Friday, 24 September 2010

London on Display: The Museum of London.

Main Entrance.
Not everyone who reads this blog is a 'Lunduner', some haven't been here (why not? get over here and buy me a drink!) but this is a London blog even before it is a vintage blog. But in my mind the two are very closely mixed. Londoners like their city a bit manky and ravaged. We really don't mind the odd dead pigeon or scuttling rat. Those who plan clean shiny places for the city very rarely come from the capital. London will however envelop all comers if they let it, in a grubby affectionate beer - stained hug. Whilst it is without doubt an elegant city, its curmudgeonly shabby edge exaggerates glamour where it is found. We rub along in big crowds of individuals annoying the hell out of eachother until someone turns on us and suddenly finds they are facing a peculiarly united front.

Roman floor mosaic
These impressions were brought into sharp relief by a recent visit to The Museum of London who have recently spent millions on new displays covering the late 18th - 21st centuries. If you haven't visited this museum close to the Barbican centre it is worth a trip not least because it is free. London's history is fascinating and broadly characterised by extremes of wealth and poverty, a strong survival instinct and a creative vitality. This provides the museum with a fantastic story to tell, the problem is there is so much of it and the museum's space is not adequate. This means it can have a crammed in feel, prompting the need to rethink it's displays.

Part of the original Roman/Medieval London Wall next to the Museum.
The earlier galleries are aided by the archaeological riches this city seems to provide across pre-modern periods. The place is really a boggy receptacle ready to receive and preserve the detritus abandoned sometimes in panic but mainly in disinterest. Londoners are it seems inveterate litterers. There are not many other cities where a back garden dig can be so illuminating (and dangerous). Roman coins, pre-historic flints, bits of human bone and the odd unexpected world war II bomb turn up with a regularity that keep the Museum's  research staff very busy. The displays on the mercantile development of the city, it's international character and bewildering variety of residents, bad habits, creativity and the disasters it has survived provide riveting subject matter. It is also an overly wide remit. I have always thought that London needs several new museums devoted solely to medicine, crime and policing, the Thames and commerce. In the case of the Museum of London their earlier displays always seemed more assured as if they were unsure how to proceed with the city's more immediate less archealogical past.

Costumes in the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden display.
An effect has been made to redress this with new galleries. The Georgian one is wonderful, with bits on trade, the abolitionists, furniture, habits and poverty that really bring the Londoners of the period to life. The one covering the pre-second world war period is also a definite improvement.  An old London cab, wonderful clothes and deco lamps are featured and the mini film show reel was fun. Particularly the image of the flapperesque couple dancing on top of a car travelling through London. I particularly appreciated the display on the suffragettes. I didn't however appreciate the old chap laughing at Miss Pankhurst's recorded speech and shaking his head in amusement - ladies should I have whopped him on the head with my handbag there and then? The best gift in the museum shop was in fact the suffragette tote bag, think I'll buy one of those. Not so sure about the idea of a Suffragette themed tea towel though.

Part of the pre war London display.
The galleries representing recent London history were however unsatisfying, there seemed to be a reluctance to dive in properly as was the case in previous displays. I'm an Art Historian by degree and expected a concentration on post-war recovery, particularly housing. Sadly a half hearted effort to do so was demonstrated by a trendy interactive display about development and the river. A message to curators, in BOLD: INTERACTIVE DISPLAYS ARE HIJACKED BY KIDS WHO DON'T UNDERSTAND THE DISPLAY BUT MESS AROUND WITH IT, DRIVING AWAY THE ADULTS AND BREAKING IT, so kindly less of the lights and computer whizz jigs. Oh and I fail to see why a model of some trendy arse squat of victorian houses was more relevant than say the Aylesbury Estate or Tenements or Docklands redevelopments. Most working class Londoners live in council estates and I would have liked a bit more on the feel and history of them rather than some arty artists representation of them.

Add 20 screaming kids and the display doesn't really work.
I also anticipated a real emphasis upon London's 20th century contributions to  theatre, art and design, youth movements and music. These latter elements are the things that have really coloured the city and it's conception of itself.  I expected a continuation of the themes running through the earlier displays: of trade and resulting migration, of conflict with authority, of creativity. I expected the Windrush, the closing of the Docks, Vietnamese Boat People, the Brixton Riots, the Dockers strike, CND marches, IRA campaigns, Soho in the fifties, slum clearance, Punk, The Thames Barrier, Black Monday and so forth. These elements were there in part but the general conclusion and focus was that London now was an entity completely different to it's previous incarnation.  Yep, the wooly fluff that is the dreamy idea of multicultural London was the focal point and it was claimed that London is suddenly a completely different city to the one it had been previously.

