No People Like Show People: Professor Jingles

JIngles 2Professor Jingles with his hand-crafted puppets

Over the summer my brother and I made a short film about the man who was once Britain’s youngest Punch and Judy performer: Professor Jingles. He was a fixture of our childhood growing up by the sea, and I’d also come across his puppets on holiday in Sicily at the International Museum of Marionettes in Palermo. I had been keen to speak to him about his life as an entertainer for a long time, and when he was featured in the 350th anniversary of Mr Punch exhibition at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood earlier this year I knew I should put it off no longer.

jingles 5That’s the way to do it! My brother Toby and I filming in Lowestoft; Professor Jingles with his first home-made Punch puppet in the 1950s

When we returned to Kessingland to interview Professor Jingles we were met by a charismatic and very dapper gentlemen and his glamorous wife Dorothy (who creates the clothing for the puppets he makes). We were lucky enough to be treated to a host of inspirational stories from a man who has spent 6 decades performing with puppets and entertaining crowds. I learnt a lot that day, from the history of Punch and Judy to how he was influential in improving the sartorial standards of performers. It was also a great excuse to wear my trusty seafaring dress from the Rodnik Band‘s Cod Save the Sea collection. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Beside the Seaside with Professor Jingles. By Amber and Toby Butchart, 2012

Far from an obsolete folk art, puppets are still making headlines today, whether it’s from their appropriation by huge corporations or their use as a marketing tool by fashion brands (Missoni/Target). Shortly after I interviewed Professor Jingles, Dolce and Gabbana showed their S/S 2013 collection which drew heavily on the Sicilian heritage of Domenico Dolce. While some aspects of the collection were undeniably problematic for a global audience, it’s clear that a celebration of Sicilian heritage was the key message; the designs also incorporated traditional Sicilian ceramics and motifs of the carrettu sicilianu (horse drawn carts) that are particular to the island.

D&G puppetsSicilian puppet theatre in the designs of Dolce and Gabbana S/S 2013

What interested me the most was the incorporation of Sicilian puppet theatre into their designs. The marionette tradition in Sicily has been designated as one of the world’s ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO, which makes it even more significant that Professor Jingles’ puppets are on display at the International Museum of Marionettes in Palermo. An important part of folk culture stretching back to the 15th century, the shows enact medieval tales and legendary events using string puppets that stand up to a metre tall. While they lacked some of the anarchic spirit of Mr Punch – the stories were often used to uphold the feudal hierarchy and venerate the nobility – they could be just as violent, with limbs and heads able to dislocate during frantic fight scenes. They reached a crescendo of popularity in the mid-19th century, just as Punch and Judy were drawing their biggest crowds on the beaches of Britain.

puppets
Sicilian marionettes and backdrops from Sicily GuideDolce and Gabbana S/S 2013
BLOG Beside the Seaside with Professor Jingles: illustrated by Rob Flowers
dolce-ss-13Dolce and Gabbana S/S 2013 was an homage to the Sicilian heritage of Domenico Dolce, but is in part also reminiscent of the deck chairs found on British beaches
Jingles 3Percy Press, mentor to Professor Jingles, commemorated at the Actor’s Church in Covent Garden; Professor Jingles with his handiwork
Jingles 1
jingles 4In the puppet workshop

If you’re keen to see more, Mr Punch’s birthday is celebrated in Covent Garden every year in St. Paul’s Churchyard, also known as the Actor’s Church. And for puppet commissions I highly recommend you check out Professor Jingles’ website.

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Newsflash: Theatre of Fashion at the V&A – Alwyn Turner

The theatre is a wonderful place, a house of strange enchantment, a temple of illusion    – Noel Coward

I’m pleased to announce the next date of the Theatre of Fashion In Conversation series at the V&A Theatre and Performance Galleries will be Friday 7th December at 7pm.

In conjunction with the current Halfway to Paradise: The Birth of British Rock, Photographs by Harry Hammond exhibition I will be talking to writer Alwyn Turner, author of the accompanying book. Alwyn’s work covers a diverse range of interests from pulp fiction to fashion and rock & roll with an emphasis on the cultural, social and political history of post-War Britain, including two illustrated tomes on Biba, social histories of the 1970s, 80s and 90s and a biography of Daleks creator Terry Nation.

If you’re unable to attend you can still get involved, as the event will be broadcast as a video and podcast on TheatreVOICE - the leading online audio resource for British theatre.

If that wasn’t reason enough to head to South Ken on the evening of the 7th, the V&A’s Raphael Gallery is hosting Fashion in Motion. This month sees the Fashion Fringe Award-winning design duo Fyodor Golan showing highlights from their collections in four free catwalk shows. Booking is essential, see HERE for more info.

I hope you can make it along!

