Saturday 30 July 2016

Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity / 15 Jul - 25 Sep 2016

Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity

15 Jul - 25 Sep 2016

The Photographers’ Gallery presents Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity, a group exhibition exploring the identity of the black dandy as performed in studio and street photographs from London to New York to Bamako.

In the early 21st century, black men are influential trendsetters in fashion, music and culture. This increased prominence however, has not had an impact on the state of high vulnerability still experienced by black men - as illustrated by disproportionate rates of incarceration the UK and USA. Dandyism, with its emphasis on dress and flamboyance, is examined as radical personal politics and a provocative counter to stereotypical representations and physical objectification of black masculinity. This exhibition seeks to consciously problematise ideas of a male identity through dress and deportment that is arresting, tantalising, louche, camp and gloriously assertive.

Social and gender norms are negotiated in the studio space where the roots of the dandy are traced back to 1904 in a rare series of outdoor studio prints from The Larry Dunstan Archive. Thought to be taken in Senegal, the images depict young men asserting a powerful personal presence through stylish dress. In Malick Sidibé’s(1936-2016, Mali) commercial studio, men were encouraged to model in animated poses while playfully engaging with personal props, including motorbikes and boxing gloves.

The studio as a site of bold experimentation and fantastical expression is explored in the works of Samuel Fosso (b. 1962, Cameroon) and Hassan Hajjaj (b. 1961, Morocco).Fosso’s 1970s self-portraits picture the artist in varying guises, assuming imagined black males identities. Hajjaj’s images, produced in collaboration with his subjects, feature men meticulously dressed in vivid African prints and photographed against bright backgrounds of clashing colours. The results are placed in frames handmade from food and drinks packaging, emphasising craftsmanship and the individual styling of each sitter.

A collection of street photographs celebrates the ordinary elegance of the dandy and his ability to transform everyday attire into ostentatious style statements. In his series the Black House (1973 - 1976), Colin Jones (b. 1936, U.K)captured the careful and discreetly extravagant styling of young men living in an Islington Housing Project. Liz Johnson Artur (b. 1964, Sofia) presents her work from the last thirty years of photographing on the streets of London, Detroit and Kingston, Jamaica, while Jeffrey Henson Scales (b. 1954, USA)covers asimilar period inNew York.

Complex notions of gender and sexuality are visited in Isaac Julien's (b. 1960, UK) still shots from the set of his pivotal movie Looking for Langston (1989). Blending archival and scripted scenes, the film portrays black gay desire during the liberal explosion of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. Gender is further explored in the context of contemporary South Africa with work by Kristin-Lee Moolman’s (b.1986, South Africa). Tapping into youth and township culture her images feature androgynous characters that reject labels and oppose stereotypes.

The exhibition is curated by writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun
Dressing to express

Ranging from New York to Soweto, a new exhibition shows the power of clothes to challenge assumptions about race, class and gender

Fleur Macdonald | July 29th 2016

In 1975 a teenage photographer called Samuel Fosso opened his own studio in Bangui, in the Central African Republic. During the day he would photograph clients; at night he would use up the unexposed rolls of film, taking photos of himself in different costumes and poses, sending some to his mother in Nigeria to reassure her that he was alright.

In one self-portrait he poses in an outfit that could have come out of David Bowie’s wardrobe: platform shoes, football socks and white fringed shorts. It was a provocative way to dress in a country then under the tyrannical rule of Jean-Bédel Bokassa. In 1979, the dictator reportedly sanctioned the execution of 100 schoolchildren for not wearing the correct school uniform.

“Dandyism”, said Roland Barthes, “is condemned to be radical or not exist at all.” The dandies featured in “Made You Look”, an exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in Soho, London, range from fops wearing pearls and flares in modern-day Soweto to Senegalese men in bowties and bowlers at the beginning of the 20th century. All sport the same mixture of pride and insouciance.

As Ekow Eshun, the show’s curator, explains, certain black men invest a lot in how they look, dress and carry themselves: “not purely for superficial reasons but as a kind of personal politics, as a way of defining an identity against a white gaze, against a society that can often caricature them, ‘other’ them as a brute, and define them by the colour of their skin rather than the texture of their inner lives.”

The exhibition is definitely on trend. “Dandy Lion” at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco takes a similar premise, while “2026”, a futuristic exploration of black masculinity and fashion, has just opened at London’s Somerset House.

It’s not a coincidence that people are interested in these themes now, Eshun tells me. “Some of the biggest cultural figures on the planet are black men but at the same time black men are pretty vulnerable…You just have to look at the Black Lives Matter [campaign].” He is fascinated by how black men negotiate these spaces between “high visibility” and “high vulnerability”.

“Made You Look” celebrates men who have used fashion to question assumptions about race, class, gender and sexuality. Encompassing North America, Britain and Africa, over two centuries of intense social and political upheaval, this exhibition cannot possibly represent the full spectrum of black dandyism. But perhaps that’s the point.

Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity Photographers’ Gallery until September 25th 2016

Fleur Macdonald is features editor of TRUE Africa, a website that looks at culture, music, sport and politics from an African perspective

Samuel Fosso, “Self Portrait from ‘70’s Lifestyle” (1973–1977)
A young man trying on different identities until one fits, Fosso here possesses a fragile confidence. His work seems all the more precious given his home in Bangui was looted in 2014. Luckily many of his prints and negatives were found, littered on the streets.
Malick Sidibé, “Au cours d’une soirée (During a party: the poses)” (1964)
Sibidé knows how to photograph a dance move. He took photos of people having fun, letting loose and being young. He captured the optimism and pride of a young nation (Mali had recently gained independence from France), and its citizens’ assertion of self-identity. Eshun explains: “This young guy has gone to the studio and has chosen to dress the way he dresses, to represent himself how he wants to look. It’s a move away from colonial-era photography of African people as anthropological subjects. He wants to be seen on his own terms, in his own light, in his own clothes…”
Kristen Lee-Moolman, “Wayne Swart” (2015)
The South African photographer references Fosso in her playful portraits of young men from Soweto. They are “quite louche and quite camp,” Eshun says, pointing out that they echo gender-fluid role-models from America, like the rapper Young Thug or Will Smith’s son Jaden, who wears a skirt. “Young men in influential positions are consciously insisting on a blurring of [gender] boundaries. A couple of years ago, it would have put them in a very vulnerable position.”
Liz Johnson-Artur, “Kingston” (1991)
This young man confidently “owns” the camera, challenging the viewer to accept his authority. “He carries himself with such self-assertion, such inner belief that he [rises above] his circumstances” says Eshun. “As a black man you spent a lot of your life being told ‘you are this’ or ‘you should be that’ and so to arrive at a place where you can say ‘this is who I am’ is very powerful.”

