Icons? Or clichés?

All coincidences are intriguing, even if they are not all serendipitous. A few weeks back, Mr Brownwindsor and I went to the NFT to see Annie Hall. I was curious to see it anyway, as a relative newcomer to the world of Woody Allen, but I was also intrigued by the iconic status of Diane Keaton’s androgynous style statements (which, according to the accompanying literature, were entirely her own and perfectly preserved by Allen, against the costume designer’s better judgement.).

I emerged in my seemingly perpetual state of “mixed feelings”. I enjoyed the film, no doubt about it, and I was as entranced by the character and appearance of Annie as much as any others who have seen that film, before and since. But I am a contrary so-and-so (indeed, my middle name is Mary!) and I could not shake the sensation of ennui. I am bored of conventional style icons. I wholeheartedly resent the fact that so many are appropriated by the media, the fashion press and, these days, by the blogging community.

Beautiful as Audrey may have been, as sensuous as Brigitte patently was, as unnervingly cool as Françoise Hardy always will be, I am tipping over into boredom when I look at them now. Even the obscure ones aren’t so obscure any more.

The same goes for Keaton’s Annie Hall style. Barely an Autumn season goes by without several half-witted fashion editors conceiving an ‘Annie Hall’ editorial. Two weeks ago, You Magazine gave the world the least convincing Emma Peel-influenced spread I have ever seen in my life. And I have seen a fair few. I actually laughed, out loud.

Afterwards, we wandered into the South Bank branch of Foyles. As if to prove my point, there I found a book which, frankly, made me want to hate it just from the cover. I cannot even remember the title it was so dull (and I didn’t recognise the author) – something about fashion icons and getting their style. It did not disappoint me. Page upon page giving flimsy advice on how to pull off various looks, each section led by an ‘icon’.

For a Deborah Harry rock chick-look, you will need to wear smudgy eyeliner and tousle your hair. For a Brigitte Bardot bombshell-look, you will need to wear eyeliner and tousle your hair. For a Françoise Hardy yéyé-look you will need to….. Need I continue?

The laugh-out-loud moment came for me when I saw the section containing Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush. How to be a ‘free spirit’. Seriously? If you need to read a book which tells you how to dress, make-up or style your hair like a free spirit, then you really are not one. Defeating. Entire. Object.

Everyone should feel free, especially in personal expression through appearance. People should never feel like they are compelled to stick with one style forever. If you want to change your look every day, good for you. But if you need to read a book which shows pictures of Kate Moss in the ‘free spirit’ section, alongside the genuine article, then there is something seriously wrong with how you are approaching your personal style, and vintage clothing.

For surely the joy of personal style, and the development thereof, is just that. Personal. Learning what works for you, not what works for the women you admire. Those women were not trying to look like someone, they worked hard to find their own image.

I find I pick obscure ‘icons’ for my own purposes. Both deliberately and subconsciously. A smattering of Chrissie from Man About The House here, a dash of Noosha Fox there, a hybrid of Pan’s People and a snifter of Jo Grant. But I don’t look like any of them, and really I just want to look like me. Liz. I would feel repelled if I saw a Youtube tutorial on how to achieve Noosha’s make-up, or Cherry’s enormous hair. I look and learn, or don’t.

I wish all authors the best of luck, but I also wish that they would take the remarkable opportunity they have and do something different with it. Something unique. Something thought-provoking. The kind of waffle I was reading in that book was worthy of a second-rate fashion blogger, not a published author.

I rarely write long posts these days. Partly time, partly energy and partly because I am not always convinced that the world needs yet another person giving their opinion about style. These days, I try to share the quirky, unseen images which so excite me. The thrill of a new-old copy of an obscure magazine; the bizarre, experimental photography, the unusual looking models, the daft adverts for naff clothes which I openly covet, the beauty of illustrations…

So here is my first proper ‘post’ for a while. I hope people can feel proud of their true selves, comfortable in their skin and not behind the mask of someone else.

Incidentally, for an authentic Pan’s People look, you will need to wear smudgy eyeliner and tousle your hair. Oh…


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11 Comments on “Icons? Or clichés?”

