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Scandal

I don’t know what it is, but this blog is getting a bit fixated on mortality these days. First it was Ruth Pearson, then Mary Millington, and now we have Christine Keeler, who died this week at the age of 75. Keeler was the last of major players in the Profumo affair, a scandal that gripped the attention of Britons in the early 1960s, led to the eventual downfall of the Conservative government, and ushered in the era of more liberal, progressive, and – some might say – permissive society that most people imagine when they think of the sixties. As the poet Philip Larkin, much quoted in the aftermath of Keeler’s death, put it, ‘Sexual Intercourse began in 1963/ Between the Lady Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP.

The years from 1962-63, as those who’ve followed this blog will know, were also pivotal ones in the development of the fashion boot, something that is explored in detail in the forthcoming MFW book. This is the period when the boot completed its transition from utilitarian rainwear to the world of high fashion. Looking back eight years later, Daily Mail fashion writer Iris Ashley remembered that in May 1962 “there was only one pair of boots (not counting Wellingtons and riding boots) in the whole of London…. Hand-made they were by Anello and Davide, and I nearly got shot for photographing them in the rain and getting them dirty.” But things were changing. “Boots will put the kick in fashion this fall and winter,” Raymonde Alexander wrote in the Atlanta Constitution in July of that year, while Patty Peterson’s fall forecast for the New York Times in August predicted “boots for all occasions” as a major accessory trend.

This can be very clearly seen in the 1962 Paris fall collection of Balenciaga, who revealed something quite startling; the first over-the-knee fashion boots for women, side-zippered in leather and suede, worn with checked and pleated skirts, white blouses, and wool and leather coats and gloves; the Daily Mail hailed the emergence of “a new sporting type of woman, one who can walk the countryside with elegance in very high leather boots and leather jerkin,” while the Atlanta Constitution described it as “an unexpected group of country clothes.” And in 1963, of course, there was what Vogue hailed as “the most feminine foot, the most luxurious boot – black crocodile… musketeer boots – shiny, thigh-high, shapely as legs. With this look they brought down the house at St. Laurent.” Roger Vivier’s iconic boot was paired with black suede jerkins, a visored leather cap/hood, strap sleeved short coats, leather gloves and tights. In an era when a lady still wore gloves and a hat to go out, this was radical stuff.

So I wondered – was there a link to Keeler in all of this? “Her finest moments,” as Julie Burchell wrote in the Telegraph this week, “may have taken place naked, but Keeler’s dress sense was to have a pleasing impact on Sixties style. When she came out of court, women in floral frocks and fussy hats perched atop home perms line up to jeer at her; in her sleek black suit, tossing her dark glossy mane, she had an air of being one of Nature’s aristocrats.” This struck a chord, because it seemed to echo something that Iris Ashley had written in the Daily Mail in October of 1962, just a couple of months before Johnny Edgecombe began the unravelling of Profumo’s career by firing five shots at a house where Keeler was staying. “Keep an eye on the young…” Ashley urged. “The under twenty-fives…. These are the girls who made long hair piled high into fashion, the girls who’ve been living in tunic dresses and Chanel-type suits – these are the girls who are going mad for capes. For daytime, they wear them with high boots.”

So, was Christine Keeler one of those under twenty-fives in high boots? It seems, based on this image and the one at the top of the page, that perhaps she was. The former was taken on April 23, 1963, the latter in Keeler’s apartment on March 17, 1963, the week before she was due to give evidence in Edgecombe’s trial. Her two outfits – a blouse and an oversized sweater, both worn with ski pants tucked into knee-length boots – would have been seen as shockingly edgy by Burchell’s latter-day tricoteuses, with their  floral frocks, fussy hats, and home perms, but it pointed to wider changes in society.

