As Seen on BBC South East Today
Maria Grazia Chiuri – The Creative Director at Dior- has been inspired by Ken Russell’s pictures of Teddy Girls for her autumn collection 2019 "I discovered some pictures about the Teddy girls, this young subculture that started to break the rules. They used to mix Edwardian jackets with denim or other clothes that arrived in Europe from America, because we are talking about just after World War II. Now that we can reflect about subculture, I think that sub-cultures speak more about individuality"
Before finding fame as a film director with Women in Love, Tommy and The Devils,Russell worked as a freelance photographer. His series "The Last of The Teddy Girls" explores the Teddy Girl subculture of London in the 1950s,and captures the suits and slick backs that epitomise this genre. Few people know that Ken Russell originally wanted to be a serious fashion photographer and tried to start by photographing Mattli, the Swiss-born and London-based fashion designer known for his couture designs and, later, his ready-to-wear clothing and couture patterns. But as Ken himself admitted, he was hopeless and couldn’t connect with his subjects. His genius was to connect brilliantly with the Teddy Girls and boys and later with his actors, all of whom would do anything for him. In the 50s, he had captioned a series of photographs he took of antique clothing stores series beginning with “Forget your Dior fashions”!” But actually, he loved all the couture stuff.
Lisi Russell, Ken Russell’s widow remembers “Ken’s relationship with couture arose from his appreciation for the way clothes signalled a change in the cultural zeitgeist. He always kept a dressing box of clothes and props for his photographic subjects (though the Teddy Girls brought their own) and had an eye out for stylish models. His interest in couture began as an undergraduate at Pangbourne Naval Academy where he wore a cadet’s formal uniform and incidentally designed the school’s first and only drag show. As a young professional ballet dancer, Ken decided independently to augment his huntsman’s costume with glitter and feathers, inadvertently upstaging his own solo. Ken was known from London to NYC to France and Italy for his individual, quixotic style: his pink-patterned shirts, his braces, his gold-trimmed kaftan, his decorative walking stick; his boater hat, top hat and highwayman’s hat; his Tyrolean jacket, hooded cape, hip-hop outfit and voluminous Russian greatcoat. He had lifelong friendships with Zandra Rhodes(his schoolmate), Vivienne Westwood (who designed a Ken Russell T-shirt) and Piers Atkinson (who designed him a couture hat). Ken convinced a certain men’s shop in Bournemouth to import silk waistcoats and unusual shirts personally fitted for him. Equally at home in couture shops, vintage outlets and street markets, Ken ruefully chuckled that he couldn’t make it in fashion photography because he hadn’t been able to afford a Bond St suit with a white carnation. His last notes on his unfinished film (ALICE) of November 2011 read: “Ask Lagerfeld or House of Gaga to costume.’”
When asked about his pictures of the teddy girls, Russell remembered "No one paid that much attention to the teddy girls before I did them, although there were plenty on teddy boys .They were tough these kids, they’d been born in the war years and food rationing only ended in about 1954 – a year before I took these pictures. They were proud. The teddy girls all dressed up were quite edgy and that interested me. They were more relevant and rebellious but good as gold. They thought it was fun getting into their clobber and I thought so too"
(c) Topfotos / Alan Vines - Johnnie Ross Performing "Daddy" 1954
Alan Vines’ work which is also on show includes a series of never seen before images exploring a day in the life of the oldest all male revue : ‘This was The Army’, which ran for nine years, after it was founded in WWII. The idea began with comedian (and soldier) Jack Lewis in the army where entertainment was improvised and men made fun of, and made up for, the shortage of women by dressing up. Back in civvy street he set out with his wife Hazel to turn the joke into a commercial proposition. Jack provided the raw knockout army sketches and Hazel (a former dancer) trained the chorus ‘girls’. The1950s equivalent to "Everyone’s Talking about Jamie" or "RuPaul's Drag Race" both of which came more than 60 years later, the popularity of the drag show was high and audiences were treated to an evening’s entertainment where, as the poster said, ‘Every Lady is a Perfect Gentleman’.
These two great photographers, young meteors of 1950s Britain, never met but converge with two separate photo essays. Both had very different career trajectories, one -Ken Russell -became a global filmmaking superstar whose photographic work has now inspired the Creative Director at Dior, Maria Grazia Chiuri as well as the former head of Burberry Christopher Bailey. The other, Alan Vines has largely slipped from the history books but is long overdue the recognition his superb work deserves and we are delighted to be exhibiting the two series together, and for the first time.
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