Friday, 23 March 2012

A love letter to vintage style

Think The Artist and The Great Gatsby. In the first of our magnificent nw fashion shoots, Alison Jane Reid – and some very talented stars – are inspired by The Lady’s archive to recapture the glamour, glitz and esprit of a truly unforgettable age.

Written by Alison Jane Reid

During the 1920s and 1930s, The Lady blazed a dazzling trail though the very smartest salons in Britain. Every Tuesday, the new edition would set stylish pulses racing with excitement and anticipation. Was Madame Vionnet out, and Chanel in? Were hemlines up or down this week? Should women wear the trousers and men the skirts? (Yes, the magazine really did ask that question.)

Like Carmel Snow’s famous declaration of Harper’s Bazaar – a magazine ‘for well-dressed women with well-dressed minds’ – The Lady was the style bible of the gentry and the beau monde, from starlets of the silver screen to dashing duchesses and everyone else besides. Thomas Gibson Bowles, who founded the magazine in 1885, was quite the fashion visionary. Indeed, it is often forgotten that he launched Vanity Fair magazine, too, and that The Lady is American Vogue’s daring older sister by seven years.


But it was in the first half of the 20th century that the original weekly for women became best known among fashionistas, perfectly distilling the captivating glamour of the times, and becoming absolutely required reading.


The Lady, of course, looks very different today. It is as loved and respected as it ever was, but has changed with the times. We also believe, however, that we should never lose sight of our roots and glamorous 127-year heritage. Which is why I have returned to the magazine’s vintage-style pages to create a fashion shoot that, I hope, captures the essence of that golden age, albeit with a modern twist.The Lady magazine

The Roaring Twenties was certainly a time like no other. It was a revolutionary period for women, society and fashion. As novelist Alison Laurie famously wrote, ‘women entered the second decade of the 20th century shaped like hourglasses, and came out shaped like rolls of carpet’.

Women were gaining emancipation – through war, through the vote and through remarkable icons such as Coco Chanel, who, in a moment of pure activism, banished the corset and dropped the waist to the hips. It is hard to stress enough how outrageous this was at the time. In an instant, women were liberated from the tyranny of the corset and could move like men. They could feel the air on skin that had been hidden for centuries.

Everything changed. Women could go to work and they could dance the Charleston all night without the required fainting fit. And all the while, The Lady was there like a loyal best friend to guide them through the dizzy moral maze of social change.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that in these times of great economic upheaval and political unrest fashion and culture have returned to embrace the spirit of that optimistic and exuberant age.

It’s no accident, for example, that The Artist wore the laurels at the Oscars, that Woody Allen returned to the period, and some of its most famous characters, in his new film Midnight In Paris, or that Leonardo DiCaprio is to play F Scott Fitzgerald’s mysterious and captivating hero: one Jay (Great) Gatsby. A new mood of twinkling escapism and dressing up, rather than down, is upon us.

The Lady magazine

And so that is why, in my first fashion feature for The Lady, I have chosen to travel to that age again myself, using three hugely talented actors to model a range of vintage-inspired garments against a backdrop of beautiful Brooklands.

Colin Morgan, the incendiary young actor from Armagh, Northern Ireland, who stars in Merlin, represents a new breed of icon: talented, charismatic and possessed of a rare emotional and moral intelligence. He shines on screen and has the aura of an old-fashioned star, rather than a 21st-century ‘celebrity’. I make no excuse for declaring him my muse. Next time, it could be Helen Mirren or a brace of Bond girls. What is important is to entertain you – and make you think. To be truly fashionable, The Lady must be ageless.

Colin is certainly an inspiring role model. His appeal is universal. He is interested in society, its moral dilemmas, its ups and downs, and in the natural world. When did you last hear a leading man talk about his heroes, not just about his own brilliant career? For the record, Colin’s hero is Sir David Attenborough.

This is also Colin’s first major outing as a fashion icon, so I hope you enjoy it as much as he did. Colin’s equally alluring co-stars are two beguiling actresses on the very cusp of great careers. Katie McGrath plays Morgana in Merlin and has a truly bewitching look, so evocative of the 1920s. She could be any one of the women who adorned the cover of The Lady during the age of Fitzgerald, Coco Chanel and Hemingway.

Ruth Bradley, soon to be seen in the long-awaited Titanic and Grabbers, literally shimmers and has ‘leading lady’ written all over those chiselled cheekbones. Having seen the first two episodes of Titanic, I can also say that she looks perfectly at home on that magnificent ship, too.

As for the clothes, they are an unashamed love letter, defined, shaped and inspired, but not slavishly so, by the glorious style heyday of this magazine. They also represent the new mood of allure, refinement and attention to detail that is coursing through fashion at the moment.