The approval of the oral contraceptive pill had given women an unprecedented level of control over their fertility. While social conservatives tut-tutted about promiscuity and extra-marital sex, the major impact of this new contraceptive technology was in transforming women’s economic role. By uncoupling the onset of sexual activity from the age that women first married, it allowed them to invest in education and other forms of human capital as well as generally become more career-oriented. Soon after the birth control pill was legalized, there was a sharp increase in college attendance and graduation rates for women. And as Beth Levine so presciently noted, the emergence of the boot and the pill were contemporaneous. They were both, in their in own ways, symbols of women’s growing independence.

Image Sources:

  • Christine Keeler, 1963. Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images, Editorial #592272662
  • Suit with boots by Balenciaga, Vogue, 1962
  • Composite image of YSL boots, 1963: original images from Vogue & L’Officiel
  • Christine Keeler (left) getting into a friend’s mini during a court case connected with the Profumo Affair, 25th April 1963. Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Editorial #71870367.

Selected References:

  • Alexander, Raymonde. 1962. Fashions Will Stand on Solid Footing as Boots Kick Off the Fall Season. The Atlanta Constitution, July 16, 1962. Pg. 17
  • Anon. 1962.Balenciaga Is Praised by Buyers. New York Times, Aug 2, 1962. Pg.18.
  • Anon. 1963. Paris: The First Full Report: Vogue’s First Report On The New French Clothes And The Fresh Excitement Of Paris. Vogue, Sept 1963: pp164–181, 243, 245
  • Anon. 2017. Christine Keeler, model at the centre of the Profumo Affair – obituary. Daily Telegraph, Dec 5, 2017. Accessed 12/9/2017.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1962. Iris Ashley with Balenciaga Yesterday. The Daily Mail, Aug 29, 1962. Pg. 4.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1962. On the Wave of a New Rave. The Daily Mail, October 31, 1962. Pg. 10.
  • Ashley, Iris. 1970. Fini the Mini. The Daily Mail, July 30, 1970. Pg. 4.
  • Burchell, Julie. 2017. Christine Keeler made me realize the respectable life was not for me. Daily Telegraph, Dec 9, 2017. Accessed 12/9/2017.
  • Peterson, Patricia, 1962. Fall ’62 Forecast. New York Times, Aug 26, 1962. Pg.248.

 

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You know you’re getting old….

… when you discover that yesterday would have been Mary Millington’s 72nd birthday (1945-1979). Growing up in Britain during the 1970s, it was hard to avoid her likeness, which was splashed all over the London Underground on posters promoting her fantastically popular (and truly awful) sex comedies. The story of Mary Maxted (her real name) is both fascinating and very sad, and has been chronicled in a biography by Simon Sheridan (1999) and a recent documentary, ‘Respectable’ (2016); it’s well worth exploring for anyone interested in seventies Britain. Anyway, here she is, in a typical (and quite NSFW) pose in some provincial English town – the towering platform boots were a common accessory for the tiny Mary (4′ 11″).

Selected References:

Pocklington, Rebecca. 2016. Who is Mary Millington? Everything you need to know about tragic porn star honored with a blue plaque. Daily Mirror, April 7, 2016. Accessed 12/1/2017

Sheridan, Simon. 1999. Come Play With Me: The Life and Films of Mary Millington. FAB Press.

Sheridan, Simon. 2011. Keeping the British End Up: Four Decades of Saucy Cinema. Titan Publishing, 4th Edn.

Image Source:

Whitehouse, via Vintage Erotica Forums

Boots That Count

International readers may never have heard of her, but back in my homeland, Carol Vorderman MBE is a bit of a national treasure. She co-hosted the popular gameshow Countdown for 26 years (1982-2006), one of 19 TV programs she has presented; she has been a strong advocate for math education in the UK; and she is the only celebrity to have won “Rear of the Year” twice, the second time (2014) when she was 54 years old. What lifted her into the realms of this blog, however, was a rumor that I heard years ago that, when she was a student at Cambridge in the late 1970s, she was known as “Boots” Vorderman.