Jeffrey Henson-Scales, “Young man in plaid” (1991)
This photo of a young man waiting in a doorway in New York City, his chest sticking out, is captivating. You can’t help but wonder who or what he’s waiting for. His louche, subversive dress is deliberately reminiscent, says Eshun, of historical dandies like Lord Byron or Oscar Wilde. And that is the strength of this exhibition: while it is very much about race, it’s also a reminder that true dandyism transcends race, as well as time and place, age, sex and background. The clothes we wear are an outward expression of our personality, a clue to what lies beneath, and a warning not to define us by something as arbitrary as skin colour.

Thursday 28 July 2016

Happy birthday Beatrix Potter / VÍDEO:Miss Potter (2006) - trailer

Happy birthday Beatrix Potter: the author’s legacy 150 years on

As Peter Rabbit and friends return in a brand new tale and on Royal Mail stamps, Nicholas Tucker remembers the writer, illustrator and sheep farmer

Nicholas Tucker
Thursday 28 July 2016 06.59 BST

The only picture Beatrix Potter drew of Kitty-in-Boots. Illustration: courtesy Frederick Warne & Co and the V&A Museum

Beatrix Potter was a writer of strong contradictions. A keen business woman, the first author to license fictional characters to a range of toys and household objects still on sale today, she allowed herself to be short-changed over her royalties for years. She was an expert in natural history, boiling down animal corpses to extract their skeletons so she could understand their anatomy well enough to draw them, yet she wrote stories in which rabbits wear blue jackets and hedgehogs pinafores. A huge success, she turned her back on her literary achievements in middle age to pursue a career as a sheep-breeder.

She had a lonely home-bound childhood with parents intent on keeping her on as their companion, but she still managed to get engaged twice despite their disapproval. She lost her first fiance, Norman Warne, through his premature death and married her second, William Heelis, at 47. By then she had become as tough as the old boots she wore to sheep fairs or while working in her Lake District garden. Often seen in her oldest clothes, her resemblance to Mr McGregor, the distinctly unsmart gardener in The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was sometimes remarked on locally.

My friend, the fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, claimed that in 1940 her younger sister and a friend were slapped by Potter for swinging on her gate. But with respect, I doubt this. Diana’s family and mine were living in the same Quaker commune on Lake Coniston to escape the blitz. There were many cross old ladies who resented noisy young evacuees up from the south, any one of whom could easily have been mistaken by us children for Potter.

She was certainly austere, insisting on good manners from visiting children. But the number of beautifully illustrated letters she sent to appreciative readers attests to someone with a great love for the young, albeit more easily expressed at a distance.

What remains indisputable is her genius as an author-illustrator. She insisted on a miniature format for her works. This was unpopular with bookshops, which preferred uniform sizes, but was ideal for small hands. Often using a bare minimum of words on the page, she made her illustrations play an active part in taking the story forward. She was devoted to the King James Bible, always open by her bedside, and revelled in its cadences and vocabulary. “Children like a fine word occasionally”, she wrote to her publisher. Later she insisted on retaining “scuttered” to describe the hurried movements made by an evil family of rats even though neither she nor her editor could find this term in a dictionary.
Her stories have the same toughness found in fairytales, with foolishness punished and danger never far away. But her cottage interiors, with their open fireplaces, inglenooks and vernacular furniture, provide a vision of country living at its most charming.

She helped to establish the National Trust; her wish that none of her tenants living in traditional Lake District farmhouses should be allowed to build indoor lavatories or have wireless masts is offset by her generosity in leaving to the nation large tracts of countryside.

The exhibition of her illustrations in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Mail’s special stamp set released on what would have been her 150th birthday are testament to a remarkable author and artist. And there is still one more story to come. The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, published on 1 September with illustrations by Quentin Blake, includes favourite characters, from the sinister badger Mr Todd to Peter Rabbit, now “older, slower and portlier”. It won’t just be children who want to get their hands on this final offering.

• Beatrix Potter’s London is at the V&A, London SW7, from Thursday. 

Potter had been a disciple of the land conservation and preservation ideals of her long-time friend and mentor, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, the first secretary and founding member of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. She supported the efforts of the National Trust to preserve not just the places of extraordinary beauty but also those heads of valleys and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development. She was also an authority on the traditional Lakeland crafts, period furniture and stonework. She restored and preserved the farms that she bought or managed, making sure that each farm house had in it a piece of antique Lakeland furniture. Potter was interested in preserving not only the Herdwick sheep, but also the way of life of fell farming. In 1930 the Heelises became partners with the National Trust in buying and managing the fell farms included in the large Monk Coniston Estate. The estate was composed of many farms spread over a wide area of north-western Lancashire, including the Tarn Hows. Potter was the de facto estate manager for the Trust for seven years until the National Trust could afford to buy most of the property back from her. Her stewardship of these farms earned her wide regard, but she was not without her critics, not the least of which were her contemporaries who felt she used her wealth and the position of her husband to acquire properties in advance of their being made public. She was notable in observing the problems of afforestation, preserving the intake grazing lands, and husbanding the quarries and timber on these farms. All her farms were stocked with Herdwick sheep and frequently with Galloway cattle.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS / VÍDEO:Trailer (2016) Adventure Film

Swallows and Amazons is the first book in the Swallows and Amazons series by English author Arthur Ransome; it was first published in 1930, with the action taking place in the summer of 1929 in the Lake District. The book introduces central protagonists John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker (Swallows) and their mother and baby sister, as well as Nancy and Peggy Blackett (Amazons) and their uncle Jim, commonly referred to as Captain Flint.