Theatre of Fashion In Conversation… with Alwyn Turner
Friday 7th December, 7pm, FREE but you must reserve a space: please email amber@theatreoffashion.co.uk
Theatre and Performance Galleries, V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

Billy Fury at Wembley (1962) and Shirley Bassey at the London Palladium (1963) photographed by Harry Hammond from the V&A collection
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Newsflash: Recommendations for Autumn

Close up of print from a 1970s Jonathan Logan blouse

Well it’s that time of year; Halloween is over, fireworks are planned, and all that’s left to see you through to Christmas is the promise of mulled wine at the recession-friendly Christmas party. But fear not! As I come laden with top recommendations for the misty days and lengthening evenings of November.

Vogue covers 1 and 3 from A Sip of Sarsaparilla

First up, next Friday the V&A are hosting a fabulous conference entitled Hidden in Plain Sight: The Art of Hollywood as part of the Hollywood Costume exhibition. Unless you’ve been living in a ditch for the past couple of months the Hollywood Costume show should be well on your radar, with show-stoppers ranging from Dorothy’s ruby slippers to the Ming the Merciless ensemble there really is something for everyone. Not to mention the enormously innovative exhibition design that truly brings the subject matter to life.

Chaplin’s Little Tramp costume from The Circus; the famed ruby slippers

The conference will bring together international Hollywood costume designers with exhibition curator Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis to explore many areas of costume design, from the role UK art schools have played in creating designers for Hollywood to the unique design of the exhibition itself. The panels will feature Oscar winner Lindy Hemming and a host of other luminaries including costume and creature designer Vin Burnham. Hope to see you there!

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Art of Hollywood, Friday 9th November at the Victoria & Albert Museum from 10 – 17.15. You can see the full programme HERE.

Book your tickets RIGHT HERE!

Hollywood Costume: Addams Family, Scarlett O’Hara

Good news for anyone who missed the September release of the brilliant biopic Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is that as of October 29th it’s out on DVD. The story takes the form of a chronological journey through Vreeland’s life from Belle Époque Paris to New York in the 70s and 80s with lashings of hedonism and glamour thrown in for good measure. It charts her incredible career, starting out at Harper’s Bazaar, going on to Editor-in-Chief at Vogue and finally consultant to the Costume Institute at the MET where she inaugurated the concept of the fashion exhibition as we know it today (albeit with slightly less historical accuracy and slightly more high drama).

Diana Vreeland: a fellow turban-aficionado

Vreeland herself never let the truth get in the way of a good story (while that phrase could have been coined for her she preferred the term ‘faction’), and her stories have become part of the myth surrounding her. The blurring of life and work, style with substance and her quotable bon mots (“the best thing about London is Paris”) all appear in abundance throughout the film. As a documentary the film has been criticised by some for not paying enough attention to Vreeland’s questionable parenting, but as a portrait of a bona fide fashion legend crammed full of beautiful imagery and memorable quotes it can’t be beaten. It could also be the case that the closeness of the director – Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland – to the Vreeland family may have put her off from delving into these murkier waters.

Anyone who is a fan of Iris Apfel or the late Anna Piaggi and Isabella Blow will adore this look at one of fashion history’s true innovators and most original thinkers and dressers. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is hugely inspiring and is a must-see for anyone interested in the world of fashion and style. The DVD also comes complete with added Vreelandisms in the form of deleted scenes.

Nab yourself a copy HERE!

Finally, as of 20th November the Breese Little gallery in Clerkenwell will be hosting the show Forget Nostalgia – A Little Theatre of Self exploring photography’s ability to trap and record time by recreating Victorian photographs. A solo show by Clarisse d’Arcimoles, she will be reconstructing a local photographer’s studio from a century ago and using a variety of styles, characters and backdrops to encourage the viewer to follow the historical photographic journey of women and their victories of emancipation.

Having studied Set Design for Performance before her MA in Photography at Central Saint Martins, d’Arcimoles’ projects fuse her two interests by creating works that are staged specifically for the camera, exploring ways of documenting the performance of art itself.

Forget Nostalgia – A Little Theatre of Self at the Breese Little gallery from 20th November – 19th December.

Discover more HERE and HERE, and especially the Day by Day documenting.

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In the Spotlight: An Unofficial History of Fancy Dress

*SPONSORED POST*

‘Suggestions for Fancy Dress’ by Cecil Beaton, British Vogue, Younger Generation Number, December 22, 1937; ‘Symphony in Silver’ by Cecil Beaton (1925), featuring Barbara Beaton in a fancy dress costume designed by Cecil, currently on display at Theatre of War

The above article by Cecil Beaton has to go down as one of my all time favourite Vogue moments. The piece is crammed full of Vreelandisms (is it any accident that her ‘Why Don’t You’ column in Harper’s Bazaar started the same year?), from “What about taking all your coloured handkerchiefs and bandaging your entire body?” to “What about pinning roses from your great aunt’s hat all over your cherry-coloured velvet evening jacket, and cutting white kid leggings above the knees, to go as a garden boy?” In somewhat Dadaist style, Beaton also champions the use of found objects, which again chimes perfectly with the times as the Surrealist Exhibition of Objects in Paris opened just the year before in 1936 and marked the crescendo of popular interest in the movement.