A model of some squats occupied by artists and musicians.
So Roman London was the same as Jacobean London? And all those black people in Southwark in the 18th century and Jews and Huguenots in the East End in the 16th century played no part? And my own very mixed ethnic London ancestry counts for nothing because only new people have made this particular London I live in? London is shaped by all the communities that arrive here; equally London shapes them, that's why we can genuinely describe it as an international and cosmopolitan city. And this has been the case throughout all of London history as is shown by the entirety of the previous displays.  And some twat wants to go changing what it is into what they would like their fantasy London to be.

The modern display was deeply patronising and in feeling the need to demarcate West Indian, African and Islamic Asians as a new or different kind of Londoner it was also quite racist. The 'unfashionable' groups were left out, Indians, Chinese, Jews, Portuguese and East Europeans barely factored. There was an inference that without these particular migrant sectors London would not be London. Certainly it might not be the same London but it would still have been here, and we cannot say whether the new communities have had a positive or detrimental effect. Who knows? history should make you think about what has really happened not maybes. I thought it was lazy and lacked the historical vigour in all the previous displays.  The display even ended in a display of largely horrendously poor art work, a look at the names of the artists and their locations revealed that there was more tokenism on the go here. There was also very little on leisure activities such as the pub, the footie, the dogs or even sitting in the Park. Just a lot of guff about festivals.

I was also intrigued by a reticence to address what is undeniably the secret engine that drives London; The City. Where were the displays and tales of it's excesses and the banking sector? The Museum is funded by The City and perhaps they were reluctant to display their own recent history. It is also a disgrace that whilst crappy art works are in a bright room the Lord Mayors Coach is in an ante room, despite being the most famous object in the Museum.

Tucked away in a side room, the Lord Mayor's Coach.
All in all, it is a thumbs up to the whole place and the first part of the new galleries. The modern ones just annoyed the hell out of me (could you tell?). And thats not just because they made me feel old. This is because an object I actually own ( a Crass ep) is actually on display. Mind you I feel like a museum object myself sometimes 'cantankerous South Londoner, female, provenance unknown circa 1965, please do not touch'.
You know you are old when the contents of a museum display case look so familiar...
It is a museum full of wondrous objects, I love the Roman bits and bobs, the displays of debris that are displayed in glass panels under your feet and the dresses in the Vauxhall Pleasure Park section.  I am also aware of the fact that one's view of one's home is subjective so my opinion is just that. However  I feel the MOL should follow the Imperial War Museum's approach in dealing with difficult subjects and just tell it as it was.

Comments welcome as ever! x

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Fashion trends from a vintage view point...

In case any of you have been so far into the 1940's (or in A&E like me.. a long tiresome story) so as not to have noticed it has been London Fashion Week. By definition the 'looks' the fashion media have been tossing to us mere low level consumers are already yesterday's tinned tomatas. For a more cutting edge and indeed informed view of what is happening I direct you to the indefatigueable Katie Chutzpah's and Lee Clatworthy's posts on her excellent blog.  I thought however I would turn my jaded vintage peepers upon a few of the fashion 'stories' being sold to us and consider from the vintage point of view, whether they are fairytales or nightmares? So lets start:

1970's glamour, Charlie's Angels, Camel. I am aware that some eejyots will describe this as a vintage look. It isn't. I'm not the right person to comment on this as I remember with a shudder the clothes of the 70's. Fair enough the designers are not really channelling nylon knitted tabards, flares and clogs Croydon circa 75. Nor were designers in 1975, but it can easily come to that. This is a look that is really limited to the tall, the thin, the blonde and the American. Because it all seems to be pale and tasteful and browny/beigy. The other problem with it is that it needs luxe fabrics and will look cheap and nasty with a High Street sheen.  On the positive side a good 70's camel coat was a quotation of 40's and 50's coats as worn by Grace Kelly et al. If you are blonde and slim one of these could look splendid with your pin curls.  The other possible good result of this trend is the era's interest in borrowing 30's nautical looks; there may be some decent wide cut trousers, stripes and cotton out there. I quite like 70's jewellery, but that is just me in non-vintage mode.

The chunky wooly aviator style jackets and gillets are also in fashion again. These make you look like an inuit and if you have breasts it looks like you have been stuffed into a bit of roof insulation. Grazia has said that made cheaply they will look terrible and coined the phrase 'Chaviator Jackets'. But the whole point of high fashion is it's money making spiral into low fashion and if it can't look ok on a pretty 14 year old who has bought it from a stall on East Lane as a mass look it is a curse.

