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AS a Citroën car caused sensation at the 1961 Paris motor show, Roland Barthes made links between heavenly magic and earthly merchandising. He thought modern day petrol heads could see signs of ancient gods as they gazed enraptured at the Dessus‘ divine design and angel-wing bodywork.

ImpressionHis most famous work, Mythologies, was published in Paris, in 1957, to become advertising’s key text. It did more than just unmask signs from mass culture: it de-mystified them, alerting us to their powerful commercial seduction.

Of the DS19  when Barthes said, ‘It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky, in as much as, it appears at first sight as a superlative object,’ he was drawing on Roman, Greek and Christian theology.

Barthes brought his signature revelations of Hollywood, Wrestling, and the Auto industry for his one or two page essays, featuring Marlon Brando’s Roman fringe, Audrey Hepburn and  Greta Garbo’s faces, Margarine, Wine, and Stripping, to stir our creative imaginations and examine our longings and our fantasies.

He made the worlds of the imagination, literature, and popular culture amusing and valuable for everyone’s daily use.

Fifty or so years later, 28 other teachers, writers and researchers – including me – were invited by Pete Bennett and Julian McDougall to, kind of, reinvent Barthes for today.

Their brilliance, encouraging the writers, introducing and editing the work, presenting at the Sorbonne, and being thoroughly inspired, produced Barthes’ Mythologies Today: Readings of Contemporary Culture, 2013, New York: Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies.

This blog, What would Roland Barthes’ say? will feature illustrated critiques of these new myths, over the coming months.  It will begin with ‘The Face of Assange’  in which Oscar Gomez writes, ‘Julian Assange belongs to a type of celebrity whose main target is to change the world as we know it!’ Roland would be excited!



Joan Littlewood and the President of Bavaria! It’s all in Wikipedia!


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Stop all the clocks,’ Auden wrote about  a lover. This on the playwright, political activist, who committed suicide when his brother and sister were put in a German concentration camp, captures Toller’s importance as a Humanist and Pacifist.

The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice

Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.

What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said?
O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed
Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head

Already been too injured to get well?
O for how long,like the swallows in that other cell,
Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell

About the big friendly death outside,
Where people do not occupy or hide;
No towns like Munich; no need to write?

Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among
The other war-horses who existed till they’d done
Something that was an example to the young.

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.

WH Auden is the poet I enjoy, next to Shakespeare, and I chose to study him for part of my final teaching year in Chester, 1970. Discovered he is the voice in the pivotal moment from Four Weddings and a Funeral, just today.


Gathering Moss…


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For Harrods and House of Fraser in Grazia

For Harrods and House of Fraser in Grazia

Match made in Britain

Match made in Britain

A debate on Kate Moss stirs strange passions.  Young women either love or, a few conservative detractors, hate her.  British ‘Vogue’ in May is ecstatic over the continuing success of our British Fashion models, whether from the landed gentry or the street.

Moss, featured on the cover, is placed with other contemporary model successes and the long-running story of the Brits as a ‘punk nation!’

Writer Chloe Fox says, “we’re constantly challenging notions of beauty. Kate Phelan, the stylist and ‘Vogue’ contributing editor believes, “Our cultural heritage is hugely influential. We constantly challenge the norm and the fashion industry wants to harness that spirit.”

Kate Moss has hit the zeitgeist over decades, a heroin waif in the eighties, the face of London in the 1990s, high street sensation Topshop, and currently for Kering’s wild boy, Alexander McQueen.

A Business of Fashion story which is really a best kept secret is how the international Fashion industry has come to rely on her neat body, outsider ID and perpendicular cheek bones.

She has been modelling for the rising Italian star Liu.Jo since 2011, from when its already stratospheric success has continued, doubling its number of employees worldwide each year.  With La Moss as their ‘face’ they sell across the classes, from city department stores and on-line, to Europe, the far and near East and Russia.