Nowadays an effective grandeur can only be legitimately achieved with everyday utensils, and materials being used for purposes for which they were not meant. Steel wool pot-cleaners, egg-beaters, egg-separators, dish-cloths, tin moulds and patent hangers all make excellent costume trimming.  - Cecil Beaton

Beaton’s article, and its placement in Vogue, also illustrates that fancy dress doesn’t have to be relegated to hen nights and halloween, as it so often is today. All the very chicest parties should have an element of fancy dress to them. Otherwise, what’s the point? Anyone who knows me IRL or indeed has perused my bio will know that I’m rather partial to dressing up, something I think I must get from my mother.

My mum in the 60s, as Robin Hood and as Cat Woman, in costumes made for her by her mother

The history of fancy dress is interesting not only because of the aesthetic novelty (see Rob Flowers’ twitter and his Fancy Dress Friday hashtag for some real delights), but also because unlike film or theatre costume it is not well documented, as a private pursuit (albeit in public places) there is very little in terms of archival pieces or documentation. This of course adds to the hagiography itself; for something as flamboyant as fancy dress it goes without saying that many apocryphal tales will emerge from the twilight hours and cocktail haze of parties and balls. And so here, dear reader, is my fledgling attempt to right that wrong, and to document a partial history of fancy dress.

Minuet by Venetian artist Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1756

I have chosen the Republic of Venice as the starting point for my history of fancy dress. Venice is a curious place, a place where the idea of disguise intermingled with everyday life through the proliferation of masks. Traditionally a feature of Venetian carnival, residents were permitted to wear masks between a number of Christian festivals, resulting in mask-wearing for much of the year. Mascherari, the mask-makers, held a privileged position in society and had their own statute dating back to the 15th century. The widespread use of masks in Venice has been the subject of much speculation. Some scholars believe it was kickstarted by the sacking and defeat of Constantinople by Venetian command in 1204. The access this military victory gave to the Middle and Far East led to rare commodities flooding into Venice, which could have included masks. Another argument holds that masking could have been a response to one of the strictest class hierarchies in Europe. For more on this you can check out Venice Incognito.

Masquerade portraits by Antoine Pesne, French rococo portrait artist found at 18th Century Blog. From left: The Actress Babette Cochois, 1750; The princess Amalia von Preussen dressed a l’ amazone, pre-1757; Charlotta Fredrika Sparre as La Folie (the Fool), 1744

By the 15th century masquerade balls were a popular feature of the Venetian carnival. The carnival spirit had spread throughout Italy and often involved royal processions and pageants that also featured public sport competitions and shows by roving minstrels and actors. Masquerade balls were elite affairs: elaborate dances for the aristocracy, while the boisterous Commedia dell’arte began to infiltrate public celebrations from the 16th century onwards.

Water Festival at Bayonne, tapestry from 1580–81 and the Valois tapestry depicting the ball held by Catherine de’ Medici in 1573 at the Tuileries in Paris

The formidable Catherine de’Medici takes the credit for transporting the spirit of carnival from Italy to France when she married the future French King Henry II in 1533. Her court festivals – or ‘magnificences’ – were opulent, exuberant affairs that also had a political purpose to prove the power and financial superiority of the French throne at a time of increasing civil war. A generous patron of the arts, she used her interest in theatre to put on elaborate spectacles with the aim of distracting courtiers from the squabbling and in-fighting that was beginning to characterise the French court. The festivities occurred over several days and included martial sports and tournaments as well as costumes drawn from romantic or mythological stories. Guests (and jousting participants!) dressed variously as shepherds and shepherdesses, Greeks and Trojans, and Amazons and Turks. If the tales of her court festivals are to be believed they could rival any contemporary theatrical production. See here for the sumptuous details.

By the by: the fighting between Catholics and Huguenots in Valois France would ultimately lead to exile for the Huguenots and the birth of a flourishing brocade silk trade around their new home of Spitalfields in east London. 

Entertainments at Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens, c.1742 found at the British Library

Back in England, Tudor and Stuart court masques (most famously by Ben Johnson and Inigo Jones) entertained kings and queens and have been described as the highest artform in the country until those pesky Puritans closed the theatres in 1642. It’s no secret that Cromwell and his fun-quashing Protectorate Parliaments weren’t really keen on a good old knees-up, so for a return to more public and egalitarian affairs we skip over the Restoration and its reinstated theatre tradition to the Pleasure Gardens of the 18th century. The Pleasure Gardens (first Vauxhall and then Ranelagh) were set up with the idea of providing entertainment and access to the arts to people outside of court circles. Masquerade balls were a popular feature, alledgedly introduced to London from Venice by the Swiss Count, John James Heidegger, who also helped to set up Vauxhall Pleasure Garden. Open to anyone who could afford the cost of entry (as opposed to the rigorous exclusion of court circles), a sense of licentiousness pervaded these public spaces, where unchaperoned women and costumed crowds tickled fancies and titillated the senses.