VintageVerdict: Not too good, might be some cruise wear type stuff and wide trousers. Odd decent coat. Otherwise pretty useless (the Studio 54 vibe would be better by far).

The 'new' minimalism/simplicity. No and before you ask I have no idea what the old minimalism was, when you think philosophically about it, minimalism can only be, well, minimal.  Funnily enough I have a soft spot for this kind of stuff. It is not really minimal, just stripping away the frills and furbelows so we can appreciate the fabric and shape. I'm not a fashionista so I am not interested in the 'construction', they mean the pattern cutting and sewing? Why not just say sewing? I digress. Simplicity gives you choice, a full vintage red lipped maquillage and set hair is set off well by simple classy silhouettes.

Simple shapes can work well for vintage tastes, they may seem very modern but the 30's and 50's were as much about shape and block colour as embellishment. For me a 40's or early 50's suit is more about shape than anything else. When these minimalist items hit the high street (if they do) the coats and jackets will work brilliantly with pencil skirts and a Lea Stein Brooch and reasonable mid range manufacturers should be able to make a decent fist of it.  

Vintage Verdict: Depends on the wearer, I like boxy and assymetrical styles in charcoal grey. As a top to toe look it might be severe, but then again what's wrong with severity, it's not all little darling buttons, lace and frou frou after all.

The New Lady-like, back to the Fifties or more simply put: Mad Men Rip Off. This would appear to be a no - brainer, pretty Horrockses style dresses with waists and unusual colours and fabrics. The only problem is that fashion predictably went for the least stylish and most fashion friendly of the Madmen ladies: Betty Draper, glacial, improbably thin, blonde and stupid.  So the dresses are all sleeveless, or they will be when they hit the High Street. 

I'm thinking that if we look at the staider quality High Street brands such as Planet or Alexon there may be some very good fifties style dresses and suits cropping up. I fear that what will happen, and has already happened as for once the designers were late with this trend, is that the waists will be too high and wide (can't see girls getting into support garments) and the volume entirely reliant on waist gathers rather than fabric yardage and pleating. Still can only be a good thing, I have already noticed some nice fabric patterns on the racks other than the hideous digital prints that have been plaguing us for the last year or two.
Vintage Verdict: Good for vintage lovers although we are unlikely to be spoiled for choice.

I'm going to follow this up with an Autumn/Winter 'vintage' fashion season round up, any makers or designers or companies out there who have ideas of what their vintage Autumn/Winter look will be please contact me or send me an image.

Comments are as ever welcome, 'specially as I am temporarily an invalid : (

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Far Pavilion Party Guests

August in Mayfair's Salon D'ete, reviewed here, wonderful photos with pretty French ditty at website below. Red Legs is lurking in a couple of 'em. xx

Monday, 20 September 2010

Being a Dickhead is Cool?

Some of you will have seen this clever and artful ditty on You Tube by now. If not please see below. I know some people reading this are outside the UK (Hi there!) and may have not understood my references to 'Hoxtonites' or 'Hoxton Twatkids' or Shoreditch Hipsters. This person, usually young  self-consciously hangs around the fashionable London areas of Dalston, Hoxton and Shoreditch. These were previously and indeed in part are still scuzzy rough East End suburbs inhabited by the urban poor and any new group of Immigrants, presently Bangladeshis.  However the cheapness and the presence of essentially attractive old industrial buildings attracted artists in the 80's, who attracted the fashionable. The artists and cutting edge types now infest Peckham in South London for similar reasons. This has left East London expensive and attracting a certain kind of monied young person seeking artiness and a percieved sense of danger or edginess.  This song parodies them mercilessly:

I love parody but I am not one hundred percent comfortable with distinguishing one particular group to abuse. The Goth - bashing that culminated in Sophie Lancaster's murder grew from jibes and contempt directed at Emos and Goths. I am certainly guilty of comlaining about Hoxtonites, they particularly grate with Retro fans because they have enthusiastically grasped the idea of 'Vintage', got it wrong and then made it their own. The hipster is behind the skinny jeans with suit jacket concept that grasped the country's imagination and resulted in wholesale vintage suit armaggedon! The girls pay a fortune at Rockit and Beyond Retro for complete tat, push all the prices up and when they do get something wonderful butcher it to a silly skirt length. Mind you, it's their right but it's my reason for rankle. As a group if they were obviously motivated by some musical enthusiasm, some stylish current or some downright form of rebellion of creative ferment I might moan but I'd back them to the hilt. Otherwise I definitely would be like my parents were, the 21st century version of moaning about New Romantics or that terrible Siouxsie Sioux hair do....

