Too Much of a Good Thing is Wonderful

“I don’t dress this way to go unnoticed”

On my recent American road-trip holiday, we spent three days in Las Vegas. I was last in Vegas when I was 21 and this time my memories aren’t as fond; it was busier, stinkier, hotter and tackier than ever. Too many stag do’s, drunken business trips, and voyeuristic tourists have turned this magical kitsch city into a bad night in a sweaty nightclub. Alas, it appears that any glamour has long gone. But, luckily, as I was walking past The Cosmopolitan hotel and casino, I saw a sparkle of the city’s past glamour; in a small but perfectly formed exhibition showcasing the sequin festooned stage outfits of pianist Liberace. Phew.lib15alib16alib20a

In Las Vegas, both now and in it’s heyday, it seems that the bigger, the tackier, the more brash, indulgent and extravagant; the better. And who better to have lived by this idea than glittering entertainer Liberace. I don’t know a lot about him, I know he was a child prodigy on the piano, I know he was camp and theatrical and that between the 50’s and 70’s he was the highest paid entertainer in the world, wowzers. Liberace’s love affair with flamboyance began when, as a younger man he was watching pianist Hildegarde and was told ‘you’ve got to get a gimmick‘. Liberace then went and bought a gold candelabra from a thrift store and placed it on top of his piano whilst performing. This was just the start, his signature style of kitsch European opulence was born. Much of his career was spent playing residencies in Vegas at hotels such as Flamingo where I stayed, and up until 3 years ago there was a permanent museum in the city dedicated just to him. It would seem that Liberace and Las Vegas go hand in hand, this ace pop-up exhibition at Cosmopolitan celebrated the over the top, in your face, bedazzling style that you would expect from America’s most garish city. The title of the exhibition states it perfectly;

‘Too much of a good thing is wonderful: Liberace and The Art of Costume’

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King Neptune Suit

This suit dazzled audiences around the country and was replicated for the recent movie ‘Behind The Candelabra’. The beads elaborately create the look of waves, shells and sea coral.

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‘Rhinestone Suit’

Whoosh, someone went crazy with the rhinestones on this one. As with many of his suits this is made from a sturdy polyester gabardine but the embellishments completely cover the utility fabric. The crystal rhinestones are rim set- a now obsolete technique that encloses the stone within a circular mount and then attaches it to the fabric.

collagelib3‘Purple and Phoenix Suit’   

Liberace sure knew how to make an entrance and at Radio City Music Hall in 1986 he came onto the stage from above- showcasing this suits bird motif and glittering plumage! The birds are outlined in crystal seed beads and pink French curled Ostrich feathers make up their tails. Feathers featured in many of his costumes, making it hard for preserving the collection.

collagelib4‘Matador Suit and Cape’

Crikey this one’s pretty glam! Liberace wore this costume for his 1981 performances in Mexico City. The elaborate sequin work on the cape is accomplished with the now obsolete Cornely machine, a chain stitch machine which allowed the individual application of beads and sequins.

collagelib5‘Hapsburg-inspired Suit and Cape’ 

This rather camp ensemble was designed by Michael Travis in 1983, it features a double headed Eagle associated with the rulers of the Austrian Empire; The Hapsburgs. Heavily appliqued using gold lame and bands of gold bugle beads to make up it’s lavish appearance. The cape is trimmed in Sable fur.

collagelib6‘Red, White and Blue Hot Pants Ensemble’

Woah, it doesn’t get much more American than this! Liberace wore this rather patriotic number in 1986 as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. The embellishments of silver bugle beads and crystals give the illusion of separate garments but it is in fact a jumpsuit, making costume changes easier. Audiences loved how this suit demonstrated Liberace’s wonderful sense of humour.

collagelib7‘Christmas Suit and Cape’

I wish Father Christmas was real and that he wore this. In 1980 Liberace wore this gabardine and white fox cape for his Christmas shows at Las Vegas Hilton. The cape demonstrates the skill of Anna Nateece, a Greek born fur designer, the cape was entirely lined in silver sequins…oh my!

