Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Big Seduction...

Thursday is Valentine's Day. Love and commitment are all very well but if you want high-octane glamour, the temptress is a much more reliable source of fashion inspiration. Here's a selection of some of the most stylish (and dangerous) women of the 20th century:

Actress and bonne vivante Tallulah was born in the US but spent several years living in London, moving here for the first time in the late 1920s. On arrival she bought a huge Bentley to cruise around Mayfair. Known for her wild parties, Tallulah ran into trouble with the law when MI5 started investigating her for allegedly corrupting pupils at Eton. Official documents indicated that she seduced up to half a dozen boys into taking part in 'indecent and unnatural' acts. But the girl knew how to dress... 

'I've had many momentary love affairs. A lot of these impromptu romances have been climaxed in a fashion not generally condoned. I go into them impulsively. I scorn any notion of their permanence. I forget the fever associated with them when a new interest presents itself'

Another Hollywood actress known for being deliberately provocative was Mae West. Her improvised lines could be so controversial that she was often the victim of censorship - something that would eventually persuade West to stick to the stage (performing or writing) instead of the screen. Her plays - including The Wicked Age, The Constant Sinner and Pleasure Man - were always packed out. 

In 1933 she played opposite Cary Grant in She Done Him Wrong, one of the most successful movies of her career and source of her most quoted line... 

At the age of 61, West became romantically involved with one of the young musclemen in her Las Vegas stage show. Despite the 30-year age difference, they fell in love and he stayed with her until her death in 1980.  

German-American Marlene Dietrich was one of the most enigmatic stars to emerge from Hollywood. Her glacial demeanour brought a complexity to her roles as an exotic dancer or temptress.

In 1930 she made Morocco, a movie about a cabaret singer and Legionnaire who fall in love. In one scene (around the one minute mark in the clip below) Dietrich dresses in a man's tuxedo and kisses a female member of the audience - scandalous at the time, and still riveting to watch.

Dietrich was very protective over her private life, where she was openly bisexual. During the 1920s she frequented the legendary drag balls in Berlin and surrounded herself with avant-garde personalities from the cabaret scene.

Later in her career Dietrich took up residency in Vegas as a highly-paid cabaret artist. Her costume designer was Jean Louis, who created a wardrobe of daringly transparent dresses, covered only by a swansdown cape.

Her frosty allure drove American audiences wild. 

But of course, they had vamps of their own...

For many vintage fashion aficionados, Rita Hayworth is the epitome of Hollywood glamour. Her erotic appeal is at its peak in 1946 movie Gilda, a stylish film noir where Hayworth plays an irresistible femme fatale. Halfway through the film she performs an energetic dance in a skin-tight black satin dress, peeling off one glove before tossing it into the audience. This scene continues to inspire burlesque acts all over the world, but the real moment where she seduces us happens much earlier. Skip to 01m00s to watch her tantalising hair-flick... a move she could have trademarked. 

Costume designer Jean Louis was responsible for Hayworth's luscious gowns. The actress married five times and her third husband was Prince Aly Khan, son of the Aga Khan. Christian Dior gave Hayworth a selection of dresses from his seminal 1947 'New Look' collection for her bridal trousseau. 

Her sultry beauty and long red hair provided the inspiration for Jessica Rabbit - as well as this more recent magazine cover featuring Rosie Huntington-Whiteley:

Another film noir femme fatale was Lana Turner. Famous for her platinum blonde hair and pin-up looks, she appeared in 1946 movie The Postman Always Rings Twice sporting a chic white turban. Here she seduces co-star John Garfield using that ol' lipstick trick... 

In an era before 18 certificate movies, actresses needed to be able communicate through nothing more than a knowing look. 

Lauren Bacall had a distinctive husky voice and penetrating gaze. Here she makes mincemeat of real-life husband-to-be Humphrey Bogart in 1946 movie To Have And Have Not:

Her legacy continues into the 21st century: Dior styled Karlie Kloss to resemble Bacall - complete with film noir set - in their Spring 2010 campaign.

The cryptic charms of the film noir vixen stood in stark contrast to another femme fatale of the time: the European bombshell. Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale (seen here duelling against one another in 1971 French 'western' Les Pétroleuses), Gina Lollobrigida and Anita Ekberg (of Trevi Fountain fame) all set fire to the screen in 1950s and 1960s. But Queen Sophia reigned supreme:

In 1963 she starred opposite Marcello Mastroianni in Oscar-winning movie Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. In this scene she performs a striptease as he sits on the bed, howling with pleasure:

That's not to say that hourglass figures couldn't be found outside of Europe. Measuring a mind-boggling 35-24-35, Marilyn Monroe sashayed onto the screen in 1950 movie All About Eve playing a dizzy ingénue. Just three years later she would be cast in the most seductive role of her career: cunning adulteress Rose Loomis in Niagara

This particular red dress - designed by Dorothy Jeakins - was copied in department stores all over the US after the movie's release. Here Marilyn poses in a wardrobe test for the film:

Followers of Juno Says Hello on Twitter know by now that I post this clip as often as I can... something about the California garden set, the bourbon and the bossa nova soundtrack just make me wish I was a fly on the wall in this exchange:

But really, it's all about the dress. It's only down to Mrs Robinson's amazing cocktail wardrobe that she is able to pull off this kind of passive-aggressive seduction with such aplomb. In fact I tracked down a similar dress to the one she wears in the that clip - click here to view in the online boutique. All of her outfits feature some kind of animal print - hailing her predatory nature. 

As a tongue-in-cheek nod to Valentine's Day we've uploaded a selection of dresses that speak to the sweetheart (or vamp) in all of us - to view in our online boutique click here. For our gentlemen readers, we sell gift vouchers in any amount made from beautiful 1940s erotic playing cards. Get in touch and let us know how we can help you find the perfect vintage dress for your girl. 

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