Saturday, 18 May 2013
Before I start discussing the book, I just want to say that in the past few weeks, I have been forced to take a temporary hiatus from blogging. Unfortunately, my laptop broke down, and my girlfriend's laptop which I am using at the moment, is incompatible with my obsolete scanner. So, until I've sorted it out, the posts will be less frequent, although I'll try to post as often as I can...
We all know Barbara Hulanicki as a founder of Biba and one of the most influential fashion designers of late 1960's/ early 1970's. Those more interested in her story know that from late 1970's onwards, she also had a very succesul career as an interior/product designer in Miami (very well summarised in the recent book Seamless From Biba). But how many people know that on top of all that she also wrote a novel? And I don't mean her autobiography From A To Biba, but the actual novel? It was titled Disgrace and it was published in 1990. There is very little information about it online, and since I've read it recently, I thought I could do a little post about it...
I would lie if I said I had particularly high expectations. Fashion designer turned author? That awful 1980's - style cover design did not help my initial impression, either. But when I started reading the book, I was pleasantly surprised. While certainly not a great piece of literature, Disgrace has a well-constructed and engaging storyline. What's more, it provides an interesting insight into the period which Barbara Hulanicki must know so well - the 1960's Swinging London.
Disgrace is a story of two young women - sisters Milla and Georgia Frayne, and their aunt Eva Lubinski. Milla and Georgia were raised by Eva after their mother - and Eva'a sister - died in a car accident along with her husband. Rich, aristocratic and very grand Eva brings up Milla and Georgia in a mansion in Knightsbridge. All three ladies are the last surviving members of once-great Polish aristocratic family, The Lubinskis. Although girls' father was a middle class English doctor, Eva wants to make true aristocratic ladies out of Milla and Georgia - a future wife material for a prince or a viscount. But then, well...The Sixties happen.
Out of two sisters, Milla is the rebellious one. She hates her aunt and everything she stands for. She doesn't care much for her obedient little sister Georgia, either. Desperate to make her own way in the world, Milla runs away from home when she's sixteen. Georgia, on the other hand only lives to please her aunt. She gets sent by Eva to Le Circle - a finishing school for young ladies from high society. The main purpose of Le Circle is to provide a young girl with an opportunity to meet a suitable, aristocratic husband. Georgia enters the world of debutante balls, and quickly becomes a 'toast of town' in the microcosm of Chelsea aristocracy. She gets infatuated with a young baronet - Sir Cosmo Manting. Aunt Eva is delighted. In her world, somebody like Sir Cosmo is a great husband material for Georgia. But it's 1965, and reality is much different. Penniless aristocrat Cosmo fancies himself a little bit of a bohemian. He hangs around in beatnik coffee bars, he does a lot of drugs, and he has shady dealings with East End gangsters. At one point he takes Georgia to a sleazy Soho nightclub (which he co-runs), where she is drugged and nearly raped by Cosmo's business associates. She gets discovered following morning by the police - naked and unconscious in a Soho back alley. She ends up on the front pages of a gutter press. Aunt Eva is devastated. She would expect this sort of thing of Milla, but not Georgia. Eva sends Georgia to South of France until things cool off. But it turns out to be a very bad move. Within days of arriving, Georgia meets shady French film director, who used to hang out with Roger Vadim before he got famous. He promises to turn Georgia into a film star - the next Brigitte Bardot. Soon Georgia finds herself at the centre of another scandal...
At the same time, Milla, completely estranged from her family, works in a dead-end job in a big department store. Her posh accent sets her apart from her co-workers, and she has few friends. When she reads about her sister in tabloids, she has a feeling that life is passing her by. And yet, Milla is determined to succeed - she has a great idea for her own business , and she comes up with an elaborate scheme, involving seduction and blackmail, to make her dream come true.
