Tag Archives: Lena Horne

Jazz Style Icons

It’s all about jazz for me at the moment, in the run-up to the Glasgow Jazz Festival (June 29-July3) and I’ve had to neglect this blog a little  … However, I have – as always – been finding a great deal of style inspiration in jazz –  not so much from the current crop of jazz stars as from the greats of yesteryear. Here’s a selection of some of my favourite style icons, starting, above, with Chet Baker (1929-1988), the James Dean of the jazz world, who wins my style award for services to the white T-shirt .. And below is his one-time band-mate, baritone sax star Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996) who was rarely without a crew cut and Ray-Bans in the 1950s.

Another super-cool jazz musician whose music and style I love is the legendary Lester “Prez” Young (1909-1959), the ethereal-sounding tenor saxophonist who came to fame in Count Basie’s band in the 1930s and made a series of landmark recordings with his friend Billie Holiday. He became a much-feted solo star in the 1950s, and his signature pork-pie hat is as recognisable to jazz fans as Lady Day’s gardenia and Louis Armstrong’s white handkerchief – possibly moreso. So indelibly linked are the Prez and his pork pie hat that Herman Leonard famously took an evocative portrait of Lester Young without Young in it: the pork-pie hat plus the saxophone (and a swirl of cigarette smoke) were enough to suggest their owner’s presence.

As I mentioned, one of the most identifiable accessories in jazz history was Billie Holiday’s (1915-1959) gardenia – which, for a decade from the late 1930s, was a key part of her look. Legend has it that the first gardenia was pinned on her head to cover a patch of hair which had been singed by tongs. It quickly became her trademark..

I also love the hair style she sported for much of the 1950s – the sleeked-back ponytail. This was how she wore her hair in the landmark TV programme, The Sound of Jazz.

Perhaps more of an all-round style icon was the lovely Lena Horne (1917-2010), a woman with exquisite taste and a sense of elegant style that lasted her whole life.  She was known for her turbans and for her gorgeous evening gowns …

Not all of the great jazz style icons have left us: Annie Ross (born 1930), the 80-year-old pioneering jazz vocalist is still performing (she plays in London next week, at the Bluesfest, and in Glasgow’s Oran Mor on July 8). And I haven’t seen a photo of her looking less than stylish. Check out this beautiful portrait from the 1950s.

And I especially love this one: three of my favourite jazz style icons captured on photo as they record the wonderful album Annie Ross Sings a Song of Mulligan (that’s Chet Baker in the middle). Cool in every sense of the word..

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Turban Power

It has none of the intelligence of the TV series, little of the style, and – worst of all – it’s made its quartet of heroines impossible to warm to (Miranda’s lost her witty spark, Carrie’s a moaner, Charlotte could turn baby talk into a form of torture, and Samantha has become a parody of her former self),  but Sex and the City 2 does have something going for it: a fabulous array of headgear. Notably Carrie’s turban. But she’s not the first movie star to work the eastern headgear trend. Here are some other favourites, kicking off with Lana Turner as she’s first seen in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

By the time she’s revealed her murderous plan to her new lover, she has switched her virginal white turban for an altogether more appropriate one for a film noir femme fatale..

Another fan of the turban when it was popular in the 1940s was Joan Crawford.

In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) preferred hers in leopardprint …

… while in real life, jazz singer, movie star and activist Lena Horne used her white one to keep cosy.

One of the most beautiful turbans on the big screen was worn by Ava Gardner in the sumptuous romantic fantasy Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951). Here it is in action:

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Style Heroines: Lena Horne

Lena Horne (1917-2010), who died yesterday, was one of THE most beautiful, elegant and stylish stars of the 1940s and beyond. Here’s a selection of my favourite images of her, kicking off with this still, from the all-star, Technicolor, MGM movie Thousands Cheer (1943).

In Thousands Cheer, Lena combined sultriness with sophistication as she sang Honeysuckle Rose with the Benny Carter band. In 1943, she also starred in two all-black musicals: Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. She was at her sexiest in Stormy Weather- as this picture of her in a slinky gown designed by Helen Rose (some of whose work is currently on display in the Grace Kelly exhibition at the V&A) – shows.

I’m not sure where the next photo was taken but it highlights just how refined Lena Horne was – oh, and what exquisite taste she had in evening wear …

Ditto for this one ..

And offstage/screen, Lena Horne didn’t disappoint with her sartorial choices, as this photo from the late 1950s demonstrates.

And here she is in action, in Thousands Cheer, wearing one of the loveliest, most striking dresses of the 1940s, and singing with the Benny Carter band:

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