from the Duchess of Windsor to the Aga Khan.

It Girl blog:
In 1983, during Paris Fashion Week she presented a 14 look collection at her house. Yves Saint Laurent lent her his lighting and sound people and he sat front row along with Pierre Bergé, Ungaro and Valentino. "Everybody was prepared to ridicule the society lady making fashion. But she made beautiful clothes. Jacqueline's an elegant lady with a naughty twist," said Women's Wear Daily.

"I'm designing for a woman with my sense of elegance," de Ribes says, "someone who is astonishing without creating astonishment. I want to dress the anti-tarty, sexy woman."

The collection was a critical and commercial hit. Saks Fifth Avenue signed her to an exclusive three-year contract. Saks even made mannequins that were replicas of her own image!

"Style is what makes you different" – Vicomtesse Jacqueline De Ribes (born 14th July 1929)

Jacqueline De Ribes in Wikipedia