Finally there is Aunt Eva. In the series of flashbacks to 1930's Poland, we find out about her life and what made her a person she is. She was an illegitimate child of Count Lubinski. As such she was not allowed to bear Lubinski name , and although she was brought up in the Lubinski's mansion, most of the family was not aware that she was Count's daughter. Eva spent her early years forced to live a humiliating life of a personal servant to her own half sister, Aleksandra. She wasn't bitter, though. She adored her family, and thanks to this attitude, gradually she gained her father's respect. And then the scandal happened. Her half brother, not realising that they were, in fact, related, fell in love with her. Although the scandal brings her closer to her father - she is finally allowed to take Lubinski name - she cannot stay in the mansion , and the Count sends her to Paris, where he owns a townhouse. In Paris, Eva is introduced to Paris high society and does what any young girl from her background would do - she tries to find a suitable husband. After a few unsuccessful 'matches' she meets a an older (and very rich) American banker, whom she promptly marries. When the Second World War breaks, her husband takes her from occupied Paris to a safety in Switzerland. In the last months of the War, Eva's husband dies of cancer, and leaves Eva his entire fortune. After the War, Eva discovers that her entire family was killed during the war - with an exception of Aleksandra, whom Eva finds in a refugee camp in Austria. Aleksandra's wartime experiences (she was involved in the insurrection in Warsaw) leave her in a very bad physical and mental condition. She has spent some time as a street beggar eating out of the dustbins. After Eva and Aleksandra's reunion, their pre-war roles are reversed - this time Eva is the rich sister in control. Eva feels a tremendous responsibility on herself - she wants to save what's left of the Lubinski family. She hires a young English doctor to care for Aleksandra. Soon Dr. Frayne and his patient fall in love....And, as we find out, Eva also has a dark secret of her own. In the early days of her marriage, something happens to Eva that would change her life forever...
In Disgrace there is an interesting juxtaposition of two worlds -a hedonistic, swinging 60's world in which Milla and Georgia live, and older world of grand aristocracy in which Eva had lived - a past which she refuses to let go. She is blind to the changes happening in the world and it affects her judgement and her relationship with Milla and Georgia. Strangely enough, the book seems to be much more nostalgic after Eva's times, rather than the 1960's. But there are few interesting observations about the 1960's as well.
There is one bit which readers of this blog should find interesting. When Georgia comes back from France, she gets back in touch with Cosmo, who by now runs a hip boutique just off King's Road called The Teapot - which judging from description was blatantly based on Hung On You or Granny Takes A Trip: She had never seen a shop like it. It was in a side street, not far from Sloane Square, and she would have missed it completely if she had been driving past. As it was , she thought she must have come to the wrong place. There was no name on the front, just a big painting of a pink teapot covering the entire window so you couldn't see what there was inside. Cosmo must have seen her dithering on the pavement, because he came rushing out and gave her a big hug and a very mushy mushy kiss on the mouth. He was a surprise, as well. He was wearing an old-fashioned army jacket, scarlet, with a high collar and brass buttons down the front. His hair was long and shaggy and he had the beginning of a little goatee beard. He bowed deeply and ushered her inside. 'Welcome to the Teapot' he said (...) It was even stranger inside. The whole place was full of dark drapes printed with exotic designs, with matching pillows all over the floor and a platform at the one end where Cosmo went t sit, crossed legged like buddha. (...) There was a smell of joss sticks hanging over everything and a smell of something else that she thought must be pot, judging from the name of the shop (...) Georgia couldn't see many very many clothes hanging up in the shop. There were two long dresses in plain ecru cotton with high lace necks and pearl buttons down the front, and a black silk jacket, with heavy gold epaulettes and gold piping, was draped over a dressmaker's dummy in the centre of the room. She asked Cosmo where the rest of the stock was and he said they didn't do stock, just made things to order for very special people. The jacket was for Wilfred, of Wilfred and The Wonderboys, who were on at the Palladium the next week. He was going to wear it for the show. He was coming to collect it in a minute, and another one like it, only in red. He looked at her, waiting for her to be impressed, and she said, 'Oh, wow.' A lot seemed to have happened while she was away (p 236 - 237).
Cosmo may or may have not been based on Michael Rainey - the aristocratic owner of Hung On You, who , just like Cosmo in the novel, sold his shop and went to live in a hippie commune...
In the book, Milla opens her own King's Road boutique as well. Impressed by her success, Cosmo talks to Georgia about Milla: Don't you believe it, she's a sharp one, your sister. There is a big change happening here (...) Fashion and shopkeeping is a whole new game and everybody is trying to cash in on it, opening boutiques all over the place but charging the same sort of prices they've been doing for years. Milla was different. She bought designs from people (...) and made them up cheaply so all the little dollies could afford them, and when the designers didn't like their stuff being sold so cheaply, she told them to fuck off and started to do it herself (...) I sometimes wish I'd had the same ideas (p 244).
