Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Return of the bow tie ...

The Bow Tie is returning ... slowly but determined ... is coming back ...
To celebrate this ... I offer you some images of part of my collection and of myself ... wearing two of them ... Jeeves.

The bow tie is a type of men's necktie. It consists of a ribbon of fabric tied around the collar in a symmetrical manner such that the two opposite ends form loops. Ready-tied bow ties are available, in which the distinctive bow is sewn into shape and the band around the neck incorporates a clip. Some "clip-ons" dispense with the band altogether, instead clipping to the collar. The traditional bow tie, consisting of a strip of cloth which the wearer has to tie by hand, may be known as a "self-tie," "tie-it-yourself," or "freestyle" bow tie to distinguish it from these.

Bow ties may be made of any fabric material, but most are made from silk, polyester, cotton, or a mixture of fabrics. Some fabrics (e.g., wool) are much less common for bow ties than for ordinary four-in-hand neckties.

The bow tie originated among Croatian mercenaries during the Prussian wars of the 17th century: the Croat mercenaries used a scarf around the neck to hold together the opening of their shirts. This was soon adopted (under the name cravat, derived from the French for "Croat") by the upper classes in France, then a leader in fashion, and flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It is uncertain whether the cravat then evolved into the bow tie and necktie, or whether the cravat gave rise to the bow tie, which in turn led to the necktie. The most traditional bow ties are usually of a fixed length and are made for a specific size neck. Sizes can vary between approximately 14 and 20 inches just like a comparable shirt collar. Fixed-length bow ties are preferred when worn with the most formal wing-collar shirts, so as not to expose the buckle or clasp of an adjustable bow tie. Adjustable bow ties are the standard when the tie is to be worn with less formal lay-down collar shirts which obscure the neckband of the tie. "One-size-fits-all" adjustable bow ties are a later invention that help to moderate production costs.

"To its devotees the bow tie suggests iconoclasm of an Old World sort, a fusty adherence to a contrarian point of view. The bow tie hints at intellectualism, real or feigned, and sometimes suggests technical acumen, perhaps because it is so hard to tie. Bow ties are worn by magicians, country doctors, lawyers and professors and by people hoping to look like the above. But perhaps most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think." ”
—Warren St John, The New York Times

Bow ties tend to be associated with particular professions, such as architects, finance receipt collectors, attorneys, university professors, teachers, waiters and politicians. Pediatricians frequently wear bow ties since infants cannot grab them the way they could grab a four-in-hand necktie, and they do not get into places where they would be soiled or could, whether accidentally or deliberately, strangle the wearer. Clowns sometimes use an oversize bow tie for its comic effect. Classical musicians traditionally perform in white tie or black tie, both of which are bow ties. It is well understood in the legal profession, among older attorneys, or those who still read into a man's appearance, that a man who wears bow-ties regularly is not to be trusted; he thinks too far outside the box or unconventionally to a fault. Bow ties are also associated with weddings, mainly because of their almost universal inclusion in traditional formal attire.

Bow ties, or slight variations thereof, have also made their way into women's wear, especially business attire. The 1980s saw professional women, especially in law, banking, and the corporate world, donning very conservative tailored suits, mostly skirted suits. These were often worn with buttoned-up blouses, some with pleats up the front like tuxedo shirts, and accessorized with bow ties that were slightly fuller than the standard bow ties worn by their male counterparts.

Russell Smith, style columnist for the Toronto Globe and Mail, observes that opinions of bow tie wearers are mixed. While he observed that bowties were experiencing a potential comeback among men, he also stated that "the class conscious man recoils at the idea" of pre-tied bow ties. "Left-wingers," he continues, "recoil at what they perceive to be a symbol of political conservatism." He argues that, however, the anachronism is the point, and that bow tie wearers are making a public statement that they disdain changing fashion. Such people may not be economic conservatives, he argues, but they are social conservatives. In Smith's view, the bow tie is "the embodiment of propriety," an indicator of fastidiousness and intelligence, and "an instant sign of nerdom in Hollywood movies," but "not the mark of a ladies' man" and "not exactly sexy." To this image he attributes the association of the bow tie with newspaper editors (because of their fastidiousness with words), high-school principals, and bachelor English teachers. Most men, he observes, only wear bow ties with formal dress.

A Return to Tying the Knot
JULY 22, 2011.Bow Ties Are Finding Favor as Day-Wear Accoutrements With a Younger Generation.
By WILLIAM LYONS in The Wall Street Journal
In the archives of Turnbull & Asser, the U.K. shirt maker and tailor known for dressing everyone from the Prince of Wales to a slew of James Bond actors, is a burgundy-colored bow tie. Made of satin, it once belonged to Sammy Davis Jr.—a sartorial keepsake from the Rat Pack era, when wearing a bow tie was the last word in Hollywood style.

."I suppose we really ought to put it on display," says Charles O'Reilly, the buyer for Turnbull & Asser who is responsible for purchasing the retailer's stock of brightly colored silks. Not that the tailor is short of neckwear; leafing through a tie rack replete with dozens of styles, Mr. O'Reilly picks out a royal-blue polka-dot number familiar to many as the preferred choice of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to a number of handwritten requests from customers over the past two years, the London-based tailor decided to reintroduce its Churchill Spot bow-tie range this year. "It's proved hugely popular," he says, adding that sales of bow ties at the company have increased as much as 25% in the past two years. Indeed, after years spent languishing in the evening-wear department, bow ties are finding favor with a new audience—a younger generation that takes its inspiration not from Oscar Wilde or Dean Martin, but from contemporary actors like Matt Smith of "Doctor Who" and musicians such as rapper Jay-Z.

.Once worn with aplomb by personalities from Groucho Marx to Humphrey Bogart and the man who created James Bond, Ian Fleming, bow ties are no longer only paired with the smart suits or velvet smoking jackets favored by Davis and Churchill, tailors say, but with more casual outfits like polo shirts, sweaters and, in some cases, vintage tweed jackets. Evidence of their rising profile in the contemporary world of fashion was seen in the spring 2012 menswear collections. Labels such as Roberto Cavalli, Gucci and Viktor & Rolf all featured them in their shows in Paris and Milan last month, while Alexander McQueen regularly includes bow ties, including a tartan design, in its collection.

"A few years ago, wearing a bow tie would have been perceived as something that was really nerdy and undesirable," says Barry Tulip, design director of Savile Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes, which has dressed Sir Noël Coward and singer Bryan Ferry. "But that is exactly why people are wearing them today, as it goes against the norm and in that sense it is very desirable. We have seen a real resurgence of bow-tie wearing driven by a younger, more popular culture."

That view is echoed by Nicholas Fugler, director of retail at Jermyn Street tailor New & Lingwood, suppliers to Eton College, the private boys' school attended by Britain's elite, including Prime Minister David Cameron. "What we find in tailoring is a desire to bring back a look that hasn't been around for a while," he says. "Historically, the grandfather would wear something, the father wouldn't, but then the grandson wants to wear what the grandfather was wearing—it's an affection for something that has gone past, that was uncool for dad to wear but is OK for the next generation.

"I would say in the last three years we have experienced a 20% increase in bow-tie sales each year," he adds. "The renaissance is accompanied by a new technology-inspired preppy look, accompanied with narrow-fitted trousers, sleeveless tank tops, checked shirts, tweed jackets and, it seems, polka-dot bow ties."

Part of the bow tie's appeal has always been its sartorial efficiency. For around £35, one can purchase a handcrafted, woven silk tie that doesn't dangle in hospital patients' faces, get caught in doorways or peppered with the remnants of lunch. Designers say they can also be immensely flattering, as a bow tie sits symmetrically on the neck, throwing attention on to a person's face.

Nicholas Atgemis, proprietor of Sydney-based bow-tie boutique Le Noeud Papillon, says the roots of the bow tie stretch back to Croatian mercenaries who used cloth to tie their shirt collars shut during the Prussian wars. In France, the aristocracy followed, wearing silk neckwear they termed cravat, from the French word for Croat. The bow tie in its present form dates back to the 19th century. In his book "Gentlemen: A Timeless Fashion," Bernhard Roetzel says bow ties descended from the neckcloth—a square cloth folded into a triangle and then tied into a bow, which men wore until the late 19th century. The present shape hasn't changed much since 1870.

"At the beginning of the 20th century, there were a lot of bow ties being worn by storekeepers and just everyday people," says Mr. Atgemis. "Slowly that dropped off. Then, for a long time it was reserved for people in the medical profession, intelligentsia and musicians. As time progressed further, little hubs of bow-tie-wearing places emerged, such as the southern states of America, where they continued to be worn for a long, long time.