I feel however that what this You Tube video is truly lampooning is that this is a group of people who for all their claims to originality only truly want to belong to the establishment. They are not disimiliar to the working class child who aspires to media celebrity.  It's not like the posh kid listening to the Jam and dreaming of messing his parent's world up in the 80's. You ask one of these girls what they are about and you get a full CV.  These are people who want a line of jewellery but don't want 3 years at art school learning how to do so. These are bloggers (?!), people who promote things, basically it is an alternative to the Gap year in Africa planting trees.  Ask any young person of the  past what they were up to and you could have expected at best a grunt, these people will go into great verbal detail.  The closest equivalent group I can think of is the Sloane Ranger, a group defined by class, aspirations and a dress sense but not much else except for a sense of entitlement. The Sloane was at least a giggle.

But is this a reason for ridicule, and surely they should be welcome to wear what they choose? behave and act as they wish?  The answers to these is a resounding yes.  The Hoxtonite however can only expect to face ridicule because as a group they court the media and the media feeds on them happily. The Hoxtonite idea of style is tied in the clothing ranges everywhere from BHS to Topshop. The look of most young white teenagers is affected by their taste. This is conscious, the children of Home Counties professionals and London's urban media chatterati they want to be looked at from outside, admired for their edginess and are happy to be commodified.  They are unlike Teds, Mods, Punks, Goths and New Romantics who dress for each other and are more comfortable in places full of their own kinds.  The figureheads for Hoxton Style and fashion are glib and in secondary media roles: dj, promoter, graffiti artist; even their venues are pop-up. 

Their exclusivity is not from belonging or understanding but from appearing to be something, something easily digestible to the mass media. Their prised quality is irony, the things I love they use ironically. They wear belts and braces because it is ironically working class, they hang horns on pub walls because they are ironically rural. But they are not ironic about themselves.

They can therefore expect to be ridiculed as much as any subculture but without any community to fall back on.  Even this would be no justification to be unpleasant, it is just that, and I know this is a generalisation but they do tend to be as a group to be very rude and bargey. It's as if manners are not fashionable. Punks, mods and skins are polite. Most people are. But from unhappy experience a few groups of Hipsters will make a happy atmosphere frigid. They also stare, because although they seek attention anyone who does look different seems to count as a freak or as decoration for their evening. And they are cliquey.

I'm not going to say that all Hoxtonites are dickheads, nor that I entirely agree with picking on them. Right here I am making it clear that plently are probably lovely and their are plenty of bitches in any environment. Sadly however it was going to happen sooner or later that the finger of mirth would point   at them and this ditty is, hilariously, spot-on.

What do you think? Am I being unfair? Should men in taches wear sharp suits? Is this funny or mean?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

SS Atlantica, vintage cruising on the Thames.

My Saturday started with a far from unusual ‘hair disaster’. The demon 1960’s heated hair rollers that had provided a perfect set on a previous night were used again. I planned frothy curls, yet for some bizarre reason, when used on Saturday several sections came out poker straight. I blame North London, perhaps it is the water? I always look rubbish when I get ready there. In any case I had five minutes to rescue my appearance and instead of youthful feminine curls ended up with a severe Wallis Simpson up-do.

I was attempting to impress with my tresses in anticipation of ‘SS Atlantica’. This is organised by the people who run the ‘Blitz’ night which I haven’t been impressed by in the past, not due to the ents or music but the crowd; far too many ill-mannered Hoxton twatkids. A bit of me felt that spineless door staff, the need to make a buck and ultimately a location in Shoreditch all worked against that particular evening. A pick-up point by the Thames and numbers limited by very strict river passage laws could prevent this from happening at the SSA. Also the idea seemed to be to recreate a thirties cruise feel and I had never seen the banks of the Thames by night. Thus I found myself standing beside the Savoy Pier at 9pm waiting for a boat that wasn’t there. I was however in very stylish company, the ladies resplendent in long dresses and the chaps suave in their black or white tie.

The Silver Sturgeon

We bundled on the boat at high speed determined to establish a cocktail base camp although ultimately we needn’t have worried, those boarding quotas meant the boat was full but not overly. However we were, vitally, right besides a bar. The boat’s interior was swish and modern, not particularly deco in itself but classy. In any case a couple of portholes is all you really need to conjure up a period feel and the craft was definitely more first class White Star Line than HMS Peculiar. There was a dance floor and two decks and plenty of softly lit booth seats by the windows. A selection of themed cocktails were available at about the £7-8.00 mark but the bar prices were more reasonable than those in their stationary equivalent.

Bar and 'our' table for the night.

