Book review: The Faces 1969-75

alkasura, book reviews, bus stop, menswear, rod stewart, ronnie lane, ronnie wood, the faces

Ok, so this can’t possibly be a proper book review, because I don’t own the book. The reason I don’t own it, is because it costs £345. It’s £345 well spent, if you have the money, in my opinion. But it’s still £345. You pay for superior materials, lush production and great exclusivity; it’s bound (ha!) to hold/increase its value. It also contains a lustworthy amount of photos of rockstars in beautiful clothes.

I did, however, get to see a preview at the launch, at Genesis HQ in Guildford, on Tuesday night. Once the crowds had cleared somewhat, the feather-headed pseudo-mods had drifted away, I had spotted Peter Blake (again!! It’s the Zandra Rhodes effect; you start feeling bored of seeing them everywhere!) and gobbled up as many canapés as I could find, I carefully flicked through the book and tried to take some lousy phone shots of the photos up on the walls. I was in heaven. Men in satin. Men in flares. Men in feather boas. Men in platforms….

Rod in an Alkasura cherry jacket.

The "Bus Stop" blouse.

Men in blouses. Fantastic.

Funny Faces


Personally I’m a Ronnie Lane kinda girl. Rod Stewart is fine in this period, and he wears some of the most brilliantly bonkers gear out of all of them. Ronnie Wood is tolerable, but he doesn’t float my boat. Ian McLagan has instantly gained major points in my book for being seen wearing a Bus Stop Forties-lady print blouse throughout the book. And Kenney Jones is….there. But put them all together, and it’s just magical. The photos are largely unseen; vivid, candid and energetic.

I’ll just have to keep hoping for that windfall so I can buy the damn thing! The Faces: 1969-75 is available here:

Duffy (finally)

1960s, amanda lear, book reviews, brian duffy, jean shrimpton, michael sarne, mild sauce, pierre la roche, seventies fashion, the sweet

Queen magazine, 1963

Although you’ll all have long since forgotten that I promised to review the fantastic Duffy book (published by ACC. RRP £45 but currently £31.98 on, I certainly haven’t and it’s been rather weighing on my mind. In fact, I’m troubled by the fact that I rarely seem to have the energy to type long, rambling blog posts at all these days.

So, as I often do, I will largely leave the photographs to do the communicating. Which is rather the point of the book itself. It is not a weighty tome about the life of the man, rather it is a weighty tome about the talent of the man. The talent which made him world-famous, but eventually left him feeling so trapped he had to [pretty much literally] destroy it in order to escape it. Page after page of gorgeous women, swinging dudes of the highest and lowest order and generally Interesting People. But it also covers the later period, the advertising and the selling-out, or ‘prostitution’ as he honestly described it.

I have to admit, I’m always on the look out for new Duffy shoots in my magazines because I’m almost rather bored of seeing the same ones shown again and again. And to be fair, of course, in Duffy’s case there is the genuine problem with the complete lack of original source material. His son Chris has spent years reassembling the archive, and I have to respect the labour of love that this project has become. Thankfully, the book is more varied than the exhibition I attended earlier this year would lead you to believe. I have scanned a few of my personal favourites, which I hope will communicate the beauty of his work.

A pet hate must be noted at this point, which is that these books rarely identify the designer of the clothes worn in the pictures. I know it doesn’t seem like much to a non-clothes obsessive, but I want to know if that dress really was by so-and-so and I find it infuriating for such information to be left out when surely it must be known?

Obviously, luxuriously printed and sized books such as this require the highest calibre of image quality for reproduction purposes, but it would be nice, in a few years time, to see a book which features more obscurities, more magazine tear-sheets and clippings; covering the lesser-known styles and techniques he used. For there are many. I mean, David Bailey has had enough books about him to last a lifetime; Brian Duffy certainly deserves another one.

Definitely one for the Christmas list. And watch out, because I’m going to be reviewing more books to put on your Christmas list over the next few weeks. Yes indeed.