"From the 1960s onward, people stopped tying them and began to buy pre-tied ones. But now I find people want to tie their own bow ties again, as there is something very nonchalant and also idiosyncratic about tying your own, as everyone gets a slightly different knot at the end of it."

At its simplest, tying a bow tie is creating a knot—as straightforward as tying your shoelaces, except that the ribbon is round your neck and you cannot see it. But once mastered, designers say that tying a bow tie can be as quick and easy as a necktie.

Creating the perfect look requires looping the silk around your neck, leaving the longer end on your right-hand side. With a few swift moves, the longer end should be crossed over the shorter side, flipped underneath and then threaded through to the center. The shorter end should be folded horizontally, while the longer end is placed over the top before pulling it through the loop at the back, thus creating the distinctive knot. Various pulling and shuffling creates the knot to the desired style.

To a certain degree, the size of the knot depends on the style of the bow tie. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack favored a slim batwing look, compared with a wide batwing—what some designers refer to as the Charvet cut, after the exclusive French outfitters. The style favored by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was a diamond point, while actor Cary Grant preferred a straight edge.

For those who cannot tie their own bow ties, there are plenty of clip-on or ready-tied versions on the market, including those made from satin and velvet. Although it is deemed the ultimate in panache to wear a tie that one has tied oneself, Mr. Fugler at New & Lingwood says there are no steadfast rules. "I know of people that buy two bow ties—a ready-tied version and a loose one which they keep in their pocket. At that point in the evening where everyone is a bit more relaxed, they nip out and put the loose one through the collar at the back so it is hanging loosely from either side of their open neck, which is the old Bond look, creating that after-hours, evening chic. But I don't think people should worry too much. If you are tying it yourself, make sure it is a little disheveled to personalize the look."

For some, bow ties may never move from evening wear to day wear, but tailors say the recent boom has had a trickle-down effect, fueling sales of traditional menswear styles, such as the polka-dot pattern.

"I don't think you have to be brave at all to wear a bold, spotty-colored bow-tie," says Mr. Atgemis. "That was, after all, Winston Churchill's trademark. The image of Churchill is synonymous with a navy-blue polka-dot bow tie and he is someone who most of us consider a man who was respectful of tradition but in terms of fashion was also out there all the time."

If You’re Young and Not Fainthearted
By DAVID COLMAN in The New York Times
Published: March 13, 2008
MONSTROUS cinema villains are not, as a rule, inspired dressers. They usually go for some moldering garment that suggests they shopped in a victim’s dirty laundry pile rather than the racks of Jeffrey New York.

But they do have a way with accessories: Freddy Krueger and his fedora; Jason and that jaunty hockey mask. Chic, right? And “Funny Games,” opening on Friday, puts sharp style right up front, as two young men, nattily dressed as if for a Hamptons summer lunch, drop by to terrorize a vacationing family. As the white-gloved Paul puts it, “It’s easier when things are polite.”

However enigmatic the statement is in context, it gets right at a key point in men’s style — that is, dandyish one-upmanship. And if you think such movies strain credulity when the villains come back to life despite repeated puncture wounds, take a look, if you will, at the bow tie.

Only a few years ago it was all but left for dead; men were ditching it even as part of a tuxedo. But as seen at the Academy Awards ceremony last month, the name of the game for many men, Daniel Day-Lewis among them, is Bow Tie: Resurrection.

Of course, as with spontaneously regenerating killers, the numbers are small. But the increase is marked, especially among men in their 20s. “We didn’t really have a bow tie business till this season,” said Tommy Fazio, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman. “And it’s really taken off.”

On eBay, a good resource for anyone experimenting with a look, sales of bow ties jumped 34 percent from December 2007 to February 2008. And for men who are no longer dabbling, there are now bow ties from fashionable lines like Lanvin, Thom Browne and Michael Bastian.

Randy Hanauer, the owner of bowties.com, based in Fort Mill, S.C., said his business has spiked in the last two years. “All the growth is coming from young people,” he said. “I’d say guys from senior year in high school to about 25. It goes along with all the seersucker and madras they’ve gotten into. This generation likes to dress up and look nice, unlike the generation prior to them.” (Hello, 40-somethings?)

“We love the bow tie,” said Tanner Graham, 26, an account manager at Laird & Partners, an advertising firm in New York (and a champion of the royal “we”). “I enjoyed wearing ties when it wasn’t necessary, and this is like taking it to the next level.”

Many men do not know how to tie a bow tie, but even if they do, Mr. Graham said: “A lot of guys are afraid to pull it off. They don’t think they can be taken seriously in a bow tie.”

So, he said, “One-upmanship is definitely a component.”

For those who want to learn, the easiest and best instruction comes from Lucky Levinson, an owner of Brittons, a clothier in Columbia, S.C. His charming YouTube video, “How to Tie a Bow Tie,” should make him the Tim Gunn of Southern-gent style.

Indeed, if you take your fashion cues from obscure Belgian designers, you may be chagrined to learn that the bow tie’s comeback originated on Southern college campuses. But then, a city man will want to wear his bow tie with clothes that have a sharper edge than seersucker. It looks sharp with jeans, a white shirt and a solid sport coat, say; or wear a formal black bow tie as an accent, instead of a more colorful and wholesome one. The idea is to avoid a costume-ish look — Southern gentry, Ivy League professor, classical architect, 1960s geek — while hinting at some romantically out-of-it, bespectacled antihero.

“What I like about the bow tie is that it’s both old-fashioned and somehow clearly current,” said Alexander Olch, a fashionable young tie designer whose new line of bow ties is sold at that bastion of T-shirt chic, Opening Ceremony.

Like most new bow tie makers, Mr. Olch makes only the kind you tie yourself. The pre-tied bow has come a long way (the ones at Etro are great), but for the bow tie’s new fans, tying it on is more central to its charm than having it look perfect.

“A bow tie is more formal, right down to the knot,” Mr. Olch pointed out. “You can’t loosen a bow tie like you can a necktie.”

This may appeal to formalists. Others, however, may see it as one more reason to drive a gold tie tack through its knotted heart.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Return of the Fair Isle sweater ...

HRH The Prince of Wales
(Edward VIII)

The Prince made a big impression, and not just by abdicating the throne in order to marry American divorcée Wallace Simpson. The knitting world was less interested in his personal life, and more impressed with what he was wearing. And, starting in 1921, the Prince was wearing Fair Isle sweaters.

Beginning with a gift from a draper named James A. Smith, the Prince began to wear Fair Isle sweaters to golfing events, during his globe-trotting public relations trips, and even for a portrait painted by John St. Helier Lander.

According to the grand doyenne of Fair Isle, Alice Starmore, the Prince of Wales wearing a Fair Isle pullover "was undoubtedly the single most important event in the commercialization of Fair Isle knitting."

In the 1920s, Fair Isle sweaters became so popular that most Oxford and Cambridge students owned one, and suddenly it seemed that Fair Isle hats, gloves and cardigans were seen everywhere.

in "Knitty"

My own sweater is more than 30 years old ... Slainte Mhath !! ... Jeeves

Alice Starmore (née Alice Matheson) is a professional needleworker, photographer and author of books on needlework, born in Stornoway, Western Isles, Scotland.

Growing up in a traditional Scottish fishing community with Gaelic as her native language, knitting was one of the skills she learned at an early age, already creating her own designs by the age of five. She decided to make it into a profession in 1975, when she produced a collection which was sold in London boutiques. In 1978, she was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship and travelled to Norway, Sweden and Finland to study their textile traditions. Her books are widely considered to be one of the authorities on Celtic and Fair Isle design and technique. As well as her books, she has written articles for Threads and Vogue Knitting magazines and now markets her own lines of threads and yarn.

In 1991 she founded Windfall Press, which started as a specialist publisher and producer of knitting titles but which is now known for its expertise in the design and production of books in Scottish Gaelic.

Her professional career has widened from knitting design into the sphere of fine art. Her first major solo exhibition, Mamba, was shown at An Lanntair, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis during Summer 2008. She makes occasional appearances at textile and knitting events, including recent presentations and worksops at the official Dutch Stitch 'n' Bitch Day (Rotterdam, 2006) and at I Knit London's Weekender (September 2009).

Her photographic work is now focused on the natural world, particularly birds and insects, and she contributes to publications of the British Dragonfly Society. She is regarded as an authority on Scottish moorland habitats, and is employed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) as their Education Officer for the Isles of Lewis and Harris.

Her daughter, Jade Starmore, is a professional needleworker and artist, and has published her own books.

