Monday, 29 August 2016

A visit to Rome




I was in Rome  from Friday to Sunday. I got the chance to wander around the city on my last day, Saturday being a working day for me.
I love the 'eternal city', every time I visit its beauty takes my breath away. Even when it is 34 degrees centigrade and you cannot possibly keep on walking or you will drop dead and even when I end up being seriously overcharged at one of the many eateries by the Trevi fountain - and I am Italian! Still...
I pigged on ice creams, ate too much altogether and drank too much wine, leaving a couple of pounds heavier than when I landed - I shall have to be a little more spartan in my next few days.
I enjoyed wandering through the city centre without having a specific destination, just going everywhere, without a set plan because you know you will find something amazing every time you turn round the corner.


If you have never been to Rome, I suggest you book at once a low cost flight and go. You will be tremendously pleased.
The highlights of my visit were eating an ice cream at Fassi's, gate crashing at a private view of an art exhibition at Palazzo Ferrajoli - so beautiful, I would love to live in a place like that! and buying a bag modelled on the Birkin by Hermès. Yes, I paid far too much for it, the Romans could sell you everything, even their mothers, and make a huge profit,  but it is pretty and very capacious, the kind of bag you want to carry on flights as your hand luggage and yet it looks quite chic.

I stayed at the oldest hotel in Rome and had a magnificent view of the city.
I was truly sorry to leave, but all good things must end.


Arrivederci, Roma!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The long haired maid locked in the tower


Rapunzel cuts her own hair. Fashion shoot by Caroline Michael. Model:me

The moment you read the title of this post you will immediately know that I am talking about Rapunzel. Of all the fairy tales this is definitely my favourite. As Tolkien said, fairy tales are for adults, even though the young may enjoy them. And in Rapunzel we find so many themes and motifs which children cannot immediately grasp: the story is driven by lust and desire, and pregnancy figures prominently.
The tale of Rapunzel, as we know it, was the one collected by the Grimm brothers in their Kinder-und-Hausmarchen published in 1810-12 with a final version published in 1857.  But the story of Rapunzel prior to becoming a German folk tale was known in ancient  Greece and in Persia, where she was Rudaba,  it was then retold by the Neapolitan Giambattista Basile who wrote 'Petrosinella' in the 17th century and later it was picked up by Madame de la Force who wrote 'Persinette' (both names referring to the parsley plant, which became rampion in the German version and which gives Rapunzel her name as her own mother craved the herb while pregnant with her). Then it travelled to Germany in an oral version.
Rudaba's father finds out about his daughter and her lover. Source: Quatr.us

Since the Grimms, the Rapunzel story has enjoyed many more retellings including the more recent Disney film  'Tangled' (2010).  It has also inspired many visual artists - Paul Zelinsky illustrated the tale most beautifully in 1998 and David Hockney showed us the older Rapunzel, still with long hair, but this time grey,  in his 1969 collection "Six fairy tales from  the brothers Grimm" with beautiful and imaginative etchings.

David Hockney' s Old Rapunzel. Source: Contemporary Art Holdings 

In my work as a model, I interpreted Rapunzel in a fashion shoot by Caroline Michael in 2012, in which Rapunzel grows old in the tower - here a grungy little flat - waiting for her prince who seems to have deserted her and then, tired of waiting and changing outfits all day long, in an act of rebellion, chops her hair off and goes out shopping, carrying a lovely little bag.
I also recently did an artistic nude shoot (very rare for me, these days) with Lucy Feng, photographer and also model, in which I was Dame Gothel, the enchantress who imprisons Rapunzel. I do not have the photos yet but in this retelling Rapunzel's pregnancy is central to the narrative. Dame Gothel goes through a whole range of emotions,  jealousy, anger but also tenderness as she loves Rapunzel and is fascinated by Rapunzel's swollen belly. In the fairy tale the enchantress is unable to bear children, which is why she takes away Rapunzel from her parents in exchange for satisfying the cravings of Rapunzel's mother for the herb that grows in her magic garden, a very special rampion.
The long hair of Rapunzel is a reference to sexuality and also power - after all when the hero Samson's hair was cut by Delilah, in that famous biblical story,  he lost all his power - as well as beauty. In most versions of the story, in Europe anyway,  it is spun-gold hair, and the association with gold and its symbolism is evident.

