Here comes the bride…

iain r. webb, the fashion museum, weddings

…looking like, well, every other bride. One of my pet peeves is the current “phenomenon” where wedding dresses are concerned. If you watch an entire series of ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’ on BBC3 (which I haven’t done. Honest. Well, ok, maybe I have…) you might come away with the impression that wedding dress manufacturers have only got one dress on offer, then coming with various additional swags and sparkles but basically just the one silhouette. It’s the strapless cake. Oh yes.

This is not a strapless cake. It’s brilliantly bonkers!

The fact that all the Frustrated Bridezillas appear to faint with delight upon being strapped into something so vile, despite perhaps having bleated on for the whole episode about wanting something ‘different’ to the norm, confirms my belief that most brides lose all sense of reality somewhere along the way…

As a caveat, and as you can tell from what I’ve already written, I should point out that I’m probably not the best person to be reviewing an exhibition about wedding dresses… but, in the interests of being a good blogger, I went along anyway!

It was actually quite refreshing to take a look at The Fashion Museum’s current exhibition, What Will She Wear, which, despite the slightly cheesy Royal undertones in the title, is a wonderfully curated exhibition of Bath’s collection of wedding dresses down the years. As the ever lovely Iain R. Webb explained to me, they weren’t trying to create any kind of timeline or demonstrate particularly defining styles of any era. In fact, the pieces are grouped together in themes: silhouettes, fabrics, types of decorations. It’s certainly fascinating to see a Gina Fratini wedding dress alongside the Victorian styles which influenced her. Or a Bruce Oldfield facing a Victor Stiebel, both slimline and simple in silhouette, but a good sixty years apart.

It casts aside notions of one style for one era, which intrigued me. My mother was married in the prevailing ’empire line’ style, which had been popularised by John Bates’s mid-Sixties bridal designs for Jean Varon and continued to be popular until the late Seventies. Judging by many of the images you see from this era, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was the only style on offer, much like the modern ‘cake’ shape. But if all the ‘I wore this for my wedding’ Ossies I’ve seen down the years, and someone like the gorgeous Elegancemaison in her Biba coat and trousers, are anything to go by then there was a far wider variety of styles on offer at the time. It’s just a question of what you want to say about yourself as a person. Frankly, I think it’s the last time in your life you’d want to be thinking ‘I’ll have what she had!’.

A dear friend of mine is getting married towards the end of this year, and I couldn’t be more excited for her. (She knows I’m going to disown her if she turns up in a meringue! Only joking…. or am I?) So I’m not totally immune to the excitement of a wedding, despite my snippy cynicism I’m a big old romantic deep down. I just wish that more people would show a bit of imagination!

If you’re in or near Bath then I would recommend a trip to the Fashion Museum to see the exhibition. Unsurprisingly, thanks to Iain’s involvement, it’s been curated in a gorgeous editorial-style with newly-handmade white flower headdresses and corsages to unify the displays. I’m a bit of a museum purist, I have to admit, but I think this works very well in an exhibition which doesn’t try to be purist about its subject matter, just instinctive.

There’s also a series of beautiful photographs from the Worth archive, which are well worth a look as well!

What Will She Wear at The Fashion Museum, Bath until 8th January 2012.

Who’s the virgin?

Foale and Tuffin, iain r. webb, mod, peter blake, the who, website listings

Up until Tuesday night, I was a Who-virgin. Now, thanks to Senti, Charley and Lola, I’ve popped my Who-cherry as well as my Albert Hall-cherry. I’ve worked there enough times, but never been to see anything.

It was amazing. In aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust (of which Roger Daltrey is a patron) they performed the entire Quadrophenia album from start to finish, with some stunning visuals from the archives, the film version and newly filmed inserts of Jimmy’s spoken parts.

Frankly I don’t know how they did it. It’s a toughie. But I’m just grateful that they did, and that I was there to see it.

Zak [Starkey] in a box

Then, hanging around fruitlessly at stage door afterwards, Charley spotted Peter Blake coming out and we decided to be geeky together and go and get his autograph. The other day I found myself sitting on a sofa at the Oxford Literary Festival, chatting to the truly amazing Sally Tuffin. (I couldn’t really spin that one out into a blog post of its own, unless I had recorded the entire conversation for posterity…which would be very rude.) Who would later mention her friend Peter Blake in her talk with Iain R. Webb.

It seems amusingly bizarre that I should be asking him (with chattering teeth) for his autograph after a Who gig less than a week later. Life is weird…

In honour of all this mod-ness, here is a rather fabulous red, white and blue striped jumper by ‘Gay Girl Knits’ just listed over at Vintage-a-Peel.

p.s Since some people complain that I never show what I am wearing to these things, I’m going to try and be a bit better about doing it. So here is me in my Celia Birtwell (for Topshop, I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to wear my Ossie Clark original to a Who gig!!) top and hair up. I don’t often put my hair up, but the rain was pouring and I was buggered if I was going to let it control my mood. So up it went!

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’.