Fair Isle Knitting

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Hermès ( Grace ) Kelly Bag ...

Jun 12, 2008 in suite 101.com
Gill Hart
Women the world over love the classic lines of a Hermès Kelly bag. Named after Grace Kelly, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Kelly is one of the greatest bags of our time. One of the most sought-after purses of recent decades has to be the Hermès Kelly bag, a timeless handbag design, right up there with it’s sister, the Hermès Birkin. The Kelly bag, however, has enjoyed a longer life than its sibling, when it was thrust into the limelight in 1956.

The origins of the Kelly first appeared, in its original form in the 1930’s but it wasn’t until 1956 that it truly became a star. With its smart tailored-shape it evolved into a ‘50s favorite during the Hollywood glamour years, and has enjoyed an iconic status ever since.

Why the Kelly Bag is So Named
The Kelly bag is so named after the actress Grace Kelly, when in 1956, the then Princess of Monaco used one of her two favorite Hermès bags to shield her pregnant stomach from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. Photographs of her covering her stomach bulge with her hallowed Hermès were splashed all over the world and made it onto the cover of Life magazine!

Hermès fashion house now valued higher than Société Générale
Luxury brand puts France's second biggest bank in the shade as it is valued at €28bn on the Paris stock exchange

Zoe Wood guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 September 2011
The fashion pack has always known a Hermès handbag is a good investment but the clamour to invest in the exclusive French handbag-maker has given it a new wow factor: the super-luxury group is now valued far more highly than France's second biggest bank, Société Générale.

The firm behind the famous Kelly and Birkin bags, which can easily cost more than a car, and the Queen's favourite headscarves is now valued at more than €28bn (£24.5bn) on the Paris stock exchange, while SocGen is worth €18bn. The disparity means the nimble fingers of an Hermès artisan, who spends up to 24 hours painstakingly stitching a bag with one long waxed thread, are valued 30 times higher than the moneymaking brainpower of a SocGen investment banker.

"It is extremely demanding to turn 700-odd bits of leather into a useful bag," says Pierre-Yves Gauthier, head of research at AlphaValue, who says that with a fraction of SocGen's staff and turnover, Hermès's market capitalisation equates to €3.3m per employee.

Luxury goods sales have bounced back from the hiatus caused by financial crisis thanks to the growing ranks of the super-rich in emerging markets such as China who are shopping till they drop at home or abroad. This week Hermès said its sales jumped 22% to €1.3bn in the first six months of the year as consumers in important markets such as the US, which were battered by the recession, rediscovered their taste for the finer things in life.

Indeed such is the demand for the firm's coveted handbags that Patrick Thomas, chief executive, warned of a shortage that would stifle sales in the coming months. "We can only make so many bags," he said, adding that Hermès had hired 400 new staff to raise production of leather goods by nearly 10%.

With 174 years of experience under its buttery leather belt – and still 73% owned by about 60 members of the sprawling founding family – luxury experts put Hermès in a class of its own. Thomas told one interviewer recently: "We try to do poetry and we get excellent economic results." That poetry comes at a price: the Birkin bag, for example, which is named after singer Jane Birkin, starts at £5,400 but can cost as much as £100,000 in exotic skins such as saltwater crocodile.

In the company's main workshop in the Paris suburb of Pantin, time has stood still. There, 340 craftsmen and women spend 18-24 hours handsewing each bag. Only the zipper and inside pocket are finished by machine. Orders can be delayed for several years as the company scours the globe for the right colour of crocodile.

Harrods managing director, Michael Ward, says the waiting list is "the new VIP pass" and after what can be an 18-month wait for a Birkin the store performs an "opening ceremony" when the box arrives: "The last person to touch the bag was the artisan and when [the customer] opens the box she is the next one to touch it."

María Eugenia Girón, a professor at Madrid's IE business school and author of Inside Luxury, says customers will pay for expert craftsmanship that has been passed down through six generations of the business, founded in 1837 by Thierry Hermès, a French harness-maker who supplied the royal houses throughout Europe. "Hermès has the magic combination of tangible and intangible brand values," says Girón. The craft skills make its handbags unique but there is the stardust sprinkled on products such as the Kelly, named after Grace Kelly, which imbues them with the qualities of the princess famed for her style and beauty, she explains.

Girón says Hermès has never made sunglasses because it does not believe it has the rigorous level of manufacturing expertise that would enable it to make "unique, authentic products". You get the picture when you learn that the material for its famous coloured scarves is woven in Lyon from silk raised on its own farm in the mountains of Brazil and the fragrance Un Jardin sur le Toit, launched earlier this year, was concocted by Hermès's own perfumier in Grasse, the world's perfume capital in the south of France.

Pierre Mallevays, a former head of M&A at LVMH, who now runs boutique advisory firm Savigny Partners, says much of Hermès's current success is down to the "brand vision" of Jean-Louis Dumas who took the helm in the late 70s. Dumas relaunched the Kelly in bright colours and introduced the bigger Birkin after a chance meeting with the actress on a Paris-London flight. Birkin told him her Kelly bag was not big enough. "Hermès owns that unique "artisan" space where it can charge a fortune based on the perception that its products are the ultimate degree in craftsmanship and use of the best materials," says Mallevays.

Hermès shares are up 70% this year, closing the week at around €270, turbocharged by the unexpected – and unwanted – arrival of the predatory LVMH luxury group on its shareholder register. The Krug-to-Kenzo group, overseen by Bernard Arnault, France's richest man, has snapped up a 21% stake in Hermès, saying its intentions are friendly.

The Hermès family and Thomas are determined to retain the company's independence with the latter memorably telling a press conference this year that: "If you want to seduce a beautiful woman, you don't start by raping her from behind." Rather more politely, the company has said of LVMH: "[There is] an intruder in the garden but we don't want him in the house."

A merger, Thomas added recently, would "kill" Hermès: "You would keep the brand and keep the name, but Hermès would be dead."

The appeal of Hermès

The past decade has seen a huge rise in the number of women carrying designer handbags, despite their £1,000 price tags. Heavy leather bags with chunky buckles and proper names have become the property of the fashionable masses rather than the preserve of the wealthy. But Hermès bags have managed to retained an air of exclusivity. They cost at least four times as much as the average designer handbag, which makes them unattainable for anyone who is not extremely rich. This has added to their allure, combined with the fact that the brand's most famous style, the Birkin isn't available to buy instantly – instead you have to join a waiting list that can allegedly last years, depending on who you are.

Hermès bags have long had the reputation of being the ultimate "stealth wealth" fashion statement, signalling: "I'm richer and have more influence than you." The label has an equestrian heritage and focuses on the quality of its leather and harness-like fastenings. As a result, the bags are not ostentatious. Nor do they follow trends: many designs remain unchanged for years and they are meant to last a lifetime. This adds an extra dimension to the message: its classic bags also silently say: "My taste is refined and I don't need to show off a label." The Hermès approach has proved so successful that several several other luxury brands, including Céline, have attempted it recently.

The Interesting Hermes Kelly Bag History
By Annieth Wollery

Hermes is a very well known fashion house and brand that is loved by women all over the world. The brand has come up with many unique creations when it comes to handbags, over the years; however, one bag which remains very famous till date is the Hermes Kelly bag which was named after the actress Grace Kelly.

The beautiful actress Grace Kelly also happened to be the Princess of Monaco, and upon her pregnancy after her marriage, she was not very comfortable showing her bulging belly to the media. As a result of that, on her public appearances, she was found to be hiding her pregnancy with her Hermes bag. When more and more people got to know about this little secret, pictures of the actress hiding her pregnancy with her handbag were spread all over the world. The bag then became so famous that it started to be known as the "Kelly Bag".

Even though Hermes has a "Birkin Bag", named after the actress Jane Birkin, the Kelly Bag seems to have surpassed that in terms of hype and popularity. It takes around two alligators' skin to make one Kelly Bag, and the hardware and the design is so classic and beautiful, that the bag is indeed a masterpiece. On more research about the handbag, it was found out that it takes around 18 hours to produce just one such bag.

The Hermes Kelly Bag history story remains interesting and captivating till date, and the designs of the bags from Hermes, Paris, happen to be an inspiration for many new and upcoming fashion designers, and also for those working specifically in the handbag industry.

The Hermes bags can be easily found at any of the official Hermes outlets or with authorised dealers of Hermes bags. There are also many dealers of Hermes bags who have websites of their own, and sell these bags online with great offers of free shipping across the world, and some great discounts too.

There are many different colour options available, and over the years, the kind of materials chosen to design the Kelly bag have also changed, giving the classic design many new versions. You can find out about all these bags at the Hermes website, or at any of their outlets. So if you too are fascinated with the story and history behind the making of the Kelly Bag, then go and get yourself one of these bags today!

