Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Anna Karenina Costumes at Ham House

As I have already enthused on multiple occasions, I thought that the costume design in Joe Wright's recent adaptation of Anna Karenina was superb. So when I found out that some of them were on display at Ham House in Richmond, I naturally had to arrange a visit. I went last week, but decided not to post this until after the Oscars. Now of course we know that Jacqueline Durran has been fittingly honoured for her work so I thought it appropriate to share these pictures.

Black Evening Gown

This is worn in one of my favourite  - and also one of the most important - scenes, in which Anna dances with Count Vronsky for the first time. Apparently this dress fits the description of the one described in the novel, which is meant to be black, though I like the ambiguity of its colour. In some lights it appears to be midnight blue. Two of these dresses were made in case the strenuous dancing scenes required a double, but in the end Keira Knightley did all of the dancing herself and so the spare wasn't needed.

Nineteenth Century Undergarments

Many of the costumes were made with a fusion of influences: the accurate 1870s style and notes of the 1950s, however, these undergarments are historically accurate. What I love about them is the simple yet striking appearance, which ensures that Anna stands out against the dark blue background in this scene. Also, check out the detail here, it's just gorgeous.

Moss Velvet Gown

This isn't worn by Anna, but by Dolly (Anna's sister-in-law) and it suits her style nicely. In the film, Anna is often seen in dark colours, while débutante Kitty contrasts in whites and pinks. It seems fitting that Dolly should fall somewhere between these. It is almost a less extravagant style than many of the other costumes, though there is still some pretty ruching on the sleeves and a sort of lattice detail at the bust.

Blue Military Uniform

I have to admit that I rather prefer Count Vronsky's other uniform, the stunning white one seen on most posters, but this one is also intriguing. Perhaps its main point of interest is the colour: an untraditional shade of pale blue. It reminds me of a 20th Century RAF uniform, though it does have historically accurate roots in Russian military uniforms. Each of the buttons had to be individually cast in a factory as originals were difficult to get hold of, which I think demonstrates the labour and attention to detail involved in creating these costumes. This costume was worn by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in several scenes filmed in Ham House.

Grape Day Dress

This was apparently one of Jacqueline Durran's favourites on account of how it combines the two different eras used as inspiration. The bodice is of a 1950s shape, while the skirt is typical of the 1870s. Again, the use of a dark colour emphasises the moral ambiguity of Anna's character, especially in contrast to the lightness of Kitty's wardrobe. What I also find remarkable about this is that it's a day dress. It just highlights how the social sphere in which most of the characters move considered something like this, all opulent shapes and run up from silk, fairly plain.

I haven't covered all of the costumes on display, so if you have the chance then I definitely recommend a visit to Ham House to have a closer look for yourself. As well as the costumes and the rooms used in the film, the house itself has a fascinating history and some really lovely interiors. We tried to get a photo of me outside but I was distracted by an approaching dog...

Monday, 18 February 2013

What's in My Bag? A day out in London

Map of the V&A - I've been many times before to the Victoria and Albert Museum, but each time I find something new. This time I ended up in a totally different part than any I'd been in before, which included the jewellery gallery, an exhibition of 60s photographs and a Theatre and Performance section, complete with dressing-up (I love dressing-up. It's not a good museum if there's no dressing-up). I could probably spend a couple of days just wondering around discovering everything.

Sunglasses - What I love about these is that nobody can see where your eyes are looking, they just reflect their own image back at them, so I can show no emotion in true Anna Wintour style.

Red gloves - It might be getting sunnier in England but it's still pretty cold. Fortunately I have these leather gloves - a birthday present from last year - to keep warm.

Wallet - I think this is probably my favourite purse or wallet which I own. Not only is it a good size for money and cards, it also has a very useful map of the underground printed on it! It proved especially useful on our day out, since the entire Circle line was out of use and most of the District line too.

My friend Livvy's iPhone - because my phone is boring and old and not very photogenic

Pink Moleskine - I love this size because it slots perfectly into my bag but still has plenty of room to write in. In the front I have notes from lectures and classes while in the back is my own creative writing, because one must always have something sensational to read on the train.

This picture was taken on an outside table at the V&A, where we paused after our adventures throughout the museum to have a mid-morning coffee. Nobody else seemed to be quite as excited about the gorgeous William Morris coffee cups as I was, so I'm trusting my stylish readers to understand what a big deal this is. So here, have suitably cliche picture of me drinking my mocha.

