My Vintage Life: Fatty Arbuckle and the Scandal that Changed Hollywood

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Welcome back! Firstly, sorry to anyone who checked in last week expecting a post. My fiancé flew over at very short notice to help with some visa-related bits and pieces. As I’m sure you’ll understand, I was pretty well taken up enjoying some time with him. It was definitely wonderful to see him, especially after three months apart. But he’s back in the US now so normal service has resumed once again!

On this week’s My Vintage Life, we’re going to be talking about one of the most momentous and yet little remembered events in Hollywood history – the trial of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle for the rape and death of the actress Virginia Rappe. The scandal was truly the first to blacken Hollywood’s image – an image that had been traditionally dominated by the on-screen faces and personalities of its stars. Fatty Arbuckle’s trial was not only remarkable for its sensationalism and widespread coverage within the press. Its ripples also added fuel to a growing perception that Hollywood required some kind of moral and ethical regulation. I talked in my very first My Vintage Life post about pre-Code Hollywood – the Hollywood that existed before the introduction of the Motion Picture Production Code that restricted what could be shown on screen. The censorship that came about in 1934 through the introduction of the Code can be traced back to the fallout of the accusations at Fatty Arbuckle’s trial and the fact that the mask had now been lifted from the true face of Hollywood.

So join me for this week’s My Vintage Life and an exploration of the scandal that felled Hollywood’s biggest star and turned the movie-making industry on its head.

Trigger Warning: This post will be talking about rape and sexual assault. 


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In the early part of the 1900s, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle was the definition of a household name. Born in 1887 in Kansas, his talents were discovered early and, by the beginning of the 1900s, Arbuckle was well established as a successful vaudeville actor. By 1909, Arbuckle had broken through into film, playing consistently comedic roles that met with widespread recognition. Despite being known mostly for his size, it was his agility, athleticism, and refusal to be consigned to obtaining cheap laughs that really gained him a position as one of Hollywood’s best known stars. In 1914, Paramount Pictures recognised Arbuckle’s growing reputation and success by making him a salary offer of $1000 per day, in addition to paying him 25 percent of all profits make from his films. By 1918, this was increased to a $3,000,000 contract over three years. Such salaries were unheard of at the time and Fatty Arbuckle became Hollywood’s highest paid actor.

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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle

Inevitably, however, Arbuckle’s success was not destined to last. In 1921, Arbuckle made his way to San Francisco to take a short break from making films. His friend, Fred Fischbach, decided that a party was in order to celebrate Arbuckle’s newest contract with Paramount Pictures and the release of his most recent film Crazy To Marry. The party was held at the St. Francis Hotel and among its attendees was a 26-year old actress called Virginia Rappe. Rappe was not particularly well known for her acting. She had secured some relatively minor roles in the later half of the 1910s and appeared in several films directed by Henry Lehrman, to whom she subsequently became engaged.

Accounts obviously differ as to what precisely occurred during the party at the St. Francis Hotel. What is known, however, is that screams were heard from Room 1219 and Virginia Rappe was found writhing in agony. Within the week, she had died from a ruptured bladder. According to Maude Delmont, who was at the party with Rappe but whose relationship with Rappe remained unclear, Arbuckle had pulled Rappe into Room 1219. When Delmont heard Rappe screaming, she ran to the room and, finding the door locked, proceeded to knock and kick until Arbuckle appeared. Delmont found Rappe on the bed in visible agony and, in Delmont’s version, Rappe told her “Arbuckle did it.” This version of events was picked up and widely distributed by the press, who attributed Rappe’s subsequent death from a ruptured bladder to the weight of Arbuckle’s body pressing down on her while he raped her.

Arbuckle’s version of events offers an alternative account. In his telling, he was at no point actually alone with Rappe. He claimed that he had woken up to a party taking place in the rooms and that, later, Rappe’s drinking had made her hysterical. He subsequently found her vomiting and he, with the help of other party guests, moved her to Room 1219 so that she could recover. Despite Arbuckle’s very different account of events, he was charged with manslaughter and sent to trial.

