02 August 2014

Marriage a la 1970

Inspired by the blog Melbourne - Our Home on the Bay, I decided to have another look at the clothes we wore at a friend's wedding in 1970 and then at our own wedding a few months later. But I need a historical context.

From gold silk and corset-constrained waistlines, to flowing white chiffon, a bride's dream wedding dress has changed dramatically since Queen Victoria. Colours changed, materials came and went, shapes reflected the decade of their owners. Only one element remained constant - except for singlet shaped flapper wedding dresses in the 1920s, most wedding dresses seemed to have long sleeves and a rather modest image.

1970 was the year in which bridal dressing became a business, with the debut of bridal magazines and famous bridal designers. The most famous bridal atelier of the day was Christos who created exquisite dresses, trimmed with hand-clipped lace and beaded pearls. Two other coveted wedding dress designer were John Burbidge, who designed gowns for Priscilla of Boston from 1968 on, and Jim Hjelm.

Joe and I got married in 1970 in the gardens.
We might have been Flower People during the year, 
but note the long sleeves and high neckline made from cotton pique.

1970 was a great time to be getting married since fashion was modernising faster than ever before. And if 1970 started the Me Decade, we would certainly expect an individualistic approach fashion. The inspiration came from all over - think about tailored Yves Saint Laurent pant suits, Grecian tunics and other ethnic styles, Mick and Bianca Jagger, and clothing inspired by disco dancing. When Princess Anne and Captain Mark Philips were married in 1973, UK brides were looking to King Arthur’s Camelot; romantic medieval princess features were incorporated into wedding dresses, including high necks and cascading sleeves. High waisted A-line empire styles were everywhere.

Examples can be seen in photos from Bride Magazine's spring edition in 1970. Long hair was definitely in style in this era., usually worn long and straight. The lace and the veil matched, and the veil was worn over the front of the shoulders so the lace framed the face. These dresses were long in length, had raised necklines and the sleeves were puffy and long. Looking back, it seems that the 1970 wedding dress loved lace and loose fitting fabrics, while designs were fluid, drape-able and covered a lot of skin.

Going to a famous wedding designer or shop would have been beyond the financial reach of most people I knew in 1970. So my friends and I looked at patterns and photos, and took them to our mothers' favourite dressmakers. I am still very grateful to Vintage Simplicity for all their patterns and instructions for dresses with sleeve and neckline interest. Examine the Vintage dress with princess seaming, a back zip,  two-piece long bell shaped sleeves and crochet type lace edging. An alternative pattern was for a stand-up collar with short sleeves gathered to sleeve bands and belt stitched in side front seams.

I was bridesmaid at a close friend's wedding in 1970
Note the short dresses worn by my grandmother (left) and my mother (centre)

Young women might have been hippies at university, but apparently they listened to their mothers when it came to modest wedding dresses. Perhaps 1970 was a pivotal point between the Old World that our mothers loved and the New World that our younger sisters would come to prefer.

29 July 2014

Toscanini and the Lusitania - there but for the grace of God go I

Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957) was born in Parma where he studied the cello and later was selected to play in the orchestra of an Italian opera company. In 1886, the teenager conducted his first opera, sur­prising everyone with how well he managed the orchestra. And he never looked back; Toscanini went on to conduct 18 operas, to great acclaim.

His reputation as a cellist might have been limited but as an operatic conductor, his career sky rocketed. How clever of him to fo­c­us on beloved Italian musicians, conducting the opening presentat­ions of Giacomo Puccini's La bohème in 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin and Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in 1892 at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan.

Toscanini married Carla De Martini in 1897 and went on to have four children within the decade. These were busy years. In 1896, Toscan­ini conducted his first symphonic concert in Turin, focusing on the music of Schubert and Tchaikovsky. And within a coup­le of years he had become the Principal Conductor at La Scala where he happily remained until 1908. And to prove that Toscanini could make it abroad, he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1908 until WW1.

In 1915, Toscanini felt it was time to return home and once his season at the Metropolitan Opera ended, he booked a ticket on the British ocean liner Lusitania. It was believed that both the Lusitania and its sister ship were the most luxurious, fastest and roomy ships imaginable on the North Atlantic run.

record of Toscanini at La Scala
photo credit: Teatro alla Scala di Milano

So I have no idea why Toscanini ended his concert schedule in New York abruptly and left a week earlier than planned. Greg Daugherty suggested that the conductor was hyper-anxious about the Met’s management of finances, the poor performance of Carmen and his relentless workload during the opera season. Or to escape from Geraldine Farrar, a beautiful diva with whom he was ending an affair. What I do know is that he sailed towards Europe on an Italian ship, not on the Lusitania.

Perhaps the beautiful cruise ship Lusitania WAS carrying armaments for Britain, as the Germans claimed. In any case the Germans had already stated clearly that they would order unres­tricted submarine warfare in the waters around Britain; they would attack all ships that entered this war zone. So on 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was torped­oed by a German submarine off the south coast of Ireland en route to Liverpool. Within 20 minutes, the ship disappeared in the Celtic Sea; of the 2,000 passengers and crew on board, 1,200 people drowned.

Arturo Toscanini was not the only famous person who stayed alive when so many others died on the Lusitania. Lady Duff-Gordon (1863-1935), the hugely important fashion designer Lucile, had survived the Titanic on its trip to the USA in 1912!! By 1915 she wanted to go home to Britain and had booked her ticket on board the RMS Lusitania. Lucile, who apparently postponed her trip home due to illness, could consider herself a VERY fortunate soul!!

New York Times, May 1915

But it shows the fickleness of survival and death. Had Toscanini gone aboard the Lusitania as planned, his life career might have been cut short in his 40s. He might not have toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1930, he might not have been made the first music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York from 1937 and he might not have made amazing recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1937.

Most importantly for this blog, we have to note that the Palestine Symphony in Tel Aviv would not have been the huge success that it was if Arturo Toscanini had died in 1915.

Bronislaw Huberman had to move Europe’s most brilliant Jewish musicians to a safe haven before WW2. He decided to tour across Central-Eastern Europe, to interview any musician who wanted to play in his to-be-established Palestine Symphony; if a person was selected, Huberman guaranteed to get him and his family a visa out of Europe. Eventually the Palestine Symphony did start its concert tours in Dec 1936 led by the greatest conductor then alive, Arturo Toscanini. Golda Meir, David Ben Gurion and every other communal-cultural figure in Palestine were at the first concert, which was held in the Italian Pavilion of the Levant Fair Ground in Tel Aviv. Perfect.

25 July 2014

How a British prince became a German duke.. and fought against Britain!

I believed it was impossible to learn accurate hist­ory from a tv programme. Wrong!!! The Channel 4 documentary Hitler's Favourite Royal traced the tragic tale of how a member of the British Royal Family was forced against his will into accepting a German dukedom, found himself fighting for the Kaiser in WW1, was deprived of all his British titles and branded a traitor peer. And worse.

Prince Charles Edward (1884–1954) was born in Surrey. His father was Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria. As his father died before his birth, Prince Charles Edward became The Duke of Albany at birth. His godparents were his granny Queen Victoria, his paternal uncle the Prince of Wales and other royal uncles and aunts.

When Uncle Alfred died over in Coburg leaving no son, the Queen's 3rd son the Duke of Connaught should have moved to Germany. But Connaught wisely renounced his claims to that distant duchy.

So when Charles Edward was a young schoolboy at Eton, granny Queen Victoria made a decision that was to scar his life. She decreed the British prince would eventually become Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the German principality from which her beloved late husband, Prince Albert, had come. This was despite young Prince Charles Edward hating anything German, including the language!

And so it happened. In 1900, at 16, Charles Edward was forced to leave his home and become Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, with 13 castles in Germany and Austria, hunting lodges, endless rich farmland in Bavaria and a very valuable duchy. He became the fourth and last reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, under the care of a regent. Only when he became an adult in 1905 did Charles Edward assume full constitutional powers. In the same year the Duke married Princess Victoria Adelaide of Schleswig-Holstein and had five children. It was a happy marriage.

Duke Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, 1914
photo credit: The Daily Mail

As WW1 started, Charles Edward found himself in a hideous dilemma: fighting for the Kaiser OR for the beloved country of his birth. This caused a terrible conflict of loyalties for the young man, but finally he supported Germany and was given a commission as a general in the German Army. Meanwhile, back in Britain, King George V changed the name of the British Royal House from the “House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha” to the “House of Windsor”. By 1917 the war against Germany had made King George want to distance his dynasty from its German origins.

It is correct to say that the Duke of Saxe Coburg became a controversial figure in Britain, due to his status as a German general in WWI. But who had originally forced him to become a German royal??? Why did he lose his British titles and his British honours in 1919? Why was King George absolved of his German-ness but Duke Charles Edward was not?

In November 1918, the Workers' and Soldiers' Council of Gotha deposed him and he relinquished his rights to Coburg throne. Thus he was doubly abandoned: branded a traitor and effectively exiled from Brit­ain AND deposed in Germany. Now a private citizen, he now moved to the far right, associating him­self with very nasty right-wing paramilitary and political organisat­ions. I felt sorry for him no longer. He voluntarily joined the Nazi Party in 1935 and rose through the ranks of the SA aka Brownshirts. He also served as a member of the Reichstag representing the Nazi Party from 1937 on, and as president of the German Red Cross from 1933 on.

Hitler and goodwill ambassador Charles Edward, c1937
Both are wearing the swastika.
photo credit: The Daily Mail

In 1936, Adolf Hitler made Charles Edward president of the Anglo-German Friendship Society, an ambassadorial role in his old country. His mission was to improve Anglo-German relations and to explore the possibility of a pact between the two countries. He attended the funeral of his first cousin King George V in a uniform of a general of the German army (his British uniform having been taken away from him), and sent Hitler encouraging reports about the strength of pro-German sentiment among the British aristocracy.

Charles Edward used his position as president of the newly-formed Anglo-German Fellowship to engineer personal dealings between his cousin, the new pro-German King Edward VIII, and Hitler. Then after the Abdication Crisis, he hosted the the terrible Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their “private” tour of Germany in 1937.

Although Charles Edward was too old to serve himself in WW2, his three sons served in the Wehrmacht. His second son was killed in action in 1943.

When WW2 ended, in the weeks following the death of Hitler and the fall of the Third Reich, a 60-year-old arthritic man was found in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. The American Military Government in Bavaria placed Charles Edward and other Nazi officials under house arrest at his main royal property, Veste Coburg. His sister, Princess Alice, travelled from Britain to Germany to plead for Charles Edward’s release.

At his trial, Charles Edward pleaded not guilty. He claimed he had acted honourably, as did the Nazi regime. In 1946, he was sentenced and almost bankrupted. Since Gotha was part of Thuringia, the Soviet Army confiscated much of the family's property in Gotha. Coburg had become part of Bavaria in 1920, and fared a little better.

Now he was a prisoner, ostracised by his royal relations and branded a traitor to his country (which one?) He spent the last years of his life almost in isolation. In 1953, he travelled to a local cinema to watch the Coronation of his beloved cousin's granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. He died in Coburg in a small flat in 1954, the last surviving grandson of Queen Victoria. What a dismal life.