Monday, 27 February 2012

Tea at Vien Vintage

I have had some technological problems, my little Mac and BT broadband wireless does not get on which means it is impossible to upload my photographs. But I have decided to press on regardless.  Recently I have found myself spending more time in Crystal Palace.  A bout of flu, tiredness and a certain sense of ennui have taken over. I couldn’t even get myself to Soho last weekend which shows how bad things have been. Even the V&A Cecil Beaton late event couldn’t get me South of the River!
Steadily the Palace continues to get better from a vintage point of view and I like to pop up for lunch, mooch about the markets and vintage shops then grab a glass of wine at one of the many pubs. Recently I have bought a brand new Royal Worcester egg cobbler in a charity shop, a lovely pair of vintage earrings in Haynes Lane and a Stratton compact case with a design of top hat and gloves in Vien. Yesterday I saw a fantastic 50’s occasional table with a design of cocktail shakers and martini glasses; if only I had a home to put it in! If I get my own house I could decorate the whole place from the Palace’s pavements and yards.

Vien vintage interior (photography copyright design for life blog)
The Palace is not, mercifully, the East End it; is so much nicer and has a communal bohemian feel that has been eradicated in many other areas. As a result many businesses seem to have a social purpose as well as a commercial one. Bambino’s the bric a brac and collectable shop now spews people drinking coffee and nestling amongst the second hand items spread over the street.  Vien has opened a small, chic tearoom into the back of its store on the same road offering a more refined but equally welcome chance to refuel.

Tea room Vien Vintage
I popped into Vien yesterday, it can always be relied on to have some good vintage stock and I am keeping my eyes open for a fifties day dress, something that on my last few visits they have  had in stock. Unfortunately pulling the dresses aside I managed to demolish an entire rack of frocks! Still they were very nice about it, and I took the opportunity to sit down, catch my breath and have a nice cup of Earl Grey.  Sadly they didn’t have a dress for me, there was a lovely mint never worn and still labelled fifties German day dress which I liked but my cheese eating habits meant the waist was a tiny bit too tiny.  As ever with the vintage market it is a case of repeatedly popping in to see what turns up. It was nice to have a chat with Vivien Bartholomew the proprietor and dealer who runs the place. I have been known to be unkind about vintage clothing dealers but Vien charges the right price for the clothes (many around the £50) which are clean, carefully chosen (no kilo sale raids here) and honestly presented. I’m also appreciative of  a lack of preciousness because whilst there are plenty of authentic collectable vintage pieces (including a beautiful 30s/40s patterned navy day dress) there are also a few gothabilly fifties style new items. In addition, for about £80.00 there are some twenties inspired dresses made from antique lace and vintage fabrics which I was impressed by and that are made under Vien’s own label. I have never seen any reason why new, reworked and vintage should not be side by side as long as the provenance is clear; I think it works.

Vivien, Vien proprietor in her shop.
On Sunday I will be in the Palace yet again, having my marmalade hair set for a wedding fair (the closest I expect I will ever get to matrimony!) and I am hoping the sun will be shining again. Yesterday the view across London was lovely (the second highest vantage point in London) and the place was full of locals enjoying their drinks in the sun. 

Vintage Vien online shop: here
Vintage Vien Samadhi tea shop: here

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Bad times may be just around the corner - but we could just cheer up!

Various controversies rage and then go away and rear their heads once more. Body image, sexism, ageism are things that are like an itch, we scratch ‘em but they keep on coming back. The problem is that in seeking to find a plaster for every sore we often miss the point and in my case there are always a lot of ‘sore’ points. In the general scheme of things our gripes as  western woman are indeed minor compared to our sisters in more difficult regions of the world, on the other hand those women are not what we should be comparing ourselves to. We should compare ourselves to the situation of blokes, here, in our own country.  But we don’t, we compare ourselves neither to less privileged women nor to everyone else but to each other and then find ourselves lacking.

Time perhaps to stop hitting ourselves over the head, to stop being miserable and to stop sharing our miseries automatically and electronically with the whole world. It should be share the love and laughs, not share the angst and ennui. I’m not referring to when things go really pear shaped and a bit of a rant, a few tears or bit of sympathy from your mates is required. I’m also not talking about clinical depression or bi-polar conditions. These are ironically more common than our parents or our grandparents would have admitted yet actually far less common than we think. A very few of my friends suffer from these and they know who they are. I am becoming a bit frustrated at a fashion for misery in those who are really just, well, living life. Because, like most fashions it rubs off and really, as so far this year has been a bit rubbish I could do without it. We all have to deal with real causes of unhappiness, illness, bereavement and broken hearts. Why freak out over life in general, our looks and our perceived ‘lessness’? Could we not be magpie like and select some vintage attitudes to match our best frocks? I am of course cherry picking here but why not? We cherry pick the positive things stylistically from the past all the time.  So here goes, inspirations to ‘woman – up’ from the past, I would be interested in anything anyone would add:

The 1910’s.  The Suffragettes saw being feminine and feminist as flip sides of the same shilling. I think they would be horrified to see young women starving themselves on purpose for their looks when they were on hunger strikes or being force fed for equal rights. We need to register the fact that the current government are very particularly attacking women and get angry about that, not the fact we have bingo wings, are not slim enough or have the odd wrinkle. Being a woman is a bloody good thing to be, adjustments not required.

