11
Dec
2012
Posted by Nicole in 1980s, Book review, Media 2 Comments

If you read The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend, you might have seen my smiling face in the Good Weekend magazine – an article about vintage clothing collectors written by Lee Tulloch.

First I have to take you back in time though, to 1989 when a young redhead lived in an Art Deco flat in Subiaco, Perth, drove a 1959 Rover 3 litre and had a whole room devoted to her hundreds of ’50s party dresses.

One day she picked up a book about a young New Yorker called Reality, who also collected ’50s dresses and gave them names: “Gina” for a polka dot frock, “Anita” was a strapless ballgown ala “La Dolce Vita”.

I was in love: finally someone who is as passionate about her vintage as I was! “Fabulous Nobodies” was my favourite book, and I’d read it in the bath whilst sipping my favourite drink, Creme de Grand Marnier.

I’ve still got it somewhere, much dog eared, it was loaned to numerous friends but always came home again to it’s rightful place in my over-crowded bookshelves.

Fast forward to modern times and the author, Lee Tulloch got in touch – could she interview me? Could she! It was a great honour to meet Lee – first at the Lisa Ho auction in Sydney, and then later at the salon, where we chatted about fashion and books for hours. She brought me a present.

A copy of the US edition…with a personalised dedication!

Can’t wait to read it Lee…or should I say, reread for the umpteenth time. “Fabulous Nobodies” is currently being made into a film – set in New York city in 1983, it should feature some great fashion. There’s also a Facebook page, with some great shots – the ’80s look a lot more distant than they feel.

So: yes, excited to meet Lee and talk about “Fabulous Nobodies”. I’m still amazed: reclining in my Subi bathtub, I had no idea what the future would hold for me.

But back to “Magnificent Obssession”, Lee’s article – it’s about five vintage collectors who all have wonderful stories and great photos, which for the Melbourne contingent required a studio shoot – it’s probably the costumier in me, but I love backstage goings on. Here are some shots of the studio and the shoot – Mike Baker is the photographer and I can only dream about having a studio like this.


My 1870s ensemble – soon to be appearing on the webshop.


Model Nina Haylia O getting dressed in one of Christopher Horne’s stunning 1930s ensembles.


Nina in 1950s and Christopher.


Candice DeVille with her Grandmother’s late ’40s fit and flare coat.


Candice, showing us how it’s done.


My 1870s with my 1970s Zandra Rhodes – a study in contrasts but hard to see against the black backdrop.

Nina, Christopher and I (a cropped version is my current user pic).


Modern photography.

If you’d like to read more about Circa in the press, I’ve recently added a page to the blog, with links for articles.


2
Nov
2012
Posted by Nicole in Book review 4 Comments

This week I was excited to meet one of my favourite writers: Maggie Alderson, novelist and journalist. She was promoting her new book “Everything Changes But You” and zipping around Australia on a whistle-stop tour.

You may recall that I enjoyed Maggie’s last book Shall We Dance about a London vintage clothing shop owner and her adventures. Actually, I’ve read almost all of Maggie’s books and they’re delightful – she’s a writer who loves fashion and treats it with an attractive mix of seriousness and frivolity.

What I also love is her wonderful sense of family: both in the relative and friend versions. Her stories are inhabited with warm and real people who care deeply for each other.

I’m very visual and enjoy casting the roles as assorted actors – and after my last review, Maggie and I chatted on Twitter and compared roles. I had cast a cross between Jimmy Page and Brian May for Loulou’s rock star love interest, and it was fascinating to hear that she had someone completely different in mind, someone who’s not known for his guitar solos – Bill Nighy.

Soon after I bumped into Bill in a Melbourne restaurant and was instantly won over by his suave style and charisma – now I want someone to film “Shall We Dance” and cast him for real!

At Tuesday night’s event, Maggie brought along images from her writing space, and talked about how she gets in the mood for productivity – as a journalist, she has one big advantage, she’s used to working to deadlines. As a fellow writer, I was fascinated in how she does it.

Maggie Alderson: much prettier in person.

When I first started writing my book “Love Vintage”, I had no idea how to do it – silly me, should have asked some of my writing friends or relatives, especially if they could recommend an excellent book on the topic – instead I wallowed in the wilderness wondering how to go about it. Previously, I had completed a screenwriting course, which taught me about plot development and structure, so I set about composing a skeleton on which to flesh out my words.

Maggie writes fiction, where I write non-fiction and they’re two different beasts. Over the three years it took me to write the book, I sometimes wished I could have just made it up, but of course, everything had to be researched as much as possible to ensure accuracy. So a lot of research was required: I read copiously, often many books at the same time and a lot of fiction too, to help me unwind and switch off. It was pleasing to see that Maggie agreed that reading was imperative: some writers don’t read the words of others and that, I don’t understand. The more you read, the better you write, I think.

Maggie spoke about creating a special place to write – like her, I found writing at home impossible, there was always some domestic task to distract me. I find that having a workplace helps get you there, and helps you focus. I couldn’t help but think of Virginia Woolf and “A Room of One’s Own”. Maggie has a studio where it’s set up with mood boards, so that she can instantly get into the head space of a character or a location.

