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The marketing of a lifestyle; International style

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In the first of a two-part series on international style, Isabelle Anscombe looks at the aggressive design and packaging that influences our lives – and gets a global view from three busy travellers. . .

International style, to most people, means glamour: images of the super-rich trekking from ski resort to Caribbean island with Gucci luggage

The playboy’s toys have the allure of being both expensive and exclusive, rich with the smells and textures of money and power. But, despite its popularity as the vital ingredient in Dallas and Dynasty, it is fast becoming a rather dated conception of fabulous wealth and perhaps now reveals more about middle-class aspirations than the real life of megastars and billionaires.

For the more discriminating, international style has less to do with the iconography of franchised prestige and more to do with their own group of cult objects, defined by good taste. Their self-righteous abstention from the vulgar conspicuous consumption of the jet-set takes the form of minimalist living quarters of black, white and grey austerity, sparely furnished in glass, steel, chrome and leather.

Such environments derive from the historical design phenomenon known as the International Style, a branch of the Modern Movement. Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius unknowingly brought this style of radical chic into being in the cause of mass housing in Europe in the early 1920s.

The International Style has now been appropriated by big business. Intended to be democratic, non-elitist, practical and unintrusive by its lack of patterning, ‘clean’ lines and ‘pure’ forms, the leather and chrome look was never cheap. But it looks good with the marble floors and huge pot plants in the lobbies of International Style high-rise office blocks. Thus, by an indirect route, its creed of functionalism has also come to symbolize corporate money and power.

Another truly international style also took off in the 1920s, but not in the European compounds of the avant garde. It led, after the Second World War, to the world-wide sales of such brands and products as Levi Strauss jeans, McDonalds hamburgers, Coca Cola and Ford cars, and its origins lay in the United States.

But few people would feel that such products represent the dizzy heights of aspiration. Although truly international they are not in themselves glamorous.

The Harvard Business School has named such successful mass-marketing ‘the globilization of products’. International trade has taken place since Roman times. But it was only when radio was developed in the 1920s as a means of mass communication that production-line manufacture could be properly exploited in the cause of satisfying people’s burgeoning aspirations.

Perhaps the first mass medium by which the individual, isolated consumer could identify with a larger world was the Sears, Roebuck mail-order catalogue which gave small communities in America seemingly accurate pictures of how life was lived elsewhere, as well as an image of how they themselves might live.

For the public, the chance to ‘see how the other half lived’ (even if no one really did live like that) has proved enduringly appealing. Around 1930 the London Board of Trade commented perceptively that ‘motion pictures are influencing fashions, behaviour, dress and housing. People all over the world are deliberately going to a cinema as to an animated catalogue to get ideas’. The same must be said today of television.

The industrial designer Raymond Loewy has claimed the credit for the next step towards global marketing. In the 1930s he put forward the aphorism that ‘between two products equal in price, function and quality, the better looking will outsell the other’.

The influence of art on industry was hotly debated, especially in Europe, in the 1930s. By the 1950s styling had become so important to the consumer that manufacturers were able to enjoy a balmy period of built-in obsolescence: a time when, in America, men replaced their cars every year when all that altered was the shape of the tail fins. ‘New’ products, especially within the field of household technology, were constantly introduced.

So how and why is style added onto a product? Deyan Sudjie, whose new book Cult Objects is to be published later this year, says simply that design is to sell things, but added that those people who try to use style to manipulate the buying public usually get it wrong, since the consumer sees the packaging and merchandising of style primarily as a form of entertainment. What is certain is that people want more than mere function when they buy services and objects.

So what types of product are perceived to have a style that is international?

First, there are the luxury products: the Dunhill lighter, Chanel perfume, monogrammed accessories. Estee Lauder, for example, don’t alter their packaging or advertising in any of the 140 countries in which their products are available. Its genuineness is as vital an aspect as it is in the art market, where the mystique of the product is that, by buying it, the customer enters an exclusive world. Ironically, such manufacturers have to ensure that, despite their ubiquitousness, their customers don’t perceive the product to be too easily available, too common, or the mystique vanishes.

Second, there is the group of objects that, broadly, are the inheritors of Modern Movement traditions, that are consciously well-designed or are perceived to be so by interested consumers: almost anything from such companies as Braun, Olivetti or Sony, a Rolex watch, most non-instamatic cameras, Saab and Porsche cars, most things that are high-tech, electronic and matt-black.

It is a style far more readily associated with men than with women and one potent element of its appeal is the mystique of professionalism – ‘this is the camera the professional photographer uses’. Even though the customer knows he will never put it to the same range of uses, there is the satisfaction of playing with the big boys, of being seen to take it seriously.

