Thursday, 7 March 2013

Homage to Orla Kiely

A plain door and flashed ticket lead to
ladder-steep stairs.
On the upper floor, desks;
where pastel secretaries tap and file.
Light brims over the clatter of keys,
a corridor of motion.

Boucle suits and t-bar shoes with polished heels and toes,
Mohair jumpers pink and soft as typists sit in rows.

Filing cabinets stacked
in blocks – a backdrop to
phones and teacups,
lamps, moneyboxes, beehives
shifting as they stoop and turn.

Cabled dresses, squirrel jumpers, jaunty circle skirts
All revealed as coats are peeled and sleeves rolled up on shirts.

We watch,
weight balanced on one metallic heel
or placed equally in two patent boots,
clustering at the edge.

They gather in a throng of knits as klaxons mark the close,
The working day has faded to a final, knock-kneed pose. 

Easy to imagine them still
typing, talking, working, walking
in a pocket of time,
suspended above Flitcroft Street:
hanging on the hem
of the past.

Rosalind Jana, 2013 

Photos of the Orla Kiely presentation very kindly provided by the beautiful Dina of She Loves Mixtapes

London Fashion Week is often described as a circus, but the more appropriate location might be the fairground. Colourfully dressed crowds; catwalk spaces strung out across the city like stalls displaying their wares; the spectacle of the shows and presentations. At LFW the Ferris wheel is not a physical presence, but an apt metaphor for the tumbling, ever-turning motion of each day as buyers and press make their way from place to place. Others are less concerned with the designers’ attractions than with the attendees – streets taking precedence over the catwalk as outfits are observed, aligned in the frame of a lens, quickly shot.

The increasingly theatrical aspect of London Fashion Week was most clearly encapsulated in Orla Kiely’s presentation in the Elms Lester gallery on Flitcroft Street. A mise-en-scene of desks, typewriters and beehived models greeted viewers who climbed the stairs with invites in hand. The whole experience was a multisensory immersion into another age - the taste of champagne and the sound of phones ringing balanced against sights of mustard cardigans and peter pan collars. It was an irrepressibly charming performance in situ. The line between stage and the audience blurred as we watched the 60s style typing pool from the sidelines – many with cameras in hand, or in my case a welsh-wool covered notebook and pen.

There is something incredibly desirable about the clothes that Kiely produces each season. They represent a full-skirted, pastel-sweetened vision of youthful elegance. Ankle socks abound in the lookbook, while during the presentation, white tights flashed past as models walked, sat and giggled behind carefully manicured nails. As with all collections, the overall theme can be broken down into individual designs – Mondrian-esque block print shift dresses, velvet jacquard jackets, pink dvore pencil skirts. The floral sprigged shirts and grey, faux fur coats will no doubt be desirable to a wide audience. A few consumers might emulate the playful office feel of the presentation, but these are all items with individual versatility and longevity. The presentation was a beautifully staged chance to set the clothes in motion and to assemble a story around the designs. 

And yet there’s something interesting about the role of women in these narratives. The crisp chic of a 50s secretary does have its allure – not only in the tailoring, but also in the whiff of stationary and thorough organisation. Add in the evocative clack of typewriter keys, the colour co-ordinated office space, the industriously stacked filing cabinets and you have a space that harks back to the world of Mad Men or The Hour. But despite the perceived glamour and style of such settings, the reality is that few would now aspire to being an ‘office girl’ - as they once did - or to working in such a retro environment. After all, the corsets and girdles worn under nipped-in dresses in the 50s and 60s were symbolic of the restraints placed on women at the time.
We are fortunate enough today (in the West) to live in a society where all jobs and roles are technically open to us – much higher rungs on the ladder to reach for if so wished (if not always achievable due to other factors.)
Perhaps it’s a process of drawing out the differences between inspiration and idealising of a past reality. Taking an era or look as stimulus for the creative process does not necessarily translate into a desire to live in that time period. We can acknowledge the allure of pencil skirts and sweaters as Orla Kiely does so gloriously, whilst also noting that we’re lucky now to be able to make an active decision to dress like this – treating the aesthetic as one of a myriad number of options, rather than a narrow given.