I wish I had thought about mood boards: it would have helped me too – when writing about the ’20s I could have put up glorious pics of flappers about town and it would have made it much easier, as well as nicer.

How could you not be inspired by these lovely people?

I tried (and mostly failed) to write at home, at the shop, at the stockroom, at libraries, at cafes, in parks – eventually I went to Castlemaine for six weeks and got a lot done, and then went to Beechworth for two weeks (but came back after two days after an unpleasant B&B experience). Still I hadn’t managed to find the right circumstances: for me, the issue was that my little shop Circa inhabits a great deal of my mind and waking thoughts and it was hard to switch off.

Eventually, I closed the shop for two weeks and drove to a sleepy little town called Robertson that was mostly closed for the holiday period, and stayed in a rambling old 1920s hotel where I was pretty much the only guest. It was a bit like a glamourous and violence-free version of “The Shining” and so in my downtime I read Stephen King short stories.

My routine was this: each morning after breakfast I would write for two hours and then do something physical like go for a walk or a bike ride. Followed by lunch, two more hours writing, and another break. Then dinner and if I hadn’t completed my daily word target (2,000 words) I’d do a third session of writing and keep going until I was done.

I’d start each session by editing the words I’d written in the last session – Maggie loves the writing, hates the editing, whilst I found it was the opposite for me. Writing sometimes felt like pulling teeth, so I would just write whatever and then rip it apart during the editing process. As long as I had material, I could wrangle it into something I liked, but I rarely liked how it started off.

I found that I was most productive in the morning: not least because if I could finish my task, I had permission to take the rest of the day off. I wrote every day. In Robertson I almost finished the book, but ran out of time, drove home and finished it on the couch before submitting to my editor.

So that’s my advice to you if you’re contemplating writing: seek advice if you don’t know where to start, read lots and try different methods until you find what works for you. It’s about getting into the right head space and a certain amount of discipline and probably at some point a deadline!

Here’s what Maggie wrote in my copy of her new book:

Thanks Maggie – it was a treat to meet you in person at last and thank you for your writing tips and new book. I can’t wait to read it!


14
Jun
2011
Posted by Nicole in 1960s, 1970s, Book review, Style icon 3 Comments

I’ve just finished the most marvellous autobiography – Patti Smith’s book “Just Kids” about her early years in New York of the late ’60s to early ’70s and her love/friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Patti’s a remarkable woman – a true poet, her words are beautiful to read as she conjures up a hard life on the streets of Manhattan. We follow as she arrives and meets Mapplethorpe on her first day, almost as if they were fated to be close….soon they meet again but it’s not until the third time that she learns his name: Bob. She asks if she can call him Robert and it becomes the name we all know him by.

A modern version of the starving artist in the garret, their adventures take them to a brief but profitable stay in the Chelsea Hotel. Oh, if only we had a time machine to holiday at the right place at the right time, I would go to Paris in the ’20s, Rome in the ’50s and the Chelsea in 1969 where you could meet all the interesting people of art, literature and music.

Slowly life improves for them both, as they experiment and find their voices through their art – Robert starts with collages and ends with photography, whilst poet Patti sings and play guitar. Reading her words, I felt very privileged to be invited into her world – and I didn’t want it to end, although of course, we know where it leads.

I owe a debt to Patti – when I was 15 and living in suburbia (a rare visit), she contributed a song to the soundtrack of “Times Square”, a film about teenage rebellion and post-punk music. It inspired me, helped shape my musical tastes and I also adopted the name and spelling of the lead character. A few years ago I decided to go back to my full name but there are still many who call me Nicky.

Patti’s style is unique and uncompromising – strong and stylish, quite androgynous, it has been immortalised by the creative eye of Mapplethorpe in the cover for her album “Horses” (which Tim gave me for my birthday) and other photos.


7
Dec
2010
Posted by Nicole in Book review, Vintage Style 5 Comments

First up, I should confess that I love Maggie: she’s quite probably my favourite fashion writer. Up until recently she wrote a weekly column in The Age/Sydney Morning Herald’s “Good Weekend” magazine and many of these columns have been published in book form. They were my favourite part of Saturday.

There are also other novels, which tend to fall into the light and entertaining model – recently I read “Cents and Sensibility” and was completely sucked into the jet-setting world of Stella Fain and especially her wonderous family life – I cast Tom Baker as her architect father and enjoyed visualising the wonderful houses he had designed for his growing family.

When I heard that Maggie had written a novel about a vintage clothing retailer I couldn’t have been happier – I missed the launch at Readings but they were kind enough to find a signed copy for me so I felt suitably special.

“Shall We Dance” is the story of Loulou Landers, the Queen of London Vintage – she was clever enough to buy her Primrose Hill shop when she was nineteen and ever since she’s lived upstairs whilst trading out of the downstairs shop. Single ever since her awful husband ran off and left her with a small child, her daughter is now 21 and unbearably obnoxious, refusing to do anything with her life or move out (to be honest I loathed Theo, so was glad when she started to show potential).

