The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, March 13th 2015

    There are plenty of awe-inspiring moments in the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A in London, but only one that almost brought me to tears. About halfway through, after ogling the “Cabinet of Curiosities”—a room filled floor to ceiling with astounding catwalk showpieces and elaborate accessories—you move to the next darkened room, and are faced with a single dress.

    Spot-lit against a black wall the dress is a tumbling ruffle of white silk organza (right). An asymmetrical drape across one shoulder, and another around the waist, give way to layers upon layers of feather-soft frills, circling to the ground and ending in a froth of fabric at the feet. I wanted to touch it, but its silent perfection prevented me. Behind the wall is a film of the dress, which was the finale for McQueen’s AW06 show, “The Widows of Culloden”. But this isn’t a “film” as we know it; it is a “Pepper’s ghost”—an illusion created with projectors and mirrors that glimmers to life inside a glass case. Victorians believed the technique called real ghosts back from the grave. To modern eyes it’s a curious vision that is somehow more real than a hologram, but less real than a digital projection.

    read more » ExhibitionsFASHIONLondonLucy Farmerstyle

    ~ Posted by Laura Parker, March 12th 2015

    When filming began on the third Harry Potter film, Stuart Craig, the production designer who’d been with the franchise since the beginning, made a crazy suggestion. “Let’s shoot on location,” he said to the crew. “In Scotland.”

    Craig chose Glencoe, a cluster of misty mountains and ragged valleys in the Scottish Highlands with a suitable otherworldly feel. Hagrid’s Hut was built from scratch, as was the ornate wooden bridge that leads to Hogwarts Castle. “Visually, it was a feast,” Craig told me. “It was a remote, distant place, the perfect location for Hogwarts.” And then it rained—a lot. Filming was delayed. Sets had to be rebuilt. “The film was considered fairly disastrous, organisationally speaking. So when it came to signing up for the fourth film, it was by no means a given that I would get the job.”

    Craig did get the job—for the rest of the Harry Potter films. J.K. Rowling then requested his help to build The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a new theme park in Florida, which meant recreating the same magical world but with an entirely new set of design challenges. The difference, of course, is that a movie set only has to look real. Anything that can’t be physically built at the time can be visually inserted later. A theme park not only has to look and feel real, it also, in Florida at least, has to be hurricane proof.

    read more » DesignEntertainmentfictionFilmLaura Parker

    ~ Posted by Georgia Grimond, March 12th 2015

    “Savage Beauty”, first seen at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is a day trip into a fantastical, furious, fragile mind. Alexander McQueen’s designs defy sense, and often gravity too, with dresses made from shells or formed from feathers. As you wander among his mannequins, it is his mind that is most fascinating. Deploying his innate dexterity and using beauty as his guide, McQueen takes issue with the Highland Clearances, explores Darwin and looks both back and forward with his last full collection, “Plato’s Atlantis”.

    The tragedy is that by committing suicide in 2010 he became a museum piece. But London was his great love and how right it is that the East End boy who cut his teeth cutting cloth in the West End should return home.

    read more » ExhibitionsFASHIONGeorgia GrimondLondonstyle

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, March 9th 2015

    Death becomes Alfred Hitchcock. He died in 1980, but his reputation post-mortem seems to have grown only larger, looming across the room and up the walls like a Fritz Lang shadow. The centenary of his birth, in 1999, was the occasion for a small avalanche of books celebrating his work. In 2012, the annual poll of film critics conducted by those auteurist Grand Poobahs over at Sight and Sound magazine voted Hitchcock's "Vertigo" the greatest film of all time, ousting Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" from its more-than-30-year reign. Quite a feat for a film about fear of heights: Hitchcock's reputation these days induces its own form of vertigo. "One reason why the portrait of an obsession might in time overtake the portrait of an ambition," suggests the literary critic Michael Wood in his elegant, elliptical new book, "Alfred Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much", "is that we have become devoted to representations of what we can't change and can't understand, as we certainly were not in the 1950s."

    read more » BookscinemaCriticismFilmTom Shone

    ~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, March 5th 2015

    In the town of Beauly, ten miles west of Inverness, there’s a tweed shop much beloved of Highlanders. Until last month it had been in the same family since 1858, and had been run for time immemorial by the same trio: a brother (the tailor) and his two sisters, all unmarried. The sisters, a friend tells me, were wonderfully “perjink” old ladies.

