Friday 19 November 2010

Got a light?

The perfect accessory, Marlene made smoking sexy

During my last visit to the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery at Stoke while viewing the branded items for the dressing table we came across a book of matches. This in turn led me to think about smoking and the huge influence it had back in the 1940's and 50's.

Before we realised that those little sticks could kill you the act of lighting up was considered fashionable and even classy! As that day, we had been also looking at entertainment and cinema from the local area, this led me to think the project's character would probably want to emmulate her idols by also taking up smoking.

Crawford takes a drag

Much of the glamour associated with smoking was proliferated by the advertising of the time which was in turn acted out in many films so popular back then. A rather brilliant article about the feminisation of smoking called 'Red tips for Hot lips; advertsing cigarettes for young women in Britain 1920-70' was brought to my attention on my last visit.

It states that one of the main strategies to make smoking an attractive option for females was to associate it with beautiful or famous women both in the USA and UK. Adverts for a brand called De Reszke Minors utilised the assistance of film stars such as Peggy Wood and Gracie Fields; 'If Gracie Fields offered you a cigarette, it would be a De Reszke of course'! These type of adverts were aimed mostly at middle class and upper class women such as the readers of Vogue and Miss Modern.

Lets also not forget the visually seductive quality of smoking. The focus of the hands the elegance of long fingers occupied, the framing of the face and above all the focus of the mouth! Smoking was probably one of the most risque things a woman could do on screen, especially if the said smoke was offered and lit by a man.

Bacall knows how to do it herself; she just puts her lips together...

The association of smoking with the movies was further solidified by the use of cigarette cards. Collectable cards which came with the cigarettes and focused on individual film stars, giving a photo and sometimes information. Although not entirley aimed at women I'm sure some girls might have got a kick from opening the wrapper to find Clark Gable nestling inside!

Some of the gimmicks proffered by the advertisers of the time to a specifically female audience were the red tip, so no unattractive red smudges would appear on the cigarette! Brilliant. And the cork tip; This little invention proved helpful in preventing tobacco sticking to lips and therefore compromising the perfect image that had been carefully constructed.

Rita avoids that messy tobacco by using a holder

Bette looks the modern and independant woman with her cigarette

The epitomy of sophisication, Katherine Hepburn

Lamarr and her long perfectly manicured hands highlighted by a cigarette

All this glamour, it's making me crave a cigarette right now! Not to smoke you understand, but to hold and wave ever so airily and elegantly about. It's true to say smoking has never been so attractive to watch since this golden era. One can't help but wonder why women were focused on quite so much at this time though, was it to make money from a previously nearly untapped market, was it because the act of smoking helped to de-stress in times of hardship? Whatever the case it sure did look pretty.

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...

Thursday 11 November 2010

Neeta Madahar: Flora

Laura with Irises: Neeta Madahar

While my Stoke project is moving on to the next stage I thought I'd share with you an artist whose work really caught my attention over the past few weeks.
Neeta Madahar, is a photographer whose new work is celebratory of women and uses a decorative theme which completely enchants and speaks to my love of female glamour!

Last year I wrote about Madame Yevonde, a photographer from the 1930's who produced a series of images based on goddesses. It is this work which has inspired Madahar and similar set ups and themes can be seen mirrored in her portraits series; Flora.

The Hon Byron Guinness as Venus: Madame Yevonde

Using friends and work collegues as models Madahar asked each one to choose a flower which has been used as a womans name to personify in their portrait. Whereas Yevonde photographed the titled peers of her social circles, such as' The Hon Byron Guinness as Venus', giving them an etherial filmic glamour in each shot, Madahar uses very normal looking women. In fact the lack of photoshopping is very refreshing in this day and age and it's the contrast of real and artificial which helps to make the images so intriguing.

Sian with Bluebells: Neeta Madahar

I love the campy aestheticsm, the artificial lighting and sets and vintage glamour, but I also love the way the models are natural in portrayal of size, age and looks.

There is a fantasy in each shot which transports the viewer and perfectly captures the personification of the flower in question. Artifice rules yet again. Despite the believability of the models they have successfully altered their everyday appearance to give a performance which only seems to maginfy their own characters and personal stories.

Venus Verticordia: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The idea of women with flowers or nature is an ancient one and one that has been touched upon hundreds of times, and I'm happy that the powerful myth is still inspiring artists today and producing images that glorify the female as icon! I think Madahar's Flora images could be seen as deceptfully simple but they are actually full of meaning and layered in history, reference and narrative.

Lee with Fushias: Neeta Madahar