Friday, 31 December 2010

Calling Paul Temple [DVD]

This is more like it! Although there was only two years between the release of Send For Paul Temple in 1946 and Calling Paul Temple in 1948, the two films feel as though they come from different ages. This one feels more like a complete film, whereas the latter felt like a series of set pieces.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Crinoline Robot's Vintage Year

2010 isn't quite over, but I'm anticipating being up to my elbows in flour tomorrow in preparation for a New Year's Day meal so I thought I'd look back over my year in vintage now.

I've always had a love of old things, which I think I get from my mum, but it really came to the fore this year in a big way. When I was more of a goth, I was a very bad goth (I even wore a 1920s dress to go clubbing in and would swap 1920s mixtapes with a friend at the club). Now I am more vintage but I'm quite poor at that, as you'll still find me dressed from top to toe in black from time to time and I still love the music I used to go dancing to, even if I do listen more to stuff from the 1920s-40s on a day-to-day basis. I've watched black-and-white films, worn old perfumes and read golden age crime novels for most of my adult life. Even my wedding dress was vintage!

What really rekindled my love of vintage was going to the launch party for Vintage Gifts to Knit, chatting to a very nice lady and realising that actually, I could have a little vintage loveliness every day, even if it was just a dab of beautiful perfume each morning. Crinoline Robot, which I started mid-year, is a way of sharing that everyday vintage, not the glamorous or expensive stuff, but the sort of thing we can all enjoy. Books purchased secondhand for a couple of pounds, DVDs you can find cheaply, things you can knit yourself for not too much money so it doesn't matter if you can't afford real vintage (or, like me, fit into very much of it).

I went to a couple of events this year. Dig For Victory was, after that launch party, the most important one for me, but for more personal reasons: my grandmother broke her hip and was in hospital, and I'd hoped to be able to take her to DFV in a wheelchair to hear the music. Instead I spent her last night in hospital playing her some fab swing CDs; even though she was out of it on morphine, Glenn Miller got her twitching her eyebrows, and I hope it took her back to the time when she was a beautiful WAAF. Going to DFV and watching people dance was, in a way, more important to me than the funeral, because it helped me remember her as a young raven-haired hottie, not as someone worn out and in pain.

So, I have met online some fab new people, and discovered loads of really enjoyable blogs. It's great reading about different people's take on vintage, and how they incorporate it into their daily lives. The generosity of people has astonished me – I have some wonderful magazines and books now because people know I'll give a good home to stuff they don't want but can't bear to throw out. I wish all those bloggers and non-bloggers alike (that's you, that is!) a wonderful 2011.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Jean Patou (perfume)

One of the things waiting under my tree this Christmas was a bottle of Jean Patou Divine Folie. Formulated in 1933, it was one of a dozen Patou scents released in the 1980s as 'Ma Collection' and then discontinued again. I already had two of the twelve, Colony, a fantastic pineapple-laden chypre, and L'Heure Attendue, a woody beauty designed in celebration of the end of the Second World War, so it is wonderful to be able to add another bottle to ma own collection. When I use them, I always feel a slight sadness because it's unlikely these fragrances will ever be released again. Modern regulations on ingredients and general stinginess in mainstream perfume manufacture will see to that. (Seriously, the liquid in the average bottle of perfume costs a few pennies to make; big firms seem ever more reluctant to use high-quality, but pricy, equivalents.)

A lot of older perfumes appeal to me much more than modern ones. I don't know if it's because with old bottles there's more likely to be a higher percentage of natural ingredients inside or simply because, like clothes of a certain era, perfumes of a particular age have a style in common, but my personal tastes definitely cover the start of the 20th century up until 1940. There's a smoothness to 1930s fragrances, like bias-cut satin in bottles. Divine Folie has a clove-like spiciness, hinting at carnation, then an underlying sweetness and warmth, and I feel very lucky to own it.

I know Mr Robot got my bottle from Rei Rien because a few days before Christmas he confessed he was going to have to try to get his money back from PayPal as the parcel hadn't turned up after a month and they weren't answering his emails. Anyway, after Paypal got involved he was finally given a tracking number and then the parcel arrived, but their customer service was dreadful. I've used Rei Rien in the past and think their stock and prices are excellent and will order from them again, despite the poor service, but if you do order from them, be prepared to wait quite a while for your parcel to arrive – and don't order if you need delivery by a set date.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Send For Paul Temple [DVD]

Sorry it's been a while since I last posted – I was both ill and snowed under at work, so by the time I got home each day I was too worn out for blogging (or cooking, or anything else remotely useful). Anyway, I must've been an awfully good girl this year, because on Christmas Day among the goodies under the tree were DVDs of three vintage Paul Temple films.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

On Broadway [books]

Wiseguys, small-scale bookies, broken down beauties and sassy young dolls are the characters who populate this collection. Three books of short stories, all from the late 1930s, by newspaperman Damon Runyon make up this volume. It's not about the big shows, but the bars and streetlife around Broadway. The really unusual thing about it is the way it's written, in the first-person singular, present tense. For example. "He gets to thinking of how he will relish a soft, gentle, loving hand on his brow at this time, and finally he makes a pass at one of the nurses, figuring she may comfort his lonely hours, but what she lays on his brow is a beautiful straight right cross…" (Go on, tell me you didn't read that to yourself in a 'Noo Yoik' accent!)

The stories mix good humour with violence and pathos. My favourite story, 'Little Miss Marker', about a child abandoned with a miserly old bookie in lieu of a debt, isn't violent but it is a heartbreaker. They're all proper short stories – I've read some lately for work, and I do wish authors would realise a short story is not the same as a vignette they couldn't quite work into one of their novels. These stories have proper beginnings and endings, with carefully chosen words so each is a well-polished gem.

You can't get this volume any more, but one with a different cover is available on Amazon right now. Penguin do have Guys and Dolls, an earlier collection of Runyon's stories in print.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Affair of the [books]

The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, The Affair of the Mutilated Mink and The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks are all currently available in one paperback volume. I got mine from my local Waterstones as part of a three-for-the-price-of-two deal, and have to confess I probably wouldn't have picked it up to buy alone. This is simply because many modern crime novels set in the past never really ring true, especially in the attitudes of the characters.

As it turns out, I really enjoyed …Bloodstained Egg Cosy because it doesn't take itself too seriously. Anderson doesn't try to make any great social comment on the status of women or servants, nor does her shoehorn in lots of references to historical events and brands. (It's very annoying when some writers do that; I always feel they ought to put 'I DID MONTHS OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH FOR THIS NOVEL, WORSHIP MY AUTHENTICITY' on the frontispiece and be done with it. No, …Bloodstained Egg Cosy is a country house murder mystery with an entertaining batch of characters, several of whom are not quite who they claim to be. There's a politician, a foreign diplomat, an American millionaire and his wife and several others as well as the titled family who live in the house. When I try to think of what I could liken it to, the television programme Jonathan Creek is what springs to mind. It has the same unrealistic-yet-fun feel.

The two subsequent books are set in the same house, with several characters, not just the detective, Inspector Wilkins, reappearing in each story, and while it would be a nice gimmick and add to the charming, slightly tongue-in-cheek feeling of the individual books if you came across them months apart, reading them one after another does get a little monotonous. If you did buy this, read one, then put the book away for a month or two. You'll enjoy the second and third stories better that way.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Hey, good looking

What you got cooking?

I'm doing steak and mushroom pudding. It was supposed to be steak and kidney, but Mr Robot missed the kidneys when he was emptying the rucksack yesterday, and there was no way I was going to cook with offal that had been unrefrigerated for a whole day.