Celebrating the Italian Fashion show opening at the V&A, this week, Colin McDowell, making the important point that it’s really all about the fabrics and the clothes, puts Italian Fashion’s centuries long success down to its heritage and pride-in-making.  A curious anomaly could be that it’s a British teenage rebel performer who is now at the heart of its continuing fascino.

Seduced by words?


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Barthes admired Chanel and so knew she'd be mythologised for ever!

Barthes admired Chanel and so knew she’d be mythologised for ever!

Derrida saw beauty in subtle differences, perhaps even in a pencil line.

Derrida saw beauty in subtle differences, perhaps even in a pencil line.

ROLAND Barthes thought that words, in use, are never innocent. He said ‘I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me,’ and ‘each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.’

Yet it’s his fellow thinker Jacques Derrida whose thoughts have become popular currency in France!

His  ‘Il n’y a pas de horstexte’ – there is nothing outside the text, encouraging us to view things in context, whether current or from history – helps us make sense of new media, emerging talent  and  bizarre bloggers!

I’ve heard the ‘hors-texte’ is a popularly held belief among millions of French speakers; students, journalist, teachers. It’s as prevalent in France as Machiavelli’s ‘the ends justifies the means’ is, in Italy.  This 16th century dogma still informs all Italian politics.

Now Derrida’s motto, the useful Media doctrine, is ‘de riguer’ on the streets of Paris, Marseilles, Montpelier, Lille, Lyon, Vichy. Will it rival the ‘cogito’ ever?

The French always do ‘have a word for it.’  But now I wonder are they the keenest of all the Europeans to take on useful ‘bon mots’ from their great poets and philosophers?

If the Germans  behave like the French would they be able to visit cities without thinking of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project?  And would they be relying on his adage, ‘the work of memory collapses time?’

Would we Brits be stopped in our tracks by Eliot’s, ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons?’  Would we be repeating it to our children, becoming more Existential, by the minute?

Am I getting nearer to  the philosophical French by buying the ‘coffee spoons’ tee shirt and planning to wear it in Copenhagen? Can we view any of this in context?





Cool dudes plus European chic?!




Audrey Hepburn in André Courrèges

‘American Cool’ the current US photography show and book, which assembles images of Dean, Brando, Hepburn, Warhol, Wolfe,  questions Europe’s influence  across the Atlantic.

Put together by academic Joel Dinerstein and curator Frank H. Goodyear lll, it suggests that Afro-Americans invented notions of style and behaviour to defend themselves from the indignities of oppression and prejudice.

Being ‘cool’ in the hell of others making.

Katherine Hepburn American Ivy-leaguer, Oscar winner and freedom campaigner whose 'cool' is indisputable.

Katherine Hepburn American Ivy-leaguer, Oscar winner and freedom campaigner whose ‘cool’ is indisputable.

These inventions, especially the concept of ‘cool’ have permeated the fabric of American sensibilities, with the idea going back  to the “granddaddies of cool,” Walt Whitman and Frederick Douglass, through to Jay-Z, Johnny Depp and the Madonna of now.

Joel Dinerstein, professor and jazz scholar at Tulane University, who co-curated the show, and teaches a college course on the history of being ‘cool,’ explains their selection as visions of their country’s most successful mavericks.

Who should be included in the list of rebels, with or without causes, is focusing the minds of visitors to the show and international social media writers.

When I saw ‘Hepburn’ I was sure it would be Katherine not Audrey. But no, here she is Roland Barthes’  ‘woman as child,’ ‘woman as kitten;’ her face an excitement which could only be seen as ‘event’.

Audrey Hepburn remained throughout her life a dedicated European. She was UNICEF’s chief ambassador until her death in 1993.

“Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicisation of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanisation of politics.”

“Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist. I have seen the miracle of water which UNICEF has helped to make a reality. Where for centuries young girls and women had to walk for miles to get water, now they have clean drinking water near their homes. Water is life, and clean water now means health for the children of this village.”

