Stockings, Shopping Smashing Display; Couples Enjoy Consumer Courtship, 1914.

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Elegant shopping camaraderie a century ago. Artist Percy Edward Anderson imbues this advertising image with a sense of immediacy and the import of wondrous window display to delight the eye and lure prospective shoppers of both sexes towards the goods deftly and originally displayed.

During the waning days of the Belle Epoque, the prospect of shopping was still viewed as a single-sex occupation. Once advertisers were struck with the realization that both ladies and gents were equally enamored of being seen as flawlessly fashion-conscious creatures, it slowly opened the floodgates for what was to follow. By the latter Belle Epoque and most especially in the brief two year span prior to the advent of The Great War, American publications showcased an increasingly eager anticipation for the outing of gathering clothing and accessories, simultaneously for both sartorially savvy sexes.

Pausing to admire the wondrous window display for Everwear Hosiery, this lady and gent come together at a crucial fashion moment. She is absolutely the last word in de riguer display of both ensemble and accessorizes.  Her jaunty slightly cocky chapeau is combined with a beautifully tailored crisp white blouse, paired with a decidedly male-inspired scarlet satin necktie. Beneath it, she sports a snugly-fitting buttoned skirt, opened at the bottom just enough to racily reveal a glimpse of petticoat in a daring modern manner.  Not to be outdone in latest style chic, he steps out in an equally tight-fitting English style suit, paired with a bowler hat and dashing walking stick. The reflection in the shop-window offers a glimpse at an intimate item that both sexes both require and desire, namely Everwear Stockings. This item proved to be the dividing line and the first step towards a certain shopping equality. While the window display is simple and unobtrusive it is also noticeable enough to draw this duo of dandies towards it. A grand group of artists found a manner to promote the idea of the delightful possibilities of couples, companionate and courtly, combining their interests in remaining fabulously fashionable, simply by joining forces in this modern consumerist fantasy. It’s perfectly clear that this rendezvous in front of the display will wind up with a discussion of the rapturous joy of becoming a Belle Epoque contentedly consumerist couple.

 

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Hollywood Hoop-la 1; Judy Garland Jaunts to Magnificent May Company!

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An unguarded moment in the annals of Hollywood history. MGM’s girl-on-the-rise Miss Judy Garland steppin out in splendid style sometime in 1940. Rebellious, nineteen and relegated to making a string of successful films that were a financial  boon to her studio, Judy had more than proven her all-star power with the release of 1939’s surprising success, ‘ The Wizard of Oz’. Playing the lovely yet very juvenile Dorothy Gale, was both blessing and curse.  Adoring audiences and omnipotent studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted her to remain a young and wide-eyed innocent girl on screen. Her abundant talents and her own desires to please and also surpass the role of Dorothy made it a tough go at times. The studio monitored every move she made.

 

Ebullient and freed from the confines of MGM, Judy is enjoying a lone day spent doing what many maidens in 1940 were doing, namely shopping a the recently opened exceptionally streamlined May Company, located on Wilshire Boulevard’s famed Miracle Mile. Judy’s jaunt is a flawlessly captured moment in Hollywood History. Miss Garland sports a sensational shopping ensemble, for even apart from the watchful eyes of the studio, one had to maintain a certain sense of smart glamour.

While this may be a publicity photo, there is a sense of naturalness about it, Judy’s bouncy happy air is not there merely for the fan-based magazines or the folks back in Culver City either. It’s indefinable and yet this is the real Judy Garland, just another girl out to enjoy a sublime sun-dappled afternoon in the enviable environs of Los Angeles.

While portraying a typical girl next door ( although one loaded with energy, charisma and tremendous talents), her off-screen life would have raised more than a few eyebrows. It’s a joy to imagine just what this youthful supernova of an actress might have been purchasing. I picture her dropping by the cosmetics counter for some exotic, alluring gardenia scented parfum, perhaps some charming costume jewelery, prior to casually dropping by the fine gowns salon, where without being approved by the costume department , she would be free to choose a sophisticated frock perfect for her nightclub crawling evenings, to such recently opened popular hot-spots at her beloved Ciro’s.

Judy was never merely the simple, sweet natured naive ingenue that MGM painted her as. By the time this photo was snapped, she was frequenting racy and risque nightclubs while being clandestinely romanced by a string of beaus, such as Tyrone Power and notoriously womanizing bandleader, Artie Shaw, while simultaneously taking in some of the most daring, unconventional gay- themed and frequented clubs in Hollywood.

 

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Delilah and Desire; Hedy, Head Censorship and the Costumes of Samson & Delilah

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There is no point in admission, when it came to spectacle, subversion, sexuality and excessive historically-based screen glamour, there was never anyone quite as madly brilliant as Cecile B. De Mille. While he often insisted upon deadly accuracy, the costumiers called upon to create characters and ensembles blurred the lines to an amazing degree, bringing forth within each epic their own version of place and time, suited to the talents and individual looks of various actresses who dominated the screen as larger than life adaptations of biblical and ancient historical hellions and heroines.