I do like traditional British food. I also like foods from pretty much anywhere else you'd care to name, although the food I ate in Cuba wasn't outstanding. Apart from British, French, Indian and Spanish are probably my favourites. This book here is a little gem, The Complete Hostess by Quaglino, one of my Oxfam bookshop treasures. Quaglino's restaurant still exists in London, and they have pictures of this book on the wall in part of it, but the food was not what I had hoped for when we ate there. (Note to chef: it's polo mints that have holes in the middle. When your soufflĂ© has a hole at the centre, it's not fit to send out…)

Quaglino's was one of the restaurants to eat at in the 1930s, and the intro to The Complete Hostess makes it plain that this is a book to give to one's cook. The ladies who bought this would not be the ones making the dishes. (Seven courses of them in the case of the dinner menus.)

No quantities are given, you are expected to be able to judge such things for yourself, and in many cases one basic recipe is followed by variations, exchanging one ingredient for another. I've made a few of them, and enjoyed them very much, and find this book does enable me to make dishes that look and taste very special while actually being extremely simple. While Quaglino was Italian, the recipes strike me as closer to the French style, with meat and fish in sauces, and most dishes much lighter than traditional British fare. No steak and anything pudding here!

Do you like old recipe books or traditional food? Christmas is coming, the one time of year when virtually everyone takes a step into the past.

Friday, 10 December 2010

A brief guide to vintage perfumes: 1940-1959

Finally! The second part of my rundown of perfumes released in past decades and still available today. As with the earlier post, I've tried to note when fragrances have been reformulated heavily, but all will have been tweaked to some degree. There are a lot of Carons on here – Caron is probably my favourite old perfume house – and the list is by no means exhaustive.

Rochas Femme (1944)
 I had a hard time deciding whether this should be on the list at all as it has been given an industrial grade makeover. In this case it’s been sandblasted with cumin, giving the impression of a perfectly lovely scent contaminated with curry paste.

Robert Piguet Bandit (1944)
Probably the most difficult scent on my list. It’s gone through a number of incarnations, and there’s a lot of debate about which of the recent ones is closest to the original – the current one, which I own, is supposed to be closer than some slightly older versions.

This is LEATHER. Peppery, sharp, leathery leather. Some leather perfumes smell like an old handbag, with a hint of suede mixed with face powder and other feminine things. Not Bandit. Bandit is all leather. To be honest, I’m never sure if I like it, but it’s definitely distinctive.

Jean Patou Adieu Sagesse (1946)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I own a bottle of the original and find it a little challenging, though I find a lot of fragrances from this period strike me as very angular.

Caron Farnesiana (1947)
Gorgeous blend of heliotrope and mimosa. Not at all of its time, it smells more Edwardian to me, especially when smelled alongside Bandit or Miss Dior.

Balmain Vent Vert (1947)
Was reformulated in 1990.

Christian Dior Miss Dior (1947)
 Classic chypre with galbanum, oakmoss and bergamot, a green scent for a chic lady. If you can get the vintage, do – I don’t have much experience of Miss Dior, but perfumistas reckon the current version is not as good as the older ones.
EDIT 24/2/12: Miss Dior Cherie has been renamed Miss Dior now, and if you can find it, Miss Dior has been renamed Miss Dior Originale. Confused? If it's pink, it's what used to be known as Miss Dior Cherie. If it's yellowish, it's some version of the Miss Dior originally formulated in 1947.

Balenciaga Le Dix (1947)

Robert Piguet Fracas (1948)
Never one to do things by halves, Germaine Cellier, creator of Bandit, produced another fierce beauty for Piguet, this time a floral bombshell. In Nana, Emile Zola comments on how like human flesh tuberoses smell. Well, Fracas is full-on tuberose, voluptuous and glorious and possibly too much for some people. Dangerous, curvy dames, stop here!

Christian Dior Diorama (1949)
Robert Piguet Visa
Heavily reworked, I’m not sure if the current Visa counts as a reformulation or a completely new perfume under an old name (like Lanvin Rumeur). However, the current one is jolly nice, a fruity floral that manages not to smell like it should go with a tango tan and jeggings.

Caron Muguet de Bonheur (1952)

Balmain Jolie Madame (1953)
 No-nonsense leather mixed with ladylike violets – I’ve seen it described as a fragrance for Emma Peel, and as Bandit’s softer, younger sister. To me there’s something of the Hitchcock blonde about it. Has been reformulated, so buy vintage if you can as the newest version is reputed to be quite toned down.

Estee Lauder Youth Dew (1953)
Rich and spicy, perhaps a little boozy in quality. Not to be confused with the modern Youth Dew Amber Nude.

Guerlain Ode (1955)
Reissued, but only for the Guerlain flagship shop on the Champs-Elysees. According to PerfumeShrine, in the Bond novels, it’s worn by the one woman Bond fell in love with. I didn't see it when I visited the boutique in September 2015, so they may have discontinued it again.

Molinard Nirmala (1955)
Has been reworked a bit. I haven’t sniffed it, but by all accounts it can be quite shouty if you put too much on.

Christian Dior Diorissimo (1956)
 Lily of the Valley, Dior’s lucky flower. As with all the Dior scents, buy vintage if you can.

Givenchy L’Interdit (1957)
The version currently being sold is a major reformulation, not the scent inspired by Audrey Hepburn. As though anything inspired by Audrey needed changing!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Fab Steampunk 'tea cards'

I'm pretty sure everyone who reads CR is familiar with the sort of collectable cards that were popular from the Victorian period onwards. The came in packets of cigarettes, German meat extract (those ones are larger) and PG Tips tea, among other things. I can remember PG ceasing their tea cards, so those at least were produced until the 1980s. My favourites were always the acresses or the cricketers. Flowers, birds and the like are all very well, but people fascinate me.

SF blog/website IO9 had a news story that illustrator Chet Phillips has produced a set of vintage-style cards all about 'The Union of Superlative Heroes', complete with picture on the front and biography on the back, just like real tea/cigarette cards. My favourites of the ones shown on his site are 'Superlative Miss' and 'Gentleman Mint'. His Etsy shop has sold out, but he's going to get more in. If you know someone looking for little decorative accessories for a steampunk home, they'd be just the thing.

Note: I have no connection with IO9, Etsy or Chet Phillips. As usual, I'm just mardling on about cool things I like, no payment!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

I don't like cricket, oh no…

I love it. I really do love cricket. The only thing I'm not enjoying about the current Ashes tour is the fact that all the matches are in the middle of the night, and even on nights when I don't have to work the next day I invariably fall asleep before the coverage starts.

I love cricket for its variations – the quick thrill of a limited overs match, the strategy and tension of a five-day one – and its wonderful inclusiveness, with teams from all over the world playing this fantastic game in largely friendly circumstances. (At an England/West Indies match in Bristol, I sat happily chatting with a Bristol West Indian chap and an Indian one who worked in the United States but had fitted in some cricket while visiting family.) I've been to ladies' games, charity matches, county cricket, even one overseas Test match… it's all good, and all are welcome. And because I love all those things, I love cricket for its history too.