    Even if you’re not familiar with “perjink”, I bet you can intuit its meaning. It has shades of neat, tidy, pernickety and prim—yet none of these alone quite nails it. It set me thinking of the wealth of Scottish words so subtle and expressive and many-layered that they make the English language seem suddenly poor and thin. Here are ten more I would not be without:

    read more » BooksLanguageLiteratureMaggie FergussonScotland

    ~ Posted by George Pendle, March 4th 2015

    One of the least mourned casualties of the smartphone revolution has been boredom. Whether we are queuing up for coffee, waiting at a doctor’s surgery, or even stopped at a red light, our smartphones can now fill any dead moment with instant distraction. But are we losing something vital by not allowing ourselves to wallow in what Tolstoy termed “the desire for desires”?

    This is the question behind a campaign called "Bored and Brilliant", launched recently by the New York radio station WNYC. It encourages people not only to rethink their relationship with their digital devices, but also tries to overturn the negative preconceptions surrounding boredom itself. The campaign used as its theoretical basis a groundbreaking experiment in boredom studies first carried out by the British psychologists Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman in 2014. In this experiment, subjects who were asked to perform boring tasks like reading the phone book subsequently showed more imagination in performing creative ones. Boredom, in other words, was beneficial. So "Bored and Brilliant" sought to squeeze boredom back into our lives by squeezing our smartphones out.

    read more » george pendleLifestylePsychologysmartphonestechnology

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 2nd 2015

    Every issue of Intelligent Life features a selection of dos and don'ts for a different part of the world, from Istanbul to Botswana. And in every issue the slot, called When In..., is illustrated by Neil Gower. In this video, filmed in Gower's studio, he talks about visual puns, where his ideas come from, and why he's inspired by coffee cups. 

    read more » IllustrationSimon WillisVideo

    ~ Posted by Marion Coutts, February 27th 2015

    Twenty-three of the most extraordinary images you might wish for are on show at the Courtauld in London. You might wish for them, but you would scarcely be able to imagine them for yourself. The show recreates for the first time the sequence of drawings from "The Witches and Old Women Album", or "Album D"—one of eight, late albums Goya drew for private consumption between 1819 and 1823. These were drawings made for himself and a group of friends. All market pressures were off, and the liberation is palpable. He could do exactly what he liked.

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsMarion Coutts

    ~ Posted by Georgia Grimond, February 27th 2015 

    As Rio de Janeiro slowly returns to work after its annual carnival, the celebrations tell a tale of two cities. At the Sambadrome, home to the official carnival, thousands of smiling, shimmying dancers competed to be crowned carnival queens. Tickets were sold, sponsors schmoozed and businesses hosted lavish boxes. Questions are often asked about how the elaborate floats are financed and this year was no different. The winner, with a near-perfect score, was the Beija-Flor (Hummingbird) samba school with its celebration of Equatorial Guinea. Though its dictatorial president is one of Africa’s richest men, many of his people live in deep poverty. Allegations flew among the glitter and feathers that his government gave millions of reais towards the float, and that Brazil has been seen to support the regime.

    read more » BrazilGeorgia GrimondMusicRio de Janeiro

    ~ Posted by Isabel Lloyd, February 26th 2015

    Reading a George Bernard Shaw play can be a dry and tedious affair: all those endless monologues of ideas, all that gnawing at dead Edwardian moralities. And in the first minutes of “Man and Superman”, which opened at the National Theatre in London last night, there doesn’t seem to be much to lift the 21st-century heart. A white-haired man in a pin-stripe suit sits reading a will in an Edwardian library; a lovesick young man enters to discuss the potential marriage of his guardian. So far, so creaky, even with the deliciously pompous Nicholas Le Provost booming and tutting as the paterfamilias. And then the double doors slam open and in bursts—Leonard Rossiter!

    read more » cultureIsabel LloydTheatre