This pop-up exhibition was a delight, a perfectly delivered slice of old style Vegas glamour, the Vegas I treasure, where neon signs were a novelty, people dressed up for the shows and casinos, and when a trip to this city was a glistening indulgence. There are rumours that the permanent Liberace Museum (it was open for 31 years and closed in the recession) will reopen in a new downtown location, which would be marvelous, you gotta admit that this guy had some pretty exciting style and it would be a real shame to hide that away in this sequin-celebrating city.

 

Fashion Galore, Blown Away.

Isabella Blow, 2002 by Diego Uchitel

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! What a spectacular fashion exhibition indeed. Curated by Alistair O’Neil and Shonagh Marshall, this Somerset House exhibition was a pure thrill to see. I visited on a late night Thursday on the week that it opened, a dark cold wintery London evening. Somerset House is breathtaking in this season, with the skate rink full of whizzing, wrapped up festive people and the Christmas tree that seems as big as a Cathedral; perfection. This exhibition used the same space which housed the Valentino exhibition, but this time the space was used so much better and felt like a much more slick and modern curation.

This huge exhibition celebrates the life and wardrobe of the infamous Isabella Blow whose work as a fashion Editor, Stylist, Consultant and Muse made her a prominent figure in the industry for over 20 years. A fascinating woman, born in 1958, who after a troubled upbringing whereby her parents separated, her Brother died and her Father didn’t like her, moved to New York City to study. Among many things, Blow shared an apartment with an actress, moved to Texas, worked for Guy Laroche, got married, met Anna Wintour and became her assistant. Pretty good going. She then became the assistant to Andre Leon Tally, chief Editor of US Vogue. Working for these people, the biggest names in fashion publishing, jobs that people would kill for, came naturally to Blow, hanging out in circles that included Andy Warhol, Blow was fast becoming a fashion icon. In 1986, she returned to London and worked for Michael Roberts, the then Fashion Editor of Tatler Magazine and The Sunday Times Magazine. Blow was a lucky lady in the career department, having jobs people can only dream of, and in her personal life, she was now divorced. In 1989 Blow went on to marry Art Dealer Detmar Blow. You would imagine her life to be wonderful, living a fashion dream, but she was a woman plagued by sadness and depression.

One of the things that Blow was most known and respected for was finding and nurturing British fashion talent. Most famously she discovered and nurtured Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Matthew Williamson. She personally bought the entire first collection of McQueen by paying him in weekly installments. Philip Treacy’s hats became her signature style;

“That’s why I wear the hats, to keep everyone away from me. They say, ‘Oh, can I kiss you?’ I say, ‘No, thank you very much. That’s why I’ve worn the hat. Goodbye.’ I don’t want to be kissed by all and sundry. I want to be kissed by the people I love.”

In 2007 Blow committed suicide after drinking weed killer, it followed numerous attempts at taking her own life including jumping from Hammersmith Bridge and breaking both her ankles. At the time of her death, Blow was also suffering from ovarian cancer. She had told her husband that she couldn’t fight her depression any longer. A sad end to her life, a life that was vibrant, theatrical, bold and unapologetic. Blow’s story proves so vividly that no matter what success or wealth you find in life, mental illness can take precedence and make it all seem pointless. Her life is a very valid reminder of how big an illness depression can be. Blow left behind her a wonderful legacy, her eccentricity and her genius as an artist proves how important fashion is in enabling us to express ourselves and have fun.

Fashion Galore! showcases over 100 pieces from her collection including many from the designers she discovered and launched. An amazing amount of Treacy and McQueen, all displayed to perfection, with great lighting and a wink of humour, this exhibition is truly celebratory rather than sombre. I also loved how the clothes were not behind glass, instead of treating them like rare butterflies, they are in the open so you can really peep up close and breathe in the detail. A beautiful tribute to an extraordinary woman.

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This exhibition runs at Somerset House until 2nd March 2014, in association with The Isabella Blow Foundation.

