Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Upstairs Downstairs - a sumptuous BBC fashion delight!

On BBC tonight, in just a few minutes - is the last episode of a beautifully conceived revival of “Upstairs Downstairs.” Set in 1936, in London, it is a story of the lives of an aristocratic family (upstairs) and their household help (downstairs.) I am swooning over the retro clothes (Amy Roberts) AND the interiors (Eve Stewart).
The women’s clothes are simply marvelous. One woman is dressed gorgeously eccentric, reflecting an Eastern influence - you feel the touch of silk velvets, hand woven silk crepes, hand beading and piecework, which is worn unexpectedly with a pair of shocking peacock green stockings popping out of sturdy leather shoes – streaming long scarves or bright coral jewelry – with her pet monkey and brilliant heirloom tiara as props … while another character is all sultry and pale, with chiffons in flesh tones, or shades from the white of the eyes, something you can’t put a finger on, because it is so fragile and beautiful – and all of it contrasting beautifully with dark brunette hair or blood red lipstick. Another woman is dressed with all out glamour - but it’s her coarsely knitted beret worn with an expensive fox cape-let which makes it so real, and a body skimming (in this case serious vintage couture wear) fully beaded evening gown which is the ultimate dress because of the extraordinary way it fits – how it glides over the body and then the beauty of the hair styling, make-up and jewelry.
The men are equally turned out, with immaculately tailored and fitted tuxedos – here as with the women, the beauty is in the perfection, the fit, the way the clothes glide effortlessly, move so easily, it their charm, and that sort of made-to-order feeling is a luxury not seen today.
The household help have beautiful lace detailing, tiny tucked and pleated bibs, pretty, sanguine starched caps and interesting collar shapes. The men wear fitted salmon striped silk waistcoats. Everyone is turned out in tip to toe splendor, from sunrise to sunset, and you glimpse or just feel that no possible detail has been forgotten, and assume that all their undergarments must be of the period as well to get this kind of ease of fit. The shoes are sturdy but fine, with a medium proportioned curved heel (silly me, why did I discard an old pair of Maud Frizon shoes from years ago with just that heel ... .)
The settings are sumptuous, with interesting moldings, colors, dark silk wallpapers, the glow from side table lamps - all setting a stage of beauty. As I scurried around to find out about the stage designer, I discovered that she adopted her colors to best show off the beauty of the leading women. The settings dictate the moods, the manner of walking. There is a revealing interview with the actor Adrian Scarborough who plays the butler, who mentions: "My favourite room was the kitchen pantry. There were shelves and shelves of provisions, boxes and jars from the period along with home-made preserves and chutneys, bottled beetroot and pickled onions.”
Admittedly, the story line moves slowly, but maybe that reflects the reality of the pacing of life in 1936, which would be so different from our lives today. No matter, I am swooning over the series. It celebrates fashion and style as we embrace it today – ageless, and as a tool to bring out the character and emotions of the women, expressing her personality and individuality and beauty. I’m off to see the last episode and to bring some fresh retro beauty into my wardrobe!
(And the photos are from BBC.)