Amanda Lear, 1971

Sweet, 1970

Unidentified, 1960s

Jean Shrimpton, Vogue 1962

Average White Band album cover, 1979

Michael Sarne, 1962

Pirelli, 1965

Pierre La Roche, Aladdin Sane make-up artist, 1973

Alphasud Car, Henley on Thames, 1974

Mike Henry and Nancy Kovack, 1964

70s Style and Design

70s style and design, amanda lear, biba, book reviews, david bowie, janice wainwright, malcolm bird, mr freedom, noosha fox, seventies fashion, thea cadabra

There are many reasons to slobber and pore over Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop’s superb book 70s Style and Design, but the most spectacular image, for me, is the incredible shot of Noosha Fox which opens this review. I really do struggle to do ‘regular’ book reviews; I just want to scan the pretty images and gush most tragically over the contents. Assuming the contents are gush-worthy, but you needn’t worry about that with Seventies Style and Design.

From start to finish there are more lush visuals on offer than any other book tackling the era. It suffers, if suffering is exquisite, from the same problem as Marnie Fogg’s Boutique book in that, frankly, you’ll probably read it about twenty times before you actually come close to reading the text. I sat down, determined to read it from cover to cover for this review, and my determination was flagging after the midway point because I just wanted to gaze at the images. Which in turn got me thinking about the potential of a ‘double book’ where you have a separate tome dedicated to the images, and can sit down and properly concentrate on the written word; clearly researched extremely well and full of ‘new’ information, which just gets lost or swiftly forgotten amongst the visuals. Tricky, but well worth it, I reckon.

Biba in Nova

My gushing only hesitates at two issues, which is quite amazing for picky little me. The first is probably too general to explain properly, the second is horribly specific.

Firstly, the ‘theming’ of the subject matter into edible chapter-sized chunks (Pop to Post-Modernism, Belle Epoque, Supernature and Avant Garde). I completely understand the motivation behind this, and the themes aren’t your average “chapter one: Psychedelia, chapter two: Glam Rock” type. Thank goodness. Thought and care has gone into them. But it’s always going to struggle a bit in an era which the authors even admit was something of a ‘free for all’ in its style and design themes. You could be forgiven for exiting from the last page with an idea that the Seventies was relentlessly fabulous, iconic and glamorous in its appearance. They even make punk look mouth-wateringly elegant. It is wide in its coverage, but it still orbits only in the atmosphere of what is now perceived to be interesting, beautiful and/or iconic. Which is a curious kind of Russian doll trap, given that the chapter on the Art Deco revival goes into the very interesting notion of cherry-picking from the Twenties and Thirties.

“A defining characteristic of all this Biba fuelled nostalgia or ‘retro’ – a word first coined, appropriately, in the 1970s – was that it wasn’t purist but pluralist. Many of its fans were too young to have witnessed these eras, and so interpreted them in whichever way they fancied, usually viewing them through rose-tinted lorgnettes and blithely glossing over such crises as the 1926 General Strike and the Great Depression.”

Page 73, 70s Style and Design

I’m not sure how self-aware the authors are, but it amused me to see this in a book which itself contributes to the modern synthesis of the Seventies into a more glamorous, louche and decadent era than most ‘average’ people who lived through it would recall. I know I’m guilty of much the same thing, especially when writing my blog and listing my wares, but I’m also deeply attracted to the more mundane, everyday primary sources. I love dull, contemporary documentaries, unfunny and borderline-gloomy sitcoms, films and dramas, pictures of slightly iffy looking people in iffy looking clothes and naff interiors and objets. It can’t always be high-gloss, high-sparkle.

I know examples of bad taste are ‘clichés’, but many great aspects of the Seventies are in danger of becoming as much clichés themselves. See the likes of Lady GaGa. When one becomes tired of Bowie, has one become tired of life? Sadly, I have found myself pondering this lately.

Saying that, it’s always wonderfully refreshing to read a book about Seventies design which doesn’t set out to sneer or incite howls of I-can’t-believe-people-dressed-like-that laughter.