The 1920’s.  Mass unemployment, depression and the realisation that industrialisation and capitalism could make you poor as well as rich. But it was also an age of speed, of deco, of style and the Charleston.  Sod constantly worrying about mortgages, salary freezes, lack of promotion and austerity, pour a drink, put on some jazz and dance. We have the whole world to listen to and dance with.

The 1930’s.  Most women still lived proscribed, limited lives as household drudges. But the movies and their stars offered glamour and escapism and it began to rub off on female expectations. Heroines in films were sassy and even ambiguous.  Finding your man was still important but being a journalist, a writer or an artist was also desirable. Using your brains and your talents still is, more important than glossy locks or a toned botty. Women in the 30's dreamed of escaping, we have every opportunity to do so.

The 1940’s. War, deprivation, death, rationing and possibly the most miserable period possibly to be alive in and what did our nans do? Rolled up their sleeves, put on their red lippy, danced to Glen Miller and fought a war. All we have to do is stop whinging and stop allowing ourselves to be down trodden by elements who, to be quite frank, are a lot less intimidating than the Nazis.

The 1950’s.  Society tried to put us back in our domestic box. But even the WI rebelled over rationing and government strictures. New fridges and ovens turned out to be helpful but really not enough to fulfill women who’d built bombs and put out fires. Jazz clubs, rock n roll, teenagers and beatniks appeared.  Proved that if you have the chutzpah you can wear a big fluffy dress, a bullet dress and still kick ass. So why are we now apologising for our femininity and allowing ourselves to be either coerced into fabric coffins or dressing our daughters up in a million shades of pink?

The 1960’s. We may have been over sexualised but at least it was our sexuality. The pill gave us the chance not to become mating machines and the legalisation of terminations gave us some choice over our futures. Don’t fall for the biological clock myth and become a mother if you want to, or not.  All this deranged depilation, obsessive tweaking, branding and face carving is a sign that certain interests want us self-hating. Why sneer at wags and ex-glamour models when there is so much else that deserves a bit of hate? Female mutilators and people traffickers for example?

The 1970’s. An age of Watneys beer, sexism, violence on the terraces and power strikes. Yet the period also say women running governments, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher.  The chance to slug beer from the bottle, wear big boots, pierce your nose and stick your fingers up at anyone who didn’t like it was grasped quickly by some. But although it seems like some kind of Gene Hunt peopled nightmare decade it also saw a steady increase in female presence in almost all spheres accompanied by a Spare Rib tendency to shout at inequalities and a stoic strength. We spend so much time looking inwards we are taking our eyes off of the ball here. Glass ceilings, lower salaries, sexual harassment and lack of representation in business and politics are not what women in this decade anticipated 30 years on.

The 1980’s. Two major recessions, the Miners’ and Dockers’ strikes. Things were grim in the 80’s. At the same time they were wildly imaginative, you could go to a party as a pirate, a nun in a see-through habit or just yourself.  Alternatively you could wear a pie crust blouse and pearls or arrogantly swig champagne in your power suit. This was not a homogenous decade, we were not all scrabbling about trying to be super yummy mummy and professionally satisfied employee. Talk about making a cross and then crucifying ourselves on it.

I’m not sweetness and light and fairy cakes myself but perhaps it does come with old bag status; the acceptance that whilst life can be rubbish it is also rather wonderful. I think that perhaps in the early 20th century the sense of entitlement that seems to be a problem now wasn’t there as much. This entitlement has been creeping up on us slowly since the 1960’s but seems to be virtually epidemic now. We don’t have a right to happiness or anything else. But I have always agreed with Buddhists in suggesting that we owe it to ourselves and others to make as much happiness as we could. Our predecessors did not accept their lot, but whilst enduring it seemed to make the most of what they could. So rather than enhancing my sense of self- worth or content via vintage style and looks in this post I am proposing a bit of vintage/retro 'get – happy'. I apologise if I sound a bit like a preachy Jehovah’s witness! Also this has been a bit gender-centric but to be honest that is because the chaps, to their credit, don't tend to subscribe to a lot of this self loathing.

