Although there’s a link (or two) to the likes of the Medway Scene, Billy Childish’s work and interconnected British beat style garage punk – includingmore than a nod or two to the past but often reimagined, sometimes shared musicians – but it is also a very different kettle of fish to the noir-ish glamour of my own work and many of the cultural reference point that can be found around these parts.
Having said which, there is still a glamour to some of the accompanying imagery but more in a post-war utilitarian shortages and proper short back and sides haircut manner than say the Soho via way of the hidden alleys, burlesques and juke joints of Vegas glamour of much of what can be found around these parts…
Talking of which (and indeed reimagining of other eras and dolly birds) this is probably one of my favourite photographs from what has come to be known as the Medway Scene.
It’s a photograph that was used on the cover of Billy Childish’s book Poems Of Laughter And Violence and was taken by Eugene Doyen, whose images from the time seemed to very much capture the heading towards but not quite mod, actually much more kitchen sink-esque aesthetic of that time, work and place.
The photograph seems to capture a playful, cheeky youthfulness but one that seems to belong more to a time prior the advent of mass youth culture, that’s borrowed – or inherited – and is proud of it’s grandad’s clothes (and has maybe also raided the wardrobe of older female family members but way back in the day).
This was youth culture that would be more likely to be found sipping a cup of tea in a local caff than swilling cocktails down the latest club.
You can see/read a bit more about Eugene Doyen’s photographs from the time (1982-1986) here and see some of his work from that period and later adorning the covers of some of those earlier mentioned beat style garage punk gents and gals here.
Well, while we’re talking about Biba and the late 1960s/early-ish 1970s by way of a re-imagining of the 1920s/1930s and a touch of a kind of classy, moll-ish but also independently minded, noir influenced fashion and aesthetic…
Ms Madeline Smith herself.
When I first saw one of the photographs of Madeline Smith in the one of the Biba mailorder catalogues my mind had a “Is that…? It can’t be…? Blimey!” kind of moments.
If you are an appreciator of certain elements of very British culture from the 1970s, well Ms Madeline Smith (along with Ms Valerie Leon) are generally considered around these parts to be two of the finest exponents of those elements.
I find these photographs interesting in part as I do tend to very much associate Ms Madeline Smith with the 1970s and its more loosely louche culture whereas these seem very firmly rooted in a late 1960s Swinging London sharp high fashion culture.
At this point I think I might have to use the phrase classy dolly birds.
Now, I know a phrase like dolly birds might well put the hackles up on certain readers but is a phrase that is not used in a derogatory manner – it’s written with nothing but respect and an appreciation of how such actresses and that phrase have come to represent a very particular time, aesthetic and glamour in British and British cultural history.
PS The above spread at the top of the post can be found reproduced and bound via here.
PPS Ms Madeline Smith can be seen foregrounding a particular binding of British tales from late at night glamour here.
Now, as you may well gather, around these parts I have something of a soft-spot variously for a touch of noir-ish aesthetics and a certain kind of 1970s grit (intermingled with a dash of 1970s glamour in various forms) and a reimagining of the past in the creation of worlds unto themselves (a Soho of the mind, as it were).
In this post are a couple of my favourite photographs from the somewhat famous 1960s/1970s fashion label and boutique Biba’s mailorder catalogues.
They seem to perfectly capture the late 1960s/early-ish 1970s interest in 1920s/1930s fashion, art deco and the like while intermingling that with fashion styling by the way of China Town, all reimagined and recreated via accessible avant-garde fashion as part of the Biba aesthetics and world – a world created unto itself if ever there was one.
Below are the photographs in their natural home – a spread from one of the Biba catalogues.
This photograph/image of Bettie Page for a long time was something of a favourite. It’s Ms Page at her finest, feisty attitude-ness.
Back a fair few years before vintage and retro were mainstream cultural reference points and when the zeros and ones easy access of the internet was still in its infancy, I bought a photographic grade reproduction of the cover from a, well, vintage clothing stall.