Thankfully Theo is the only unpleasant person in Loulou’s life: her two best friends Richard and Keith both adore her and love nothing better than spoiling her and making her feel loved. Her upcoming 49th birthday is a good excuse to do so, although Keith’s attempts are a little cringe-worthy in parts!

Most of the story revolves around a romance with a dashing young man who wishes to sweep Loulou off her feet – she’s most unwilling but gives it a lot of thought, perhaps a little bit too much thought: in her high heel shoes I would have dithered less, I suspect – but then 49 seems a lot younger to me than it does to Loulou. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot as there are pleasant surprises.

The most appealing part of the book of course is the portrayal of Loulou and her vintage life – apparently Maggie did some research in this area, working in a vintage clothing shop and the authenticity shows. Her attitude to her beautiful stock and her fascinating customers is one that I warmed to: Loulou is generous and does not discriminate between her clients, offering a special service to all, even limiting how many can come in at a time so that no one is neglected. Her customers happily queue outside, patiently waiting their turn.

Upstairs is a special salon for favoured customers including a famous fashion designer – she carefully prepares, selecting and placing items she knows he’ll like, in hidden places for him to “find” – her tactics could seem manipulative but instead come across as considerate and charming.

When she’s not transforming teenage ducklings into elegant swans, she’s crossing the country on the hunt for more treasures. Her unerring eye is the reason for her success: she can see the pearl amongst the dross and sooner or later knows the right person for each spectacular garment will be found. This is a book which made me wish for illustrations, but then perhaps the image in my head of the Ossie Clark hot pants is probably better than the real thing.

In short, Loulou Landers has it made – her vintage life made me envious although it’s clear that she works very hard and is deserving of her success. The downside is her private life, but thankfully Maggie helps bring improvements there and even bratty Theo is greatly improved by the end.

Most enjoyable, and a wonderful insight into how much fun the life of a vintage clothing trader can be. Thanks Maggie: perhaps a sequel?


7
Oct
2010
Posted by Nicole in Book review, Vintage Style 5 Comments

One sunny morning I was walking past Readings in Carlton and a book in the window caught my eye – I immediately had to run in and buy it.

Now, I consider Circa to be first and foremost a “lifestyle choice” and one of the big personal benefits is that it’s actually my job to read wonderful books like this! My enormous library bulges under the weight of thirty four years of buying books on fashion, clothing and textiles but being a modern woman, it also includes many works on serious topics like gender and philosophy. This book combines all.

I’ve always loved clothes, always taken them very seriously: in fact much of my life is dedicated to the cause through collecting, studying, researching, buying, selling, restoring, presenting, displaying, discussing and promoting fashion of many kinds and all eras – and yet people have said to me that I’m wasting my time. That I should find a serious mission, something worthy of my efforts and attention. That I should have gone to university and studied Arts or Literature not costume design at a mere technical college….that I should get a real job (I could go on).

Why do I do this? It’s not sensible or wise…I used to have a “real job” and yes, it paid a decent wage and it gave me stability and security and even status, but ultimately – there are more important things than money. I believe that – and I believe in what I do.

We live in a world that likes to see fashion as silly, frivolous and not worthy of serious consideration. We are judged by our appearance, and yet we are judged too, for paying it any attention or spending time and energy in making more of what nature has endowed us with. We can’t win!

There is no doubt that life is better for those who are more attractive, better presented and yet so many of us prefer to look as if we’ve simply chucked on whatever was sitting on the bedroom floor when we got up. Is it so awful to care what you wear? To care how you look? I like to dress well and appropriately because it helps me be more effective in the world and achieve my goals.

Our grandmothers in the past showed the way: a simple cotton day dress would take them every where from a picnic to the supermarket and they looked and felt good in it. It was easily bought or made, for not much money and it served them well. When modern versions are available cheaply from Target (and even better, op shops) there’s no reason to dress in tracky daks unless you’re actually exercising.

Hmm, I seem to have got a bit sidetracked….back to Carol Dyhouse’s book “Glamour – Women, History, Feminism”. Dyhouse is a woman after my own heart: she’s a historian, focusing on gender and she’s written a book that perhaps I could have written if I had gone to uni and not TAFE.

She provides a history of glamour through the twentieth century, referencing film, fashion, cosmetics, perfume and music. As she’s British, she writes from a UK perspective which is refreshing in how she focuses on the class elements of glamour – class isn’t as much of an issue in Australia or the US but it’s still easy to see how, even when glamour is out of fashion (as it was in the ’60s and ’90s), it’s still important for working class ladies who make good, or successful ladies of colour. It explains why Motown singers like Diana Ross like their sparkle, because bling is an obvious element of wealth.

Whilst much of what Dyhouse talks about it is not new to me (I’m familiar with the bulk of her long list of reference materials – more than 60 pages of notes and index), I found it illuminating to see such a perceived unimportant subject matter given serious treatment. Not surprisingly, she comes down decisively on the side of Glamour being a power for good – as she puts it “a celebration of the human condition”.

Highly Recommended.


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