But there is also a host of products and services that are global but not perceived as international in terms of their styling. They include not just Kelloggs, Heinz, Ford, McDonalds and Coca-Cola, but the myriad products produced by multinational oil, chemical or electronics-based companies (ICI, IBM, Philips, or General Electric). Their success has little or nothing to do with global chic and everything to do with technological research and advance.

Does the imposition of a global standard, the appearance of the same package, tradename, advertising jingle, synthesized sound, computer graphic or familiar smell in every conceivable culture, mean that the world is heading for a state of entropy and homogenization? Or are the same products perceived differently by different people in different contexts?

An empire founded on tea-towels; The Laura Ashley fashion company

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The Laura Ashley fashion empire founded on a patterned tea-towel 30 years ago was celebrating last night the announcement it is to seek a stock market listing in modest-style.

The reclusive Mrs Ashley, whose name has become synonymous with Mother Earth floral prints and frills, was touring the west country with her mother.

Her husband, who she readily admits is the driving force behind the company – it was given her name after he refused to put his name to a tea-towel – was in the West End inspecting a few of the 180 shops located worldwide.

‘It is still the same business. We are just adding a few noughts on the end of it,’ Mr Bernard Ashley said between inspections yesterday.

‘The idea behind the Laura Ashley company has always been to make comfortable products, to make them available to as many people as possible,’ Mr Ashley said.

‘Our customers, though growing in numbers have been very loyal over the years. While we appeal to the more monied buyer abroad, we appeal to the home-makers here.

‘Our success is due to other people in retailing and manufacturing, it is people who come first, employees and customers. Our employees still have a say in how the company is run although they don’t report directly to us any more.

‘Our fashion and furnishings have always been classical rather than radical. Our aim has always been to make people feel comfortable.’

Among the main intitiatives planned for this year the company, still based in the heart of rural Wales, is breaking on to the lucrative Japanese market.

This global expansion is a far cry from the small workshop the Ashleys set up in Pimlico in 1953 to produce table mats, tea-towels and aprons.

Born Laura Mountney in Wales in 1925 she was brought up a strict Baptist. Printing lino-cuts on the kitchen table came as a diversion when the couple’s four children were young.

Bernard Ashley, aged 58, who likes to known as BA, gave up his job in the city when the orders for his wife’s work became too much.

In spite of the multi-national organization, the company is essentially a family business. The couple’s four children manage different sections of it.

Laura Ashley goes public to finance new factory; Fashion empire expands

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Mrs Laura Ashley and her family will soon be joining the ranks of stock market multi-millionaires. Within the next six months the company, synonymous with frilly frocks and flowery wallpapers, will be selling its shares to the public in a deal which will value the company at about pounds 200 million.

The Ashley family owns almost all of the shares at present, and intends remaining in control of the company, although it will be selling at least 25 per cent of Laura Ashley PLC.

Laura Ashley is an unusual company in that it not only manufactured but also sells most of its goods. What began 30 years ago as a home-based fabric printing operation now produces and sells more than pounds 100 million worth of clothes and soft furnishings a year.

In the year to the end of January the company made profits of pounds 14 million on sales of pounds 112 million, of which pounds 104 million was in Laura Ashley shops round the world, Seventy-three of those shops are in Britain, but it is in the United States where growth is fastest.

The company has 55 shops in the US and plans soon to open another 25. The American market has apparently taken to the Laura Ashley look with all the enthusiasm previously given to Burberry.

In spite of its ‘folksy’ family image, Laura Ashley is a slick and professional company with a carefully assembled collection of managers to back up the family. Mrs Ashley oversees the company’s design policies and her husband, Bernard, is the entrepreneur who has built up the company.

Laura Ashley’s first big factory was built in Wales and the second in The Netherlands, where the authorities were keen to encourage new employers by offering generous incentives. Last year the company announced that it wanted to build an pounds 8 million factory, but that its wish to build in Wales might be overcome by the attraction of grants being offered in The Netherlands.

After intervention from the Government, Wales was able to offer subsidies of more than pounds 2 million and keep the new factory. Due to open next year, it is partly to fund that plant that the company has decided to go public.

Stockbrokers and bankers are now putting a price on shares in Laura Ashley which employs 3,400 people and could make profits of pounds 20 million this year.

Fashion Editor’s Comment: Majors in Stardom; Critique of student fashion shows

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The star of the college shows was a white shirt. It appeared in nine variations on a theme as a Kingston project, and it was the best thing I saw in three weeks of student showings.

White shirts do not make good pictures, nor do they make a student’s reputation as Britain’s answer to Karl Lagerfeld or as the graduate most likely to be flown to Milan to work for the Missoni’s. But the triumph of the fresh white shirt over the outlandish, the elaborate and the over-styled degree collections highlighted what is wrong with the annual college shows.

