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Saturday
Dec242016

The Christmas Spirit

I’ve been so busy in the last few weeks I left it to the very last minute to dream up a seasonal story for you. I thought about cheating and showing you pictures of outfits from Christmases past, and that of course got me thinking of Charles Dickens’ story of A Christmas Carol (1843).

Ebenezer Scrooge, a nasty, mean old man, is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. They all show him various visions and give him some nasty shocks, which prompt him to change his ways.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is an androgynous figure of indeterminate age, robed in white. On his head is a blazing light, reminiscent of a candle flame, and the spirit also carries a metal cap, made to look like a candlesnuffer.

Whatever you are doing this Christmas Eve … take a moment to lift a cup of cheer (a wine, an eggnog, or a spirit) …

I delved into my archives to find a picture of me wearing a Moroccan jalabiya, bought in the seaside town of Essaouira when I was travelling there many years ago – it was perfect for this story! The fabric is a beautiful cream satin crepe, with a narrow brown and cream striped trim along the edges of the seams. (Incidentally, the backdrop is a medieval palace in Sintra, so there is plenty of reminiscing of travels past to be had here.)

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, it is, if not a religious observance, a time to spend with family or other loved ones. Some we cannot be with on the day, and some are forever lost to us, so there are remembrances as well. Whatever you are doing this Christmas Eve, whether rushing around or relaxing, take a moment to lift a cup of cheer (a wine, an eggnog, or a spirit) to them.

Here’s to a wonderful Christmas Eve!

Photo: May 2012

Monday
Sep052016

Floral Pleasantries

A little while ago I wrote a story on the history of boho, or bohemian style. It’s not a look I naturally gravitate to and I actually found it challenging to style an outfit, so much so that I had to make two attempts! The modern interpretation involves a mish-mash of hippy garments or motifs of various ethnic groups, but most notably a fanciful take on the Eastern European gypsy of folklore.

One such garment espoused by fashion magazines whenever the boho look comes back into style is the ‘peasant blouse’. More often than not it is made from cheesecloth, or other gauzy, open-weave cotton, and can be embroidered or trimmed with lace or tiny bells. It is often styled off-the shoulder for that saucy, just-tumbled-in-the-hay look.

Croatian costume from Moslavina (click through for a slideshow of garments from different regions)I have a strong fondness for embroidery of all sorts, but especially for Croatian-Ukrainian styles as they make up my heritage. I wish I had conceived an interest in embroidery before my grandmother on my mother’s side (the Croatian half) had passed away, for it would have been wonderful to have been taught by her. Traditional Ukrainian garments have even made an appearance in the pages of Vogue magazine last year (see last photo).

Ukrainian costume (click through to read all about the symbols hidden within Ukrainian embroidery patterns)This cream embroidered blouse is another modern interpretation, and I like it not only for the decoration, but the pin tucking on the bodice, and the warm colours. I have worn it with floral cloisonné jewellery – a perfect match for this blouse.

Here is a picture of my great-grandmother in her traditional costume, and below that my aunt with two of her friends. (You can read the full story behind these here.) And at the bottom are some pictures of me out of the archives having some irreverent fun with tradition.

Photo: July 2016

My great-grandmother MaryMy aunt (centre) with two of her friendsI am wearing a modern tunic by Country Road (February, 2009) I am wearing a modern tunic by Country Road (February, 2009)Ukrainian folk costume had an influence on high fashion last year (click through to read the story in Vogue)

Tuesday
Jul192016

The Exotic History of the Pae Jama

Celebrating the Roaring Twenties in a Special Series

Louche and loose, languid and long, classic wide-legged trousers and lounge pyjamas are closely associated with the relaxed style of the Roaring Twenties, but they did not suddenly just appear out of nowhere, or even – as one of the first women to popularise them for beachwear – out of Coco Chanel’s inventive and pragmatic mind.

Their origins lie in the mysterious and exotic lands in the near east of Europe: India, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where both men and women wore traditional loose trousers tied at the waist, usually with a belted tunic that extended to the knees. Pyjamas referred only to the trousers, and were tight fitting through the whole leg, or full and loose to the knee, and tighter at the calves and ankles. The word is Hindi, and comes from pae jama, meaning leg clothing. Similar iterations also appeared in the Middle and Far East.

