Sunday 29 July 2012

Pending Adventures

This time in three weeks I will be on a plane. 'To where?', you might ask. Well...

Yes, all the way across the other side of the world! In my opinion, I'm timing it well, as I will be there for the end of winter and through into spring, which is much better for my fragile constitution and pale skin than high summer would be. 'Hang on, through into spring?' you ask. Yes, that's right, I'm off on holiday for nearly eight weeks so won't be back until October! Well, it is my first proper holiday since I started my course in September two years ago. Sure, I've had time off but always with course work hanging over my head. But there'll be none of that, just lots of relaxing and seeing friends and family out there.

So, for almost two months, my blog posts will be love letters from the Antipodes rather than dear London. I'm sure I'll have lots to share with you. And, before then, I have three weeks of hopefully quite a few posts based firmly in the Mother Country. I just had to share my excitement with my lovely readers...

Monday 23 July 2012

Random Reasons to Love Love London #6

Tate Modern Turbine Gallery (Image source)

On Friday evening, I went to see the current Edvard Munch exhibition at the Tate Modern (more on that later, hopefully). As I was looking around, enjoying the rich and wonderful paintings, a young chap who had been looking at a painting nearby caught the attention of my friend and me, saying "excuse me, but isn't this painting just so cool. Sorry, I don't know much about art, this is the first exhibition I've ever been to..." To which we responded along the lines of "don't worry about that". "I just think it's great, isn't it?", he carried on, in delight. We agreed and admired the painting together before he happily made his way into the next room.

I was just so pleased and flattered that he had chosen to share his excitement and unpretentious enjoyment of the painting with us. I like to think it's because we looked friendly and unpretentious ourselves... It made me really very happy to share this stranger's joy at experiencing these paintings up close at his first ever exhibition. I still become exuberant when I see original art works (or even prints of my favourite pieces) so it's not that I needed reminding of what a wonderful experience it can be, but it was just rather special to have this stranger so unashamedly keen to share his appreciation of this painting with us.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Meant to Be? Or Tailored to Fit?

Some time ago, I came across a truly wonderful find at Paper Dress Vintage on Curtain Road in Shoreditch. A two-piece Mary Quant. Olive green dress and matching jacket, with a sweet blue and yellow floral pattern on the dress bodice and jacket lining and collar. The shade wasn't one I'd usually go for but the whole thing was just so fabulous that I had to try it on. The colour actually suited me quite well it turned out, the fabric was lovely and soft, the whole thing dead comfortable and the perfect length...

... but JUST too big! I was utterly devastated. I wanted it to fit, I willed it to fit, I squinted and pretended that it fitted. But sadly, it wasn't too be. The dress could have worked with some adjustment as it was a pretty simple shift. The jacket, on the other hand, would have required a fair bit of restructuring. The sales assistant, clearly seeing how heartbroken I was, informed me that they had a tailoring service, if I wanted to take advantage of that. I pondered very hard, more seriously than I have ever pondered alteration services but in the end, I walked away.

Although tailors can be amazing, there is something that just doesn't feel right to me about taking a vintage item that has survived intact down the ages, and then nipping and tucking to make it fit you. Especially when it's an iconic designer item, and so perfectly structured and made to begin with. It may sound a bit melodramatic but to me it seems like it wouldn't be a genuine item anymore. In this case, it wouldn't have been Mary Quant anymore, it wouldn't have been what she had designed, it would have been a new garment, even with the most skilled tailor.

So I maintained my philosophy of "if it doesn't fit, it wasn't meant for me and some other girl that comes after me will be the perfect new owner". It's actually one of the things I love about being an almost purely vintage/second-hand girl. Not only does it naturally keep your acquisition rate down, it makes it all the more special when you do find something that not only looks perfect on the rack but looks perfect on you too (such as this amazing find last year). For that reason, if it requires anything more than, say, a hem adjustment or a couple of simple darts (both reversible), I'll leave it behind.

What are your thoughts on modifying vintage items? Do you like your finds unadulterated or do you enjoy the challenge of making clothes work for you? Alternatively, do you use tailoring and altering services? Do you think I'm mad for my thinking that it wouldn't have been Mary Quant anymore if I'd modified the jacket? Do you feel like crying when you see, for example, a 1940s dress that was clearly originally knee-length, hacked off to be made into a mini (I once encountered a whole shop full of such abominations)? Or do you like personalizing and modernizing old items? I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday 16 July 2012

Beware When Out in Bermondsey...

... for you may encounter wild cats...

Hats off to whoever put these leopards and tigers up in the trees.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Merveilleuse Quatorze Juillet

Happy Bastille Day, dear readers!

I actually have a lazy, indoor day planned today but thought I would share with you my outfit I wore to an event a couple of years ago. Prepare yourself... (for lots of words and some philosophy)

Not content with cliches (stripy shirts, berets and baguettes, I'm looking at you), my friend and I went for semi-political, surrealist-inspired outfits. I was dressed as a "merveilleuse", one of the members of the aristocracy or nouveau riche who reacted against seeing hundreds of their kind beheaded in the French Revolution by becoming all the more extravagant. In addition to sticking two fingers up at the Revolutionaries, I suppose it was similar to the hedonism and devil-may-care attitude of wartime, when you know you could be next so you may as well party hard until you meet your fate.