They have become a parade of self-indulgence in which students with strong personalities major in stardom. Because the shows are presented like international collections – sound, lights, models and music – the spotlight illuminates the bizarre and the outrageous. This is unfair on students whose work is quieter and ultimately more acceptable to the fashion industry. It is also unfortunate for the colleges whose prime concern is to find the right career slot for all its graduates.

The showbiz element has become a delusion for many of the London-based colleges who fund-raise to take over the ballroom at Claridges or, in the case of the Royal College of Art, raise money by asking a gala audience to pay to see its students.

In the old silver screen cliche, fashion moguls are placed in the front row as talent spotters. This year’s included Elie and Jacqueline Jacobson of Dorothee Bis and Dr Lugi Maramotti from MaxMara in Italy.

There are too many colleges showing too much work in too many places. This is the season of guilt and callow youthfulness, when this fashion editor is alternately ashamed at having got to so few showings and enraged by the attendant groupies, the unreadable invitations (courtesy of the graphics department) and the jejune comments of the students. (‘Crippling’ was one student’s verdict on his job opportunity with a design-conscious fashion company; ‘I think my clothes are right for Italy’, opined another.) They cannot all be stars, none of them is yet, and I think journalists do a disservice to the colleges by tipping winners and inflating egos.

And yet .. at their best, the fashion students, and increasingly the textile schools with their imaginative prints, do offer such a refreshing spring of ideas. The best shows have an unbridled exuberance, new frontiers in knitting, original treatments of colours or fabric. That is why foreign companies look to the British schools, why journalists go to the shows, and why Lydia Kemeny, the principal of St Martin’s, can reel out the names of designer houses who are advertising on their college notice board for talent.

The colleges are supposed to be divided between the BA or more ‘creative’ courses and the B-Tech grouping. All by comparison with American or German fashion schools, offer very little training in the crucial backroom skills of pattern cutting and making.

Without a profound understanding of the way that the construction of fashion has changed, lightening and giving fluidity to the garments the most avant garde drawing-board design will not be translated as modern fashion.

The reason that many British-trained designers go abroad, is that they do not have the allround skills that make them useful to a small fashion company. I wonder if any of them know that pattern cutters are more highly prized and sought-after in the trade than designers and that their stars can command annual salaries of pounds 20,000?

This season’s Royal College graduates gave a spectacularly bad show, although some of its component parts – knitwear, graphic prints and the use of textures – were interesting. The general impression was that the class of ’85 had got stuck up a creek with far too much fabric.

Their drooping asymmetric wraps and hanging shirt tails recalled Yohji Yamamoto of two years ago. As the established designer Victor Edelstein put it to me when I asked if he could see any line or theme to the clothes: ‘The body must be somewhere in the middle trying to keep it all on.’

It is right and natural that fashion students should have designer heroes. But Harrow had two students who thought they were Gianfranco Ferre and had been given metres of expensive fabric to disprove the point; St Martin’s had a loving ‘homage’ to Azzedine Alaia and all too much influence from last year’s ‘star’ designer John Galliano. The fashion world is already eager to steal an original idea and mass market it. Flagrant plagiarism by the would-be creators looks like fouling the designer nest.

I think the time has come for colleges to make a selection of their students and show in the end-of-term parade only the best work which has earned high grades. This would encourage a spirit of competition, and cut down on the time and energy needed to look fairly at the college work.

On Thursday, an exhibition of this year’s college students opens at Hyper Hyper – the Kensington emporium which makes the most rigorous selection of all by exposing budding talent to the market place.

One Step Ahead is the aptly named title of a show which picks out some of the best and most creative students, emphasizes that creativity, and gives them an opportunity to show and sell it. ‘One step at a time’ might be a wise slogan for the fashion colleges, whose embryo designers have everything to learn about real fashion life: the ability to develop and sustain creativity, steady growth, marketing, as well as the ability to cut and sew.

The all-star college shows seem to me to encourage student designers to run before they can run up a seam.

Fashion: Age of the new wave hippie

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London fashion came clean last weekend with a slimmer, sharper silhouette. Skirts for spring are short, sarong-wrapped and slender; the longer hemlines come mainly on dresses. Both shorts and trousers are getting wider, and pyjama pants are being challenged by a revival of 1960s bell-bottoms from the wilder young designers.

Waists are universally back in fashion and cut very high. Fabrics like cotton jersey and shiny man-mades stretch and cling. When it does not fit tight, cotton voile shows the outline of the body.

Colours are bold and bright. London prints make a splash with big flowers, from south sea blooms to psychedelic. Spots give a more graphic feel.

The sounds of the 1960s reverberate through the avant garde collections: mystic prints, shiny satins, hippie bells and platform soles.

