GEORGE BARBIER – THE MASTER OF ART DECO

Written by  on March 19, 2013

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George Barbier (1882-1932) was one of the key artists of the “Art Deco” movement and one of the most prestigious French artist’s and fashion illustrators to emerge from post World War 1 in the early twentieth century.He produced the most exquisite, high-colour fashion plates for the couturier Paul Poiret, as well as contemporaries Lanvin, Paquin and Vionnet.His elegantly refined, graphic style was typical of the “Art Deco” school and the influences of Orientalism, antique vases, Indian miniatures, Aubrey Beardsley, the Ballet Russes (which inspired his lavish costume designs)  and (not least) Parisian haute couture are evident in his work.His stylised, precisely-illustrated fashion vignettes seem to effortlessly capture and define the atmosphere of the 1920s and are so evocative of that by-gone era and a certain type of upper-class lifestyle.

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George Barbier was born in Nantes in 1882 and went on to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of Jean Paul Laurens.He was an extremely versatile artist and a very fashionable and flamboyant man who would go on to design theatre and ballet costumes, fans, jewellery, glass, fabrics and wallpaper, but he will always be revered/remembered best  as a sublimely talented  illustrator of haute couture fashions and books.He was part of an elite circle during the 1920’s nicknamed “The Knights Of The Bracelet” by Vogue magazine, whose membership included two of Barbier’s first-cousins –  Bernard Boutet de Monvel and Pierre Brissaud, as well as such luminaries as  Paul Iribe (one-time lover of Coco Chanel) , Georges Lepape, and Charles Martin.Barbier worked with some of the top writers and journalists of his day; after World War 1 he became an editor and journalist for the magazines  “La Gazette du Bon Ton” (published between 1912-1925) and “La Vie Parisienne”, where he pioneered  the use of “pochoirs” or stencils for the publication of his colour-plates (a hand-printing method inspired by the classical Japanese masters) to stunning effect (in spite of criticism from purists).Apart from his artwork, Barbier was also a skilled journalist, writing stories and society news for a variety of magazines under various pen-names as well as his own, birth name.He provided superb illustrations for the likes of  P.Verlaine, P.Louÿs, C. Baudelaire, T. Gautier amongst others, but his finest illustrations were those which were interpreted by F.L. Schmied, in woodcuts form.

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In 1923, Barbier designed costumes for the “Follies Bergère” through the costume house of Max Weldy and also collaborated with the legendary Erté, producing set designs and costumes for a string of American projects, including his renowned  costumes for movie heart-throb Rudolph Valentino’s 1924 movie “Monsieur Beaucaire”  (his work on this film earned him a stellar review from the New York Times, who commented that Barbier’s work was: “magnificent… such spectacular costumes and set design have never been seen before.”). Barbier consolidated on his ascendancy by  producing advertising artwork for such luminous trademarks as Cartier, Renault and Elizabeth Arden.He died at the age of fifty in 1932, at the very pinnacle of his success; six months later, his entire collection was auctioned off at Hotel Drouot in Paris.In spite of slipping into undeserved obscurity for many years, he was rediscovered by new generations of fashion/art aficionados via the Fortuny Museum in Venice’s exhibition: “George Barbier The Birth Of Art Deco” in the autumn of 2008; ironically, in 1923, Barbier had written in “La  Gazette du Bon Ton” in a rather enchanting manner that: “Venice is a city that is both absurd and enchanting. She reminds me of a small case covered with shells, a music box with her sounds, like the insides of a guitar, overflowing with the songs of birds that soar up from the windows, their languid voices quivering and singing over the canals,” – it seems perfectly fitting therefore, that his renaissance should have occured in “The City Of Love” – evidently the sentiment was mutual!

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House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of the images appearing on this page.

“George Barbier The Master Of Art Deco” Text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.

WHITMAN BARBIE & KEN PAPER DOLLS 1970

Written by  on March 19, 2013

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Here’s a delightful slice of early 1970’s nostalgia, courtesy of the Whitman publishing company.Barbie and Ken step into groovy/kewl psychadelic “Mod-Squad” style threads for your enjoyment!