Amanda Lear in an advert for paint

Plus, high-gloss and high-sparkle are exactly what we need these days. And I don’t blame anyone choosing to jettison Gloomy Style and Design from their research, not least because the book would be twice the length and half the fun with those things included.

A waitress at ‘Mr Feed’em’

My second criticism, and it really is horribly specific, is the omission of Janice Wainwright. There! I said it was specific. If you want a pure-as-the-purest-spring-water example of the best of the Seventies aesthetic, I would say she was high up amongst the greats. Ossie, Biba, Mr Freedom, Bill Gibb are included, certainly, but Janice remains as yet unsung. In a book which gives us references to Universal Witness, Antony Price’s Plaza, Manolo Blahnik’s Zapata, Strawberry Studio and Kitsch-22, it seems a shame to leave anyone out!

Mouth-watering textiles

What I love about the design of the book is that there are plenty of full-page, high quality images which have never been seen before, interspersed with a more scrapbook-esque mish mash of visual references. Adverts, photoshoots, posters, labels; some are annoyingly small but it’s just so nice to see them all included without any detriment to the written word. The inclusion of many lesser-known designers and characters is quite wonderful; I hadn’t encountered Thea Cadabra and her incredible shoes (see front cover) before, and now I’m a bit obsessed.

Also, any book which contains a half page reproduction of a Malcolm Bird illustration, the aforementioned full page photo of Noosha Fox and which uses the word ‘splendiforously’ is always going to take pride of place on my bookshelf.

Highly recommended for any vintage wishlist this Christmas (and beyond).

Malcolm Bird’s illustration for Biba

576 Pages of Heaven: Lifestyle Illustrations of the Sixties

1960s, art deco, art nouveau, book reviews, Honey Magazine, Illustrations, petticoat magazine, psychedelia

This may, at first, look like the laziest book review in the world. I can be a lazy person, tis true, but I couldn’t really think of a better way to review such an extraordinary book. It needs to be possessed, to be pored over, to be appreciated en masse and to be studied in fine detail.

Lifestyle Illustrations of the ’60s by Rian Hughes is one man’s personal project to bring those unsung illustrators of the period to the attention of the wider world. If you’re anything like me, they are a source of great fascination and inspiration when you flick through a vintage copy of Honey or Petticoat. And if you were reading Womans Own et al back in the day, they would certainly have inspired daydreams from their fleeting representations of the magazine’s romantic short stories. They are often small in size, but incredible in skill, style and social comment. The timeline element of the book also allows you to see the development of social aspirations, fashion styles, illustration styles and inspirations (the clear references to art deco and art nouveau styles) and attitudes to morals and relationships.

When I find them in the magazines, I try to remember to scan them in. But I’m a bit forgetful, so this doesn’t always happen. When I first laid my eyes and hands on this book, it was like heaven. Someone else has gone to the trouble of scanning them in, cleaning them up and collating them by date and crediting the artist where possible. Consequently, it feels a bit weird to scan in pages and individual illustrations to illustrate my review. Firstly, there are just way too many and my scanner is a bit fiddly (coupled with a big heavy book, whose spine I’d rather not break just yet). Secondly, because I want you to go out and get a copy yourselves. Words and scans can’t really demonstrate what it’s like to flick through such a book. Each page inspires a cry of ‘ooooh, pretty’. Well, that’s my reaction anyway. Scans wouldn’t do it justice.

So I decided to sit and flick and take photographs of the most ‘ooh’-inspiring pages. Of course I had to give up after about 20 photos because I realised I would end up photographing the entire thing. But here are the collated images, just casually snapped so you get some feeling of what it’s like. Unsurprisingly, I’m most taken with the later period with the psychedelic, art deco and art nouveau influences, but I’ve tried to show you a cross-section of the entire book.

Now all they need is to put on an exhibition. There’s something lovely about having them all collated into a book, but it can lessen the impact of some solitary works of art. I would dearly love to see them displayed as large prints.