It was a good season for designers who could come to terms with the more sophisticated silhoutte. Jasper Conran cuts a good line in jackets (for both sexes) and wrote a fresh lyric to a familiar tune with sure and clear colours – orange, turquoise, lilac, lemon and orange. His snappy short skirt, draped into a bustle at the back was an overworked idea; wide pyjamas has a funky Chanel feel.

Roland Klein cuts a good shape, especially his threequarter jackets, moulded into the waist with a wide belt, lapping the hips on the curve. Klein showed short slim skirts and wider shorts, in a well-controlled collection played in black and white, with flashes of sharper green.

Arabella Pollen has grown up and her light touch with tailoring looks fresh and young, though not inventive. John Rocha is the opposite: full of ideas but without the absolute expertise to execute them. He cut a good jacket shape, collarless, scrolled back on one hip to give a sense of movement.

Paul Costelloe gave us a nice drop of the Irish, using his country’s linen for slim dresses, sweet in white and sophisticated in black and grey flower-embossed cotton. Tea towels made into skinny skirts and midriff tops were fun.

The Fabrex exhibition at Olympia, running concurrently with the fashion shows, emphasized the creativity of London’s fabric designers. Hilde Smith’s bold black and white prints for Bodymap and Brian Bolger’s blocks of houses for Betty Jackson added strength to their collections. Jackson should work on a new silhouette, but her skinny dresses in cotton jersey and her leotard body suits under see-through voile were well done.

John McIntyre abandoned restrained English country style for the cotton picking Deep South where he was overwhelmed by a gaudy pineapple print. His high-waisted long slim skirts and shapely jackets looked better in the opening scenes in black. English Eccentrics relied too much on their mosaic prints in sweet and subtle mauves and petrol blue.

Zandra Rhodes is continually inventive with print, making this season’s strident Spanish theme in fan patterns of black and white, for slim chiffon dresses and some more alarming Infanta creations that lifted at the back to show silk chemises and a lot of Zandra’s new spider’s web of lacy tights. All this was meticulously done, but suggested a restaging of Carmen rather than a fashion show.

Janice Wainwright makes stylish evening clothes, perfectly cut and balanced, and this season in happy colour combinations. Yuki was quiet, except for giant flowers bursting out of kimono knits and some unsure mixes of colour – fuchsia pink with egg yolk yellow or purple. Best were the evening pleats and drapes and body-shaped dresses, cut tight in the bodice, ruched down the front panel.

Bill Gibb’s cut and proportions were eccentric. The same was true for most of the groupings of young talent’, which is a name used by a few (notably Susan Backhouse at Hyper Hyper and Rubeen Tariq at Amalgamated Talent) who show inventive ideas, and abused by many to present badly made clothes. Mark and Syrie’s Baby Doll dresses in pastel colours were silly but fun.

Jean Muir redressed the balance with a coherent and professional collection. She has given a young feel to her increasingly important knits, cropped midriff short or elongated over leggings, slim or sunray pleat skirts. Shapely dresses in very grown up colours like lavender and navy were impeacably cut and a fashion lesson in craftsmanship.

Collecting: All that glisters is not old; Jewellery of the 1950’s and 60’s

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Some 60 years ago, discussing her newly designed costume jewellery, fashion designer Coco Chanel said: ‘It doesn’t matter if they are real as long as they look like junk’. The famed French caricaturist, Sem, who greatly admired Chanel’s innovative ideas, also commented: ‘At last we imitate the fake’. Chanel wanted her jewellery to be a foil for her elegant clothes, to be larger than life, and her attitudes paved the way for a new era in costume jewellery.

Collectors have long delighted in finding 18th- and 19th-century paste jewellery or the colourful avant-garde pieces from the 1920s and 1930s. However, the latest wave rippling through the antique markets and jewellery shops is the craze for collecting jewellery of the 1950s and 1960s, accelerated by a revival of the period’s fashions and styles.

After the restrictions imposed during the Second World War, stylized, functional and often colourless jewellery was replaced by rich, flamboyant designs with an emphasis on colour and movement. Deep necklines called for grand neckpieces, often inspired by classic 18th-century jewellery, or rows of beads worn as chokers. Striking lapel pins replaced brooch clips in the hair. Naturalistic subjects were popular and favourites were swaying flower heads, animals (particularly dogs) and fruit.

The Americans established supremacy in the 1950s. There are a number of important firms to look out for: Trifari, Marcel Boucher, Coro, Monet, Napier, Weiss, Jomaz and Kramer.