There are things about cricket that I feel will appeal to lovers of vintage. Although there have been changes to the game and grounds over the years, it is a sport well aware of its traditions and one that remembers its heroes, so the past is always present. Bowlers who take five wickets in an innings or batsmen (I'm including female players in that term) who score a century get their names put on the ground's honours board, there for all time. You can take a picnic. Depending on the ground, champagne or Pimms may be for sale. (I have to say, I also love cricket for the opportunity to spend the whole day drinking while watching 22 fit young men run around, and while I always take a picnic and my own wine to Lords because it's so bleedin' pricy to buy food and drink there, at other grounds I usually make a beeline for the curry van and beer tent.) Test Match Special is simply fantastic; even if you don't like cricket I recommend trying listening to it. At first you may wonder who all the people commentating are, but eventually you'll get to know them and their quirks and it really is addictive – and rarely is it always about cricket.

Pimms by the pint
Cricket whites (mmmm, crumpet!)
MCC blazers
Listening to Test Match Special on the radio
Taking a picnic to Lords
The fish cutters (fried flying fish rolls) at Kensington Oval, Barbados
Buying curry from a van at most other grounds
Being surrounded by people with pretty good manners, even when completely bladdered.

Those wretched pyjamas teams wear for one day games. There's modernisation of the game and then there's idiocy.
The glaring white fleeces England wear instead of proper cream wool jumpers (see above).

Images are: Jim Laker, who took all ten wickets for 53 runs in the fourth Ashes test in 1956 – Anil Kumble is the only other bowler who has managed to take all ten in an innings since.
The 1882 Aussie team – the first ones to win the Ashes.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Those magnificent men…

Movember is over, so say goodbye to it for another year with this BBC article on the airmen at Lyneham, who grew moustaches for Movember and then posed in 1940s uniforms for a group photo. It would appear the Station Warrant Officer was the man to decide what sort of moustache breached RAF regulations… and he was a participant himself.

You can see all 12 dashing chaps - plus vintge Dakota aeroplane - in more photos at this Zimbio page.

Better than a chocolate in your advent calendar, eh?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Plus sized vintage party dress ideas?


The office party is looming, I have finally conceded that I am NOT going to look good in a satin dress that's a size too small, even with shapewear, and now I am in need of a plus-sized frock of fabulousness, preferably vintage-style.

Any ideas? Plus points if you know of anything to fit 40-33-41 with a prominent tummy... (And don't say, 'diet'! I don't do the d-word.)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Yes, you CAN knit!

I've seen a few bloggers posting recently wishing they could knit. I'll let you into a secret: you probably can knit, even if you think you can't. I only learned at the age of 30 myself; six years on I'm making stuff which well-meaning people tell me, "looks bought, not hand-made at all." (They mean it nicely, so I leave their entrails intact...)

The thing that got me into knitting in the first place was wanting to make my own vintage-style clothing. I'm not going to lie: pre-1960s jumper and cardigan patterns aren't usually ideal for beginners. They use thin yarn (which means lots of stitches), have more complex shaping and frequently only one or two bust sizes are given, which are small by modern standards, so if you're above a 36in bust you're out of luck. This pretty chartreuse top from Stitchcraft April 1954, for example, is sized for 33-34 and 35-36in busts. That's all!

For absolute novices I'd recommend starting with a scarf, to get a feel for the basic stitches, then doing a couple of baby garments. Baby garments are excellent because they need a small amount of yarn, are quick to finish and use all the shaping techniques you get in larger knits, and if you don't have a nipper yourself there are lots of charities who'll happily accept baby clothes.

After that, you'll be ready to knit for yourself. If you want to dive straight in with a jumper, I can't recommend 'Such Flattering Puff Sleeves' from A Stitch in Time highly enough. The ribbing does all the body shaping for you so it's a tremendously simple knit, and because the rib stretches to fit, if you're a tiny bit out on the sizing it won't be a disaster. If you want more practice, try making yourself a hat or scarf from a vintage pattern. I've ordered patterns from The Vintage Knitting Lady myself, and she has a really good selection available as PDFs. The 1950s Alice Band Hats are particularly easy. Bedjackets are another good option. They may use a complex stitch pattern, but they're usually simply in shape, and if it does turn out a bit wonky you can tell yourself that anyone lucky enough to see you in your bedjacket won't be contemplating your knitting skills!

If you have a fulsome figure, resizing may be an issue (it's a problem I encounter myself). Older patterns often have complex fitting around the shoulders, so you can't use larger needles and hope to gain an extra inch or two – you'll end up with shoulders in completely the wrong place. If your bust is up to 40in, the Vogue Knitting Books from the 1950s onwards contain designs sized up to 38 or 40in. If you're larger than that, and a novice, I recommend making yourself lots of pretty accessories and sticking to modern books of resized vintage patterns. The number of these available is increasing all the time.

You can knit. You may not have the time to develop it as a skill, not everyone does. But if you do find yourself with a daily bus journey, or spending lots of time in waiting rooms, pick up some needles. All that time could, eventually, turn into the perfect vintage winter woollie.

One final thing: even if you can knit, it doesn't always mean you should

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

RIP, Ingrid Pitt

Ingrid Pitt, the star of several Hammer films, and one of the greatest British horror films of all time, The Wicker Man, has died. Most people know that she starred in some of the more saucy Hammer vampire films (often in limited amounts of clothing) and was very beautiful. What people often don't realise is that she was a concentration camp survivor and also a very talented actress, with her own theatrical touring company. She also wrote.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


I have been given a Lovely blog Award! Land Girl 198o gave me one a while back, and now I have one each from Lady Cherry Loves and Sailing Over A Cardboard Sea. I'm really pleased people like Crinoline Robot, because it's not pure vintage lifestyle and the odd bit of horror or science fiction will creep in. I just figured if I rambled on into the ether, at least I wouldn't see people's eyes glaze over, unlike when I launch into a lecture on The Goon Show or whatever in person.

I have to nominate 15 people for the award, but I want to nominate people who haven't already got one (otherwise some poor bloggers are going to find themselves scouring t'internet for obscure, un-nominated blogs soon as they've done this so frequently!) So, the winners are:

The Crafty Geek - knitting! Cross stitch! Science fiction!
The Vintage Kitten - English country vintage
Tea and Crumpets - Westcountry vintage and craft
Laughing Yaffle - Indie yarn dyer and all-round arty soul
Dressing Mrs Exeter - inspiring fashion and sewing

That's only five, I know, but these are high-quality blogs. No filler!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Adventures in the flatlands

I travelled back to Norfolk over the weekend as it was my mum's birthday. Most of the time we were out on the farm, which is an adventure in vintage in itself simply because of the things that have been accumulated over the decades. Mum has milk jugs hanging from her beams, and it's fun trying to guess the dates from the colour schemes and flower patterns. Likewise there are always old books and things about. This time there was a real old treat waiting for me as my godmother has given me her mum's copy of Knit With Norbury, dating from the mid-1950s if the pictures are anything to go by. The interesting thing about the book is that it frequently has one pattern shown using three different stitch patterns, you you can make a lot of knits using one fairly slender volume.

I will have to make more vintage-style Fair Isle berets as mum saw mine and wanted it. Happily there are six patterns in my 1960s leaflet, so I can make her one like mine but not the same.

On her Events page, Retrochick had mentioned a vintage fair at St Andrews Hall in Norwich over the weekend, so we dropped in and it gave Mr Robot a chance to revisit some of his old haunts. I am kicking myself for not buying a dress clip I saw and liked, but did get mum a little dragonfly brooch she wanted. I need to get over not buying things when people are with me. Vintage is my porn; I spend money on it when I'm on my own but not when other people are watching, and there were some handbags I liked too! It was a nice event, and there were some very well-dressed ladies there including one in a pretty Horrockses dress. It's so nice to be in a room full of people not wearing jeans...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Movember: William Powell

Time for a bit of gratuitous man-totty in honour of Movember. I have to admit, I'm not a massive moustache fan, mainly when they're not looked after 'moes' can be rather unpleasant things. However, one man who not only wears his moustache, but does so with panache, was William Powell. I bet he never tried to kiss a girl after marinating his overlong mo in beer and pizza...