Entertainment was provided courtesy of Uke Chanteuse Tricity Vogue who provided gutsy renditions of 30’s standards and more recent ditties given a vintage spin. Aside from this there was a casino and DJs spinning the shellac. The thirties tunes were peppered with crowd spinners such as Glenn Miller’s tunes (the vintage equivalent of ‘Come on Eileen’ and ‘YMCA’). There were only a few hard core lindy hoppers and jivers, which was surprising as there are few things as glamorous as boat based twirling. Plenty of people dancing though.

The bearded one and I preferred to sit and relax, with occasional trips outside to check for marauding pirates. Generally people had made a real effort, there were of course a couple of fancy-dress flappers and a few stray sloanes but I didn’t see any jeans and there were a couple of splendid maritime uniforms. The ladies largely wore long dresses and stoles which is as it should be, those not attempting period dress were in a minority. One of my favourite lines of the night, directed at a lady in an uninspiring wrap around mini dress was a muttered ‘it’s not a bloody toga party’ from the laconic Mr Choy. There were other murmurings about men wearing ‘bally hats indoors’ but other than this everyone looked smart. A couple of the frocks had me seriously contemplating… theft.

Suave gents..

Our view whilst moored.

The boat actually didn't set off until close to 1am, some nonsense to do with tides. The act of actually moving made a difference, there is something extremely glam about hoofing on a moving boat and the Thameside looked extremely pretty by night. Many carousers went on deck to enjoy the spectacle and we moored for a while by that decorated cake of a bridge, Tower Bridge; all spruce after it's recent scrub. This was definitely classifiable as a good night out and I look forward to the next one when I will obtain a stole (I can bring my self to wear wabbit fur) as the London night may be glamorous but is also nippy!

For photographs (my camera is being replaced as it has given up the ghost) please see Helen Love's flickr stream: here

Friday, 10 September 2010

Nailed! gel fingernail extensions are go.

My nails are small, neat, and would grow into perfect little long ovals if I spent my life being waited on by turban-wearing silk-gowned handsome young men and had an army of slaves to carry out my smallest whim. Alas rather than being ‘she who must be obeyed’ I am ‘she who is very cack-handed’. A combination of clumsiness, the tragedy of having to earn my keep and to be frank sporadic drunkenness, means that left to their own devices my nails break. My nails are prima donnas, they will break at the worst times almost on a whim. In recent years I do not remember a time when I didn’t have at least one stubby broken nail. When most of the others are long it is like having a broken tooth, but on your mitts.

My maxim in most things has always been, if you don’t have it: fake it. The alternative artificial route for nails has been for years not particularly effective. Those silly little stick on bits of plastic for example that are even more delicate than delicate nails. I recall hearing various horror stories: the girl on a date that ran her hands through her chap’s hair, leaving most of her fake nails behind, or the woman who accidentally melted them into a blob whilst barbecuing. More recent technology such as the acrylic tips glued and melded onto nails looked bulky and required upkeep. A ridge in these nails between acrylic and nail bed looked like a positive furrow. There are also horror stories about acrylic nails being caught and the real nail being ripped off along with the fake one. Ouch.

I had therefore written off the idea of artificial nails until talking to a vintage inclined friend. She sported a lovely set of neat shiny nails and I was envious. It transpired they were false, or rather enhanced. These were ‘gel’ nails. A resin is applied over the top of the nail which forms a barrier. Nails can still be lengthened, a thin acrylic tip is attached and the gel applied over the top to bond it. The technology involved was developed as a side effect of orthodontic developments. Some of you might be surprised to hear that the brand name of, for my money the best nail varnish ‘OPI’ actually stands for: ‘Odontorium Products Inc’ as the company originally produced dental products. There is quite a history of co-operation between dental and nail practices, but would having gel nails be as painful as a trip to the dentist?

Advertisement for gel nail products.

The advantages of gel nails are apparently that they are thinner than previous nail enhancers, extremely strong and very natural. As a transparent coating the nail underneath can grow so you see the natural nail tip beneath. Although they still require regular visits (every 2 weeks or so) to fill in the space at the base as it grows this is not too obvious, especially when camouflaged with a deep red varnish. My friend’s nails looked so good I thought I would, for the first time in my life give the nail parlour a visit.

I’m based in London and not being able to afford the travel, time and expense of a top notch West End Salon I opted for the inner city cheapo version. There are constants to these it seems. They are staffed by Vietnamese nail technicians and pepper some of London’s rougher streets. They are cheap but not necessarily cheerful. Typically there is a row of tables on one side of the room and a row of foot baths on the other for pedicures. Usually you can drop in but most will take appointments. Many only take cash, and a few are rumoured to be money laundering operations for organised crime.