A Bellville Sassoon Birthday

Holkham Hall in Norfolk, oooosh what a stunning place! Having intended to go there for ages, my recent birthday meant we finally got in the car and zoomed off for a day of loveliness. We had been meaning to go for ages, firstly because we knew it had a Bellville Sassoon fashion exhibition ‘Glamour and Gowns’ taking place, secondly because I LOOOVE stately homes, and, thirdly, because we were sent a personal hand written invite from the Viscountess of Holkham Hall; Polly Coke. Viscountess Coke had been into our vintage shop and bought two stunning 1930’s dresses, she followed her purchase up by sending us personal invites to the exhibition and hall, super! Viscountess Coke is the daughter of Belinda Bellville, founder of British fashion label Bellville Sassoon and so her own stately home was just the perfect place to showcase an exhibition of her Mother’s work.

The house and gardens were gorgeous, beautiful in their original and well maintained state with knowledgeable staff telling stories and you also got the really nice sense of the Coke family still using a large portion of the house as their actual home, wonderful. The fashion exhibition was a stunning, sparkly and brightly coloured contrast to the dark interior of the house, a delight for my eyes indeed. This small but thorough exhibition was beautifully curated with great information and a selection of dresses that represented the decades of Bellville Sassoon wonderfully. Gold and silver baubles hanging from the ceiling and the beautiful room itself made for an exhibition that was nothing short of enchanting.

Bellville Sassoon was founded in 1953 by Belinda Bellville, originally naming it ‘Bellville Et Cie’, she opened her first shop in partnership with Sydna Scott in Knightsbridge. By 1958 the business was growing rapidly and Belinda had had her first two daugters, the third, Polly, who went on to marry into the Coke family, was born later in 1967. Belinda met David Sassoon and he joined the business, his expertise in pattern cutting and his technical knowledge proved the perfect addition. In 1970 he became a partner and the name Bellville Sassoon was born. At the end of the 1970’s, Tatler Magazine declared that Bellville Sassoon had made more society wedding dresses than any other couture house. This British label had become famous for it’s luxury cocktail, party and wedding dresses, with a host of glamourous ladies wearing their designs, including Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Madonna and of course, Princess Diana. I also saw some of their designs in the Diana exhibition at Kensigton Palace. At Holkham they had on display a sketch and photo of Princess Diana in her Bellville Sassoon ‘Going Away’ outfit; a canteloupe silk dress with bolero jacket, 1981. She adored it so much she wore it on many occasions including her tour of Australia in 1983.

My favourite dresses in the exhibit were the bright pink raw silk skirt with a hand beaded lace top, 1960, a polkadot flamenco style dress in silk taffeta and silk organza, 1987, a pink silk paper taffeta dress with bustle trim, ruched bodice and draped skirt, 1980, and the cutest candy stripe silk paper taffeta puffball dress, 1980.

Such a delight of an exhibition and a super birthday day trip.

This exhibition is on until late October 2013, and Holkham Hall is open on various dates over the year, for more information visit www.holkham.co.uk

Blumenfeld Does It Beautifully

The last few sunny days of the season are upon us and my goodness it’s been a delight this year, I have looooved the summer! To make the most of the last days of summer I figured I needed to get down to London to finally take a peep at an exhibition that was nearly ending. So, off I headed under the sunny skies to have myself a day out! Somerset House is by far one of my most favourite venues for exhibitions, this small but perfectly formed exhibition of iconic fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld was in the east wing, the same place as the Tim Walker exhibition that I blogged about in January. It’s a great, simple, elegant and informal space, I always love visiting.

Erwin Blumenfeld, 1897-1969, a Berlin born Jew, moved himself to New York City in 1941 and fast became a prolific photographer of his time, formulating his own recognisable style of playing with colour, light and manipulating his images. Becoming part of the explosion of press in the USA at the time, Blumenfeld worked for many big magazines including Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Life, Look and Cosmopolitan. In 1950, he was the highest paid Photographer in the world. This cute and stunning exhibition focused on some of the archives that were found in his studio, he left hundreds and hundreds of old original transparencies. Deteriorated and faded from time, the images were digitally reconstructed for the exhibition and printed in colours believed to be the same as the originals. Amazing.

His work wasn’t something I was over familiar with before my visit, although on seeing his work you realise just how many iconic photographs from fashion history were down to him. I adored the exhibition, I especially loved seeing the old images close up and seeing women without airbrushing, a real refresher. Blumenfelds work was beautiful, I saw a humour and an abstract surreal element to them, they seem utterly timeless but yet startingly modern. A super, sunny afternoon at Somerset House. 

