Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Skinny -- Ophelia

Salvador Dali, Ophelia's Death
I started this blog post with the goal of showing the impact of interpretation of a character over time through art -- i.e. how a character becomes ingrained into our culture and is transmitted through certain visual cues.  I wanted to focus on Ophelia, starting with paintings and drawings and moving into modern photography. 

However, we Blackbirds took a break.  And went to a new coffee shop in town for a macchiato (me), black cherry soda (her), and a shared lemon sugar cookie (yum).  What can I say -- it's our way.

While sharing that cookie, though, we started talking about something completely different.  About another character, even more well known than and not even remotely connected to Ophelia, and how that character has become known for certain traits and ideas that originate from sources other than what we believe to be the original text.  This character is revealed more in the way he is perceived by others, than by his actual appearance in the text.  His personality is gathered from multiple cultures and stories.  And the traits that make him most famous are mostly left up to interpretation.

It was kind of a shocking realization.

John Everett Millais

Paul Albert Steck, Ophelia Drowning
And when we got home, I made a connection between the two ideas, and realized that Ophelia's character is sort of the same way.  We learn more about her through the way she is perceived by the other characters in Hamlet than we do through her own lines.  I found a website that listed Ophelia's lines in the play -- they were pretty boring and honestly, there weren't very many of them.  Mostly obedient little single lines until she cracks up.  But man, did the other characters talk about her!
Culturally, however, she has become a female icon (for good or for bad, take your pick); she has become "OPHELIA," not just Ophelia.  She represents love lost and melancholy.  Depression.  A lover to scorn, a betrayed daughter, a sister to avenge.  A madwoman.  Ultimately, a woman who can't make her own choices about her life; she is bound to be obedient to her father or her husband, given the restrictions of the society of her time.  She is the representation of goodness, in contrast with Hamlet's faithless mother, Gertrude.  But, eh, Hamlet still verbally abuses Ophelia, and she dies (or kills herself -- it's debatable).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Old Shakespeare lets Hamlet's mom break the news:

When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death

The description of her death, from Gertrude's lips, sounds not too bad actually.  She looked good -- mermaid-like -- and she didn't really even realize, "Hey, I'm drowning!''  She was too busy singing.  Darn those heavy, wet clothes!

John William Waterhouse

So, over the years, artists have gleaned some important (to them, at least) ideas from her story -- Ophelia was pretty, she had some flowers, and she had some nice clothes.  Oh, and she was kind of sad.  And they ran with it, making her into the poster child for "Woe is me!" and "He don't love me no more!" Oh, and "Goodbye cruel world!"

Paul Delaroche
Arthur Hughes
Henry Lejeune

Personally, I prefer Natalie Merchant's version of her character, highlighted in her album, aptly titled Ophelia.  The entire album is a statement for women's rights, arguing against limiting images of women as "mother" or "whore", and calling out Ophelia as a woman who had to fight against patriarchal, male dominated society.  It also helps that the songs are really good -- beautiful and simple and strong.

Ophelia's mind went wandering
You'd wonder where she'd gone
Through secret doors
Down corridors
She'd wander them alone
All alone... 

Odilon Redon

But what would today's Ophelia look like?  Fashion has the answer.  She can be soft and dreamy, like this:

Rooney Mara for Vogue
Or bold and feminine, like this:

Coco Rocha
Either way, she's an icon -- a mystical female archetype full of romance and tragedy.  So screw you, Hamlet.  Ophelia's way cooler.

Michael James Talbot

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On the Radar -- Meow!

Audrey Hepburn knows it's true...
It's the year of the cat!  (Well, not really...)  But imagine my delighted surprise when I started seeing cat eye sunglasses in all the designers' spring/summer collections!  We love a cat eye frame -- and we happen to think, both of us Blackbirds, that there is nothing quite as alluring as a raised eyebrow over dark tilted lenses.  Any girl can achieve that sex kitten perfection with cat eye sunnies.  (At least in our own minds we can.  And, oh, by the way, pun intended.) 

Cat eyes are classic but have soooooo much more personality that many other frames.  You can play with colors and sizes, like other glasses, but think of the different tilts that are available.  You can go extreme or subtle, rhinestone bedecked flashy or quiet sophistication.  It's all in how you wear them and how bold you want to be. 

Here's a sampling of some of the new offerings from current designers:

We both agree that these Diors are smoking hot sexy...

Tory Burch

Stella McCartney

And now my two fave vintage finds, because you should always dare to go vintage...

From holdenism on Etsy.  Available here.

From Last Prize Vintage on Etsy.  Available here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Junk Love Monday: My Precioussss

You might think that when two people have as many collections as we do, it would be impossible to pick one absolute favorite item. (If you need a refresher, just read our Blackbird 100 post from a few months ago--creating that list was ridiculously difficult.) But, for the other Blackbird girl, it is very cut and dried. She knows exactly what her favorite thing is, and it is doubtful that any other item will ever fill that spot. (Now, picking the number two item is a different matter entirely. It's like trying to make a list of your top five songs. It's easy to get the top four, and then you think of thirty for that last slot.) This brings me to the sacred, all-powerful, most bowls.

Before we became roommates, we worked together while both of us were in college. That's how we met. When she graduated and got an offer to share a house with two other girls in Raleigh, I offered to help her pack (I'm nice like that). I showed up at her apartment after work, newspaper in hand, and got to work. It was my first real introduction to her collections, because I am generally too antisocial to go to people's houses, so this was only my second or third time at her place. This is when I met the cocktail collection, and the thermos collection, and the various kitchen-y junk collection. I was a happy camper, because one of my secret favorite things to do is wrap stuff in newspaper and pack it into boxes (it's true--I'm really good at it). We were making great progress, and then she got quiet.

"We have to be really careful with these," she said. "These are my absolute favorites, and they cannot get broken." It was a very intense moment. But, as someone who has her own serious hangups about certain precious items (ask anyone about my 1920s bed...), I don't judge. I just said okay. And then I tried to take them from her, and she didn't want to let go. There was a weird transitional moment where she followed the bowls, cradling them until they were safely settled on the countertop, three feet away from where they had started the journey. Her jaw was tense. I grabbed some newspaper, and she watched like a hawk as I wrapped each bowl. Luckily, I am a stellar wrapper, so I made the grade.

The red bowls, which usually carry the emphasis of capitalization (The Red Bowls) when discussed, are a set of 3 mixing bowls by Universal. She got them at the Raleigh Flea Market during her senior year of college, and it was love at first sight. According to her, they are the perfect shade of red. Also, unlike most mixing bowl sets that we find, they are tall and skinny instead of short and wide, so they take up less room and look cooler. They are also perfect. She paid $18 for the set, which, at the time, was a ridiculous price for her to pay for anything at the flea market (nothing wrong with being cheap!). She didn't even flinch at the price.

Since then, The Red Bowls have held the highest position in her household. When it's time to move, they get wrapped individually in a super-thick cocoon of newspaper, and then they are given their own box, which is then labeled accordingly and given a place of honor in someone's lap or surrounded by pillows for the drive to the new place. If there was ever a fire (please no!), she would be scrambling through the smoke to save the red bowls. They are never used. Never.

I might have loose morals when it comes to my junk (I have so many favorites!), but she is hopelessly devoted to those bowls. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is junk love at its purest.