Friday, March 26, 2010

Ford's Colour-Rich 'A Single Man'

If a film were a painting, it would be A Single Man. The Tom Ford drama is a colour-rich tableau of 1960s design elements. From the mauve cigarettes, to sixties fashion, the film is all about colour. Using colour to highlight emotions, the viewer is lured into the layered narrative of the film through its rich palette of sixties hues. This is exactly what happened to me. I found myself captivated by the surreal quality of the film. Ford added colour to scenes of happiness, flirtation or poignancy, with a distinct greyness dominating moments of melancholy. This masterful colour awareness tells of Ford's profession as a fashion designer, with A Single Man marking his first foray into writing/ directing.

After my ranting about colour, I should probably talk about the film itself! A Single Man is based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood. It is the story of a middle aged College English professor in LA, George Falconer, who desperately seeking to inject some colour back into his life, so to speak. George, a native Englishman is played by Colin Firth. The actor leaves his stereotype of the desirable rom com hero behind in this role, embodying this tormented, yet passionate character. George's partner Jim (played by the gorgeous Matthew Goode) has recently died in a car accident, and his life has become one of monotony and recluse. Even his past love Charley, played by the wonderful Julianne Moore can't bring him out of his melancholy. Charley is a middle-aged divorcee, who looks like what a go-go dancer would be, some twenty years after their time on stage. Her perfectly coiffured hair and elaborately painted face mask a complex and deeply sad individual. Ford's masterly of colour and design are exemplified in his characterisation of Charley, with her mauve cigarettes and exotic boudoir telling of her dramatic personality. The same technique is used to convey the image of George as a more structured personality. The film opens with him dressing himself in the morning. George speaks about how his identity is constructed each day, carefully and slowly, before being shown to the world around him.

Colour is drawn on by Ford to tell of George's character. As he is in a state of depression, George is shown as a grey figure, with his business suits and static image conveying a sense of routine and unhappiness to the viewer. This is not just in his clothing, but in his complexion. Each time he experiences happiness, like watching the kids next door playing or talking about literature to one of his students, his cheeks become flushed. This subtlety tells of Ford's awareness of the power of colour as a marker for expression. One of my favorite scenes is when George goes for a late night swim with one of his students at a Californian beach. The most intense hues of blue fill the screen - midnight blue in the sky, a luminescent moonlit sand, framing a rich blue ocean. The shot is so powerfully, with this power conveying the significance of this event in George's life.

In essence, this film is about dealing with the daily routines of life. Routines that, for ambitious or creative types, signal a life of mediocrity. George's solitude, and friendship with a young student, who has the same curiosity that he once had, are used to explore the ways in which our lives turn out differently to anticipated. George, having planned to spend his life with Jim, is forced to contemplate a different future. A grey future, solitary future. The prospect of this seems too overwhelming and lifeless for George, who instead seeks escape from it. Colour and design are used to subtlety reinforces these themes. The spilled ink that marks George's bedsheets and leaves stains on his lips symbolises his personal deluge. This draws on the ways in which we associate certain shades with certain emotions. People wishing for an idealised life speaking of looking at the world with rose-coloured glasses. In A Single Man, Ford adopts glasses of all different colours, revealing the many shifts of perspectives inherent in society.

All in all, this is an excellent film!


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

All About Elsa

Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most original fashion designers of the 20th century. The other day whilst lunching with my best girlfriend, we got onto the subject of fashion. As two twenty somethings, we were reflecting at how our style had evolved over the years. I have long been a believer in the power of fashion. I think what you choose to wear, or not to wear makes a powerful statement about your identity. I think Elsa Schiaparelli believed this too. She created some of the most interesting and imaginative fashion pieces that I have ever seen! And in the era of the streamlined Chanel suit.