At the time, Ransome had been working as a journalist with the Manchester Guardian, but decided to become a full-time author rather than go abroad as a foreign correspondent. He did continue to write part-time for the press, however.

The book was inspired by a summer spent by Ransome teaching the children of his friends, the Altounyans, to sail. Three of the Altounyan children's names are adopted directly for the Walker family. Ransome and Ernest Altounyan bought two small dinghies called Swallow and Mavis. Ransome kept Swallow until he sold it a number of years later, while Mavis remained in the Altounyan family and is now on permanent display in the Ruskin Museum. However, later in life Ransome tried to downplay the Altounyan connections, changing the initial dedication of Swallows and Amazons and writing a new foreword which gave other sources. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 57 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.

The book relates the outdoor adventures and play of two families of children. These involve sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and piracy. The Walker children (John, Susan, Titty and Roger) are staying at a farm near a lake in the Lake District of England, during the school holidays. They sail a borrowed dinghy named Swallow and meet the Blackett children (Nancy and Peggy), who sail a dinghy named Amazon. The Walkers camp on an island in the lake while the Blacketts live in their house nearby. When the children meet, they agree to join forces against a common enemy - the Blacketts' uncle James Turner whom they call "Captain Flint" (after the character in Treasure Island). Turner, normally an ally of his nieces, has withdrawn from their company in order to write his memoirs, and has become decidedly unfriendly. Furthermore, when the Blacketts let off a firework on his houseboat roof, it is the Walkers who get the blame. He refuses even to listen when they try to pass on a warning to him about burglars in the area.

In order to determine who should be the overall leader in their campaign against Captain Flint, the Blacketts and the Walkers have a contest to see which can capture the others' boat. As part of their strategy the Walkers make a dangerous crossing of the lake by night, and John is later cautioned by his mother for this reckless act. The Walkers nevertheless win the contest - thanks to Titty who seizes the Amazon when the Blacketts come to Wild Cat Island. During the same night Titty hears suspicious voices coming from a different island - Cormorant Island - and in the morning it transpires that Turner's houseboat has been burgled. Turner again blames the Walkers, but is finally convinced that he is mistaken and feels he was wrong to distance himself from his nieces' adventures all summer. The Swallows, Amazons and Turner investigate Cormorant Island, but they cannot find Turner's missing trunk.

The following day there is a mock battle between Turner and the children, after which Turner is tried for his crimes and forced to walk the plank on his own houseboat. They agree at the post-battle feast that on the final day of their holidays Titty and Roger will go back to Cormorant Island while the others go fishing. Titty finds the trunk, which contains the memoirs on which Turner had been working, and is rewarded with Turner's green parrot.

James Turner appears in some ways to be modelled on Ransome himself. The story, set in August 1929, includes a good deal of everyday Lakeland life from the farmers to charcoal burners working in the woods; corned beef, which the children fancifully refer to as pemmican, and ginger beer and lemonade, which they call grog, appear as regular food stuff for the campers; island life also allows for occasional references to the story of Robinson Crusoe.

A British film Swallows and Amazons is scheduled for release in 2016, with director Philippa Lowthorpe. The film features Sherlock's Andrew Scott, plus Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen as the renamed Tatty.

Swallows and Amazons review – sails on merrily, despite spy ballast
3 / 5 stars

Children messing about in boats is not enough for this adaptation, which injects an adult espionage twist more Famous Five than Arthur Ransome

Peter Bradshaw
Sunday 24 July 2016 17.30 BST

Arthur Ransome’s wholesome prewar classic of children’s literature is all about fresh-faced girls and boys sailing dinghies around the Lake District with no health-and-safety nonsense about flotation jackets. The 1930 novel is now given a good-natured, if self-conscious period adaptation that grafts on a new grownup plotline of treachery and derring-do, probably closer to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or John Buchan.

It is as if the children’s innocent fantasy world of pirates and adventurers isn’t enough. The action must be ramped up. They have to get real baddies to vanquish, but this new and implausible line in melodrama is taken at the same pace and treated the same way as the children’s innocuous high-jinks. There is even a frankly bizarre and not entirely logical chase sequence aboard a train in which sinister trench-coated figures behave strangely – to say the very least – though somehow without drawing attention to themselves.

Kelly Macdonald plays Mrs Walker, who is taking her boisterous four children away for a summer holiday in the idyllic Lakeland fells while her husband, an officer in the Royal Navy, is away in the far east. They are Susan (Orla Hill), Roger (Bobby McCulloch), John (Dane Hughes) and Tatty (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen) – her name was “Titty” in the original, and rather coyly changed.

On the way, the children chance across the mysterious Mr Flint (Rafe Spall) who appears to be being hunted down by an equally enigmatic figure played by Andrew Scott – and the casting of these two principals should probably tip us off as to which of them is the good guy.

The family arrive at their cottage run by a hatchet-faced comedy yokel couple, Mr and Mrs Jackson, played deadpan by Harry Enfield and Jessica Hynes. And the children beg to be allowed to sail to an island in the middle of the lake in Mr Jackson’s dinghy, the “Swallow”, and camp there – only to find that two other children, Nancy (Seren Hawkes) and Peggy (Hannah Jayne Thorp) have already staked a claim to it, and have a dinghy of their own, called the “Amazon”. A high-spirited battle commences, complicated by the unlikely danger they are in from the adult world of espionage.

