Sunday, October 17

‘Intellectuals No Longer Ignore Haute Couture’: Our First Fashion Editor | Membership

“NORTHNow comes the week of Paris, with the fights on the stairs, the multilingual shouts in the halls; a week of overheating, lack of food, little sleep; a week of vice and dehydration, ineffectively compensated with indifferent champagne. “

In other words, fashion week has barely changed in 61 years. “For the fashion critic, the sturm und drang of the Paris Openings follows the openings in Rome, Florence and London,” Alison Adburgham wrote in 1960. “You already have an overdraft of fatigue from traveling, typing and telephoning long distance. , of parties and endless talks … And yet it survives. It becomes alive enough to turn a confusion of impressions into a fusion of trends, from which it can distill the essential essence of the next season. ” Selecting glamorous destinations, while giving the impression that covering the shows is a war zone level challenge, the pinch of performative boredom and the obligatory splash of champagne – this is what being an editor was and is. fashionable then and now. . Alison, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Adburgham, who wrote for the newspaper from 1954 to 1973, was the Guardian’s first official fashion editor and one of the members of the inaugural generation of newspaper fashion journalists. The fashion editor, both the job and the accompanying larger-than-life cartoon, up to and including Anna Wintour, was invented in 1947, when Christian Dior’s New Look collection turned what happened on the runway into news. Newspapers had become a more visual medium during the war, recognizing the narrative power of photography and propaganda; fashion could feed this new appetite for images. The 1957 film Funny Face put editors in the limelight of this high-profile new world, with a main character based on Diana Vreeland. In 1938, there were 90 journalists at the Balenciaga fair; In 1957, Time magazine reported that 500 attended Paris haute couture that season.

Adburgham brought “journalistic rigor” to this new work, says Brenda Polan, the newspaper’s esteemed fashion editor in the 1980s. Runway photographer Chris Moore, now 86, remembers her as “formidable, more like a bluestocking. A distinguished writer and a very nice woman. “Moore remained friends with Adburgham after her retirement and visited her at her home, Cornwall, before her death in 1997.

Alison Adburgham sits with her elbows on her desk and her hands clasped in front of her, looking directly at the camera, wearing a pale jacket buttoned up.
Alison Adburgham photographed in 1966. Photograph: The Guardian

The first of two sets of photographs of Adburgham kept in the archives of The Guardian was taken in 1966. His jacket is buttoned at the neckline and cropped at the waist. She meets the camera chin first, her back straight and inscrutable like a Cecil Beaton model. The second, taken in 1973, is less formal. She is smiling, and her shirt collar is stretched over an elegant silk scarf. The two portraits carefully trace fashion’s journey from the courtesan era of Christian Dior to the louche language of Yves Saint Laurent, and also give us two faces of Adburgham. She had a crisp, mid-century expression, confident in the imperious display of “one” as a pronoun. In 1961 he wrote that the secret to the charm of couturier Norman Hartnell was to combine “the respectability of the monarch with the shamelessness of the aristocracy.”

As a critic she was not afraid to bite: her review of a 1971 Yves Saint Laurent show (“a tour de force in bad taste… nothing could overcome the horror of this kitsch exercise”) is the stuff of fashion legend. But he also had delicate antennas for fashion like zeitgeist, for the material to feel it at the fingertips. In 1960 he writes that, in contrast to the proprietary tailoring of the 1950s, “the silhouette of this new decade is more felt than seen. It does not have a well defined outline … [fabrics] indicate but hardly seem to touch the shape below. The expression is lethargic. “

In 1956, he described a typical day in the collections: three-hour shows in the morning, with 500 words written during lunch; three other afternoon shows written at tea time. “It was more civilized in those days. There were no shows at night, so we had dinner together with a lot of people, “recalls Moore. For reasons of industrial espionage, those attending the show were allowed to take notes, but not make sketches; even a squiggle on a show could get you kicked out. A stark contrast to today’s shows, when the front row doubles as camera equipment for an audience watching live on Instagram. It seems the label at London fashion week has changed a bit too. In 1956, Adburgham covered a society fashion show in which “there was a stipulation that, for the sake of dignity, photographs of women with glasses in hand should not be taken.”

Traveling for collections, as shows were known then, was as ingrained in Adburgham’s ritual of the year as it has long been in mine, or at least, until the pandemic closed the catwalks, a year ago. However, the route was different. While the contemporary circuit has had New York, London, Milan and Paris as fixed points, Adburgham stops were Paris, Florence and Rome. Florence and Rome, being where Italy’s most glamorous families lived, were the natural home of Italian glamor until mass-produced ready-to-wear fashion surpassed the art of haute couture and shifted the center of gravity of Italian fashion to Rome. . Adburgham was an unflappable traveler, recalls Moore, who had enough French to give the impression of being able to speak it in company. She was also intrepid, one of the few who made the trip to New York by boat, in 1965, to see an exhibition of “The London Look” there. (“Never before have skirts so short been seen in New York,” she wrote).

Before Mary Stott’s arrival as editor of women’s pages in 1957, Adburgham had a back-to-back role, filing a typewritten copy in the Fleet Street office to be sent to the night editor in Manchester. With the arrival of Stott and the relocation of the publisher’s office to London in 1964, fashion was further incorporated into The Guardian.

It’s a curious aspect of life as a fashion editor for a newspaper in her time and mine that work means operating in two very different spheres and being an outsider in both. At shows, the newspaper’s fashion editor is a workhorse among the show ponies, skipping air kisses while worrying about deadlines. But in the office, the tables are turned: an understated front row outfit looks like a peacock in the newsroom. They send me invitations attached to helium balloons, or inside bouquets of flowers, or frosted on cupcakes. In Adburgham’s 1966 portrait, an invitation in filigree calligraphy is among his notepads; it looks like he tried to hide it under an elbow. As a fashion editor in a newspaper office, you are, as Polan puts it, “one of the comedic twists.”

“Fashion reflects the thinking of the day,” Adburgham wrote in 1960. Her fashion pages reflected and debated the increasing visibility of women, as fashion has long been a way of talking about the public and private lives of women. women. “During the last half century there has been a total change in attitude towards clothing,” he wrote. “Smart women no longer feel that only the unintelligent are interested in clothing; intellectuals are no longer ignorant of haute couture. “

Adburgham brought a spirited authority and a journalist’s eye for useful details in the business of where to buy clothes; In 1971, he recommended a “white leather-look waterproof coat in Vistram, which can be cleaned with a sponge. £ 9 15s at major Marks & Spencer branches. “But he also wrote that what mattered most at Paris fashion week was” the impressions left not by the dress shows but by the people in the bars and bistros, the girls on scooters, the children’s balloons in the Tuileries, the photos in the Jeu de Paume, the shop windows, the smell of Gauloises, garlic and Arpège … fashion is part of the pattern, and the pattern makes sense because it is accelerated by the everyday life. ”From one fashion editor to another, there is no greater compliment than the fact that Alison Adburgham did the job in style.

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