Around the Bender

Ok so, I totally failed to take any photos from Friday night’s Lee Bender talk at the V&A. Mr Brownwindsor also failed to take any photos. My friends Daniel and David also failed to take any photos.

Conclusion: We were all in a daze.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that Mr Brownwindsor was sitting there chatting to Sylvia Ayton and I utterly failed to ask her to sign my Boutique book, which was sitting in my bag.

Conclusion: I’m useless.

However, I did get Lee Bender to sign my copy of her new book. And she recognised my nudey lady blouse immediately. Hurrah! Geek heaven…

I’m generally a bit squeaky and shy when it comes to asking questions in front of a huge audience of people. I can talk to a much admired designer up close and where only they witness my idiocy. But, after much cajoling beforehand, I realised I simply had to ask the question I’d been dying to ask since I wrote this blog [almost exactly] three years ago.

“How do you feel about being copied yourself* these days? Particularly with the Kate Moss for Topshop…..” I think I might have trailed off at this point because a look of thunder crossed her face. I squeaked inwardly, fearing I may have offended. But it turned out that she was just registering her anger at exactly the same thing that I had been angry about. She mentioned having seen a blog about it; I exclaimed that it was my blog, my dress. “Aha! I thought you looked familiar!”.

*She had spoken about her own experiences of taking inspiration from vintage pieces.

Tea dresses. So good. So widely copied.

Terrifyingly fabulous when you realise your idols actually see what you write about them. I had the same stomach flip when John Bates said he had seen my website. I often forget, and I ramble on about them in the same way I would ramble on about Ossie Clark, knowing full well I can’t offend him.

Anyway, the talk itself was great. Albeit not quite sufficient for a complete geek like me. Certain people (mainly my boyfriend) keep having to gently but firmly remind me that of course I’m not going to be satisfied with whatever book/documentary/q&a session I’m witnessing. I already know most of what they’re talking about. I’m seeking the finer details. Dates, times, people, evidence. Sadly, it’s the lot of the fashion historian.

Which is also my problem with the new Bus Stop book. On balance, I would say it’s definitely worth owning (the more I look at it, the less I see the flaws). And mine holds greater importance now it’s actually got her dedication inside. But it’s not the most gorgeously produced book in the world, the design/layout leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s a crying shame that it will probably be the only one we’ll see on Lee and her work.

A typical page.

The problem is limited resources. She didn’t keep anything (by her own admission – you should have heard the gasps when she mentioned donating things to charity a few years back) so mostly it is filled with her illustrations. Which are very lovely. But I’m a geek. And I need information laid out in timeline form, or at least vaguely timeline-ish, and I need dates on photos. I need better quality scans of photos. But again, I am being pernickety because quite a few of the magazine photos within are from magazines I already own and could scan myself (and clean them up a bit in photoshop).

There was limited research going on, and many things slipped under the radar. Par exemple…

It’s…… 1.) Sarah Jane’s Andy Pandy dungarees!

2.) Joanna Lumley's outfit from The New Avengers promotional photocall.

Oh yes. If books were produced by Miss Peelpants, they’d probably be the geekiest books in the world. But I’m not even being THAT geeky really. There are photos of Joan Collins and Barbara Bach in Bus Stop gear, presumably because those were the only ones they thought they had evidence of.

Also, there are so many Bus Stop fanatics and collectors out there; any of us would have been happy to have had our garments photographed professionally I’m sure.

My favourite part of the evening, weirdly, was the slight hint of anti-Bibaness. Which might surprise you, because I really do love Biba and Barbara Hulanicki and clearly am never afraid to express this through my blog and website. But I’m not unaware of her flaws. And I’m also starting to get a bit bored with the Biba dominance in coverage of the era.

As Lee herself, and others I chatted to afterwards, pointed out; Bus Stop clothes were made for women. Women with boobs and a bum. Barbara was designing for women with legs up to their armpits and no boobs. I don’t have the most generous bosom in the world, but Biba squishes me out in all directions sometimes. I appreciate the boldness of that as a design decision (the flagrant “if you’re not this shape, tough, you’ll wear the clothes and hope they make you look that shape” attitude) but it doesn’t always work when you need your clothes to work. Which is why I’m always wittering on about Lee Bender making wearable gear; she just WAS.

The actual rivalry with Biba was touched on, she told a brief story about both her and Barbara ending up in the same Kensington restaurant one night and being kept well apart by their companions, but this just made me even more sad. Biba gets two or three books, glossily and hard-backedly dedicated to the high altar of art deco fabulousness. Bus Stop will probably only ever get this one, making it look like the ‘also-ran’ it never was. But I’m immensely glad it even exists, quite frankly.

Someone (preferably not Topshop, although they owe her big time) needs to give Lee Bender the opportunity to design a new range of clothes. Hulanicki’s range for Topshop was such a crushing disappointment; I would dearly love to see someone who REALLY wants to do it, and isn’t just ‘phoning it in’, making a huge success with fresh, wearable designs and an understanding of women’s bodies.


8 Comments on “Around the Bender”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh pah-leeeeze! Everybody copies everybody, get over it!

  2. Great post, I'd never heard of Bus Stop before. I'll be on the look out for the book. Like you say, some collections/designers don't get the recognition they deserves, especially for influential periods of design.

  3. Thanks Missypixie, very glad to have introduced a new person to the wonders of Bus Stop!Anonymous. Quite apart from the fact that you are, indeed, anonymous and I find it hard to respect anything said by someone not prepared to put their name to it; that is a particularly inane thing to say. Straight copying is not ok. Just because everyone does it, doesn't mean it's not up for healthy debate or that it is an acceptable thing to do. A true artist would never say what you've said.You were that person looking over everyone's shoulders at school, weren't you? "Copying is ok, everyone does it!"

  4. Smashingbird says:

    I only own one bus stop dress and as a petite but curvy gal I do find dresses quite hard to wear, but it truly is the best fitting dress I have and makes me feel soo fab wearing it. I'm glad you are warming to the book, it's totally on my wish list. I wish someone would do a Mr Freedom book, that would be very cool!

  5. Ah great post and sometimes fashion geekness is a joy!

  6. Anonymous says:

    You should get out there and produce a book. Love your taste and all the geeky info on it. Keep up the great work. Sarah

  7. TinTrunk says:

    What a privilege to hear Lee Bender talk, and ask her questions! I get the feeling that she wears her legacy lightly – fancy giving away all her Bus Stop gear, argh! – and hasn't cultivated her status as shrewdly as Hulanicki has. I'm glad she's making a break from lurking in Biba's shadow. (Not knocking Hulanicki at all btw, I've got the books to prove my devotion!)

  8. laurakitty says:

    Guess I have another book to add to my list once I graduate… The main problem with producing a very well-researched book is that it requires quite a bit of money- the researcher needs to be able to support themselves for awhile as they go through old archives and the like. Most publishers just won't give you an advance for that kind of work unless it is a name that is guaranteed to sell (Balenciaga or Dior), and big art books aren't selling very well anyway so it is just far cheaper to bung something together quickly. So sad.

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