Jewellery by Christian Dior is now avidly collected. The English firm of Michel Maer made much of his jewellery until 1955; in this year Henkel and Grosse of Pforzheim, Germany, became the exclusive world-wide licensee for him. His work is always marked and very often dated, which gives confidence to the inexperienced collector and leaves a vital record of his changing style. Some of Dior’s best pieces from this period are sumptuous necklaces comprising rows of coloured beads and elaborate settings.

Copper jewellery, now enjoying a revival, was enthusiastically worn in the 1950s. Copper brooches, earrings, necklaces and chunky bracelets were ethnic in flavour and had a hand-finished appearance. The best came from Mexico, notably the work of the sculptor Rabacas.

Czechoslovakia, France, Austria and Germany – all traditional producers of costume jewellery – continued to flourish in the 1950s and were joined by Scandinavia. In England new firms were established, notably Attwood and Sawyer (of Porthcawl, mid-Glamorgan), Sphinx (London) and Corocraft (Gatwick). There were many others and the quantity of work dating from this period that still exists is evidence of the huge and constant demand. Beginning to be collected, but still extremely cheap, is the Celtic-style jewellery of the Birmingham firm of A Hill who mark all their work with the word ‘Miracle’.

The joy of collecting costume jewellery is its cheapness. Do not be governed by whether or not a piece is marked. Look for originality of design and quality of manufacture and then look for a name.

Prices in the lower bracket tend to range from pounds 5- pounds 50 and rarer pieces, perhaps those using silver rather than base metal, can cost up to pounds 200. Some of the best bargains are found at the provincial antique fairs, or in local junk shops and charity shops.

Shops specializing in past costume jewellery in London include Merola, the Pruskin Gallery, Cobra and Bellamy, John Jesse and Irina Laski; markets like Antiquarius, the Chenil Gallery, Portobello Market, Alfie’s Market and Gray’s Market all have stalls.

The good, the trad, the ugly; Assessment of modern monument building

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Our iconoclastic age distrusts the enduring monument, preferring a brief stay in the top 50 or an appearance in the gossip columns. Self-confident and materialistic Victorians, by contrast, populated the country with bronze or marble tributes to the builders and managers of empire, to politicians, physicians and engineers. Either we have fewer great men or we are just less inclined to honor them.

London is inevitably the monumental as well as the political capital and the post-war monuments of London are a pitiful sight. Winston Churchill (as portrayed by Ivor Roberts Jones) wobbles on his plinth, wearing what might be a badly creased mackintosh and looking dyspeptic rather than defiant. Donald Potter’s hugely misshapen statue of Lord Baden-Powell (1961) makes the founder of scouting a gaga blot on what was already an undistinguished South Kensington street corner.

Most puzzling of all must be the Greater London Council’s celebration of its own 25th birthday (and the 95th anniversary of the founding of the London County Council) last year: a King Kong-sized pounds 250,000 steel and marine plywood birthday cake on the South Bank. Permission to build this particular eyesore was obligingly given by the London Borough of Lambeth, but just try building one in your garden. Mercifully the structure will be pulled down in October although plans are afoot to move it to another site.

Unpleasant as the GLC cake may be, at least it raises the most important question of monument building: why? Monuments are expensive and in most cases, indeed almost by definition, long lasting, so who or what are they supposed to honor and in what fashion?

The British are not especially keen on abstract ideas or the glorification of causes. Search far and wide and you will not find a monument to the triumph of sanitary engineering or the repeal of the Corn Laws. Consider the British reputation for restraint by comparing two monuments to the victory over Napoleon: the low-key and unfinished Scottish parthenon on Carlton Hill, Edinburgh, with the bombastic and foolish Volkerschlachtsdenkmal in Leipzig. Unlike the continentals we are no braggarts.

Nor are we too keen to make a fuss over our ‘great men’. Sarah, first duchess Marlborough, so overstepped the mark financially when Blenheim (not a house, but a monument to the first duke) was built that the affair ended in national disenchantment with the Marlborough legend.

Still, we must build not just to honor those who are greater than us but also more prosaically pour encourager les autres and decorate our parks and pavements.

Royal statues will always be built; political ones may fade from fashion. We see far too much of our party bosses on the screen and in the press to crave their likenesses after they’ve dropped off the perch. Generals and admirals are almost out as well – our ‘peaceful’ world produces few martial heroes.

The age of the pop star statue threatens to arrive but thankfully hasn’t. I have seen the Elvis Presley statue in Memphis and can only adapt Wren’s epitaph: if you seek his monument you’re better off listening. The fame of many pop stars is so fleeting that a monument couldn’t be built before they became just another teenybopper memory.

Monument spotters need little equipment other than good eyesight and a pair of comfortable shoes. A notebook is handy as one often comes across effigies of the once or locally distinguished, but now obscure. All monuments can be categorized as heroic (Lady Scott’s portrait of her husband, the polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott), mundane (the Churchill statue), or frankly incomprehensible (Clarion in Fulham). Violent disagreements are part of this otherwise gentle pastime.