Pyjamas were worn by Europeans sojourning in these countries, and were brought back home as exotic loungewear. By the 1920s, when Coco Chanel began cavorting on the beach in them, they had adopted the streamlined and loose cut of the Art Deco era, with straight legs and drop-waists.

Louche and loose, languid and long, classic wide-legged trousers and lounge pyjamas are closely associated with the relaxed style of the Roaring Twenties …

Louise Brooks, 1920sIna Claire, 1925; photograph by Edward Steichen (original link broken)Thalia Barbarova, 1925 (original link broken)Pyjamas were considered a fashionable alternative to the teagown – particularly when relaxing at home – and were made from luxurious and printed fabrics; Paul Poiret was an early proponent of these, launching as early as 1911 for both day and evening wear. On the beach their early appearances were quite scandalous and, adopted at first only by the adventurous. By the end of the Twenties, however, they were comme il faut for the average woman.

In fact pajamas were considered elegant beachwear throughout the 1930s, when they began to be cut wider so that they took on the appearance of a skirt. In the 1960s they made another big comeback as palazzo pajamas, and, an enduring style, they still continue to be worn today.

Fashion notes

In my late teens or early twenties, I had my own version of lounge pyjamas made. I purchased a pattern for actual pyjamas and two different fabrics: a paintbrushy floral pattern in autumnal hues of gold, browns and coral on a cream base for the top, and a beautiful goldenrod for the trousers. My sister made them for me, and I wore them everywhere for years (sadly I didn’t keep them), styling them with long pearls, flat Mary-Janes and a classic Louise Brooks bob (my style icon at the time).

In these pictures I am actually wearing modern day pale pink crepe ‘kite’ trousers and a cream silk sleeveless blouse; the pearl beads are vintage 80s.

Photos: March 2014

~

Read more about 1920s pyjama style at Swing Fashionista and Retro Rover (there are some inspiring images there too). There is also a great article at Fashion History: Love to Know that delves deeper into the historical antecedents of the familiar Westernised pyjama.

Beach pyjamas, 1930s UK; from Swing FashionistaBeach pajamas, 1930s UK; from Retro Rover

Wednesday
Jul062016

Almost Boho

While I have never identified with boho style, I do have quite eclectic taste, which includes embraces of boho’s defining characteristics: patterns, embroidery, ethnic costume, colourful beads, etc.

I have been attracted to embroidery for a long time, partly because of my Slavic background, and had always wanted to own a traditional embroidered blouse. (I only wish my grandmother had taught me to embroider before she died, but that occurred long before I was even interested in needlework.)

I came across this blouse in a vintage store, though it was a more modern piece, probably originally from an inexpensive high street store. Made from cotton, with a crochet trim, and colourful floral embroidery, it was cut in a smock style, and had three-quarter sleeves. Of course I wanted to wear it immediately (despite the chilly winter) so I slipped it over a black wool turtleneck. The combination has a hippy, almost boho flavour.

But I only wore the blouse once or twice more after this occasion in June, 2010 – because I never felt quite right in it. It was just too boho for me! The blouse eventually was donated to charity; the beloved grey cords died; and I don’t recall what became of the black turtleneck. The coat is the only survivor of subsequent wardrobe culls.

Amusingly, I currently have an even nicer embroidered peasant blouse, this one a warm yellow-cream, and I have not worn it once! It’s too pretty to toss though.

In My Dreams shrugBut for a truly beautiful, designer embroidered garment I know where I would go: Nevenka, a label designed by Croatian-Australian, Rosemary Masic. She is inspired by the same traditional embroidery, but her stunning designs are modern and exquisitely cut from lovely fabric – the lace alone is jaw-dropping, and distinctly Eastern-European rather than the French or Belgian style lace such as Chantilly or Valenciennes (typical bridal fabrics) that we might be more familiar with. Being half-Croatian myself, these fabrics really resonate with me.

Luxe though these garments are, they are certainly bohemian in style.

Fierce Warrior skirtLive in the Moment dressWater Runs Deep dress

Tuesday
Jul052016

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