Masquerade portraits by Antoine Pesne, French rococo portrait artist found at 18th Century Blog. From left: Lady in Waiting in the court of King Frederick II; Lovisa Ulrika of Prussia, Queen of Sweden, 1744; Anna Elisabeth von der Shulenburg-Beetzendorf, 1730s 

Vauxhall Pleasure Garden was celebrated earlier this year in The Triumph of Pleasure at the Foundling Museum.

Horace Walpole wrote of the Venetian Masquerade at Ranelagh in 1749, What was called a Jubilee Masquerade in the Venetian manner, at Ranelagh; it had nothing Venetian in it, but was by far the best understood and prettiest spectacle I ever saw; nothing in a fairy tale even surpassed it… When you entered you found the whole garden filled with masks and spread with tents… In one quarter was a Maypole dressed with garlands and people dancing round it to a tabor and pipes and rustic music, all masqued, as were all the various bands of music that were dispersed in different parts of the garden; some like huntsmen with French horns, some like peasants, and a troop of harlequins and scaramouches in the little open temple on the mount.
Eton Montem and Montem poleman uniform from Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly

A little-known festival that was brought to my attention by Ian Kelly is Montem: the holiday of misrule and fancy dress at Eton. It’s origins apparently pre-date the 15th century college as even in 1561 it was described as an ‘ancient tradition’. Ad Montem (Latin: to the hill!) involved a military-style parade (which included assigning the boys ranks and titles) to the nearby Salt Hill on the first Tuesday after Whitsun. Costumes were hired in from theatres across the country and included ‘Turks, Albanians, Courtiers of Charles II and George I, Highlanders and hidalgos’ as each rank attempted to out-dress each other. The festival became so bawdy and disorderly that Prince Albert, bastion of Victorian prudery, eventually banned the festivities in the 1840s. Kelly hypothesises that Beau Brummell, student at Eton in the late 18th century, was influenced by his costume (a quasi-militaristic ‘suit’ in sober colours) to such a degree that it became the foundation of his look which revolutionised mens’ fashions in Regency London.

Fancy dress from the Liberty store, late 19th century, found in Victorian Shopping by Maurice Baren
From a book of Victorian Masquerade costumes found at Isis’ Wardrobe

Throughout the 19th century the burgeoning middle classes popularised and sanitised fancy dress parties in the way only Victorians could. But that’s not to say it was without its avant-garde elements. Victorian Masquerade at the National Portrait Gallery, open from 22nd October, tells the story of Victorian enthusiasm for fancy dress from masked balls to disguise. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s interest in fancy dress helped to grow its popularity, and an emphasis towards privately held parties rather than lavish public affairs took hold. This in turn led to the tradition of the ‘fancy portrait’ among artistic and literary circles. These are testament not only to the appeal of fancy dress, but to the use of historical costume (most often Medieval) to underpin and illuminate contemporary interests in revivalism and pre-industrial fantasies. Artists such as Walter Crane and John Everett Millais were able to embody and manifest their interest in the past through the use of costume and dressing up.

Walter Crane as Cimabue by Sir Emery Walker, c. 1897 at the National Portrait Gallery; Masquerade on Wheels, 1877

It was also at the end of the 19th century (1894 to be precise) that fancy dress company Smiffy’s started out as a hairdressers and wigmakers in Lincolnshire. The company was founded by Mr Robert Henry Smith and as his family grew so did the business. Wigs, beards and moustaches were made by hand on site using real hair imported from China and subsequently Italy. The laborious process involved knotting individual hairs to the gauze, and moustaches would then be ‘dressed’ which involved trimming, waxing, curling and spraying with setting lotion. The finished results were initially for use as theatrical (rather than private) costume and from the 1940s wigs were also produced for the NHS, tailored to each individual and even available to be returned for cleaning, washing and setting with rollers. Other products included mannequin wigs for shops and doll’s wigs.

1932 catalogue
Wig catalogue, 1974-76; Smiffy’s founder Robert Henry Smith (on the left); 1970s catalogue

By 1981 Smiffy’s were running a specific fancy dress shop at a separate site to the manufacturing business. You could buy or hire full costumes, wigs, masks and accessories including glitter space suits, Hawaiian grass skirts and leis, and Nell Gwynn costumes, as well as cavaliers, monks and nuns, peasant girls, crinolines and soldiers and theatrical cosmetics. The business grew so fast that by 1987 they had a range of 500 costumes. They were the only UK manufacturer of carnival wigs, and as such were the inventors of the notorious tinsel wig of the 1980s – which were in fact so popular that by October 1987 a whopping 14,000 had been sold.