My slight homage to Kiely's AW '13 collection was composed of a second hand vintage blazer and cashmere jumper (both charity shopped), blue shirt from my mum, a second hand Valentino skirt (present), shoes from a charity shop and vintage accessories. 

If you want to see more of my writing, head over the the brilliant All Walks on the Catwalk website where I wrote an article about my experiences of modelling and body image. 



Sacramento Amate said...

Fabulous indeed and always an enriching experience.
You look fabulous layering by the lake.

Helen Le Caplain said...

Love the dusky pink and baby blue combo - looks fabulous!

Nancy Wilde said...

This is to die for! Wow <3

Vanessa, Take only Memories said...

It almost goes without saying on your blog: You look stunning in those wonderful photos!

Even though I've lived in London, New York and now Berlin, I've never managed to go to a fashion week. Film Festivals seem to be more my thing.

I've seen a lot of pictures of the Orla Kiely show around the web though and found it really beautiful. There is something so over glamorized about secretaries during that time. I wonder why. Surely it must have been a dreadfully boring job, just as it is now.

Helen said...

You have fantastic style Rosalind, both in the outfits you pick out and your prose, I very much enjoy your blog

Joanna said...

This is great that you were able to find thrifted versions of Orla Kiely. I love her things but rarely see them second hand here in the States. She has a great vintage vibe in her collections. I have one dress.

Christobel Amelia said...

What a fab post-in the same way as you render the multi-sensory experience of Kiely's show so too is your writing vivid and sensuous. It certainly is interesting to speculate whether we have backpedalled somewhat in celebrating an aesthetic such as the fifties secretary without considering the deeper cultural associations - and if we restrain our sexuality in replicating it.There is undoubtedly a joyful performativity inherent in modern day fashion nowadays which allows us to flit between era's at will.
Christobel xx

Rachel, Cold Knees said...

I love your lines about the show, it definitely captures the whole scene. I think there is a slight tendency to over glamorise those days, as in Mad Men, although it does show at least how women really possibly couldn't be anything other than secretaries in a typing pool. Your outfit in homage is gorgeous too, I love the colours. x

Fashion art and other fancies said...

Ahh this light shade of pink mingling with blue against the silent country landscape makes the perfect story.

Vix said...

What a gorgeous poem, Roz! I love your hair piled up and bound like that, too.
Whilst I love the images I've never been a fan of 1950s fashion - the restrictive corsets, hobble skirts and spindly heeled shoes were designed to keep women submissive and vulnerable. x


Gorgeous!!!! :)


I saw images from the Orla Kiely collection and was inspired. Yes, I agree ... "youthful elegance," as you say. Marvellous first image of you is my favourite Roz. The jacket is a beautiful piece it almost reminds me of printed feathers clustered together. Enjoy the weekend. :) /Madison

Anonymous said...

My mum was a secretary in the 70s and it was a glamourous but submissive type of role that I don't think (at least I hope) doesn't exist in the modern office environment.

Having said that, it does make for a striking, feminine look, as you and Kiely have captured perfectly. x

Emalina said...

That's a beautiful homage to Orla Kiely, and I especially enjoyed your poem Roz.

Plus I love your analysis of our use of fashionstyles from the past. It doubtless rings true with many of us, that we enjoy the best of both worlds nowadays: we can wear the styles of yesteryear, enjoying the beauty of earlier periods of fashion, but do so within the context of living at a time when we women experience more freedom and opportinities than we have ever had before. We are lucky.

Glad you had an inspiring time at LFW!

chloé . w said...

Beautiful <3

Izzy DM said...

I read your piece in the link, so I'll confine my comments to that since most people seem to have given you plenty of positive feedback about the poem and the piece on your blog, and I don't need to repeat them!

