Category Archives: fashion

A flawed piece on the origins of dark cabaret

Hildegarde Knef

A flawed piece on the origins of the dark cabaret strain in the American entertainment industry, the roots of American cabaret in German cabaret and the aesthetics of death.


Wieviel Menschen waren glücklich[1] is a 1970 musical composition interpreted by Hildegard Knef and released on Decca Records as the b-side to “Tapetenwechsel“.

Café Elektric

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I’m cross-posting this from Facebook. It’s a very sad song and I associate it with boudoir noir[2] and dark cabaret traditions, along the current fad in music criticism: hauntology.

Hildegarde Knef, German actress, singer and writer, probably best-known outside of the Germanosphere for her interpretation of “Mackie Messer” and her performance in Die Sünderin. Along with Marlene Dietrich, she is most firmly associated with dark cabaret, a genre of music represented by The Dresden Dolls and Marilyn Manson(The Golden Age of Grotesque) but the aesthetics have older ancestors.

Hildegarde Knef in the German film Die Sünderin

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Two iconic images illustrate dark cabaret: the album cover to Swordfishtrombones[3] and the Charlotte Rampling‘s cabaret scene in The Night Porter[4] [5], and here[6] in a Youtube clip. Note the suspenders both on Rampling and Waits.

In the history of cabaret, three or four local histories have been written: French cabaret (Le Chat Noir), German cabaret (Überbrettl) and American cabaret (Cabaret). British cabaret isn’t documented because in the United Kingdom cabaret has historically been called music hall and existed much longer, since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

The clearest mental image most of us have of cabaret is Liza Minelli in Cabaret with its iconic songs Willkommen[7] and “Life Is a Cabaret[8]. The imagery of this musical was inspired by German cabaret as witnessed by Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood in Goodbye to Berlin (1939) during the 1920s in Berlin.

Jo Steiner (1877-1935) - Manifesto per spettacolo di cabaret di Claire Waldoff, a Berlino, nel 1914.

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So the archetypical American cabaret is rooted in German cabaret. German cabaret was the darkest of them all because it happened in 1920s Berlin, the birthplace of, literature (Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929), film (Lang, Metropolis, 1927 and M, 1931, Dietrich, Der blaue Engel, 1930 and German Expressionism), painting (Grosz, Circe [9], Dix, Großstadt-Triptych[10]), music (Weill, Threepenny Opera[11], 1928), criticism (Benjamin), philosophy/psychology (Jung), and fashion.

Most of these dark manifestations of Weimar’s culture were labelled degenerate and banned after Hitler’s rise to power.

Dietrich in The Blue Angel is the most iconic image of dark cabaret. The film was directed by Josef von Sternberg in 1930, based on Heinrich Mann‘s novel Professor Unrat. The film is considered to be the first major German sound film and it brought world fame to actress Marlene Dietrich. In addition, it introduced her signature song, Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It). This song was originally entitled Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt[12] and was composed by Frederick Hollander for Der Blaue Engel. The English language words were written by Sammy Lerner, but are in no way a direct translation of the original.

Guy Bourdin @80

Charles Jourdan ad, 1976

French fashion and advertising photographer Guy Bourdin (19281991) would have celebrated his 80th birthday today had he not died of cancer 17 years ago.

I’m not sure when I first consciously came in to contact with his oeuvre, but I am pretty sure it was in the terra cognita that the internet has become by way of this page[1] from the site of music and culture connoisseur Phinn.

Today, a wide selection of his videos is available on YouTube[2]; a large number of his films can be found on Flickr and on the internet at large[3].

However, and although I cannot confirm this, I feel that I had seen the imagery of Bourdin in the pre-internet world, in a Dutch-language magazine called Avenue, which my parents bought during the seventies. It was The Netherlands’ and Flander’s first glossy, and ran from 1965 until 2002. Contributors have included Paul Huf, Eddy Posthuma de Boer, Ed van der Elsken and Inez van Lamsweerde. I distinctly seem to remember the Charles Jourdan shoe photo-ads Bourdin produced during that era. Not coincidentally, Avenue reminds me of that other glossy, Nova magazine, which I covered a couple of weeks ago[4].

To me, Bourdin can only be compared to his contemporary Helmut Newton (although admittedly I’ve also tentavily compared Ralph Gibson [5] to Bourdin) because in the words of Charlotte Cotton and Shelly Verthime he “emphasised fetishism, power relationships, and the potential for sexual violence, as well as the artificiality of the image, its gloss rather than its reality.”[6]

I’ve reported on Bourdin many times, and I am glad that I saw his retrospective at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and was given as a present Luc Sante‘s first monograph on his work: Exhibit A: Guy Bourdin

You can find Bourdin’s work all over the net.

Avenue van A tot Zero

Can anyone ID the photograper of this cover image?

For something different here[7] is a photo of a cover from Avenue.

Introducing Harry/i Peccinotti

penguin75_frontcover by bsjohnson_info.

Penguin Modern Poets 25 also features a photograph of female lips smoking a cigarette, one of his trademark image tropes.

The Woman of Rome by Moravia by you.

Alberto Moravia‘s 1976 Penguin edition of The Woman of Rome

I haven’t properly introduced Harri Peccinotti, the man celebrated in the previous post on Nova magazine.

Harry Peccinotti (born 1938, London, UK) is a photographer and art director. He was Nova magazine‘s first art director and regular photographer throughout. He also did the Pirelli Calendars of 1968 and 1969, with designer Derek Birdsall.

He also provided the cover photograph for Alberto Moravia‘s 1976 Penguin edition of The Woman of Rome and contributed photographs to The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics.

Penguin Modern Poets 25 also features a photograph of female lips smoking a cigarette, one of his trademark image tropes.

