Thursday, 18 November 2010

Seeing stars...

I was back in Stoke on Tuesday to view some of the vintage branded product items that Stoke Pottieries Museum and Art Gallery holds in order to illustrate my dressing room set to the fullest extent.

Most of the branded products are housed within the social history collection rather than the decorative arts collection, and as it turns out have changed the direction of the project; No dressing table would be complete without the required beauty products and perfumes, and I origianlly wanted these products to reflect the refined character of the project's story. An upper class socialite of the late 1940's early 50's.

However the branded items in the museum are all very everyday and in turn reflect the ordinary working class and middle class women of Stoke! Of course! This was just one of the seemingly obvious things I've learnt whilst this project has unfurled.

No Channel or Givenchy here, but popular products all the same.
Tokalon, originally established before 1900 was relaunched in 1930's

and became a good seller for cosmetics and toiletries.

I was suprised and rather relived to find out that ladies of the era had
access to Tampax! A welcome if not very glamorous addition to the dressing room.

Perfumes and cosmetics of the 1940's and early 50's were produced in very
sizes due to rationing. This bottle of Phul-nana fits into the palm of my
hand! Not the ostetatious larger bottles I'd envisiged

So cue a drastic change of class for my character. Instead of the femme fatale aristocratic type, she is now a much more accessable kind of girl. With Stoke's history revolving around it's potteries there is a chance she worked in something similar or perhaps as a shop worker. I have an inkling she might be married to a shop keeper and therefore be a little better off.

But I still want her to have glamour, I want the dressing room to evoke a vintage style that people will find intriguing and enjoy looking at and therefore encourage them to learn about the artifacts within. If the 'Dressing Table Gallery' taught me anything, it's that we love looking at other women's personal objects and 'oohing' and 'ahhing' over attractive belongings.

Being a girl limited means doesn't mean my character can't dream. Indeed the era of the 1940's and 50's was a time of escapism as the war years cast a gloomy shadow of limitation and loss over most of the country. This is where I see an opening for the glamour aspect. Popular pastimes included theatre going, a day at the races (dogs that is), the radio and the cinema.

Frank Sinatra and Katherine Hepburn were some of the major stars of the time thanks to
the films they appeared in.

The glorious silver screen was perhaps one of the most influential of pastimes.
In 1946 there were 39 cinemas in the Stoke area! The wonderful website Stoke on Trent Film Theatre, states that as well as being a source of information about what was happening during and after the war courtesy of the newsreel, cinemas were cultural spaces in which, 'fantasies of escape to exotoic lands, and dreams of identifaction with idealised images could be given free rein' How wonderful!

It stands to reason that the glamour the stars of the time exuded set many trends back in their day and home made versions of the must have fashions took off. Hairstyles were emmulated and women would try their hand at improvising the make-up 'look' of their favourite screen siren.
Where better to find these gems of information than in the contemporary magazines of the day?

A fabulous article called 'Keep it up!' not only highlights the female love of self decoration but the title touches on the importance of looking ones best during a time of national crisis and hardship. Check out the hairstyle in the top right! Lady Gaga eat your heart out! Incidentally all these women were stars of the day.

Cue my browsing a selection of Home Notes magazine from the late 1940's. A treasure trove of advertisments, beauty tips, short stories and recipes. You could say they were the Woman's Own of the past. The magazine reached a readership of 299,000 by 1952 and would have been a good source of information for the working class and middle class woman.

'Calling all career girls. it's practical feminine business sense to look like a sucess you
are going to be'

Deborah Kerr is labled with some of the most beautiful hair in the world
thanks to Lustre Cream Shampoo. It's worth noting the
power of celebraty
was strong even then, and as an aspirational young
woman the character
from my project would have been drawn to
this kind of product.

'Try to wear fur somewhere near your face. It needn't be a mink coat.
The tiniest
furry touch will flatter your skin and eyes!'

'Cocks Comb, or Cherry or Satin Red will give your lips a lovely winter glow'

My visit also allowed me to view some of the playbills and programmes of the area's many theatres and dance halls. It really highlighted how important social outings and entertainment was.

A beautifully classy cover for a theatre programme I couldn't help
but be drawn to especially as it shows a lady at her dressing table!

An amateur production programme from 1950

The marking sheet for an amateur dance test, 'Good footwork, hand
postition could be better'.

One of the photos I have put aside to be displayed on the dressing table shows a
couple dancing, to represent my character and her husband. Maybe they
went to a dance class like this one from 1951.

The Hanley Theatre Royal enjoyed a grand re-opening in 1951
were it boasted being, 'Enlarged, re-built and entirley modernised'!

Really it seems the change in direction has opened up a whole new range of possibilities for my character. In fact I quite like her now, I suppose I can relate to her love of entertainment and need for glamour. She avidly follows the films, has a keen sense of fashion in which she's eager to emmulate her favourite stars and enjoys music and the theatre. But she does all this without the advantage of pots of money and free time. Like many of us she does what she can, but oh how she loves to dream!

Her dreamy outlook on life also opens up many possiblites about her relationship with her husband, her friends and her past, all things I hope to leave open to interpretation through the postioning and choice of items within the finished set. She seems to be rounding up nicely, perhaps it's time to give her a name...


Kittie Howard said...

To her dying day, my mother hated WWII movies. She said they made everyone look glamorous, when that wasn't the case. Lipstick was difficult to obtain, even for the rich, because a key ingredient is oil. Hair spray wasn't popularized until the 1950s...Richard Nixon's friend, Bebe Ribozo, had to invent the areosol spray...anyway, after WWII there was rationing for about a year. I would like to add that Americans greatly admired England's royal family (definitely including the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) because they were so natural looking.

Laura said...

I thought you'd like this:

It mentions many of the things we have found

Gemma Parker said...

Thanks Laura, that was really interesting, plus I found it exciting to read about some of the branded names we've seen in the museum. The 'I'm washing my hair' line now makes soooo much more sense!

Gemma Parker said...

Kittie, I'm also proud of our Royals and I'm so pleased they were admired for their natural looks during the war, when if anyone could afford luxury products it was them!

I find it interesting your Mother was opposed to the 'false' glamour portrayed in the movies of the time. It's quite a different view to the one my generation are told about. Thank you for you input :)***