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Virginia Rappe

The subsequent trials show much not only about the state of Hollywood, but also how little has changed in the way of prosecuting sexual assault. Over the course of three trials – the first two of which resulted in hung juries – Rappe’s sexual history and history with abortions were dissected. Arbuckle’s legal team argued that Rappe suffered from a pre-existing bladder condition, corroborating the fact that doctors had not found any evidence of sexual assault on her body. By the end of the third trial, these arguments had convinced the jury. They were, in fact, so incensed by Arbuckle’s subjugation to trial that they issued a formal apology:

“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and woman who have sat listening for thirty-one days to evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from blame.”

This exoneration could not, however, salvage Arbuckle’s reputation. To assist in dealing with the fallout from the trial, the censor Will Hays was hired by Paramount Pictures to navigate the damage done by the scandal. In the immediate aftermath, Hays decided to remove Arbuckle from all films, although within the year Hays changed his mind. Still, Arbuckle never quite recovered from the trial’s impact. In 1933, on the day that Warner Bros approached him with an offer of a contract, Arbuckle died of a heart attack.

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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle at Trial

The death of Virginia Rappe and surrounding scandal had a lasting impact, both on the personalities involved and on Hollywood at large. Will Hays, who became so integral in the rehabilitation of Paramount Pictures, subsequently took on the job of assisting the rehabilitation of Hollywood at large. By 1934, the Motion Picture Production Code (the Hays Code) had been introduced and Hollywood was subjected to industry-wide censorship of the films that it produced. The Code restricted the portrayal of sexual scenarios and bad language, among a whole host of other things deemed worthy of censorship. Despite Arbuckle’s exoneration, Hollywood’s first scandal did lasting damage. It revealed a Hollywood behind the movie screens – one of parties, illegal drinking, sex, and debauchery. For a country where conservatism had demanded the introduction of prohibition, it was perhaps inevitable that such a revelation would sit uncomfortably with the powers-that-be.

Yet, of all the lasting impacts had by the trial of Fatty Arbuckle, there is one that goes generally unmentioned. When reading about the scandal and trying to dissect what actually happened (which remains really difficult to do), it is Virginia Rappe who comes across as the most maligned of all involved. In a scandal that involved a suspected madam (Delmont) and a suspected murdered (Arbuckle), it is difficult to believe – although, not as difficult as it should be – that the dead victim should be the one to find her reputation most destroyed by events. Rappe’s life and lifestyle were torn to shreds during the trial and continued to be questioned even after Arbuckle’s exoneration. Rumours abounded following the trial, suggesting at different times that she had been a prostitute, an alcoholic, carried STDs, and that she had spread pubic lice around Keystone Studios. This type of character assassination remains still too common in trials of sexual assault and rape – it certainly sits uncomfortably with me that, in reading about the Fatty Arbuckle trial, I could recall too many news stories of similar trials where victims are subjected to the most grotesque types of questioning.

Rappe was a figure of her time and, in many respects, a product of the way in which Hollywood did business. If we assume for a moment that the rumours spread about her were true, it says far more about the cultural dynamics at work in and around Hollywood than it does about her personality or, realistically, her choices. Hollywood of the 1920s – and decades onwards – was one in which women were forced to utilise sex and sexuality to get ahead and get noticed. The expectation that women would sleep with producers, directors, and casting officials was a given. To expect, encourage, and subsequently degrade women for using sex to achieve their goals was a power dynamic that dominated film making for much of the 20th century. The experience of Virginia Rappe, both before and after death, is perhaps one of the best examples of how this relationship between sex, power, and movie-making manifested in the first few decades of the 1900s.


If you have any suggestions for future posts, there are a few ways that you can get in touch. Via email at laura@sewforvictory.co.uk or on Instagram and Twitter by tagging me @sewforvictoryuk and using the hashtag #myvintagelife

Sew For Victory Book Club: ‘Zelda’ by Nancy Milford

 

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A book club feature is something that I’ve been working on introducing for a while. As I mentioned in last Friday’s post, I spend a lot of my free time reading up on various aspects of things that you could loosely term ‘vintage-related’. I created the My Vintage Life feature to help introduce a bit more of that sort of content here – alongside all of my continuing posts about sewing, of course! However, it’s also important that I get to have a conversation with all of you. And what better way to do that than through a book club?! I’ve always been an avid reader – I actually ran a book blog, long before I created Sew for Victory, and I’m currently training to be a high school English teacher. So bringing together my love of reading and my love of all things vintage seemed like an excellent step!