Doesn't that sound like what Barbara Hulanicki herself did in Biba?
I don't doubt that a lot of motives in Disgrace were semi-autobiographical. Barbara Hulanicki herself was a daughter of upper-class Polish diplomat, and the character of Eva Lubinski, might have been based on somebody she knew, perhaps even somebody from her own family.
All in all, Disgrace makes an enjoyable reading, especially if you're into the 60's Swinging London. Hip aristos in kaftans, King's Road boutiques, Coffee bars, Soho nightclubs, deb balls, East End gangsters, hippie communes, French film directors, stories involving sex, drugs, blackmail, incest, love - it's all there.
The book would make a basis for a really cool and stylish TV series. I've always thought that Britain should have it's own equivalent of Mad Men...
Thursday, 2 May 2013
Before Deep Purple established themselves as a hard rock band in early 1970's , they started off as one of the most promising psychedelic/progressive acts in Britain. Their 1968-1969 line-up with Nick Simper on bass and Rod Evans on vocals recorded two great heavy psych albums inspired by what bands like Vanilla Fudge or Iron Butterfly were doing around the same time. When they scored their first American number one hit with 'Hush', they invested in some new clobber at Mr. Fish's boutique.As Jon Lord (far left in the photo above) remembers: That leather coat cost more than I'd earned in my entire life. It was all bought one mad afternoon at Mr. Fish. Working-class lads being dressed by a top designer, we weren't going to say no. We wanted to be a progressive band but we didn't know how. I remember thinking it was the most wonderful time, with total freedom (Uncut, Issue 163,December 2010, p 16).
Here's some more photos of psych-era Deep Purple from 1968-1969..
From left: Rod Evans, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper, Ian Paice. (1968)
Rod Evans, 1968
Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord with girlfriends, 1969
Deep Purple Mk I doing a psych/prog version of Beatles' 'Help!' in 1968. I love that coat Ritchie Blackmore is wearing...
Sunday, 28 April 2013
Here's some more articles, fashion features, ads and great psychedelic comics from Valentine Magazine.
I love that shirt! (1970)
Front and back covers of issue from January 1970.
Teenage suedehead talking about his love life..(click to enlarge)
He was the dishiest bloke around....
From the fashion section
Article in which girls talk about their jobs. The girl in the photo apparently worked in Blaises nightclub, which was a regular hangout of Brian Jones, Ossie Clark and many other Swinging London celebs. Shame that in the article she doesn't say anything even remotely interesting.
How to beat the big freeze?....By putting on mini skirt and going without a coat, f course (January 1970)
Back cover of May 1970 issue
Maxi dress and feathercut..
Scanned from Valentine Magazine, Issues from (week ending) January 10th 1970, April 18 1970 , April 25 1970, May 16th 1970, March 13th 1971.
Thursday, 25 April 2013
The film Permissive, directed by Lindsay Shonteff and released in 1970, was another British movie penetrating the promiscuous Rock scene of late 1960's and early 1970's. Just like Groupie Girl (also made in 1970), Permissive, focuses on the groupie phenomenon. The film tells the story of Suzy (Maggie Stride) - a shy and slightly naive teenage girl who comes to London to stay with her old friend Fiona (Gay Singleton). Fiona is an experienced groupie, who hangs out with prog band Forever More (who were a real-live band signed to RCA). She introduces Suzy into a world of scuzzy toilet venues, musicians on the rise, dodgy roadies, grubby hotel rooms and of course, sex and drugs..
But soon, the student beats the master. Initially shy Suzy quickly finds her way in this new, promiscuous world, which inevitably lead to a conflict with Fiona, since they both fighting for attention of Forever More's lead singer Lee (unbelievably hairy Allan Gorrie).
There are interesting similarities between Permissive and Groupie Girl. Both films were made with an intention to cash-up on notoriety of groupies and rock musicians. Both sought to explore - not necessarily exploit - counterculture. Both were made by directors known for making sexploitation flicks, which resulted in Permissive and Groupie Girl being unfairly branded as such. Although sex exploitation is depicted in both films, it is not a main focus point of either. It would be wrong to put them in the same category as, for example, Confessions Of Pop Performer (1974). Neither Groupie Girl nor Permissive try to glamorise the scene or a lifestyle.But although the films were aimed at the older audience, they don't overly try to moralise or condemn the choices of protagonists (something American films of the era often did). Permissive and Groupie Girl are characterised by their brutal realism which brings to mind kitchen-sink dramas of early 1960's (such comparison is furthered by unmistakably British sets - gray skies, rain etc. and the depiction of grubby, un-swinging London in Permissive).
