Wednesday, August 28, 2013

British Style Genius: Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look

Following on from my review of the film 'In Vogue: The Editor's Eye', this is a review by my dear friend and fellow freelance writer Ol Marin. 'British Style Genius: Breaking the Rules - Fashion Rebel Look' will also be screening at ACMI as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Click here for more details. 

Side note: Ol Marin and I are currently working on a new website, which will focus on fashion in film and our local Australian fashion industry. Its arrival is imminent, so watch this space!

Image VIA here.


“On and of the catwalk they made an art out of being outrageous and their style legacy was to give fashion rebels everywhere the courage to wear what they want.”

British Style Genius is a series of 60-minute documentaries produced by the BBC where each examines British style from varying perspectives. Anna Gravelle’s documentary Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look (2009) is the third episode in the series and perhaps the most provocative.

The term ‘punk’ is a perplexing one to explain, especially when its origins and representations are debatable between Londoners and New Yorkers of the mid – late 70’s. For some, the ‘punk look’ will signify something as simple as sporting studded belts and torn t-shirts – an assessment devoid of any cultural and artistic consideration. Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look pays due respect to the sub-culture of punk via the oeuvre of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen, treating it as something more than a fashion statement – an attitude, a form of expression and essentially, a way of life. 

Effectively what Gravelle does is take her audience on a journey through a particular timeframe of fashion. She begins with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren’s business venture from 1974 to 1976, a boutique called Sex, which was notorious for its bondage-inspired attire and shock value t-shirt prints. “We struck gold with fetish wear” states McClaren. The designs for Sex gradually migrated to the past for inspiration and 1950s pin up clothing – leopard print, torn skirts and Tarzan – would motivate the idea of distressed knitwear. As Westwood describes the dynamic behind her infamous pirate trousers, “It looks like you’ve shit your pants”, it becomes evident that her and McClaren’s main objective was to stir convention and rebel by means of a “confrontational street style”.

But the partnership between Westwood and McClaren would cease to flourish as punk style became mainstream. McClaren describes with great sorrow the day that Diana Spencer purchased a ‘balloon shirt’ from the store, signifying a certain seal of approval that did not sit well with McClaren – a man who never strived for general acceptance or admiration. It then became clear that the two designers had different creative visions, as Westwood began to move away from the punk style that her and McClaren revolutionised and concentrate more on creating a concrete label for her pieces. From this point onwards, Westwood would adopt specific features of 17th Century styles and re-structure them to suit modern standards of dissent through fashion. The corset is just one example of Westwood’s evolving projects, which has been re-created time and again by many designers globally, including John Galliano.

Galliano credits Saint Martins School of Art in London for his innovative and bold style, explaining how he was “encouraged to move into different departments” by his teachers who celebrated anarchy. Like Westwood, Galliano cashed in on the idea of fetishized garments, from “naughty French maid” to Geisha-inspired tailoring, thus giving birth to the bias cut slip dress – a silk number that would become a staple LBD-type item in every woman’s wardrobe throughout the 1990’s. These concepts were part of a collection he designed in 1994, when his company was in “dire financial straits” as Anna Wintour explains. Galliano and his assistant Amanda Harlech personally drove the clothing, and the headpieces designed by milliner Stephen Jones, to Paris Fashion Week. There, they were showcased in an abandoned mansion belonging to socialite São Schlumberger and modelled by famous supermodels of the time that agreed to work for free. Although Galliano opted for the cheapest material – black lining – and a minimal aesthetic, the collection was success, providing him with the necessary financial backing he needed. With its cabaret look à la Liza Minnelli, one could pinpoint Galliano’s ode to theatre – something that the “enfant terrible” Alexander McQueen often incorporated as a characteristic in his own shows.

One of the first images that appears in Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look is that of a model clad in a pure white dress splattered with an array of grotesque-coloured paints at a live show. This was Alexander McQueen – hard-edged, provocative and transgressive. He shot to notoriety through his AW 1995 collection, Highland Rape, which was negatively criticized at the time for its violent depictions. But McQueen, who states at the beginning of this documentary, “I suppose I’m a designer with a cause”, opted to portray a historic metaphor for the bloodshed between the Brits and the Scots on Highland territory. He further shocked audiences with his ‘bumster pants’, which as one critic noted, was scandalous at the time but as soon as Britney Spears wore a pair, every girl on the Tube had their thongs exposed.

