Saturday 17 April 2010

Wigs up North

As part of my research into narrative, belongings, femininity and transformation, I visited Manchester's own Wigs up North the other week.

The main purpose of my visit was to see some professional dressing tables in use to add to the dressing table gallery, but I found it soon became more a spotlight on the importance of artifice.

With the syncline 'All the Wigs and Make-Up expertise you'll ever need - in one place', Wigs up North caters to theatrical productions, drag acts, hair loss and film and T.V productions. Recently Peter Kay visited the shop for a hush hush fitting of a wig for his new tour!

I felt as if I had reached something close to heaven walking through the door to find shelves and shelves of make-up and beauty products. Mineral, stage and everyday cosmetics; I studied each shelf with enthusiasm. But it was the back of the shop where the action was really going on.

Dressing tables sat laden with tools waiting for the next transformation to happen. Wigs stood on stands at every level and drawers were filled with wig accessories.
Two students were taking part in a workshop and industrially working away at wig making, and I was allowed to have a good look around and find out more about this particular side of femininity and appearance.

The power of artifice was made ever more apparent to me the more I talked to the owners. The ability to change your appearance takes on a variety of meanings when clients include, members of the transgender and crossgender community, and women suffering from alopecia and undergoing chemotherapy. For many of these people the importance of feeling comfortable and accepted with the way they look is one of the most important aspects of their lives.

Playing around with identity has much to do with how you percieve yourself as well as how others percieve you. So strong is this power that the owners talked of actors whole personalties and physical character changing before their eyes as make up and wigs were applied before a theatre performance.

I was really interested to find out why the girls from Wigs up North got into the industry, as the world of cosmetics and glamour is so close to my heart; to quote a line from Glee, 'makeovers are like crack to me!'

Many answered that their interest stemmed from an arts background, which I can totally understand, for it's easy to see the connection between application of make-up with paints and the ability to create something new each time. But other answers included a love of theatrics starting from childhood. I loved the fact that this successful business is based on imaginations that were captured by the likes of Adam and the Ants and Visage!

The visit was really interesting as it made me think about how looks affect every aspect of life. Cosmetics, hair and style are deeply entwined with personality and behaviour. So next time you put on some lipstick or straighten your hair, just think, it's not just going to change the way you look but you whole day too.

Monday 12 April 2010

Dressing table gallery

It's a family affair this week, with photos from my Nan, sister and myself. Me and my sister took our own photos and I took my Nan's, you can see part of her reflection in the left hand mirror of her dressing table. As an experiment I'd like you to view each picture as a portrait, and see if you get a flavour of our individual personalities. If you do, please let me know what you think :)




Saturday 10 April 2010

A trip to the Plaza

Last night myself and my good friend Layla went to Stockport's beautiful art deco Plaza Cinema to watch Blue Murder at St Trinnian's.

The Plaza is one of those treasures that is right on your doorstep, yet not that well known about. Let me tell you about our evening:

We met outside the entrance in front of glass panelled doors under an awning lit up with old school light bulbs. The whole building is very impressive from the outside, and I felt excited to be seeing a film inside. I could imagine how it might have felt going to the cinema back in the day, when it was a big event at the end of the week.

After being greeted by the doorman and buying our tickets (a very reasonable £6 each) we made our way upstairs to the fully restored tearooms. A riot of pearl colours, and mint green wicker met my eyes! Apparently the tearoom has been decorated exactly as it was back in its heyday, by using photos of the time, even the carpet is of the art deco style, and wouldn't look out of place on an episode of Poirot.

We had to drink our teas fast so as not to miss the organist who played until 7.30pm. Imagine taking your seats in a grand ornate art deco jewellery box whilst having a man play the organ which rises from the floor all lit up in pinks and creams! Our seats were in the upper circle which meant we got a great view of the entire interior, including the columns and screens decorating the walls and the beautiful emboidered stage curtain. (A gift from one of the patrons so Layla tells me)

As the organist slowly lowered back into the floor the lights dimmed and the curtains opened... and we were treated by a comedy short of Laurel and Hardy! The audience loved it and it was good to see the duo of decades ago can still have a crowd in stitches!