Powell's career started in silent films, and right from the start he was on screen alongside some very big names: John Barrymore in Sherlock Holmes, Marion Davies in When Knighthood Was in Flower and Lillian Gish in Romola. He also played the role of George Wilson in the lost silent version of The Great Gatsby (one of the holy grails of silent film fans). His early talkies included The Canary Murder Case with Louise Brooks (one of three films where he played detective Philo Vance) and Pointed Heels with the prototype for Betty Boop, Helen Kane. However, none of those are the roles he's most famous for.

For me, William Powell will forever be the dashing detective Nick Charles, one half of the 1930s most scintillating crime-fighting teams. The other was his wife Nora, played by Myrna Loy. The duo made six 'Thin Man' films. In the shot here, he's testing out his Christmas present from his wife. Nick is a witty, hard-drinking charmer, wisecracking and fun, as at home in a low dive as he is in an upmarket nightclub or fancy restaurant. Of course, he needs wealthy, sparkling Nora to be seen to his best advantage – but who wouldn't imagine being Nora Charles with William Powell as Nick?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bobbysocks robot

The BBC has a wonderful story about a working robot being brought out of his creator's garage for the first time in over 40 years. Tony Sale trained pilots on the use of radar, and in 1950 built 'George' out of pieces of a crashed bomber. This is actually Mr Sale's fifth George and has light-sensitive eyes.

Mr Sale sounds like a jolly interesting chap; he was involved in the rebuild of the Bletchley Park Colossus and was a founder of the National Museum of Computing there. It's heartwarming to know he's kept George all these years.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Carey Mulligan to play Daisy

Vogue is reporting that Carey Mulligan has got the role of Daisy in the forthcoming film version of The Great Gatsby. I don't hold out great hopes for this film as it's got Leonardo di Caprio in – I know he can act, but I still find him dreadfully annoying. That said, I will watch it. Well, you have to really.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

M G Eberhart [books]

You may not have heard of Mignon Eberhart. I hadn't before I took part in a mystery and thriller-themed knitting swap. (I knitted a Maltese Falcon, which came out more like a Maltese Penguin, for my partner, she sent me a stupendous Poirot-themed tea cosy.) My partner also sent me a book by Mignon Eberhart because I enjoy both Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and Laura by Vera Caspary.

The two you see here were first printed about two decades apart, The Glass Slipper in 1938 and The Promise of Murder (also printed under the title Melora) in 1959, yet they are similar enough to be a good illustration of Eberhart's most famous style of story. Both feature a beautiful young second wife, married to an older, successful man. In each case there's a beautiful, chic woman closer in age to the husband involved in the couple's lives, usually making the new wife feel gauche and unwanted. I have other books by Eberhart, but the out-of-place central female character and luxurious settings are a constant, and there's always a good dollop of romance to counterbalance the thriller element.

I don't enjoy romances as a rule, but do enjoy a good crime novel, and find these interesting for the precise descriptions of women's lives, and what happens when crime enters the precise, elegant world of rich women. You get a sense of clothes, jewels and good manners working as both armour and prison. Eberhart's stories are quite feminine, a little 'soapy', and that's not a bad thing but I do think they'll be enjoyed more by women than men.

Like a lot of older crime novels, you may find these popping up in your local Oxfam or secondhand book shop, although I don't think they've been reprinted in recent decades.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

New 1950s-set drama

The BBC has announced that Dominic West has been cast in a new six-art drama set in a newsroom in 1956, the year of the Suez crisis and the start of the Cuban revolution. Looking forward to that.

I very much enjoyed the first episode of Edwardian Farm last night, too. The breed of sheep they had is very cute, and I'm glad they didn't use a chicken to clean the chimney!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A brief guide to vintage perfumes: up to 1940

 This is the first of three posts on scents that were formulated decades ago and that are still available. This is by no means an exhaustive list of vintage scents still in production, however is should give you plenty to explore if you’re looking for a scent to accompany your look.

All fragrances have been tweaked over the years, but I have tried to mention when anything on this list has been completely or controversially reworked. In almost all cases, my advice would be to buy vintage if you find it, after sniffing to check it hasn’t ‘turned’.

Don’t neglect classic flower scents like rose, violet and lavender, especially if your style is early 20th century. A bottle of one of these from Bronnley or Yardley can be really inexpensive and is a classic ‘nice girl’ scent.

Muelhens 4711 (1792)
The original eau de cologne, and great if you’re on a budget. This was popular for decades, so if you’ve got an eclectic wardrobe and only want one scent, this will go with everything and offend no-one.

Guerlain Jicky (1889)

Goldsmith Phul-Nana (1891)
Really gorgeous floral, slightly sherberty on the nose to start with.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee (1906)

Caron Narcisse Noir (1911)
Gorgeous, cold and often said to be disturbing, using orange blossom to convey the scent of narcissus. I own the EdT, and did think the descriptions were a little unfair, but then I realised it’s always the one I reach for when I’m going to a funeral. Gloria Swanson sprayed it all over the set of Sunset Boulevard because she felt it would unsettle people.
EDIT 2/3/16: This fragrance has been discontinued in some strengths, but I've seen the parfum still for sale.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleu (1912)
Wistful melancholy in a bottle, anise and violet at dusk. Worn by Diaghilev’s dancers. Retro-goths and pale, fading artists’ models, give it a go. You will notice from my photos that this and Mitsouko have the same bottle; it is said that one smells of the time before the Great War and the other of the Jazz Age afterwards.
EDIT: This has been heavily reformulated - in Guerlain's Champs-Elysees boutique they have sniffer jars for you to experience the original version, and the difference between the original and current versions of L'Heure Bleu is shocking.

Acqua di Parma Colonia (1916)
The one in the yellow box. Unisex; Audrey Hepburn and David Niven were among its fans.

Caron N’aimez Que Moi (1917)
Created during World War 1, 'Love No-one But Me' – soldiers would give it to their sweethearts.

Guerlain Mitsouko (1919)
Elegant, aloof, difficult. Frequently heralded as the greatest perfume of all time, and it is the one perfume I really couldn’t bear to be without, although if you’re buying/trying the current version, the parfum is said to be the closest to the vintage in scent. The Eau de Toilette is not especially good.
Some people find it easier to appreciate than to like. Worn by Diaghilev and Jean Harlow, whose husband famously doused himself in it before committing suicide. Catherine Deneuve drops a large bottle of this in Belle du Jour.

Caron Tabac Blonde (1919)
A tobacco-laden garconne, the girl you don’t take home to mother – unless you want to risk her running away with Mama! One for Blue Angels, ladies’ ladies and other femmes fatales…

Chanel No 5 (1921)

If it’s good enough for Marilyn, the ultimate aldehyde is good enough for anyone. Chic, ladylike and luxurious.
Chanel No 22 (1922)

Caron Nuit de Noel (1922)
Still available, but only in parfum.

Guerlain Shalimar (1925)
The current version always starts off a little nastily on my skin, but later becomes a pleasingly dirty, vanilla-laden scent, balanced with bergamot to prevent it being too sweet.