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©copyright 1970  MATTEL INC.

©copyright 1970  WHITMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of the images appearing on this page.

VINTAGE BARBIE FASHION BOOKLET 1961

Written by  on March 17, 2013

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Here’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia for all fashion-doll enthusiasts and lovers of retro fashion/fashion illustration in general – the 1961 Mattel Fashions booklet, which just so happens to introduce Barbie’s boyfriend “Ken”,  who debuted on the market that year.These vintage Barbie booklets represent a very special time in my childhood and the start of  a great fashion-adventure for me, personally!

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  ©copyright 1961  MATTEL INC.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of the images appearing on this page.

 

ARTIST JEAN-GABRIEL DOMERGUE: “I INVENTED THE PIN-UP”.

Written by  on March 16, 2013

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Jean-Gabriel Domergue (1889-1962) was an extremely talented French artist who first exhibited works at the  Salon Des Artistes Français  at the tender age of seventeen, in 1906.Initially he was known for his landscapes, but his career took a dramatic turn in the 1920’s when he began painting portraits of Parisian ladies who evoked the style and bearing of the ‘Pin Up’ girl  (albeit in a very distinctive ‘Bambi-eyed’ swan-necked, florid and whimsical style).Indeed, Domergue (who went on to paint some 3,000 portraits in his career) himself claimed to have “invented the pin-up”; it should come as no surprise then, to learn that he painted many nudes using fashionable actresses of the day or young dancers as his muses.He was patronised and highly-prized by the aristocracy of the day and high society in general, his clients including Nadine, the future Baroness of Rothchild.Domergue’s elegance and skill with the paintbrush was not the only expression of his creative talents – he was also extremely influential in the world of fashion – designing dresses, millinery and accessories for the reknowned Couturier’s Paul Poiret and Henry Marque;  in addition, under his supervision, many grand exhibitions were organised to pay hommage to such legendary “Grand-Masters” as Léonard de Vinci, Seurat, Prud’Hon, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Berthe Morisot and Francisco Goya.Jean-Gabriel Domergue passed away in 1962; amongst his many accomplishments, perhaps he will be remembered best for his radical new portrayal of the women in his paintings as objects of glamour, seduction, frivolity, joy and desire, as opposed to the more  traditional,  melancholic-themed approach of the era.

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House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.

 

BIRTH OF THE SUPERMODEL!

Written by  on March 13, 2013

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Glamourous, beautiful, chic, iconic, impeccably groomed, icey, untouchable, HAUTEUR – all attributes of a high fashion model, none more so (visibly) evident than  in the late 1940s when the profession of “Model” really caught the public imagination for the first time.Whilst the term “Supermodel” initially  entered our consciousness towards the end of the 1980s, it will in fact be seen from my series of essays that this special breed of mannequin existed long before the likes of Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington refused to get out of bed for less than $10,000.It was the pantheon of star models from the grand couture houses of Paris who set the tone for “Le beau monde” at that time.Their debut in the immediate post war period of 1945 created a sensation; with their unbearable chic and exotic allure, it was small wonder that many women aspired to their lifestyles.To the casual onlooker, the world of the fashion model and indeed fashion itself, was one of frothy chiffon and overt glamour.In fact, behind this world of dreams and decadent extravagance was an industry of business magnates dealing in millions..  Before 1945, models had been the subject of great derision. Suddenly, the top models of the day became ambassadors for French prestige, and the muses of great designers and photographers. They also proved to be figures of aspiration for several generations of women. Deprived of luxury and fantasy in the war years, the press fell on this new legion of supermodels as though they had stumbled upon an oasis in a desert.They began to follow and report every move of these icons of style. At the same time, modelling became the subject of best selling novels such as Franck Marshalls “Nathalie, Princesse Mannequin De Paris”, and of several movies including “Mannequin De Paris” (1956), “Funny Face” (1957), the Nathalie series (1957 and 1959 in which Martine Carole played a supermodel and detective), “Qui etes-vous Polly Magoo?” (1965), and of course, Antonioni’s extraordinary “Blow Up” (1966).

