How to Dress with Drama

helen mirren by james wedge

Far Left. Printed Italian voile dress with smocked bodice and medieval sleeves, grey/blue, 8-14, Gina -Fratini, £49, from Harrods ; Chic, Hampstead, NW3 ; Sheila Worth, Kendal Street, W2. Centre. Wraparound kimono in Lurex printed with Zandra Rhodes design, pink/lilac/silver or green/ orange/gold, 10-16, Hildebrand, £23, from Harrods, Knightsbridge, SW1 ; Kendal Milne, Manchester : Strava-ganza, Harrogate. Right. Crepe de chine dress, se-quinned bodice, black only, 10 and 12, by Alice Pollock, £62.50, from Fifth Avenue, King’s Road, SW3 ; or enquiries to Quorum, 6 Burnsall Street, SW3. Suede wedge-soled sandals, 3-8, f5.99, from branches of Sacha.

Clothes currently in fashion are of such contradictory styles that they seem to demand of the wearer a talent for acting beyond the capacity of most women. It takes a skilled actress to switch easily from cool Japanese geisha girl to 1940s tart and remember which part she’s playing. Helen Mirren, associate member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, shows how it’s done, with a toss of her head, a quick change in facial expression, a swivel of hip and heel. The dresses she wears here all have sleeves that require dramatic gestures : medieval pointed sleeves, kimono sleeves, and sleeves slashed from the shoulder. You don’t have to be an actress to wear these dresses, but it does help.

Photographed by James Wedge.

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from The Observer Magazine, 11th July 1971.

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Helen Mirren in Vogue, 1976

Helen Mirren has been playing since October in Lindsay Anderson’s repertory experiment at the Lyric, as Nina in The Seagull, and as”a foolish girl out for a fast buck” in the highly successful Ben Travers’ farce, The Bed Before Yesterday. It is a hard life, and she doesn’t seem to weaken. With the adrenalin shots of at least one performance a day, she goes on to eat, to drink and to dance the night away; only retiring early when there is a good late-night movie on television. She did think a new regime was needed: “I’m about to go out and buy a book on yoga”. Now she might do ten minutes of the Canadian PTX exercises, and eat a lot or nothing at all. Her clothes are pretty, secondhand market pieces mixed with things from shops like Che Guevara. She uses Tarn Hows Otto scent which she buys by mail order from the Lake District. What she really enjoys is make-up.

“I wear masses during the day but tend to take it off for the stage, it can look overdone so easily. I mix my own foundation because no one product is perfect, and they do seem to vanish into my skin. One is the right colour, one the right consistency, and I go on mixing them with my lovely Borghese powder till it works. Make-up can be daunting, all the big names, so I buy most in Boots, use kohl and a particular Mary Quant violet eye tint.”

She is hardly a new name; twelve years ago as a schoolgirl she received dazzling notices in the National Youth Theatre. Born in London, 28 years ago, “the fastest birth on record at Queen Charlotte’s”, she grew up in Leigh-on-Sea. Her family, she says, could not be described as theatrical-“though my Auntie Olga was a showgirl, briefly, and my father is a musician; he used to play the viola but couldn’t raise a family on that.”

Films have been The Age of Consent, Savage Messiah, Oh! Lucky Man, and she has appeared as Miss Julie and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream on television. She would like to do more filming—if she can escape the stage—but if she belts out her Teeth ‘n’ Smiles’ role with as much bottle as she did at the Royal Court, the show could run well past October. “I’ve never stayed in one place for a whole season, but I suppose it will be good for the garden.” The garden grows behind the green and yellow painted house she shares with a friend in Fulham. Inside are signs of builders just passed through, paisley and faded Japanese silk cushions, busy lizzies, a Christmas present piano and Rosie, her black and white rabbit, who joins her here to be photographed by Lord Snowdon.

Helen making up at her dressing table wearing her own silk kimono and made-up wearing Krizia’s flowered pink crepe de chine. Helen and bicycle outside her Fulham house, left, wearing Krizia’s flowered pink silk crepe de chine pyjama suit, £219, at Buffy, Conduit St. With Rosie, the rabbit, right, among the cushions of her living-room sofa, wearing Albini’s smoked stained- glass print crepe de chine pantaloon suit with camisole top and buttoned ankles, £80.90; matching sandals. All by Albini for Trell, at Elle Italian Shops. Jewellery by Adrien Mann. Her hair by Leslie at Smile.

Photographs by Snowdon. Vogue, March 1976.