  1. I'm glad I am not the only one who feels so strongly about this. Not so long ago I contemplated doing a post about the most overrated/overexposed fashion 'icons' from 60's/70's. The post was going to feature the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Edie Sedgwick, Twiggy, Brigitte Bardot and few other icons, the sight of whom causes my immediate yawning. I am not denying that they WERE fashion icons (although, personally, I could never understand the appeal of Audrey Hepburn – a mediocre actress at best; also, I thought "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was dreadful – one only needs to read an actual short story by Truman Capote to know why)but what more can be said about them that hasn't been said already?Lack of imagination of fashion bloggers shouldn't come as a surprise – if anybody can do it, then it's only natural that 99% isn't going to do it right. But the question is: Why even bother?The only reason I for example, bothered to start a blog, was the fact that I felt that certain styles and designers from 60's/70's era were almost completely absent from internet. And while I cruised through thousands of blog posts containing photos of Anita Pallenberg/Sienna Miller/Kate Moss tagged "60's, Boho Muses" (or Edie Sedgwick with tags "60's, inspiration"), I couldn't find anything on Mr. Fish, Rupert Lycett-Green or Michael Rainey – great designers and my personal style icons. Of course, I am talking about male fashion now, which , bar few Fashion Historians and Museum Curators, traditionally does not get much attention.And it is a shame that relatively little information on 60's male fashion in blogging community (or on internet in general) is usually confined to the images of Mods and Rockers or 'elegantly wasted' Keith or worse, Jim Morrison in his horrible leather pants. But providing reliable information, as well as pictorial evidence, takes time and effort – years of collecting books, magazines or original garments,numerous trips to libraries and museums. Bloggers aren't usually prepared to make this effort. It is sad, however that these low standards are now spreading to actual publications and magazine editorials. Although I do not know the book to which you refer , I can easily imagine how bad it must be. And also, it is quite possible that the author of the book actually WAS a second rate fashion blogger. Perhaps this lack of knowledge and/or imagination is a reason behind abusing certain terms – such as "vintage" or "icon" – to the point where they don't really mean anything anymore.It is a sad state of affairs…As far as personal style is concerned, the term "Icon" is, or at least should be, subjective. Anybody who who is your sartorial inspiration can be your personal icon, whether it is a celebrity or an eccentric librarian. But they should never come ready-made (as in "Get Edie Sedgwick Make-Up!").

  2. Miss Rayne says:

    I totally agree, there is an awful lot of bland and boring misinformation out there. Todays fashion editors don't even know the difference between brogues and oxfords, let alone what an original 1940s dress looks like.

  3. Perdita says:

    I agree. There's such a difference between inspiration and copying when it comes to icons. The nature of fashion means some people prefer freedom and others rules …unfortunately lazy/greedy editors jump on the fact that icons and guides exist and hash up farcical stuff!You also get it with scenes a bit- for example I combine vintage and indie and have experienced snobbery from strangers (just a snide look or comment across the room at Vintage South Bank for example) at both types of events, as if I'm not allowed to appreciate and combine both, or I'm not 'authentic'. Well I'm the authentic 'me'! Copying is OK for a teen just experimenting with styles, but shouldn't dictate a look for adults (or even more confident youngsters).

  4. Misato says:

    and you should see the translated versions of other countries, at least mine, Portugal. what once had a Portuguese vocabulary of it's own is now full of "obi-belts" (a redundance in itself), "mascara" (formerly 'rimel'), "pencil skirts" (formerly "saia justa") and what not. people are forgetting the actual terms in Portuguese and using borrowed foreign words just because they sound fancier… argh!