What do you like to do when you go to London? Or have you never been, and there's something you've always wanted to do there?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

I Want It! Nishe Butterfly Mesh Prom Dress

I just had to put this up for today because it's such a perfect Valentine's Day dress. I know it can be rather a pain to be caught up in the cliches and cheesiness and the annoying couples, but personally I always find something to love about the 14th of February. A lot of it has to do with its tendency to be pretty, sweet and smothered in chocolate.

So whether you're single or taken, I challenge you to take on Valentine's day with an open mind and a cheerful spirit. Everything's a lovely pink or red or covered in hearts or flowers or butterflies, just like this dress, which is currently on sale at ASOS for £99. It's ideal for getting into the mood.

And take heart even if you don't fancy the lovey-dovey atmosphere of today, for just remember that tomorrow there will be an abundance of discounted chocolate.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

5 Reasons I Loved The Hour

Friends, Whishaw-lovers, connoisseurs of fine period dramas, join with me in a moment of mourning for The Hour, which the BBC yesterday confirmed would not be returning for a second series. I am personally quite upset, especially considering the point at which they left things.

I understand the need to streamline the BBC's output and evaluate what's doing well and what's not, but The Hour was just a cut above almost everything else at the moment. It's not the only favourite programme to go this year, Merlin having come to a close already, though at tleast that was planned from the start; there were always going to be five series. the Hour on the other hand had at least one more series left in it and the potential to carry on. So to show my admiration for it (though I have already blogged about how much I loved the first series) I just want to list a few reasons why I enjoyed it so much.

The acting

One of my main reasons for beginning to watch The Hour was that it starred Ben Whishaw (or as I then knew him, Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited) and Romola Garai (or as I then thought of her, the latest incarnation of Jane Austen's Emma). These two are still the central performances for me, but the rest of the regular cast has been equally superb, both as concerns actors I already knew of (Dominic West, Anna Chancellor) and ones who were introduced to me through the show (Joshua McGuire, Lisa Greenwood). Even when a character has just a few lines in an episode, everything is pitch-perfect in their delivery and body

The storylines

Each series has had a plot arc spanning all six episodes, with each hour-long episode featuring a smaller story. What's impressive is that alongside the story they are investigating and the struggle to get the programme on air in time, there's also plenty of room for development of all our much-loved characters and their relationships to each other. At times it could seem like there were so many different things going on but the skillful handling of each plot and sub-plot just added to the sophisticated and stylish feel.

The setting

i just think that dramas set in the late 50s/early 60s are great because they are set around a time of change in many aspects of the world at large and also media outlets like television and magazines (see We'll Take Manhatten for a good retelling of how David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton revolutionised the world of fashion photography). I also think it adds the opportunity for atmospheric props like dial-phones and typewriters, evoking a time which is at once recent and distant.

The strong female roles

On the part of Bel, Romola Garai has said: "Bel is such a great character. She was a huge draw to me. It is quite hard to find those kinds of parts for women." This is very true. it can be difficult to find really strong and inspiring female characters in film and TV, especially when the setting is in the past. Not only is there Bel, making her way as a producer in a highly male-dominated world, there's also the fabulous trouser-wearing Lix, and Marnie, who reacts to the shoddy behaviour of her husband by building her own career. Plus there's Sissy, Kiki and several other great characters who provide opportunities for British actresses to play a role which isn't just as a love interest or similar. Furthermore, many of the team involved in making The hour are women, including its creator Abi Morgan and several of the directors. Anything which makes a step towards equalising the number of men and women producing shows at the BBC is good in my books.

The costumes

I can't possibly do justice to how much I love these costumes. Each one tells the viewer so much about the character and how they feel at that moment. They are all of course fitting to the period, but each character adopts the styles in different ways. Bel obviously needs to look professional for her job, but she doesn't give in to any pressure to hide her personality in dull colours, often wearing green and red skirt suits or dresses. Marnie indulges fully in the feminine style of Christian Dior's 'new look' with alarmingly wide skirts and a small waist, which she then works in her favour when cultivating an image for her cookery show. And Lix, well, I love Lix so much. She simultaneously looks devastatingly glamorous and also like she doesn't care about anything, with masculine tailoring slung casually over her shoulders as she nonchalantly smokes a cigarette. But let's not forget about the gentlemen  Freddie and Hector are completely opposite in both the way they report and the way they dress. Hector is traditional, reliable, embodies a spirit of responsibility (even when he is not quite so in his private life); Freddie is a little dishevelled, unconcerned with his appearance and dead set on getting the story. Everything is aesthetically pleasing while at the same time it doesn't retract from the often serious subject matter.

