Oxford Street in London this summer has a visual treat. Selfridge’s, well-known for eye-catching and innovative window-dressing, has teamed up with some world-famous fashion designers to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. There are 12 displays – here are five I managed to photograph between the crowds on a very busy Oxford Street.
The Alexander McQueen interpretation is from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ using the quote “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream”
More dreamlike, romantic clothes.
‘Romeo and Juliet’, was chosen by Christopher Kane with the quote “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” providing inspiration.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also gives us another romantic, inspirational couplet for Erdem – “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged cupid blind”.
Bucking the trend and displaying an alternative, challenging interpretation J W Anderson uses perhaps one of the most famous Shakespeare quotes “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from ‘Hamlet’.
Although I love the unashamedly romantic frills and ornate prints of the Alexander McQueen window, there is something haunting and long-lasting about the Issey Miyake display. “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better” from ‘Twelfth Night’ is the chosen quotation. The textured, structural coat shaped from cloth adorned/woven with words from the significant text captures our contemporary engagement with Shakespeare in a most memorable fashion. Particularly striking, I thought, emerging from the reflections of a 21st-century cityscape.
Celebrating Saint Valentine’s Eve – a new idea perhaps, but not so, in fact an old local Norwich jollification. During the evening of February 13th wrapped gifts labelled with ‘Good Morrow Valentine’ were left on doorsteps all over the city. Anonymous admirers then knocked on front doors and hastily retreated. In 1862 one local resident Helen Downes commented,
‘We do not here content ourselves with lace-cut papers, but everybody sends everybody real presents anonymously; and, as on all gift-bestowing occasions, the children come in for the lion-share.’
During the Victorian times in Norwich the weeks before Valentine’s Eve found the shops so busy with extra trade that additional temporary sales assistants were hired. The folks of Norwich were shopping for Valentine’s gifts. The grander gifts on offer included workboxes, vases, tea caddies and umbrellas or for a very lucky lady a ‘Norwich Shawl’.
However, the most typical gifts were gloves and perfume together with the familiar Valentine’s day card. Victorian Valentine’s cards were elaborate affairs with embossing, paper lace, feathers and even hand stitching.
Antique Valentine’s card from The Jewel Mystique’
Antique Valentine’s card from Moon Maiden Emporium.
According to the information at Norwich’s Bridewell Museum both young and old took part in celebrating St Valentine’s Eve. The museum is dedicated to the history of Norwich and as part of displays showing the story of local commerce it has a superb collection of high quality Victorian hand stitched Valentine’s card. Similar examples are sometimes sold nowadays by antique dealers and I’ve also found a few vintage survivors (pictured above and below) on Etsy from Moon Maiden Emporium, The Jewel Mystique and SCDVintage.
Antique Valentine’s card from SCD Vintage. Pop up forget-me-nots circa 1900.
Verse inside reads At morn, at noon, at night, Thy form in fancy still I see; In gloomy shade, in blaze of light, My thoughts are ever turned to thee: Bright as the stars my love shall shine If you will be my Valentine.
I couldn’t help but think how we so often assume we are living in the most consumer conscious times, but nothing is new and the Victorian Norwich shopkeepers obviously spotted a lucrative opportunity over a hundred years ago. Of course, you could just have a go at making your own version! (Sorry no delicate sewing with silk and lace trim just wrapping paper, doilies and reproduction Victorian scraps.)