Jean Shrimpton’s legendary beauty collided with David Bailey’s notorious swagger over a photo shoot for a Corn Flakes advert in 1960. The result was a four-year affair that ushered in the ‘60s and changed the face of fashion, with enduring effect.
‘Shrimpton promotes this sort of sultry, highly provocative sexuality through Bailey’s photographs that must have been quite shocking at the time,’ says Christopher Breward, the co-curator of the V&A’s upcoming British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition. ‘There were no other models who were quite so frank. Twiggy has an innocence about her, whereas Shrimpton is more like the cinema stars of that time—Julie Christie, for example—or the women’s pop and rock figures, like Marianne Faithfull.
‘It’s an in-your-face kind of sexuality that’s very radical. She establishes a real tradition of the fashion model that goes right through the current generation to Kate Moss.’
We’ll Take Manhattan, BBC4’s effervescent account of Shrimpton and Bailey’s relationship, credits the couple with launching Swinging London. And Shrimpton, of course, gave the mini-skirt one of its earliest and most notorious outings at Melbourne’s Derby Day races in October 1965.
‘She completely symbolised this explosion of women’s freedom in the sexing-up of fashionable society of the time, and of confidence in the British fashion design world,’ Breward says. ‘The miniskirt was such a radical shift and all so sudden in the mid-‘60s, given skirt lengths until then. It’s the London scene as captured in David Bailey’s photographs that caught the world’s attention, and women of Jean’s generation that pushed it forward.’
More than 50 years after Bailey set his sights on Shrimpton, why do the ‘60s still resonate?
‘It’s a moment of such quick and exciting changes,’Breward suggests. ‘It’s tantalisingly within living memory and personal memory, but also, it’s really weird and out there, a strangely unattainable period of glamour, excitement and play. From our dark times, it’s like looking back on a sunny afternoon.’
We’ll Take Manhattan broadcasts at 9pm tonight on BBC4 and is out on DVD on 30 January.
See British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age at the V&A from 31 March – 12 August.