The March of Modernism : Gamine Girls and Black Eyed Boys

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In 1965 the modernists, principally but not exclusively of London, seemed to have found a way to directly access the grid of electricity that lit the jaundice- yellow street lights and powered the tube trains that bisected and thundered through its submerged veins.

These gamine girls and wide-eyed boys were the new-moneyed denizens of the city, and after the influential Cathy McGowan had cued up a playlist for the weekend, the fuse was lit for this determined, dynamic, ardent army of amphetaminors; it was then a case of: ‘Ready, Steady, Go!’ The weekend warriors were away and kept on running until the Monday morning comedown came calling.

But these awake and aware kids were not content to be spoon fed a bespoke musical manna, they had begun buying and compiling their own playlists: from the Small Faces to Big Bill Broonzy these soul survivors had Stax of tracks in their personal Volts and became increasingly adept at compiling their very own soundtracks to accompany their own individual brave new world.

The Modernist malcontents wanted the world, and they wanted it now! Figuratively and literally buzzing their way around town on their Italian made scooters, they were irreverent and seemed unstoppable; all the time marching to their own new and unique beat : ‘Keep on Running’ and you’d better ‘Tell Mama’!

For this brave new breed fashion wasn’t just a transitory phase to be quietly and politely tolerated until adulthood then middle age arrived, it was everything; and for the first time in youth culture the boys obsessed over details as much as the girls; maybe even more so.

So, Granny took a Trip and cruised around Carnaby Street, whilst Lord John looked on; and all the while ‘the face’ pulled on a Capstan like it was the World’s End.

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The boys had French cuffs and crops, whilst the girls had Mondrian a-lined shift dresses and a perfectly asymmetrical Louise Brooks bob. Interestingly there was also a gender fluid shared love of ‘penny’ loafers; of which arguably black or oxblood were patently the best.

These catwalk kids refused to be categorised as mere sheep-like faux followers. So, one week three button cuffs would be de rigeur, whilst the following week it was a French double cuff or double vent. Details mattered, and the vagaries of accessories were obsessed over, pulled to pieces, reassembled and reinvented.

Unlike their parents they were no longer slaves condemned to repeat the past. For these new gatekeepers ‘La Dolce Vita’ was here and happening in both real life and real time; and rumours persisted that Fellini was wearing a three- button single breasted tonic suit when he directed his cinéma-vérité tour de force; which was ironically around the time cycling tops were declared ‘in’ following a particularly dramatic Tour de France bike race finish.

Music was no longer ‘trad Dad’, the ‘Beats’ had been beaten while over in Battersea a newly formed Pink Floyd, with their spaced-out singer Sid, an effete man performing interstellar jams whilst maxed-out on Mandrax, was attempting to convince a fast moving and rapidly shrinking world that long improvisational passages, shapeless clothes adorned with psychedelic flora and fauna and tie-dyed ties were the next chapter in music. Prêt-a-porter preppy-ism and bespoke tailoring were clearly and indisputably ‘out’.

Clearly there was change in the air, and Modernism was no longer marching. Popular music was once more on the Move, except this time with flowers in its (long) hair; and so for all intents and purposes, ‘style’ in its impeccably tailored Modernist guise, was dead.

The ethos of Modernism and its avowed philosophy of: ‘clean living under difficult circumstances’ had all but disappeared underground, where it would plot and ruminate until it was needed once again.

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