Elsa Schiaparelli. Evening coat (collaboration with Jean Cocteau), fall 1937. Blue (now faded) silk jersey with gold metal and red silk embroidery and pink silk appliqued flowers Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Italian born French couturier saw clothing as objects of art, using the body as a canvas to project her ideas. She tapped into the long association between disguise and fashion, drawing on the principles of Surrealism to explore this idea in her collections between 1936 and 1939. Schiaparelli worked alongside several of the movement’s leading artists. Surrealist artists inspired and collaborated with her in her designs, resulting in the shocking juxtaposition of artefacts, patterns and colours she became famed for. Making them just the style that I love, though am probably not brave enough to wear.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Bootees, winter 1939-40. Pink, green, and white silk satin and leather with mother-of-pearl buttons, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Monkey Fur Shoes, black suede and monkey fur, 1938.

Schiaparelli's couture designs drew on the advancements of the modern world, seeking to bring a sense of escapism, humour and bohemian liberty to the uncertain world of Parisian high society of the late 1930’s. She was not a trained couturier, instead relying on aesthetic instincts and originality to challenge the norms of the fashion industry. The freedom of Surrealism was Schiaparelli’s rationale to let her imagination run wild in her designs, designs that she envisaged to go “beyond the crude and boring reality of merely making a dress to sell.” The boutique featured interior decorations by many in the group, including the quirky Spanish artist Salvador Dali. One can only imagine what a room designed by Dali would look like!

Elsa Schiaparelli, Evening dress and head scarf with tear design (collaboration with Salvador Dalí), summer/fall 1938. Light blue, magenta, and black silk crepe.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Dali worked with Schiaparelli on her Autumn/Winter 1937 collection, producing several bizarre and intriguing couture pieces. One of these is the famous Tear-Illusion Dress of 1937. The deceptive design reflects the concerns of the Surrealist movement, in attempting to provide a new perception on traditional forms, such as the evening dress. The piece is created from the luxurious fabric of silk crêpe, complimented with an appliqué voile headscarf. While appearing simply a beautiful ladies gown, in true Schiaparelli style, closer examination reveals a much more unsettling undertone. The flowing cream voile is interspersed by a printed purple pattern, appearing as ‘rips’ in the fabric, representing bruised flesh. Now that would make for some interesting conversation at a cocktail party!

Elsa Schiaparelli, Shoe Hat, (collaboration with Salvador Dalí), winter 1937-38. Black wool felt. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of Rose Messing, 1974 (1974.139).
Photograph copyright 2002 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Elsa Schiaparelli, Evening dress with lobster print (collaboration with Salvador Dalí), summer/fall 1937. White and red silk organza. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Schiaparelli’s collaborations with the Surrealists aimed to encourage new interpretations for familiar objects and clothing. This ambiguity is seen throughout the Dali/Schiaparelli creations, such as their
Lobster Dress and Shoe Hat. Each of these again combined the conventions of dress with the peculiar. What could be more appropriate on a luxury evening gown than the image of a lobster? I can't help but think of Lady Ga Ga's outrageous and wonderful ensembles when I see Schiaparelli's Monkey Fur Shoes and Shoe Hat. Divine!

Elsa Schiaparelli, Harlequin Evening Coat, spring 1939. Blue, black, red, yellow, and white wool felt with silk embroidery. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Schiaparelli’s spectacular floor-length Harlequin Evening Coat of the 1939 Commedia dell’Arte collection, produced in collaboration with Man Ray and his painting Beau Temps shows a more theatrical and playful interpretation of Surrealist movement. The garish, cubist-style patchwork envelops the wearer, marking a strong contrast to the subdued qualities of the standard 1930’s women’s coat. The piece is bold and provoking, in the same manner of her Dali works. These designs tap into the Surrealist philosophy of art with no logical conception, making for some very creative and fun fashion pieces! I don't think winter could be called the dull season if you sported a coat like this.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Dinner Jacket, spring 1947. Black crepe and 'shocking' pink silk taffeta with paillette and seed-pearl embroidery and jet buttons.
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Elsa Schiaparelli, Blouse, ca. 1937, rayon, length at CB: 21 1/2 in. (54.6 cm), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Schaparelli continued this contemporary, playful approach to the fashion industry in her invention of garment titles and fabric names, still used today. These include royal and ice blue, wheat yellow, and most famously, shocking pink. I wouldn't mind a bit of shocking pink in my wardrobe.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Trompe l'Oeil Jumper, November 1927, Black and white wool.
Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Surrealist emphasis on distortion and masquerade can be seen in many of Schiaparelli’s designs. This interest is evident from her early design years, with her famous Trompe l’Oeil jumper of 1927. The piece, as the name suggests, fools the viewer into believing it features an attached bow beneath it’s characteristic 1920’s jabot collar, when in fact the bow design is knitted into the fabric. Deceptive or not, this is one cute jumper and certainly more interesting than your average knit. You don't even have to worry about the bow getting crushed out of shape.