Annieth Wollery, Entrepreneur: Full time online marketer/consultant and is the CEO of http://www.vintagedesignerhandbagsonline.com

Grace Kelly Tribute

Thursday, 24 November 2011

the golden age of couture 2007 ... remembering a great exhibition in the V.A. London ...

Fashion Books.
Published: December 2, 2007 in The New York Times
Let’s start, fashion lovers, with a quiz. When you hear the word “bar,” your first thought is of: (a) Leonardo DiCaprio’s supermodel girlfriend, Bar Refaeli; (b) that place you stumble into when you’ve been wearing your teetering Yves Saint Laurent platforms for too long and only alcohol will dull the pain; or (c) the wasp-waisted skirt-suit that, in 1947, formed part of Christian Dior’s trailblazing “New Look” in women’s clothing. Obviously, there is a time and place for both (a) and (b). But those who answered (c) score bonus points for knowing that with confections like the “Bar” suit, Dior helped make high fashion what it is today: at once a bonanza of glossy worldwide press coverage and an artful, gloriously improbable celebration of the female form.
Edited by Claire Wilcox, the curator of the exhibit of the same name currently on view at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, THE GOLDEN AGE OF COUTURE: Paris and London 1947-57 (V & A Publications/Abrams, $45) offers an illuminating and sumptuously illustrated look at the renaissance in French fashion that occurred in the decade following World War II. As Wilcox and the book’s other contributors emphasize, the war years were a bleak time for couture, the prestigious Parisian industry that, since 1858, had turned out hand-crafted, custom-made garments for an elite clientele. From fabric rations and supply shortages to the evaporation of important export markets abroad, and from the rise of utilitarian, military-inspired styles to the closing of several revered fashion houses (e.g., Chanel, which closed its doors in 1939), the grim realities of the war had, by the time of Paris’s liberation, taken their toll on la mode française. This development caused great anxiety among the French, for whom haute couture had long been a matter of national pride and who recoiled to think that America, with its newfound prosperity and industrial power, might unseat their capital as the world’s arbiter of style.

Christian Dior (1905-57), a visionary couturier who opened his own fashion house in 1946 and breathed new life into the luxury trade. “In December 1946,” he remembered afterward, “as a result of the war and uniforms, women still looked and dressed like Amazons. I designed clothes for flowerlike women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts and hand-span waists above enormous spreading skirts.” The impact of his debut collection — which Dior named Corolle, to evoke a ring of flower petals, but which the fashion editor Carmel Snow promptly baptized the “New Look” — was immediate and far-reaching. Almost overnight, this look became the new standard, both in Paris and around the globe. (The book emphasizes in particular Dior’s influence in London, but this is driven principally by the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Anglocentric collection, and thus loses some interest outside the context of the actual exhibition.) Women everywhere, it seemed, were ready to abandon the austerity of wartime for the French master’s voluptuous hourglass silhouette, even if that meant reclaiming the tight girdles, underwired bodices, padded bustles and voluminous petticoats from which designers like Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel had “liberated” them several decades before.

Indeed, as Wilcox rightly observes, “the attraction and paradox” of the New Look was that although it “established a modern identity for couture between 1947 and 1957, its practice and philosophy were rooted in the past.” Dior and his imitators “nurtured a predilection for 19th-century touches, using fabric knots, fringed bows and artificial flowers as finishing touches on garments of stiff taffeta, duchesse satin and wool, which were as firmly structured as those of Worth, the founder of haute couture.” Aesthetically and technically, these corseted, crinolined dresses harked back to an earlier era, when clothes, in Dior’s words, were “constructed like buildings” and encased their wearers in structured, hyper-feminine shapes that flappers and Fascists alike had threatened to destroy for good. The fact that the designer himself called his postwar heyday the “golden age” of couture attests to the nostalgia that informed his work.

But Dior was no retrograde — far from it. Wilcox notes that he was “as astute commercially as he was artistically,” and he formed innovative partnerships with suppliers, receiving the financing for his business from a textile manufacturer. He also revolutionized distribution channels, creating affordable copies of his designs for sale in American department stores and setting up his own ready-to-wear boutiques around the world. In these ways, he profitably brought “the skill and fantasy” of French couture to a mass market.

To expand his business still further, Dior cultivated fashion journalists and photographers, “making it possible,” one American editor recalled, “for pictures of Dior clothes to be the best and most plentiful in the press.” Although some of his rivals (most notably Cristobal Balenciaga) shunned the news media, presumably on the grounds that the widespread diffusion of their designs would undermine their rarefied appeal, Dior sought press attention because, as he put it simply, “the picture of a dress in a magazine can inspire a woman to buy it.” Like Bernard Arnault, whose LVMH conglomerate now owns the House of Dior, the couturier understood that the fashion trade involves not just creating beauty, but also selling it. In his commercial practices if not in his designs, the man with a penchant for old-school craftsmanship and traditional, womanly forms looked to the future, not to the past. In so doing, Dior established Paris fashion as an indomitable force in the international luxury market and Paris chic as a commodity for which women the world over will still pay just about any price.

The Golden Age of Couture ed Claire Wilcox
There are beautiful women and clothes to admire in this survey of post-war couture. But only from a distance
Reviewed by Vera Rule Sunday 23 September 2007 in The Independent

Just for a moment, ignore the frocks – even the model Dovima in a ballgown for an infanta, grander than which garb cannot get, designed by Cristobal Balenciaga and photographed by Richard Avedon – and take a magnifying glass to the panorama of Christian Dior's Paris salon in 1951.
The Golden Age of Couture ed Claire Wilcox
There are beautiful women and clothes to admire in this survey of post-war couture. But only from a distance
Reviewed by Vera Rule Sunday 23 September 2007 in The Independent.

Two bustled models rustle across the carpet, encircled by a double rank of hard chairs. About 30 women and 15 men are seated. They're not a pretty sight. The men look like aged industrialists, and charmless with it. There's some serious jewellery on a couple of the women, and the hats like befeathered pancakes that have landed on the pates of the rest must then have been chic; but otherwise the dames resemble an assembly of headmistresses.

They're a lot harder than the chairs. They're all here to judge, with extreme severity. I'm guessing, given the specs and notebooks, that this was the first showing, for the press, or the second, for the American trade buyers, although they would all have had to wait thereafter: buyers three weeks for their purchases, which they would resell or copy legally; the press 30 days before they could publish photographs and sketches.

Welcome to the remote world of couture in Paris, and London, from its post-war rebirth with Dior's 1947 collection to his early death a decade later, as displayed in the autumn's V&A exhibition and this accompanying book. Although that 1947 collection was celebrated as the New Look, in fact it was an old look, a deliberate revival of the French craft skills of Dior's belle époque childhood as the best way to challenge the wartime ascendancy of the American glamour which had developed from the US's industralised sportswear industry.

Yet, at the same time that Dior proposed to his many private clients some 300 outfits a collection, many of them neo-crinolines 10 metres round the hem, supported by an undercarriage of linings and dependent from a waist waspie'd tight – everything women had fled from after the First World War, let alone the Second – he set up a prototype business in New York to sell luxurious almost-ready-to-wear. His real money came from licensing and franchising deals, and perfumes.

Dior, the sly owl who was master of spectacle, is the hero of this book, although his reticent rival Balenciaga is properly admired. They were both sculptors in cloth; they and their confrères, Jacques Fath, Jean Desses and Pierre Balmain, projected women as fabulous, unattainable objects within voluminous carapaces. Because of the photographic emphasis of the book, and the exhibition, on the most gorgeous of those shells – the full evening dresses – this world seems far further gone into the sartorial past than does the inter-war era when Elsa Schiaparelli knitted cracking jokes and wore them as sweaters.

It's all so cold, and not just because of the strapless bodices: the model Dorian Leigh, bone structure elevated to the point of parody, posed by Avedon in a Piguet gown, connects through her hauteur with those disapproving press beldames in that Dior salon. Rejection, disdain and exclusion were the norms: fun, eh?

The customers were usually rabid, avid socialites, described by Balmain's directrice, Ginette Spanier, as haggling over prices like fishwives while maintaining a public façade of utter glaciation. Presumably they included those duchesses, baronesses and Onassis wives from whom Cecil Beaton solicited rails of exhibits for the V&A's collection; the book's essay by Hugo Vickers on Beaton scrounging from the wardrobes of the well-born is chilled with such snobbery it gave me freezer burns. A glaze of frost on every page.