The Czech-born sculptor Franta Belski portrayed the last great proconsul in a suitably dramatic and imperious pose: on the bridge, as it were, with binoculars ready to scan the horizon. Even in a neighborhood experiencing a population explosion of heroic statuary – Horse Guards is the home of Kitchener, Roberts, Wolseley and the moving Guards Division Memorial – Mountbatten’s large and vigorous effigy dominates the scene. Men of action are notoriously difficult to sculpt, but this splendid example of the heroic style thankfully stops one step short of melodrama. There is just the hint of pent-up energy.

Many similar greats have been unfortunately stuck in a forward thrust pose in which the statue seems ready to stride off the podium. Even the usually highly accomplished Sir Jacob Epstein had problems with his Jan Smuts statue in Parliament Square: the South African Prime Minister looks more like an advertisement for the Ramblers’ Association than a pillar of the Commonwealth.

The statue of Captain Cook by Sir Thomas Brock, in the Mall, has problems too: the knee-thrust-forward-by-a-coil-of-rope pose, meant to evoke nautical energy and curiosity, merely makes the great navigator look jolly silly. Portraiture of ‘great men’ like Mountbatten is difficult: admiration easily leads to idolatry and sycophantism – witness the number of flattering but implausible portraits of Prince Albert.

Then there is the problem of military tailoring. Uniforms and medals require proficient modelling, otherwise they look lifeless. Hugo Daini’s Belgrave Square statue of Simon Bolivar makes the liberator of South America look like a tailor’s dummy. The Horse Guards Mountbatten contrives to be both heroic and well dressed. The price of such glory, is alas, not cheap – this 1983 statue cost pounds 100,000.

Heroes and statesmen like Mountbatten will always be immortalized, but society has more difficulty in judging which of the less magisterial is worth a statue. Charlie Chaplin is one of the indisputable populist idols of the century; his rise from impoverished obscurity to international eminence through the cinema is almost a cliche. The tacky show biz center of Leicester Square seemed a fitting place for Chaplin’s statue as the site of almost the last ‘picture palaces’ in Britain, but even in the heart of the entertainment district tributes to actors are rare: Sir Henry Irving is around the corner and that’s it. (In the rest of London there is only a medallion of Garrick and a statue of Sarah Siddons).

The artist John Doubleday has sadly opted for cheap nostalgia in his Chaplin effigy. By choosing the well-known image of ‘the little tramp’ he has aimed at the heartstrings rather than the eye to produce a disgraceful caricature which mimes Chaplin without even hinting at his abilities. The exaggerated animation of the figure, which may well be a laudable attempt to deflate the pomposity of much monumental statuary, only increases the feeling that this a character strayed from a comic strip. The trousers will be particularly puzzling to future generations. This is a wasted opportunity to improve the character of even a small part of Leicester Square and an example of mundane sculpture at its most execrable.

Our great national beano, the Silver Jubilee of 1977, produced innumerable mugs, plates, tea towels, T-shirts, tree planting and general urban improvements, but few simple monuments to commemorate the happy event. One of the great surprises is in Canterbury – a city more widely known for medieval beauty than progressive taste. A grim modern piazza in the central shopping precinct is the home of this small, but in its own way rather shocking, tribute to the reign of Her Majesty. It looks, one must say, like a giant corkscrew or perhaps a bit of jetsam from Star Trek but, unconventional as it may be, this monument is at least brave and good humored.

Richard Jones, then a student at the local art college, designed this form (reminiscent of the work of Richard Smith, the American sculptor) based on the Roman numerals XXV (or 25). It is, I suppose, vandal-proof, uncongenial to roosting pigeons and rather pioneering as a witty and modest celebration of a great royal occasion.

Statues of reigning monarchs are no longer fashionable – Edward VII was the last monarch to be so honored in his lifetime – perhaps television and the pictorial press have made them necessary. But the desire to celebrate events of the reign must still remain: perhaps this original but self-effacing work will encourage other unconventional monuments.

It is a commendable policy for building developers to devote a certain amount of space or money to provide a work of art to go along with new development. The practice is more popular in the US than Britain. Indeed, the Americans and French are far more likely to adorn their streets and public areas with works of art than the British. The giant, if puzzling, Picasso equestrian sculpture in front of the Chicago City Hall is a fine example, as is the delightful fountain by Nikki de Saint Phalle and Jacques Tinguely next to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Distressing as it may be, Clarion is at least a rare public example in Britain of art for art’s sake. Standing in a highly unattractive west London intersection (Fulham Broadway) it was commissioned to go with an uninspired but fortunately unobtrusive low-built brick office block. Phillip King’s work is vaguely reminiscent of some of the large-scale and aggressively symbolic sculpture much loved by the suprematist and constructivist artists of post- revolutionary Russia. It is unfortunately cramped by its traffic-clogged site.