Molinard Habanita (1921)
Tobacco and flowers combine along with a warm scent somehow redolent of skin without being unpleasant. When I was in Les Senteurs once, the assistant said they sell absolutely loads to men buying for their lady friends. Very sexy, and the Lalique bottle is so pretty.

Isabey Gardenia (1925)

Isabey Fleur Nocturne (1925; originally called Bleu de Chine)

Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924)

Jean Patou Adieu Sagesse (1925)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Jean Patou Amour Amour (1925)
A modern version of this has been released under the name of Deux Amours; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Jean Patou Que-Sais Je? (1925)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I really like the original, which struck me as an unusual chypre with a hazelnut note.

Chanel Bois des Iles (1926)

Caron Fleurs de Rocaille (1933; not to be confused with Fleur de Rocaille, which is from 1993)

Coty L’Aimant (1927)
A 1920s scent that you can find in the cheapies section in Boots!

Lanvin Arpege (1927)
A lovely, ladylike aldehyde, my burlesque teacher fell in love with it because she said it smelled so clean.

Caron Bellodgia (1927)
Spicy carnation fragrance.
EDIT 26/1/13: This fragrance has been discontinued.

Jean Patou Chaldee (1927)
Long discontinued, Patou released a perfume called Chaldee as part of its Heritage collection in 2014, though I've yet to see any review comparing it to the original so can't comment on how authentic it's said to be.

Caron En Avion (1929)
Possibly an acquired taste – you may have worked out from my notes that I like challenging scents. There’s a whiff of metal in here as well as powder, as befits a fragrance inspired by air travel in the age of glamorous aviatrices.

Jean Patou Joy (1930)
Billed at its launch as ‘The most expensive perfume in the world’, a bold and possibly tasteless claim during the Depression, but justified by the amount of high-quality rose and jasmine it contains. Tasteful and rich.

Worth Je Reviens (1932)
Got debased over the decades, but was hauled upmarket again in the 2000s as Je Reviens Couture, which (I believe) you can get in Harrods.

Creed Angelique Encens (1933)
Made for Marlene Dietrich.

Guerlain Sous le Vent (1933)
Invented for Josephine Baker. Reworked a bit, but by all accounts still beautiful.

Guerlain Vol de Nuit (1933)
Like Caron En Avion, a tribute to the daring aviatrix.

Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass (1934)

Caron French Can Can (1936)
Made with the American market in mind, this is a constant flouncing of flowers, like the petticoats of can can dancers. And just a little bit naughty underneath. EDIT 2/3/16 I believe this is now discontinued, as it doesn't appear on Caron's website, but bottles can still be found at retailers.

Jean Patou Vacances (1936)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Schiaparelli Shocking (1937)
I once read perfume guru Roja Dove describe this as smelling like ladies’ underwear. Now, I have no idea how he came by the information to make the comparison, but it is definitely what perfume fans call ‘skanky’. (For what it’s worth, I love dirty perfumes.)
Vivienne Westwood wanted a modern version of Shocking when she released Boudoir, another ladybits-redolent scent.

Jean Patou Colony (1938)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I love the original, it's a deep and oakmossy pineapple chypre.

All photos were taken by my husband, and are images of part of my personal collection.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Secret Tea Party

Yesterday I went to the first 'Secret Tea Party' hosted by Mrs Stokes in Bath. I signed up mainly because I'd wanted some help with my hair, which is a definite hairdon't right now, and there were going to be stylists there, but the opportunity to have tea and cake too was not to be passed up. I mentioned it at work and on Facebook, and a few friends liked the sound of it, so while I had planned to go alone, we ended up making a nice little group of four.

The event was held upstairs at The Nineteenth House in Bath. It's a sort-of-new pub; it used to be a specifically gay bar, and now it's not, so while it's been there for years I'd never been inside (because I believe in allowing people to have 'safe' spaces and didn't want to intrude, not because of prejudice). With silver trays on the walls and bold wallpaper it felt both modern and old fashioned - very suitable for an event like this. Catherine of Mrs Stokes had further decorated with vintage tablecloths and napkins and beautiful mismatched china on every table.

Jess, Lu, Andrea and I had a table to ourselves which was ace as it meant there was none of that awkward 'Will they all think I'm a terrible guts if I eat another sandwich' anxiety. If my friends had thought I was scoffing all the goodies, they'd have said something. We started with a glass of champagne each, but after that there was tea.

As we had tea, Gem Lye, burlesque dancer and founder of The House of Go Disco agency, demonstrated one way in which she does her hair. After that there were vintage makeovers. One of the stylists was Inma Azorin, who does the styling for some of our photoshoots at work, but I've forgotten the name of the other lady so if anyone remembers, please tell me in the comments! [EDIT: Her name was Lou (thanks Catherine!), and you can see the sterling job she did on my barnet at the bottom of the page.] There was also the opportunity to purchase china – if you're looking for a pretty gift Mrs Stokes' boxed giftsets are adorable. Only a surfeit of china at home kept me away from the 'Tulip' teaset!

The whole event was really lovely. The atmosphere was great, and there was a nice spread of ages too. I had feared being in a room full of gorgeous 20-somethings, but instead I was in a room full of gorgeous many-aged-somethings. Everyone had put in effort with their clothes, and after walking through Denim Hell (aka the new shopping centre) earlier in the day it was nice to see so much prettiness.

On my table Lu wore a black dress with white polka dots and a patent belt, Jess had a cute grey dress with a black velvet bow at the front over a long-sleeved black top, Andrea had a sarong dress from Vivien of Holloway (Inma found a flower to go in Andrea's hair that matched her dress perfectly) and I went 30s-style in a calf-length black and white herringbone skirt and my recently completed 1938 jumper, with a pearl and green enamel four-leafed clover brooch and pearl earrings to match.

I really think the tea party showed that this area has a hunger for pretty, vintage-feeling events. Catherine plans to host more tea parties, and there's a regular burlesque night which I believe Gem organises. World, the ladies are coming!

Photos are: Our table

Jess (left) and Lu (right), pre-makeover
Jess during her makeover with Inma (I really wish I'd got one of her afterwards as she looked stunning.
Andrea, post-makeover
Me, looking smug because I've got curly hair that doesn't look 1970s for once!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Cat's Meow [DVD]

The Cat's Meow got a fairly poor reception on its release, but it's one of my favourite modern films. It's based on Hollywood fact and Hollywood legend. The fact is that newpaper magnate William Randolph Hearst took his mistress, the beautiful actress Marion Davies, plus a number of other Hollywood types including Charlie Chaplin and Louella Parsons, on a yacht trip. Guest of honour was Thomas Ince, a film producer, whose birthday it was. Ince was taken ill aboard, and died ashore the following day. The official story is that Ince died of a heart problem; Hollywood legend has several tales, one of which is that Marion Davies and Charlie Chaplin were having an affair and Hearst, in a fit of rage, shot Ince thinking he was Chaplin. There's a write-up as part of Ince's wikipedia entry. That's the story portrayed in The Cat's Meow.

The casting is fantastic. Kirsten Dunst's Marion is simultaneously flirtatious yet loving, a woman on the verge of having an affair while still feeling great affection for Hearst. Eddie Izzard's Chaplin is a charming rat. As Hearst, Edward Herrmann plays a powerful man, terrified of losing Marion despite all his power in other areas. At first there's a feeling of lighthearted fun, but things slowly become more serious, more frantic.

The costumes are almost all in black, white and silver; director Peter Bogdanovich wanted to film in black and white but the studio wanted colour so he turned to costume designer Caroline de Vivaise to help him create a more monochrome look.