The Sew for Victory Book Club is going to focus on reads that have something to tell us about those various components that we associate with the word ‘vintage’ – so it might be a book about a particular era, person, or event. I’m also hoping to get a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Largely, the Book Club is going to reflect whatever I’m most interested in at that moment in time. But I’m also open to suggestions – so send any book recommendations my way through a comment, email (laura@sewforvictory.co.uk) or tag @sewforvictoryuk on Instagram or Twitter. Typically, I’ll be using social media to point you towards whatever book I’ll be posting about that month. Since this is the first post, however, I’m going to dive right in with April’s selection – Zelda by Nancy Milford.


 

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I picked out this book for April because it seemed quite timely to me, both in terms of the blog and popular culture more generally. Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, has recently seized the collective imagination with renewed vigour. A TV series about her life, as well as a couple of upcoming films, mean that Zelda is very much a part of contemporary public consciousness. For my part, I recently threw myself into stitching up a 1920s storm with the Baltimore Dress from Decades of Style. Since I have a hard time separating fashion from the larger historical context in which it emerged, I obviously threw myself into learning more about the ’20s. It was perhaps inevitable that I would find myself enthralled by the woman termed the ‘first American flapper’ by her husband.

By this point, I’ve read a couple of biographies of Zelda Fitzgerald. Nancy Milford’s is not, in my opinion, the best or most thorough. But it is accessible in length (quite a bit shorter than the alternatives at 464 pages) and remains incredibly well researched, despite being written back in the 1970s. The book offers a detailed account of Zelda’s life – her childhood in the South, her marriage to Scott Fitzgerald, and her tragic encounters with mental illness. The book gains most of its authoritative weight from the many interviews conducted by the author with people who knew the Fitzgeralds. Nancy Milford also had access to many diaries, letters, and manuscripts written by the couple.

Most interesting about Zelda is the depth that it gives to a woman who has become almost caricatured by popular culture. Few people haven’t heard of Zelda Fitzgerald. Those who have typically identify her with the ‘flapper’ lifestyle – drinking, partying, indulging in sexual promiscuity. While Zelda’s role in the development of the flapper is undeniable and her partying with Scott is legendary, there is so much more to this very three-dimensional woman than general knowledge would suggest.

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Zelda and Scott on the cover of Hearst’s International Magazine (1923).

The biography tracks Zelda throughout her life. From her early years as a southern Belle in Montgomery, Alabama, to her first meeting with Scott in 1918. Milford describes Zelda’s daredevil approach to life and her total fearlessness. This lines up with what we know of Zelda following her marriage to Scott Fitzgerald in 1920 – the complete abandon with which they appeared to live their lives in New York, cast in the role of popular celebrities following publication of Scott’s first novel This Side of Paradise. Their wildness put them in the spotlight on a constant basis, making them the near total embodiment of what Scott Fitzgerald would himself term ‘the Jazz Age’. Milford does a great job of depicting this period, as well as the ensuing trips to Europe.

Where the book has a tougher time, however, is in relating the facts of Zelda’s mental illness. Zelda was, according to the book, diagnosed with schizophrenia while the couple were still abroad in Europe. It is this diagnosis that would follow Zelda throughout her life, back to the US, and into a number of institutions. Undoubtedly, there was something incredibly troubling in Zelda Fitzgerald (other sources suggest that she more likely suffered from a form of manic depression). Nancy Milford describes Zelda’s struggles with asserting her own identity in the face of Scott’s success – her attempts to write and, subsequently, to become a professional ballet dancer in her late 20s. It was while committed to an excessive and obsessive programme of dance training that Zelda had her initial ‘breakdown’ and was institutionalised. However, Milford’s biography has suffered criticisms of censorship. In Sally Cline’s biography of Zelda – Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise – Cline suggests that Zelda and Scott’s only child, their daughter Scottie, was vigilant in her attempts to keep certain pieces of information out of earlier biographies. According to Cline, Scottie – despite giving her permission for the publication of Milford’s book – actively requested that certain parts of it be removed.  Cline also indicates that she had to work hard to obtain access to medical records previously restricted to researchers.

