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Entries in 1910s (32)


Boho v. Bohemian

Boho style has never appealed to me, and I lay the blame squarely on Sienna Miller. In the Nineties and early Noughties, she became so ubiquitous and synonymous with this style that I had to suppress a shudder at the sight of her whenever I flipped the page in a magazine. She was everywhere, extolled and lavished with praise, as was the gypsy style she popularised.

In my mind, ‘boho’ seems sometimes to be interchangeable with the word ‘hideous’. It is indiscriminately used to describe anything with a vaguely hippy appearance, and often involves yards and yards of enveloping Seventies polyester knit, paisley print, miles of fringing, a granny’s-worth of crochet, tiered gypsy skirts, pirate boots (preferably in tan leather or suede), floral leather thong headbands (with or without a crystal pendant), multitudes of long necklaces and an excessive quantity of rings worn on practically every finger at once (see below).

The closest I came to anything boho during my style evolution was a printed Indian full skirt I wore when I was at art school. My mum told me I looked like a gypsy. (Gypsies were a common sight when she was growing up in Yugoslavia in the Forties and Fifties.) I actually found it quite difficult to dress up for this photoshoot, and it took me two attempts to find something emulating boho style.

Today the term ‘boho’ is popularly taken to be an abbreviation simply for ‘bohemian’, but in fact its style origin is more particular, and comes from the French term ‘bobo’. It is ‘short for bourgeois bohème. Parisians who are both upscale and artistic. Similar to the original meaning of the American ‘hipster’, but generally laced with a uniquely French je ne sais quois.’ [Urban Dictionary]

But this is still a very superficial description of the boho chick – I wanted to know who were the original Bohemians, and what distinguished them from their style counterpart of today.

The Origin of the True Bohemians

The original Bohemians sprung up in the late nineteenth century. As Wikipedia describes it: ‘Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits.’ Or as Virginia Nicholson, author of Among the Bohemians – Experiments in living 1900–1939 [Viking, 2002], puts it:

‘Subversive, eccentric and flamboyant, the artistic community in England in the first half of the twentieth century was engaged on the bold experiment of refashioning not just their art, but their daily lives. They were the pioneers of a domestic revolution.’

Artists, poets, and writers such as Rupert Graves, Augustus John, Dora Carrington, Virgina Wolf, the Bell family of the Bloomsbury Group and many, many more paved the way for how we live today.

Vanessa BellThey in turn were inspired by the emigrating Romanies. The origin of the word ‘bohemian’ is interesting. Today the French Bohémien is translated as ‘Gypsy’, but the original Boii were refugees from the area known until recently as Czechoslovakia. From the early days of the Roman Empire until the Middle Ages, a diaspora of these people fled into Western Europe. They joined groups of disreputable wandering minstrels, unfrocked priests and monks, and from then the word ‘Bohemian’ became associated with such nomadic groups of similar style. When the first genuine Romanies appeared in France with their colourful and vagabond lifestyle, they were immediately associated with the previous refugees. By the sixteenth century, all gypsies were indiscriminately named bohemians.

The Kalderasà invade Britain, 1911 (from Among the Bohemians, by Virginia Nicholson)Augustus John, who modeled his life on the vagabond gypsy and was possibly the original bohemian, was an artist active in the early twentieth century. At the turn of the century after discovering the world of the gypsies in the encampments outside Liverpool, he wrote, ‘Henceforth I was to live for Freedom and the Open Road! No more urbanity for me, no more punctilio…’ Clothing was already deliberately neglected in defiance of his respectable upbringing; he then adopted an exhibitionist style, wore gold earrings, wild hair and beard, which, in his own words, ‘often failed to recommend me to strangers’.

The bohemians of this era celebrated camaraderie, they partied hard, and were irresistibly spontaneous.

His mistress and later second wife, Dorothy McNeill appeared in his paintings metamorphosed as ‘the gypsy goddess Dorelia, her graceful figure swathed by Augustus in yellow folds or sculpted in blue draperies. In his paintings her head is scarved or turbaned, and smocked children caper at her feet, which appear bare from beneath the folds of her long dress. A bright medieval-looking tunic follows the contours of her form. She raises her arms to the sky.’ [Nicholson] Here is the boho babe personified!