Well worth watching if you find it - I bought my DVD from HMV.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Secret Tea Party

This weekend I am going to the Secret Tea Party, hosted by Mrs Stokes. I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm hoping someone can suggest a hairdresser who can sort out my mop. It's a bit long and straggly, and whenever I try pincurls I end up looking like a refugee from Studio 54 – and while the 70s look may be hot next season, it's probably my least favourite decade of the 20th century, style-wise. Anyway, I've never been to this sort of event, so I'm hoping it will be fun and happy with good music.

Working out what to wear has been easy: my new 1938 jumper, plus a pencil skirt, which I will buy this lunchtime, and the nice shoes I bought from Office last month. If only decisions were always this simple!

The cup is one currently on sale on Mrs Stokes' website.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Happy Halloween/ Quatermass

It's my favourite holiday, so as usual I've done nothing for it. I am up to my ears in urban fantasy/paranormal romance novels, but that's for work and not really Crinoline Robot territory anyway.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Anno Dracula by Kim Newman [books]

This is one of my three favourite books of all time, and a fitting alternate history to write about in Halloween week. (My other favourite books are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré and The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald.)

To give you an idea of why I love this book so much, I’ll relate the opening.
Jack the Ripper is recounting, to his phonograph, the killing of his latest victim, a pretty foreign prostitute with her hair in a shiny black bob. Wham! In that one opening scene you have Jack Seward, the doctor from Dracula, as Jack the Ripper, in the final scene from Pandora’s Box starring Louise Brooks. Fictions and fact all colliding in one scene.

The book’s premise is simple: instead of driving Dracula away when they caught him with
Mina Harker, the vampire hunters wavered and Dracula escaped, killing Van Helsing in the process. He seduced, made young and married the grieving old Queen, and as the book opens London is a city where the undead are commonplace. Lord Ruthven is Prime Minister, vampirism is becoming extremely fashionable and in the East End someone is murdering undead prostitutes. The Diogenes Club, under the leadership of Mycroft Holmes, send in their agent Charles Beauregard, who teams up with vampire Genevieve Dieudonne to uncover the murderer (two of the few characters who are completely original to the book).

If you have any affection for Victoriana and vampire stories, even if you hate this novel you will adore going through it and picking out the allusions. I was especially pleased to note Raffles teaming up with Moriarty, and the word ‘Basingstoke’ always makes me smile now, but every page contains something to please and it gives the story an incredible richness. It’s like getting all one’s favourite things in one wonderful package.

The book you see here is my own, bought in 1992 and very battered. It's been signed by Mr Newman - usually I'm not prone to 'fannishness', but in the case I had to get the book signed.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

My style icons: Colleen Moore

“I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth and Colleen Moore was the torch.”

So said F Scott Fitzgerald. Strange, then, that the girl who helped shape the look of a generation should be forgotten today. This photo is a postcard from my collection; when I bought it the chap who sold it to me told me most people picked it up thinking it was Louise Brooks, then put it down when they realised she wasn’t.

Why is Colleen one of my style icons? Back in the late teens and very early 20s, the flapper as we know her didn’t really exist. The term ‘flapper’ existed, the waistlines of dresses were dropping, and bob haircuts had started creeping in during the late teens, but weren’t especially common, but there wasn’t really a definining image of the flapper.

In 1920, curvy, long-haired Olive Thomas made a film called The Flapper. Sadly, Olive died later that year, probably a suicide. Had she lived, she probably would have been the first choice to play the lead in the 1923 film Flaming Youth. As it was, slender Colleen Moore got the role, chopping her hair off to convince the studio she was right for the part, and that film got girls reaching for the scissors all over the US. She may not have bobbed hers first, and I do think there were other actresses who wore theirs better (no-one will ever approach the perfection of Louise Brooks, in my opinion), but Colleen turned the bob from a curiosity to a craze. For that reason she ought to be better remembered as a style icon.

There is one little thing Colleen did that I won’t thank her for, but should probably be acknowledged: as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, she was the first celebrity to put her name to a perfume. ‘Colleen Moore’ perfume and cosmetics usually came in packaging adorned with shamrocks as she had Irish ancestry. Here’s hoping it smelled better than some of the dubious brews current celebs have a hand in.

Colleen continued to play flapper roles for several years (I would argue vigorously with the Wikipedia entry for Colleen Moore that suggests Moore’s flapper career was over by 1924 - the filmography is incomplete and misses out titles such as Synthetic Sin, Painted People and Why Be Good, plus she was voted the biggest box-office draw in the USA in 1926, above the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, hardly an actress whose career was over. I fear an overzealous fan of another actress had a hand in the entry about her...). Eventually she retired without losing all her money in the Wall Street Crash, and living to a ripe old age. Her story is a happier one than many a star’s, and that’s probably one of the reasons why she’s been forgotten.

Colleen is a style icon for me personally because she may not have been a great beauty, nor was she an outstanding actress, but like Bernice in the F Scott Fitzgerald short story Bernice Bobs Her Hair she showed that all a girl really needs is a nifty hairdo and a bit of spirit… Got scissors?

I had a little site devoted to Colleen back in the early noughties. I’m no longer with Blueyonder but the site remains. It’s a little out of date now, but you can find it here. The best thing is, the lost film list is out of date in a very good way! Her Wild Oat has been shown at film festivals in the US in recent years. The best online collection of photos of Colleen is at

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Vintage week, penultimate week in October

The biggest thing for me this week was getting my second batch of vintage knitting and sewing magazines. In the first batch were some damaged Stitchcrafts – the front and back cover had become detached from the main pages, and separated from one another. I've had fun working out which front and back cover goes with which set of pages. This 1947 issue has a pattern for a really pretty lacy bedjacket. I've been considering making one for loafing around in as my Victorian house can get quite cold in winter.

I also discovered that Mrs Stokes, a vintage china retailer, is going to be having an afternoon tea event in my nearest big city, Bath. One of the magazines at work has bought cups from her to use as props. Anyway, my hair has lost what Cheryl Cole would call its mawjaw so I thought going to the tea party would be fun and possibly get me some pointers as to where I can find a salon locally that can do vintage styles. I'm a bit nervous about going as I am not really sure what to wear, and some of my workmates are thinking of going too. This could be the green Mary dress' first outing!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Would anyone like...

The Vogue Knitting Book I bought at Ally Pally (see here)? I've just been given another one in a box of magazines, so the one I bought is now going free to a good home.

It's from 1959 and patterns include:
Jumper in reverse stocking stitch with cables down the sleeves and front and around the polo neck. (34-40in bust)
'Sailor' jumper, shaped like tunic with V-neck and false stripy front inside that (2-in-1 effect, 32-40in bust)
Three-colour ski sweater (32-40in bust).
Fichu-necked lace bedjacket (30-44in bust)
Dolman-sleeved dress (32-40in bust)

Patterns are not what you'd think of as epitomising the 1950s style, rather they're in that 1950s/1960s crossover area when garments stopped being so hourglass in shape but before mod patterns and colours crept in.

First to say they want it can have it - just reply in comments and then email me a postal address (could be your work one if you don't want to email your home one).