Glamourous Tooting, Elizabeth Arden it ain't!

So what is the experience actually like? Well it is not a spa, rather the idea is quick, cheap and basic. Most of the staff have very basic English, so “u wa ha” means “please wash your hands”. Usually a manager is more fluent. Whilst having your nails done dramatic expressions and flourishes of conversation will pass between the Vietnamese staff none of which makes any sense. You cannot help wondering if they are talking about you. It is all distinctly down market. However the technicians get on with their job in a brisk manner and if you don’t need small talk are perfect. If you use the same place a few times they get friendlier, talk a little about themselves and the sense of humour and camaraderie between them becomes clear. There is also an obvious pride in their handiwork despite the fact that they work hard and I imagine are not highly paid.

Once seated your fingers are aggressively shaped and smoothed with a series of little electric sanders which grind your cuticle into oblivion and you may find your fingers and arms tugged and moved around. They are not delicate and there can be the occasional ‘ouch’ factor, it has to be said the nail ladies are a bit gentler than the boys. Then the powdered resin is added to some kind of acetone like chemical liquid and the technician very skilfully dabs and paints it over the nail. It solidifies very quickly and the process always fascinates me. Then there is more sanding and shaping followed by your chosen nail varnish, and an interminable wait for them to dry under a nail dryer. This is only leavened by the opportunity to stare at the ‘nail art’ options available displayed on hundred of little painted nails hanging on the walls. Some are grotesque, Burberry checks, encrustations of gems and Chanel links. Others, such as the art deco sprayed fans are almost tempting. Finally you escape, £18.00 - £20.00 poorer plus a generous tip to the technician (it is how they make their living).

Burberry checked chavtasia

But these are almost appealing

There are negative elements to the process apart from the time and expense. The salon can be wearing, I hate seeing rows of women having old skin sanded from their feet. Euww! The place I use fortunately has the manicures sitting with their back to the pedicures. In some places hygiene levels would not satisfy the fastidious. Although as there is no blood involved, plus hand washing and tons of vicious chemicals I feel the chance of infection is lower than shaking hands with a baby. In any case British nail salons have to be licensed which involves meeting basic safety standards. The social atmosphere varies, at it’s worse it will be stuffed with loud ladies yelling into their mobiles and their offspring stuffing their faces with MacDonalds in the waiting area.

More often it is a melting pot of sorts attracting a surprising variety of customer. Clients range from those wanting simple tasteful French manicures to the full Sarf London talon; painted, an inch long and accompanied by several tattoos and a lot of gold. You get groups of ladies in hijabs having their nails done, women off on holiday and brides to be, young girls being treated and jolly mums escaping from the kids. It can be very convivial, the nail dryer wait is boring and conversations over the driers pass the time, as you can’t read and the nail display rapidly loses its appeal. I have been given sweets and heard various snippets of people’s lives and frustrations. It is a also a delightfully feminine environment and the male staff have to endure a certain amount of teasing, most of which they don’t, fortunately, understand.

The wall of nails.

The result, of course is paramount. I do emerge with the most perfect nails. They look neat and very natural. Although they feel odd for the first 20 mins or so they soon feel like your own nail. Additionally they become very hard and resilient, typing, picking at labels and all the things that might break your nails simply don’t. Another massive advantage is the varnish they apply. Something magical in the way they do it means it simply doesn’t chip. It may be that the gel nails don’t bend or move as much as natural ones. This is a real blessing, the colour literally stays put until it wears off, and then it is feasible to simply paint another colour over the top, as the nail surface is so smooth. The disadvantage is that they do need to be filled in every couple of weeks although if you go in for a repaint for a fiver, they smooth the gap down which can extend this period. Also you have to have the resin ground down in the salon if you want it removed and for a while after this the natural nail will feel and be a little weak.

Ultimately you do get lovely nails, which are tough, will not chip and look natural. However they do look so neat with their perfect cuticles that your friends rapidly grow suspicious. You can also be ambitious; things such as vintage style half-moon nails are easy for the nail parlour but very tricky at home. It is also nice to be able to completely change the looks of your nail from month to month. I have noticed however that not all salons are equal; some make the gel nails a bit too thick for my liking. The place I use now, ‘Gigi Nails’ in Tooting have a lighter touch and make the tips thinner which although not looking any better are more natural. In short I would recommend gel nails if you have the time and money to spare and want pretty digits.

Any questions/comments would be delightful. I hope everyone is well and looking forward to their Autumns! x

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The vintage fingernail.