There are informative entries if you don't mind the overall tone of devout froideur. The section on Mayfair designers, who dwindled almost to extinction by 1957, pays overdue respect to the tailored suits of Digby Morton and Charles Creed; these, like Balenciaga's seamed tweeds, were bespoke real clothes – they would certainly give that feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow. I want to wear them, likewise the garments in a 1949 sketch of holiday ensembles from minor names, prescient as well as delicious – capri pants, Pucci pyjamas and near-beatwear, some in a short-lived synthetic called cracknyl.

There's a too-brief tribute to photographer Erwin Blumenfeld's Vogue covers of lipsticked mouths, the crop of the pics calibrated to a micrometre; an original chapter on the symbiosis between couturiers and their textile suppliers; and patient research into the traditional Parisian labour hierarchy (although the V&A's reprint of Dior's autobiography offers a far better understanding of the technicalities of couture).

There are omissions: the return of Gabrielle Chanel to couture in 1954, as the anti-Dior – "elegance in clothes means freedom to move freely", she snarled about Christian's immobilised, constricted feminine divinities – gets a one-line mention and no images, as if the compilers of the book and exhibition were scared of her. As they should be. I like to imagine her slouching through the show, ciggie in the corner of her mouth, mocking the marquee dimensions of the opera coats. She was a generation, nearly two, older than Dior and Balenciaga, and yet the immediately post-1957 future belonged to her and her easy Linton Tweeds.

And after that? The most beautiful female in these pages isn't Barbara Goalen, or Eugenia Niarchos, or even Audrey Hepburn, gussied up and with poodles, but a girl snapped at work on transparent stuff in Dior's atelier flou [light dressmaking] – a deuxième main debutante, or second hand, one needle up from gofer. She's wearing a cheap printed dress, cotton or rayon, as are her lovely mates in a nearby group shot. Her face is alive with enthusiasm. She'd look a laugh if she were stuck inside the archaic ensembles on the pages round her.

Up in the salons, they were were conjuring up yesterday with six daily changes of outfit, cocktail dresses, mink stoles, and always, always, those elbow-length gloves. Down in the workrooms the fashion for being young was waiting to happen.

02 May 2007

PARTY plans for the next London Fashion Week are already in motion, four months in advance. The V&A has announced an enormous fundraising event to celebrate the launch of its Golden Age of Couture exhibition. Charting the gods of design who dressed the world's most elegant women between 1947 and 1957, the space will showcase works by Hubert de Givenchy, Cristobal Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain. The show will also focus intently on the post-Second World War impact of Christian Dior's New Look designs, a collection which sparked the most popular period in history for haute couture. The night itself, which takes place on September 18, will see a Champagne reception hosted by Gala Committee chair Alexandra Shulman, followed by an auction to raise money for future fashion exhibitions at the gallery. Co-chairs for The Golden Age of Couture include John Galliano and renowned couture collector Daphne Guinness, while the committee is made up of fashion's true elite, including Vivienne Westwood, Anna Wintour, Suzy Menkes, Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Erin O'Connor, Claudia Schiffer, Riccardo Tisci, Amanda Harlech, Manolo Blahnik and Stephen Jones. "The V&A has been an invaluable and inspirational resource for fashion designers across the world. This Gala will not only enable them to expand and improve the collection but will also celebrate the unique treasures already in the Museum," says Shulman. (May 2 2007, AM)

Slaves to fashion
Annalisa Barbieri
Published 27 September 2007 in New Statesman.

For all its glamour and mystery, haute couture relies on something quite simple - a highly skilled woman with a needle

Of all the eras in fashion, none better captures the imagination than the "golden age of couture". Yet when exactly this golden age occurred is open to debate. I think of it as the 1930s, when fashion and film merged to become one glorious marriage of slinky evening dresses, raised eyebrows, cocktails and impossibly large apartments with a housekeeper and butler, kept behind a swinging kitchen door. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, however, has decided that the golden age was the 11 years betwixt 1947 and 1957. "It was one of the most extreme times we've ever seen in fashion," explains the curator Claire Wilcox, who came up with the idea for the exhibition. "At one end you have the end of the war, and at the other, the 1960s."

In between, there were some very nice pieces of couture from Paris and London, representing designers such as Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. Perhaps it also helped that this period of time is very well represented in the V&A's cedar-lined wardrobes, deep in the belly of the museum: 95 per cent of the show's contents come from the museum's own collection, thanks in no small part to Cecil Beaton's prodigious collecting in the early 1970s for his own "Fashion: An Anthology". "The Golden Age of Couture" has also been timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Christian Dior's Corolle collection - later renamed the New Look by the American press - which heralded a welcome return to excess after the frugal war years. Look out among the exhibits for the famous Bar suit, which in 1947 cost 59,000 francs, the equivalent of three times a factory worker's annual wage.

Haute couture is, quite rightly, regarded as other-worldly; it maintains a glamour and mystery no celebrity has yet managed to ruin. This is largely because only lack of interest can ever kill couture: no technological advance can dilute it, as it can with ready-to-wear fashion. Couture is actually something quite simple: a unique outfit, expensively hand-made. The moment a set of clothes becomes anything else, it is no longer couture. Paradoxically, when you get down to it, all that money buys is a highly skilled woman (it usually is a woman) and her needle. So it is nice that the show recognises this by devoting much of its first room to how a couture dress is made.

The exhibition spreads across three rooms. In the first, you walk through pretend ateliers showing fabric swatches scrawled over in pencil. You get to see the inside of dresses, handwritten bills and notes, and undergarments, which remind you that even back then women needed a bit of help in that department. There are evocative old perfume bottles and there are shoes perched on magazines of the day, but what really gets the hairs standing up on the back of the neck is the old newsreels showing seamstresses seated, heads bent, sewing.

If ever you need to see, in the space of a few short steps, the difference between the haves and the have-nots, you should visit a couture house. You can still do this if you hurry: there are barely a dozen left, and only one - Hardy Amies - in London. The first room in a couture house is the salon. Here the clients are seen to and shown designs. Then they are measured, pandered to, brought tea in china cups from which they take tiny sips, before allowing the salon's "madame" to slip a yard of silk chiffon over their heads so that no make-up transfers from perfect face to the perfect dress they are trying on for fitting.

Once you leave the salon, with its mirrors and thick carpets (no stripped wood floors for couture house salons, as secrets are absorbed by carpets and thick drapes), you walk up steps leading to the workroom. This is where the seamstresses sit and sew magic. When I worked at Norman Hartnell in the 1980s, the carpet would get thinner the higher up you climbed in the house, until it became almost threadbare as you entered the workroom. Inside, the floorboards - permissible up there - were so gappy and aged that 50 years of history had slipped between them. I once found a sliver of fabric which someone said matched that of a dress made in 1953.

Every dress had a name and an inventory. You had to go and ask for the thread with which to sew it together, and the hooks, eyes and buttons that would fasten it. Everything was marked on the card as it was handed over; thieving was almost impossible. Behind me stood the headless mannequins, each an exact replica of a particular customer's torso. Every client had her own mannequin and each would be padded out to match the owner's expanding waistline. Some would show as many as 60 years of expansion - a depressing sight, but of course the women themselves never got to see them. If ever you get the chance to see a couture dress, turn it inside out and look at the exquisite hand stitching. Only the seams will have been sewn by machine; everything else is done by hand. A couture hem is never pressed.

In the second room of the exhibition is a catwalk of models (not live ones) showing a timeline of 18 skirt suits (very in this season) from the decade that the exhibition covers. These neatly show how fashions changed from boxy to more feminine, looser shapes in just 11 years. Next to this is a display of cocktail dresses - note the elaborate, quasi-bustly bottoms, because you were meant to mingle rather than sit down during cocktail parties. These party dresses are interesting because, being relatively cheap, they could be much edgier and more fashionable. The ballgowns shown behind them - in the largest glass case ever built for a V&A exhibition - are beautiful, but less "risky". The evening dresses are shown against a moving projection of the ballroom at Osterley Park, to try to convey a little of the sort of grand setting they would have been worn in.

The third room shows three outfits by John Galliano for Christian Dior Couture from 2004, illustrating the legacy of couture. On the wall, strangely technicoloured by comparison, is a timeline showing which designer worked where and for whom. This last provides interesting context, but it jars slightly. Perhaps it serves as a useful decompression zone between the exhibition, with its elegant, gentle, fantastical history, and the real world outside.

The New Look
Dior launched his couture house on 12 February 1947 and became an overnight sensation. His voluptuous collection was the antithesis of masculine wartime fashions. Instead, the designs featured sloping shoulders, a full bust and a cinched-in waist above full, long skirts. It was christened on the spot by Carmel Snow, editor of American Harper's Bazaar, as the 'New Look'. London couturier John Cavanagh described the style as 'a total glorification of the female form'.