Basically everything is perfect. It works on so many levels and I'm miserable to see it go.

I'm once again indebted to I Capture the Period Pieces for all the beautiful images above

Monday, 11 February 2013

And the award for Best Costume goes to...

If you follow me on Twitter at all, you may know that I was only really concerned with one BAFTA last night, and that was Costume Design. Normally I'm more interested in the other awards too but I just haven't seen enough of the films this year to have an opinion on them. Anyway, I was rooting so much for Jacqueline Durran to win for her excellent work on Anna Karenina. I loved the film in general but the costumes (in combination with the cinematography) played a huge part in stealing my heart.

But there was definitely some tough competition, and I think it will be interesting to see who comes out top when we get to the Academy Awards. Personally I think that Durran, having been nominated 3 times before, deserves to finally win her Oscar this year. However, BAFTA is sometimes known to be rather on the side of home-grown productions like Anna Karenina, so I thought it would be good to check out the competition in this category at the Oscars.

Les Misérables
(Paco Delgado)

Delgado seems not to have had much recognition for his work before, and the costumes in Les Mis are certainly deserving of some attention. From the coats of revolutionaries in a dramatic red (the blood of angry men) to Cosette's adorable ensembles, there's a lot to get right here. Of course, there are the previous adaptations and the stage production to look to for inspiration, but there's no doubt that Delgado has added a little bit of a new twist to give Tom Hooper's version its own identity. I particularly like the clothes worn by Anne Hathaway as Fantine which, though ragged and dirty, are still beautiful. It takes skill to create something which still looks good when it's half-destroyed.

(Joanna Johnston)

Spielberg's biopic looks like a rather sombre affair and the costumes match that. They are not however to be passed over just because they don't have rich fabrics and bright colours. Johnston is another first time Oscar-nominee, though she has an impressive back-catalog including War Horse and Forrest Gump, both of which I'm sure exercised her skills in designing menswear, which is precisely what is needed here: well-crafted and finely-detailed costumes which evoke the era. Despite that, I'm afraid this wardrobe just doesn't get my heart racing, which is understandable for the type of film it is.

Mirror Mirror
(Eiko Ishioka)

As a supporter of Anna Karenina, I must say that this is the rival which worries me most. It's the only one which wasn't in the running for a BAFTA, so it's difficult to predict how well it will fare at the Academy Awards. The costumes are loud and unashamed and evoke the atmosphere of a storybook perfectly, which is excellent for a retelling of Snow White. I particularly love Julia Roberts' wardrobe, which seems to be heavily Elizabeth I inspired. If Ishioka were to win, this award would be awarded posthumously, as she died early in 2012. She had previously won an Academy Award for her work on the 1992 Dracula.

Snow White and the Huntsman
(Colleen Atwood)

Oh look another Snow White film! I haven't actually seen this, but the costumes make me really want to. hell, the film can probably be awful and I'll barely notice. Second to a drop-dead gorgeous dress, one thing I love in a period drama or fantasy is a woman getting kitted out in men's armour or hunting gear. This film happily has both! In fact, I had a hard time choosing which of the Queen's gowns to include. Perhaps it's unsurprising that these costumes are a joy to behold, since Colleen Atwood is a 3-time Oscar winner for Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha and Alice in Wonderland with an impressive CV even aside from these. I think you can definitely see the similarities with Alice in Wonderland, particularly in the suit of armour. This could also put up some serious competition, and justly so, but I imagine Atwood will be happy to concede to a first-time winner if Durran does clinch it.

All images from this lovely tumblr apart from the top one, from the official BAFTA website and the Lincoln one, from the Guardian website.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Fetishisation of Youth in Fashion

This is an issue that comes back again and again, but I felt that the time was right for it, having just read Lolita and also after Rachel Ramirez posted this amusing article on Thought Catalog. Before I begin I'd like to say that I don't know everything about this issue and I know it's a delicate one. I'll preface my own opinions with a 'personally' or similar.

What I found most disturbing about Nabakov's masterpiece was not simply the subject matter, but the description of young girls and particularly what aspects of them the protagonist finds attractive. Many of these struck me as attributes which tend to be considered beautiful by today's society: her lack of hair on her legs, her soft skin, and her undeveloped boyish shape.

