Sunday, 31 October 2010
Thursday, 28 October 2010
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.
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
“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 SilentLadies.com.
Saturday, 23 October 2010
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.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
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
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
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.
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
Friday, 15 October 2010
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
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
MADE BY ROECLIFF & CHAPMAN.
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!
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
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
Saturday, 9 October 2010
This week the gods of vintage have smiled on me, oh yes!
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
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!)
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
It's Halloween this month, and I love Halloween, so many posts will have a spooky feel. Who better to start off with than the Woman Who Has It All?
The look: Long black hair, flashing eyes, long nails, porcelain skin and a wiggle dress fit for a funeral.
As style icons go, I’m willing to bet that Morticia has had more influence than Lily Munster. She definitely has on me; I first dyed my hair black at 19 and am still trying to break the habit. Although Vampira slinked her way across the screen first, Tish is older. Charles Addams began drawing a slender, black-clad, morbid lady in his New Yorker cartoons in the 1930s. (In fact, Vampira came into being in the 1950s after Maila Nurmi wore a Halloween costume inspired by the elegant Addams ladies to a party.) Whether the ladies were intended to be a 'character' or were all of a type I don't know, but when the television series came into being they were distilled into one brunette beauty, Morticia Addams. Several actresses have played her on stage and screen, but the first screen Morticia was Carolyn Jones
Thinking of words to describe Morticia, ‘slinky’ springs to mind, and part of me wonders if that’s where she scores over Lily M - that and a decidedly more intelligent and appealing husband. After all, Lily wins hands down on the hair front with her dramatic streak of white, and Yvonne de Carlo was a real beauty, but a pink empire line dress is never going to beat a tight black number, so for pure style Morticia wins.
At first glance, Morticia doesn’t seem to be of any era, but that’s the power of a slinky black dress. In the 1930s, she’d probably have worn a bias-cut, and her hair in the drawings does have a hint of a wave, albeit longer than was fashionable. Come the 1950s and she’s in a wiggle dress with hair pre-empting 1960s trends. This lady’s look has staying power!