DandyLife the second

Welcome all, take a seat, find your personal space and join me for further explorations of the 60s universe. Whereas my fellow blogger, the redoubtable Angie Smith, will be looking at the fashion and film side of things, I’ll shine spotlights on music, design, history (but not of the boring kind, I promise) and anything else that takes my fancy, whether it be aspects of 60s culture in their day or in one of the countless permutations and, for lack of a better word, ‘revivals’ that have sprung up since the 31.12.1969 and continue to this very day – some particular moments when a renewed interest in the period seemed to sweep the world will be the topics of future, more exhaustive posts. Since I am a man of firmly held opinions, some of the views expressed here will perhaps strike some readers as contentious but it is my hope that my contributions will give food for thought, inspiration and discussion.

Now, the observant reader will already have zoomed in on one such point: the cut-off date. Quite obviously I am jesting, because the thing is of course that just as ‘the 60s’ did not start at 0:00, 1.1.1960, they didn’t end – other than in a purely chronological sense – on the last day of the year 1969. History doesn’t do things *that* simple. So, in the spirit of the late great historian Eric Hobsbawm, I will attempt to unravel the complicated period we’re interested in here and in imitation of his work make a case for the ‘long 60s’, exploring both the factors that came together in order to create this, though manifold in its expressions yet still clearly identifiable, explosion of creativity and its continuing influence, from the black-and-white aesthetics of the early Beat(-les) days to the swirling colourful tendrils of psychedelia and beyond.

So, to cut what’s threatening to look like a rather long intro short – I hope that my and my fellow blogger’s contributions will present an exploration of the context in which DandyLife operates – after all, we’re not just selling clothes here. I can say with absolute certainty that every single person involved in this venture is here because of their deeply-felt passion and enthusiasm for the greatest period mankind has known. But make no mistake – this is not an exercise in nostalgia or Sealed-Knot revivalism (not that there’s anything wrong with that): the 60s live in us inasmuch as they have provided us with a template of style(s) which, to me at least, are now, over 50 years later, ‘classic’ and which eminently deserve to be brought up-to-date and find a place in the 21st Century. And that, dear readers, is what DandyLife is all about.

TONY WESSELYDSC06061

 

Bitten in the late 80s by the 60s bug at the impressionable age of 13, Tony’s never looked back on looking backwards. Combined with a knack for history, he’s soaked up every imaginable smudged backpage of the 60s underground and its permutations over the years. Now the time has come to share the knowledge, lay open the narratives and explain the contexts. At present, Tony’s main interest lies in the germination of the psychedelic seed on America’s West Coast, particularly the LA scene spearheaded by that most American and psychedelic of groups, The Byrds – a band whose music has provided a soundtrack to his life from those very early days in 1988.

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Pop! Goes the Easel – 1960s Art Movements in fashion.

If there’s one thing that the simple shift dress lends itself to perfectly it is as a canvas on which to display bold two-dimensional artworks. In particular, Op Art and Pop Art. The bold block colours and geometric lines of both of these art movements are perfectly suited to the flat surface of the shift dress. Whether applied as a print, appliquéd or assembled in panels the sheer absence of multiple seams and darts in the simple shift design can render a static image into a bold, mobilised statement.

The earliest pairing of 1960s Pop Art and fashion, came from the art world and not from the fashion industry in the form of Andy Warhol’s “Brillo Box” dress of 1964 (sold at auction in 2007 for $264,000 USD). Though Warhol’s dress was ostensibly an art piece and not a retail fashion garment, it referenced both fashion and graphic design so explicitly that it made apparent how well the simplicity of form of both suited one another.

andy_warhol_brilloAndy Warhol Brillo Box Dress 1964. Palm Springs Desert Museum (credit nova68.com).

However, before Pop Art was launched in earnest within the fashion industry around 1966 it was the separate movement Op Art which would dominate the 1960s fashion world first.

British artist Bridget Riley, whose series of monochrome paintings with an emphasis on optical effects, invigorated the Op Art movement around 1964 (though Riley had been producing Op Art as early as 1960). The movement culminated in an exhibition at Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965 called “The Responsive Eye”. The popularity of the exhibition, and particularly Riley’s exhibits, fuelled a trend in monochrome fashion which resonated across the globe. Op Art is primarily two-dimensional mostly black and white patterns which optically distort and give the illusion of movement. When these seemingly fluid patterns are applied to stretch fabrics the resulting illusion of movement is two-fold. However, Op Art fashion clothing was at its effective best when replicated large-scale on sturdy fabrics such as cotton and PVC (possibly because of the similarity in surface appearance to the flat, painted canvas). Op Art style graphics were used on dresses, skirts, swim suits, hats, rain macintoshes and even footwear and utilised by both couturiers and mainstream fashion houses alike. The trend for Op Art waned towards the latter half of 1966 when mod fashions dissipated and psychedelia was on the rise but Pop Art would act as a suitable replacement for those still preferring their attire to exude an element of playfulness and humour.