Photographer and model Lucy Feng

But the most important theme in Rapunzel is that of the pre-pubescent girl who is isolated to preserve her divine beauty and power, which only a select few (here only the enchantress) can enjoy by proximity and who is then defiled by her own budding sexuality and love for a man. There are parallels here with the custom of the Nepalese child-goddess, the kumari, who embodies the powerful goddess Vasundhara and is whisked away from her parents at a young age, on the basis of her uncommon beauty and other special characteristics. The kumari lives a life of seclusion in a designated palace. Her feet can never touch the ground, so she is always carried,  and she makes ceremonial appearances, from a distance, on a very few occasions, to bless the country - in the past to bless the king, but Nepal is no longer a monarchy. A kumari ceases to be a goddess when she  begins menstruating, as she looses her purity. The goddess then finds another young girl who will incarnate her.

Kumari of Nepal. Source: mchang.net

In the Rapunzel tale there are echoes of such practices, which would lend support to speculations of an origin of the story that goes even beyond Persia.
And like all fairy tales, the story of Rapunzel can be constantly updated. This is why I can't have enough of its retellings...

The long haired maid locked in the tower


Rapunzel cuts her own hair. Fashion shoot by Caroline Michael. Model:me

The moment you read the title of this post you will immediately know that I am talking about Rapunzel. Of all the fairy tales this is definitely my favourite. As Tolkien said, fairy tales are for adults, even though the young may enjoy them. And in Rapunzel we find so many themes and motifs which children cannot immediately grasp: the story is driven by lust and desire, and pregnancy figures prominently.
The tale of Rapunzel, as we know it, was the one collected by the Grimm brothers in their Kinder-und-Hausmarchen published in 1810-12 with a final version published in 1857.  But the story of Rapunzel prior to becoming a German folk tale was known in ancient  Greece and in Persia, where she was Rudaba,  it was then retold by the Neapolitan Giambattista Basile who wrote 'Petrosinella' in the 17th century and later it was picked up by Madame de la Force who wrote 'Persinette' (both names referring to the parsley plant, which became rampion in the German version and which gives Rapunzel her name as her own mother craved the herb while pregnant with her). Then it  travelled to Germany in an oral version.
Rudaba's father finds out about his daughter and her lover. Source: Quatr.us

Since the Grimms, the Rapunzel story has enjoyed many more retellings including the more recent Disney film  'Tangled' (2010).  It has also inspired many visual artists - Paul Zelinsky illustrated the tale most beautifully in 1811 and David Hockney showed us the older Rapunzel, still with long hair, but this time grey,  in his 1969 collection "Six fairy tales from  the brothers Grimm" with beautiful and imaginative etchings.

David Hockney' s Old Rapunzel. Source: Contemporary Art Holdings 

In my work as a model, I interpreted Rapunzel in a fashion shoot by Caroline Michael in 2012, in which Rapunzel grows old in the tower - here a grungy little flat -   waiting for her prince who seems to have deserted her and then, tired of waiting and changing outfits all day long, in an act of rebellion, chops her hair off and goes out shopping, carrying a lovely little bag.
I also recently did an artistic nude shoot (very rare for me, these days) with Lucy Feng, photographer and also model, in which I was Dame Gothel, the enchantress who imprisons Rapunzel. I do not have the photos yet but in this retelling Rapunzel's pregnancy is central to the narrative. Dame Gothel goes through a whole range of emotions,  jealousy, anger but also tenderness as she loves Rapunzel and is fascinated by Rapunzel's swollen belly. In the fairy tale the enchantress is unable to bear children, which is why she takes away Rapunzel from her parents in exchange for satisfying the cravings of Rapunzel's mother for the herb that grows in her magic garden, a very special rampion.
The long hair of Rapunzel is a reference to sexuality and also power - after all when the hero Samson's hair was cut by Delilah, in that famous biblical story,  he lost all his power - as well as beauty. In most versions of the story, in Europe anyway,  it is spun-gold hair, and the association with gold and its symbolism is evident.