The merveilleuses favoured an "a la Grecque" dress style, like Greek goddesses with simple, flowing white dresses and Empire lines, often with their hair in a loose, natural style. They would sometimes wear a red choker to symbolise their solidarity with those that had been beheaded, or have their hair cut very short, in reference to hair being hacked off before someone went to the guillotine. They were aristocratic punks, basically, dressing in a way that intentionally riled the system and expressed their discontent - but the system that was coming in, rather than the established one.

(Image source)

My only problem was that, when I got the outfit together, I felt like I was perhaps doing the "a la Grecque" thing too well, and just kind of looked like I was dressed up as a Greek goddess and had got my national days confused... So, to counteract that, I got some lipstick and wrote across my chest: 

... which fans of surrealist art may pick up as being a reference to Magritte:

Rene Magritte 'LaTrahison des Images', 1929 (Image source)

Of course, put very simply, Magritte's point was that the image you see before you may appear to be a pipe but is, in reality, only a representation of the object; hence, "this is not a pipe". So, in using it in a costume, the same question was being posed. Yes, I am dressed as a merveilleuse so you could say I was one, but I am really just dressed up so I am merely a representation. Also, it made a question of whether I was an anti-monarchist or a pro-monarchist. Is the statement about the fact that I am in costume or is it saying that I don't agree with the merveilleuses?

Finally, the "R" was left out of "merveilleuse" because they often left this letter out in referring to themselves, as a statement against the Revolution. Aware that it might just look like a spelling mistake if I left it out, I put the dash in there... which just added an extra layer of meaning as it became an allusion to Hang Man, the game where you come closer and closer to execution (albeit of a different kind) with each incorrect guess of a letter. The game puts much more significance on single letters than is normal, like the significance placed on "R" as the first letter of the Revolution.

Are you sufficiently reeling from the explanation of my outfit yet? This was all encouraged and nurtured by my amazing friend, who is very knowledgeable on philosophy and psychology. She is also a big fan of French Rococo, so had an amazing outfit of pastels and bouffant, but wearing a Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen" t-shirt. So, her outfit, like mine, became an enigma - she was basically dressed in the aristocratic style of the Revolutionary period, but it was deconstructed and punked up. The statement on her t-shirt appeared, at surface level, to support the monarchy but, as a Sex Pistols t-shirt, may have equally been ironic.

(Image source)

Although I'm now feeling tempted to go out and buy some La Duree macarons and visit the Wallace Collection in celebration of the day, I'm going to stick to my plan of visiting my local French cafe and watching The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec tonight (thanks, Hannah, for making me think of that idea!).

Friday 13 July 2012

Bush House and the Beeb

Yesterday, the BBC World Service made its final broadcast from Bush House. This stunning building on Aldwych was built in the 1920s as a trade centre for an American, Irving T Bush to designs by the architect Harvey W Corbett. Due to economic decline, however, it was never used for its original purpose, and was altered to standard office use instead. In 1940, during World War II, the BBC moved in. Its World Service has been based there ever since but from today, it will be moving out of Bush House and joining the rest of the BBC in a new extension at the headquarters, Broadcasting House on Portland Place.

I was fortunate enough to see inside Bush House last September, during Open House weekend. Unfortunately, for security reasons, we were unable to take photographs. As such, the pictures below are sourced from the BBC itself. I do, however, still have the fact sheets we were given, so I can share some tit bits with you.

Bush House was constructed to very high standards and on completion was declared the most expensive building in the world. It was considered by some at the time to be too 'American' in style. I, however, think it is fabulous. Constructed of Portland stone on a steel frame with marble clad public areas and Indian hardwood floors, it has that wonderful, monolithic, early twentieth-century classical style. The interiors have a lovely wave motif, because of its original trade centre intention, which is picked up in various places and materials, and feels very Art Deco (which is always going to make me happy).

In 1923 the American artist Malvina Hoffman was commissioned to make Bush House a symbol of American and English friendship. The words "To the friendship of English-speaking people" had already been carved above the door to the main entrance to the building.  Hoffman added the two male figures, representing Great Britain and America. They stand either side of an altar embossed with a Celtic Cross and each holds a flaming torch and a shield - England's decorated with a lion and America's with an eagle.

The original method of heating on the landing areas remains to this day. The innovative system involved radiators concealed behind the walls with grilles set into the stone to serve as outlets. Bush House was also one of the first buildings in London to have central courtyards to give light to the back offices. Even better, it has a swimming pool in the basement. This was covered over and the room converted into a studio by the BBC. Imagine what an untouched treasure may be revealed if that inserted floor is lifted by the new tenants...

An article in 1940 called Bush House "A Modern City Under One Roof". Its range of "unequalled services" included a restaurant and grill room (fully licensed), a hairdresser (ladies' and men's), a doctor, a dentist, an X-ray and massage clinic, banks, cablegram office, post office, dressing rooms, a badminton court and large car parks. Crucially, in this time of war, there were also deep air-raid shelters, designed to take the whole weight of the building in the event of a collapse.