Although it punctuates its drab neighborhood with color and drama, it is disastrously out of scale and sympathy with its surroundings. Clarion may puzzle older working-class residents of Fulham, but it amuses the philistine young Sloane Rangers who cycle past it every morning on their way to work from newly gentrified Parson’s Green.

While the Chaplin statue takes a gutter approach to popular culture, the Yellow Submarine honoring the Beatles is altogether more humorous and intelligently populist. Indeed it shows a real understanding of youth-culture irreverence and the pyschedelic looniness which marked the Sergeant Pepper era.

That said, it may not be to everyone’s taste. It was part of a greater symbolic scheme known as the Beatles Maze, designed by Adrian Fisher, Randall Coate and Graham Burgess for the 1984 International Garden Festival in Liverpool. Visitors to this Beatles garden reached the submarine by following a brick-path maze through a pool in the shape of the Beatles’ apple. The submarine itself derives from one of the Beatles’ most humorous songs (‘We All Live In A Yellow Submarine’) – a good choice of image which prevents the whole tribute from becoming fulsome.

The design is reminiscent of the cartoon yellow submarine, but significantly different as the hull had to be designed to traffic-flow patterns, with visitors passing through and climbing a spiral staircase to reach the conning tower which also provided an overview of the symbolic maze. The 51 ft long, 18 ton submarine was built by apprentices at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead.

The only disappointment in the whole scheme was a realistic statue of the late John Lennon making a peace sign, a sad shattering of the dreamy atmosphere even though a well-meant and worthy tribute. Unfortunately, at the end of the festival the garden was dismantled and the much-visited submarine now lies in no man’s land awaiting a new home.

The growing trend of pop star monumentalization has produced no other monument as imaginative and delightful as this one.

Striding Away from the Catwalk

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Wearing a simple black vest and trousers, Marie Helvin sits on the floor of her Pimlico flat. As she talks, she twists her hair into a rough plait, and her arms, head and hair fall inevitably into such perfect, almost statuesque, lines that the pose could be another of David Bailey’s classic shots of her.

Yet, she says: ‘I don’t think of myself as beautiful. I think of myself as attractive, but I really work at it, and it’s hard work, although the illusion of beauty is really not all that difficult. When you’re working it’s a question of knowing what angle looks good and how the light will catch your face of the dress. I’m one of the old-timers’, she reminds you. ‘I’ve worked everywhere in the world and done every kind of fashion and beauty job there is to do.’

Her attitude towards the published images of herself is disturbingly sane: ‘Without the illusion, I’m very plain, and I’m comfortable with myself plain. I feel more at ease with myself now than I’ve ever done.’ It is this sense of ease that she now likes to communicate in photographs of herself.

Marie’s career began at 16 when she was approached in a Tokyo coffee shop and offered a three-year modelling contract: now 34, she has worked her way to the top as a fashion model, but constantly credits her success to luck and good timing.

For example, she explains that she arrived in England just as Jean Shrimpton’s blond, blue-eyed look was giving way to a darker, stronger image set by Bianca Jagger: Marie’s half-American, half-Japanese features were perfect for the new look, the new colours and outrageous clothes. ‘When I first started I was so young and shy that I never felt I knew enough to contribute. I was more concerned with trying to impress than with my own development.’

Nevertheless, she had the good sense to learn from the world’s best photographers and fashion designers. ‘I love being among people whose work is their passion. I have so much respect for someone like Yves St Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld: I admire anyone who feels that strongly about something. I’ve always found it exciting to see how something is actually made – all the different things they do to make a hip look smaller, a bust look bigger, the skill of the fittings, the accessorizing, and of course, the show itself.’

As a show girl, she has worked with the Japanese designers Issey Miyake, Kansai Yamamoto (whose show based on kabuki theatre brought her to London and to the attention of Vogue’s fashion editor in 1971) and Kenzo Takada (whose revolutionary Cover Girls show astounded Paris in 1974) and, for five years, with Yves St Laurent. As a photographic model she has been shot by Clive Arrowsmith, Barry Lategan, Helmut Newton and Jacques Henri Lartigue as by David Bailey, with whom she worked almost exclusively from the time of their marriage in 1975.