Obviously this was worthy of further investigation. So I turned to “It All Counts: My Story” (2010), which as you may have guessed from the title is Vorderman’s autobiography. And here is the story, as described by the lady herself. To set the scene: in October 1978, 17 year old Carol Jean Vorderman of Prestatyn, North Wales, comes up to Cambridge to read Natural Sciences at Sidney Sussex College. It is fair to say that she does not blend in to the anonymous mob of undergraduates…

Standard uniform for all students in Cambridge in those days was a pair of jeans, a college scarf and trainers. I was absolutely determined not to change what I would normally wear just to look like everyone else. In those days I loved to dress in a 70s glam rock style. Abba were at their height, and there were definite shades of Agnetha in my day-to-day outfits.

“Pride of my wardrobe was a pair of thigh-length leather boots. I wore these boots virtually every single day, teamed with the tightest velveteen trousers, a white shirt and a matching bow tie. That’s how I got my college nickname of Boots Vorderman. Not very original, I suppose, but that’s what it was.

“If I had worn normal jeans and trainers, I would have reached my lectures at least four times faster than I did. But instead I would attempt to cycle to the engineering department with my thigh-length boots on, which made each turn of the pedals difficult. The tightly hugging trousers didn’t help much either, but I refused to be beaten. I raised the seat of my bike really high, so that I didn’t have to flex my leather-clad knees quite as much, which meant my bottom was so high from the ground that my bike resembled a penny farthing. But I didn’t care. I simply set out with plenty of time to spare and wobbled my way to lectures.

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that the late 1970s saw the brief return of over-the-knee boots to mainstream fashion popularity. From 1977, when Karl Lagerfeld introduced them in his Fall collection for Chloe, through to around 1981/82, OTK boots were, if not common, than at least high profile, due in no small part to their adoption by a number of celebrities (see here for an example of this). Carol Vorderman was not famous in 1978 – that would come four years later, when she first appeared on TV – but she plainly had the fashion sensibilities of a celebrity.

And there, of course, lies the problem. It would be great to illustrate this little personal vignette of late-70s fashion history with a photo of Carol in all her Cambridge glory, but the likelihood of such photos floating around on the internet is quite low. However, it turns out that if we can’t see Boots Vorderman, we can at least see her boots. Because, as Carol notes in the book:

Years late I wore those same boots when I was Cher in Celebrity Stars in Their Eyes, proving that a good pair of boots never dies!

Twenty years later, as it happens, in 1998. And for that, we do have photos (and even video).

Now, even Vorderman admits that this was probably not her finest hour, being more Rocky Horror Show than Cher, but if we ignore the excess of leather and fishnet (to say nothing of the “get me out of here” look of horror on Carol’s face) we can see that this is a pretty respectable pair of late-70s thighboots, complete with flaring top, rounded toe, and slender stack heels.

As for her Cambridge education, Carol Vorderman achieved the remarkable feat of getting a third in each year of the Tripos exams, making her a member of the exclusive “Nines” club. My experience of people that get third class degrees from Oxford or Cambridge is that they almost invariably go on to greater success than those who win higher class honors, and this is certainly true for her. Not only that, but at 57 she looks as good as she did forty years ago. Keep on counting, Carol.

Reference:

  • Vorderman, Carol. 2010. It All Counts: My Story. Headline Publishing Group, United Kingdom

Image Sources:

No Pain, No Gain

In 2002, a British teenager called Charlie Gowans-Eglinton took a weekend trip to Paris with her mother. Reflecting back on the trip in 2017, Gowans-Eglinton, now a fashion editor for the Daily Telegraph, recalled that “we drank coffee and did the galleries and, having spotted stylish French women wearing them, bought my first pair of knee-high boots, which I insisted on wearing straight away. Somewhere between the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo I lost feeling in my toes, and so ended my first, and only, experience of knee-high boots.”

I have great sympathy for Gowans-Eglinton, because she had her first experience with the fashion boot when it was, without doubt, at its least forgiving. Women’s boots in the years surrounding the Millennium were a triumph of style over comfort; wickedly tight, perched on pencil-thin stiletto heels, and with a toe so pointed that it looked like it had been weaponized for some James Bond movie. Contemporary news articles highlighted the pain caused by trying to fit the aerobicized calves of the fashionable Millennial woman into the glove tight shafts of these boots.

