Bilkish Vahed

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A Badge of Individuality

THE TRENCH COAT

No one looks the same in a trench coat. Each person gets to stamp their own signature on the look, whilst borrowing its crisp, classic form. Originally a military uniform worn by army officers, designed with details to aid soldiers through the travails of wind, rain and the conditions of trench warfare, the trench coat found its way into the realms of high style, and persists today as a garment of elegance and functionality for both men and women.

“The Trench Coat was once a uniform, now it is a badge of Individuality.”
Aquascutum

Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, Paris, 1982, photographed by Jacques Scandelar.

Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy, Paris, 1982, photographed by Jacques Scandelar.

“Each feature on a trench coat has been specifically designed for a reason. The epaulettes were added to display the rank of the officers while the storm shield, found on the upper back, enabled water to run off the coat and keep the wearer dry. A pleat was also featured on the back which allowed for ease of movement when running or on horseback.”
— Style History: The Burberry Trench Coat

The drive to develop fabrics for the manufacture of outerwear that protected one against the elements, began in the 1800’s.   Linda Rodriguez McRobbie  writing in the Smithsonian explains that as early as 1823, Scotsman Charles Macintosh invented a “rubberized cotton” and made outer garments called “macks,” that were worn by the military and civilians.

In 1853, British clothier John Emary, developed a better fabric, still weatherproof but more breathable, and appropriately renamed his company Aquascutum: “aqua” meaning “water” and “scutum” meaning “shield” in Latin.

It was in 1879, that Thomas Burberry, English gentlemen’s outfitter, invented “gabardine,” a “weatherproofed twill” that began the design development of the iconic Burberry trench coat. As a 2016 festive offering Burberry released a glamorous short film, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia that tells The Tale of Thomas Burberry.  

Kate Moss for Burberry, 1999

Kate Moss for Burberry, 1999

“Embodying a certain cool, effortless, sexy feel with hints of masculinity…. A piece that will never date and a piece that will epitomise chic elegance no matter how you choose to wear it. Simply put, it is a classic to suit every woman.”

— Vogue (Australia)

The Aesthetic of Deborah Turbeville

AN OBSESSION WITH STYLE AND ATMOSPHERE

There is a haunting quality to Deborah Turbeville’s photography. Her deep interest in literature, Russian classic literature in particular, breathes in her images –  “the odd location, the dismissed face, the eerie atmosphere, the oppressed mood.” A sense of other worldliness, a feeling of languid melancholy permeates the work.

“I have that strange Jean Rhys quality…  that inability to move. I’ve had to learn to take my life, or otherwise I wouldn’t walk down the street.”

portrait-of-deborah-turbeville

Deborah Turbeville (1932-2013)

“In my pictures, you never know, that’s the mystery. It’s just a suggestion and you leave it to the audience to put what they want on it. It’s fashion in disguise.”

Bath House, New York, Vogue(US), 1975Photographed by Deborah Turbeville, Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1977Nude at Mantle, Hotel Luxor, FranceGlass House Series, Normandy, Facade Magazine, 1978

top: Bath House, New York, Vogue(US), 1975
middle left: Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, 1977
middle right: Nude at Mantle, Hotel Luxor, France
bottom: Glass House Series, Normandy, Facade Magazine, 1978

Ugly, beautiful and all that

LEGENDARY EDITOR  DIANA VREELAND

Diana Vreeland2

Diana Vreeland is compelling to watch on film – her independent attitude, spiritedness, uniqueness, her clipped almost incantory style of speaking, her body language – are brought fully to life in the documentary The Eye Has to Travel.

With a frankness that is brutal she tells how her mother used to say, “It’s too bad that you have such a beautiful sister and you are so extremely ugly.”

“I was always her ugly little monster,” she continues coolly.

“And how did that make you feel?” the interviewer, George Plimpton, asks.

“Now George,” she says, ” I don’t think we want to go there. Let’s just say, mum was a wild woman, you know, she used to hunt rhinos.”

One evening at a party in 1924 Diana fell in love with an elegant, quiet man.