Models are getting younger all the time. Controversy flared up around Thylane Blondeau in 2011 when, at the age of ten, she posed for French Vogue in poses and outfits which were decidedly adult. While her case seemed to particularly shock the world, she was not that far off in age from some girls making their runway debuts that season. I remember a flurry of blog posts at the time discussing the morality of using such a young model in the shoot. Some defended it as a piece of art, others quickly condemned it, but the majority agreed that it might have worked if it had been more like a girl dressing in her mother's clothes, but as it was, the shoot became unsettling. Whatever your opinion, it certainly highlighted an obsession which the fashion industry has with youth.

This obsession has two different problems associated with it. The first one is that in pursuit of this aesthetic, young girls are going to be put within an adult context and judged by mature concepts of 'beauty'. More and more young models are being used to show clothes off to their best advantage, because they have that thin boyish shape which seems to be so sought after by designers. Personally I don't see much of a problem if girls want to start working early, since it's a very similar case to that of young actors. However, a line needs to surely be drawn, because getting a pre-teen involved in the strange and stressful world of the fashion industry is not a good idea. Most magazines won't use girls under 16, but they many are often picked up by model agencies at about 14 in order to ensure that that agency is the first to 'discover' them. I see no problem with an interest in fashion at a young age, since I myself have been writing this blog since I was 15 and was reading fashion magazines well before that. It's just a question of how young is too young to begin working in the industry, especially when the job involves tremendous pressure on looking a certain way.

On the other side of things, as models get younger and other factors like airbrushing allow for an ever more youthful look on the front cover of every fashion magazine, so followers of fashion feel that they must go to extreme lengths to achieve this look. Of course this has been going on for thousands of years; the ancient Greeks valued the pale skin of a young woman above the weathered skin of an older one. Furthermore it's perfectly understandable to want to regain something of one's youth. It's just that there comes a point when it can appear somewhat...well...creepy for an adult woman to want to look like a little girl.

The problem seems to lie in the fact that the current silhouette in fashion is the 'boyish' look which, while there is nothing wrong with it, necessitates the use of young models. It also means there is a lack of celebration for other looks which lend themselves more naturally to adults. This is a fairly recent phenomenon. In the 1950s, models were usually grown women wearing clothes which emphasised the kind of figure one only has after puberty, thanks in part to Christian Dior's 'New Look'. Of course, their flawless make-up and impossibly tiny waists still made the look somewhat unattainable, but that will always be a part of fashion; it's something to aspire to. However, there is always the opportunity to take a look at what kind of image we are glorifying and reflect on the extremes to which people will go to attain it. If aspects of youth continue to be celebrated, are we not in danger of forgetting the kind of beauty which comes with maturity?

Please do share your opinions on this, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover: Aesthetics in Publishing

Faber's 50th Anniversary edition of the Plath classic (source)
There has been some controversy recently concerning the new cover for Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (pictured above) which many have derided as attempting to fit the book in with the 'Chick-Lit' genre. The counter-argument is that if a new image encourages new readers to pick up the book, then surely that's a good thing? I have to say I don't really agree with either side, since I think this cover hints at something more serious than 'Chick-Lit': the woman's expression is indefinable, while the mirror image suggests a pre-occupation with appearances and perhaps subsequently the pressures on women. In short, if I knew nothing about the story, I would not assume that this was a light read.

As a fashion blogger, I am of course interested in the appearance of all things and that includes book covers. While I'm willing to overlook a badly-designed cover in favour of what I've been told is a good book, it's the front of a novel which encourages me to indulge in an impulse buy. Some of the best books I've read of late have been picked up purely because their covers matched something my subconscious seemed to be searching for. I noticed You Deserve Nothing the other day in the library because I liked the font and the girl's outfit. After a brief scan of the short blurb confirmed it was the kind of thing I was interested in, I dove straight in, and loved every second. It was like the book had been written purely for me. I felt like I'd had every thought which occurred to the three protagonists. Not bad for something picked up on impulse right?

Alexander Maksik's debut (source)

What I'm trying to say is that the appearance of a book is important to me, so I definitely do judge them by their covers. Is it partially because I want it to look good on my shelf or in my hands on the Underground? Of course. But it's also to do with capturing my attention. The thing about You Deserve Nothing is that its cover could never hope to convey everything I found inside, but it still drew me in long enough to glance at the description and I was instantly hooked. Perhaps that's what Faber are aiming for with their new The Bell Jar cover; it's both intriguing and aesthetically pleasing. New readers might be captured long enough to check the blurb or read the first page, which is all it takes to get you into a really good book.

How do you choose your books? Is the cover important to you?