Being with Bailey – ‘for whom photography is a passion, he doesn’t need anything else’ – made her very aware of photography’s techniques and history. She has a fine collection of images by great photographers, and pictures by Bill Brandt, Alvin Langdon Coburn and Jose Ortiz-Echague hang on her wall. ‘A fashion photograph depends so much on the direction’, she explains. ‘A model is only as good as the photographer she’s working with. Of course, the idea of the model as some kind of dumo standing there as a hanger exists, but I try to make the job as interesting as possible. If I get bored, I get depressed.’

When she first arrived in London, Marie was cast as the passive, sultry and exotic maiden, sometimes South American, sometimes Oriental, but when she began to work with Bailey for Vogue, he intensified the new hard-edged look, making her mysterious and more aggressive: it was a deliberate decision that she should never smile in their pictures together.

‘Half the time, working with Bailey, he’d let me decide how I wanted to look, and always got me involved in that way. It was important to him that I was happy with how I looked, or with what I was doing, as then I would give more to him.

‘Bailey made me see myself in a very honest and brutal way. He is a very honest person’, she explains. ‘He sees right through you, so I was never allowed to be precious with him. He once wrote of me: ‘The thing I love most about Marie is that, at the end of the day, when she looks at herself in the mirror, she sees herself. There’s no illusion there.’ I think that’s the nicest compliment anyone has ever paid me.’

The visual story of Bailey and Marie together is told in her new book, Catwalk*, which was originally conceived as a kind of beauty manual, but grew to include short but vivid passages of autobiography – there is her childhood in Hawaii, marriage to her hero, Bailey, the death of her younger sister, Suzon, and her coming to a sudden, late maturity.

Perhaps surprisingly for someone whose face is so famous, and whose husband has published photographs of her naked on beds and beaches, she says that the book makes her, for the first time in her career, feel vulnerable and exposed. ‘You see the photographs aren’t me, so they never bother me. But this is a release, it took a lot out of me to be as honest as I could, yet still hold things back. I feel now that people are going to know so much about me – and when people believe they know all about you, they think they own you.’

In Catwalk she describes how dependent she became upon Bailey for her taste, her literary knowledge and her self-esteem: ‘I also remember feeling astounded’, she writes, ‘the first time I knew for sure that Bailey was misinformed, and I think Bailey was equally shocked to hear my voice in disagreement.’ The light, airy flat in Pimlico, so different from Bailey’s dark, extraordinary house, seems carefully free from any dominating style, a place where she can, at least, feel her way into her own character and style.

She says she only began to grow up after Suzon’s death in 1978. ‘I miss her desperately. With her I could do things like picnic at Stonehenge, visit the Tower of London or the zoo. Suzon led a very hippie life, living in the middle of a rice field in Bali and running her boyfriend’s restaurant in Jamaica, and I’m an old hippie, too.

In Hawaii it was all be-ins and loveins and it was fun doing all those crazy things. Those values never really leave you. I swore to myself that there had to be some kind of purpose to Suzon’s death. Her attitude to life was that everything is important: there was a time for me when the most important thing was the next Paris collections or that I would be in a newspaper or be recognized in the street, and now it’s not what I want any more.

‘I sometimes wonder why I wanted it in the first place – although it’s easier to see that now I’ve gotten this far! Success should make you a nicer person, a better person to deal with. It has to’, she adds, a little grimly.

Marie’s growing maturity and independence upset the balance of her relationship with Bailey, and two years ago the long and gradual process of their parting began. They still work together, and she frequently repeats his comments and opinions: ‘My marriage to him made a big difference to how I look at myself and to how I see other people. But I also see things differently from him too.’

She hopes her book will play an important part in her escape not only from Bailey’s influence, but also from the prejudices people have towards beautiful women.

She finds it depressing that people – even friends who should know her better – seem to get stuck with the cliches of beautiful women: the brainless, soulless doll, the bitch, the aura of inaccessible mystique that is ruined when she opens her mouth; or the myth that if she emerges one morning looking a little rough from lack of sleep, she is about to plunge towards a self-willed, tragic end in the best dramatic tradition. She thinks of the book as a stepping stone into a more interesting world: ‘I got out of mainstream modelling several years ago and found it quite difficult to be taken seriously about wanting to do other things, and I do want to write more or to design some wearable clothes.’

But, despite having a book to promote, she is still anxious not to be seen as exotic or glamorous. ‘I’m not particularly larger than life and I don’t like being on show – it’s not the way I was brought up. I guess I just have a very down-home view of things.

‘People keep saying to me ‘you’re so normal! I don’t know what they expect! I’m just a small-chested, freckle-faced American high school kid from the beaches of Hawaii.’

*Catwalk The Art of Model Style, by Marie Helvin, is published on Monday by Pavilion Books, price pounds 14.95. An exhibition of photographs from the book is at Gallery 2, the Olympus Centre, 24 Princess Street, London W1, from Monday until November 8.