The extent to which Milford’s biography was censored is uncertain. However, it is clearly the case that – since the book’s publication in the 1970s – a new degree of accessibility to Zelda’s life and a renewed interest in her legacy have emerged. Milford’s biography introduces us to a fully realised and, at times, intimidating portrait of Zelda Fitzgerald. We get to see Zelda the tomboy, Zelda the beauty, Zelda the author, Zelda the painter, Zelda the wife, and Zelda the mother. In none of these capacities is Zelda unflawed or completely accomplished. Instead, Milford shows each of these separate identities as an individual site of turmoil for Zelda. In Milford’s portrayal, these separate facets of Zelda’s personality cumulatively dwarf the comparatively short time that Zelda spent in New York as Zelda the flapper. Instead, we end up with a picture of Zelda as a truly multifaceted and multitalented woman – a women who worked relentlessly to establish her own identity, separate from the almost domineering narcissism of her husband. This battle was one into which her struggles with mental illness would ultimately enter and was a battle that would, sadly, end without resolution.

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Zelda (1920) in a knickerbocker suit that outraged people in the South.

There is obviously so much more to this story than I am describing here. If you have any interest in the 1920s, whether literary or lifestyle, I would highly suggest picking up Nancy Milford’s biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. It will undoubtedly shake up any preconceptions you have about the woman so infamously associated with the Roaring ’20s. While the biography will likely never escape accusations of censorship – and should be read with appropriate scrutiny because of this – it still stands up as an incredibly well-researched and well-written account of a woman who so defied social conventions. After finishing Zelda, I was left with a truly unexpected appreciation for this heroine of popular culture. It is fitting that, as she spent her life searching for an identity and a legacy, Zelda Fitzgerald would be a figure who, almost 70 years after her death, we would be relentlessly seeking to understand and claim as our own.


If you want to get hold of a copy of Zelda by Nancy Milford, it’s available on Amazon UK and Amazon US I bought mine on Kindle. Sidenote: the Kindle version isn’t great. There are lots of typos and formatting issues with separating quotes from the body of the text. If you can purchase a paper copy, I would recommend it!

If you’ve read or plan on reading the book – or just have some general thoughts – add a comment to the post. I’d love to hear from you!

My Vintage Life: Norma Shearer and Pre-Code Hollywood

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Welcome to my new weekly post series – My Vintage Life! I’ve been deliberating for a while about how to streamline my vintage lifestyle posts and create something that is a predictable – but hopefully still super interesting – weekly feature. That’s where My Vintage Life comes in! This will be where I post about a whole range of topics related to vintage lifestyle, fashion, and history. I work hard outside of Sew for Victory to remain constantly learning – through podcasts, books, films, and anything I can get my hands on. To me, wearing vintage style is totally connected to a passion for the bigger ‘vintage’ picture. It’s impossible to separate the popular fashion of previous eras from the larger social and cultural dynamics at work – the interplay between all of these different bits and pieces of history is something that I find hugely interesting and love to talk about when I get the opportunity.

I’m hoping that My Vintage Life can serve as a place to write about all things vintage-related. Fingers crossed that these posts will spark an interest in you and perhaps send you into a Google hole for a while! If you have any suggestions for future posts – perhaps a film you’ve watched or a vintage icon you love – please shoot me an email or leave a comment. Alternatively, post on Instagram or Twitter using #myvintagelife and @sewforvictoryuk and I’ll be sure to see you pics!

Anyway, enough of introductions! This first post is dedicated to one of my current fascinations – Norma Shearer and Pre-Code Hollywood.