The designers, of course, were unrepentant. Quoted in the New York Observer in 2000, Miranda Morrison of Sigerson Morrison, justified her company’s wickedly tight boots by saying “We made a decision … to cater to the shapeliest legs, just because that’s how the product looks the best. I mean, you know there are companies who try and fit everybody, and the result is that, for a lot of stylish girls, their boots fit like Wellingtons!… You can put your leg into a smaller boot… you may spend a couple of days wondering where your toes are.”

If anyone can be blamed for this, it’s probably Gianni Versace. His 1995 fall ready-to-wear collection had introduced a new style of boot that, in many ways, it was a high-legged equivalent of the popular high-heeled pumps of this period, combining the stiletto heel and pointed toe of the pump with a glove-tight leather upper climbing to just below the knee. It was stunning, and it was almost unwearable, but it inspired a flurry of late nineties imitators. “Out of fashion for decades,” the Toronto Star reported in September 1995, “[the boot] is now striding onto centre stage in kid-soft leather or gleaming patent, on high stacked heels or short, dagger-sharp stilettos. There haven’t been so many boots in fashion since Nancy Sinatra first grabbed a microphone.”

Ironically, by the time the young Charlie Gowans-Eglinton was trying out her first pair, mainstream shoe designers were modifying the dress boot to place place less demands on the wearer. The toes were squared off, at least at the tip, to reduce wear and tear on the feet; the fit of the shaft was loosened, especially round the ankle; and stilettos made way for stack heels, easier to walk in. A frequent, and very distinctive variant on this style was the “compressed stack;” viewed in profile, it looked like a stiletto, but from the rear it was apparent that the heel ran the full width of the boot and went straight to the ground without any taper. This revised design was to become a key element of what a 2011 New Yorker article described as “… the professional woman’s default uniform of the moment: a smart knit dress in a dark color, worn with knee-high black leather boots.”

Today, of course, there is every manner of boot to fit almost any need. When my own daughter picked out her first pair, a year or so back, they were low-heeled, round-toed, and with a shaft that was relaxed enough that they can be zipped up with minimal effort. There are no complaints about numb toes. Reviewing this season’s knee-length designs for the Telegraph, Gowans-Eglinton was in a forgiving mood. “As I’ll be 30 on my next birthday, I reckon it’s probably time I gave them another go.”

Image Sources:

  • “Key Pieces for Fall – The High Boot” – Marie Claire, ca. 1999
  • Gianni Versace advertisement by Richard Avedon, 1995

Selected References:

  • Gowans-Eglinton, Charlie. 2017. Every type of boot that you should have in your Autumn ‘boot wardrobe.’ Daily Telegraph, October 18, 2017.
  • Hayes, Tracy Achor. 1995. Step Into Style With the Appropriate Fall Footgear. Toronto Star, Sep 7, 1995: pg. F6.
  • Jacobs, Alexandra. 2000. Das Boots: Women Beg for Torture, Wrapping Calves in Tight Leather. New York Observer, October 16, 2000
  • Mead, Rebecca. 2011. Strategy Session: The Pipeline, The New Yorker, Jan 10, 2011

 

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The Red Boots

There’s a Spanish movie from 1974 called La mujer con botas rojas, which translates as “The Woman in Red Boots.” Catherine Deneuve plays the woman in question, who wears her pants tucked into a quite unremarkable pair of red leather knee-length boots for pretty much the whole film. It was directed by Juan Luis Buñuel, who is the son of the much more famous Luis Buñuel, with whom Deneuve made the much more famous Belle de Jour (1967) and Tristana (1970). In it, Deneuve plays an avante garde writer who gets manipulated by an elderly millionaire; however, the tables are turned when it emerges that she can summon up apparitions and recall visions of the past. I cribbed that plot summary from IMDB because, despite having watched the movie once on late night TV, I can remember absolutely nothing about it.

