I’m Mandy, Fly Me

In 1969, Hugh Hefner took delivery of what may have been the most decadent corporate toy of all time. Costing a cool $9M (the equivalent of over $55M today), Hefner’s stretched DC-9 jet had 12 onboard beds, a disco, lounge, bar, sunken roman bath, a full crystal dinner set for 32 people, and – as befitted the founder of Playboy Magazine – an elliptical king-sized water bed for the boss, covered with Tasmanian opossum fur.

The “Big Bunny”, or “Hare Force One” as it was jokingly called, was painted all black with a Playboy bunny head logo on the tail. The plane carried spotlights to ensure that the logo remained illuminated in flight. Hefner and his guests could enjoy In-flight meals that included lobster and roast beef, then sit back and enjoy an entertainment system that included two film projectors and a video player.

There was also a crew of four ‘Jet Bunnies’ onboard. These were recruited from girls that had worked in the Playboy clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles and trained at Continental Airlines’ stewardess school. Hefner wanted his flight attendants to look like they had stepped out of a James Bond movie, so they wore black custom uniforms designed by Walter Holmes.

Holmes is an interesting character – the fashion historian Jonathan Walford has provided a fascinating outline biography of the designer on his blog, which you can find here. In the nineteen sixties he was living and working in Chicago, where Playboy Enterprises happened to be based. In 1968 Holmes had earned much press attention, not to mention to wrath of the Catholic Church, for a collection of nun-themed “Medieval Minis,” which may have been what attracted Hefner’s attention.

The Jet Bunny uniform is a classic product of its time. There were a couple of variants, one based on around a mini-dress, the other a tunic and pants. The material used was black, shiny, and entirely artificial – it often gets described as leather, but really it was leatherette – a fabric base treated with soft PVC. It was accessorized with a white Playboy aviator’s scarf and, because this was 1969/70, a pair of tall black boots.

The boots were also black stretch vinyl, low heeled and tall enough to just cover the knees, where they were secured with a strap and buckle. As you’ll have seen if you’ve read this blog, this was a very popular design during the years between 1968 and 1971. Sleek, tight fitting boots of this sort were part of a general move, begun by designers like Pierre Cardin, to create a more slimline silhouette for women’s clothing, suitable for a time when eyes were fixed on the future and technology was seen to hold all the answers to humanity’s problems. Not to mention that they were unabashedly sexy.

It’s not surprising that Hefner adopted this look for the Jet Bunnies. What’s more surprising is how common mini-skirts, hot pants, and boots were as uniforms for commercial flight attendants during this period. Originally I’d planned to for this piece to segue neatly into a consideration of this, but then, just this week, Hefner went and died on me. So the flight attendant piece will have to wait until the next post.

Hefner’s demise, at the ripe old age of 91, was an opportunity for various broadsheets like the New York Times and the Washington Post to lionize him as a crusader for liberal values and individual freedoms. Inevitably this led to a counterpunch from other publications, pointing out that Hefner’s values did not extend to the various young women who lived and worked with him. As Nathan Robinson succinctly put it, “Hefner wanted to be free, but he wanted to be free from government tyranny only so he could exercise a kind of unaccountable private tyranny. As with libertarianism always, ‘freedom to be a dick’ seems to be the goal.”

Which brings us back to the Jet Bunnies. Those awesome, wet look uniforms may have signified the sleek, space age ambitions of the late sixties, but they also say a lot about a world in which a wealthy man could dress women up in the way he wanted and have them on-hand to wait on him and his friends. There’s nothing wrong with hot pants and boots… it’s whether the person that’s wearing them gets to choose that’s the issue.