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Norma Shearer was, in many ways, the quintessential classic Hollywood actress. Beautiful, chic, and – at least in her later films – quietly seductive. She was born in 1902 and entered the film industry in the middle of the Roaring ’20s, while silent cinema still dominated. After a shaky start in the industry, Shearer worked hard to improve on her acting skills and accelerated to stardom following MGMs first official film production, He Who Gets Slapped. With the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, the entire Hollywood film industry underwent a dramatic shift. Talkies became the new standard and a number of incredibly high profile silent stars struggled with the transition (Marion Davies, for example, who was plagued by a childhood stutter). An aside: if you’re interested in this particular period in Hollywood, definitely watch (or re-watch for the millionth time) ‘Singin’ In The Rain‘. I think it actually does a wonderful job of giving some insight into the high anxiety that talkies brought for both studios and performers. Plus, there’s Gene Kelly and a whole lot of dancing. Norma Shearer shifted to talkies with ease. In fact, it was in the early years of talking films that she made what I would argue are some of her best films.

Up until the introduction of the Hays Code (officially called the Motion Picture Production Code) in 1934, Hollywood was pretty well unregulated with regards to censorship. Local laws attempted to put some restrictions on the types of content that films could include, but it was relatively easy for studios to ignore these regulations without consequence. Between 1929 (when sound pictures became the relative norm) and 1934, this relaxed attitude to censorship was embraced by Hollywood which, in turn, churned out a number of films that included profanity, sex, and violence (although all of these films would seem pretty tame in comparison to what we see on screen today).  This was the period during which Norma Shearer came into her own as an actress portraying promiscuous and sexually liberated women. Her 1930 film The Divorcee is, in my opinion, her best. She is endearing, spirited, and incredibly convincing as a woman who discovers that her husband has had an affair. Her character counters her husband’s infidelity by sleeping with his best friend and, following their divorce, proceeds to really live it up with whole lot of partying and sex. It’s a fantastic film – not least because it is not a film that you would expect to come out of 1930s America. Shearer won the Academy Award for Best Actress as a result of her performance.

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The Divorcee (1930)

Another amazing pre-Code film starring Shearer is A Free Soul. She stars alongside both Clark Gable and Lionel Barrymore and – again, in my opinion – totally outdoes both of them (although Barrymore won an Academy Award for his role and Gable’s performance is largely credited to have put his star on the rise). With regards to Shearer’s role, the clue is very much in the title. She plays another sexually liberated woman who gets involved with a gangster (Gable) – a gangster who her lawyer father has successfully defended in trial. The film doesn’t have the power of The Divorcee (perhaps because all of the mobster stuff just removes it from reality, while The Divorcee feels very rooted in real world emotion and reactions) but it’s still a fantastic watch. Not to mention it is a mine of inspiration for anyone interested in some beautiful 1930s women’s fashion!

For those feminists among us (hopefully everyone reading this), things take something of a downward turn after the introduction of the Hays Code. The Code was created as a response to both the uncensored nature of many Hollywood films and a number of scandals that had plagued Hollywood off-screen – the rape, and subsequent death, of Virginia Rappe and the implication of acclaimed actor Fatty Arbuckle in the crime was perhaps the most notable scandal. The Code introduced a strict set of ethical criteria that all films must follow. Among these were prohibitions of “pointed profanity…this includes the words ‘God,’ ‘Lord,’ ‘Jesus…,” “any inference of sex perversion,” and “any licentious or suggestive nudity.” The Production Code Administration enforced the Hays Code strictly and Norma Shearer’s film roles began to reflect the censorship that now dominated Hollywood productions.

That’s not to say that she didn’t make some great films. She received critical acclaim for the performances in many of her films and was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award six times in total – two of these nominations, for Romeo and Juliet and Marie Antoinette, came after the enforcement of the Code. But where Shearer had dominated films as the sexually liberated ingenue during the pre-Code period, she was now consigned to playing somewhat more subdued and conventional female roles. The best example of this is her character in The Women (1939). Let me begin by saying that I adore this film. It’s one of my favourites. An all female cast including Joan Crawford – what could be better? If you are able to overlook the fact that literally (and I’m using that word in the correct sense) every conversation is about men, it’s a fantastically progressive film for its time.

