Thursday, 22 June 2017

Las Chicas del Cable and vintage fashion

From time to time I find on Netflix some drama series that is quite riveting.
I wrote a while ago about Velvet, the Spanish tale of star crossed lovers Ana and Alberto,  set in the Galerias Velvet, a department store in Madrid comparable to Selfridges. The drama covered the years from the 1950s to the 1960s. I loved it, though the fourth season was not as good as the earlier ones.
The other day I stumbled upon Las Chicas del Cable (Cable Girls) another Spanish TV series available on Netflix with English subtitles, focussed on four very different girls working as telephone operators in 1928 Madrid.  The narrative is quite sophisticated, a reflection on the past and how this comes back to haunt us and shape the present and also future choices. This central idea is developed through the vicissitudes of  the main character of Alba/Lidia, a beautiful young woman who is in fact a thief and who manages to get herself a job as telephone operator with a view to robbing her employer. She then becomes entangled  in a plot full of twists involving past and present lovers and friends and a murder too. The backdrop is the intensely Catholic Spain of that period, a place where women had no rights whatsoever, where husbands could get away with beating their wives with total impunity and the conservative, class-conscious bourgeoisie  planned golpes (or political coups) to tighten the military grip on the country.
As was the case with  Velvet, it is the fashion displayed in the series that really does it for me. Those 1920s hats and dresses are just a dream. Memories of the past, my own past, in the form of family albums and old photos of my mother,  grandmother and aunts are evoked through viewing this drama series,  bolstering the collective memory of those decades in Europe, still not so far removed as to become less personal, a distant history. At least not for me, not yet.

I am reminded here of the excellent piece written by Bethan Bide in Fashion Theory, a journal that explores theoretical aspects of Fashion Studies, a relatively new interdisciplinary configuration, already extremely rich and varied in content.
Bide discusses the role of personal memory in the viewing of museum fashion collections, using as an example her own encounter with specific collections of pre-war fashion at the Museum of London and how these would be evocative of  the life of  her grandmother, documented through photographic records kept in the family.  "Museums can play an important role in retelling history by experimenting with alternative display methodologies that open up the stories they tell about objects" says Bide "in order to incorporate multiple narratives, with a focus on integrating visitor memories and disruptive objects into fashion displays". Bringing in the subjective experience, in other words. What she writes about museum collections and personal stories is echoed by the viewing of 'vintage' clothing in a filmic narrative such as Las Chicas del Cable.  It is also, for me, brought about by the wearing of vintage clothing.

I recently did a shoot for a vintage clothing boutique, What Alice Found, which currently only sells online, but earlier was a brick and mortar  boutique.  The experience of wearing authentic clothes from the 1940s  through to the 1960s was quite emotional. Those clothes spoke to me and brought back memories of my own mother and my eldest sister, both of whom are sadly no more.  It was all in the details, the fasteners no longer used in today's clothing, the cut of the garments, the colours. Every time I put on an outfit to be photographed in, I remembered the hairdos and the make up of those decades and did my best to approximate them. Wearing those clothes turned into  a trip down memory lane.  I could actually see my mother next to me and hear her comments on how to wear clothes stylishly.
Jennifer Baumgartner in her article for Psychology Today  in which she interviewed Bianca Turetsky, author of The Timetravelling Fashionista, - a series of books about vintage fashion - sums up the effect of vintage clothes on our psyche as  follows: "the reason for our vintage preference is participating in the history of the garment. Our modern items are tabula rasas upon which we write, our vintage pieces are already written on".
I could not agree more.

Monday, 12 June 2017

A week in fashion and politics

Photographer: Lucy Feng. Models: myself and Nina Server

What a week! There was the momentous GE on Thursday 8th June, Graduate Fashion Week ending on Wednesday 7th June, and another visit to the V&A to admire the wonderful Balenciaga, accompanied this time by the beautiful  and talented model/photographer Lucy Feng, for whom I have modelled, and whose gorgeous  photographic work , inspired by the tale of Rapunzel and Lady Gothel, was published by AfterNyne magazine in its recent issue.
The election was a great step forward. It was wonderful to see that young people voted en masse for change and it is exhilarating to know that there is hope for the future.
GFW was a good experience, too. I could not help being bowled over by the work of many young designers, especially  Zexi Yu from Kingston University.
Chinese designers and Asian designers overall are the next big thing, demonstrating yet again that fashion is global and the hierarchy of fashion capitals is being disrupted. Asian fashion is vibrant, as I indeed discovered during my stay in Indonesia in 2015.

One of the collections presented at GFW at the 'Best of Graduate Fashion Week'

Only last week  I had the opportunity to model for a designer from Shanghai, Robyn, for her lookbook, which was shot here in London. It is not the first time I have modelled for an Asian designer - I was involved in  Tri Handoko's  IPMI trend show in Jakarta in Dec 2015 - and hopefully, not the last.  Asian designers have the advantage of being able to rely on exquisite, centuries old textile traditions which they take the trouble to study in depth, at the same time honing their skills at international fashion design schools. The results can be quite breathtaking.
European  fashion design has often taken from the East, anyway. The Eastern inspiration could  be seen for example at the Balenciaga exhibition. The great couturier designed the 'sari dress' (in the exhibition cleverly paired with a reproduction of one of the works by the Indian 19th century painter Raja Ravi Varma, whom perhaps Balenciaga admired) and also by Chinese art, creating clothes which exhibited Chinese motifs and a traditional  Chinese dress neckline.

One of Robyn's designs, modelled by me.

Finally,  not necessarily off the tangent, I would like to mention the great article by Alyson Walsh which appeared in The Guardian on 8th June (yes, election day). Walsh is also the author of the blog That's not my age.
Entitled "The salt and pepper pound. Where are all the fiftysomething models" , Walsh's article  nailed the issue. It's not right to have the whole of the over 40s represented by a few token 70 and 80 year-old celebrities/famous models. I mean, the models are great, individually, but the point is that each decade is different and older people are as diverse as younger ones. There is more or less twenty years that separate me from an 80 year old. Twenty years is a huge gap. An 80 year old model cannot represent me. The people who make such decision are in their twenties and thirties and clearly they are not able to grasp that there is a difference.
So thank you, Alyson Walsh, for pointing this out.