“People in these places don’t know Audrey Hepburn, but they recognise the name UNICEF. When they see UNICEF their faces light up, because they know that something is happening. In the Sudan, for example, they call a water pump UNICEF.”

Her  love of organisation and discipline came from her strict training as a ballet dancer during WW2 in Holland and London.  She only ever owned homes in Europe and she was probably as far away from an American rebel as it’s possible to be.

How could they have chosen her over Katherine,  who defied convention, especially in the way she looked, campaigned for Women’s rights and was as American as the Fashion designer Claire McCardell?


‘Commes des Jungen’


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ZehaShoesRei Kawakubo brought

Inventions slick as haiku

To the retail world

The language of Fashion is strewn with references to status, money and pleasure.  Yet in Austria’s capital, the home of psychiatry and modern erotic art, with its history of political upheaval and revolution there is a more measured, less frenetic, approach to our seduction to shop.

Scripted by an English writing specialist the Vienna tourist website steers away from jargon, totally eschewing ‘iconic’, mentioning instead, epoch defining architecture, Modernity and Japanese Fashion.

Reflecting on how its twinned city, Berlin, is stepping up to the Fashion City challenge I came across this little gem on its on-line shopping pages.

There are other ways of showing your Communistic support than wearing a battered Che Guevara t-shirt. In former East Germany, Zeha Berlin trainers used to rule the footwear roost until they stopped production in the early 90s. They have recently been reformed to sell modern sneakers based on old-school styles. A little retro looking, in supple leathers and funky colours, with their signature serrated stripes, the brand now also encompasses modern boots and brogues. A little goes a long way when you invest in a pair of Zehas, so expect to be stomping around in them when the next great revolutionary comes along!

I added the exclamation mark, two style edits, and I will be buying a pair of her sandals, quite soon!

Still lives and long lost footage


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So vulnerable - so not Chanel.

So vulnerable – so not Chanel.

In Woody Allen’s ‘Stardust Memories’ there’s a scene with a besotted fan saying, to a successful movie director, that his after-shave gives her a Proustian-rush.  When she asks what it’s called he replies, Proustian Rush!

Maybe you had to be there, but it makes the point that a perfume has the power to stir significant memories and evoke emotions.

Once a scent is established and carries a label’s essence it’s important that the associations from the Fashion house are continued in promoting its myths and legends. The Wertheimers who still run the House of Chanel are usually brilliant at this*

However Coco Chanel’s life and works left a legacy, which continues as the most successful Fashion label in the world. Images from her original inspirations are traced in every new collection by Karl Lagerfeld and his super talented team.

Marilyn Monroe’s short existence is connected with the death of presidents and unrealised potential.  So why have Chanel’s promoters chosen to delve into the sad lives and forgotten voices surrounding the stunning actress’s love of No.5?

MM’s appearance in this season’s commercial for the word’s most celebrated scent is disturbing.  It exploits the dark side of human nature, reminding us of unhappy lives and early deaths. It’s over sentimental and much too sad for me.



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The revolutionary gingham dress - the birth of post-Modernism?

The revolutionary gingham dress – the birth of post-Modernism?

Do any of us have enough ‘fun’?

The last time we can be sure we were glimpsing the idea of fun’s potential seems to have been the 1960s.  So now the word is the super signifier for that decade.

Used by Barbara Hulanicki on her ‘Desert Island Discs,’ by Miranda Hart’s fictional mother, often in interviews with Mary Quant, it expresses the possibility of freedom  and pleasure.

Fizzing with the excitements, left over from the take-up of Modernism in the 1950s, by the 60s, for the first time in history the young had money to spend.

Quant, Hulanicki, et al were there waiting for their Art School educations to liberalise everyone and so we began to spend every night, ‘out’!

The moment when it was possible to be having the most fun is surely when Modernism morphed into to its ironic younger sister, the multifaceted, ducking, dodging, diving, diva, post-Modernism?