Selected References:

  • Anon. 2017. See what it was like to fly on the ‘Big Bunny,’ Hugh Hefner’s customized Playboy jet. Business Insider. September 28, 2017. Retrieved Sept 30, 2017.
  • Pemberton, R. 2015. The Mile High Club Hugh Hefner style: A fascinating look inside the glamorous Playboy jet Big Bunny in the swinging Sixties (complete with wild discos, onboard showers and air hostesses clad in leather). Daily Mail, November 27, 2015. Accessed, Sept 30, 2015.
  • Robinson, N.J. 2017. Good riddance to an abusive creep. Current Affairs, September 28, 2017. Retrieved Sept 30, 2017.
    Sigel, R. 2011. Hugh Hefner’s Big Bunny Jet – Hare Force One. Jet Gala Magazine, August 2011. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017.
  • Walford, J. 2012. Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Walter Holmes. Jonathan Walford’s Blog, July 24, 2012. Retrieved Sept 30. 2017.

Image Sources:

  • Jet Bunny Avis Miller, 1970, Playboy via Pinterest.com
  • Hugh Hefner poses with two Jet Bunnies, Associated Press via Daily Mail
  • Jet Bunny uniforms, Playboy via Business Insider
  • Hugh Hefner and Barbi Benton with Jet Bunnies, 1970, Playboy via Daily Mail

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Atomic Blonde

Last weekend, I took a trip with my wife to see Atomic Blonde. For those of you who haven’t heard of this movie, it stars Charlize Theron as an MI6 agent (yeah, right) who is sent into Berlin in the last days before the fall of the Wall. The film is full of Cold War treats, including a missing list of spies, double agents, the Stasi, Berlin counterculture denizens, sultry French secret agents, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of beetle-browed KGB thugs for Ms. Theron to fight. I should say up front that it has some of the most brutal fight scenes I’ve ever seen; Theron’s MI6 officer, Lorraine Broughton, gets beaten black, blue, and bloody, and even though her assailants come off much worse, it’s still hard to watch. It also has a thunderous soundtrack of eighties pop (Neunundneunzig Luftballons turns up a few too many times for my liking). I loved it. My wife, who has a “thing” for Theron’s co-star, James McAvoy, was quite pleased too. This, however, is all by the by, because my main reason for writing this post is to discuss whether Lorraine Broughton’s boots were period-appropriate.

Bone crunching hand-to-hand combat aside, Atomic Blonde is quite a good movie if you’re interested in fashion. Theron is togged out in a succession of gorgeous ensembles, which include some amazing footwear. There is a great scene where she takes down a couple of would-be kidnappers, armed only with a red patent stiletto pump by Dior, while traveling at high speed in the back of a Mercedes. But since this is a blog about the history of fashion boots, let’s focus on Lorraine Broughton’s supposedly 1989 vintage boots, which – of course, are nothing of the sort. But neither are they so far from the truth either.

If you work in the marketing department of Stuart Weitzman, then you’re going to be pretty happy with Atomic Blonde, because Lorraine Broughton wears no less than three of the company’s boot styles. First up is the venerable 50:50 boot, which is almost – but not quite – old enough that our heroine could have worn the actual boot; the 50:50 was first launched in 1993, a mere four years after the events of the movie. If you are, by chance, the sort of woman that spends her time getting into bloody, bone-crunching, fights to the death with Russian thugs, the 50:50 is definitely the boot for you. Ms Theron wears her in an extended battle in an East Berlin stairwell that was almost too much to watch.

The second pair also proved quite handy in a scrap. These were the Weitzman Lowland boots, a very tall thigh boot in stretch leather. The low heels of this style also make them a good choice for those who need to fight off several Berlin cops, as Ms. Broughton does in yet another of her epic battle scenes. Although, as she says in the movie, if she’d known that was going to happen, she’d have chosen a different outfit.

Most articles about Atomic Blonde‘s fashion that I’ve seen only note two pairs of Weitzman boots, but the eagle eyed will spot a third style. This is the leather version of the Highland boot, more commonly seen in its suede version adorning the legs of various celebrities and supermodels. Lorraine Broughton dons a pair to go undercover in East Berlin. Undercover, in her case, means a beanie and a brown wig. She still looks exactly like Charlize Theron. The Highland, as its name suggests, has a higher heel than the Lowland, and this may be why Lorraine doesn’t do quite as well in her fight in an East Berlin movie theater as she does in some of her other tussles.