Elsa Schiaparelli, Evening Dresses, 1951, silk, Length at CB: 51 in. (129.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Just as the Surrealists questioned established concepts on art, Schiaparelli did so with dress. Women of the 1930’s were living increasingly active and independent lives. These circumstances lead Schiaparelli to create multi-purpose garments. This is seen in her bustle dresses, which included a pleated 19th century-style bustle at the back where the young woman could conceal a flask. Now that is some clever design work! Garments like these used Surrealist principles of disguise to encourage women to move away from conservatism, while still retaining their femininity, as the designer said of her aims; “Ninety percent [of women] are afraid of being conspicuous, and of what people will say. So they buy the grey suit.”

Schiaparelli's collections demonstrated that fashion need not adhere to convention. Her fabulous designs incorporated bright colours, unusual embellishments and patterns to otherwise standard items of clothing. Despite ending her career in bankruptcy in the 1950’s and being largely forgotten by the art world, one can see in her creations a vision of the Surrealist psyche. Fashion for Schiaparellis was a means of escaping, if only temporarily, from the boring and the everyday. One only has to look at designers like Alannah Hill to see how fashion designers continue to use fashion as a means of visual experimentation. Very fun and quirky experimentation at that!

The message from Ms Schiaparelli, when in doubt, never, never buy the grey suit!

Now to track down one of those shoe hats...



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Computer trawling

This is what happens when I stay at home every evening for a week. I trawl through the random images that have ended up in my "Other Stuff" folder on my laptop. This behaviour, I understand, only invites all kinds of allusions to my impending full-time hermitness, but oh well.

Still, the variety of the images that I've collected seemed kind of amusing when viewed side-by-side. This is a random sample:

No idea where this came from. But it's pretty awesome.

From xkcd

Lol cat from Icanhazcheezburger via Harpyness

Pretty sure this was from ffffound

Dino comic from Qwantz

Esther xx

Friday, March 12, 2010

Weather is serious news here

This afternoon, after a month of solid sunshine, Wellington made friends with a giant southerly front, direct from Antarctica.

(Epic storm front coming over Wellington harbour. All images from

Wellingtonians seem to have a complex relationship with weather: they've long realised that their city is a blustery storm trap for squally, meterological events. The airport's slogan is "Wild At Heart" and all the "welcome" style flags around the run-way bear the statement: "Wellington Aiport, Celebrating 50 WILD years". (If you never plan on flying to Wellington, or if you do, and don't mind anticipating bit of a wild ride, check out this video compilation of plane landings.)

In the arts field too, the weather plays a significant role: public sculptures are deliberately designed around the winds. Sculptures reel, spin, wave and light up as the wind blows through them.There's also "weather" poetry (see the Wellington based anthology, Big Weather).

Even on a day-to-day basis, a calm (oh! pun!) acceptance of the weather takes place: people don't bother with umbrellas and will never run somewhere in the rain if they'd normally walk.

Intense weather then, is a universally acknowledged truth.

Except, somehow, weather remains to be news. It's a national preoccupation. I am convinced that the weather report takes up a good half of the evening news bulletin. But I don't understand why. I mean, Wellingtonians (and New Zealanders in general) know that the weather can get spectacularly nasty. But why then does a storm front become a lead news item? Weather is not news. It's a constant.

And right now, it's constantly wild.

xx Esther

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another café review (and some zine action!)

I love cafés. They’re my happy place. So really, I can’t help that this is another café review. It’s for C1 Espresso, on High Street in Christchurch which, during my weekend spent trying out a possible vocation as a cowgirl, I managed to visit it twice. That’s how good it is. (And yes, you may have noticed that I like to only review cafes that I’ve already decided are superdooper cool – why would I bother wasting words on the dodgy ones?)