The revolutionary tone-setting Biba, brought in well-designed clothes and accessories for a new object-of-desire-hungry demographic.

In the peasant, Bridget Bardot, St. Tropez scarf, seen here, we have the marks of the Hippie decade, to come, and the end of Modernity in London.

Brighton Art college graduate Fashion illustrator Barbara Hulanicki opened a mail order clothing company with her husband, Stephen Fitz-Simon.  Their Postal Boutique was overwhelmed with orders for the sleeveless gingham shift dress featured in the ‘Daily Mirror.’

Enough Fashion and fun for the many!

First published in ‘The new black magic’



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HessianMARY QUANT, nineteen sixties innovator and modernist, is still not part of an identifiable mythology.

If ‘petit bourgeois’ culture can become universal nature, through design and innovation, so far no one has performed this mythologizing magic on the mid twentieth century Modernist, Mary Quant.

From Wales, and when critiqued by the haute bourgeoisie, probably seen as from the regions, Quant represented the young. 

Influenced, as she was, by popular pursuits such as dancing, she was also seen as the ‘other’. Yet, following her delight in change, everyone, who possibly could, had hair cuts at Sassoon’s, wore opaque coloured tights, flat shoes, short skirts, zips as decoration; becoming creatures with individual identities, riding the wave of optimism and a new conformity.

Quant recognises the importance of dress to happiness, and understands the psychological advantage of feeling part of Fashion. She sees clothes design as a decorative Art, being most speedily communicated, and of most importance, because of its intimate connection to the body.  In her first biography she wrote of the ‘delicate art of putting oneself across… socially, professionally and commercially’.

In responding to the ‘girls in the High street’ she set a new agenda, taking it away from the rich and the Fashion establishment. She knew their need for experimentation had to be met, whether ‘dukes’ daughters, doctors’ daughters or dockers’ daughters’. They wanted to try out the new.  She delighted in their questioning spirits and in their lack of pretension.

As the ‘quintessential Swinging London designer’ Quant’s clothes have been written of as signifiers for London’s resurrection after its wartime desperation and destruction. Hailing its designer as prime mover, a hessian dress has been said to signal changes in the city. It has been read as a political pamphlet as a bearer of messages beyond the language of seams, fastenings and belts.  

Decoding fabric, colour and style, dismissing matters of comfort or practicality to suggest ideas of Bohemian revolt and deliberate nuances of androgyny there has been an attempt at categorising Quant’s impact.

Modernism’s power continues to assert itself. Quant herself talks of Fashion’s continuing narrative. And through the illustrator, Anton Storey’s, post-modern gaze, as above, there is still a refusal for the looks, she invented, to represent anything less than the total individuality of the person performing her life inside the dress.

The Bloody Chamber



FASHION really does occupy the centre ground in popular understandings of modern culture and Jonathan Faiers turns the Cinderella’s slipper of popular discourse into the diamond tiara of cultural theory.

In his latest book, ‘Dressing Dangerously’, he shows how costume designers raise the temperature and clear the view for our next new looks.

From now on, the novel ideas of ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘negative’ moments created by clothes, in movies, will be picked up by Fashion Editors and designers as inspiration.

Before ‘Dressing Dangerously’ Audrey Hepburn’s films have been the ‘cinematic mother-lode of film inspired fashion marketing.’ In this magnificently illustrated, cleverly researched, glamourous, hard-back there are fascinating alternatives, light-bulb moments leading to ways of seeing how we can perform our lives with more startling and stunning looks.

Jonathan Faiers deploys his innovative scholarship to draw on popular and singular movies, far from just the film noir, Hitchcock or Science Fiction genres plundered before.

What fun to see ‘Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason’ as she ‘mistakenly opts for Darcy’s cloak of security’ among the ‘stubborn stains’ and ‘criminal accessories’ of other chapters!

Not as simple as the 'Romanness' of Marlon Brando's fringe, anymore!

Not as simple as the ‘Romanness’ of Marlon Brando’s fringe, anymore!