So, are these three pairs of boots period-appropriate? Kinda. The late eighties were more noted for over-the-knee boots that were loose fitting, low heeled, and suede, but styles in leather do make an appearance, starting around 1988. In the August 1988 edition of UK Vogue, an editorial entitled “Guinevere” discussed the emergence of “a new heroine” emerging from “the age of chivalry… at the London collections there was a distinct feeling for Camelot… moody velvets, jewel and dull metal colours, Gothic points and drama in brave accessories – metal work, gauntlets, thigh boots, and borzois.” So we do have thigh-high boots, but more of the doublet-and-hose variety than the urban chic sported by Lorraine Broughton. Certainly none of the contemporary styles were quite as tall or as pipe-cleaner narrow as the Highland and Lowland, and no-one was experimenting with the fusion of leather and stretch fabric seen in the 50:50.

Which brings us to the final pair of boots, Saint Laurent’s metal studded chain leather booties. These fetish-infused, stiletto heeled babies, seen in close-up striding along a London sidewalk in the rain, are absolutely period perfect, as typically eighties as shoulder pads, “Frankie Says” teeshirts, or puffball skirts. When Broughton is hanging out in techno-infused Berlin nightclubs, seducing her fellow agents, she totally looks the part. The Eighties were, more than anything, the age of the ankle boot.

Anyway, who cares? Go watch the film. It’s awesome. Vorsprung durch Technik, as we used to say in the Eighties.

References:

  • Anon. 1988. Guinevere: New Style Heroine. Vogue (London), August 1988: pp.114-120.
  • Dargis, Manohla. 2017. Review: Dressed to kill, ‘Atomic Blonde.’ New York Times, July 27, 2017. Retrieved 9/9/2017.
  • Howard, Courtney. 2017. Charlize Theron sports some killer footwear in ‘ATOMIC BLONDE.’ FreshFiction.tv.Retrieved 9/9/2017.
  • Soo Hoo, Fawnia. 2017. Charlize Theron kicks ass in ‘Atomic Blonde.’ Fashionista.com, July 24, 2017. Retrieved 9/9/2017.

Image Sources:

Betty

Sept 10, 1969. Designer Yves Saint Laurent is in London to open a new branch of Rive Gauche, his prêt-à-porter boutique, on New Bond Street, London, opening day of boutique, Sept 10, 1969. Standing in the doorway of the store in front of a massed bank of press photographers, the infamously neurotic maestro is flanked by the two most important women in his life. At his left hand, in head scarf, wrap-around skirt, and safari jacket, is the women who will become his muse, Loulou de la Falaise. At his right, yin to de la Falaise’s yang, is Betty Catroux.

Catroux, enigmatic behind vast sunglasses is, like Yves, wearing one of YSL’s trademark safari suits, a leather belt slung raffishly around her waits, accessorized with a knotted silk scarf. Her legs are sheathed in a sky-scraping pair of leather boots by Roger Vivier, the shoe designer whose partnership with Saint Laurent goes back years. Vivier designed the crocodile skin boots for YSL that kicked off the sixties craze for cuissardes in 1963. Suited and booted, Catroux famously does not give a shit. “I never made any effort; I amquite indifferent and unconcerned,” she is on record as saying. “I look ambiguous. I’ve dressed the same way practically since I was born. I don’t dress as a woman. I’m not interested in fashion at all. I never learned anything; everything I do is natural and uncalculated.”

Saint Laurent met her in 1967, in “a very gay” nightclub in Paris. She was blonde, lanky, and androgynous, and Saint Laurent was smitten. “She wore a Prisunic plastic skirt,” he recalled later. “What impressed me was the style, the androgyny, the body, the face, and the hair. I hit on her.” He grew to see her as his twin sister and, perhaps more significantly, his female incarnation. He wanted her to work for him. She refused. Unlike Loulou –  who once described as muse as “someone who looks glamorous but is quite passive, whereas I was very hard-working” – la Catroux just wanted to have fun.”It was coup de foudre when we met, and we never left each other,” she recalled, years later. “After that we only lived for fun, two of us against the world. We hated normal life!”