C1, just being cool

Like most of my favourite cafes, C1 does an excellent long black, the décor is funky and alternative (they fill the holes in their brick walls with lego, people!) and there’s a large range of fresh counter food options (I tend to be too impatient to order off the menu – but their menu options do look great). Although I had a brief Oh Noes! moment when I realised they didn't serve date scones, their tasty, baked-on-the-premises sweet or savoury muffins are more than adequate replacements (the spinach, feta and tomato relish one is especially good) (so good in fact that I ate it all before I remembered to take photos).

Lego-filled brick wall. For the win.

When I went to C1 in the afternoon for a hot Lemon, Honey and Ginger drink, I brought along an issue of a very charming zine, Story To…Pod People (Issue Two) which I bought earlier that morning at a groovy handmade, design-y shop (I’ve completely forgotten the name of it… fail), just off Litchfield Lane.

Story To’s collection of public-transport themed musings range in tone and in style from the amusing to the grotesque to the quaint to the grim. It’s interesting really worth trying to find a copy. Story To… is produced in Melbourne, and though it’s currently on hold, its creators are working on other interesting projects, so hopefully we should again receive more interesting compilations of words and pictures from them.

Esther xx

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fashion and "stylish" bastards

Right. So far on this blog, other’s media commentary has (more or less) been left alone. But no more.

On Sunday, in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times, I read this article about how teenage girls should dress, which, to put it mildly, seriously pissed me off. Honestly, after spending my morning shifting a herd of cattle and a bunch of horses off a very low-lying (ie. sea level) property on the Banks Peninsula so that the tsunami wouldn’t scare them (the surge did end up flooding the property!), one of the last things I wanted to read was a snarky opinion piece that spent its entire word-length indoctrinating young girls into a world of low-self esteem and insecurity about their bodies.

Now, I know that Sunday Star Times is a trash-bag paper, so I wasn’t expecting in-depth intellectually rigorous journalism. But neither was I expecting such preachy, prudish, conservative ranting that uses phrases like “preserve modesty” and says that for teenage girls it’s best to “keep things hidden” – here they mean breasts/cleavage but by using “things” all they do is to encourage girls to be super-aware and extremely uncomfortable with their changing bodies. Why not call breasts breasts people?

Author Lois Cairns does address those tacky semi-sexual slogan t-shirts teenagers have a preference for (though one of the examples cites – “Miss Bitch” doesn’t seem that sexual to me). I agree that it’s creepy when say, a seven-year-old wears a t-shirt emblazoned with “Porn Star!” or asks for a g-string, but she's talking about teen dressing - a majority of teenagers are nothing if not ludicrously horny – if they want to advertise this across their chests, well, it’s a bit trashy, but let them.

However, the worst part of this article for me was the way it encourages young girls experimenting with fashion to only think about how they look in negative, restrictive terms. Cairns quotes a “leading stylish” (she's been on breakfast television) (and who the fuck is actually a “stylist” anyway), Stephanie Rumble, who lays down a number of key “rules” girls have to abide by. She draws attention to “heavy thighs” and says that girls who have these terrible legs must wear longer-length tops in order to “hide” the heavier part of the thigh. Because, you know, shock horror, society isn’t prepared to accept that people and their bodies come in different shapes and sizes. Can you imagine what this article could (and probably has) done to some girls’ esteem? Because you’re “heavier” you’re told you’re not allowed to wear the latest fashions and instead have to hide away? This is not only discriminatory but just so very damaging to girls who are already insecure.

All Cairns achieves here is a perpetuation of the incredibly limited range of socially acceptable body shapes. Moreover, she also highlights how women are lectured to, made to be aware of their appearances, and told to follow "rules" (ie. “Don’t be a slut! Hide those breasts!” and “If you’re a fatty, hide under a mu-mu!”) from a very young age. This is not about dressing “appropriately”. This is about setting women up for a life-time of insecurity about bodies, clothes and the world of dressing in general. And this pisses me off.

Esther xx