Sunday, 12 April 2009

Beauty and the beast


No Bibliotherapy this week; well, there is, but only in my head; am re-reading The Four Quartets -- and I can't find the words, because Eliot says them so much better. And am feeling somewhat incoherent.
But here (below) is my column from the Sunday Telegraph, and also, today's discovery (for me -- but it demands to be shared) of the work of Su Blackwell. I've posted a picture (above) from her website, which also includes details of her exhibitions.


You’d think that fashion and nature are diametrically opposed; for fashion demands artifice, control, the imposition of imperious demands on the natural form, at the very least, and at worst, its destruction. Thus the closest that many designers come to nature is when they use dead animals for adornment – furs and snake-skins; alligator handbags and mink coats; as if covetous of a majesty that will always be denied to our poor, naked, hairless bodies. As Angela Carter wrote in her version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ – “lions are more beautiful by far than we are, yet they belong to a different order of beauty”.

So what, precisely, was Alexander McQueen’s message in the catwalk show of his spring collection, with a video backdrop of a revolving earth, and a stuffed lion beside the runway, flanked by a zoo of taxidermy (an elephant, a polar bear, a giraffe, amongst other endangered species)? His programme notes mentioned Charles Darwin, the survival of the fittest and the damage caused by industrialisation; the clothes themselves used prints that drew on nature (delicate flowers, birds and wood grains), tailored into strict hourglass silhouettes. Thus, like an 18th century landscape gardener, McQueen proved his mastery over the wild, pruning and training and shaping it as his own.

Christopher Kane’s spring collection was more ‘Jungle Book’ than “Origin of the Species’; inspired, in his words, by ‘Planet of the Apes, The Flintstones, Racquel Welch in One Million Years B.C, and Dian Fossey and her gorillas.” Hence a dress emblazoned with a roaring gorilla’s face, that drew applause from the fragrant fashion editors at Kane’s London Fashion Week show (did they identify, on some primal level, with the display of raw gums and tongue and ferocious black teeth)? And if you really want to get into the simian look, there’s an even scarier version of the frock with gorilla bicep sleeves.

As for me: I’d be happier wearing t-shirts from the new Edun collection (an ethical clothing company established by Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, in 2005, under the guiding principles of Fairtrade). I like two in particular, each printed with a photograph taken by Hewson in the Masai Mara. One is of a tree, another of a lion; both are suggestive of the Edun credo of respectfulness. All of which reminds me, again, of Angela Carter’s story of Mr Lyon. Lions, she observes ‘have no respect for us: why should they? Yet wild things have a far more rational fear of us than is ours of them…’

14 comments:

Gondal-girl said...

nice post Justine, and those book sculptures are amazing.

Kim said...

Love the article, Justine, thank you.
I am new to the blog world but have been following your blog (and a couple of others) for some time now. I found the site after my sister-in-law recommended I read If The Spirit Moves You. I had a real challenge finding a copy of the book here in Hong Kong though and eventually had to order it in. It came on Thursday and I read it in one go. I cannot say how much comfort your words gave to me. Just to know that someone else thought and felt the exact same things that I did when my dad died recently and that I was not the only one to think I was losing my mind!
I have recommended your book on my blog to my friends - thank you for being so brave to write this, Justine.
I'm off to find a copy of Daphne now - wish me luck!

Justine Picardie said...

GG: the sculptures are beautiful, aren't they?
Kim -- thanks so much for your message. I'm glad you found some comfort in 'If The Spirit Moves You'. When you're grieving, it can feel as if you're utterly alone, and I think there is some solace to discovering that you're not; that loss is something we experience, because it is inextricably woven into the most precious of loves. That doesn't take away the pain of each bereavement -- and I know, the pain can feel unbearable -- but... but... it's an experience that can be shared, as well as suffered.

lyric Laura said...

Hello Justine, My name is Laura and I am absolutely new to blogs, but I am presently reading Daphne and finding it fascinating. I am an American woman who is about to turn fifty this September, and I am struggling to write my first book. As I am reading Daphne, there are so many elements that resonate, even though I have never read any of du Maurier's books. However, I have visited the National Portrait Gallery and have been enthralled with the Bronte portrait there...particularly as it echoes a photo composite I made with regard to my book's subject and his grandaughters, Emily and Charlotte, whom he sadly never met...but I did. And too my life has been touched by premature loss and I firmly believe in connections with the other side.

I felt compelled to try to reach you as I have continued my reading. I am presently on an extended stay on the Isle of Wight, my own version of Menabilly, and dreading the end of this glorious isolation. I leave the IOW on May 1, proceeding to London, and leave the UK on May 6. In fact I am coming to London tomorrow to see a couple of films. I would so love to meet you if you are open to it.. I feel like Daphne writing to Symington. Not sure how best to give you more personal contact info. And condolences to you for your difficult anniversary this past Friday. Warm regards, Laura Camuti

kairu said...

I love those sculptures. They are so beautiful and fragile. I always look forward to your Sunday columns.

I love a company called Loomstate. Their clothes are made from organic cotton; t-shirts are printed with designs inspired by nature, feathers and fish and birds and insects, with visibly stitched seams that curve unexpectedly down the body. Much more suitable to my life than Alexander McQueen's hourglass tailoring...

kateblogger said...

How magical to release stories from paper in this way. Su Blackwell’s site is spellbinding. She returns us nicely to Emily Dickinson’s flying poems that refuse to be brought to book. As for the fashion in skins, salmon skin is occasionally used to bind books on fishing ...

enid said...

Justine I just finished Daphne and it was superb. I have passed it on and know that my fiends will all enjoy it. If you remember I met you about 2 years ago. Thanks for a most splendid read Enid Cape Town

enid said...

Oh dear I wrote fiends instead of friends. Just to add - your blog is great as I need to read, read read to keep sane and your recommendations have been superb. I love those paper sculptures too - they are so beautiful. Thanks for blogging and inspiring me to reread Waugh and Bowen etc.

Justine Picardie said...

Enid -- very nice to hear from you, and yes, I do remember you. Keep reading, keep sane! (That's what I tell myself on a daily basis.)
Kate -- I didn't know that about salmon skins for fishing books, but it's both practical and macabre -- Angela Carter would definitely have approved. I can imagine her telling a story of a lioness who turns a fashion designer into a book cover.
Kairu -- will check out that designer. I love feathery prints (as long as they're not peacock feathers; am superstitious about bad luck...)
Laura -- thanks for getting in touch. I love the Isle of Wight -- I went there for childhood holidays, and have returned with my own kids. Unfortunately, I won't be able to meet you in London -- I'm struggling to keep on top of work deadlines, and domestic responsibilities -- but will always try reply to messages on the blog, and to answer questions, if I can.

David said...

Hello Justine. I am in the process of writing a fictional book and my wife who reads books all the time has said she thinks what I have written so far looks very good, which surprised me. I would like to know how I can get my book published but it seems like a minefield. Do you have any tips you can give me at all? Thanks.

Cathy said...

Did you know that the first published version of the fairy tale was a rendition by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, published in La jeune américaine, et les contes marins in 1740. This show has alot of adventures!I will definitely buy the dvds collection

simoncadbury said...

tht title of the article reminds of the famous story of this name.. i have alot of memories with that story.

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simoncadbury said...

oh yes, the pictures in the website are really cool.

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