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The models prestige and obvious (albeit stylised) beauty was such that they drew men of power and status to them like moths unto a flame. These men included aristocrats, opinion formers, and famous artists, within their ranks. Glamour girls such as Fiona Campbell – Walter married Baron Thyssen; Jean Dawnay, Prince Galitzine; Sophie, Anatole Litvak; Eliette, Herbert von Karajan; and Bronwen Pugh, Lord Astor. The ultimate prize however, must go to the incredible Anglo – Indian Nina Dyer, who married in direct succession, Baron Thyssen and Prince Sadruddin Kahn. Tragically, Nina was to commit suicide in the early summer of 1965, an early indication of the darker side of success that would see models become the distraught victims of their own celebrity.It is useful to point out at this juncture the enormous gap and differences between the work of a catwalk model, and that of a photographic one. For a catwalk model, the main requirement is a graceful walk, an ease of movement, and the ability to breathe life into the garment she is asked to display at a show. Like today’s breed, many of these fashion house models were far from perfect in their features or bodies. Pierre Balmain put it rather succinctly and with great humour in Liane Viguie’s “Mannequin haute couture”, where he describes one of the girls:

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“There was no shape to her legs, and her body was perfectly straight, without hips,
waists or breasts.Her pallid face, under her platinum hair, harboured a pair of eyes encumbered with layers of black sooty make-up above a triple row of false eyelashes.But as soon as she began to walk her neck stretched slightly forward, with a nasty look in her eye and almost mechanical gestures, she became the very essence of Parisienne Chic.”

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MANTEAU. FOURRURE.CHAPEAU

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vm19A cover girl by contrast, had to be above all photogenic, with perfectly defined features, a face that catches the light, and a sense of arrested movement. Of course, some girls were able to cross over into both disciplines, such as Bettina, Capucine, Sophie, Simone d’Aillencourt, Denise Sarrault and Ivy Nicholson. Likewise, famous house models including Marie – Helene Arnaud, Hiroko Matsumoto, Marie – Therese and Victoire had careers to rival those of the best known cover girls.Fashion photography in the 1950s was a major art form, dealing with the most prestigious designer labels and exhibiting their wares in the chicest of womens magazines. The look required was one of sophistication, in everything from make-up, hair style, gesture, and of course, clothes. An air of disdainful beauty and distinguished boredom was the last word in elegance at this time.The fashion magazine editors intent was that their readership would be able to identify and see themselves in these glamourous mannequins, but of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Even the richest clients who patronised the grand salons of Dior and Balenciaga could not emulate the icy beauty and poise of the glamazons. Nonetheless, it has to be said that haute couture in particular has never had a place for mundane, everyday life, and the immense power of its unique appeal to fantasy was and still is, its most intoxicating drug and sales pitch.The models of the time, and indeed to this day, have been likened to actresses. In a photographic studio, and even on a catwalk, they were required to convey glamour and evoke a mood, whether it be dramatic or comic, according to the ensemble being displayed. Often, the very elegance of the outfit would impose strict limitations on how the drama could be presented. The four most common stereotypes of models were the young debutante, the woman of the world, the vamp, and the go-ahead modern young thing. Thus in the case of a photographic session, each models own “aura” became essential in creating atmosphere.In future essays, I shall be profiling  some of  the most iconic models from the “golden-age” of  haute couture individually and in more detail – the ones who truly put the “Haute” into Haute Couture!

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House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.

YESTERDAY IN HOLLYWOOD: GALLERY 2

Written by  on March 13, 2013

Welcome to another installment of “Yesterday In Hollywood”, featuring even more gorgeous  hi-res portraits of Tinseltown’s legendary performers!

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Vo : Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) USAVf : LA CHATTE SUR UN TOIT BRULANT

House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page.

LE SALON de VINTAGE #2

Written by  on March 12, 2013

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Stunning evening gowns by the masterful Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, inspired by the legendary French painter Toulouse Lautrec, circa 1951.