Smiffy’s catalogues: 1960s/70s; 1980s; 1984 catalogue
My pick of Smiffy’s halloween costumes available now. See Smiffy’s Halloween for more

Dipping back to the early 20th century and Paul Poiret was taking the fashion world by storm with his scant regard for corsetry and his fantastical Orientalist styles. In June 1911 he organised a party to capitalise on the ‘Eastern’ trend he initiated with the apt title of the One Thousand and Second Night. The gala was held in the gardens next to Poiret’s Paris mansion and the invites stipulated that an appropriate costume was non-negotiable. Poiret himself dressed as Sultan Poiret the Magnificent and greeted guests from beneath a blue canopy adorned with his initials. His wife Denise was captive beside him in an enormous gilded cage, resplendent in harem pants and jewelled bustier of Poiret’s creation, fulfilling many a western fantasy about harem culture. Poiret vehemently denied that his work was derivative of the Orientalist fantasies of the contemporary Ballets Russes, but there’s no denying that his party and subsequent collections had a touch of Diaghilev and Bakst’s Schéhérazade to them.

Georges Lepape - Denise Poiret at ‘The One Thousand and Second Night’ party, 1911 from Ballets Russes Style by Mary E. Davis; Paul Poiret-designed costume for the party from the Met Museum

The monumental parties thrown at the Bauhaus certainly put the design house’s costume and sets to good effect. Parties and festivals were integral to life and learning at the Bauhaus and they were often fronted by the Stage Workshop who would create the decor and clothing. Themes ranged from the Beard, Nose and Heart party to the White party – in which revellers were asked to dress in ‘two thirds white, one third spotted, checked or striped’. The Metal party took it even further: costumes consisted of tin foil, frying pans and spoons (Cecil Beaton would approve), and the party was entered by sliding down a chute into a room decorated with silver balls and the sound of bells. The heady, pre-Crash days of the 20s are often charcterised by gaiety and excess: Gatsby-eqsue dances in the States and the treasure hunts and costume balls of the Bright Young Things in the UK. The Bauhaus parties run by art and design students in Germany are often left out of this history, it’s time they were given their rightful place. Read more about the Bauhaus here

Bauhaus Parties: New Objectivity Party, 1925; Bauhaus Dance in Weimar, 1922 or 1923 from Theater of the Bauhaus; Nonsense Soldier at the Metal Party, 1929

In the 1930s, shortly before Cecil Beaton’s article in Vogue, leading Surrealist Salvador Dali caused great consternation through his decision to dress as the kidnapped Lindbergh baby at a masquerade ball in New York. The press and public were outraged and Dali duly apologised, much to the anguish of his fellow Surrealists in Paris who didn’t believe in compromise over Surrealist acts, no matter what the consequences. Earlier in the decade New York’s architects had successfully borrowed the Parisian tradition of the Beaux Arts Ball; the annual costume ball held by the students of the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Its reputation for nudity, louche behaviour and extravagant costume (including cross-dressing) was described as a revival of paganism and was manifested in New York in one of my all-time favourite images: architects dressed up as their own buildings.

Architects dressed up as their buildings at the Beaux Arts Ball in 1931, picture found here. From left to right: A Stewart Walker as the Fuller Building, Leonard Schultze as the Waldorf-Astoria, Ely Jacques Kahn as the Squibb Building, William Van Alen as the Chrysler, Ralph walker as 1 Wall Street, D.E.Ward as the Metropolitan Tower and Joseph H. Freelander as the museum of New York

Leaping forward to the 1980s and the idea of dressing up and performative identity had been taken to a whole new level by LGBT subcultures in Harlem. Immortalised forever in the incredible 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, Ball culture is part catwalk show, part drag show and part identity deconstruction, and in total forms one of the best films you will ever see. The dancing, known as Voguing, was made famous by Madonna around the time that the documentary was released. Costume is a vital component to the balls and is one of the many criteria on which the performers are judged.

And so ends my potted history of fancy dress. To be prepared this halloween you can fulfill all your grisly needs at Smiffys Halloween, and I would also advise checking out this Jezebel piece on the history of sexy halloween costumes that also dabbles in the history of masquerade. You should also visit the halloween post on Harem of Peacocks for some to DIE for inspiration, or for a more satirical approach you could take Eva Wiseman’s lead. Happy Halloween!

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Track the Trend: Trunk-Hose to Bloomer Shorts

Dolce and Gabbana S/S 2013

Bloomer shorts are a difficult item to wear, so I’m told – an item that emphasises the hips and posterior is not to everyone’s taste – but that doesn’t stop me from loving them. Domenico and Stefano are clearly with me on this and religiously put bloomer shorts into most collections in some guise or other; thankfully summer 2013 is no exception. For a few glorious seasons they were like fashion hot potatoes in Milan, kickstarted by Miuccia as is the case with so many trends.

