31 MARCH 1967, Page 19

Period face


I suppose mine must be one of the few minds that could wander from David Bailey's photo- graph of Sir Mark Palmer flanked by the scions of his firm, English Boy Limited, to Sir Peter Lely's lush Restoration beauties at Hampton Court. This phenomenon of the period face is one that has always fascinated me, and I was truly riveted by it as presented in Tussaud's latest addition, a temporary exhibition to embalm (and, one prays, scuttle into a bottom- less pit) the myth of 'Swinging London.' In front of a vast blow-up of the Beardsleyesque sleeve of the record Revolver arise, like the Dionysian angelic hierarchies gone berserk, the way-out and wayward creatures who, one is told. have made London the now city. Cut-out, blown-up photographs portray the adepts of the cult : pop groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Kinks; chanteuses like Sandie Shaw and Marianne Faithful!, fashion designers like John Stephen and Mary Quant and those de rigueur models, Shrimpton and Twiggy. P. J. Proby appears crucified like a baroque saint in ecstasy, Sandie Shaw hugs a furry animal and David Hockney takes on the character of a supersonic owl about to belt through the roof. Who says the camera can't lie?

All the same, lumped together one is most stunned by their appalling sameness; in con- centration they become the norm. And this is where my old friend the period face steps in. If one believed Lely, all Restoration ladies had pear-shaped faces, droopy eyelids and full sen- suous lower lips; the chaps long rectangular features, aristocratic noses and naughty peering eyes. Bailey and Cooper tell us that all mid- 'sixties girls have oval faces, enormous unblink- ing eyes, tiny lips, and wear their hair parted in the middle lank to the shoulders: men, on the other hand, have suddenly acquired a mop- haired ugliness tempered with a louehe femi- ninity. Mick Jagger epitomises the male period face, a pitted plum on to which have been grafted sensuous lips and wayward eyes. All this is symptomatic of an enormous change in the way people look which we have been and still are going through, a transmutation as revolu- tionary in its way as the abandonment of frills and furbelows, wigs and patches, hoops and calashes, at the close of the eighteentt. century in favour of high-waisted gauze shifts, hair brushed a !'antique and the studied understate- ment of Beau Brummell.

Opposite, clothes restate the theme, ad- mittedly at its most extreme, with examples of gear obtainable from the most fashionable of London boutiques: Bazaar, Dandie Fashions, Biba, Palisades, Hung on You and I Was Lord

Kitchener's Valet. In the centre stand a couple epitomising the acme of 1967 fashion, which must appear as outrageous to an older genera- tion as les incrovables to the adherents of the ancien regime—the girl in a revamped 'thirties trouser suit, the boy in a purple velset frock coat and bell-bottom corduroy trousers.

Savonarolas exist in every age, and whatever howls of outrage may greet the ever-diminishing female skirt-line and ever-increasing brilliance of male attire, each is an accurate reflection of the realities of living in 1967. There are no longer maids and valets to look after clothes and get people in and out of them. Dry cleaning and the Clean Air Act mean that bright colours can be worn more and more in cities for the first time since the advent of industrialisation. The overt sexuality of the mid-century theatre, novel and film is bound to find its outlet in fashion (back to Lely and his lascivious ladies) as much as modern, high-speed travel by car and plane dictates the cut and weight of clothes. One realises too that all this happened a generation later than it should have done since, after the Second World War, back to normal meant back to 1939 and Dior's New 1.00k resurrected a style which belonged to a social scene that had vanished for ever. Not that fashion has wholly covered its tracks for its uncertainty is reflected in revivalism: in art nouveau fabrics, in 'thirties gangster suits and in that curious recent pen- chant for the trappings of Edwardian imperial- ism.

Tussaud's aim in reviving an exhibition feature of 1878—a display of fashions and manners 'to be as much a refined reference as an elegant novelty'—is to be applauded. But one feels an element of uncertainty about the result. The crunch comes over where exactly the line should be drawn. An olympus of the fashionable and what is worn, yes. but once one starts including pop art by Peter Blake, sculp- tures by Bruce Lacey, Stuart Brisley and Bill Culbert, fascinating though these are why not the latest novels, theatre, films, huildings and so on? As a legendary mecca for the foreign visitor, Tussaud's should peer coolly through its quizzing glass at the follies and fripperies of the day. It has the unique opportunity of being the museum of the present, a new London Spy spicing the eyes with the trifles of a twentieth century Ned Ward.