This post is not about that film, or those boots.

Around the time Deneuve was conjuring her apparitions in La mujer con botas rojas, David Gilmour, guitarist (and co-vocalist) for seventies rock giants Pink Floyd, received a demo tape from a friend, Ricky Hopper. Hopper was also friends with a family from Welling, in southeast London, whose teenage daughter was a musical prodigy who played the violin, organ, and piano and composed her own songs. Fifty of these youthful compositions were crammed onto the tape, which must have been a daunting prospect for any listener. But Gilmour was impressed by what he heard and forked out his own cash to pay for professionally-recorded demos of three of the songs. On the strength of these, sixteen year-old Catherine Bush, better known as Kate, was signed by EMI.

I am, I will freely admit, a huge Kate Bush fan, although to be honest I much prefer her first three albums – The Kick Inside (1978), Lionheart (1979), and Never Forever (1980) – which represent the unleashing of a huge burst of creative energy that had built up during the two years of her contract, when she was placed on a retainer by EMI and paid an advance that enabled her to take classes in mime and interpretive dance. The reasons for the company’s largesse are a matter of debate, ranging from altruism (EMI wanted to protect the youthful Bush from the potential trauma of releasing an album early to poor reviews), to cold-eyed commercial calculus (they wanted to lock her down before she had a chance to sign with another record label), to incompetence (the initial producers hired to work with her were no good).

Regardless of the reason, EMI’s caution in bringing Bush to the attention of the public paid big dividends. By the time she began recording her first album, in the late summer of 1977, she had written over 200 songs and honed her live skills by performing with her backing band in South London pubs. More especially, she had worked to combine music, song, and dance into the unique style of performance art that was to make her such a distinctive star of the late seventies and early eighties. By the end of 1977, Kate Bush was ready to meet her public. Which she did, in a very impressive pair of red boots.

The middle years of the 1970s had seen a shift away from more tailored clothes towards what Vogue called “the new ease in fashion;” oversized sweaters; loose-fitting, pleated skirts; wool, tweed, and peasant headscarves. Boots were a big part of this look; in contrast to the zippered, calf-hugging styles popular at the time, the new boot was loose-fitting, touching the leg rather than clinging to it, and falling in extravagant folds as the soft leather crushed around the ankle. Rather than having heels that were covered in the same material as the boot itself, the new boot featured stacked heels in material like wood. By 1975, the New York Times was referring to this style as “The Boot of the Year.”

Flash forward to when the young Kate Bush was fronting her band at the Rose of Lee in Lewisham and the boot was reigning supreme. “It’s lucky that shoemakers are almost all bootmakers too,” Barbara Griggs reported from the 1977 Paris Fall collections. “Otherwise they’d be grimly facing bankruptcy.” Griggs estimated that around 90 percent of the models on the Paris catwalks that season were wearing boots of some sort. “Ankle-high boots, calf-high boots, knee-high boots, and thigh-high boots. Boots that laced-up and boots you simply slid into. Boots made of soft sheepskin, shiny calf or dressy satin. Boots that invariably had low heels for daytime.” The variety of boots seen in Paris was, in Griggs’ words, “staggering.”

Most notably, 1977 saw the re-emergence of the over-the-knee boot after a six-year gap. Reporters covering that year’s Fall ready-to-wear shows in Paris were full of praise for Karl Lagerfeld’s collection for Chloe. Lagerfeld had been much taken with Federico Fellini’s Casanova released in December of the previous year and decided to produce a collection based on the eighteenth century costumes seen in the movie. But rather than women’s clothing from that period (which he declared to be “uninteresting”) Lagerfeld chose instead to design a collection for women that was influenced by the flamboyant male clothing of the period. So we have broad-brimmed cavalier hats, capes, velvet and satin breeches, lace trimmed blouses, and lots of swaggering over-the-knee boots.