De Mille had set the ambitious and exquisite abilities of Travis Banton loose upon his 1934 version of ‘Cleopatra’, which enhanced both Claudette Colbert’s star status and set vast trends for moderately moderne versions of the slit-to-the-waist skirts and low cut necklines of the divinely feline heroine. This was done in an era before the wide-screen technicolor world which would produce, Samson and Delilah.

When selecting the perfect post-war screen siren, somebody who is so gloriously gorgeous she seems beyond the realm of mere mortality, is there any better choice than Hedy Lamarr? In 1949, Miss Lamarr was literally a dream walking and De Mille decided would be sheer screen perfection as the fierce and flamboyant femme fatale, Delilah.

Bringing Delilah to lovely lush life was no insurmountable task although it did require the towering imaginative talents of a designer with great ingenuity, historical references and a modicum of ostentation tempered with a flowing graciousness. Edith Head was selected to transform Hedy into the titular, Delilah a simple matter of poise, cosmetics and a whirling constellation of straight to the stratosphere, va-va-voom worthy ensembles fit for a silver screen glamour queen.

One of Head’s most enduring designs as seen on the exotically, erotically alluring actress Hedy Lamarr. Miss Lamarr was ideally suited to portray the vivacious vexatious vixen,  Delilah opposite undeniably brawny Beefcake-worthy Brooklynite, Victor Mature.

 

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Savage, sensual and seductive, DeMille allowed them to smoulder on screen in such an incendiary fashion it practically melted the scenery. Hedy’s gowns were both lusty and lavish, crashing into all sorts of alarms from the censors who battled with designer extraordinaire Head regarding length, brevity and the exposure of Ms. Lamarr’s brazenly exposed navel.  The gown in question was crafted of gold tissue thin lame, raising eyebrows at just how much exposure Hedy’s gilded and glowing body received on screen.

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While this gilded, asymmetric shoulder gown is certainly memorable, the piece de resistance proved unquestionably to be the infamously stunning peacock gown. In superbly saturated latter-forties Technicolor it was unsurpassed for sheer audacious screen glamour. Legendarily luxuriant, it might have been the single greatest gown that designer Head ever conjured up at the time.

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Few actresses of any time period could have sported this gown with the easy grace and casual insouciance of Hedy. Lascivious and luscious, the gown featured satiny smooth deep aqua shaded skirts, liberally sewn over with actual genuine  feathers, all of which were plucked from supposedly amiable Paramount Studio-owned peacocks. There were thousands of feathers gracing the gown. Once again, the design proved a problem for the censors as it clingingly uncovered more of Hedy than was entirely permissible. Aside from the plethora of peacock feathered finery, it also featured a vast portion of feminine flesh, from the navel upwards. Sweepingly as it strode across screen, it was unquestionably gasp-worthy.

When Edith Head was involved in a costume project, her particular stamp of excellence and audacity shone through. While the decade which followed would add Cinerama, technirama, CinemaScope and stereophonic sound, it’s doubtful that any ancient erotic epic ever surpassed the glimmering glories of 1949’s finely wrought, ‘Samson and Delilah’.

 

Do It Now: Rebellion, Reading and the Modern American Woman, 1908.

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Modern Woman Idle moment. Witty message.

 

Seen amidst the reflected jeweled tones of a hanging Tiffany-inspired lampshade, this industrious miss pauses to reflect upon one of the volumes in her well-stocked study. Shelves of books are artistically arranged in shades that shimmer ‘neath the elegant illumination of the lampshade and the glorious glow of the flaming scarlet wall.

The twentieth century zietgeist of Do It Now is being patently ignored for the old-fashioned pleasure of exploring and extolling the virtues of heedlessly immersing o0ne-self in an idle volume. Titles peaking beneath the folds of her voluminous duster, gleefully mention the Psychology of the Male Human and Bugolgly, clearly an effort at scoffing recent scholarly materials. Mitchell’s vision of the modern maiden is charming and amusing; she won’t be bound by rules and is clearly enchanted by her respite from the hurried world surrounding her.With her celestial blue ensemble and her fashionably coiffed burnished brunette psyche-knot, she is the spirited and independent woman of a dawning age. She is also a wonderful representation of the creature who would become known as ” The New Woman.”, strong vibrant, intellectual, political of fine social caliber and sporting blood- in a matter of a few years she would be taking to the road, to the skies and eventually to the nearest ballot-box.

Sea-faring Sirens Select Delicious Deckside Chic, 1932.

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The early thirties were relatively grim times for the majority of the American population. Escaping the dire and distressed, finding anyplace where troubles felt distant was both a dream and an expectation. Whether one could actually escape, there was always a movie not far away and barring that, beautiful vistas of frolic and fashion in the pages of a perfectly splendid periodical.

Magazines such as Delineator and McCall’s reached a tremendous audience and enhanced the ability to view what was new and novel, who was saying what and most especially the latest in lovely looking frocks and accessories which the clever seamstress could be taught to whip up at home.

Summer, 1932.  This trio of moderne maidens seems far removed from any strife, economic downturns or rising unsettling political agendas. McCalls sets them adrift against the crashing waves in the latest looks for the season, each stylistic perfection for shipboard shenanigans. Sporty, sleek sophisticated yet playfully chic and winsome each ensemble has much to recommend it.