After a short interval where ice cream was available to buy from round the neck of an usherette, the main film began. Blue Murder at St Trinian's was made in 1957 and has an all star cast of British comedy greats including George Cole as Flash Harry, Joyce Grenfell as an incompetent police woman and the ever seductive rogue Terry Thomas! But that wasn't all, the 'school swot' was played by Stockport's very own blonde bombshell Sabrina! A woman with an 17inch waist(!), Sabrina was the Northwest's answer to Jayne Mansfield. Despite being billed next to Alistair Simms (another favourite) she was only in the film for a few minutes, reclining on a bed reading a book while awe struck policemen 'searched' her room.

The film was brillinat fun and got lots of laughs. I was quite shocked when the picture began to flicker then race then stop altogther. But this minor technical hiccup only added to the authenticity of visiting a fully functioning vintage cinema. The picture was soon back on the screen and we were once again able to immerse ourselves in diamond thefts, Itallian royality and sexy schoolgirls in VERY short skirts!

We had a fab night and I would highly recommend a visit to anyone else with a penchant for vintage style, classic old school and a longing for the good old days!

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Halfway review

I've been having a think and I've decided to review the dressing table gallery. I have been so pleased with the response I've had from readers of this blog and friends on the web, so thank you so much if you have participated!

The reasoning behind this online interactive project is as follows:

-I've been thinking about creating a new series of work for a while based on illustrating a story through a character's belongings, and I especially want to focus on female and feminine apparel.

-I am also extremely interested in female transformation and artifice, and my work usually takes on a theatrical showman like element, but in this instance I wanted to narrow it down and examine the moment of transformation many women undergo on an everyday basis by focusing on the dressing table.

I've found that combining these two strands of thought into an interactive online gallery has been really helpful in opening up new ideas to me and it has worked on many levels:

-We get a voyeristic snapshot into someone's private world, and lets face it who doesn't enjoy having a good old nosey at other womens belongings! I find it fascinating.

-I intended each photo to act as portrait of each woman's femininty. This would would have happened if some of the dressing tables were used just for make up etc as in the old school vintage photos I posted last week.

-Instead of being strictly feminine, I've found the photo's give a fuller description of each woman's life including the messy and illogical bits! I've found that a bit distracting, but I'm making it work to my advantage by reading further into the images and disecting the story behind them. It's made me think differently about the way modern women face the world in the morning and how complicated our lives are.

Vicki Morris' dressing table; 'My picture is of the nearest thing I have to a dressing table. I actually apply a bit of make-up while I'm sitting on the Tube from a small make-up bag. But this chest of drawers is where I put the things I use to spruce myself up before I leave the house!'

In all so far, the gallery has been really interesting by throwing up unexpected insights, and I've loved getting to know everyone through my favourite girly ritual! Make -up forever!

Monday 5 April 2010

Dressing Table Gallery

Two sneaky peeks into the private world of some lovely ladies today, and in this case both snaps have been taken by UK burlesque performers!

Firstly we have Heather Sweet, a unique and curvacious performer with a wonderful sense of humour. You can see her myspace page HERE

I like this busy photo, the girly colours and styles that contrast with the monster picture on the wall behind, I also like the hint of the room reflected in the mirror. Her dressing table is very sweet, just like her name, with glass accessories and a white tiered basket. for nick nacks. You can also see a sewing machine in the corner, the tell tale sign that the burlesque life isn't always full of glamour, a girl needs to adjust and sew her own costumes sometimes too!

The second photo was taken by Jubilee Swoon. When she's not appearing as a rampaging viking or a glamorous butterfly, this burlesque performer, obviously likes to spend a good amount of time by her dressing table

It seems like a normal photo to begin with, but on closer inspection we can glean a lot about Jubilee; aside from the usual make up and hair products we see, organised chaos! neat piles of objects, ordered in boxes and files. Every space is used for storage, I doubt she ever sits on that stool!

I'm sure she applies the same effort of organistion in her contrastingly flamboyant acts!

You can see see more of Jubilee on her myspace page, HERE
Or read her burlesque blog HERE