Miu Miu S/S 2008
D&G S/S 2011

Blooming marvellous: left and right are playsuits I’ve bloomered myself, centre is from the Beyond Retro remakes. You can see a tutorial on how to make bloomers from scratch here, it’s easy to adapt to make pre-existing trousers or shorts into bloomer-style shorts.

Broken Hearts for Beyond the Valley playsuit. Print and illustration by Rob Flowers

Love in bloom: when we designed our first collection for Beyond the Valley, bloomer shorts were high on the list of pieces we wanted to include – here in playsuit form.

Historically, you could say that bloomered shorts had their heyday in the trunk-hose of Tudor Europe (who said the trend-cycle couldn’t span centuries?!). As a bifurcated garment they were designated as menswear and hit a crescendo between 1550-1610. Reaching to mid-thigh, they were often paned (slashed into ribbon-like strips, or constructed of ribbons of fabric) so a contrasting lining could be seen beneath. I’m particularly enamoured of this mustard pair:

Trunk hose owned by Elector Moritz of Saxony (1521-1553) found here

I first set eyes upon a pair of trunk-hose in real life on a trip to Florence (when I also got to visit the fantastic Ferragamo Museum). They were (somewhat gruesomely) the funeral clothes in which Don Garzia de Medici was buried in the 16th century, having been lovingly conserved and reconstructed over a 10 year period and proudly on display at the Costume Gallery of the Pitti Palace. I was next alerted to trunk-hose in this brilliant BBC 4 documentary, in which I also had the pleasure of discovering the Greenwich armoury. This was swiftly followed by a trip to the Met Museum to see the armour in its full glory.

Don Garzia de Medici’s doublet and paned trunk-hose with cod-piece after conservation, image found here; armour of George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland. Greenwich, 1580-85 found at the Met Museum
Armour of George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland. Greenwich, 1580-85 found at the Met Museum

Henry VIII founded the Greenwich armour workshop in 1511 with the intention of producing pieces for battlefields and tournaments that would rival the famed armouries of Germany and Italy. He recruited some of finest craftsmen in Europe and by the second half of the 16th century the select few artisans had developed their own distinctive Greenwich style. During Elizabeth I’s reign leading courtiers would vie for the Virgin Queen’s favour through their armour designs. This was a much easier proposition under Elizabeth than Henry, being a woman she was not expected to take arms herself, and so courtiers were free to compete against each other but not the monarch with their extravagant battle finery. George Clifford was made a Knight of the Garter in 1592 and chose the Tudor Rose, fleur-de-lis and Elizabeth’s cipher of two Es back to back for the intricate designs on his armour, resulting in an exquisite pattern that many scholars believe represents the peak of the Greenwich school. It also would have cost a phenomenal amount of money to commission.

Armour of Sir Henry Herbert, Second Earl of Pembroke. Greenwich, c. 1575-80, from the Met Museum

Sir Henry Herbert was somewhat less sycophantic in his choice of decoration, opting instead for a design which visually traces the lineage of the Pembroke family and also features his Order of the Garter. Cracking trunk-hose too. The Greenwich workshops closed around 1649 and sadly none of it remains today.

I was lucky enough to witness more elaborate Tudor ornamentation at The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe at the Wallace Collection last month. Throughout the 16th century Milan was regarded as the centre of arms manufacture in Europe. It was also well known for its fine textiles, cementing the connection between clothing and ornamental weapons. The rapier – a new, thinner and highly decorated sword – began to be worn in courtly and day-to-day dress as an accessory, as opposed to the heavier swords of Medieval Europe that were only worn and used in battle. The beauty of craftsmanship of these items conferred status upon the wearer and marked him out as a man of honour and power; it became a hybrid object that combined elements of both weaponry and jewellery. It was especially interesting to note that sword workshops often created other trimmings such as buckles and buttons. The exhibition shed light on many fascinating areas including the history of urban crime and also served as a reminder of how much I adore the Wallace Collection itself. You can see this thread for more intricate details on 16th and 17th century fencing clothing. 

Doublet and breeches that formed the parade costume of Christian II, Elector of Saxony, 1601-09 made from Italian silk with silver edging reminiscent of armour; the rapier of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II, c. 1550-70, with blade by Antonio Piccininio of Milan. Found at The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe at the Wallace Collection

Paned trunk-hose are evident on a grand scale in portraits of two further notables of the Elizabethan court, both Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Sir Walter Ralegh himself. Leicester was clearly an avid fan of trunk-hose as evidenced in the many portraits of him that still exist, leading experts to believe he had a heightened interest in his own rather suave image. It’s not difficult to see why; as the only serious suitor of Elizabeth I and her perennial favourite it’s understandable that he thought rather highly of himself. He was a generous patron of the arts and had a large collection of portraits, as well as commissioning many to satisfy his own vanity.

Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester: by unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, oil on panel, circa 1575; by Christoffel van Sichem (Voschem), line engraving, c. 1580s; by unknown English workshop, oil on panel, circa 1575. All found at the National Portrait Gallery

Walter Ralegh was the consummate Renaissance Man; credited with bringing tobacco and potatoes to our fair shores he was also a military and naval commander, poet and writer. In the roller-coaster world of Elizabethan court life he fell in and out of favour throughout the last decades of the 16th century, and was imprisoned in 1592. By the early years of the 17th century he was back in favour with the Queen which he commemorated in this portrait with his son, captured for eternity in their court finery.

Sir Walter Ralegh with his son Walter Ralegh; by unknown artist, oil on canvas, 1602, found at the National Portrait Gallery; trunk-hose gets longer – suit of Gustav II Adolf ca. 1620 From the Royal Armory and Hallwyl Museum found at Pinterest; Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, by William Larkin, 1613 found at Pinterest

Various portraits of King James I exist in trunk-hose, but as the 17th century drew on the garments lengthened as a monarch was executed and bloody Civil War battles were fought. Breeches became the norm, with hose slowly sliding into its current meaning of hosiery. The next big phase for puffed leg-wear also gave us its contemporary name – the bloomer.

‘Bloomer costume styled for party occasions, 1851-9′ found in Fashion by Jane Dorner; Amelia Bloomer in the Illustrated London News, 1851, found here

Somewhat surprisingly, the eponymous hero of Bloomers wasn’t actually their initiator. Elizabeth Smith Miller was a patron and advocate of the women’s rights movement in the 19th century, and was the first woman to wear Turkish-style pantaloons coupled with a knee-length skirt. Amelia Bloomer took to wearing them and publicised the outfit through her temperance magazine The Lily. Satirical publications like Punch had a field day with the ‘Bloomerism’ movement; bifurcated clothing on women was a very visual manifestation of societal and gender disruption. Throughout the 1850s Amelia and her fellow Dress Reformers caused so much controversy that many of them renounced such ostentatious garb for fear of distracting attention away from such trifling goals as the right to vote and the right to property ownership. They were swiftly adapted into the undergarment that we know them by today.

Bloomerism in Punch; Second Empire-era lingerie at the Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs exhibition at Les Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris

Bifurcated clothing for women next made an appearance as the cycling and sports wear of the Rational Dress Movement. Set up by Lady Harberton in 1881, the society followed Amelia’s ethos that clothing should be practical and non-restrictive. Boneless stays were favoured over tight-laced corsets, and they held the radical belief that women shouldn’t wear more than 7 pounds of undergarments. A healthy and active life was promoted through cycling and walking, yet they still came under ridicule from the popular press, and again only a tiny minority of women ever dared to venture into such revolutionary styles.  You can hear me discussing more on Rational Dress at the V&A on Radio 4′s Making History here.

Rational Dress found at Surburban Birmingham; Lady Harberton; Punch, 1895, found here. The caption reads:
Gertrude. “My dear Jessie, what on earth is that bicycle suit for?” Jessie. “Why, to wear, of course.” Gertrude. “But you haven’t got a bicycle!” Jessie. “No; but I’ve got a sewing machine!”

Billowed bifurcation fell out of favour yet again for a few decades, only to be reborn as beachwear with the boom in leisure and tourism during the 1940s and 50s.

Beachwear from the Horrockses exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2010, helpfully dated for me by Liz Tregenza who worked on the exhibition as around 1950 (1947-52)

Current manifestations draw on a long lineage from the battlefields of Tudor Europe to the underwear of Edwardian women. Yet another contemporary reference comes from children’s wear which leads to many questions about the infantilising of women, especially when coupled with the ultra-slim silhouette of catwalk models. However, not even this can dampen my enthusiasm for the micro bloomer short.

Miu Miu S/S 2008
Dolce and Gabbana S/S 2012
Summer 2012 marked possibly my favourite ever year from Dolce and Gabbana, with their mainline fruit and vegetable collection and the incredible foulard-print bonanza that sadly marked the last ever show from diffusion line D&G.
Dolce and Gabbana S/S 2012
D&G S/S 2012

The shape of things to come:

Dolce and Gabbana S/S 2013
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Exhibitionism: Dots, Spots and LFW Highlights

DJing at the Yayoi Kusama opening at the Whitney, New York (courtesy of Grazia), and at Vogue’s Fashion Night Out (London) for Louis Vuitton, wearing Miss Edgeley dresses