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

This week's telly

Enjoyed Gatiss' History of Horror on Monday much more than the previous week, possibly because he sees the value in Hammer films, whereas many people just seem to laugh at them. I think for me the stalk-and-slash of the 1980s films, coupled with the shift towards splatterpunk in 1980s horror fiction, is what turned a lot of people off the genre - it's certainly not my favourite aspect of horror, although the current 'misunderstood monsters only want twoo wuv' style comes extremely close, and if you gave me the choice between watching all the Friday 13th films and all the Twilight ones, I'd be in for the long haul with Mr Vorhees... Anyway, returning to the 1950s-1970s, I really loved the amount of attention Gatiss gave to Peter Cushing, and only wish there had been more time for Christopher Lee and Vincent Price. I hope someone does a documentary on Hammer's sets and costuming one day; Victoriana was out of fashion and so a lot of what you see on screen is authentic.

I had meant to watch The First Men in the Moon last night, and did manage the first half and then fell asleep. Mr Robot reckons I missed the best bits. It's not as bad as the time I went through a phase of falling asleep at the cinema, but annoying nonetheless. (The worst time was dropping off just before the end of Hitchcock's The Lodger, which I'd wanted to see for years and was the third film in a Hitchcock triple bill at the local tiny cinema, although struggling to keep awake during Terry Jones' presentation of Life of Brian was quite embarrassing as we were in the front row and he must've noticed.) Thank goodness for BBC iPlayer!

Monday, 18 October 2010

1930s-inspired design award

Like knitting? Like the 1930s? And are you a fashion student over the age of 18? If so, and you fancy entering the Knitwear Designer of the Year award at Clothes Show Live, the deadline for entries has been extended until this Friday, 22 October 2010. I thought I'd mention it here as the theme is 1930s glamour, and you don't actually have to submit a finished design at this stage, just a sketch and, if you like, swatches, mood boards and so on, so it's manageable within five days. (As a student I know people who cranked out a dissertation in a week...) Click here for full rules and a downloadable entry form.

The Young Knitter of the Year award is open for 13-to- 18-year-olds to enter, and for that they have to design – again, just submitting drawings at this stage – an accessory for their favourite celebrity, so if you have or know a teen who's mad about Marilyn or crazy for Audrey, get them to enter. Same deadline, entry form and full rules here.

Disclaimer: I work full-time for one of the magazines promoting this competition, but am not personally benefitting from this post in any way.

More televisual horror/ SF

A quick reminder for tonight and tomorrow - more History of Horror plus Brides of Dracula tonight, plus Mark Gatiss' adaptation of HG Wells' The First Men in the Moon tomorrow. (Given that I am frequently disappointed by his stuff because it's so close to something I'd love, I shall be prepared to watch it anyway. It beats the mind-numbing awfulness of yet another telly talent show.)

Brides... is a Hammer film. I love Hammer films. A lot of people are unable to see beyond the fact that they're old enough to look dated, not quite old enought to look stylish, but many of the early ones were actually very good. There's no Christopher Lee, but Peter Cushing is there contributing restrained elegance as always.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Scavenger Hunt!

Land Girl 1980 has challenged me to a scavenger hunt. I have to find and post things. Because I'm not very good at using the interweb, and I don't want to find myself stealing anyone's bandwidth or infringing copyrights, I'll mostly be posting links.

Your favourite YouTube video
It's not on YouTube, but this Flickr video of a Pallas kitten and a domestic kitten always makes me smile.

A pic of something that will make people go 'aaaw'
My husband took this picture of a rabbit at Lacock.

A funny T-shirt
What can I say? I don't wear T-shirts (and it's also been nearly 20 years since I stopped wearing jeans) but I do like cricket. If I did wear T-shirts, this is good.

Something geeky
I freelance for these chaps. Professionally geeky!

An image from your favourite film

A picture of something on your wishlist
I don't really have a wishlist. I would like to travel more, though…

(This is part of the Plaza de Espana, built in Seville to promote trade between Spain and America. The Expo was in 1929, the year of the Wall Street Crash. Trade was not stimulated, but the park, and the wonderful buildings in it remain.)

Friday, 15 October 2010

Waltz on the Wye [event]

Waltz on the Wye is a steampunk event being planned for next year in lovely Chepstow. One of my friends is helping to organise it, so I confess to complete and uttery cronyism in mentioning it here, although as steampunk fits in with CR generally it shouldn't matter. (If I start talking about another friend's Tango Tanning Party, feel free to call me out...)

There is chitchat at Brass Goggles.

I mentioned it to Mr Robot, although he's not into this sort of thing generally, and got 'I suppose we'd better find a Victorian camera,' as a response, so we may be going!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The gods of vintage really have smiled on me! [clothing]

My designer friend dropped off the first box of magazines she has for me this morning - mostly 1970s but with some 1950s there. The earlier magazines are in another box that she will drop off next week. She wasn't kidding when she said I'd need a car to get them all home. Enough about magazines, though: she included a



1930s DRESS


An act of incredible kindness. It once belonged to a member of her family and I will give it the care and respect it deserves. I love her designs, because they are always classic but with a feminine, graceful touch that makes them special – devoid of any hint of vulgarity. Clearly good taste is in the genes!

Edited to add a photo of the dress: I have tweaked it in Photoshop to try to bring out the lines of the fabric as black velvet is a pig to photograph. This skirt is actually quite full at the bottom, but being bias-cut it falls very straight unless there are hips in the way. The sleeves are around elbow length, perhaps a little longer, with ruching for about 3 or fou
r inches up the outside - looking inside the sleeve there's a strip of firm ribbon (petersham? grosgrain?) about 1/2 inch wide along which the ruching is done. The cowl neckline doesn't go all the way around, it appears to be separate fabric put in at the shoulders, fixed where you see the roughly vertical folds and then dangling free. It has a self-fabric belt with covered buckle, but I undid that for the photos. The front waistline appears to be cut in ever such a slight 'm' shape; the wave is very subtle.

And to counteract all that gorgeousness, because you shouldn't be overloaded, here's a 1970s poncho.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A History of Horror [television]

It's October, and the BBC seem to be bringing out the vintage horror, which suits me, sir. However, watching A History of Horror, I couldn't help wishing that they'd had someone other than Mark Gatiss doing it. Kim Newman, say, or Sir Christopher Frayling, as then it might have lived up to the name.

Gatiss loves horror, and appears to love an awful lot of vintage film and literature, but last night's programme (the first in a series of three) was sketchy at best, and entirely devoted to Hollywood film so it wasn't even a History of Horror. It doesn't even qualify as a History of the Hollywood Horror Film because it was so roughly done. The silents are all but ignored (he only really discusses The Phantom of the Opera, and the great Expressionist German horror films aren't even named.) In the comments on the decline of Bela Lugosi's career his work with Ed Wood and the British film Mother Riley Meets the Vampire aren't mentioned. You simply can't ignore the impact of the Germans on the Hollywood horror film of the 1930s because film crew fleeing repression in their home country brought a lot of Expressionist style to Universal horror films. All those wonky angles in the Frankenstein films, for example.

Not a good beginning to the series, but I will be watching the others nonetheless simply because it's so rare to get much vintage horror on telly.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Smells like teens spirit…

…or, a very rough guide to vintage perfume.

Lady Cherry did a lovely post recently about signature scents, and I was a little surprised to find myself the only person to name vintage scents, so I thought I'd try to do some speedy posts on perfume for people who want to get the scent, as well as the look, of their favourite era. However, first I'd like to get a couple of brief things about perfume out of the way.

Doesn't it go off quickly?
Not as quickly as people in the scent-selling business would have you believe! Over the years the 'top notes' - the freshest bits, such as citrus notes - will go first, but kept COOL and IN THE DARK a scent can stay wearable for quite some time. I put cool and in the dark in capitals because these are the critical things in prolonging a perfume's longevity. If you have a scent you value, keep it in the box, out of the sun and away from the radiator. Perfumistas are swapping scents bottled in the 1960s and earlier as I type this, and I myself own bottles bought in the late 1980s that are still good. Increased regulation of ingredients and reformulation of some classics means that some scents are actively sought-after in older formulations, especially Rochas Femme, Guerlain Mitsouko and classic Chanels.