Nails are a curious thing, I’m not a terribly well groomed person. My deep aversion to mornings, particularly work mornings mean that I manage little more than earrings, brushed hair and clothes. But I always feel bad when my nails are bad. Perhaps it is because they are ‘in my face’ or rather right in front of it.

In terms of vintage wear they are very much a 20th century item. It makes sense really, the commercial nail varnishes were a spin off from the manufacturing and chemical industries making use of new chemical colours and substances. There is nothing remotely natural or earthy about varnish, reflecting a brash new mechanical age nail varnish is the most futurist of cosmetics.

A very late 20's style nail.

The story is that Revson, later Revlon invented it, using car paint enamel. The stuff sounds as if it was invented by Mr Burns from the Simpsons: nitrocellulose, camphor, phthalates and formaldehyde are some of the substances lurking in that jewel coloured little bottle. But it does smell appealing in its own glue sniffy way.

Initially considered highly vulgar painted nails became popular along with the emancipated woman and saw their popularity soar in the 20’s. However they always had a hint of danger, no femme fatale worth her pearl handled pistol would be without scarlet talons. Some believed they were worn to hide dirt under the finger nails and that they were tacky. This persists in the conception of long decorated fake nails as ghettotastic or chavvy. Others suggested that they were responsible for the eventual demise of the glove. I don’t agree with this as it seems the carefully removed glove revealing impeccable manicure was a staple of 50’s femininity.

Fifties elegance from Chanel.

So what of the vintage nail? well colour wise the 20’s and 30’s seem to have been the most interesting and there seems to have been a return to these shades. Chanels recent cult dark purply blacks and pale greens would have been familiar to the fashionable 20’s/early 30’s lady. Off-shades, somewhat gothic were the most popular, reflecting the affection for a perceived bright new world. At this point white moons at the base or/and the tip were the norm.

Examples of thirties 'half-moon' manicures.

The nail painted one bright colour is rumoured to have been worn for the first time by Rita Hayworth but this may be a myth. What isn’t imaginary is that sleek shiny red nails were THE nail of the late 30s,40s and very early 50’s when more candy colours joined their scarlet cousins. These morphed into the opaque pastels of the 60’s. The shape however has rarely moved away from a delicate sleek oval; squared nails are modern and I think,ugly.

I wish magnetic personality nail varnish was still on sale...

Long nails are a pain, try undoing a pin, unfastening earrings and picking coins up and threading needles whilst brandishing them. Very long nails are on the freak/tastic repellent fault line. But longish ones are lovely and drip with predatory glamorous femininity. Like shoes, hair and glasses anyone can have glam nails. But they are a faff. Whilst I think they top off a vintage look superbly, I’m not sure the chaps adore them, but since chaps adore the most peculiar things that is no reason for not growing them. So c’mon ladies, lets cover our sofas with spilt varnish!

Nails gone wrong....

Please comment: Do you have a favourite shade? Any nail hates/loves? xxx

Sunday, 5 September 2010

brighton rocks.

For those who aren't British and don't know Brighton, it is a rather remarkable seaside city less than an hour from London by train. It has several remarkable things. One is it's Pavilion, a palace built by George III in Indian style and decorated outrageously and insanely. Please see insane and outrageous photograph below.

Yes, Red legs had been drinking and it was late when this was taken!

The place is a grand mish mash of Georgian and Victorian flamboyance. For example this ornate seagull perch.

It has a wonderful pier, the place is set up for family fun but also very louche. The presence of a large gay community ensures a liberal tolerant attitude. Pride is a good time to go straight, gay or whatever (and I know a lot of whatevers).

There was another pier but it burned down, piers have a habit of spontaneously combusting under mysterious circumstances.

There are a few good deco buildings but the Luftwaffe didn't destroy Brighton so it is mainly 19th century.

Don't know why this is outside Hove Museum but I liked it....

I also liked the Museum Tea Rooms...

Although in reality this is Red legs idea of afternoon tea, a scotch egg, a bottle of Samuel Smiths Raspberry fruit beer and some curry mayonnaise.

And this is Redlegs idea of a night cap(at the Hotel du Vin).

Brighton sunset, almost as good as Waterloo.

Room in the Beach Pad, highly recommended for location, cleanliness, simple clean stylish decor and not putting up with crap from noisy holiday makers. Also you have your breakfast in neighbouring cheerful cafe, much better than dire silence in someones basement dining room!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Vintage dating

Vintage romance at the click of a mouse?

I am always initially surprised when I meet someone alternative who has a partner who is conventional in appearance. I say ‘appearance’ because they can turn out to be as mad as a bag of cats once you get to know them. Appearance is, of course not everything, shared interests, attitudes and downright magnetic attraction play a part. But, at the end of the day, is it better to end up with a man or woman from the same ‘scene’?

