Pop culture and popular influence

Without the help of google what do the names Marion Morehouse, Vera Ashby (Sumurun) and Lisa Fonssagrives mean to you? Most likely they’re just going to be names, forgotten by time, someones ancestors but nothing more. However all three of these women models who have an entry in The Fashion Book (2nd Ed. published 2013 by Phaidon), they were the pioneers of the term supermodel with careers spanning from the 1920s through to the 1950s. So why is it we remember the names of Jean Shrimpton (the Shrimp) and Twiggy fondly yet Morehouse, Fonssagrives and Sumurun have been consigned to the history books?

The great Lisa Fonssagrives as published in Harpers Bazaar in 1951
Public Domain image from US Library of Congress
Free Time Revolution and Youth Subculture

Prior to the 1950s leisure time was rare, as such clothing was primarily driven by function, with the exception of the wealthy and aristrocratic who had the time and money to enjoy high fashion. Models and icons such as Marylin Monroe and Twiggy captured the imagination of the growing and aspirational middle classes in Europe and America, and it would soon become the most lucrative market to exploit. The 1950s was a period when people of the world were looking forward to peace and prosperity, in the West capitalism was bringing bigger and better things for less cost, meanwhile Communist countries were looking for inward stablilty with Khrushchev denouncing Stalin and Mao having just untified China under the Communist Party. It meant that in America and Europe we didn’t need to invest heavily in defence, and could enjoy the technology gained during the Second World War to allow machines to replace manpower, thus was born the concept of free-time, and disposable income. And what better way to get us to buy more than to turn models and screen sirens into icons, someone that we can aspire to?

As less time was taken up by household chores the first to become freed from drugery were the youth, without the resposibility of children of their own the youth were spending money on themselves, and finding their own contemporary role models. Breaking from the still aristocratic establisment, and they found in Marylin Monroe and Elvis to inspiring yet ordinary people, who were not born into high society but carved out a name for themselves based on talent. Naturally seeing the popularity of these people, the establishment knew that change had to happen for them to cash in, and for the next two decades this would remain the case.

Two peoples heroes of the time, normal people living the dream. Just like the Duchess of Cambridge today.
Public Domain Images

Swinging London and the Brit Invasion

Similar changes to society were happening in the UK too, the Mods and Swinging London on once side, and the Beatles, and the Rockers on the other. Just as Elvis inspired a generation of Americans, it too was through music that youth in Britain expressed their rebelliousness, and naturally people wanted to express themselves by dressing as their heroes did. In the same way that the music was designed to shock, so were the clothes, out went drab, dowdy, heavy tailored pieces and in it’s place came simple more androgynous shapes, dominated by colour and showing ever more skin.

A classic Carnaby Street scene which defined the vibrancy of Swinging London
Public Domain image from The National Archives

Mary Quant Dress in 1969, hemlines progressed rapidly up the leg, and the shape has become considrably less constructed.
Used under Creative Commons License from Dutch National Archives

Just as Anna Wintour is the most powerful person in fashion today, her predecessor, Diana Vreeland was the one the pick up on the revolution happening in London and the UK. Who could be better to represent this shift society than the people at the eye of the storm, thus Mary Quant became the designer of the period, an Twiggy and the Shrimp the faces to represent it, all of which was imported alongside the Beatles, and the Stones to the States during the Brit Invasion. I was a cutting edge move in the 1960s, but nowadays it is normal to blur the borders between models, movies and music.

Modern icons have captured the imagination of today’s generation, just like Twiggy did in the 1960s.
Images used under Creative Commons License courtesey from left: Andrea and Tim Wilson, LGEPR, Eva Rinaldi

Today it seems the Kardashian family has an exceptional ability to connect with the most lucrative market in the fashion industry. So like it or not for the time being the Kardashians are here to stay because as talentless as they are, you must admit they have this magical ability to capture the attention of a certain demographic, and will remain at the top of the A-list until the next icon, I just feel sorry for them because they like many other celebs are actually being exploited.


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