Before I put the shoot together, I spent hours looking for inspiration in The Lady’s glorious archives (which smell like the most wonderful antiquarian bookshop) with our delightful archivist Wendy Wilson. I gazed on svelte beauties holding parasols, promenading at the beach, or at the races, and at impossibly glamorous film stars, such as MGM starlet Maureen O’Sullivan, featured in The Lady clutching a teddy bear (naturally) and wearing a rather daring and adorable playsuit. This, proclaimed The Lady, is ‘the kind of outfit that will be worn this summer by the tanned, open-air girl’.

And those are the images I have tried to capture here; images that are iconic, beautiful to look at, informative – and more than just a little bit fun, too.

 Vintage style

Above left:

Katie wears: Full-length embellished evening gown, £195, by John Lewis Silver Art Deco head piece, price on application, by Luciana Puro for Tammam Cuff with pearls, rubies and agate set in 18ct gold plate, £580; sunstone choker with citrines set in 18ct gold, £3,200, both by Kim Poor

Above right:

Katie (left) wears: Beaded 1920s-style dress, £225, by Biba at House of Fraser Cream lace bolero, price on application, by Lucy Tammam Jewel and pearl ballerina headpiece, price on application, by Erickson Beamon Rope pearl necklace with small crosses, price on application, by Kim Poor

Ruth (right) wears: Black and gold hand-painted chiffon corset dress, price on application, by Zandra Rhodes Aquamarine, blue topaz and pearl choker, £1,870; aquamarine and emerald earrings in 18ct gold, both by Kim Poor Black feather hair clip, £18, by Accessorize

Colin wears: Midnight jacket, waistcoat, dress shirt and bow tie, prices on application, all by Gieves & Hawkes Black dress trousers, £115, by Kenneth Cole at House of Fraser Abrahams navy brogues, £225, by Oliver Sweeney

 Vintage style

Above left:

Colin wears: Midnight jacket, waistcoat, dress shirt and bow tie, prices on application, all by Gieves & Hawkes Black dress trousers, £115, by Kenneth Cole at House of Fraser

Above right:

Katie wears: Floral handkerchiefhem vintage day dress, price on application, by Juno Says Hello Carved rose headband, £7, by Accessorize Deco earrings in carved coral with diamond and onyx surround, £1,900, by Kim Poor Zuri sandals, £245, by Chie Mihara for Plumo

Vintage style

Above left:

Katie wears: Elspeth red and white pinstripe jacket, £570, and Marpe red and white stripe skirt, £470, both by Hemyca Brooch with mother-of- pearl petals, coral and pearls, £480, by Kim Poor

Colin wears: Sweater, £28, by Henry Hunt Trousers, £130, by Ted Baker at House of Fraser Abrahams navy brogues, £225, by Oliver Sweeney Peacock peace silk scarf, £150, by Luciana Puro for Tammam

Above right:

Colin wears: Jacket, price on application, by Henry Hunt Red corduroy trousers, £120, by Hilditch and Key White dress shirt; pink tie, both price on application at Gieves & Hawkes Abrahams grey brogues, £225, by Oliver Sweeney

Colin Morgan & Katie McGrath


Katie wears: Knee-length dress with metal baguette and fringed ruffles, £245, by Patrizia Pepe Dusk peeptoe court shoe in camel silk satin, £605, by Gina Feather headpiece, price on application, by Luciana Puro for Tammam; Seven pearl stretch bracelets, £8; Ice Maiden bracelet, £12; Bon Bon Luxe bracelet, £14, all by Accessorize

Colin wears: Colin wears: Midnight jacket, waistcoat, dress shirt and bow tie, prices on application, all by Gieves & Hawkes Black dress trousers, £115, by Kenneth Cole at House of Fraser Abrahams navy brogues, £225, by Oliver Sweeney.



Accessorize: 0844-811 0069,

Erickson Beamon: 020-7259 0202,

Gieves & Hawkes: 020-8335 2708,

Gina: 020-8885 7500,

Harrods: 020-7730 1234,

Hemyca: 07768-383247,

Henry Hunt: 0845-803 8231,

Hilditch and Key:

House of Fraser: 020-7003 4000,

John Lewis: 0845-604 9049,

Juno Says Hello:

Kim Poor: 020-7259 9063,

Oliver Sweeney: 0800-622 6030,

Patrizia Pepe:

Plumo: 0844-557 3590,

Tammam: 020-7617 7512,

Zandra Rhodes: 020-7403 5333,

Hair by Florence Carter, using OSC Professional Organic Styling Products: 01590-613490,

Make-up: Vickie Ellis, using MAC cosmetics

Fashion assistants: Maria Hazzard, Kallie Kim, Francesca Paolin, Roisin Tierney

With thanks Brooklands Museum (

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