Swallows and Amazons was always treasured for its innocent charm, and maybe Golding’s Lord of the Flies made this kind of story unfashionable even before our modern preoccupation with the danger that unaccompanied children can be in. There’s no point updating the story, of course, and in fact the girls do in any case take a reasonably bold and assertive role in the adventure. Perhaps what there is to like about it is the simple, almost action-free shots of people sailing their little craft across the rippling lakes. And in fact nothing in the film rivals the very real catastrophe of the children’s wicker basket full of picnic food being lost overboard. This is despite the deployment of a failed “man overboard” rescue manoeuvre – although in trying this out, the children have in fact perfected it, and it is to come in useful when there is a real man-overboard emergency.

This Swallows and Amazons is decent enough: but probably best savoured on the small screen after tea on a rainy Sunday.

Backwards to the future: how Britain’s nostalgia industry is thriving

From the new film of Swallows and Amazons to Harry Potter, Britain is obsessed with a past that never existed. What is this endless Downtonisation all about?

Stuart Jeffries
Monday 25 July 2016 18.02 BST

Ron Howard had a theory about why the US sitcom Happy Days was such a hit. The Oscar-winning director, who played Richie Cunningham in the show, argued that central to its appeal was that it was set in the 1950s, before Vietnam, drugs and hippies, when teenagers were civil to their elders. Happy Days – which ran from 1974 to 1984 – was, he told me, a return to lost innocence before Watergate. It put the 50s back into the 70s and made people happier.

The new film adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s novel Swallows and Amazons, starring Rafe Spall, Kelly Macdonald and Andrew Scott, has a similar nostalgic function. It takes us back to 1935, a time before multicultural Britain, swinging London, gay marriages, gender fluidity, online avatars and goggles for conker contests.

It’s set in an era before the Sodom and Gomorrah of onesies and flip-flops, when there were only two kinds of nightwear – winceyette nighties and winceyette pyjamas – and there was never any question of you wearing either if you went to the shops.

Most importantly, director Philippa Lowthorpe and writer Andrea Gibb take us back to the time when the Great Outdoors was a place for wholesome prepubescent rampaging rather than one so overrun with stabbings, abductions and drug scores not to mention health and safety infractions, that today’s fearful parents have decided for the most part to keep their little twerps indoors. Better our Vitamin D-deprived kids are under lock and key, safely eviscerating aliens during PS4 Doom marathons.

At the press screening for Swallows and Amazons, Gibb said her adaptation sought to address our anxieties over helicopter parenting. That certainly is what gives Ransome’s story relevance to our anxious, nostalgic society. We have apparently raised – as the father of the four sibling heroes of Swallows and Amazons would say – a generation of duffers.

At the start, the four Walker children are heading off for a Lake District holiday with their mother, while their father is away with the Royal Navy. The removal of the patriarch is a recurring plot device in nostalgic children’s literature that involves urban kids finding themselves giddily adrift in rural England. Think of Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children (in which the Edwardian paterfamilias is falsely imprisoned as a spy) or, more recently, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom (in which a second world war evacuee finds a surrogate father in a grumpy village widower). Both were made into stirringly nostalgic films set in a simpler, gentler England.

Perhaps, if you believe the premise of such books and their adaptations, only when parents are away can children play. Even Harry Potter, though an orphan, comes to imaginative life the further the Hogwarts Express races him away from the quotidian dullness of his muggle family. And how striking it is that the Hogwarts Express is a lovely old steam train rather than a grisly Pendolino. For all that JK Rowling’s franchise starts in the early 1990s, its charmed world time travels back to an earlier Britain of retro locos and school gowns.

In Swallows and Amazons, the Walker siblings, once installed in their lakeside rental owned by a couple of satisfyingly lo-fi rustics called the Jacksons, demand that they be allowed to sail across the deepest lake in England and camp out on the island in the middle. Kelly Macdonald’s Mrs Walker agonises over the risks of death by burning and drowning such autonomy would entail, but eventually agrees. “I don’t want them frightened of the world,” she says. “If life was always early to bed, we’d never learn ’owt,” counsels Jessica Hynes’s Mrs Jackson.

And so the Walker siblings set off on theirawfully big adventure, one that would have present-day health and safety ideologues crying into their risk-averse muesli. Will they survive? Are canvas plimsols and knitted sleeveless sweaters really what one should wear for an excursion in Cumbria? Go see the film and find out.

Swallows and Amazons could be seen as part of a reactionary nostalgic industry, part of the Downtonising tendency. To Downtonise the past is to rid a book or film or TV drama of the things that some in the audience might dislike about the present – black people, uppity proles, uppity Poles, women who don’t know their place, kids who have exchanged their right to graze their knees outdoors for the right to contract carpal tunnel syndrome indoors.

The tendency to reverse backwards into the future is a particularly British phenomenon. “Fifty years from now,” said John Major in 1993, “Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers and – as George Orwell said – ‘old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist’ and if we get our way – Shakespeare still read even in school.” Wouldn’t you like to live there? Me neither.

Conservatives have regularly used an apparently gilded past age as an alibi for rubbishing the present. It is the basis of one of our most successful export industries. In 1981, for instance, Jeremy Irons narrated the lyrical introduction to Charles Sturridge’s ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited: “Oxford in those days was still a city of aquatint. When the chestnut was in flower and the bells rang out high and clear over the gables and cupolas, she exhaled the soft airs of centuries of youth.”

Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel already dripped with nostalgia for a pre-war England and its allied oleaginous underlings (think Sebastian Flyte’s ever-so-’umble barber). Sturridge effectively put that nostalgia to work in Thatcher’s Britain. Just as Waugh’s novel, behind its lament for lost innocence, expressed posh contempt for upstart prole scum, so its TV adaptation was handily broadcast at a time when it could serve the reactionaryagenda of a Conservative government that spent the 80s destroying the organised working classes.

Thirty years later, Downton Abbey similarly aided a later Tory government with its depiction of Edwardian England as one in which the lower orders knew their place and were contented with their lot. It fitted into the reactionary Keep Calm and Carry On ethos that has permeated austerity Britain from 2008 onwards, urging political quietism on those suffering most from George Osborne’s public expenditure cuts. No wonder the Tories gave that Downton creator and inveterate snob Julian Fellowes a knighthood. Kirstie Allsopp should have been made a dame, too, for her craft programme which, so far as I understood it, had the subtext: crochet your way out of recession like they did in the 1930s, whiney proles.