Artist Jean des Vigne gives the image a decided air of bouncy ebullience and exceptional flair. It should be noted that in the Spring of 1932, beach and deckside lounge-wear, particularly the beach pajama were all the rage from the palmy balmy vistas of Los Angeles to the socially sublime sundrenched site of the Riviera. As such they were bound to make an ultra-fashionable site upon a bounty of ocean liners that season.

The jaunty lassie leaning against the railing, can be spotted in a smartly designed one-piece frock meant to marvelously mock a suit, complete with sparkling white vesting and a matching maize-shaded bolero jacket. The bolero is a revival of a look that was exceptionally de riguer in both 1907 and 1915. The beret and knotted neckerchief are both nattily nautical.

Her charmant companion borrows a bit of finery in mariner-friendly shades of crisply impeccable white and ocean wave blue, featuring a jaunty jumper effect with an under-blouse of superb striping, that is echoed at the waistline effectively enhanced by a sweet little bow, lending it a darling girlish air.

The last lassie is vibrantly memorable in short wide legged trousers which mock the traditional sailor garb of the bell bottom perfectly. Scarlet enhances the daring of the look, which is paired perfectly with matching beret set at a fashionably tilted angle and a snugly fitting immaculate white blouse finished in perfectly perky puffed sleeves.

Traveling aboard any notable ocean liner of the era, required a compendium of novel, chic, sophisticated ensembles. This trio of lovely looks would have been perfection for mornings and afternoon attire upon deck although raffish smart cocktail attire would replace them after five pm, with evening finery of the most elegant stripe replacing that for dining and dances after eight.

Shoes, Glorious Shoes! Chic Thirites Color Saturation

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A dazzling array of color style texture- the perfect example of what American footwear and color photography had to offer the prospective purchaser during the Spring of 1935. Photography in chromatically pleasing tonalities was slowly creeping into high-gloss fashion magazines at the time. This image is an elegant example of the trend.

Saturated and Sensuous example of superb streamlined moderne deco chic. What better way to offer a chromatically charming vision of design than a selection of footwear finery? This exemplary image is courtesy of that undisputed arbiter of taste, just at the moment when the color photography process was gaining great commercial strides. Experimental for years, it wasn’t until the thirties that images such at this were being promoted as aesthetically and artistically beautiful. Rich with a radiance which remains unique to this time, the process would gradually transform the manner in which the public perceived sartorial splendors.

The triumph of viewing things as they actually appeared had been slowly usurping the place of faciful fashion illustration. The clever composition here draws the viewer delightedly into the center of the image, it lends the opportunity to percieve a compendium of texture and shading, dramatically yet crisply, without overwhelming or confusing the individual eye. There are in actuality over seventeen shades on display not counting the images daubed on the palette ranging from a exciting emerald green lizard to a flawlessly francias triple entente of scarlet, navy and white.

It would take a full three decades before photos overtook and virtually replaced the elegant embodiment of designer-based drawings. Yet even in 1935, the clarion call of precise, realistic pure color images was being heard and listened to by the editors who could choose to feature it and the pursuadeable public who could be convinced to desire more.

 

Summery Soda Fountain Fashions and ‘The Housewife’, 1910.

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Some of the abundant charms of the Belle Epoque involved perusing the consistently novel and enchanting cover artistry of a plethora of periodicals.  For the June, 1910 issue of The Housewife, one of the chief joys of summertime is given a lively interpretation. Unknown artist reminds the reader of the world outside of that lovely household, far beyond the chores of the kitchen or the parlor, as remote from the daily drudgery as possible. This housewife has given herself a treat, she’s dressed herself in natty and gorgeous finery, picked up her cunning canine companion and decided to display herself graciously and gorgeously at the local soda fountain.

The lure of the confectioners or druggists with a soda fountain was especially prevalent during the sweltering summertime months; image of modern maidens quaffing a satisfyingly thirst-quenching icy cold, carbonated concoction, proved irresistible. This particular cover-girl housewife enjoying her coca-cola, is decked out in some incredible fashionable fripperies. To beat the sun and rival it’s rays she’s chosen a natty novelty frock in surprising burnt orange shadings, and an enormous wide-brimmed matching chapeau, both trimmed in black and paired with the latest slightly daring low cut, Dutch-necked blouse. The flawlessly chic frock is cut in an almost jumper fashion of elegant simplicity, it dips down low to the waist, and is filled in with the beribboned beauty of the sparkling white blouse. To compliment and contrast with the frock itself, the blouse featured short sleeves, trimmed in black satin ribbon. This is one darling demoiselle who has bedecked herself in her best bib and tucker to glide into town and enjoy a brief respite from her daily chores.

I find it amusing that the cover art for a periodical named, The Housewife, removes her from her traditional sphere, affording the reader the fantasy of an elegant outing, complete with her pedigreed puppy. She is not in the midst of beating a carper, or dusting the parlor, or attending to the needs of her kiddies. Likely she has clambered into her exquisite little electric automobile and taken herself into the center of town.

There is nothing careworn about her, she’s youthful and rife with the attendant joys of the socialization available at the local soda-fountain.

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