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Bridget Riley’s seminal work “Movement in Squares’” (1961)

MiniCarSwimsuits(L) Op Art fashion and Mini car, UK, c.1965 (R) Op Art stretch swimwear ca.1966.

As it had done with Op Art, the fashion industry was quick in embracing both the imagery and spirit of Pop Art, capitalising on its implied comparison to fast-paced consumerism. However, this time around the burgeoning youth fashion market in which bold design and bright colours were celebrated would be the primary target market since it was the largest demographic in fashion purchasing in the mid-1960s. Hence, Pop Art images were often applied to the simple shift dress to appeal to teenagers and young women. But unlike Op Art, which was used on a variety of materials, Pop Art designs were frequently applied to paper dresses in keeping with the idea of disposability and consumerism advocated by Pop Art.

The screen printed paper fashion dress was initially conceived in 1966 as a clever advertising gimmick by Scott Paper Company (the famous toilet tissue manufacturer) to promote a new range of colourful bathroom paper. Scott offered a disposal fashion dress for just $1.00 and twenty five cents postage. Customers could choose from two initial designs – the current yet declining Op Art trend or a distinctly cartoonish paisley design (whimsical enough so as not be associated with the unsavoury youths of the hippie movement).

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Advertisement for Scott Paper Company paper dresses, ca. 1966.

Warhol would again have his worked featured as a dress when in the same year Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage of both the paper dress craze and Warhol’s seminal “Campbell’s Soup Cans” series. ‘“The Souper Dress”, as it was named and marketed, was a disposable paper shift dress which could be purchased for $1.00 plus two of their soup can labels. It was “The Souper Dress” which was the instigator of the plethora of Pop Art paper dress which followed over the next two years. Manufacturers and designers would employ distinctly Pop Art-type imagery, particularly relating to popular culture and product advertisement, in order to appeal to the young set and its penchant for cheap and quick fashion.

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Warhol-inspired “Souper Dress”, Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. Image source http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/79778

Aside for the Warhol-inspired ‘Souper Dress’ which can fetch sums of up to $5,000 (USD) in auction, some of the most collectible examples of paper dresses are those designed by American graphic artist, Harry Gordon. In 1967 Gordon designed the Bob Dylan poster dress, the first of a series of poster dresses he was to design. Then in 1968 Gordon followed up the Dylan poster dress with a series of five poster dresses, sold as a set for $2.98 produced by Poster Dresses Ltd., London. The designs were named ‘Mystic Eye’, ‘Giant Rocket’, ‘Rose’, ‘Pussy Cat’ and ‘Hand’ (featuring Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Uptown N.Y.” place over an image of a rather dubious hand gesture). Nowadays these dresses can fetch considerable sums at auction, often attracting prices over the one thousand US dollar mark and much higher.

Harry GordonHarry Gordon poster dresses (L) Bob Dylan (R) outer packaging for a Poster Dress set.

After the Harry Gordon poster dress it seemed as if every large corporation and politician in America produced a paper dress in an attempt to either tap into or exploit the youth market. But like any trend which saturates the market and exceeds its natural lifespan the Pop Art paper dress quickly became passé and swiftly disappeared by the end of 1968. However, Pop Art was to continue as a theme in fashion from 1969 and into the early 1970s, in no small part due to British designer and entrepreneur Tommy Roberts whose London shop Mr Freedom (inspired by William Klein’s satirical film of 1969 “Mister Freedom”) was an homage to American popular culture, Pop Art and comic strip imagery. Pop Art, like all trends, waxes and wanes in fashion and more recently has been a theme for many contemporary fashion designers including Gianni Versace, Betsey Johnson, Moschino, Lisa Perry and Prada. But it is not necessarily the rendering of pop images which is pertinent as a fashion statement, rather it’s the artful referencing of recognisable visual icons of popular culture which for many people offers reassuringly familiar cloak in which to swaddle themselves.

 

Paper dresses(L) Hollywood Stars paper dress, Warhol-style silkscreens of Hollywood actors’ faces; actors’ names and movie titles listed around hem of dress (centre) Robert Kennedy campaign paper dress, and (R) “LET’S GO” paper dress by Lincoln Mercury (FORD MOTORS). © USA, 1969. ATOPOS Collection, Athens.