Betty and Loulou, masculine and feminine. Betty herself, both masculine and feminine. Here again is the paradox of the fashion boot. Her cuissardes undoubtably masculine, with the swagger of a chevalier, yet lending a decidedly feminine touch to the Saint Laurent safari suit.”I was thinking of her when I imagined the pantsuit, then the leather,” Saint Laurent once said. “All the male codes that I have appeal to the female. If Paloma Picasso and Loulou de la Falaise inspire my fantasy, Betty, she inspires my rigorous body.”

References:

 

  • Blagg, Max. 2011. Betty Catroux interview. Oyster #95, 11/6/2011. Web, accessed 8/21/2017.
  • Borrelli-Perrson, Laird. 2015. A brief history of fashion’s kinkiest boot. Vogue, Oct 1, 2016. Web, accessed 8/21/2017.
  • Lalanne, Olivier. 2001. Initiales B.C. Vogue (Paris), April 2001. Trans. Iwanttobearoifeld.com, April 21, 2013. Web, accessed 8/21/2017 
  • Samuel, Henry. 2010. Yves Saint Laurent “didn’t love women, he used them.” Daily Telegraph, Jan 20, 2010. Web, accessed 8/21/2017.

Image Sources:

Ruth Pearson, 1946-2017

Yesterday I found out that Ruth Pearson had died. It happened back in June, but somehow I missed it. The British papers noted her passing, briefly, but the Times gave her a generous obituary for a woman who had spent the last few years of her career working quietly in local government administration and IT. But for men of a certain generation, Ruth Pearson was, quite simply, sex on two legs.

Pearson was a founder member of a dance troupe called Pan’s People, who danced on the hugely popular BBC TV show Top of the Pops. Her mother was Israeli, and she had a touch of sabra about her that made her seem impossibly exotic to a kid from the outer reaches of the London suburbs. She was one of six dancers (eventually cut to five) that performed to hits when the actual artists weren’t available in person. Viewed from the distance of nearly 50 years, PP routines look quite demure, but at the time they were seen as quite scandalous. They were the reason your dad was prepared to sit through half an hour of David Cassidy, Mudd, and the Osmonds.

They earn an honorable mention in this blog because they frequently wore boots as part of their costumes, not surprisingly given that their TOTP career from 1968 to 1976 spanned the period of peak popularity for this style of footwear and that they were also frequently clad in hot pants or miniskirts (for the record, in later life Pearson was more than a little ambivalent about this. “I’m not very sentimental about my time in Pan’s. The music, the clothes and the dances all made some of it a bit . . . bleurgh”).

It’s possible to draw a wider cultural conclusion from the fact that Pan’s People’s late seventies successors, Legs & Co. (1976-1981, managed by Pearson), rarely wore boots on TOTP, preferring more disco-appropriate high-heeled sandals. By contrast, their punkish rivals on ITV, Hot Gossip (1978-1981), tended to go for a lot of rubber and PVC fetish wear, including spiky heeled thighboots. In this sense, they reflect wider trends in the evolution of fashion.

But the reason I’m writing a post about Ruth Pearson is that her passing makes me feel very old. I grew up in a time when it seemed quite natural for a music program on a national TV channel to employ a team of dancing girls. For good or ill, that notion seems impossibly quaint now, as archaic as steam trains and non-metric currency. Pans’ People were, in the words of the Times, the epitome of “an innocent and carefree era in popular culture when London was swinging and everything was groovy.” I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic for simpler times.

RIP, Ruth.

References

Ruth Pearson, obituary. The Times (London), June 29, 2017. Accessed, 9/2/2017

One for the Dads. Accessed 9/2/2017

Dickins, C., Lord, B., Wilde, D., Pearson, R., and Barnard, S. 2013. Pan’s People: Our Story. Signum Books, 208pp.

Image Source

One for the Dads Forum