But British period drama doesn’t always have a reactionary agenda. It is striking that Lowthorpe worked as a director on Call the Midwife, the BBC series set in London’s East End in the late 1950s and early 1960s based on Jennifer Worth’s memoirs. Since 2012, it has been broadcast in the Sunday-evening vintage slot. With its sweet midwives in cardies and starched uniforms, it fits into that slot perfectly and courts the Downton demographic perfectly. But, as Radio Times’ Alison Graham argued, it should “take its place as the torchbearer of feminism on television”, since it has dealt with domestic abuse, illegal abortion, rape, the pill, women enslaved by dull marriages, poverty and big families. “I believe the series should be shown to teenage girls in schools across the country,” argued Graham.

Swallows and Amazons, similarly, comes on cosy and nostalgic, but then wrongfoots us. Lowthorpe and Gibb’s adaptation cunningly punches up the subversive storyline of the Amazons. Lowthorpe rightly points out that the proto-feminist girl gang are startlingly modern (and apparently in keeping with Ransome’s counter-zeitgeisty views on women). “They are definitely not your archetypal 1930s girl, and for that they are wonderful,” says Lowthorpe. “They’re like warriors, and they are funny and brave and up to no good.”

Otherwise, though, the film helps make the past seem, not a foreign country, but a better realm than the rubbish one we have inflicted on our enfeebled offspring. It chimes with recent rose-tinted eulogies to childhood of simpler times, captured in the following viral email: “Congratulations to all my friends who were born in the 1940s, 50s and 60s…. We ate white bread and real butter; drank cows’ milk and soft drinks with sugar; but we weren’t overweight because... we were always outside playing!” The corollary? Modern life is rubbish.

It’s an abiding theme. In her memoir of a growing up in suburban Ruislip in the 1950s, Michele Hanson wrote: “So what did ‘play’ mean back then? There was barely any telly, no mobiles, iPhones or iPlayers, no internet, computer games, PlayStations and no pop stars. We had only the simplest of equipment: jacks, marbles, skipping-ropes, bats, balls and bicycles. Most of the time, my friends and I made our own games up: making perfume from rose petals, brewing ginger beer, holding snail races, picking blackberries, making dens in the woods.”

The conviction that the past was better speaks to our current anxieties. If Philippa Lowthorpe and Andrea Gibb are looking for another book to adapt for a film corrective to modern life, they should try Robin Stevens’s cunning series of novels Murder Most Unladylike, set in a boarding school in 1935, about two girls who run a detective agency. “Bother,” says Hazel in Murder Most Unladylike at one point. “Daisy, my pullover’s in the gym.” Bother? Pullovers? Is there any thing more vexing than misplacing one’s knitwear? Not in this corner of Downtonshire there isn’t.

Stevens’s genius is to produce a mash-up of English fiction from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, borrowing the boarding-school setting (from Enid Blyton’s St Clare novels no doubt) and erasing the unpalatable bits (PG Wodehouse’s occasional racist stereotyping, say, or Blyton’s insistence in the Famous Five mysteries that Anne is a wannabe housewife to Dick and Julian, or Waugh’s posh-boy wail against the rise of the common man).

But like Lowthorpe and Gibb’s retread of Swallows and Amazons, Stevens wants to have her twee and subvert it. Her heroines Daisy and Hazel are proto-feminists like the Amazons, girls out of time gently challenging the patriarchy. What’s more, instead of dramatising the past as a means of going back to a time in Britain before immigration, Stevens time-travels to right a racist wrong. The book’s narrator is Hazel Wong, the daughter of a Hong Kong businessman, who yearns to become the Chinese Sherlock Holmes. In a lovely scene in First Class Murder, nasty Little Englanders travelling on the Orient Express assume that Mr Wong must be a servant. He, marvellously, and with great dignity, exposes their racist assumptions.

One reason Stevens’s books are so successful is because, while part of a lucrativeBritish nostalgia industry, they aren’t really about depicting the past authentically but about recreating it to escape a present we don’t like much. Her books teem with polite girls in boaters, white ankle-socks and sensible plaits – the whole sartorial panoply of a bygone age.

It’s hard to read them, or watch the new film of Swallows and Amazons, without thinking how much kinder, better-dressed, and simpler the world was in 1935. Why can’t we have those times back? Because they never happened. And Happy Days didn’t exist until we invented them.

• Swallows and Amazons is released in the UK on 19 August

Sunday 24 July 2016

"The fall of the house of Gucci" / The House Of Gucci Gripping Account

The Gucci wife and the hitman: fashion's darkest tale
When Patrizia Reggiani married Maurizio Gucci, they became one of Italy’s first celebrity power couples. But then he left her – and she had him murdered. Abigail Haworth unpicks an incredible tale of glamour, sex, betrayal, death and prison in the dizzying world of high fashion

Abigail Haworth
Sunday 24 July 2016 08.00 BST

Two years ago, not long after Patrizia Reggiani was released from prison, a camera crew from a trashy Italian TV show turned up unannounced at her Milan workplace. Reggiani had just spent 16 years inside after being convicted of arranging the murder, in March 1995, of her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci, the last of the Gucci family dynasty to run the luxury brand. The former socialite had always maintained her innocence – her best friend had set her up, she said – but the TV crew caught her in a reckless mood.

“Patrizia, why did you hire a hitman to kill Maurizio Gucci? Why didn’t you shoot him yourself?” badgered the reporter.

“My eyesight is not so good,” she lobbed back. “I didn’t want to miss.”

Understandably then, when I try to find her, Reggiani’s inner circle doesn’t seem keen to let her near another journalist. “She’s not here. She’s off work with a bad back,” says Alessandra Brunero, co-owner of Bozart, a Milanese costume jewellery firm that has employed Reggiani as a “design consultant” since April 2014.