This begs the question of whether there are disadvantages to leaving the fold and ending up with someone who does not share your interests? The cynical might answer that simply by being male they have all kinds of bizarre alien tendencies. And men seem to think we all pick on ‘em, despite being the gentle creatures we really are. The answer seems to come down to whether they get ‘it’ rather than style. A fifties style Betty with a skate dude may work because they are both involved in a subculture. Vintage forums however often detail the travails of being with someone who doesn’t get it. This seems to be particularly confusing not to mention worrying in the case of a man who pursues a vintage minx and then claims not to like her ‘old-fashioned’ hair. Surely he noticed you reminded him of his ‘nan’ when he first met you? Even worse is the man who insists on saying he likes the ‘natural’ look and winces at red lips and foundation. It is nice that a person likes you scrubbed and bare but that they should not like you without the slap? Understandable in the case of a tangoed Jordan wannabee but not in relation to a woman who loves old-fashioned glamour. The bleating request for ladies to look fresh and the comments in magazines about girlfriends looking sexiest when wearing their partner’s old shirts makes me squirm. Of course the irony is that these so called natural girls are often higher maintenance than us, just look at Jennifer Aniston.

Psychologists claim that men like make up less women because they look more ‘girlish, younger and fertile’. Hmm, the feminist in me adds, ‘vulnerable, controllable and docile’. Vintage ladies adore being in control of their image and to be honest none of the retro-centric women I know are doormats. Perhaps, because vintage, and indeed all sub-cultural people stand out, men in particular feel vulnerable to embarrassment and comment as they are particularly prone to peer pressure and how the lads view their romantic partners. I can understand this just a little if their utterly conventional miss morphs into a Dita von Teese in front of their eyes. If they were sensible they’d be delighted but change is difficult. Many couples split up for example when one of them loses weight.

I personally find there are real advantages to sharing life with someone who at least to some degree shares your vintage tastes. My partner and I do not like exactly the same things (cricket?..yawn!) but we can rely on often wanting to go to the same places and events. Moreover when you meet a vintage partner’s friends you are more likely to get on with them and should it get to a ‘meet the parents’ stage you are also unlikely to horrify them. Once living together the idea of buying a wooden-globe cocktail cabinet will not cause major rifts. There will be no arguments over what music to play as neither person would darken their Itunes play list with rap or grime. Conflicts when they arise are amusingly vintage: the washing of delicate silks, the boyfriend’s flat is infested with moths or when drunk she covers his clothes with Mac’s Ruby Woo. Then there is the time he couldn’t walk for a week after spearing his foot with a heated roller clip and whether that cocktail should really contain egg white or not. Also, vitally, a vintage chap will never ever shame you by rolling up in front of your friends in a pair of Nikes, cargo pants and t-shirt with a picture of a monkey on it. This arguable narrowness of artistic taste is reflected by a wideness and liberality of attitude. I very rarely meet a homophobic, racist, sexist, fascist vintage type; all qualities that are relationship deal breakers for me.

The problem is that it is difficult enough to find a romantic partner anywhere, let alone a vintage romantic partner, especially if you don’t live in a big city. There are events but you can end up being a gooseberry, or perhaps you’d rather just have fun with friends. This post was prompted by the announcement of a new, UK based website for finding vintage/retro orientated dates and friends called FromHere2 Eternity. This could be a good solution for some. I know the people behind it are reputable and it is currently free whilst being beta tested. This kind of thing depends on the people who take it up but the site makes it completely clear in both text and visual design exactly who it is aimed at. It's strap line reads:

'Welcome to the worlds' first vintage dating site. Specially designed for lovers of rockabilly, swing dance, re-enactment, burlesque, tattoos, vintage lifestyles and anything with a vintage flavour.'

On-line dating and internet formed relationships once had a tarnished feel but no more, I know of several people including my self who would not have met their other halves without strolling along the interwebular boulevard. Also as the vintage world can be tight knit I think any iffy individuals would soon be discovered. I’m not single but I am horribly, horribly curious about how you would word a vintage lonely heart? Heres my effort:

‘flame haired forty-something female non-smoker and good time gal seeks hat wearing gentleman with gsoh and a moustache for nights on the town. Must love dogs. Interests include 20’s, 30’s and 40’s art and design. Enjoys swing music and cocktail shaking. Could you be the one to make my pin-curls curl and my victory rolls roll? No cat owners, vegetarians, Tories or trainer wearers. Time wasters welcome!’.

How would you describe yourself on a vintage dating site? Comments are as ever welcome especially if you decide to give this site a whirl!


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