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The Women (1939)

It’s actually through The Women that I developed an interest in Norma Shearer. I came to the film after listening to the You Must Remember This podcast series on Joan Crawford (if you haven’t listened to it, you must!). Joan Crawford undoubtedly steals the show in this film. But, looking around for more information, I was amazed to read about Norma Shearer’s cinematic history. In The Women, Shearer plays another wronged wife. Rather than seize her independence in the face of her husband’s pretty shameless infidelity, however, Shearer’s character seems to limp reluctantly towards a divorce. It feels as though the divorce is a consequence of her twisted sense of loyalty (that she must allow her husband to make his choice and give him the freedom to pursue his affair in the hope that he’ll end up coming back to her), rather than a purposeful decision to move forward as her own person. The fact that every scene in the film revolves around the situation between Shearer’s character and her husband only adds to the sense that she is playing subordinate to his will and desires the whole way through. In contrast, Joan Crawford’s character is powerful, ruthless, and awful. But she reflects far more of Shearer’s pre-Code roles than anything subsequent to the enforcement of the Hays Code. And Joan Crawford’s character is by far the most memorable and interesting part of The Women.

I think Norma Shearer is easily one of the most fascinating figures from the period that we’re talking about when we mention ‘classic Hollywood’. But what’s most interesting about her is how dramatically her story represents the shifts that Hollywood went through during the 1920s and 1930s. She saw out the transition from silent films to talkies and continued to make her own successes as Hollywood moved from the pre-Code to the post-Code era. When you watch her films, you’ll see that her talent speaks for itself. But it’s difficult to work through her filmography without feeling that something dramatic was lost after 1934. This is a woman who best dominated the screen when handed the complicated characters – women with obscure motives and muddy pasts, whose men were generally secondary to some bigger picture or larger determination to be free. These types of female characters didn’t disappear completely – Joan Crawford in The Women is a great example. But it took a while for such complex and (at the time) controversial women to once again assume the role of heroine.


If you’re interested in learning more about Norma Shearer or pre-Code Hollywood, there are a number of places that you can look. I’d definitely recommend working through her filmography but, in addition, make sure to check out Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle. It’s a great survey of pre-Code Hollywood in general but it gives special focus to Norma Shearer. Gavin Lambert’s Norma Shearer: A Biography is also a great read!

Check back in next Friday for another My Vintage Life. And remember to direct any suggestions for future posts my way – @sewforvictoryuk on Instagram and Twitter or email me: laura@sewforvictory.co.uk

Paul Flato: Jeweller To The Stars

Happy May, sweet ones!

I am currently back in the US for a visit and, unsurprisingly, spent the first few days making trips to my destinations of choice. Among them was my favourite antique mall – a huge but hidden shop in the middle of an inconsequential strip mall. Were it not for the AMAZING bubble tea place a few shops down, I wouldn’t even have stumbled upon it in the first place. But thank goodness that I did! It’s been a fabulous resource for vintage magazines, old sewing patterns, and some amazing crafting manuals from the 1950s (more posts on this to come).

Most recently, I made a trip to try and hunt out a vintage compact. Being somewhat financially constrained (hello PhD lifestyle), I really can’t afford to spend much on searching out authentic accessories. But, every so often, I find a gem that even my budget can accommodate. After investigating a few different options, I found a compact that I totally fell in love with. The information alongside it wasn’t particularly generous – the vendor’s label told me only that the compact was “Flato – 1920s-1940s”. Thankfully, we live in the digital age and a quick Google search told me that I’d stumbled on a really amazing find.

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‘Flato’ refers to Paul Flato, otherwise known as the jewellery designer to the stars. Born in 1900, Flato began his career in New York, opening a small jewellery store near 5th Avenue. With a definite sense for his craft, it wasn’t long before Flato became known for his unique jewellery designs. In 1937, Flato expanded his business to Sunset Boulevard in California, and from here he capitalised on a growing relationship with Hollywood’s most famous stars. His pieces were worn by the likes of Greta Garbo, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, Ginger Rogers, and Katharine Hepburn. Flato’s designs were known in particular for some fantastically unique features, including shells and scrolls, as well as their art deco style.