Sentenced to 26 years on appeal, Reggiani was required to find a job as a condition of her parole. She turned down her first offer of release in 2011, according to the Italian press, because the very idea of working horrified her. “I’ve never worked in my life and I don’t intend to start now,” she told her lawyer.

Bozart, with its Renaissance-style premises full of sparkling necklaces and chandeliers, was obviously an acceptable compromise. Brunero and her business-partner husband have now become Reggiani’s de facto minders, tasked with ensuring the 67-year-old sticks to her parole and quietly rebuilds her life as a regular citizen.
“Oh, mamma mia, it’s not easy,” says Brunero, a stylish 40-something. She invites me inside, and I get the impression she really needs to talk. “I cried after that TV interview. It was terrible,” she says, putting her head in her hands. “Naturally, Patrizia was only joking…”

Even before the impromptu “confession”, persuading Reggiani to remain low-key was a lost cause. One of her first acts of freedom was to go shopping on Via Monte Napoleone – Milan’s Bond Street – decked out in gaudy jewels and movie-star sunglasses, with a large pet macaw perched on her shoulder. The paparazzi couldn’t believe their luck. Lady Gucci, as she used to be known, was back.

The gunning down of 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci one morning in the red-carpeted foyer of his office, and the subsequent murder trial, captivated Italy in the late 1990s. It was sensational fin de siècle stuff. This was elegant Milan, not mob-riddled Naples, and execution-style killings of the city’s glamorous elite were unknown. Reggiani, dubbed the “Liz Taylor of luxury labels” in the 1970s and 80s, was an immediate suspect. She had openly threatened to kill Gucci after their split. But, without evidence, the crime went unsolved for nearly two years. A tip-off led to her arrest in 1997, along with four others, including the hitman.

I met Maurizio at a party and he fell madly in love with me. I was exciting and different
While the public loved it, the Gucci company was less enthralled. After decades of infighting among the heirs of the founder Guccio Gucci, the brand was no longer under family control. Maurizio, a grandson of Guccio who’d ousted his relatives from the business to become CEO in 1992, had been forced to sell his stake 18 months before he died. Ownership was taken over by Bahrain- based investment bank Investcorp. The murder coincided with a thrilling revival of the brand’s image in the mid-1990s under new boss Domenico De Sole and edgy young designer Tom Ford.

“The last thing Gucci wanted was a sordid scandal,” says Giusi Ferrè, a veteran Milan-based fashion writer and cultural critic with trademark spiky orange hair. “The company tried to ignore the whole drama and they wanted everyone else to ignore it, too.” The label’s continued rise over the past two decades has eclipsed memories of the murder even more. Gucci is currently on yet another high. Revenue is soaring, and androgynous new creative director Alessandro Michele recently turned Westminster Abbey into the most hallowed venue ever for his latest collection. Yet the amnesia is odd, because the saga has everything: glamour, greed, sex, death, betrayal, raging status anxiety. It probably says more about the primal allure of a name like Gucci than all the sales figures in the world.

After Reggiani was arrested, the media dubbed her Vedova Nera – the Black Widow – and touted all the stereotypical theories about her likely motives. She was jealous of Maurizio’s girlfriend, she wanted his money, she was bitter about his neglect, she was plain mad. If there is a grain of truth in any of these, there was also something deeper, too. “Everything Reggiani was stemmed from being a Gucci,” says Ferrè. “It was her whole identity, even as an ex-wife. She was furious with Maurizio for selling out.” Even after her release from prison, Reggiani couldn’t let go. She told La Repubblica newspaper in 2014 that, now she was available again, she hoped to return to the company fold. “They need me,” she said. “I still feel like a Gucci – in fact, the most Gucci of them all.”

Bozart’s owners relent a week later and agree to introduce me to Reggiani at their offices. She appears in their grand sitting room wearing a short floral dress. She is tiny, barely 5ft tall, although her enormous hair, now reddish brown, and nude high heels give her extra height. “That’s a lovely dress,” I say to break the ice. “It’s Zara. I don’t earn enough at this place to buy proper clothes,” she replies, throwing a disgruntled look at her hovering employers.

We sit down on matching white sofas to espressos and iced water, and I ask her about life in Milan’s San Vittore prison. “I think I am a very strong person because I survived all these years in captivity,” she says in the heavily accented English she picked up during her jet-setting days. “I slept a lot. I took care of my plants. I looked after Bambi, my pet ferret.” Bambi, she adds, was a special privilege negotiated by her lawyer, but the creature met a sticky end when a fellow inmate accidentally sat on him. “I don’t like to talk about this time at all,” she says, already keen to change the subject. “It is all a bad dream to me.” Reggiani won’t admit out loud that she was in prison, referring to her incarceration as “my stay at Vittore Residence.”

She relaxes more when we start to talk about the past. She was born in a small town outside Milan to a waitress and a much older man who made his fortune in trucking.

They were very rich, but not part of Milan’s high society. As a young woman she liked fine things – her father spoiled her with mink coats and fast cars – and she found her way on to the elite social circuit. “I met Maurizio at a party and he fell madly in love with me. I was exciting and different,” says Reggiani. The Guccis came from Florence so Maurizio also felt something of an outsider. “I didn’t think much of him at first. He was just the quiet boy whose teeth crossed over at the front.” Reggiani had other suitors, but the young Gucci chased her hard with all the riches at his disposal.

They married in 1972 when they were both around 24. The union caused a rift with Gucci’s father Rodolfo, one of Guccio Gucci’s sons, who disapproved of Reggiani’s background and, no doubt, her strong personality. Maurizio was an only child whose mother had died when he was five, and his father had always been overprotective.

“Maurizio felt free with me. We had fun, we were a team,” says Reggiani. Rodolfo softened after she gave birth to a daughter, Alessandra, and he could see that she “really loved Maurizio”. The elder Gucci bought the couple numerous properties, including a luxury penthouse in New York’s Olympic Tower. Early adopters of celebrity coupledom, the pair rode around Manhattan in a chauffeur-driven car with the personalised plate “Mauizia”. They hung out with Jackie Onassis and the Kennedy brood whenever they were all in town.

I was angry with Maurizio about many things. But losing the family business was stupid
“We were a beautiful couple and we had a beautiful life, of course,” says Reggiani, throwing her hands in the air and briefly leaving them there. “It still hurts to think about this.” She perks up when she remembers the lavish colour-themed parties she threw in the early 1980s – “one was all orange and yellow, including the food” – and the trips to private islands on their 64m wooden yacht, the Creole, which Maurizio bought to mark the birth of their second daughter, Allegra. (Worth millions, it is still owned and sailed by the couple’s two daughters). Their charmed world also included a ski chalet in Saint Moritz, a holiday home in Acapulco and a farm in Connecticut.

It all started to unravel after the death of Rodolfo in 1983, Reggiani says, when Maurizio inherited his father’s 50% stake in Gucci. “Maurizio got crazy. Until then I was his chief adviser about all Gucci matters. But he wanted to be the best, and he stopped listening to me.” The Gucci brand had been losing prestige from over-licensing its famed double-G logo and from mass production of canvas bags. Maurizio had a plan to restore it to high-end glory by reverting to the exquisite craftsmanship the company was built upon.

He fought for years with his uncle and cousins, who jointly owned the other half of the firm, until he pulled off a plot to buy them out with the help of Investcorp. The couple’s marriage imploded along the way. Apparently weary of Reggiani’s constant “meddling”, one evening Maurizio packed an overnight bag and left. Meanwhile, the company lost millions under his control. Reggiani had been right, at least, that Maurizio was mismanaging business and not creating enough revenue to execute his grand ideas. His personal fortune was dwindling and he was forced to sell Gucci wholly to Investcorp for $120m in 1993.

“I was angry with Maurizio about many, many things at that time,” says Reggiani. “But above all, this. Losing the family business. It was stupid. It was a failure. I was filled with rage, but there was nothing I could do.” She turns her head and drops her voice so low I can hardly hear her. “He shouldn’t have done that to me.”

Giuseppe Onorato was sweeping away leaves inside the arched doorway of Via Palestro 20, the graceful building where Maurizio Gucci had his private office, at 8:30am on 27 March 1995. “It was a lovely spring morning, very quiet,” says Onorato, now 71, the former building doorman and the only person who witnessed what occurred next. “Mr Gucci arrived carrying some magazines and said good morning. Then I saw a hand. It was a beautiful, clean hand, and it was pointing a gun.”

The gun fired three shots at Gucci’s back as he went up the steps, and a fourth into his head as he collapsed. “I thought it was a joke. Then the shooter saw me. He lifted the gun again and fired two more times. ‘What a shame,’ I thought. ‘This is how I die.’”

Reggiani couldn’t bear the thought of another woman taking the power, status and money she ‘had earned’
Onorato can’t remember how he made it to the foyer’s steps after he’d been shot twice in the arm, but he was sitting there in a pool of blood when the carabinieri arrived. “I was cradling Mr Gucci’s head. He died in my arms,” says the ex-doorman.

Speaking on the phone from Sardinia, where he has a small holiday house, Onorato still sounds incredulous that he survived. “I still have stabbing pains in my left arm, but every day for the past 21 years I’ve woken up thankful I’m alive.” The gunman vanished into Milan’s Monday morning rush hour. The aftermath wasn’t easy for the doorman.

As the only direct witness, Onorato was terrified that the killer would return. “I was a poor man, so I had to go back to work at Via Palestro 20 when I recovered. I had a panic attack every time an unfriendly looking stranger approached.”

After Reggiani’s conviction, the courts ordered her to pay Onorato compensation of the equivalent of roughly £142,000. He has yet to receive any of it, he says. Reggiani’s daughters, who are now in their late 30s and have always stuck by their mother (at least publicly), directly inherited Maurizio Gucci’s millions, as well as the yacht and properties in New York, Saint Moritz and Milan. Reggiani declared herself nullatenente – the Italian word for bankrupt, meaning “a person who has nothing”.

“I’m not bitter,” says Onorato, “but I do wonder, if a rich person had been wounded in that doorway instead of me, whether they’d have been treated with more respect.” He has a point. When, for instance, Gucci’s lawyers proposed a divorce settlement to Reggiani of £2.5m plus £650,000 per year, she rejected it as “a mere bowl of lentils” and landed a better deal.

Onorato isn’t the only person whose life was turned upside down by the murder. Paola Franchi, now 61, had been Gucci’s live-in partner for five years before his death. The couple shared a palatial apartment on the city centre boulevard, Corso Venezia, along with Franchi’s 11-year-old son Charly, and had planned to marry. Tall and blonde, Franchi didn’t fare much better than Reggiani in the trial’s media coverage, which often portrayed her as a glamorous gold digger.

“Oh, they always resort to these stupid types,” Franchi says. “Actually my previous husband, whom I left for Maurizio, was even richer, so it was all nonsense.” An interior designer turned artist, Franchi lives in a converted porcelain factory in Milan and spends half the year in Kenya. Her home is stuffed with books, paintings and exotic souvenirs. She’s chatty and quick to laugh, with a lightness of spirit that I wasn’t expecting.

During the trial it emerged that Reggiani had put pressure on her hired accomplices to carry out the murder quickly, before Franchi and Gucci’s wedding. Reggiani’s one-time best friend Pina Auriemma, who confessed to arranging the hitman, testified that Reggiani couldn’t bear the thought of another woman taking her place as Mrs Maurizio Gucci – and with it, the power, status and money that she “had earned”.

She also feared that her daughters could lose some or all of their inheritance if the couple had children. “Patrizia was stalking us,” says Franchi. “She still had spies in Maurizio’s circle and she knew all about our plans, his business dealings, everything. She called many times abusing him and threatening to kill him.”

If Gucci didn’t take Reggiani’s calls, she sent him diatribes on cassette tape, later played in court, saying he was “a monster” for neglecting her and their daughters, and warning that “the inferno for you is yet to come”.