For a long time I didn’t know any more about it other than the image itself – what the magazine was etc and due to the relative scarcity of cultural distribution at the time, that’s the way it stayed.
As an aside and now, due to the nolonger infancy of the internet I know that it’s the cover to a particularly scare 72 page magazine on Ms Page from 1963 (ah that year again, just as change began to gather pace).
Apparently printed in only 1500 copies, it seems to be one of the higher priced Bettie Page items out in the world. I expect you’d need to pay around £300-500 for a copy nowadays. Blimey indeed.
Due in part to that scarcity it seemed like a rare and precious thing but looking at it now, it seems to be a particularly iconic picture of a particularly iconic model – a distilling or honing down of the bad girl side of Bettie Page’s often wholesome cheesecake pinup image, though without moving into her more overly and overtly defined festishistic imagery.
Yes, it’s off its age but it hasn’t gained an almost harmless twee-ness that some pinup imagery from the time has.
In fact, looking at it again recently, this seems like a world away from the girl next door depiction of Bettie Page – this is a much more harsh, fierce beauty and sexuality that seems to reverberate and even have some kind of transgressive or subversive underground quality to it even all these years later.
It is curious how from all the models who were working at that time, Bettie Page and the imagery created with/by her seems to be something of an island of such things.
Mad Men may well have been a form of mod/modernism for grown-ups – this was a world of childhood toys for grown-ups.
Essentially, a whole mini-cultural genre of sharply styled, populuxe-esque Barbie dolls and home made (but far from home made looking) accessories.
I don’t know if this was before, after or a similar time to when I was discovering David Levinthal’s diorama and Barbie based work but it put me in mind of such things but arriving from a more homespun, less fine art base.
One of my early discoveries was the “official” side of such things – the Joan Harris of Mad Men Barbie doll released by Mattel (and hence an overt connection otherly than purely aesthetic ones to the series) that can be seen at the top of this post but soon wandered into this world of handcrafted objects that summoned forth a Mad Man-esque world and its ambience.
Lovely stuff. Much of the furniture, fixtures and fittings that populate this place and the accompanying outfits are often one of a kind (or ooak in modern abbreviated searching and seeking parlance). Even many of the dolls have been modified from the “official” releases.
The image below of such work intrigues me. It’s part of the same series but in its style seems to harbinger the later series of Mad Men, when the sharp 1960s styling began to meet looser late 1960s/early 1970s style.
Stylistically Mad Men ended at a liminal point – there had not yet been a transition from one era to another’s style.
It is something that I would have been interested to see how that aspect would have developed if the series had continued through the years.
There could be seen to be a connection between the affluence and opulence of populuxe styling and that of say affluent 1970s glamour but the former is intrinsically connected to a corseted (uptight?), ideal nuclear family, genre division of home and work roles way of being or philosophy while the latter is founded more in a sense of decadence, (over?) indulgence and the like – the perfect housewife becomes the perfect playmate.
One of the big draws for me was the ambience of the world that it created and projected – that populuxe, sharp very late 1950s/1960s American styling, which was a kind of grown-up Mod thing but from over the other side of the sea.
(A form of mod with a few more sheckels in it’s pocket of course – more than for a tailor made suit or two and a cup of that new fangled Italian style coffee down Soho way.)
It was that ambience and its richness, the lushness, a vintage recreation/reimagining without grit or grain – Erwin Olaf’s Grief, Hope, Rain series of photographs brought to smoothly flickering, storytelling life – that stayed with me after the series.
In honour of those aesthetics, here I gather a few of my favourite promotional related images that to my mind and eye seemed to summon up that world particularly well.
And why not a touch of Roger Sterling channelling Harry Palmer?
As a postscript: Mainstream. Hmmm. It’s interesting how these things work. Mad Men conquered the world while Magic City, which shared some not dissimilar aesthetics was seen by relatively but a few. Visit tales of Magic City around these parts here.continue reading