But there are substantial differences between two films as well. Unlike Groupie Girl, Permissive almost aspires to be an arthouse film which is particularly visible in the way film was shot. There is a generous use of flash-cuts, clearly inspired by Easy Rider (1969). Just like in Easy Rider, where you can see a flash-cut premonition of Peter Fonda's and Dennis Hopper's death during a scene at the brothel, in Permissive, the viewer is teased with the flash-cuts of future (and past) scenes all throughout the film, but without major disruptions in film chronology.
But the biggest difference between the two films is whom the films vilify. In Groupie Girl,, it was the musicians.In Permissive, it's the groupies.As film critic IQ Hunter writes in his essay about Permissive, "If not exactly feminist, the film echoes feminist disillusionment with the counterculture's ideology of free love. As in "Groupie Girl", the men are arrogantly misogynistic and possessive and women are tolerated insofar as they are useful for sex or chores. (...) Suzy succeeds as as a groupie because she understands the band's misogyny(...) and learns to beat the men at their own game of strategic promiscuity (...) What is missing of course is any sense of female solidarity, and it is Fiona who pays the price for Suzy's own icily methodical exploitation of men's fecklessness and lust.
The original score in permissive is really good - a mixture of heavy psych and prog. Acts that contributed songs to Permissive (apart from Forever More) include prog rockers Comus and Titus Groan.
And, of course there are some great 1960's and early 1970's fashions, both male and female. That alone is a reason enough to watch Permissive...
Permissive was recently released on DVD by BFI Flipside. One of the bonus features on the disc is an hour- long comedy from 1971 titled Bread. This film, dug out from a deep obscurity by BFI, was directed by Stanley Long and written by Suzanne Mercer (who, incidentally, were both involved in Groupie Girl - Suzanne Mercer wrote a script based on her own experiences as a groupie). The film follows the misadventures of a group of hippies, who decide to organise a rock festival on the grounds belonging to rich businessman. It is a pretty funny comedy of errors and while watching it, I couldn't help wondering whether it inspired short-lived (but much - underrated) 90's sitcom set in 60's titled Hippies, which starred young Simon Pegg...
Stills from Bread (1971)
I recommend both, Permissive and Bread to anybody who is interested in music and fashion of late 1960's/early 1970's counterculture.
Source of the quotation: Essay "Permissive" by IQ Hunter in a booklet - part a BFI Flipside DVD release of "Permissive".
Thursday, 18 April 2013
Chrissie Shrimpton and Thane Russal photographed in 1966 by Richard Avedon.
Thane Russal, whose real name was Doug Gibbons, was an Australian singer lived and recorded in Britain in the mid-1960's.His most memorable song is the dynamic version of Otis Redding's 'Security' recorded in 1966. In my modest opinion, Thane Russal's version is FAR superior to the original, which sounds pretty generic by comparison (Sorry, Otis Redding's fans..). The brass section from Otis's version is here replaced by melodic guitar riff, and instead of Otis's soulful vocals, we get angry, Mick Jagger-esque snarl of Thane Russal. Indeed, this version could almost pass for a lost Stones song...
'Security' was a minor hit in Britain in 1966. John Peel was a fan of the single and played it often on his radio show Perfumed Garden. Thane Russal And Three, as his backing band was called, toured with P.J. Proby, The Searchers, and fellow Mod bands - The Who, The Sorrows and The Action. They also supported Pink Floyd in Italy. Today, 'Security' is a cult classic for Mod/Psych fans.
Intersting piece of trivia - 'Security' was produced by certain Paul Raven - real name Paul Gadd - who would later achieve fame (and infamy) as Gary Glitter.
Here are some photos of Thane Russal and Three from 1965-1966..
The Three: (from left) Mick Brill, Martin Fisher, Allan Collins and Pete Huish (that's four, surely). Evidently the boys were customers of I Was Lord Kitchener's Valet boutique.
Mick Brill and Martin Fisher
And the man himself - Doug Gibbons A.K.A. Thane Russal
Source of the photos - Italian page Beatssesanta.