BALENCIAGA GOWNS circa 1951

 ©copyright LIFE magazine 1951.

 

LE SALON de VINTAGE #1

Written by  on March 11, 2013

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The first in a series devoted to classic editorial images from fashion’s glorious, glamourous and hopelessly chic Twentieth-Century “Golden-Age”.This stunning image is by the legendary photographer Richard Avedon, one of a series taken for the cover of the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, February 1952 (as always, click on image to enlarge).

PHOTOGRAPH RICHARD AVEDON:   HARPER’S BAZAAR  FEBRUARY 1952  ©copyright HARPER’S BAZAAR magazine 1952.

“HOLY CAMP CRUSADING, BATMAN!”

Written by  on March 10, 2013

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Batman, the 1960’s tv show, has been a part of pop culture legend for as long as I can remember.It debuted on the ABC television network in America on January 12th, 1966 and ran for a total of 120 half-hour episodes, up until March 14th, 1968.Based on the D.C. comics superhero of the same name, Batman (Adam West) and his teenage side-kick Robin (Burt Ward) were superheroes who  fought crime against the dastardly super-villains of the fictional “Gotham City”.In their daily lives, Batman’s “true” identity was “Bruce Wayne” – millionaire philanthropist, whilst Robin was his ward  – “Dick Grayson”.They lived in the stately “Wayne Manor’ and were aided and abetted in their fight against crime by Bruce Wayne’s very English butler – Alfred (Alan Napier) and the slightly eccentric Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake). As things turned out, Batman the tv show had almost nothing in common with the original 1939 comic-book concept of the character,  (it wasn’t until Tim Burtons darkly brooding  “Batman” movie of  1989 that the mass public would get to see a more true-to-the-source interpretation of the comic-book legend) instead the show’s  original 1960’s audiences were subjected to an overtly camp, slapstick-comedy style production featuring ridiculous adventures and even more ridiculous dialogue/one-liners; this however, had not been the original intention.In the beginning, CBS had acquired the television rights to “Batman” and although aimed at kids, it  was conceived as  a straightforward adventure vehicle (interestingly, sportsman/actor Mike Henry,  a former American linebacker for  the “Pittsburgh Steelers” and the “Los Angeles Rams” and the star of three “Tarzan” movies which were filmed back-to-back in 1965 was the original choice for the “serious/straight” t.v. incarnation of “Batman” and even had photographs taken in costume for the role – which ultimately, he never got to play) however, CBS delayed the production for so long that D.C. Comics were able to regain the television rights and they turned to ABC to produce the show.ABC television  wanted to create a cool and trendy, serious, prime- time feature, but this too did not materialise, with ABC eventually making a deal with  20th Century Fox.Fox in turn  hired William Dozier and “Greenway Productions” to make the show, but (as the story goes) Dozier hated the whole comic-book genre so much that he decided to parody it with his take on “Batman”,  thus  transforming it from a bonafide  action/adventure series into a superhero version of “The Keystone Cops”.That said, “Batman” the 1960’s tv show became hugely popular (albeit briefly) and although it was cancelled after Season 3,  it went on to earn true cult status (and the resulting following) over the years.In its hey-day many stars and celebrities tried to get cast on the show as a villain, or even in a cameo role.Such was its initial success that a full-feature “Batman” movie was released in the summer of 1966.Batman featured some of the most dynamic and much-loved villains of all-time (and a particularly cute/sexy heroine in the form of  “Batgirl”, as brought to life by Yvonne Craig)  including “The Joker” played by Cesar Romero, “The Penguin” (Burgess Meredith, “The Riddler” (Frank Gorshin) and the PURR fectly feline “Catwoman” played by  Julie Newmar in seasons 1 & 2 and iconic  singer/dancer Eartha Kitt in Season 3 (in the “Batman” movie, she was played by former model and winner of the 1955 “Miss America” pageant – Lee Meriwether). Other star villains included  King Tut (Victor Buono), Black Widow (Tallulah Bankhead) , Sandman (Michael Rennie), Mr Freeze (George Sanders, Otto Preminger & Eli Wallach),  The Siren (Joan Collins), Egghead (Vincent Price),  Chandell & Harry (Liberace),  Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor) and Lola Lasagne (Ethel Merman).For many first-generation “baby-boomer” viewers, the original 1966 Batman television show will always remain  the definitive offering on the subject and the closet in spirit to the 1950’s/1960’s versions of the comic books.This fabulous and groovy hi-res  gallery is not only a celebration of  a fun-filled, whacky and care-free  show, but also of a more innocent/simpler television era which (nonetheless)  produced some truly colourful and memorable characters – ones to treasure forever. A word of warning kids – DON’T copy Batman and Robin and jump off high walls or rooftops!