“I never felt comfortable about my looks until I met Reed Vreeland. He was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. Very quiet. Very elegant. I loved all that. I believe in love at first sight because that’s what it was. Reed made me feel beautiful, no matter what my mother made me think.” – DV

Diana & Reed Vreeland

Diana & Reed Vreeland

Diana VreelandDiana Vreeland getting into a taxi

Despite her alleged lack of beauty, she was a wild success in a world defined by bodies and faces: fashion. Fashion Editor at Harpers Bazaar for twenty six years (1936-1962), then Editor of Vogue for eight. Writing about Vreeland in Vanity Fair Amy Fine Colins  explains that Vreeland was unerringly prescient about fashion trends, “a kind of seeress, a philosopher whose subject happened to be style.”

“Vogue always stood for people’s lives. I mean a new dress doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s the life you’re living in the dress.” – DV

“You don’t have to be born beautiful to be wildly attractive.” – DV

“The only real elegance is in the mind; if you’ve got that, the rest really comes from it.” –DV

A Sassy Noble Voice

MAYA ANGELOU – POET AS PERFORMANCE ARTIST SUPREME

Had Maya Angelou written only two poems –  And Still I Rise  and  Phenomenal Woman – she would have earned her place in the hearts and minds of many for all time.  But she didn’t, she wrote plenty. Nuggets of cascading, rhythmic stories of life, she spoke them in a voice that loped and crooned and glittered with steel, a pliant steel, a steel of deep humanity that cut through the crassness of false difference.

“Human beings are more alike than we are unlike. And let us see that. And not only cherish that, but delight in the differences because differences are superficial, and they should delight us.”
— Maya Angelou to Tim Sebastian of the BBC

A black woman born in the American South in 1928. When her parents divorced she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her grandmother. She was three years old. Four years later she returned to her mother in St Louis where she suffered a trauma that caused her to stop speaking for five years. Whilst mute she read voraciously and fell in love with Poe and Shakespeare, she connected with the rhythm and music that can run through words. The poet was born.

The power of what Maya Angelou had to say was made alive and vital by the way she spoke it, performed it. Whether reciting poetry – her own and what others had written that she knew by heart – or responding to a question in an interview, she brought tone and cadence to her words, lacing them with spirit. Her sense of self was richly grounded, defiantly sure, open, bold, sensual, unafraid.

Maya Angelou at the Lewisham Theatre in South London 1987

Love in a Time of Silence

FILM – LE SILENCE DE LA MER (2004)

Le Silence de la Mer is a film about resistance. Silence as the only form of available resistance against German occupiers by French nationals in 1941. But its potency lies in what unfurls amidst the silence – a connection, an unheeding love that steals into the heart of a young French woman and a German officer.

During the summer of 1941 a novella was penned by Jean Bruller and published in 1942 under the pseudonym, “Vercors.” In German occupied France, the book became a symbol of resistance. French filmmaker Jean Pierre Melville’s classic 1949 adaptation of the novella, coloured by his “own experience of the sacrifices and the painful moral intransigence that resistance demands,” was avant-garde in the way it gave voice to characters who were mostly silent. Pierre Boutron’s  2004 adaptation is true to the original story, but sixty-three years on the historical moment – still vitally alive in Melville – has clearly changed.

“Une histoire d’amour qui ne resemble à aucune autre.”   — The Press

In a small French villiage, Wehrmacht captain, Werner von Ebrennac (Thomas Jouannet) is billeted with an elderly Frenchman (Michel Galabru) and his adult granddaughter Jeanne Larosière (Julie Delarme). Von Ebrennac, who was a composer before the war is unlike what his hosts expect. Polite, refined, idealistic, he treats them with utmost civility.

They, who have to tolerate him in their home, stoically go about their lives ignoring him, even as he stands talking intimately in their midst. And talk is what he does each evening.  Beginning with a polite greeting, he proceeds to tell night after night, his thoughts about literature and music; his great love for France and the French people; his dream of a new dawning over Europe.

The old man and his granddaughter maintain an attitude of indifference and silence, but inwardly gradually they begin to have new thoughts about this man, a German captain. Then there’s the music. Jeanne, a piano teacher, and Ebrennac the composer, share a love of Bach. Bach gives them the poetry to speak sensuously in a space beyond the silence. The old man watches his grandaughter. Beneath her resoluteness he sees her other swelling feelings.

One night after living with them for a few months, Von Ebrennac, suitcase in hand, announces that he is leaving. Stunned, they listen as he describes his disillusionment with his own government, the “propaganda” he calls it. He’s off to the Russian front, he explains, where German soldiers are freezing to death. Unruly emotions seize Jeanne. Tears streaming down her face she follows him to his car. For a moment they face each other as she speaks her first, only, and last word: Adieu.

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