Dora Carrington (left) with fellow bohemiansThe bohemians of this era celebrated camaraderie, they partied hard, and were irresistibly spontaneous. Bohemian women bobbed their hair, shockingly wore trousers, and discovered the freedom of sandals after the confinement of uncomfortable shoes. They slept under the stars and climbed trees barefoot. Wearing sandals was actually quite scandalous, indicating libertarian ideals, a preference for beauty, health and comfort over respectability. Though they were expensive, the wearing of sandals indicated anti-affluence— Dorothy John, when seen wearing sandals, was presumed destitute.

Wearing sandals was actually quite scandalous, indicating libertarian ideals, a preference for beauty, health and comfort over respectability.

Hallmark Style of the Modern Boho Babe

According to popular modern notions, bohemian are airy-fairy hippy chicks dressed mostly in romantic, earthy garments, who are fond of wafting around in fields with a breeze ruffling their Rapunzelesque locks with their eyes half-closed pensively. In short, they are inspired by the popular notion of the nineteenth century gypsy, oblivious of their English artistic antecedents.

But what do boho chicks actually wear? Long, flowing layers in printed fabrics, whether they are bursting into flower or a riot of tribal patterns seem to be the most popular iteration. Embroidered, fringed, or beaded fabric is also acceptable, and anything that looks ethnic or exotic. These garments are worn with long beads and feathers, and sequinned or studded belts. Tan leather is preferred as it looks more earthy. Hair is worn long and usually parted in the middle, accessorised with plaited leather thong headbands (my version is a rather tongue-in-cheek exaggerated take on this!). The natural habitat of the boho babe is the music festival, such as Coachella or Glastonbury.

Talitha Getty's style inspires designers still today (click through to read more)Here is Loulou de la Falaise wearing a turban, also adopted by the original bohemians in emulation of gypsiesPoppy Delevingne wearing an Erdem dress and Olympia Le-Tann clutchHere is Sienna Miller, the ubiquitous boho babe herself! (Link to original image broken)Talitha Getty would be the boho chick’s patron saint, and she really did live a bohemian lifestyle in Marrakech. Another Seventies icon with a true bohemian lifestyle is Loulou de la Falaise. Besides Sienna Miller, other celebrity boho babes of this era are Poppy Delevigne, the Olsen twins and Nicole Ritchie.

The average boho chick is clearly not a genuine bohemian in the sociological sense; she is simply acting out a stereotype, temporarily adopting a fad or fashion style for the summer (or just the weekend).

I wonder who are the true bohemians today, and what are they wearing? I suspect they are still much like Augustus John and his band, somewhere on the fringes of society, living life fully and marching to the beat of their own drum.

Photos: March 2014


Blown Away

Celebrating the Roaring Twenties in a Special Series

A few years ago I came across an evocative image by Georges Lepape (1887-1971), a French illustrator working for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and Vogue during the Belle Époque era at the turn of the twentieth century.

He is best remembered for his fashion illustrations of the Art Deco period, and more than a few depict wild atmospheric conditions, of which The Hurricane is one. It is not frightening as the name might imply, but rather suggests the winds of change that blow one in a new direction. One might say that the changes in women’s garments in the early twentieth century did blow in like a hurricane in fact – corsets and hobble skirts gave way to the easy movement of flapper fashions. 

While I have never experienced a fierce storm, I do enjoy being out on a windy day – I find it invigorating, and the sound of the wind in the trees exciting. Somehow the sound of the wind always suggests adventure to me, a bit like Vianne, the heroine of Joanne Harris’ book Chocolat, who is beckoned onto the road when the wind blows in a new direction.

Here then nearly a century later is my homage to Lepape’s 1915 picture L’Ouragan. Although his image was made in 1915, I have styled mine à la the 1920s – I deliberately waited until I cut my hair to create this picture. I am wearing a vintage 1970s dress (home-made from what I suspect is curtain material in the style of a flapper dress), a 1950s raspberry striped cloche, and a pair of Noughties ballerina heels.

The backdrop is an image of a storm coming in over Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay, viewed from Rosebud beach that I photographed last year.