Photographer and model Lucy Feng

But the most important theme in Rapunzel is that of the pre-pubescent girl who is isolated to preserve her divine beauty and power, which only a select few (here only the enchantress) can enjoy by proximity and who is then defiled by her own budding sexuality and love for a man. There are parallels here with the custom of the Nepalese child-goddess, the kumari, who embodies the powerful goddess Vasundhara and is whisked away from her parents at a young age, on the basis of her uncommon beauty and other special characteristics. The kumari lives a life of seclusion in a designated palace. Her feet can never touch the ground, so she is always carried,  and she makes ceremonial appearances, from a distance, on a very few occasions, to bless the country - in the past to bless the king, but Nepal is no longer a monarchy. A kumari ceases to be a goddess when she  begins menstruating, as she looses her purity. The goddess then finds another young girl who will incarnate her.

Kumari of Nepal. Source: mchang.net

In the Rapunzel tale there are echoes of such practices, which would lend support to speculations of an origin of the story that goes even beyond Persia.
And like all fairy tales, the story of Rapunzel can be constantly updated. This is why I can't have enough of its retellings...

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Films and fashion

Still from Marie Schuller's fashion film 'Visiting Hour'. Model:me

Films and fashion. No, I do not mean fashion films, though the genre is now pretty well established and fashion films have become very sophisticated. ShowStudio is the home of fashion film in the UK,  but there is definitely competition.
What I really mean to talk about here is films in which the world of fashion is at the very least background to the narrative or where there are some unforgettable fashion moments, eg the Anita Ekberg  Trevi fountain moment in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, dressed (if I remember correctly) in a Balenciaga gown or Audrey Hepburn in her Givenchy dresses and hats in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
The fashion industry is central to the story in Funny Face (1957) starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, a film in which Hepburn plays the role of a reluctant model and also displays her skills as a dancer, partnering the great Astaire. In Coco before Chanel (2009) another Audrey, this time Tatou plays the role of Coco Chanel in her early years and wears her designs. The devil wears Prada (2006) based on the book by Lauren Weisberger, is a now famous satire of fashion magazines such as Vogue, with Meryl Streep sporting elegant, short, grey hair as Miranda Priestley, the devilish chief editor whose character is vaguely based on the formidable Anna Wintour, and whose way of dismissing people is an icy 'That's all' with no thankyou ever uttered. Zoolander (2001) is a parody of male models and of the industry overall and Pret-à-Porter (1994) has that famous emperor-new-clothes-style scene with nude models  on the runway and a host of celebrities appearing in cameo roles throughout the movie, whose setting is a Paris fashion show.


Nude models on the runway Pret-à -Porter
There are more examples, I mentioned just the ones that came to mind.  The most recent film whose locale is the modelling world in Los Angeles is Neon Demon (2016), only just released, which presents fashion modelling in a different light, mingling it with vampirism - such an interesting metaphor, I definitely have to see this movie.
The truth is that fashion and films have had a very long, yet somewhat insufficiently acknowledged relationship, feeding into each other, with movie stars often becoming fashion icons.
Take Audrey Hepburn, for example. With Roman Holiday and Sabrina she became wedded to fashion. Beyond her grave. Back in 2006 the company Gap was permitted to use the jazz dance sequence Hepburn performed in Funny Face , the idea being to emphasise the company's ethical approach to marketing through an endorsement by UNICEF, of which Hepburn had been ambassador prior to her death. But surely this was not the only reason why they wanted  Hepburn in their campaign. As well as being known for her charity work, Hepburn was synonymous with  fashion and style and this was certainly not lost on Gap's marketing and PR department.

Hepburn's jazz dance in Funny Face

The biennial festival curated by Fashion in Film,  a research unit at Central St Martin's, University of the Arts,  has indeed highlighted the  relationship between fashion and film through arranging screenings of significant movies.  Their  latest initiative Wearing time: past, present, future, dream  will launch in Winter/Spring 2017 and will run across major UK venues including The Barbican, Tate, Curzon cinemas, Central St Martin's, Rio, Prince Charles Cinema and The Horse Hospital. As the festival curators say
"probing into four different conceptions of time – future, past, present and dream – the programme asks what concrete manifestations of time fashion and clothing enable: what kind of chronologies and histories? What origins and memories? Echoes and shadows? Projections, visions or premonitions? Fashion’s own relation to time may be vital, and intimate, but it is far from transparent. Film, the art of time passing, helps illuminate some of its complexities".

Definitely something to look forward to.

(I will be on holiday until 19th August)