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Red Riding Hood stamps, 1960 by Hans Michel and Günther Kieser

It has been stamp week here at Shelf Appeal.

I’ve been ogling the suggestive stamps that have been released to celebrate Tom of Finland’s work. I can’t help wondering if they are stick-on or lickable stamps. And I can’t help feeling we have somewhat lame stamp alternatives in Britain. Most of the time.

And then these super lovely little Red Riding Hood numbers appeared, a present from Present and Correct.

The Red Riding Hoods were part of a series of stamps based upon tales by the Brothers Grimm and were designed in 1960 by Hans Michel and Günther Kieser. Those two were cranking out stamp designs for the German Federal Post Office for years, as well as posters and what not for others. All in a very pleasing graphic style.

I had a thing for stamps as a child. My Galt Toy Post Office was laid out for business in my bedroom. And those free charity Christmas stamps that were posted through the door occasioned a little too much excitement.

Since then the stamps that most made me happy were the Michael Peters and Partners Ltd 1990 Smile series and Johnson Banks’ interactive set of vegetables and stickers. I have a set of both, unused and unstuck. Small, splendid little graphic wonders.

Lastly, whilst I may be in danger of protesting too much, obviously all this does not a stamp collector make me. Obviously.

Rosie’s walk

Fox by Pat Hutchins from Rosie's Walk book

Books from one’s childhood are incredibly evocative. At least they are for me. My mother was a primary school teacher, so we had books. We went to the library. Words and pictures, words and pictures.

I have maybe one or two books saved from being small. But some I have bought back again. As I was small in the late 1960s a lot of the books were published then. But some crept in from before, reprinted. Orlando’s Evening Out of 1941 was one. Oh that gorgeous ginger cat. And then there was Tintin mania, that which I have written about elsewhere.

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins was one of my childhood favourites. Beautiful ink illustrations of scenery and a fox and a hen called Rosie, all drawn slightly scandi in style. A lusciously tasteful sage colour palette. Not much text. It was her first book and although I haven’t read them, she wrote and illustrated many more books. Hutchins had a Yorkshire childhood – during which she was ‘encouraged by an elderly couple who would give her a chocolate bar for each picture she drew’ – then travelled via Leeds College of Art to Bodley Head publishers in 1968.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the children’s arm of Bodley Head were on a roll. Children’s editor Judy Taylor was responsible for printing up my childhood. From Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are to the ever-hopeful fox out to catch Rosie. It may be a case of rose-coloured glasses here, I give you that, but these still look like corking children’s books.

The original Rosie’s Walk book has been squashed (and cropped) down into a Mini Treasures book. And odd things have been done to some of the typography. It’s a nice trick for finding new audiences. But it’s not the treasure that the original book was, with its unadulterated paperback cover, generous size and super clean layout. Letting the illustrations shine out over everything.

NB He didn’t catch Rosie, of course he didn’t.

Perfect for sensitive skins

Meridan

The ‘smooth to the sensitive skin’ promise of this Meridian underwear booklet is borne out in a small sample of the fabric stuck on to the inside front page. So you can actually: ‘Feel its fine and soft yet strong texture. Note that it is uniformly smooth both sides. Imagine the comfort and lasting satisfaction it will give you in the form of Underwear, Slumberwear or Bathing Wear.’

Underwear, indeed clothing, isn’t often referred to as strong these days. Strong is no longer much of a selling property for clothing. We expect and get a little less wear out of things. Yet no other underwear than Meridian would give you ‘such satisfaction and service.’

The cover of this little booklet is sweet. One can’t help but wonder what they are reading together. Most likely something along the lines of those ubiquitous second-hand bookshop finds: Wonder Encyclopedia For Children. This particular Meridian booklet is stamped for a shop called Howell Bros, Penarth. The brisk coastal weather in Wales would suggest they probably sold quite a few pairs of these double knit singlets and combinations (available in short or long sleeves, ankle, short, drawer or trunk legs) to both fathers and sons.

Lastly, Shelf Appeal would just like to draw your attention to the lovely pullover pyjamas pictured at far right (below). As well as a snazzy black and white checked braid edge around the top, they were available in Sky, Mauve and Apricot. Super. The colours of the bathing costumes? We’ll just have to use our imaginations.

1930s Meridan underwear booklet page

Houses

Houses by Margaret and Alexander Potter

Houses by Margaret and Alexander Potter is a lovely book. The cover isn’t really a seller, too detailed and worthy in text and dull in colour to make you have to have it. But if you get past that, the super illustrations on the inside make it worth hanging around.

They must have printed a lot of copies this book. It’s still pretty cheap, cheaper than the Potter’s Puffin Picture book A History of the Countryside. Mine is a first edition from 1948. It smells divine and old bookish but has its dust wrapper ‘intact’ and is in nice condition overall, as the book sellers write.

It really is a bigger version of those Puffin books as far as content goes. Part of a series titled: The Changing Shape of Things, Houses is a ‘story told mainly in drawings…houses shown actively occupied, and a significant part of the commentary consists in what the occupants are doing, as well as the clothes they wear and the furniture that surrounds them.’

The book starts with ‘Early Mediaeval Homes of the Wealthy’ and ends on ‘A Borough Council Housing Estate 1947.’ And the earlier social‘commentary mutates into architectural technical writing by the end. Presumably because Alexander Potter was by now in his comfort zone and couldn’t resist.

The drawings are very dolls-house like. My favourite, detailed here, is the isometric cut away of ‘A Reinforced Concrete Framed House, 1939.’ The man of the house is seen in his bentwood chair reading (Architectural Review?), an artist scratching his chin in his roof top studio, the ladies serving dinner (surely on a Ravilious design?) in their dining area, alongside a windowsill chock-a-block with architecturally sanctioned cacti. It all reminds me of Ernő Goldfinger’s pad on Willow Road in Hampstead.

The husband and wife team of Margaret and Alexander Potter make for interesting reading, what reading there is about them. She the illustrator, he the architect, with some inevitable blurring of those boundaries as they lived and worked together.

Dress you up

Jean Paul Gaultier corset detail

Shelf Appeal finally got to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican. Having heard all about the mannequins with the video faces, I found myself quickly lost in the stitches.

Gaultier has long been up near the top of my designer list. More imaginative garments have come out of that man’s head than many other designer’s outputs combined. Tasteful cuts and silhouettes have been covered off by many an Italian designer. But fabric and decoration remain best done in the French frock houses. And Gaultier, picking up the (embroidered) gauntlet laid down by Schiaparelli in Paris all those decades ago, manipulates both with an eye to the surreal, subtle and (sometimes) couture sacrilegious.

This exhibition strides through the Gaultier years with gusto. It is an understated exhibition design (for these days) but the frocks are fabulous and cleanly displayed. The latter, sadly, a design technique much underrated. Contextual information is given with a light touch, videos nicely placed above the frocks, not interfering with the main event as it were. The crowd-pleasing video heads are a really good photo op, which exhibitions ignore these days at their own peril. But best of all most of the frocks are not in glass cases, so you can peer up close and personal.

Such far and near sightings are essential – Gaultier frocks work on two levels, the first showy impact and then, if you can get close, the magnificent details. The sometimes seemingly random yet planned with precision pinks, sequins, pleats, cords, bows and buttons. His layering makes me want to weep; ethnographic fabrics, fringes, feathers, skins all piled one upon the other for urban Anime ladies to wrap themselves up in. And then the treatments of simple things like net and denim, corsets, sailor pants.. Sigh.

All in all this is an old fashioned frock exhibition. And let’s face it, if the frocks are good enough, you simply don’t need to dress things up any further.



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