“I begged him to hire a bodyguard,” says Franchi, “but he refused. He didn’t believe Patrizia would go through with her threat because of their girls.”

My family has cut off my financial support. I have nothing, I haven’t even met my two grandsons
Gucci and Franchi had crossed paths briefly in their youth on the Euro-rich-kid party circuit. They reconnected by chance when they were both reeling from unhappy marriages. “We fell in love immediately. Maurizio used to tell me” – Franchi starts to cry – “that we were two halves of the same apple.”

The day after the murder she received an eviction order from Reggiani to move out of the grand apartment she’d shared with Gucci. The notarised timestamp, Franchi noticed, showed the papers had been drawn up at 11am the previous day – less than three hours after Maurizio died. “In those days co-habiting couples had no legal protection. Charly and I were out, just like that.”

Franchi slowly began, as she puts it, “to build a different future”. But five years later she suffered another tragedy. While visiting his father over Christmas, her son Charly killed himself at the age of 16. “It was completely unexpected,” she says. “He was a happy, shining boy, greatly loved. We think it was a flash of teen madness.” Franchi has photos of Maurizio and Charly all over her house, but says they’re not there so she can dwell on her pain. “I like to have their faces around, to say hello. For a year after Charly died I felt a rage in my soul, but then I got on with life. I’m the kind of person who has to keep moving forward.” She poured her emotions into painting and writing, she says, and is also active in a charity for troubled or suicidal teens, L’Amico Charly, that her ex- husband set up in memory of their son.

When Franchi moved out of the Corso Venezia apartment, Reggiani moved in with her daughters. She lived there in luxury for the next two years, until one of her accomplices boasted about the murder to the wrong person. The man informed the police, who launched a sting operation to trick Reggiani and her four paid accomplices – her friend Pina Auriemma, a friend of Auriemma’s who set up the hitman, the hitman himself and the getaway driver – into discussing the crime on wiretapped phones. It succeeded. Among other evidence they found at Reggiani’s home was her Cartier diary, which had a one-word entry for the day of Gucci’s death: “Paradeisos” – the Greek word for paradise.

In court, Reggiani admitted she’d paid Auriemma around £200,000, but denied it was for the murder, claiming Auriemma had arranged the hit herself and was threatening to frame her if she didn’t pay. “But it was worth every lira,” Reggiani then added, confusingly, unable to help herself even then. All five involved in the murder plot were found guilty. Despite the Gucci company’s supposed indifference to the scandal, on the day of the verdict the Italian media reported that Gucci shops around the country hung silver handcuffs in their windows. (Gucci declined to make any comment at all for this article.)

At Bozart, Brunero’s husband and co-owner Maurizio Manca gives me a tour of Reggiani’s new workplace. It seems almost too perfect for her. The jewellery the upmarket firm creates is designed to be big, ornate and dazzling. Manca, who is dressed all in black and has a mop of floppy grey hair, freely admits the 60-year-old company had its heyday in the 1980s when “there was corruption everywhere and the money was flowing”. Stars, including Madonna and Pamela Anderson, have worn Bozart’s designs which, best of all, supplied all the glitz worn by Linda Evans’s character Krystle Carrington on the set of Dynasty.

When she’s at work, Reggiani spends much of her day advising Bozart’s design team and reading fashion magazines. “She’s like our Michael Schumacher – she keeps on top of trends and test-drives our creations,” says Manca.

“I prefer Senna. He has much more class,” Reggiani says, emerging from her portrait shoot with the Observer photographer. There’s a pause while everyone remembers the unfortunate fates of both drivers, and the analogy is quickly dropped. Reggiani says she enjoys the job, but admits that she hasn’t found it easy to adjust to the modern workplace. “I don’t like computers. They are quite evil.” Manca points out, in her defence, that the fax machine was still cutting-edge technology when she went to prison. Still, he adds that they had to remove her computer from their internal network after she permanently deleted Bozart’s entire photo archive.

Nobody says it directly, but it seems clear a big reason for taking on Reggiani was to generate publicity and try to rekindle the firm’s edge of flashy danger. If so, it hasn’t been straightforward so far. When Reggiani first arrived she helped to design a collection of rainbow coloured jewellery and evening bags inspired by her pet macaw, Bo. Bozart held a launch in Milan in September 2014 and invited the fashion press. “Everybody came and it was a big success,” says Manca. “But it happened to be on the same day that Gucci was having a runway show up the street. The next day there was nothing at all in the newspapers about Patrizia’s collection.” Manca says the journalists later told him they’d been leaned on by “someone at Gucci” not to publish. While Gucci wouldn’t confirm or deny, an Italian fashion editor friend later doubts his claim. “The fashion corps probably just didn’t like the parrot designs,” he says.

All the same, Manca and Brunero appear to be genuinely fond of their employee. As the afternoon goes by, Reggiani gets tired and cracks in her bravado appear. She talks about how, by court order, she lives in a Milan townhouse with her 89-year-old mother, who is still in good health. “Sometimes I wish I was back inside Vittore Residence because my mother is very difficult. She berates me every day for no reason.” Reggiani’s daughters Alessandra and Allegra, who were 18 and 14 when she was arrested, are both married and now live in Switzerland. Unimaginably rich thanks to their father’s estate, they haven’t visited Reggiani much since her release.

It’s almost the stuff of Greek tragedy. “We are going through a bad time now,” says Reggiani. “They don’t understand me and have cut off my financial support. I have nothing, and I haven’t even met my two grandsons.” She says she has “no idea” what the future holds when her parole ends, possibly in a few months. She may continue to work at Bozart and says she’d like to travel when she’s allowed to leave the country again. She seems to have given up the idea of trying to find a job at Gucci, even if she hasn’t quite let go of the past. “If I could see Maurizio again I would tell him that I love him, because he is the person who has mattered most to me in my life.” I ask her what she thinks he’d say to her in reply, and she sounds a note of realism at last. “I think he’d say the feeling wasn’t mutual.