Guest Post by Victoria Loomes
At the Gucci show yesterday, Frida Giannini’s show notes - which cited her inspirations in detail - made for some interesting reading. Her Roaring Twenties homage was, she wrote, an attempt to “explore an optical side of femininity by creating a sculptural glamour for the Gucci woman”. But jarring against the easy jazz age familiarity of Louise Brooks and Man Ray, one name stood out – Nancy Cunard. The surname comes with connotations of luxury cruises…but Nancy? Who’s she?
Of course she was rich. Her father was Bache Cunard, the heir to the Cunard shipping business. Of course she was beautiful. During her youth, her beauty captivated writers and artists. In Anne Chisholm’s extensive biography, David Garnett recalled her “skin, as white as bleached almonds, the bluest eyes one has ever seen, and very fair hair. She was marvellous.” Later in life, Nancy became obsessed with primitive art, and wore African ivory bracelets stacked up each slender arm from wrist to elbow. Anthony Hobson recounted how “conversation was punctuated by their rhythmic clashing.”
Nancy, a woman who liked a bangle, and a finger wave
Michael Arlen based Iris March, a character in his best-selling novel The Green Hat (1924), on Nancy. Aldous Huxley, in the throes of unrequited passion sealed Cunard’s fate as ‘muse’ in Antic Hay, in which Myra Viveash owes more than a passing resemblance to Cunard. But it was in Paris that Nancy found her calling, becoming increasingly involved with provocative and fashionable artists. Her influence among the Dadaists led founder Tristan Tzara to write and dedicate Mouchoir de Nuages to her, sculptor Brancusi immortalised Nancy in Jeune Fille Sophistiquee. It was the Surrealists however, who truly captured Nancy’s attention, notably co-founder Louis Aragon, who was to remain a close friend for much of her life.
Recently, shades of the uncompromising personality that Nancy personifies have crept onto the catwalk – these strong women coloured their lives with a splash of assured glamour, a little decadence and an unwavering self-belief.
It started at (where else?) Prada, last year. Spring Summer 2011 saw Miuccia send her models down the runway sporting the distinctive finger waves that Nancy favoured throughout her life. Styled by Guido Paulo, hair was teased into waves around the face, curved round the ear and moulded to the head, throwing the features of the models (themselves chosen by Miuccia for their striking distinctions) were thrown into sharp relief.
Fast-forward a season and Mary Katrantzou chanelled the strength and spirit of these women, albeit from a different source. Her striking interior prints were indebted to the stylish apartments of Cunard, Chanel, Vreeland, Paley et al – and their eclectic living spaces were simply an extension of their strong-willed personalities.