  5. Lena says:

    Kill me now but I actually thought that book wasn't bad. It's aimed at your average highstreet dresser, Cheryl Cole admirer and Ugg Boot buyer. I've read it and it doesn't suggest you copy any of these 'style icons' but look at how they created their own unique style, and for you to then go out and do the same, find your own personal look using vintage.If that means some kid that until now thought Topshsop was the end all of fashion will go out and buy a suede jacket ala Hardy, then I'd see that as an improvement. I did an interview with the author a while ago and to my own surprise she was enormously knowledgable and massively into vintage. We had a very long chat about Foale & Tuffin and how we both thought they were better than Quant…

  6. I advocate Dame Margaret Rutherford chic. Comfy footwear for starters.

  7. The issue is so often over exposure. I adore Audrey, and Marilyn, and Annie Hall… but I do get tired of the same old people coming up again and again. Which of course is one reason I love your blog x

  8. Lise.silva says:

    Its really a shame to see an iconic film (such as Annie Hall) or listen to an iconic album (ie Sgt. Pepper) AFTER all the years of watered down copying, overexposure, and critical hype. It loses the magic and it will fundamentally change the way you see the work. I completely agree with your comments about the uninventive rehashing that goes on. It is simply too easy to just hit a 'share' link and reappropriate someone elses finds rather than synthesize it into something uniquely your own before sharing it. I don't think theres anything wrong will sharing some classic style photos or music from time to time– it can really refocus you and redefine your own aesthetic–after all, they are classic for a reason. But when people are constantly churning out whats already been shared, its just boring and sad. I, too, wish more people would focus on their own unique perspective and stop killing the classics. But then again, this distinction is what separates someone with a real eye and a serious drive from just a hobbyist or ordinary blogger.

  9. Lena, I didn't want to go TOO far into reviewing the book because I don't actually own it (and it felt a bit unfair) but it's interesting to hear a positive comment about it. I just don't think, from what I saw, that the author was allowing much of her knowledge to come through. I'd much rather have read a serious, more academic book, by her, about icons (or fashion designers), why they ARE icons and how their style developed. Without any of the obvious 'tousle your hair and smudge your eyeliner', 'wear black leather jackets and cut a fringe' level advice. It's entirely unnecessary stuff.I also think it's unnecessary to teach people who don't really 'get' the vintage thing to get it at its most superficial level. This was my problem. It was superficial; how to be a 'free spirit' being the perfect example.I think a lot of it, for me, comes from a certain snobbery and jealousy over your own favourites. It's easy for someone to say, 'so-and-so is my biggest style icon' without ever having listened to her music, watched her films or read much about her… We all have to start somewhere, getting 'into' someone, but the current internet age makes it a doddle to become 'obsessed' (oh how I loathe that word these days) with something or someone through a few reblogs on tumblr and watching a few things on Youtube.I spent an absolute fortune collecting Avengers VHS videos and various bits of Diana Rigg memorabilia ten years ago, and I can't help but feel stupidly protective over the whole 'Emma Peel' thing now. It's ridiculous, and it's one of my flaws 😉 Thank you all so much for all your comments and for taking the time to read it!!

  10. Retro Chick says:

    I know what you mean about over saturation of the "classic" style icons, but they are icons for a reason I suppose, those were the looks that changed the world!Actually, while I was reading this I thought something very similar to what Perdita said. When I was a teenager I absolutely adored books like this. I would spend hours poring over "how to get the look" books and articles. I even had a book (which I must find!) that was essentially 50 fancy dress looks alledgedly adapted for every day. There were about 5 or 6 pages for each look – "The Pirate" "The Sweater Girl" "The Punk" "The Beatnik" and I attempted to recreate the look and the hair and make up for each one. As a teenager I was experiemtning with my style and playing with looks, when everyone else was just wearing exactly the same baggy jeans and trainers, so it's probably the start of how I look now!Not sure what my point is, probably that maybe such books have their place for people still trying to find their own style, whatever age they might be?

  11. Joyatri says:

    I agree with the previous comments that the issue is overexposure. I remember seeing Annie Hall when it first came out in 1977. I was 16 and it inspired me to raid my brother's closet for his waistcoats, ties, and pocket squares (although he was 19 he was going through a bit of a 'dandy' phase). The look was new and fresh at the time. Not so anymore. But, it was an influence that entered my psyche, so to speak, and I have incorporated menswear ever since. I think "icon" should be highly personal. I have spent the past couple years collecting vintage magazines from my teen years. I recognize particular ads and editorials that were HUGELY influential as I was developing my own style. There are particular images that I know are the reason I wear lots of purple, can't get enough velvet, etc. So I think icons are useful when you are first developing your fashion sense as a young person.


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