The amount of fabric required to create a New Look garment caused outrage in London, for rationing was still in place. The collection was shown in secret to Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family at the French Embassy in London. Although initially condemned by the British Board of Trade, the New Look gained widespread popularity, particularly after Princess Margaret adopted it, attracted by its femininity and youth.
V.A. The Golden age of Couture.

The Golden Age of Couture

Dior New Look

Monday, 21 November 2011

Was Jane Austen Murdered?

Jane Austen 'died from arsenic poisoning'Crime writer Lindsay Ashford bases claim on reading of author's letters and claims murder cannot be ruled out

Alison Flood guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 November
Almost 200 years after she died, Jane Austen's early death at the age of just 41 has been attributed to many things, from cancer to Addison's disease. Now sleuthing from a crime novelist has uncovered a new possibility: arsenic poisoning.
Author Lindsay Ashford moved to Austen's village of Chawton three years ago, and began writing her new crime novel in the library of the novelist's brother Edward's former home, Chawton House. She soon became engrossed in old volumes of Austen's letters, and one morning spotted a sentence Austen wrote just a few months before she died: "I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour."
Having researched modern forensic techniques and poisons for her crime novels, Ashford immediately realised the symptoms could be ascribed to arsenic poisoning, which can cause "raindrop" pigmentation, where patches of skin go brown or black, and other areas go white.
Shortly afterwards she met the former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America, who told her that the lock of Austen's hair on display at a nearby museum had been tested for arsenic by the now deceased American couple who bought it an auction in 1948, coming up positive.
Ashford says that chronic arsenic poisoning gives all the symptoms Austen wrote about in her letters, unlike other possibilities which have been put forward for her death, from Addison's disease, to the cancer Hodgkin's disease and the auto-immune disease lupus. Arsenic was also widely available at the time, handed out in the form of Fowler's Solution as a treatment for everything from rheumatism – something Austen complained of in her letters – to syphilis.
"After all my research I think it's highly likely she was given a medicine containing arsenic. When you look at her list of symptoms and compare them to the list of arsenic symptoms, there is an amazing correlation," Ashford told the Guardian. "I'm quite surprised no one has thought of it before, but I don't think people realise quite how often arsenic was used as a medicine. [But] as a crime writer I've done a lot of research into arsenic, and I think it was just a bit of serendipity, that someone like me came to look at her letters with a very different eye to the eye most people cast on Jane Austen. It's just luck I have this knowledge, which most Austen academics wouldn't."
Although Ashford thinks that, based on her symptoms and on the fact arsenic was so widespread, it is "highly likely" that Austen was suffering from arsenic poisoning after being prescribed it by a doctor for another disease, she explores the possibility that the novelist was murdered with arsenic in her new novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen. "I don't think murder is out of the question," she said. "Having delved into her family background, there was a lot going on that has never been revealed and there could have been a motive for murder. In the early 19th century a lot of people were getting away with murder with arsenic as a weapon, because it wasn't until the Marsh test was developed in 1836 that human remains could be analysed for the presence of arsenic."
Professor Janet Todd, editor for the Cambridge edition of Jane Austen, said that murder was implausible. "I doubt very much she would have been poisoned intentionally. I think it's very unlikely. But the possibility she had arsenic for rheumatism, say, is quite likely," she said. "It's certainly odd that she died quite so young. [But] in the absence of digging her up and finding out, which would not be appreciated, nobody knows what she died of."
Although Ashford would be keen to see Austen's bones disinterred for modern forensic analysis, she accepts this is unlikely to happen. "I can quite understand that people would be outraged by the idea," she said.

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford - reviewBy Anna Scott

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 8 November 2011
Jane Austen may seem an unlikely murder victim but a lock of her hair, tested last century in a bid to discover the cause of her death, found unusually high levels of arsenic. It's on this premise of foul play that Ashford bases her lively depiction of the Austen family and the terrible (imagined) events which fuel her corpse-strewn plot. Anne Sharp, a governess at the home of one of Jane's brothers, Edward, observes the comings and goings and notes that the younger Austen brother Henry is a frequent visitor with a penchant for his sister-in-law's company. Her suspicions mount in tandem with her growing friendship with Jane, and to the consternation of both women it soon appears that a torrid intrigue is being concealed beneath a facade of domesticity. Yet with Anne's nascent longing for Jane, and the possibility that "whispers and shadows" have played havoc on susceptible minds, an unsettling ambiguity creeps in. Ashford borrows the "mischievous spirit" of Austen herself in this thoroughly entertaining mingling of fact and fiction.

Lindsay Ashford
Moving to Jane Austen’s village turned me into a cold case detective...
18th September 2011

The graveyard of St Nicholas’ church in the Hampshire village of Chawton is the burial place of the two women who were closest to Jane Austen. Each named Cassandra, her mother and sister were interred a stone’s throw from the cottage they shared with the novelist. But Jane herself is not there. Her bones lie sixteen miles away beneath a black marble slab in Winchester cathedral. And the mystery of why she died at the age of just forty-one when the two Cassandras lived well into old age has never been resolved.

There have been many theories about her death in the two centuries since her last novel was published. Addison’s disease, tuberculosis and lymphoma have all been suggested - but none quite fits the symptoms reported in her letters. To anyone who knows about modern forensics, however, a face that looks ‘black and white and every wrong colour’ rings alarm bells.

Chawton is the quintessential English village – even the cricket pavilion has a thatched roof – and when my partner was offered a job there I went with him, intending to start work on another contemporary crime novel. We moved into a sixteenth-century former dovecote still owned by Jane Austen’s five-times great-nephew, Richard Knight, and I spent the days working in the library of what used to be Chawton Great House, once home to the author’s brother, Edward. Within a few weeks I’d abandoned the gritty modern novel. Instead my head was stuck in old volumes of the family letters.

The voices of the Austen family were made all the more real by the knowledge that they had passed through the very rooms I now inhabited. Jane herself had slept at the Great House when it was too cold or dark to walk back to the cottage after a family gathering; her brothers, her sister and her parents had all slept there at one time or another and her best friend, Anne Sharp, to whom she wrote one of her last letters, had stayed there too. The more I read, the more intrigued I became by something the letters and diaries hinted at but didn’t fully explain. I began to wonder if there had been more to hide when Cassandra burnt a large part of her sister’s correspondence than a few sharp remarks. As Jane herself said in Emma, ‘There are secrets in all families, you know’.

Then a fascinating piece of information came my way. It came from a visiting American who had won a short story competition organised by me on behalf of Chawton House Library. She asked if I had seen the lock of Jane Austen’s hair which is on display at the cottage (now a museum) down the road. Then she told me that she knew the couple who donated it – American collectors of Austen memorabilia, both now deceased, who had bought it at auction at Sotheby’s in 1948. ‘And did you know,’ she said, ‘that before they handed it over to the museum, they had it tested for arsenic?"

I did not know. But the alarm bells that had sounded when I first read Jane’s description of her face during her illness were now deafening. There was arsenic in her hair, which meant that she had ingested poison in the months before her death. No one else in the cottage had been affected, so it couldn’t have been the water supply, the wallpaper or anything else in the house. Was Jane given arsenic as a medical treatment (common enough at the beginning of the nineteenth century) and if so, could the dose have been large enough to kill her? Or was there a more sinister explanation?

Preposterous, you might think. But a few years after her death a wave of paranoia swept England in the wake of an epidemic of arsenic poisoning. The tasteless, odourless white powder could be bought from any grocer’s shop with no questions asked. People were poisoned suddenly, by accident, when it got mistaken for baking powder or talc, and there were also those who were poisoned slowly and deliberately by relatives or servants who knew the symptoms were likely to be taken for disease or infection of the digestive system.

I thought of Jane’s friend, Anne Sharp, who lived well into the middle of the nineteenth century and would have read about the arsenic deaths in the newspapers. She would also have known about the Marsh Test. Developed in 1836, it enabled the analysis of human remains for the presence of the white powder. What would you do, I wondered, if you suspected your best friend had been poisoned and you were in possession of a lock of her hair?

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen is the product of all that I have learned and imagined in the three years since I came to live in Chawton. It’s a work of fiction inspired by facts and I hope that those who read it will be both intrigued and fascinated by a possibility which has been overlooked until now....

A watercolour and pencil sketch of Jane, believed to have been drawn from life by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is "famously scarce", according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen's 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned "the greater part" of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane's brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen's death was written by her relatives and reflects the family's biases in favour of "good quiet Aunt Jane". Scholars have unearthed little information since.