April Fish!

One of the silliest holidays on the calendar celebrated by many countries around the world is April Fool’s Day, with the media of many countries often getting in on the act too for grand scale pranks.

Quite a different custom prevails in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. Children and adults take part in this tradition of attaching paper fish to one another’s backs and shouting, “April fish!” One Swiss work colleague of mine has fond childhood memories of this innocent pastime. The custom possibly harks back to a French poet of the sixteenth century who referred to a poisson d’avril – an April fool, which literally translates as April fish. 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries April fish postcards became popular in France, a charming excuse to send quaint greetings to a friend. And it’s a fair excuse to eat fish for dinner tonight too.

Scroll down for more April smiles.

Click on image to see more vintage April fish postcardsClick through to buy a set of 25 antique French postcards, at Etsy store French Country Life


Klimt and Pattern

I have always liked Vienna Secession artist Gustav Klimt’s work. His paintings are so rich in detail, ornamented with a riot of pattern and lavished with gilt. I have always loved Byzantine art too for this same reason; Klimt’s two-dimensional pictures recall the mosaic patterns and arabesque colours and designs of Byzantium. Of course Klimt’s subjects are sensual rather than religious, but they are equally glorious.

A Klimt-like pose – click for larger versionFor a long time I had thought about creating my own picture in homage to the Secessionst, but could not decide how; to simply decorate a photograph with Klimtesque swirls and floral motifs seemed obvious and not true to my own style besides. But it is the patterns, and colours (apart from the women obviously) that are so striking about his paintings, and earlier this week I suddenly hit on it. I would use printed and embroidered fabric to emulate Klimt’s ornamentation. I even had the perfect vintage dress. Years ago I had done a story on lingerie, and I recalled a particular pose (right) that had reminded me of Klimt’s painting Danae (below). Then a quick hit on Google for additional visuals of Klimt’s paintings lead me to The Virgin (below). 

Danae, 1907–08The Virgin, Gustav Klimt, 1913

I pulled out of storage an Indian bed sheet I had purchased from an exotic homewares store in Penrith, NSW when I was about 16 (I fell in love with it, and bought it even though it was very expensive for me at the time); another enormous length of spangled and tie-dyed silk (part of a sari perhaps) purchased in vintage store The Jazz Garter in Sydney, also many years ago; and some embroidered gold fabric the origin of which I do not recall. The cotton maxi dress is also vintage, possibly 1970s, purchased from Fat Helen’s in Chapel St a few years ago. Although I love the dress, it is so hot to wear, there are so many metres of fabric in it. The pattern is a perfect rendition of Klimt’s florals however.

The young girl(s) in The Virgin look rather like they are lolling on an enormous bed (the painting depicts the transition of a girl into a woman), and accordingly I cast the fabrics on my bed, set up the camera on its tripod and threw myself on top, arranging the folds of my dress artistically. It’s not so easy to compose this kind of image when one can’t look through the viewfinder, and I probably shot the equivalent of ten rolls of film before I ended up with a few pictures I was happy with. (Some I have included in the Out-takes & Extras gallery, including the full image of the details below.) I call it The Sleeper

Read about Gustav Klimt here.

Detail (from one of the out-takes), original photo (left) and the picture utilising the typical SNAP filter effects (right). Click for a closer look.The Photoshop painting filter I used in these images creates an interesting effect. Detail (from one of the out-takes), final image with additional painting texture at 70% opacity (left) and image showing painting filter at 100% (right). Click for a closer look.


When the Livin’ is Easy

Celebrating the Roaring Twenties in a Special Series

Ohhh, say it isn’t so, summer isn’t over already? Although it is a relief that my apartment has finally cooled down after the heatwave, I am still a little sad to farewell summertime. Summer will forever be associated with holidays, that wonderful feeling of freedom that one has upon waking in the mornings. But long hot days must give way, so let it be to mellow, golden autumn and the crisp air, and the beauty of falling leaves.

I’ll bid the season adieu with this flapper inspired summer outfit and a parasol. Cheerio summer, until a long year passes …

Summertime and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high …

Vogue 1919, illustrated by Helen DrydenVogue 1917, illustrated by Helen Dryden