Around the Bender

barbara hulanicki, biba, book reviews, british boutique movement, bus stop, kate moss, lee bender, seventies fashion, topshop

Ok so, I totally failed to take any photos from Friday night’s Lee Bender talk at the V&A. Mr Brownwindsor also failed to take any photos. My friends Daniel and David also failed to take any photos.

Conclusion: We were all in a daze.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that Mr Brownwindsor was sitting there chatting to Sylvia Ayton and I utterly failed to ask her to sign my Boutique book, which was sitting in my bag.

Conclusion: I’m useless.

However, I did get Lee Bender to sign my copy of her new book. And she recognised my nudey lady blouse immediately. Hurrah! Geek heaven…

I’m generally a bit squeaky and shy when it comes to asking questions in front of a huge audience of people. I can talk to a much admired designer up close and where only they witness my idiocy. But, after much cajoling beforehand, I realised I simply had to ask the question I’d been dying to ask since I wrote this blog [almost exactly] three years ago.

“How do you feel about being copied yourself* these days? Particularly with the Kate Moss for Topshop…..” I think I might have trailed off at this point because a look of thunder crossed her face. I squeaked inwardly, fearing I may have offended. But it turned out that she was just registering her anger at exactly the same thing that I had been angry about. She mentioned having seen a blog about it; I exclaimed that it was my blog, my dress. “Aha! I thought you looked familiar!”.

*She had spoken about her own experiences of taking inspiration from vintage pieces.

Tea dresses. So good. So widely copied.

Terrifyingly fabulous when you realise your idols actually see what you write about them. I had the same stomach flip when John Bates said he had seen my website. I often forget, and I ramble on about them in the same way I would ramble on about Ossie Clark, knowing full well I can’t offend him.

Anyway, the talk itself was great. Albeit not quite sufficient for a complete geek like me. Certain people (mainly my boyfriend) keep having to gently but firmly remind me that of course I’m not going to be satisfied with whatever book/documentary/q&a session I’m witnessing. I already know most of what they’re talking about. I’m seeking the finer details. Dates, times, people, evidence. Sadly, it’s the lot of the fashion historian.

Which is also my problem with the new Bus Stop book. On balance, I would say it’s definitely worth owning (the more I look at it, the less I see the flaws). And mine holds greater importance now it’s actually got her dedication inside. But it’s not the most gorgeously produced book in the world, the design/layout leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s a crying shame that it will probably be the only one we’ll see on Lee and her work.

A typical page.

The problem is limited resources. She didn’t keep anything (by her own admission – you should have heard the gasps when she mentioned donating things to charity a few years back) so mostly it is filled with her illustrations. Which are very lovely. But I’m a geek. And I need information laid out in timeline form, or at least vaguely timeline-ish, and I need dates on photos. I need better quality scans of photos. But again, I am being pernickety because quite a few of the magazine photos within are from magazines I already own and could scan myself (and clean them up a bit in photoshop).

There was limited research going on, and many things slipped under the radar. Par exemple…

It’s…… 1.) Sarah Jane’s Andy Pandy dungarees!

2.) Joanna Lumley's outfit from The New Avengers promotional photocall.

Oh yes. If books were produced by Miss Peelpants, they’d probably be the geekiest books in the world. But I’m not even being THAT geeky really. There are photos of Joan Collins and Barbara Bach in Bus Stop gear, presumably because those were the only ones they thought they had evidence of.

Also, there are so many Bus Stop fanatics and collectors out there; any of us would have been happy to have had our garments photographed professionally I’m sure.

My favourite part of the evening, weirdly, was the slight hint of anti-Bibaness. Which might surprise you, because I really do love Biba and Barbara Hulanicki and clearly am never afraid to express this through my blog and website. But I’m not unaware of her flaws. And I’m also starting to get a bit bored with the Biba dominance in coverage of the era.

