Obsession Marlene Dietrich – The Pierre Passebon Collection

The word legend can sometimes be overused, but it is certainly the only word to use when talking about Marlene Dietrich. A formidable actress, style icon, stage and cabaret star, Marlene was unconventional, original and beautiful, elevating androgynous style into an art form. Now, in a new book from French publishing house Flammarion, Marlene’s effortless style is celebrated once more.

The book, ‘Obsession Marlene Dietrich’ by Henry Jean Servat, uses rare photographs of the actress from the collection of Parisian tastemaker Pierre Passebon. An interview with Passebon is included in the book, and it is there that he details the depth of his obsession with the actress, one which stretched far before he started his incredible photographic collection.

The book is a mini coffee table tome, with many double page spreads of images of the actress running throughout her career. The images include rare stills from her movies, including the iconic Blue Angel image shown in both a censored and uncensored version (so fascinating to see them side by side). There are also images from her public life which show off her androgynous style, something that was quite shocking in 1930s Hollywood, and also publicity stills taken by legendary photographers like Cecil Beaton, Irving Penn, Milton Greene and Edward Steichen amongst many more illustrious names. The images are all in atmospheric black and white, just adding to the allure and glamour of the golden age.

This is a book that is as stylish and glamorous as the actress herself, beautiful enough to have on display, small enough to be able to keep it in your bag to read on the train home. This book captures the essence of a woman who was utterly modern and non conforming, and yet managed to have Hollywood eating out of her hands, creating an indelible legend that will never fade.

You can find the book at Amazon by clicking here.

Androgynous style- Do it like a dude.

I sat reading a book about Marlene Dietrich today. She was just the most stunning women imaginable, with legendary sex appeal. And this was never more apparent than when she dressing like a man. Marlene’s wardrobe, both in films (In Morocco she famously sported a tuxedo and top hat) and in real life veered towards mannish tailoring. And the androgynous spirit of Marlene is alive and kicking in the fashion world today.

One of music’s hottest new stars, Janelle Monae, acknowledges Dietrich as a style icon, and works that tuxedo look to its best advantage. Rihanna wore a stylised D&G Tuxedo to the Met Ball, whilst Leighton Meister was widely photographed wearing a mens suit and tie late last year. Coco Sumner has a style that’s based on wearing boys clothing with lank hair, in the style that Luella Bartley celebrates as typically English.

There are some who are the old masters of the cross dressing scene, often sporting male garb whilst totally retaining their femininity. Kate Moss has worked this style for many years, with a love of leather biker jackets, tuxedos, skinny jeans and rock style t-shirts. Grazia recently recognised that at times her wardrobe is interchangeable with that of her fiance Jamie Hince. In a similar vein is Alexa Chung, who adds a boyish sensibility to even her prettiest looks, dressing Chanel dresses down with chunky work boots. Tilda Swinton is so similar to David Bowie, and always looks more comfortable in mens tailoring (she was the perfect choice to play Virginia Woolf’s Orlando), with Cate Blanchett another actress whose strong, striking looks can carry off the most masculine outfits.

What is the appeal of androgynous dressing? I guess it is the lack of flesh on display, that covered up-ness, that is so appealing. Most men say their is nothing sexier than when their loved one wears their clothes, from the pyjama top without the bottoms, their old shirt, or old jumper. Magazine polls often state that men love women best in simple jeans and white t-shirts, a totally asexual outfit. New Fashion label The Kooples have jumped on this matching his-and-hers looks in their ad campaigns, which feature couples in very similar outfits, which could almost be from a unisex wardrobe

Androgynous dressing seems to look effortless, like you hadn’t got anything to wear so you raided ‘his’ wardrobe. It is both a timeless and ageless look, see Tilda Swinton in her 50s and Coco Sumner in her 20s – the look belongs to both of them. To me, the Queen of androgynous style is Patti Smith, who has sported the same look from the ‘Horses’ cover in the mid 70s to the present day and still looks amazing in it.


Sally Harper – Fashion’s sharpest Milliner.

Unless you have been residing on the moon, you couldn’t fail to notice that a bare head is seriously under-dressed. Hats, headpieces, headbands and fascinators- all of these items are having a bit of a style moment. Dita Von Teese favours the 1940s ‘black widow’ veiled looks, Kate Middleton has a neat collection of fascinators, Paloma Faith accessorises most of her outfits with some variety of headgear, whilst Kate Moss has modelled all varieties, from straw boaters at rock star weddings, stylish Trilby’s at summer festivals, to Minnie Mouse style headbands at Disneyland. The old adage ‘If you want to get ahead – get a hat’ has never been truer.

Which is why it is so fabulous that one of the UK’s brightest millinery talents is based in Birmingham. Sally Harper is the force behind ‘Sharper Millinery’. The company, which was established 10 years ago, creates the most beautiful, bespoke, couture hats, head pieces and ‘head sculptures’ directly from customers specifications, using a range of beautiful fabrics including silks, velvet, straw and sinamay. An exclusive consultation service is available for every customer in order to design and then create a totally unique piece of headwear.

I was lucky enough to have a chat with Sally at the Designer Vintage Bridal Show, where she was showcasing a range of her stunning creations.  Sally told me her influences for the fabulous creations often come from old photographs from the 1920s and 30s, and are often based on original vintage creations. Icons of style from this period like Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich also provide starting points for design, along with the work of designers like Elsa Schiaparelli, who, through her own elaborate and groundbreaking designs, forged the way for different things to happen in the world of fashion.


Marlene Dietrich



Bette Davis


Sally uses original fabrics when possible, but this is often difficult, as many hats from the 1920s and 30s were made of silk, which is often fragile and too delicate to be reused. Therefore many of her designs are vintage inspired, such as this 1940s style head sculpture, which resembles the bright and beautiful designs worn by Carmen Miranda in her wartime heyday.

Sally is in big demand for her wedding headwear. The vast majority of this is bespoke wear, it is very rare that a design is bought ‘off the peg’.  Although many brides are now abandoning the long, ostentatious veils of yesteryear, there has been a rise in the demand for small, birdcage veils that look glamorous and elegant, with a real 1950s/60s vibe to them. I fell in love with a lovely bow headband with a small veil attached that Sally had on her display at the Designer Vintage Wedding Show because it reminded me of the veil that Audrey Hepburn wore at the end of Funny Face.


Sally's designs at the Designer Vintage Wedding Show


Sally loved being part of the Designer Vintage Wedding Show because it seemed like this was the perfect setting for her beautiful, retro designs. Although Sharper Millinery have been involved in more traditional wedding shows, this seemed the natural home for designs that give such a nod to the past.


Couture Hat - Sharper Millinery


Brides-to-be are not the only customers for Sharper Millinery. Sally has designed for Mother-of-the-Bride and bridesmaids, as well as stylish wedding guests. She has a loyal clientele of regular race goers who wear Sally’s wonderful creations to Ladies Day at Ascot and Goodwood. The Lady Mayoress of Birmingham has also worn one of Sally’s creations. The rise of fashionista’s like Dita Von Teese and Sarah Jessica Parker who wear hats and headpieces with such finesse has also helped to expand Sharper Millinery’s clientele. The exquisite designs and use of feathers, beads and ribbons make a Sally Harper creation a must-have item for any vintage inspired wardrobe.


head piece Sharper Millinery



Sally Harper of Sharper Millinery wearing one of her beautiful creations.


To see more of Sally’s designs, please check out the website at   http://www.sharpermillinery.co.uk/