Austen's parents, George Austen (1731–1805), and his wife Cassandra (1739–1827), were members of substantial gentry families. George was descended from a family of woollen manufacturers, which had risen through the professions to the lower ranks of the landed gentry. Cassandra was a member of the prominent Leigh family; they married on 26 April 1764 at Walcot Church in Bath. From 1765 until 1801, that is, for much of Jane's life, George Austen served as the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon, Hampshire, and a nearby village. From 1773 until 1796, he supplemented this income by farming and by teaching three or four boys at a time who boarded at his home.

Austen's immediate family was large: six brothers—James (1765–1819), George (1766–1838), Edward (1767–1852), Henry Thomas (1771–1850), Francis William (Frank) (1774–1865), Charles John (1779–1852)—and one sister, Cassandra Elizabeth (Steventon, Hampshire, 9 January 1773–1845), who, like Jane, died unmarried. Cassandra was Austen's closest friend and confidante throughout her life. Of her brothers, Austen felt closest to Henry, who became a banker and, after his bank failed, an Anglican clergyman. Henry was also his sister's literary agent. His large circle of friends and acquaintances in London included bankers, merchants, publishers, painters, and actors: he provided Austen with a view of social worlds not normally visible from a small parish in rural Hampshire. George was sent to live with a local family at a young age because, as Austen biographer Le Faye describes it, he was "mentally abnormal and subject to fits".[24] He may also have been deaf and mute. Charles and Frank served in the navy, both rising to the rank of admiral. Edward was adopted by his fourth cousin, Thomas Knight, inheriting Knight's estate and taking his name in 1812.

Early life and education
Steventon rectory, as depicted in A Memoir of Jane Austen, was in a valley and surrounded by meadows.Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon rectory and publicly christened on 5 April 1776. After a few months at home, her mother placed Austen with Elizabeth Littlewood, a woman living nearby, who nursed and raised Austen for a year or eighteen months. In 1783, according to family tradition, Jane and Cassandra were sent to Oxford to be educated by Mrs. Ann Cawley and they moved with her to Southampton later in the year. Both girls caught typhus and Jane nearly died. Austen was subsequently educated at home, until leaving for boarding school with her sister Cassandra early in 1785. The school curriculum probably included some French, spelling, needlework, dancing and music and, perhaps, drama. By December 1786, Jane and Cassandra had returned home because the Austens could not afford to send both of their daughters to school.

Austen acquired the remainder of her education by reading books, guided by her father and her brothers James and Henry. George Austen apparently gave his daughters unfettered access to his large and varied library, was tolerant of Austen's sometimes risqué experiments in writing, and provided both sisters with expensive paper and other materials for their writing and drawing. According to Park Honan, a biographer of Austen, life in the Austen home was lived in "an open, amused, easy intellectual atmosphere" where the ideas of those with whom the Austens might disagree politically or socially were considered and discussed. After returning from school in 1786, Austen "never again lived anywhere beyond the bounds of her immediate family environment".

Private theatricals were also a part of Austen's education. From when she was seven until she was thirteen, the family and close friends staged a series of plays, including Richard Sheridan's The Rivals (1775) and David Garrick's Bon Ton. While the details are unknown, Austen would certainly have joined in these activities, as a spectator at first and as a participant when she was older. Most of the plays were comedies, which suggests one way in which Austen's comedic and satirical gifts were cultivated.

Declaredly written by "a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian", The History of England was illustrated by Austen's sister Cassandra (c. 1790).Perhaps as early as 1787, Austen began to write poems, stories, and plays for her own and her family's amusement. Austen later compiled "fair copies" of 29 of these early works into three bound notebooks, now referred to as the Juvenilia, containing pieces originally written between 1787 and 1793. There is manuscript evidence that Austen continued to work on these pieces as late as the period 1809–11, and that her niece and nephew, Anna and James Edward Austen, made further additions as late as 1814. Among these works are a satirical novel in letters titled Love and Freindship [sic], in which she mocked popular novels of sensibility,[ and The History of England, a manuscript of 34 pages accompanied by 13 watercolour miniatures by her sister Cassandra.

Austen's History parodied popular historical writing, particularly Oliver Goldsmith's History of England (1764). Austen wrote, for example: "Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd, to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered." Austen's Juvenilia are often, according to scholar Richard Jenkyns, "boisterous" and "anarchic"; he compares them to the work of 18th-century novelist Laurence Sterne and the 20th century comedy group Monty Python.

As Austen grew into adulthood, she continued to live at her parents' home, carrying out those activities normal for women of her age and social standing: she practised the fortepiano, assisted her sister and mother with supervising servants, and attended female relatives during childbirth and older relatives on their deathbeds. She sent short pieces of writing to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna Elizabeth. Austen was particularly proud of her accomplishments as a seamstress. She also attended church regularly, socialized frequently with friends and neighbours, and read novels—often of her own composition—aloud with her family in the evenings. Socializing with the neighbours often meant dancing, either impromptu in someone's home after supper or at the balls held regularly at the assembly rooms in the town hall. Her brother Henry later said that "Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it".

In 1793, Austen began and then abandoned a short play, later entitled Sir Charles Grandison or the happy Man, a comedy in 6 acts, which she returned to and completed around 1800. This was a short parody of various school textbook abridgments of Austen's favourite contemporary novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753), by Samuel Richardson. Honan speculates that at some point not long after writing Love and Freindship [sic] in 1789, Austen decided to "write for profit, to make stories her central effort", that is, to become a professional writer. Beginning in about 1793, she began to write longer, more sophisticated works.

Between 1793 and 1795, Austen wrote Lady Susan, a short epistolary novel, usually described as her most ambitious and sophisticated early work. It is unlike any of Austen's other works. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin describes the heroine of the novella as a sexual predator who uses her intelligence and charm to manipulate, betray, and abuse her victims, whether lovers, friends or family. Tomalin writes: "Told in letters, it is as neatly plotted as a play, and as cynical in tone as any of the most outrageous of the Restoration dramatists who may have provided some of her inspiration....It stands alone in Austen's work as a study of an adult woman whose intelligence and force of character are greater than those of anyone she encounters."

Early novels
After finishing Lady Susan, Austen attempted her first full-length novel—Elinor and Marianne. Her sister Cassandra later remembered that it was read to the family "before 1796" and was told through a series of letters. Without surviving original manuscripts, there is no way to know how much of the original draft survived in the novel published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility.

In old age, Lefroy admitted to a nephew that he had been in love with Jane Austen: "It was boyish love."When Austen was twenty, Tom Lefroy, a nephew of neighbours, visited Steventon from December 1795 to January 1796. He had just finished a university degree and was moving to London to train as a barrister. Lefroy and Austen would have been introduced at a ball or other neighbourhood social gathering, and it is clear from Austen's letters to Cassandra that they spent considerable time together: "I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together." The Lefroy family intervened and sent him away at the end of January. Marriage was impractical, as both Lefroy and Austen must have known. Neither had any money, and he was dependent on a great-uncle in Ireland to finance his education and establish his legal career. If Tom Lefroy later visited Hampshire, he was carefully kept away from the Austens, and Jane Austen never saw him again.

Austen began work on a second novel, First Impressions, in 1796. She completed the initial draft in August 1797 when she was only 21 (it later became Pride and Prejudice); as with all of her novels, Austen read the work aloud to her family as she was working on it and it became an "established favourite". At this time, her father made the first attempt to publish one of her novels. In November 1797, George Austen wrote to Thomas Cadell, an established publisher in London, to ask if he would consider publishing "a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols. about the length of Miss Burney's Evelina" (First Impressions) at the author's financial risk. Cadell quickly returned Mr. Austen's letter, marked "Declined by Return of Post". Austen may not have known of her father's efforts. Following the completion of First Impressions, Austen returned to Elinor and Marianne and from November 1797 until mid-1798, revised it heavily; she eliminated the epistolary format in favour of third-person narration and produced something close to Sense and Sensibility.

During the middle of 1798, after finishing revisions of Elinor and Marianne, Austen began writing a third novel with the working title Susan—later Northanger Abbey—a satire on the popular Gothic novel. Austen completed her work about a year later. In early 1803, Henry Austen offered Susan to Benjamin Crosby, a London publisher, who paid £10 for the copyright. Crosby promised early publication and went so far as to advertise the book publicly as being "in the press", but did nothing more. The manuscript remained in Crosby's hands, unpublished, until Austen repurchased the copyright from him in 1816.