A bomb did fall on Aldwych in 1944, sadly resulting in some casualties at Bush House. Extensive damage was incurred (although fortunately not a full "collapse"). This included the loss of one of the aforementioned statue's arms. And he remained limbless until a wealthy American visiting his daughter at the London School of Economics in the 1970s saw his predicament. The statues are made of Indiana limestone, and he just happened to work at the Indiana Limestone Company, so persuaded them to send over a replacement arm, and the stonemason to fix it.

Taking a step backwards, the BBC World Service began in 1932 as the BBC Empire Service. At the beginning of World War II,  it was broadcasting in eight languages, including English. By the end, it was broadcasting in over 40 languages. During the war, some of the leaders of Europe's Nazi-occupied countries broadcast to their citizens from Bush House. General Charles de Gaulle was included amongst them.

My understanding (and please comment and correct me if I'm wrong!) is that the BBC World Service has continued to select its languages based on the need to reach people around the world who live in countries where there is limited access to neutral information. For instance, during the Cold War, there was more focus on broadcasting to eastern European audiences. People often had to listen covertly but, if they were willing to take that risk, could find out what was going on beyond the Iron Curtain. The choice of languages is certainly not to do with the most commonly spoken languages, as evidenced by looking at their list of current languages.

Finally, if you'd like to hear a little bit more about Bush House during World War II, you can listen to this programme.

Bush House in 1943

So, this is truly the end of an era for the BBC and its World Service staff, as they move out of their long-standing home. Personally, I'd be devastated to leaving such an amazing building...

Sunday 8 July 2012

Chap Olympiad 2012

The 8th Annual Chap Olympiad is still carrying on as I write this post but, as I am clearly not made of the right stuff, I am not in attendance today, having opted for a Saturday only ticket rather than the full weekender. I'm really not sure I could have survived two days, even though I was hardly exerting myself in my spectating of events, gentle promenading of the grounds, drinking of drinks and grazing of picnic...

But my lack of attendance today means I can deliver you pictures hot off the camera as I have a cosy Sunday at home. This is just a sampler of the fun and games that went on yesterday. I rallied together a group of three lovely chaps (two sporting moustaches!) and two chapettes to join me, and we were fortunate for much better weather this year - although there were a couple of downpours, the ratio of sun to rain was reasonably good.

And without further ado, here's some of the pictures I got when I wasn't too busy enjoying myself.

The lighting of the Olympiad Pipe

The first casualty of the day, in the Butler Baiting event

Butler Baiting, and trouser ironing

Jousting lessons

A sneaky tipple from the hip flask during the Briefcase Phlanx

Umbrella jousting

A competitor loses his steed in the Umbrella Jousting

The fabulous MC from last year makes a return

The final round of the Umbrella Jousting

An attendee tries out a penny farthing off stage

Classic perambulator

Some interesting characters and outfits were in attendance, as always...

Rain brings the day to a close

And the following pictures show my outfit, taken when I eventually straggled home as I failed to get photographs taken of me at the event. I opted for trousers this year but still perfectly feminine, with cloche hat and red lips. A kind of 1920s or 1930s feel...

Hat: Fabhatrix, Edinburgh
Blouse: Somewhere in Greenwich
Silk scarf: Beyond Retro, Soho
Trousers: Beyond Retro, Cheshire Street
Shoes: Somewhere in Leipzig, Germany

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Outdone on The Birds Costume...

I recently received an email from Nikki, a lovely lady in the States who had stumbled across pictures of my Birds costume from last Halloween. She was making a Birds costume for the Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn, she told me, and was after some advice on how I had made the birds work on my outfit. I described my strategy as best I could and wished her luck with getting her outfit together...

Just the other day, she emailed me with some pics of the parade. I willingly admit defeat in creating the most awesome Tippi costume ever:

As she explained, she made the dress suit out of sequined fabric so that it would be appropriately bright and flashy for the parade. And as she was a mermaid Tippi, she's being attacked by seagulls. Genius.

Do you not think it's absolutely fabulous? I feel so pleased that I was able to give my little bit of assistance in helping to create such a wonderful outfit.

Public transport - the best fun to be had in a costume, as you cause concern
and confusion amongst the commuters...

Nikki has her own bit of the internet over at Style Schematic, if you'd like to follow her on over and have a look at what other amazing things this talented lady has been up to.

[All photos used with Nikki's prior consent]

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The Fair's Come to Town!

I saw something very exciting on my way into work today... A truck driving up Farringdon Road with this across the side of it:

I've never been before but have heard about it - a big old fair with lots of wonderful vintage rides and stalls. It's up in Hornsey this weekend and then onto Stokey. I might just be paying it a visit...

If you're in the south of England, check out the dates to see when the fair will be in your town this summer/autumn.

So glad I saw that truck...

Devastatingly, the visit to Stoke Newington has been cancelled because of all the bloody rain we've been having! Words cannot express how disappointed I am...