MrFreedom(L) Mr. Freedom applique by Muriel Carter and Pam Keats from drawings by Mike Rogers. Photos: Peter Knapp. May 1970. Nova magazine. (R) Model Twiggy wears Mr. Freedom satin appliqué Mickey Mouse jersey top c.1970.

MoschinoPerryRoy Lichtenstein Pop Art prints (L) Moschino, 1991, and (R) Lisa Perry, 2011.

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Space Age : The Future, Now. – November 2015

 

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“Futuro” vacation houses, Matti Suuronen, c.1968.

By far one of the biggest influences on design in the the 1960s was space travel and the idea of designing for the future which can be traced back to the launch of Sputnik in 1957. After the devastation of WW2, there was a great sense of optimism for the future, particularly in Europe, and designers enthusiastically set about the task of redesigning homes and our lifestyles dispensing with any aesthetic influence from the past. The “Space Age” principle did not only apply to architecture and housewares but extended also to the development and widespread use of new materials and fabrics suitable for modern living. Fabrics made from synthetic polymers which could be easily worked over amorphous shapes allowed furniture to take on fluid forms and in fashion it meant fewer seams were required for garment construction and additionally allowed for easier care.

Interestingly enough it would be a young French civil engineer by the name of André Courrèges who would transport his passion for modern architecture and new materials over to the world of fashion. In doing so he created what is arguably one of the most distinctive fashion silhouettes of the twentieth century and one so easily understandable that its simplistic form still resonates in fashion design today.

J'aime cette photo prise en1965, rien ne vient distraire l'attention des vêtements dont le graphisme, l'impact visuel sont si forts, qu'ils semblent dessinés spécialement pour une photo.

André Courrèges “Space Age” collection, 1964.

It is said that Courrèges “built” dresses rather than designing them which is apparent by the structured appearance of his garments. His rejection of patterned fabrics and extensive use of white as a base colour suggested a clean surface on which to apply fresh ideas. Many of his early designs featured a linear arrangement of pattern pieces which erased the boundary between the waistline and bust. Hence this removed all typical masculine and figure-type ideals which had influenced women’s fashion up until this point. In doing this he either wittingly or unwittingly assisted in progressing gender equality, insofar that women could be fashionable without being fetishised by fashion or dressed to suit a patriarchal society.

Courrèges hugely influenced his contemporaries and in particular fashion designers Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin would also experiment with futuristic forms, bold block colours and unconventional materials such as plastics, metals and even glass. The peak of the Space Age design era was during the hyperbole surrounding the moon landing of 1969 (Courrèges launched a Hyperbole range in 1971). Again, this seismic event in human history sparked a reaction from the fashion world but this time with a much stronger juxtaposition between old and new, with Courrèges even hinting at a more heavenly existence on planet earth.

But in spite of the optimism of the 1960s by the close of the decade the realities of a modern world surfaced again with war, political unrest, youth disaffection and a renaissance in reconnecting with nature instigated by the hippie movement. However, the sustained attraction of a belief in a “future now” continued to present itself in certain fields of design, most commonly in industrial design. And today if we were to look at many popular technology products a little more closely there is a distinct essence of a “future past”.

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Braun T3 pocket radio, 1958 (left) and Apple iPod (right).

ANGIE SMITH

Angie (small)


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Cilla Black – an unlikely British style icon?

Like many people who have either fond memories of or a particular love of the 1960s, I was saddened to learn of the passing away of British singer and television personality Cilla Black earlier this month.

Although I am not a fan of either her post-1970s work in television, nor particularly her recorded output during her career in the music industry, I have always admired her impeccable fashion sense.

Described by Biba founder Barbara Hulanick in her 1983 autobiography as possessing the perfect fashion figure, Cilla typified the 1960s sylphlike silhouette with her asparagus-like legs, small bust, long slender arms and long neck. For Hulanicki, Cilla’s figure-type represented the perfect Biba Dolly – “fresh little foals with long legs, bright faces and round dolly eyes”. In the formative years of both of their careers, Barbara and Cilla formed a close professional relationship with Cilla trusting Barbara to designer her a dress for her very first Royal Command Performance, broadcast by the BBC on 8th November, 1964. The dress was maroon velvet renaissance style maxi dress with a wide scooped embellished neckline which accentuated Cilla’s gamine frame to its exaggerated best. Their friendship developed from there with Cilla regularly wearing Barbara’s designs for her performances on top teen music television show Ready, Steady, Go!. Cilla remarked on this period in a newspaper interview back in 2006:

“Barbara [Hulanicki] of Biba was my lifeline, mine and [TV presenter] Cathy McGowan’s. Cathy was doing Ready Steady Go! every week, and I wanted to be with her at the height of fashion. We’d go to Barbara’s flat at 15 Cromwell Road, and they’d be sewing as we sat there. We’d be doing TV’s Ready Steady Go! the next day – so this was Thursday night – and we’d sit there, having great faith that everything would be wonderful. And it always was!”.