If we explore closely the life and work of each of these designers, we will come to the realisation that they were not just fashion designers, but pioneers, inventors, visual architects, concept artists and most importantly, dreamers. With any luck, Breaking the Rules – Fashion Rebel Look, will abolish the ignorant opinion that many people have towards fashion on the catwalk. Bringing to light the fact that not all of the creations are made to be worn on the street. They are pieces of art deliberately exaggerated by artists to emphasize the concept behind each collection, to fight for a cause and make themselves heard.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Image VIA

HBO documentary directed and produced by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. 

Note: This film will be screening FOR FREE at ACMI as part of Melbourne Spring Fashion Festival. Click here for more info.


In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye celebrates the women behind the iconic images of Vogue magazine. It explores how fashion has been a “reflection of our times” and how the images in Vogue have acted as mirrors “to the zeitgeist of the moment.” Following a timeline, the documentary takes us through the evolution of Vogue and introduces us to various notable fashion editors that have helped shape the magazine, keep it relevant and turn it into a household name.

Marc Jacobs aptly described fashion as being “…a fairy tale…a fantasy…it is about metamorphosis” and in many ways Vogue is the platform for people to engage with this concept. Its pages are filled with wonder and a seamless blend of reality and make-believe. Going beyond aesthetics, the editors highlight in this documentary that fashion (and as an extension, Vogue) reflects the changes in the world and is effectively “there to report on the world at large.” Fashion editors collaborate with photographers and other individuals to capture a moment in time that will resonate for years to come. Each has a different style or agenda but in the end they are all attempting to create something that is more than merely an image on a page.

Through interviews with fashion editors such as Grace Coddington, Camilla Nickerson, Anna Wintour, Hamish Bowles, Tonne Goodman, Babs Simpson, and Polly Mellen, we are walked through the corridors of Vogue. The editors themselves initially find it difficult to explain their role within the magazine, however they essentially describe a fashion editor as being someone responsible for producing an image. The role of an editor however has undoubtedly changed over the years, and this is the result of technological developments and bigger budgets. Before Photoshop and airbrushing existed, editors went to great measures to achieve the perfect photograph. Susan Train, Editor at Vogue’s Paris bureau 1951, recalls the lengths she would go to for the shot. On one particular shoot, the model was told to run up the steps so that her scarf would move behind her with the wind. Adamant that she would fulfil her vision, Susan ended up tying some string to the scarf and waving it around while running behind the model. The final image then gave the illusion that the scarf was blowing naturally in the wind, and essentially this is what Vogue is all about - seducing its readers and capturing moments that appear natural and spontaneous, when in reality they are often anything but. The fashion editor is the one jumping through hoops to make sure everything runs smoothly. 

Current Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour explains that the fashion editors at Vogue “…all have genius in them and they all have a deep, deep understanding of what makes a great photograph.” Different fashion editors have injected their unique points of view and strengths in to the magazine over time and various directions have been taken depending on the vision of an editor. Hamish Bowles discusses Diana Vreeland and how she had a dramatic impact on the magazine in the 1960s when she was Editor-in-Chief - “Vreeland expressed a whole kind of giddy, liberated, crazy youth quake moment of the 60s.” While some fashion images are rooted in cultural movements or make comment on society, others engage more with fantasy. Grace Coddington is known for her enchanting story telling and archive of iconic images. She has “…an extremely romantic sort of poetic vision…she likes her stories to have a narrative thread, and there’s always going to be something magical about the way it’s presented” says Bowles.

A successful image is the result of a great collaboration, namely between the editor, the photographer and the subject. We are told throughout this film that the best images are those that provoke some kind of reaction, even if the reaction is critical or downright scathing. When Polly Mellen discusses the notorious set of bathroom images by Deborah Turbeville – which received wide criticism at the time - she notes, “sometimes you have to take a risk.” The best images are not always flattering or conventionally beautiful, but they demand attention and intrigue, or have a degree of authenticity. Alber Elbaz, head designer at French fashion house Lanvin, was initially unimpressed by his Vogue portrait, which was taken by the infamous Irving Penn. It wasn’t until his mother asked him why he looked so sad that he understood at this moment “…Irving Penn did not take a picture of me but he x-rayed me.” It is the editor’s responsibility to work alongside the photographer and the subject to ensure the end product is worth printing.