He has designed record sleeves for Esquire Records.

He is still working with fashion stylists such as Charlotte Stockdale and Antje Winter.

Nova magazine 1965 – 1975

Nova 1965 - 1975 by Pavillion Books

[FR] [DE] [UK]

Check these prices! Cheapest at €250, most expensive at €800. More on expensive books over at Bookride.

I found out about Nova magazine when researching Harri Peccinotti

Pirelli 1969 – Harri Peccinotti

Nova magazine was a monthly British style magazine of the “Swinging London” era published from March 1965 until October 1975. It foreshadows publications such as The Face and i-D. Molly Parkin was the founder and first fashion editor at Nova, she was succeeded in 1967 by Caroline Baker who collaborated with the likes of Helmut Newton, Harri Peccinotti and Hans Feurer, Byron Newman and Armet Francis.

The book Nova 1965-1975, compiled by David Hillman and Harri Peccinotti, and edited by David Gibbs, was published by Pavilion Books in 1993.

P.S. I’m looking for a scan of Up Tight by Parkin with Harry Peccinotti’s cover shot of a French model wearing see-through knickers. Anyone?

See also:

Gratuitous nudity #11 and Icon of Erotic Art #32

sophie dahl by modelvancouver

Sophie Dahl, i-D, 1997

Sophie Dahl first came to my attention with her Opium (perfume) ad[1].

Today, following a link that started[2] at Trevor Brown‘s blog, which celebrated Takashi Itsuki‘s acrotomophiliac eroticism, which backlinked[3] to the new magazine Coilhouse (amazing new magazine, started as a blog in Aug 2007), I arrived at the photography of Nick Knight. On his site, one finds this image[4] (first published in i-D, 1997), which frankly, leaves me sick with desire. Just what is it that brings on this sickness? It’s the softness of her skin, the presumed quality of her fatty tissue, the pot belly and the pear-shaped breasts. And the nails. Amen.

This is a first for my series, where an image is both an instance of gratuitous nudity and an Icon of Erotic Art.

Why this curious and debased love?

Waloli detail by you.

From Waloli, our reporter in Tokyo

Waloli: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first American over-the-counter publication of Russian-born author Nabokov‘s Lolita. When Nabokov’s “dirty book” hit the streets of the USA, it sold 100,000 copies in three weeks, an immediate success that would allow the 60-year-old scholar and novelist the freedom to resign from teaching.

Pretty much everything about that book has been said, but I think many of you have not seen this interview conducted by Pierre Berton and Lionel Trilling for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation now at YouTube[1][2].

The interview was filmed on November 26, 1958 at The Rockefeller Center studios in New York City. It was Nabokov’s first television interview. The subject was Lolita, covering some of the questions addressed in Nabokov’s 1958 afterword. Most answers were read from index cards.

Pierre Berton:

“Let´s get out the more specific point: Why did you choose this rather odd, and, something that has never been done before, this curious and debased love?


“Well, on the whole, it flooded me all kinds of interesting possibilities I am not so much interested in the philosophy of the book, as I am in weaving the thing in a certain way, in those intergradation and interweavings of certain themes and subthemes, for instance the systematic line of Mr. Quilty, whom Humbert will kill, does kill …”

The Lolita or nymphet trope has since entered popular consciousness and never left it, especially in Japan, where it evolved into the Gothic Lolita. Most recently British art critic James Putnam curated “Viva Lolita” which featured work from Turkish artist Nazif Topçuoğlu [3]. Here[4] are three of Topçuoğlu’s photos at Wurzelstock[5].

The Lolita trope, in all its manifestations, from Balthus to Trevor Brown, is IoEA #32.

Thank you Waloli, back to the studio.

Yves Saint Laurent (1936 – 2008)

Yves Saint Laurent, 1962

Yves Saint Laurent, 1962

Yves Saint Laurent (August 1 1936June 1 2008) was a French fashion designer who was considered ‘one of the greatest figures in French fashion in the 20th century. He was the first living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art circa 1983.

YSL’s noted creations include the “trapeze dress” from 1958 onwards, with a particularly noted incarnation as the “Mondrian dress[1] in 1965 which adapted Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie painting; his “Le Smoking“, immortalized in a photograph by Helmut Newton[2] which anticipated the androgyny of the 1970s and his perfume “Opium” with an appropriately controversial ad campaign [3] photographed by Steven Meisel.

Laurent was the main couturier for Catherine Deneuve and dressed her in The Hunger and Belle de jour[4], and also did the costumes for Gérard Depardieu in Trop belle pour toi and dressed Claudia Cardinale in The Pink Panther.

Eve Babitz and Fiorucci

Fiorucci, the book (1980) Eve Babitz

Like the contemporary Italian design movement Memphis, Italian fashion designer Fiorucci helped postmodernism to percolate to mass culture awareness in the early eighties. Sottsass designed some of their shops and their brand was a visual feast.

Eve Babitz is an American writer who gained notoriety by posing nude with Marcel Duchamp in 1963, at the Pasadena Art Museum[Julian Wasser photograph]. She is the author of Eve’s Hollywood, Slow days, fast company and Fiorucci, the book.

Fiorucci, the book is out of print and has become quite a cult item, ranging in price from 200 to 1,000 USD.

Some more Fiorucci advertisments from the eighties:

unidentified Fiorucci campaign
image sourced here.

[A shot from behind from what appears to be a black young woman, from the waist to the knees. She wears nothing but a short (a cut off Jeans), the short is very short. The jeans is full of holes and is patched with pieces of cloth.]

Campaign for Fiorucci (1974) – Oliviero Toscani
image sourced here.

[A young woman sitting on a chrome barstool, shot from the back. She is wearing a striped T-shirt, jeans and striped socks. Her hair is curly.]