As Lee herself, and others I chatted to afterwards, pointed out; Bus Stop clothes were made for women. Women with boobs and a bum. Barbara was designing for women with legs up to their armpits and no boobs. I don’t have the most generous bosom in the world, but Biba squishes me out in all directions sometimes. I appreciate the boldness of that as a design decision (the flagrant “if you’re not this shape, tough, you’ll wear the clothes and hope they make you look that shape” attitude) but it doesn’t always work when you need your clothes to work. Which is why I’m always wittering on about Lee Bender making wearable gear; she just WAS.

The actual rivalry with Biba was touched on, she told a brief story about both her and Barbara ending up in the same Kensington restaurant one night and being kept well apart by their companions, but this just made me even more sad. Biba gets two or three books, glossily and hard-backedly dedicated to the high altar of art deco fabulousness. Bus Stop will probably only ever get this one, making it look like the ‘also-ran’ it never was. But I’m immensely glad it even exists, quite frankly.

Someone (preferably not Topshop, although they owe her big time) needs to give Lee Bender the opportunity to design a new range of clothes. Hulanicki’s range for Topshop was such a crushing disappointment; I would dearly love to see someone who REALLY wants to do it, and isn’t just ‘phoning it in’, making a huge success with fresh, wearable designs and an understanding of women’s bodies.


Made in England

book reviews, Foale and Tuffin, iain r. webb, james wedge, jean shrimpton, jenny boyd, john bates, marit allen, sixties

I was lucky enough to be able to attend ‘In conversation with Iain R. Webb’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum last week, in my inadvertent and faintly ridiculous new capacity as fashion book groupie. Iain is the kind of person who completely awes me into silence with his knowledge and experience, so it was nice to be able to just take a seat and listen to him for an hour or so – without feeling like a chump for being awed into silence.

If you don’t already have a copy of Foale and Tuffin, then why on earth not? Put it on your Christmas list! Buy yourself one as a treat! Hunt me down and steal my copy! I’ll whack you over the head with my copy of Arthur Marwick’s The Sixties (a nice, hefty tome which would be perfect for book-stealing blog-readers) but I’ll forgive you eventually.

When I first heard they were actually planning to do a book on those fabulous ladies, AND an exhibition, I nearly squealed in delight. I may actually have done so, but I was in a room with John Bates so there’s not a lot I can remember from that night (if you want to put me on mute, lock me in a room with John Bates and Iain R. Webb and you won’t hear a squeak out of me).

My dream Foale and Tuffin outfit. Photographed by the incredible James Wedge.

The book doesn’t disappoint. As I have heard many people saying, not least those behind the project, the most appealing thing about it is that it isn’t a simple biography of two people. It’s like a window into their friendship coupled with a luxury chocolate box selection of Important People who, cumulatively, give a valuable insight into a most intriguing and endlessly inspiring period in history.

You often come away from fashion books with a strong sense of one person’s life. One person’s view of a cultural revolution. Often you can barely find mention of other designers within its pages; throwaway references to models, movers and shakers and maybe the odd two line quote. But here, in Foale and Tuffin, you have small essays created from interviews with the likes of Jean Shrimpton, Jenny Boyd, James Wedge, Marit Allen, Molly Parkin….oh I can’t even prioritize them, they’re all so important. It’s like a proper documentary in book form. In fact, I’d be a very happy bunny if they had been able to produce this as a ‘Beyond Biba’ style film.

In between the photos and essays, there are excerpts from Webb’s interviews with the gals. Much like the Ossie Clark and John Bates books before it, you’ll probably flick through it a few times just to ogle the amazing photos and barely take in any of the detail. But eventually you’ll find a window of time, when you can snuggle down and ‘listen’ to Marion and Sally nattering away. I’ve had the good fortune to have witnessed this a couple of times in person (although only tiny vignettes of F&T-ness, really) and have heard even more by proxy, so I’m delighted that an almighty natter with the girls has been recorded for posterity.

Why can’t more books be like this?

My two favourite candid photos of Sally and Marion from the book. I can definitely relate to Marion’s ‘Sewing Machine face’.