 

  1. Jean Patchett, circa 1954
  2. Grace Kelly for Cosmopolitan cover, 1955, dress by Oleg Cassini
  3. Exhibition view
  4. Variants of a photograph published in US Vogue, 1950, dress by Jaques Faith, model Evelyn Tripp
  5. Exhibition view
  6. Advertising photograph for Elizabeth Arden, undated, model Evelyn Tripp
  7. Variant of ‘Do Your Part For The Red Cross’ Vogue cover, 1945
  8. Published Red Cross Vogue cover, 1945
  9. Variant of Vogue cover, 1953, dress by Traina-Norell, model Nancy Berg
  10. Published Vogue cover, 1953

The exhibition has now ended but visit Somerset House for details of other exhibitions.

 

Prim girl goes Punk; Chaos to Couture in NYC

METBeing a girl who adores fashion exhibitions, and being a girl who was just recently in New York City, it must come as no surprise that, whilst in Manhattan, I headed straight off to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a look at the current Costume Institute exhibition; Punk: Chaos to Couture. Concieved and curated by the British Andrew Bolton and designed by Sam Gainsburg, this exhibition was a real delight. Having had some critiscm for not representing the gritty, agressive, druggy and anti-establisment culture of punk, Bolton has instead curated an exhibition of fashion through the years which pays tribute to and embraces the ethos of punk and its visual language. He deliberately didn’t want to do a nostalgic retrospective on punk,  “I don’t want this to be a trip down memory lane”, I think by making that choice he has provided us with a really fresh take on the genre and its enduring influence on high fashion. The exhibition has done exactly what it set out to do, it is a fashion exhibition and not a look at music, politics or the subculture of punk itself.

This exhibition is a feast for the eyes, no glass boxes, no stuffy layout, all the clothes were in the open and perfectly grouped in each gallery, some gallerys were light and modern with a clean monotone pallette while others were dark and loud and multicoloured. Each gallery was totally different from the last and each was stunning. The exhibition looked at the origins of Punk in the 70’s, covering both London and NYC, with cute mock-ups of seedy club toilets and the Vivienne Westwwood Sex shop. It then covered all aesthetic influences of punk with galleries each dedicated to a theme; DIY Hardware, Bricolage, Graffiti & Agitpop, and Destroy. Some of the clothes were beautiful, some were a little experimental, but stunning in their creations none the less. It was great that there was really recent fashion there as well as some older pieces, original Westwood items from the era alongside a 2010 Punk inspired Moschino dress. The clash between the creaftmanship of couture and the ameturism of real DIY punk clothing was both subtle but deliberate, as Bolton himself said, both stem from spontaniety and individuality, therefore embracing the punk ideal. The styling of the mannequins was great, very strong with matching wigs of exaggerated spiked and coloured hair. The lighting in each space was theatrical perfection. I loved this exhibition, I saw fashions that I adored and I saw styling that was humourous and well thought out, the fact it was in my favourite museum in my favourite city on a balmy hot day made it all the more super. I’d recommend this to people who love fashion, if you were an original punk and looking for a representation of the era and all its anarchy then you won’t find it here, this is about fashion and the influence punk has on it; its a pretty kind of punk. Pretty cool.

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  1. Christopher Bailey for Burberry S/S 2013
  2. Original Westwood/McLaren Seditionaries T-shirts
  3. amazing studded skirt from Too fast To Live, Too Young To Die, 1972
  4. general exhibition view
  5. black dress on the left by Versace S/S 1994 (famously worn by Liz Hurley)
  6. black bin bag dress by House of Moschino S/S 1994
  7. outfit of pearls by Maison Martin Margiela  S/S 2006
  8. plastic bag dress on far right by House of Moschino S/S 1994
  9. general view including Katherine Hamnett slogan T-shirts
  10. spray painted Alexander McQueen S/S 1999
  11. general exhibition view
  12. dress by Miguel Androver 2000
  13. the final mannequin gives the finger

Punk: Chaos to Couture is at The Met until 14th August 2013