Bath and Southampton
Royal Crescent in BathIn December 1800, Mr Austen unexpectedly announced his decision to retire from the ministry, leave Steventon, and move the family to Bath. While retirement and travel were good for the elder Austens, Jane Austen was shocked to be told she was moving from the only home she had ever known. An indication of Austen's state of mind is her lack of productivity as a writer during the time she lived at Bath. She was able to make some revisions to Susan, and she began and then abandoned a new novel, The Watsons, but there was nothing like the productivity of the years 1795–99. Tomalin suggests this reflects a deep depression disabling her as a writer, but Honan disagrees, arguing Austen wrote or revised her manuscripts throughout her creative life, except for a few months after her father died.

In December 1802, Austen received her only proposal of marriage. She and her sister visited Alethea and Catherine Bigg, old friends who lived near Basingstoke. Their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, had recently finished his education at Oxford and was also at home. Bigg-Wither proposed and Austen accepted. As described by Caroline Austen, Jane's niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive—he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since both were young and the marriage offered many practical advantages to Austen and her family. He was the heir to extensive family estates located in the area where the sisters had grown up. With these resources, Austen could provide her parents a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a permanent home and, perhaps, assist her brothers in their careers. By the next morning, Austen realised she had made a mistake and withdrew her acceptance. No contemporary letters or diaries describe how Austen felt about this proposal. In 1814, Austen wrote a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight, who had asked for advice about a serious relationship, telling her that "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".

In 1804, while living in Bath, Austen started but did not complete a new novel, The Watsons. The story centres on an invalid clergyman with little money and his four unmarried daughters. Sutherland describes the novel as "a study in the harsh economic realities of dependent women's lives". Honan suggests, and Tomalin agrees, that Austen chose to stop work on the novel after her father died on 21 January 1805 and her personal circumstances resembled those of her characters too closely for her comfort.

Mr Austen's final illness had struck suddenly, leaving him, as Austen reported to her brother Francis, "quite insensible of his own state", and he died quickly.
Jane, Cassandra, and their mother were left in a precarious financial situation. Edward, James, Henry, and Francis Austen pledged to make annual contributions to support their mother and sisters. For the next four years, the family's living arrangements reflected their financial insecurity. They lived part of the time in rented quarters in Bath and then, beginning in 1806, in Southampton, where they shared a house with Frank Austen and his new wife. A large part of this time they spent visiting various branches of the family.

On 5 April 1809, about three months before the family's move to Chawton, Austen wrote an angry letter to Richard Crosby, offering him a new manuscript of Susan if that was needed to secure immediate publication of the novel, and otherwise requesting the return of the original so she could find another publisher. Crosby replied he had not agreed to publish the book by any particular time, or at all, and that Austen could repurchase the manuscript for the £10 he had paid her and find another publisher. However, Austen did not have the resources to repurchase the book.

The cottage in Chawton where Jane Austen lived during the last eight years of her life, now Jane Austen's House MuseumAround early 1809, Austen's brother Edward offered his mother and sisters a more settled life—the use of a large cottage in Chawton village that was part of Edward's nearby estate, Chawton House. Jane, Cassandra, and their mother moved into Chawton cottage on 7 July 1809. In Chawton, life was quieter than it had been since the family's move to Bath in 1800. The Austens did not socialise with the neighbouring gentry and entertained only when family visited. Austen's niece Anna described the Austen family's life in Chawton: "It was a very quiet life, according to our ideas, but they were great readers, and besides the housekeeping our aunts occupied themselves in working with the poor and in teaching some girl or boy to read or write." Austen wrote almost daily, but privately, and seems to have been relieved of some household responsibilities to give her more opportunity to write. In this setting, she was able to be productive as a writer once more.

Published author
First edition title page from Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen's first published novel (1811)During her time at Chawton, Jane Austen successfully published four novels, which were generally well-received. Through her brother Henry, the publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility, which appeared in October 1811. Reviews were favourable and the novel became fashionable among opinion-makers; the edition sold out by mid-1813. Austen's earnings from Sense and Sensibility provided her with some financial and psychological independence.[81] Egerton then published Pride and Prejudice, a revision of First Impressions, in January 1813. He advertised the book widely and it was an immediate success, garnering three favourable reviews and selling well. By October 1813, Egerton was able to begin selling a second edition. Mansfield Park was published by Egerton in May 1814. While Mansfield Park was ignored by reviewers, it was a great success with the public. All copies were sold within six months, and Austen's earnings on this novel were larger than for any of her other novels.

Austen learned that the Prince Regent admired her novels and kept a set at each of his residences. In November 1815, the Prince Regent's librarian invited Austen to visit the Prince's London residence and hinted Austen should dedicate the forthcoming Emma to the Prince. Though Austen disliked the Prince, she could scarcely refuse the request. She later wrote Plan of a Novel, according to hints from various quarters, a satiric outline of the "perfect novel" based on the librarian's many suggestions for a future Austen novel.

In mid-1815, Austen moved her work from Egerton to John Murray, a better known London publisher, who published Emma in December 1815 and a second edition of Mansfield Park in February 1816. Emma sold well but the new edition of Mansfield Park did not, and this failure offset most of the profits Austen earned on Emma. These were the last of Austen's novels to be published during her lifetime.

While Murray prepared Emma for publication, Austen began to write a new novel she titled The Elliots, later published as Persuasion. She completed her first draft in July 1816. In addition, shortly after the publication of Emma, Henry Austen repurchased the copyright for Susan from Crosby. Austen was forced to postpone publishing either of these completed novels by family financial troubles. Henry Austen's bank failed in March 1816, depriving him of all of his assets, leaving him deeply in debt and losing Edward, James, and Frank Austen large sums. Henry and Frank could no longer afford the contributions they had made to support their mother and sisters.

Illness and death
Jane Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Jane Austen's memorial gravestone in the nave of Winchester CathedralEarly in 1816, Jane Austen began to feel unwell. She ignored her illness at first and continued to work and to participate in the usual round of family activities. By the middle of that year, her decline was unmistakable to Austen and to her family, and Austen's physical condition began a long, slow, and irregular deterioration culminating in her death the following year. The majority of Austen biographers rely on Dr. Vincent Cope's tentative 1964 retrospective diagnosis and list her cause of death as Addison's disease. However, her final illness has also been described as Hodgkin's lymphoma. Recent work by Katherine White of Britain's Addison’s Disease Self Help Group suggests that Austen probably died of bovine tuberculosis, a disease (now) commonly associated with drinking unpasteurized milk. One contributing factor or cause of her death, discovered by Linda Robinson Walker and described in the Winter 2010 issue of Persuasions on-line, might be Brill-Zinsser disease, a recurrent form of typhus, which she had as a child. Brill-Zinsser disease is to typhus as shingles is to chicken pox; when a victim of typhus endures stress, malnutrition or another infection, typhus can recur as Brill-Zinsser.

Austen continued to work in spite of her illness. She became dissatisfied with the ending of The Elliots and rewrote the final two chapters, finishing them on 6 August 1816. In January 1817, Austen began work on a new novel she called The Brothers, later titled Sanditon upon its first publication in 1925, and completed twelve chapters before stopping work in mid-March 1817, probably because her illness prevented her from continuing. Austen made light of her condition to others, describing it as "Bile" and rheumatism, but as her disease progressed she experienced increasing difficulty walking or finding the energy for other activities. By mid-April, Austen was confined to her bed. In May, Jane and Cassandra's brother Henry escorted the two of them to Winchester for medical treatment. Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817, at the age of 41. Henry, through his clerical connections, arranged for his sister to be buried in the north aisle of the nave of Winchester Cathedral. The epitaph composed by her brother James praises Austen's personal qualities, expresses hope for her salvation, mentions the "extraordinary endowments of her mind", but does not explicitly mention her achievements as a writer.

Posthumous publication
After Austen's death, Cassandra and Henry Austen arranged with Murray for the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey as a set in December 1817. Henry Austen contributed a Biographical Note which for the first time identified his sister as the author of the novels. Tomalin describes it as "a loving and polished eulogy". Sales were good for a year—only 321 copies remained unsold at the end of 1818—and then declined. Murray disposed of the remaining copies in 1820, and Austen's novels remained out of print for twelve years. In 1832, publisher Richard Bentley purchased the remaining copyrights to all of Austen's novels and, beginning in either December 1832 or January 1833, published them in five illustrated volumes as part of his Standard Novels series. In October 1833, Bentley published the first collected edition of Austen's works. Since then, Austen's novels have been continuously in print.

Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra

The cottage in Chawton where Jane Austen lived during the last eight years of her life, now Jane Austen's House Museum