The look caught on. By May of 1977, Bernadine Morris was reporting in the New York Times that a growing number of retailers on 7th Avenue were featuring knee-baring dresses for fall, also noting that high boots, thick tights, should be used to offset increased leg exposure. By the time the glossies started covering the fall fashions, in their July editions, over-the-knee boots were high on the list of accessories. In its review of shoes for the 1977 fall season, Vogue hailed “a great-looking new over-the-knee boot to bear with a tunic top and textured legs… or a thick Shaker sweater and matching leggings. Or to pull on over the narrowest narrowed pants and cuff down (boots are that soft this year!) sometimes to show its cozy shearling lining.”

A thick sweater and shearling-lined over-the knee boots. In early 1978 Kate Bush went on a round of promotional interviews for The Kick Inside wearing just such an outfit, or variations on it. In March, the NME carried a profile of the new star, describing her as “neither doll-like, nor petite, though hardly tall. Her faded jeans are mostly concealed under a pair of sheepskin-lined, thigh-high, reddish suede boots, and are in marked contrast to her very feminine fringed top.” Here I have to take issue with the NME’s Steve Clarke, because those boots are most definitely not suede, but leather. I know this because Bush was possibly at the height of her fame (or at least its first peak), with the first single from the album, Wuthering Heights, at number 1 on the UK charts, and she was photographed everywhere in those boots. Sometimes with a sweater, sometimes the fringed top, and occasionally a silk chinoiserie blouse. But always the boots.

They were quite sturdy boots, made from heavy leather with a chunky heel and thick soles, more buccaneer than boutique, and quite the contrast with the image portrayed by Bush through her music, which tended towards floaty dresses, dance leotards, and unearthly vocals. The contrast was mirrored in Bush herself. I still remember being shocked when I first saw her interviewed on the TV. I’d imagined that the owner of that ethereal singing voice would speak in delicate tones of Received Pronunciation, but Bush’s accent was pure South London.

It was hard to escape from Wuthering Heights in 1978; those piercing vocals seemed to be everywhere. It spent four weeks at number 1 on the UK pop charts and ended up being one of the most played records on the radio that year (as well as the tenth best selling single*). My brother had recently moved to North Yorkshire and my memories of that time involve a lot of driving around wet moorland of the sort that had inspired Emily Brontë’s Gothic masterpiece, which had, in turn, inspired Bush. Wuthering Heights was an ever-present accompaniment on the car radio.

Interestingly – at least from the narrow perspective of this blog – March of 1977 saw a chart showdown between the red booted Bush and her black booted rival for seventies pop superstardom, Debbie Harry of Blondie. Blondie’s single Denis was kept off the top spot of the UK charts by Bush (and then suffered the ignominy of being leapfrogged by Brian & Michael’s Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs; Google it to see just how bad that one was), although the American act was to have by far the greatest number of hits overall. Kate Bush continued (and continues) to plow her own idiosyncratic course, with variable mass success but a passionate fan base. In 1993, she released an album entitled The Red Shoes, but since 1978 the red boots have, sadly, been consigned to the back of the pop closet.

Note:

* If 10th place seems a little underwhelming, bear in mind that this was the year of two Grease-powered John Travolta & Olivia Newton John hits, to say nothing of ABBA and the Bee Gees, so it was not a bad effort for a first single. Although she did get beaten by the Boomtown Rats as well.

Selected References:

  • Anon. Shoe Signals. Vogue, July 1977: pp.98-103
  • Anon. Walk Right In…. All the Terrific New Stockings & Socks, Shoes & Boots”, Vogue, July 1977: pp142–143
  • Clarke, Steve. Kate Bush City Limits. New Musical Express, March 25, 1978.
  • The Daily Mail, March 31, 1977: pg. 15
  • Griggs, Barbara. Bootnote… Down to Earth Detail. The Daily Mail, March 31, 1977: pg. 15
  • Morris, Bernadine. At Lagerfeld’s Paris show, the 18th Century goes modern. New York Times, March 29, 1977: pg.41.
  • Morris, Bernadine. Message is in From Paris – Bubbly, Bloused and Billowy. New York Times, April 5, 1977; pg.24

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.

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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.

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