The group of formidable women profiled throughout In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye all appear to have a relentless passion for what they do / used to do. Tonne Goodman emphasises her gratitude when she says that, “Time is such a precious part of our life, and to be able to freeze a moment – whether it is conjured or whether it is spontaneous – is a kind of gift.” The women are depicted as being very strong, charismatic and outgoing, and Hamish Bowles notes that he admires them for being “very much larger than life, flamboyant, opinionated women.” It is their refusal to bow down to societal constraints and to subscribe to the norms that makes their work so noteworthy. Above anything, we are shown that they each have a keen eye for fashion and a great understanding of what makes an extraordinary photograph. 

“It is a family. It is a slightly dysfunctional family, but it is also a very close and warm and loving family.” – Anna Wintour

Monday, August 19, 2013


Tavi Gevinson is coming to town for this year's Melbourne Writers Festival. A little recap of her talk will be posted soon after Friday's event. For now, enjoy these images by Petra Collins for Oyster Magazine.

Images VIA

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


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As part of this year's Melbourne Spring Fashion Week (MSFW), the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) is screening a series of fashion films. As stated in their press release, this season's films will 'focus on British fashion makers and icons and their influence on the international stage.'

The following films are showing:

In celebration of American Vogue’s 120th anniversary, IN VOGUE: THE EDITOR'S EYE, a HBO production, explores how images, styles and trends are cultivated through the eye of the fashion editor. Featuring interviews with makers of some of the best remembered photos, you hear from Babs Simpson who shot Marilyn Monroe, reminiscing how Marilyn’s iced water was actually iced vodka, and we hear from Vera Wang who was a fashion editor atVogue for 10 years, beginning her career as an assistant to the formidable Polly Mellen during the 1970s. It is interesting to note as Tonne Goodman, Fashion Director reminds us “Don’t forget a lot of the editors at Vogue are British” bringing an English sensibility and curatorial eye to the pages.

And many an English icon has been in front of the Vogue lens. For example, it was Polly Mellon who did the first US Vogue shoot in 1967 of British icon Twiggy. It all began when Twiggy, aka Lesley Hornby, was photographed by photographer Barry Lategan for a hairdresser in Mayfair, London, who was experimenting with a new type of hair cut. With the images hung in the window of his salon, it was the Daily Express fashion writer that declared Twiggy ‘The Face of ‘66’. From there, a style was set; mini-skirts, short hair, large eyes, and interviews on Parkinson. Philip Priestley’s documentary TWIGGY: THE FACE OF '66 looks at the phenomenon of Twiggy, Carnaby Street and the English fashion scene of the post WWII era.

Looking more closely at Carnaby Street and the hotbed of creativity it fostered, is BRITISH STYLE GENIUS: BREAKING THE RULES - FASHION REBEL LOOK. Vivienne Westwood emerged around the same time as Twiggy – looking to create a difference within the fashion vernacular and at the same time looking to espouse a political standpoint. Her partner at the time, Malcolm McLaren, teamed with her to push the envelope of what was possible in fashion. She paved the way for expression of individualism and a new era of catwalk shows evolved. This film looks at her journey, and also how this has influenced other designers and their dialogue with the boundaries of fashion.

Rounding out the season is the 2011 documentary PAUL SMITH, GENTLEMAN DESIGNER by Stéphane Carrel. Like Westwood, Smith was not formally trained in clothing design, however, he has made a name for himself as a tailor of fine menswear with a difference. A flourish that allows a man to include whimsy and personality in his business attire; floral lining in a suit, stripes meeting each other at the cuff at 45 degrees, the showcase of socks, shoes and raised trouser hems.

All four films will screen at ACMI from Saturday 31 August through to Saturday 7 September to coincide with Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. 

For more information, session times and tickets, visit
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