Thanks to the current Louis Vuitton/Yayoi Kusama collaboration, both the art and fashion worlds have been seeing spots for quite some time. The history of dots as a clothing pattern is quite murky, unlike stripes there’s no definitive work on it. But it seems that the pattern – associated with disease for obvious reasons in medieval Europe – first gained popularity as the ‘moucheron’ or patching (beauty spots) of the 17th and 18th centuries. Reminiscent of Flamenco dress with its Andalusian, Gypsy and Moorish roots, it was of course another dance – the Polka – that truly popularised the design. Although the association between the dance and dots is unclear, the Polka fad swept Europe then America in the mid 19th century. Originating in Slavic areas of Central Europe and associated with Poland and Bohemia, the Polka spread to Paris then like wildfire crossed the Channel and the Atlantic by the 1840s. Quick to cash in on a craze, canny marketeers began selling a range of products with a ‘Polka’ theme, but it was the dots to which the name stuck. Godey’s magazine features one of the earliest mentions of the pattern in print publication from 1871.

Evolution of a pattern: The 18th century saw production techniques improve with the Industrial Revolution, and machine-printed, regular-spaced dots became a reality. This swatch is from the Foundling Museum. Embodying fears of the Cold War through a design motif of the Atomic Age, Polka Dot Man was introduced to Marvel Comics in 1962.

Along with the Yayoi Kusama fever currently sweeping the globe, another unlikely fashion muse this season was Minnie Mouse. Designers across the board contributed to the Minnie Mouse Must Haves – a collection of covetable designs from the likes of Richard Nicoll, Katie Hillier, Giles Deacon and Michael van der Ham that were auctioned on eBay for the Fashion Arts Foundation, which aims to promote and encourage the relationship between the worlds of fashion, art, music and film. Meadham Kirchhoff also unveiled a unique piece during their runway show.

The Minnie Mouse Must Haves launch at London Fashion Week: Minnie-inspired treats and Lulu Guinness interviewed by Brix Smith-Start

While fashion collaborations are nothing new, it’s rare that they inspire genuine joy in both designers and observers, but with the ‘Mouse in the House’ the usually professionally-unimpressed fashion crowd couldn’t help but crack a smile. Hosted by larger-than-life Brix Smith-Start, the launch was destined to be a glitzy affair, and for once the pieces managed to live up to the hype.

This little mouse prefers platform wedges to clogs. The lovely Liz and Terry de Havilland at the Minnie Must Haves launch

While a Disney collaboration could easily be sniffed at in a high fashion setting, the passion the designers felt for their furry muse was palpable; “People really embraced the theme” enthused the girls from Tatty Devine, whose cartoon eye necklace was a refreshing take on the theme. Lulu Guinness, whose handbags featured Minnie ears, also credited artist Yayoi Kusama with bringing polka dots back into the spotlight. Other highlights were the towering red, black and yellow wedges from Terry de Havilland and the feathered, gothic take on Minnie ears from enfant terrible milliner Piers Atkinson. Piers’ enthusiasm for the subject matter was unquenchable. “She’s iconic, she’s part of our visual and cultural language.” And he celebrated the adulation of Minnie as more than just a cartoon collaboration, “Bringing her out of the realm of Mickey’s girlfriend makes her a woman in her own right. In that way it’s a feminist project.”

Must-Have Minnies: headpiece by Piers Atkinson, dress by Giles, shoes by Terry de Havilland. You can see more of the Minnie Mouse Must Haves in action in this StyleBubble post, and did I mention Terry de Havilland also named some shoes after me? No word of a lie.

Later in the week the rodent craze continued with Philip Treacy’s Minnie ears and Minnie had previously made an appearance at New York Fashion Week.

My outfits for LFW. Kimono shot by Kristof General, nail art by Illustrated Nail

For more of what I got up to at LFW you can check out 10 Things I Learned at London Fashion Week, and for more instantaneous info you can follow me in real time on Instagram (FashionTheatre) or Twitter (again, FashionTheatre). Here are the rest of my LFW spring/summer 2013 highlights, click through to read the full reports!

The Midas Touch with Renaissance Woman Fred Butler (also read about Fred in my pre-LFW piece on London fashion and performance)
1960s-meets-20s reinterpretation of the tennis dress at David Koma
Not really my thing, but sports luxe and updated cocktail dressing at Antonio Berardi
Beautiful Sonia Delaunay-inspired Deco prints and colours at Spijkers en Spijkers
Bees, ancient Greece and cultural conflation at Marios Schwab
My one to watch: sorbet palette, eclectic fabrics and an upbeat soundtrack at Raffaele Ascione
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No People Like Show People: London Fashion Week

Well it’s that time of year again, and to kick off the Fashion Week proceedings I wrote a piece on the links between London fashion and performance for Fashion156. You can read it HERE.

I also contributed to a BBC News piece on 5 Ways the UK Changed Fashion. Go on, ‘ave a butchers.

Finally, I’ll be reporting from some of the shows for Fashion156 so keep your eyes peeled here on what treats are in store for Spring Summer 2013.

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