Many moons ago, when I was temping for a certain tabloid broadsheet, one of my jobs was typing up press releases for the literary desk. We got press releases for every book that was due to be published over the next six months, and from that synopsis, I had to write another synopsis.
One of the books I was most excited about was Luella’s Guide to English Style. Luella was one of my favourite designers, and at the height of her success. A book by Luella Bartley was therefore A Very Good Thing.
Sadly, the day of the launch came and went, and no book emerged. Still, good things come to those that wait, and after a good long wait, the book is here! Actually, the book came out in October, but what with being busy and the ol’ Internet meltdown, I haven’t quite got round to telling you about it. UNTIL NOW… DUN DUN DUN.
The book is a handsome wedge of a thing, which prompted my friend to ask me if it was a bible. It’s heavy, embossed, and has a rather tasteful neon pink elastic bookmark. It is written, of course, by Luella Bartley – who was an established journalist, and indeed Vogue editor before becoming a designer. Needless to say, she has a way with words. The book also features illustrations by Zoe Taylor and Daniel Laidler, as well as some rather excellent photographs.
The book is divided in to ten sections: Introduction; The Seven Stages of Woman; The British Bosom; Birds of Britain: A Guide; Love, Sex & Tomboys; Tribes of Britannia; Typical English Garb; Pretty in Pink; English Classes; and Shopping.
The Seven Stages of Woman covers the journey (‘veritable romp’) from childhood to ‘Granny Nirvana’, and the varying stages in between. From sulky teenage swagger to dressing for a ‘proper’ job, and being a pensioner – including the Queen, Marianne Faithful et al.
I did enjoy the British Bosom chapter, which covers ‘the Shelf’ and various other varieties. Not entirely sure why it fitted in, but I enjoyed it and – well, after all, good underwear is the foundation of any outfit I suppose.
Birds of Britain: A Guide is probably my favourite section. It covers Luella’s favourite examples of upstanding British women – and just so happens to include some of my favourite ladies. I mean, the chapter opens with a Vita Sackville-West quote;
Be wicked, be brave, be drunk
be reckless, be dissolute, be despotic,
be an anarchist… be anything you
like, but for pity’s sake be it to the top
of your bent. Live – live fully, live
passionately, live disastrously.
And as you see above, a rather fetching portrait of Vita, accompanied by a nice long discussion about why she’s fantastic. Fashion is just the start. The list of Luella’s women is expansive – and while us die-hard fans of her and her work probably won’t find too many surprises in the list, it’s still a good read – full of facts about interesting people.
Obviously Debo is on the list!
The next chapter is Love, Sex & Tomboys, which does what it says on the tin. It discusses the English woman’s attitude to sex and style – why some women are in the bikini and boob job, and why some (especially Luella ladies) are more into a good pocket, reasonable length skirts, and ‘funny’ vintage knitwear.
Next we trundle merrily on to Tribes of Britannia, which covers all the usual aspects like New Romantics and Punks, but also Pony Club and Sloane – this is Luella, after all. We don’t just hear about the tribes either; we also hear about why or why not people assimilate with certain groups, and how it affects – or doesn’t – their style.
Typical English Garb takes a closer look at the garments which make up looks; the key pieces which define you as a Mod, Rocker, or Raver – and why those pieces say what they do. The indepth guide gives you a history of the items in question, as well as an idea about how they became connected to the afore-mentioned ‘tribes’. I learned stuff! And, of course, the pictures are excellent. Look, there’s Withnail and some chaps in Barbours – got to be good, right?
Pretty in Pink makes for an interesting read, particularly for those who subscribe to the Pink Stinks campaign. English Classes does what it says on the tin; and Shopping is a guide to some of Luella’s favourite shops. Some amazing picks, and some top secret finds too – which I will keep quiet about, because you should buy the book.
I’m a Luella nut, this much we know. I was always going to enjoy a book by her, about her style, her influences, her inspirations. That said, Luella is a fabulous writer, and the sections on clothes, tribes, and icons would surely be interesting for anyone interested in fashion – or just social history I guess. There’s some language which makes me go BLARG, but then I am someone that attempts to avoid the use of ‘girl’ at any time. Some references and comments also feel a bit embarrassingly middle class too – but who am I (or is Luella) trying to kid? Embarrassingly middle class is nothing to be embarrassed about…