I liked what you had to say, and now I relate to it on a different level-- not because I modeled as well, but because I just had a baby and that experience changed my perception about bodies and beauty in a way that might mirror your own experience (or in my thoughts does) of scoliosis. Just being healthy and strong became the only thing that mattered as I maneuvered through my pregnancy, tested for a battery of possible diseases or problems. I was one of the lucky ones, and I really felt it. It made me feel so differently about my body, so blessed to be strong and fit and not in pain and to have a strong and healthy. That experience redefined beauty for me... On another note, it stinks how women have this one-size-fits all ideal for what a good mother is just like we do for what a beautiful woman is as you pointed out in your piece. Why do women judge each other constantly? I think Earth Mothers are wonderful, but that isn't me! I met one the other day who was quite nasty and judgmental because I had a c-section instead of a natural birth and was wearing makeup and had brushed my hair and so forth. I thought to myself: why can't she be happy being herself and let me be me? It made me realize no matter how our sphere changes, women bring these judgments with them to every stage of their life. Women learning to be friends with each other and with themselves is the next stage of liberation. This tendency to judge other women coupled with a horrible fear of being judged is holding women back as much as one of its symptoms: the obsession with a certain body type.

Blah, blah...Longer than I meant it to be as usual :)

Anonymous said...


e.heart said...

(apologies for the previous comment)

This looks like a beautiful presentation.


Emalina said...

Roz I've just read your article on All Walks: such a brilliant piece, as articulate and thought provoking as usual. And for the record, in response to your misgivings about your growing body, you looked beautiful as a 14 year old, and you look just as beautiful now. As you so astutely put it, there is no one right or wrong way to look: but I hope you can embrace and celebrate the changes in your body, rather than feeling those misgivings about no longer 'fitting' to the model ideal. Your gorgeous new curves signify all the strength, depth and sensuality that becoming a woman brings. All the happiness and challenge that awaits you in adulthood.

Melanie said...

Your opening lines and images are very evocative. I really enjoyed them. I think it's sad that whilst opportunities for women have opened up in other work spheres, the respect that women who still work in clacking professions, on newer technologies and in less restrictive clothing(!), has dwindled in general.
I also enjoyed your piece in All Walks... Hope you are well.

Jean at said...

I've never gravitated to the styles of the '50's. They don't suit my body, for one; the proportions aren't quite right. I also watched my older sister struggle to break free of the cultural vestiges of that time, still imposed on women in the early '60's. I don't find it romantic to put women behind typewriters, however quaint it might seem now. I will say that you look pretty, with your hair up and in wonderful t-strap shoes, but overall, I'll take a less confined, rebellious bohemian style any day, from any era.

I read your essay about body image and modeling; it was so on point. You have a wonderful voice in this community and beyond.

Krystyna said...

Very amazing outfit,best regards.

Maya Topadze Griggs said...

What a beautiful post, Roz. Thank you for your comment and for letting me know about this. I am so glad you are enjoying the necklace.

I am sorry, I have been slacking on blog-reading and posting my own posts. I am trying to work on my other projects and also perpetually dealing with my chronic facial pain. Your blog is so beautiful and you are an inspiration to me :) You are a beautiful person.

The Foolish Aesthete said...

I so enjoyed your poem, especially the "throng of knits" lyrical couplet! And just because my mind often takes a turn towards the bizarre, the pastels, pinks, bouclé and teacups brought an unexpected image of Dolores Umbridge. Certainly not anywhere as beautiful as your poem, outfit and Orla Kiely models.

You've brought up fond memories of the clacking of typewriter keys. Not something many people recognize anymore. As a little kid, I would type onto my parents' old manual typewriter, fascinated by the hammers striking their letters onto the paper. Then, I used their electric typewriter, which had its own little whirring sound and revolving ball of letters swivelling its marks on the paper. It rather looked like R2D2's head when he was on about something.

Wonderful homage to a bygone era here. - J xxx

Ivana Džidić said...

wow you look amazing

adrielleroyale said...

I love how your poetry paints such a vivid picture :)

Kelly Roy said...

This an incredably sophisticated look you put together and it feels so nostalgic to me.

Fashionistable said...

I have to say I was really looking forward to this post. I wish I had seen this presentation myself during LFW. Your description of it at the time reminded me of the importance of looking in different directions during this busy time. Your photos as always complement your stories beautifully. Xxxx

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