Cilla forged friendships with other cutting-edge British fashion designers in the 1960s, notably Ossie Clark, John Bates (Jean Varon) and Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter. Cilla wore Bates’ designs from the outset of her pop music career and well into her television career. Bates would design Cilla’s red velvet mini dress for her marriage to Bobby Willis on 25 January 1969 at Marylebone register office, London, and subsequently an entire wardrobe for her television show.

Always having a keen eye for exceptional fashion design, Cilla – along with husband Bobby and other investors – financed the opening of Tommy Nutter’s tailoring shop Nutters of Savile Row in early 1969. Nutter would continue to enjoy Cilla’s patronage throughout the 1970s also.

Aside from being at the forefront of 1960s youth fashion she was also at the forefront of British cultural consciousness. Cilla possessed something else rather extraordinary but yet ordinary at the same time – that of ordinariness itself. It was her fresh unpolished naturalness which secured her success during those exceptionally transitional years of the early 1960s. Aged just twenty years old, Cilla emerged in late 1963 from obscurity and rose quickly into stardom, the embodiment of the new type of young female – natural, independent and successful in her own right.

(above) Cilla Black live performance of “You’re My World” at the Royal Command Performance, televised on 8th November, 1964.  Wearing velvet renaissance-style maxi dress designed by Barbara Hulanicki.

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(above) Cilla poses for the media outside the new Biba boutique with Biba staff, helping with the move from Abingdon Road to Kensington Church Street (March, 1966).

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(above) Cilla and Bobby on their wedding day – 25 January 1969 at Marylebone register office, London. Cilla wearing John Bates-designed red velvet mini dress.

 

 

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The Endurance of 60’s Design – July 2015


One does not have to look very far back these days to see the enduring influence that fashions of the 1960s has on both high end and high street fashion collections.  Whether it be Yves Saint Laurent’s S/S 2015 collection – which featured in its advertising campaign 1960s pop icon Joni Mitchell modelling a garment which draws heavily upon Mitchell’s own wardrobe of forty-five years previous –  to high street fashion chains referencing the “Woodstock nation” in their own summer’s collections.

I am often asked what is it about the 1960s which makes fashion designers repeatedly return to it.  Surely there is enough other historic material on which to draw inspiration? Indeed there is. But it is not the case that the fashions of the 1960s were inherently superior to other decades (one thinks of the magnificent bias cut gowns of the 1930s or the structured silhouette of the early 1950s “New Look” period), rather it is what it stands for in terms of social and cultural innovation which gives it its continued attraction.

There is no doubt that in western societies the general outlook from the beginning of the 1960s was one of optimism and reinvigoration.  Britain in particular rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of Post-War Europe, which by the 1960s engaged wholly in the concept of restructuring itself into a post-modern society in all areas of design.  In fashion design especially, a society which promoted newness, youth and vitality.

Whilst there were obviously a number of new fashion innovations in the 1960s such as the mini skirt or the use of new materials such as Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) the most seismic changes where in how fashion was sold and how trends were dictated.  Couture house supremacy was overthrown and with much gratitude to London-based designers Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki.  Fashion became a democracy whereby new design inspiration came from the majority youth population consumer and not from the couture houses dictating the dernier cri as an indulgence for an elite few.

Blog 2 Miu Miu 2012 (left) and Biba c.1966 (right)

Fashion designers of the 1960s were radical in that they explored new aesthetics in fashion design combining some truly anti-muliebrous figuration into a perfectly feminine presentation.  A dress no longer required a defined waistline or décolleté to be considered feminine and the success of André Courrèges’ “Space Age” collection of 1964 proved this de facto  (although it is widely considered that Mary Quant’s designs mobilised the minimalist linear silhouette and influenced Courrèges).

Fashion retailing was also revolutionised by ground-breaking new boutiques such as Barbara Hulanicki’s Biba which pioneered the communal changing room.  Moreover, Hulanicki insisted on a self-service system, trusting her customers’ own instincts to make choices by allowing them free enjoyment of the store.  Without the likes of Biba and other 1960s fashion stores there would be no TopShop nor a youth market which dictates its own rules.   And this is where the superiority of the 1960s in fashion terms lies.

 

ANGIE SMITH

 Angie (small)


 

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