I don't want to smell like an old lady
Get off my blog!

Seriously, it really gets me down when I see some of the finest perfumes ever made dismissed simply as 'smells like an old lady' by people for whom the height of sophistication is whatever mass-market syntho-scent is being shoved onto high street shelves. Some of the finest contain oakmoss, an ingredient that adds a certain 'dampness', and nowadays it's heavily regulated and so an unfamiliar quality. Some contain tiny quantities of 'dirty' smelling ingredients, completely at odds with the current trend for cleanliness in scent. There's nothing wrong with not liking vintage scents, but at least find the words to describe why you don't like them.

How will I know what I like?
Where possible, sample. You'll be surprised how many classic scents are still around in Boots or your local department store, so it's easy to pop in and try Miss Dior, Chanel no. 5, Lanvin Arpege, the classic Guerlains, Estee Lauder Youth Dew and so on. Because of current ingredient rulings (which are being tightened all the time) some of these are ghosts of their vintage selves, but you should still get an idea of what you might or might not like.

Perfumes are often divided into 'families': for ladies, chypre, floral and oriental are the classic divisions. However, I personally find that just as fashion falls into eras, so too do perfumes, and I'm happiest with fragrances from any family from the teens to the late 1930s, rather than going for a particular family. You may be the same. You may find one 'house' - Guerlain, Caron, Balmain etc. - has a style you particularly appreciate. Sampling will help you work out what you especially like.

Just as you can't usually find good vintage clothing on the high street, perfumes from some houses can be harder to find than others. In that case, try buying samples online. My favourite perfume shop is Les Senteurs in Belgravia; they stock a couple of Molinards, including the ultra-foxy Habanita from 1924 in a Lalique-designed deco bottle (I own a bottle of pure parfum; ay caramba!), the Isabey fragrances recreated from the 1920s, all the current Carons, which I will talk more about in another post, Robert Piguet perfumes, Creed fragrances (not available to purchase as samples, but you can go into the shop and try them on) and, oh the excitement, the Grossmiths, which have been relaunched this year from vintage recipes. For the gents there are the Creeds, Knize and D'Orsay - deco gents, do not miss the opportunity to try D'Orsay Le Dandy from the mid-20s.

A good, although pricy, source of samples and decants (larger-volume samples) is The Perfumed Court. I bought a sample of all the Jean Patou Ma Collection scents from them, and have spent the years following desperately trying to track down bottles of my own! This is definitely a good option if you're keen to try, say, a really broad selection of fragrances by Dior or Chanel, including some of the rarer ones which are still made but might require a trip to a boutique to buy. Be warned, though, if you do choose ones from the Vintage/discontinued list, you may fall in love with something you'll never find again.

Hmm, that wasn't so brief after all. In my next post, I'll try to cover perfumes from the pre-1920s, by decade, to the 1980s, focussing on ones that are still available so you can find them if you want to.

NOTE: I don't get free perfume from anyone. The chance would be a fine thing…

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Crinoline Robot's vintage week

This week the gods of vintage have smiled on me, oh yes!

It started off normally enough, with a book: The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. It's a crime novel, with Albert Campion looking into why someone might be impersonating his widowed cousin's husband, who was a casualty of war. I really enjoyed it, if only for its non-saccharine portrayal of post-war London, including a ragged gang of beggars left homeless and, in some cases, disabled from the war, and with a heavy fog over the city. The story is fairly predictable, and the villain's name made me laugh because someone with the same name was later a very famous musician so I couldn't help but picture him in the story. However, it's got a cast far from your usual crime novel and was much more enjoyable for that.

That looked like it on the vintage front, but on Friday I went to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. On the train up I cast on Such Flattering Puffed Sleeves. I dropped by the Arbour House stand hoping to see lots of the goodies from A Stitch In Time 2. There weren't as many of those as I'd hoped for but all the items from the first volume were there, and it was great to feel them 'in the knit'. (I would love to know what moisturiser Susan uses, every time I see her I swear her skin glows! I was horribly sweaty, which is what happens when a lardy lass forgoes the courtesy bus and walks up the hill to AP, and that was quite embarrassing. Oh well. I'm sure I can't have been the only clammy monster after that hike.)

There was a stall there selling vintage knitting and sewing books, which is where I picked up the little 1959 volume pictured at the top of this post. It cost £9, which is rather more than I paid for the other volume of Vogue Knitting Book I own, but as I wasn't buying yarn I thought I'd treat myself. Then I spotted a 1930s embroidery/needlework book. I have one (shown here) and this was another from the same family, but with more homewares. £15. It's a good job I was working a stand, because that meant I had time to sit down and flick through it - and lots of pages had big holes where pictures had been cut out! Had it been one cut-out I'd have lived with it, but there were at least a dozen ruined pages. Back I went and got my money back.

However, one of the knitwear designers I work with dropped by the stand, and saw me gleefully waving my knitting pattern book about. She asked me if I liked old knitting and needlework books. "Oh yes, I've got them on my Christmas list."

And she said…

Wait for it…

I still can't believe it myself…

"I have an enormous pile under my desk at home and I don't use them? Would you like them? I can bring them in but there are rather a lot; you'll need a car to get them home."

I won't quite believe I'm getting them until I've got them, but this makes me so, so happy. I offered to pay but she doesn't want money so she's getting a gigantic box of Lindt chocolates whether she wants one or not! I often give away stuff to people I know will treasure it, I can't be bothered with eBay and would rather see things go to a genuinely loving home, and she must feel the same way about these patterns. Still, the gods of vintage have smiled on me!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril [books]

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril is one of the books that puts the 'robot' in the 'crinoline'. I love alternate histories, tales of 'might have been' and suchlike. Author Paul Malmont is clearly a massive fan of the 1930s pulps. In it, two pulp authors, Lester Dent (creator of Doc Savage) and Walter Gibson (creator of The Shadow) relate to a young, less successful writer, L Ron Hubbard, the story of Chinatown's Sweet Flower wars. Meanwhile, in Providence the least successful writer of all, Howard Lovecraft, is dying after a trip to a mysterious island… not that a little thing like death can stop HP. (These aren't the only writers who pop up as characters, but I won't spoil things by naming the others. Spot them for yourself!)

The chapters relating the writers' adventures are interspersed with the story of a Chinese warrior, and as Gibson and Hubbard look into Lovecraft's demise and Dent tries to find out the real ending of Sweet Flower's story and the Dragon crosses the ocean, the tales meet in a wonderful climax in New York's Chinatown.

One problem with the pulps for modern readers is their attitude towards people of colour. I'm not Chinese-American, or of any Chinese ancestry, but I do feel that Malmont, while creating a work of pulp with all the exaggeration that requires, has also tried to create rounded Chinese characters. (If you have read this book and feel otherwise, please do say so in the comments because I'm well aware that there are things I might not be spotting.) The one character who is unreservedly 'bad' in the old pulp mould is an American soldier, and he features very rarely.

This is a great book, and if you're looking for a Depression-era adventure with plenty of pulpy action, I recommend it unreservedly. I adore films of pulps - yes, definitely Doc Savage: Man of Bronze and even The Shadow - and really wish this one could make it to the silver screen,