Friday, 10 February 2012

'Style Me Vintage, Clothes: A Guide to Sourcing and Creating Retro Looks'

I must admit that when I buy books about fashion or design they tend to be monographs about particular designers or art and design history related. This makes sense as I have a degree in Art History. I haven’t really been tempted by many of the guides to vintage/shabby chic/retro style type tomes, partially because I am probably past needing them having hopefully learnt from my many mistakes. However there are a couple of things that put me off some of those already published.  One is that advising me to look out for vintage Dior or pieces of collectable Ossie Clarke is just  pointless, I don’t have the money and if I wanted to know about them I would refer to a fashion historian not some vintage ‘expert’. Another is styling, I hate seeing that gawky modern fashion pose and gormless stare beloved by the contemporary fashion world combined with a thirties day dress. Also I don’t like ‘fancy dress’ styling, you know sticking someone in a wig or having them throw a ‘pin-up pose’.  The final thing is tone, that ‘imperious’ assertion that certain things have to be worn in a certain way because that is 'how it was done' in some past decade that often rears it's head is the worst. As a historian that really peeves me.  Or you get the breathy amateur approach which is to writing what cup cakes are to baked goods.  You can imagine that it is with trepidation I received Naomi Thompson’s new book: 'Style Me Vintage, Clothes: A Guide to Sourcing and Creating Retro Looks.' She is a friend and I know she knows her stuff, but publishers and editors can wreak havoc on even the sanest prose; happily I am impressed.

The author in her cossie.

The book is part of a set of publications which aim to help introduce elements of vintage style, sort of how to ‘be vintage’ or ‘buy vintage’ or even just ‘look vintagy’ and with it’s pretty design and light touch it is, I feel  very accessible to people just dipping their toes into polkadot-infested waters. However the dainty booklook is a bit of a Trojan horse because slipped into its pages is a lot of serious, useful and downright educational material. For example the vital details about checking for holes, inspecting armpits and counting the buttons are clearly explained. The dodgy element of vintage; the pitfalls of being conned into paying for a ‘vintage’ dress that has overlocking, a zip, and care instructions are all mentioned.  This is however nestled away in the recesses of text that expresses the author’s enthusiasm for enjoying clothes and her tone is friendly and conspiratorial rather than didactic, something emphasised by the occasional reference to her own life experiences. Naomi tends to enthuse about all the enjoyment to be had styling clothes rather than elucidating rules or condemning any particular approach. The whole point is not to slavishly follow some cult of 'what is vintage' but to find your own way, something this slim volume somewhat subversively encourages.  Possibly that is why she has kindly included this blog in the resources section of the book. If her publishers are interested in 'Style Me Vintage: The Dark Side' they know where to find me!

Fleur in swirl dress

The book is divided up into decades, and covers vintage fashion (20’s – 60’s) and retro collectable fashions (70’s – 80’s). The book also provides useful advice on accessories. The aim seems to be more to give readers a general feel for the things that condense the feel of a period. What is refreshing here is the use of real enthusiasts as models, not just some volunteers who work for the publishers which has been the case with some previous books on the subject.  This works because the clothes are worn by ordinary women who love them. Christina Wilson's photographs for the book are lovely and it would not let the top of anyone's coffee table down.  The poses quote the eras discussed and the magazine-like punchy page design gives the impression of a book you dip in and out of rather than having to study and digest.  What I particularly appreciated was that whilst Naomi stresses the uniqueness, history, collectability and high quality of  genuine vintage the usefulness of good repro brands and regular trawls of High Street stores is also mentioned. That makes this book useful to those who may not be able to afford authentic vintage or live in areas where markets and fairs are not readily accessible. This egalitarian approach is reflected by the fact that the book refers the reader to vintage dealers, repro brands and resources they can use to find their own way into styles from the past. 

If I have any criticism it is that this book could have been longer but as it is the volume is useful, well written and has considerable charm. I don’t think that anyone could read it and not be tempted to invest in, at the very least, a pair of gloves or a vintage brooch.

It can be purchased from good bookshops or via Amazon here:

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

2012: A vintage year or just a load of old jumble? Mystic Minn predicts.

The estimable Katie Chutzpah has suggested that 2012 will be better than 2011 if only because it sounds more stylish; ‘TwentyTwelve’ does have the ring of fashionable brand name. So far however I am distinctly underwhelmed. Certainly the Chinese dragon that is supposed to bring good fortune and wealth is not doing its job.  It feels like a good old fashioned English dragon so far, belching noxious fumes across my life, picking at its claws and deterring any knights in shining armour. Admittedly the Chinese year has not been here for long and dragons are infamously temperamental. But what of our own no more scientific traditional astrological system? What does this year hold in store for us? Well I have gone through several ‘respectable’ horoscope sites and one almanac and I present to you: 2012, A vintage year or just plain rubbish?

