Tag Archives: miles aldridge

2013 Cultural Review of the Year

At this time of the year schedules are filled with retrospectives, so what better time to look back and reflect on my favourite cultural activities of the last twelve months.  2013 was another great year for the arts in London, giving us huge diversity and the chance to see rare and intriguing events. There have been lows of course – the less said about Adore the better! – But hardly a weekend had gone by without at least one London outing. So, in reverse order, here are my top 10 cultural highlights of 2013:

10 – Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me – Somerset House’s exhibition of beautiful prints by the Vogue photographer influenced by Hitchcock and film noir.

9 – Scenes from a Marriage – my first visit to St James’s theatre to see this emotional production of a crumbling marriage with great central performances from Olivia Williams and Mark Bazeley.

8 – Othello – the National Theatre at its best, transporting the action to a modern army base. Adrian Lester was on top form as Othello, but I was cheering for Rory Kinnear’s brilliantly malevolent Iago.

7 – Victoriana – the Guildhall’s quirky exhibition of Victorian inspired artwork included a hair cake and plenty of taxidermy. A great chance to see lesser known artists, enjoy a quiet gallery and squirm!

6 – L.S. Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life – my first blog post covered this great Tate Britain exhibition. Showing Lowry’s development as a painter building up to the wonderful industrial-scapes for which he’s most famous.

5 – London Film Festival – 3 of the events I saw at my first festival were great; a chance to see new work from around the world as well as influential classics. Parkland depicting the aftermath of the JFK assassination was a great thriller, whilst a superb performance from Dirk Bogarde unravelling a blackmail-plot in Victim, influenced the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

4 – Macbeth – Kenneth Branagh’s return to the stage was a triumph. Innovatively performed in a disused church in Manchester and emphasising the nature of evil, this was one of the theatrical highlights of the year.

3 – Lichtenstein – My favourite exhibition of 2013 at Tate Modern was the first retrospective in over 20 years. Seen before I started my blog, this was a fantastic showcase of Lichtenstein’s deceptively simple style – a print cannot prepare you for how affecting the paintings really are.

2 – Private Lives – so good I saw it twice, Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens were fantastic as the sparring couple in my favourite Coward play. Great chemistry, and great set at the Gielgud, this may well rival the Alan Rickman and Lindsey Duncan version as a definitive production.

1 – Richard II – no surprises here! This RSC production was undoubtedly the best thing I’ve seen this year – and probably any other year too! Having waited for most of 2013 to see it, everything about this production was amazing and David Tennant was beyond spectacular as the ill-fated King.

Retrospectives can be a bit sad, especially if you missed these things. But never fear, as 2014 already has plenty of treats lined up – Sam Mendes King Lear with Simon Russell Beale opens at the National Theatre in January – all sold out until March (and I don’t have a ticket – boo!), but more seats are released in February, and failing that there’s an NT Live showing on 1st May; Blithe Spirit with Angela Lansbury comes to the Gielgud in March – having seen her eccentric novelist in Death on the Nile, this will be a perfect role for her;  A Streetcar Named Desire with Gillian Anderson is scheduled for the Young Vic in the Summer, whilst Greg Doran’s two Henry IV plays for the RSC and Barbican arrive in the autumn. In exhibitions we look forward to Constable at the V&A in September, David Bailey at the Portrait Gallery from February and Jean Paul Gaulthier at the Barbican from April. 2014 is looking pretty promising.


Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore – Somerset House

I have to confess, I had no idea who Isabella Blow was when I went to this exhibition but I was intrigued by the description on the website and a rare chance to see a private collection. I’ve had mixed experiences with Somerset House fashion events; the Miles Aldridge prints earlier this year were beautiful and very nicely put together, but the 2012 Valentino show was a big let-down. Lots of pretty dresses, some worn by famous people, but next to no curation, sense of chronology or information about the inspiration, purpose or history of the garments.

Thankfully, this is quite different. It begins with some sensible background on Isabella, her aristocratic upbringing and early life clearly a useful means to promote the designers, photographers and models she took under her wing when she eventually worked for Vogue, Tatler and the Sunday Times. So this is her wardrobe, a unique collection of clothes, hats and shoes interspersed with letters, photographs and video. Most famously she brought Alexander McQueen’s entire student collection, several pieces of which are displayed here, and as his clothes dominate the exhibition this was clearly an important relationship for both them.

Similarly, she helped to launch the career of milliner Philip Treacy whose spectacular hats are the most striking part of the collection. Whatever your views on the validity of fashion as an art form, Treacy’s innovative approach to hat design and sculptural form is incredible; it’s not just the use of strange materials and the creation of unexpected shapes, but through unusual placement and designs that extend beyond the head, he has changed the purpose the hat from a functional item to an artistic statement. My favourites were butterfly themed, first an eye-mask, a beautiful red and gold creation that covers one eye with tendrils curling perfectly away from the face, and another with a swarm of red butterflies around the head. You can also see the inspiration of Rolls Royce (who sponsored an early show) through some sleek and beautifully designed pieces early in the exhibition.

Somerset House has done a good job with this one, the shape of the exhibition is great, early influences, to main collection, to pieces inspired by Blow, all cleverly displayed. I also liked the photographs of models Blow had discovered, suitably presented in a separate room to maintain focus. Using different types of exhibit emphasised her varied contribution to the fashion industry. Vastly improving on the Valentino exhibition, each outfit is given its own space, and, crucially, plenty of information. And although these rooms are filled with items created by other people, you do leave with a sense of Isabella Blow’s character – dynamic, eccentric and innovative – eager to support talented people. I may not have known who she was before, but I’m glad I got the chance to find out.

Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore is on at Somerset House until 2 March. Full price entry is £12.50.


Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me – Somerset House

Close-up on the profile of woman. She’s wearing a hat with a veil that covers her nose. Smoke billows from her thickly painted lips, and the whole scene is washed in shade of violet blue. A few meters away a woman stands on a chequered kitchen floor. All you see is her ankles and feet in Wizard-of-Oz-like shoes, and between them a bottle of Heinz ketchup has smashed splattering blood red sauce on the ground. These are just two of Miles Aldridge’s photographs at a Somerset House retrospective celebrating his hyper-coloured and intriguing fashion shoots.

This is a small exhibition but there’s plenty to see as you view one doll-like woman after another, emphasising the tension between the ‘high fashion style and sense of hopelessness’. Each image is taken from a longer fashion spread, but has an individual story – at the centre of which, Aldridge explained, are ‘close-ups of a woman’s face thinking, and she’s realised that her whole world is wrong’. And this effect is very cleverly achieved. Each picture is vibrantly coloured but drained by the plasticity or deadness of the model’s expression – she’s there but not there, creating instead a sense of sadness and emptiness.

Aldridge is influenced by film noir, Hitchcock and David Lynch, portraying troubling scenes in glamorous ways. When planning a shoot, he hand-draws a storyboard to ensure the final images will almost exactly match his imagined version. There are good examples of this and copies of the final spreads. Some of the best are First Impressions, shot in a supermarket, where Stepford-Wife-like woman with trolleys are posed in front of mundane but highly colourful displays of margarine or washing powder.

There’s not much explanation of the images, presumably so you’ll buy the expensive accompanying book, but you don’t need it to enjoy the photos. The gallery walls were painted in different bright and pastel colours to enhance the image they displayed which was a nice touch. If you’re going to Somerset House, there are also some free exhibitions as well as the Courtauld collection, so you can make an afternoon of it.

Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me is at Somerset House until 29 September and costs £6. The Courtauld is also £6, but there are also several free exhibitions in other galleries.


%d bloggers like this: