great dames

Like several people have pointed out, it shouldn't have come as a shock when I heard the news yesterday that Dame Margaret Thatcher died. And yet somehow, it was. Such a force of nature, who had such an impact on the world's stage, seemed to me somehow.. eternal.

I don't have an anecdote about Maggie. We never met. So don't have a photo to post here. But the first image that came to mind, when I decided to post a tribute to her, were her iconic 'ladylike' blouses. With the little bows.

And then I thought of my Great Aunt Ruth, and of young, old spirit, Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, shown here. Because, after all, my one rule in life (which I only rarely break) is that I only post shots I've taken.

Aunt Ruth, like Margaret Thatcher, was a force to be reckoned with. She had, single handedly, aged about 14, taken my grandfather by the hand, at the age of 8, led him from Russia, where their parents had died and they were the youngest of a few dozen siblings, and did what it took - black market, whatever - to get him, via Europe, to America, and the promised land. Where elder brothers were set up. They lived in the back of a laundry at first, and then one of the brothers paid for my grandfather's education, to become a pharmacist. He ended up owning a pharmacy on Park Avenue, with clients like the Rockefellers.

And Aunt Ruth married Uncle Jack. Didn't have kids. As my mom recently explained, although I grew up feeling that they were well off, in truth Aunt Ruth was "a poor immigrant girl who worked hard sewing linings into fur coats. She had a sick husband so her money came from hard work, investing wisely, and having NO children and NO cars."

In other words: one of 'Thatcher's children.' Maggie would have approved.

After Uncle Jack died, I can remember on visits, she'd insist on buying me clothes. Didn't approve of me wearing ripped jeans, or anything worn or old. She was always very generous. One time, we were in a good department store, and I started going to the sale rack, and she insisted: 'not the sale rack.' I remember what I finally chose (or, more likely, she chose): a beautiful, luxurious, kind of soft raspberry pink V neck pullover jumper. I wish I kept it: I always felt pretty in it.

And this blouse - with its matching 'pussy bow' - somehow made it into my life, via my Mom. It wasn't my style, and it wasn't my Mom's either, so at one point, she gave it to me. And I kept it because I absolutely love the pattern- a precursor to the digital print phenomenon, it's like slices of photographic marble, on the finest, sheer fabric.

So when I did a shoot with Flora, for our mutual friend Lucie (Band4Hope), I brought along a few props, including that blouse, and a vintage, faux fur hat. Something they were also talking about, in one of the many Thatcher tributes last night: when she met with Gorbachev, in Moscow, all shiny and bling, aware of the impact this would make, aware of the cameras, aware, always, of the importance of image, and marched off the plane with a big Russian fur hat.

I read somewhere, a while back, that men don't really hear women whose voices are high pitched. It's true. They've done scientific studies. The higher pitched, the more feminine, a woman's voice is, the less likely men are to actually hear what they're saying. (Men are also more attracted to women with softer, higher pitched voices. Which explains everything).

The example they gave was Margaret Thatcher's: her voice was deep, low, and men heard her.

What I didn't realise, until last night, was that she learned to speak that way. On purpose. Low, and serious. So she could be heard.

And it was her ability to walk that delicate balance, of not just accepting the slur of being an 'Iron Lady', but embracing it, and combining it, always, with being a lady in every sense, hair coiffed and suits softened with the most feminine of blouses, that made her such a formidable Dame.

Of all I've been reading today, this piece by Timothy Stanley, on CNN, resonated for me the most. In it, he said 'I am very much one of 'Thatcher's children' - education and hard work have given me opportunities that were, for my parents, the stuff of dreams.' To think that something that I'd, as an American, grown up taking for granted - this 'American dream' - it took Margaret Thatcher to smash apart a class system that had worked for Brits for.. ever. As Stanley put it: 'Aspiration became fashionable in a land where people have always been taught that they were defined by the class in which they were born.' And in the time I've lived here - since 1997 - that concept is now laughable.

And for all her seriousness, she wasn't without a sense of humour. In my process of researching the clippings I've chosen for you, I came across one source, where pretty much the best of them all can be found. If you click here, they're all great, but I especially like the last, with her references to Monty Python, and the dead parrot.

Thank you to Lucie, of course, whose home we shot this in, but also, especially, to lovely young Flora. Who was just a teen - still IS - who came down on the train from school to do this shoot: a thousand costume changes, til we lost the light, then whisking back, via the tube, to catch the train. It's not just her lineage (and you do the research, she's too private a person to plaster it all here), there's just something so extraordinary in her nature: she is so destined to be a great Dame.

Hope is contagious. Pass it on.


Style Is sustainable fashion said...

Yes came as a great shock to me too that Dame Margaret Thatcher had died. Such a great woman and funnily enough I never really thought about her much in terms of influencing fashion but I guess she did in quite a big way.

jill said...

Thank you, Style Is. Now I'm curious about your blog, will check it out. Thanks for taking the time to comment: my husband just said 'no one will read such a long post, Jill' but that's not why I'm doing it.

Besides my mom did!

So as long as she - and one other person, in this case you - are reading it, I shall continue to post.

Veshoevius said...

Wonderful post! Loved how you've woven poignant tales from your own family in here.