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Just one example of Flato’s art deco jewellery designs.

Unfortunately, this golden age didn’t last long for Flato. In 1943, he was convicted of fraud, after illegally pawning $100,000 in jewellery. This got Flato a 16 month sentence, served in Sing Sing penitentiary. The rest of his life continued to be marred by accusations of forgery and larceny, with Flato moving to Mexico in order to avoid conviction. Flato died in 1999 and, despite his unfortunate legacy of criminality, is largely remembered for his contribution to the style that dictated 1940s Hollywood glamour.

Given everything I’ve read about Flato and his designs, I feel extremely lucky to have come across a fantastic example of his weird and wacky style (particularly for a steal of $29). Just take a look at this gorgeous thing:

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I absolutely adore it. And what an opportunity it has given me to learn more about one of the key figures in 1940s fashion. No doubt this little compact will be a key feature of many vintage outfits to come!

Inspire A Style: Miss Fisher

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My love of vintage style has infiltrated almost everything. From my obsession with classic novels to the period TV dramas that are pretty much always on my television, bygone eras are well-represented in my daily life (in fact, I’m watching Mad Men as I write this). But no show has influenced my adoration of vintage fashion to quite the extent of the incredible Phryne Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Who?

Phryne Fisher is the main protagonist in the Australian murder mystery series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Set in 1920s Melbourne, the show follows Phryne as a private detective and total badass. An incredible feminist, Phryne is also the embodiment of the flapper style.

There are many reasons to love Phryne other than her other-wordly fashion sense (although that will obviously be the focus of this post). She is a beautiful middle-aged woman, liberated from the confines of society’s traditional gender roles, and unapologetically determined to retain ownership of her life. Although this is obviously a fiction – divorced from the reality that even the most liberated women of the 1920s were limited in their autonomy – it is one that I love to take refuge in.  Watch it and, trust me, you will feel the same way.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 13.59.59Make sure to particularly enjoy Aunt Prudence’s face on the right of the shot.

Why?

So back to style. Why does Phryne Fisher deserve a particular place in my heart as fashion inspiration? The 1920s are, undeniably, a little outside of my usual era of reference. But part of the excitement in designing and constructing your own outfits is the ability to handpick a tailored combination of garments, accessories and eras. For my part, I love to extract key details from a variety of vintage periods and Phryne Fisher provides the perfect variety of ’20s evening and day glamour from which to draw inspiration.

For many present-day lovers of vintage style, the 1920s is intimidating territory. It has such a distinctive look and would be, in many respects, difficult to integrate into the everyday life of a modern woman. But Phryne Fisher’s look provides a few key details that would work perfectly for anyone inspired by the glamour and sophistication of the 1920s.

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What?

Other than a sleek bob and some gorgeous red lipstick, there is a lot to be learnt from Phryne’s embodiment of the ’20s. As spectacular as the high-glamour looks are the simple and uncomplicated garments that are very present throughout the series. The sailor smock shown in the photo above, made up in a silk/satin, shows that the 1920s were not all beads and feathers. Take this gorgeous Godet dress pattern from Burdastyle, make it up in navy silk with white detailing, and you’ve got a stunning replication of Phryne’s chic look.

Simple garments made up in interesting geometric patterns are also a key facet of Phryne’s wardrobe:

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An outfit like the above is simply done. A plain skirt paired with a bold vintage-style blouse – such as the Anderson blouse from Sew Over It – would make the perfect work-ready outfit. If you wanted to go authentic, vintage fabric that would work for this look is available from multiple sources. I’m particularly in love with the selection available at ‘Til The Sun Goes Down.

There are just so many options, all of which are totally viable for a woman who doesn’t necessarily want to look as if she’s just walked out of a costume drama. That said, always make room in your life for a long necklace and a jewel-dripped hair accessory. Phryne would.

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In the meantime, make sure to set aside some time for a Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries binge session (I know for sure that it’s available on UK and US Netflix) and give in to the fabulous Phryne Fisher.

“Beside every good man is a good woman, and she must always be ready to step in front.”

– Phryne Fisher