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“Holy Camp Crusading, Batman!” Text  ©copyright Gary Alston 2013

House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of images shown on this page.

 

THE ART OF COBY WHITMORE

Written by  on March 3, 2013

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Maxwell Coburn (Coby) Whitmore (1913 – 1988) was one of the leading illustrators of the mid twentieth century.He was born in Dayton Ohio where he attended the Dayton Art Institute.After an indenture with the ‘Sundblom Circle’, in 1943 he relocated to New York City where he joined the  Charles E Cooper studio on West 57th Street.It was here that he would spend the bulk of his career working alongside fellow art-supremo Jon Whitcombe his immense talent and prodicious output earned him the respect of the publishing world as one of America’s top magazine illustrators, working for such periodicals as the prestigious ‘Saturday Evening Post as well as undertaking commercial art comissions for advertising.It was during this period that he found his true niche in illustrating for ladies magazines along with contemporaries Al Parker, Joe Bowler and Jon Whitcomb.Magazines such as ‘The Ladies Home Journal’ ‘Good housekeeping’, ‘Cosmopolitan’ and ‘McCalls’ consistently carried his work which heavily promoted a post second world war, aspirational ‘American Dream’ lifestyle, depicting white middle-class families living in ideal homes with shiny new automobiles parked outside, beautiful children, handsome spouses, the cutest pets, glamorous fashions and  romantic idylls; on the other hand, his work (especially for pulp-fiction) often featured a dynamic noir’ theme/style depicting ‘Bad Girl’ seductive femme-fatales in raunchy settings which seemed a walking(or reading!) advertisement for adultery; it is this particular speciality of his portfolio which I personally find the most engaging/exciting/dramatic! Whitmore worked with various mediums including oil, watercolour and gouache and although a lot of his work retained a painterly quality, it also featured clearly defined, highly-detailed picture planes which demonstrated his skills as a draughts-man as much as a painter.Apart from his sublime artwork, Mitchell developed a penchant for expensive and fast sportscars, indeed, at the time,  he commented that:“Racing cars, illustrating, and smart clothes on good-looking women,” were his three major interests in life! In 1950, whilst living in Briarcliff Manor, New York, he actually  helped to design a highly successful racecar along with a former World War 11 fighter pilot named John Fitch (an imported car dealer in white Plains, New York) which became known as ‘The Fitch-Whitmore Le Mans Special’.In later life he joined the faculty of the ‘Famous Artists School’ (personal note: I passed the test for admission to this school’s correspondence course at the age of eleven – all tuition was carried out by post) along with such luminaries of the art world as Norman Rockwell, Stevan Dohanos and Albert Dorne.Whitmore’s talent heavily influenced a generation of superhero comic-book artists such as the legendary MARVEL comics illustrators  John Buscema and John Romita Snr. Coby Whitmore was inducted into the Society Of Illustrators Hall of fame in 1978 who described him as: “a dashing fellow” with a penchant for white suits and “a child’s delight in all things. A man of genuine humility, he seems truly not to know how good he is”.In 2007 Whitmore’s work was shown along with several contemporaries at the “Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women’s Magazine, 1940-1960” mounted by the Norman Rockwell museum.

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‘The Art Of Coby Whitmore’  text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013