Aquarius.  Beware of moths in your tweed, bugs in your bed and squatters of indeterminate origin in your garden shed. When under pressure LSD may help. A good year for flamboyance, so now might be the time for Aquarian ladies to buy a big poufy 50’s skirt. Chaps may try multi-coloured brogues,but best not combine the wearing of these with the LSD.

Pisces. Neptune your ruler is in your house (hopefully not squatting in the shed).  You will be right all the time but no one listens. A good year for consuming huge amounts of cava or gin and crying into your duvet. Especially good for Piscean perverts. Beware of shoes and feet in general: travel barefoot on a mobility bike and don’t talk to chiropodists.

Aries. Gambling is a good activity this year and any winnings should be invested in gadgets. Whilst steam punk goggles and Theremins will endear you to your friends beware of buying a new Ipad and boring your companions to death. Something will fall on your head; possibly a bit of satellite.  Also ghosts find you appealing, creepy.

Taurus. This is a gaudy year. Brightly coloured cord trousers and luridly dyed lady locks are necessary. Acquire precious gems wherever possible. Ladies may become engaged, gents may engage in cat burglary. A good year to cross-dress.  Gets a bit dodgy in December, best stay indoors for the month.  Things tied up with knots are good so perhaps pass the time with a bit of light bondage?

Gemini.  Spiky things must be avoided along with all sharp objects. Please eat your dinner with a big plastic spoon lest you injure yourself or others. You need to be careful with money but horses will bring you luck so perhaps a small bet on the Derby? Sporting events are starred, so remember to enter the Chap Olympiad. Peas are dangerous, very dangerous. Oh and someone loves you, secretly. Best check you are not being followed home from the bus stop.

Cancer. This is the party year. You should chase the sun, wear bananas and do a Carmen Miranda impression. If male you should smoke cigars and choose loud Hawaiian shirts. House work is very unlucky so avoid it. Something will bite you, don’t bite back. In fact don’t get into any fights because although you seem friendly you are apparently a bit of a thug and quite frankly I'd like to keep you in the sunshine, in broad sunlight, where we can all see you.

Leo. This is potentially the year of delhi belly and problems ‘down below’ so avoid those kebabs. When not on the loo however you will be very attractive to others. Bed-hopping may of course lead to the problems ‘down below’ so you will develop natural wisdom, or wear iron knickers. Start playing an instrument, if nothing else it will distract you. Also don't go North, pointless advice really as it seems you'll spend most of the year 'south'.

Virgo. This year you may find yourself being a bit manic, please sit down, have a nice cup of tea and calm down. A good year for country pursuits, as long as this doesn’t include shooting everything that moves or joining a drinking excursion in Newquay. Painting would be a good thing to take up (this obviously includes painting your nails or the town red).  Food is a good idea, as opposed to it being a bad idea, not sure what kind of food, sausages?

Libra.  This is the year for a major overhaul of appearance and style. You should also spend the first part of the year saving. As a result you will be able to afford plastic surgery or a decent Savile Row suit. This is a good year for body modification and tattoos.  Do not join any Cults, even if they offer you a free pen and a fried breakfast.

Scorpio. This is a year with a distinct risk of community service so don’t commit any crimes until 2013. You will have a lot of fun with a cad or scarlet woman or both depending on your proclivities. Do not under any circumstances get engaged (particularly watch out for Taureans) or sit under trees in storms although if you have the choice I'd plump for the latter.  Black and white things bring you luck (badgers? Zebras? Zebra crossings?).

Sagittarius.  A year of education and the perfect time to pick up a new skill.  All things furry and hairy are good: might I suggest taxidermy? Or an affair with a very hairy man or woman? You could grow a moustache. A hat brings you luck. Fish are dangerous. As are shoes (again). So a hairy person in a hat with no shoes and no kippers. I suspect you'll need to go to Hoxton.

Capricorn. Oh dear. This is a year for giving up bad habits. Particularly smoking, drinking, overeating and ‘habitual bad life choices’.  On the other hand you have to have these problems to give them up so you need to start smoking, drinking and screaming at barmen in Soho post-haste. It is also a very healthy year, which just goes to show that fags, tequila and a few nights in a cell have their own bracing qualities.

Obviously these predictions are all nonsensical but they have all been culled from actual predictions before being adapted (ie small spherical objects = peas). Should any of this come to pass it will be your own fault and nothing to do with Mystic Minn or Redlegsinsoho. Having said that if you want to bung me fifty quid for your own personal tailored nonsense I am quite happy to help out, especially as I want to buy a new dress. I can cast the prunes and read tea leaves too. I also have a crystal ballcock. xxx


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