For the last three Sunday evenings, the BBC has transported audiences back to the 1920s, 1930s and the 1940s with their retelling of Nancy Mitford's 1945 semi-autobiographical book The Pursuit of Love. I have to admit, I've never read the book (added it to the ever-growing list though) so I wasn't sure where the story would go. What I did know was that the BBC would not disappoint on the costume front.
Although Splendette might focus their designs on the mid-century years, we still love all things 20th century fashion. We will always be inspired by the decadent art deco styling of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the resourcefulness of the 1940s. So, you can imagine how excited we were to sit down and treat ourselves to an hour of vintage fashion every week - well, two if you count Call the Midwife on before as well!
The story follows cousins, Linda and Fanny, from their introduction to society as teenagers in the late 1920s until they are fully fledged adults in the early 1940s. I don't want to spoil the story too much for those who have not read the book or seen the three-part miniseries yet, so I won't linger too much on this. Instead, let's focus on the costume design of the show.
There are probably three iconic outfits of Linda (the main character) which stick out in my head: the wedding dress, the Bright Young Things gold lamé dress, and the Parisian outfits. All of these outfit portray important moments in Linda's life, and reflect the decadent style of the upper classes during the interwar years. What is really fabulous is a lot of true vintage was used for the costume, so we get a real reflection of the influential fashion of the time. The costume designer for the show, Sinéad Kidao, was on an eBay trawl throughout the first lockdown (weren't we all?) to find exquisite pieces from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s to ensure that the style of the show was just as Mitford would have imagined it.
Linda's wedding dress might not be what people first think of when they think of 1930s wedding dresses, but Sinéad Kidao was heavily inspired by the Duchess of Argyle's 1933 wedding dress. The very-dropped waist was a reference to the decades love of all things medieval, as was the large amount of embroidery on the true vintage bodice and the whimsical flared sleeves. It is accessorised with the most luxurious jewellery, but I want to dedicate a whole section of this entry to the jewellery so we'll leave it there for now.
Linda joined the Bright Young Things relatively late in their inception. The Bright Young Things were a group of young adults who enjoyed a more 'Bohemian' lifestyle, and were often seen as frivolously wasting away their lives away, partying in London; Nancy Mitford herself was a member and so many of Linda's experiences in The Pursuit of Love reflect Mitford's own. It is during these scenes that we see Linda in possibly the most glorious outfit of the entire series: the Gold Lamé dress. The dress is a reference to the first sci-fi film to take the cinema's by storm, Metropolis (1927), and reflects the social revolution that was going on during the time. It's lavish and decadent in style, accessorised with only the finest of jewels. The scene itself is relatively short, but showcases perfectly what was going on in Linda's life at that point.
In the third episode, we see Linda leaving the Pyrenees (where she has been helping fight the fascists) and head towards Paris. Here she meets Fabrice, a wealthy Frenchman, who lavishes her with a fresh wardrobe. We see her style change dramatically from the traditional English style of the 1930s (floaty and floral) to a chic, French fashion (bold and graphic). The costumes in this part of the drama are absolutely stunning, and a fresh but accurate portrayal of style from elsewhere in the world during the interwar years.
There are so many more outfits we could talk about. We didn't even touch Fanny or the flamboyant but sleek Lord Merlin (who had a great sunglasses collection), but we must move on to the jewellery. The jewellery was outstanding. Although there was not much Bakelite style jewellery (a few earrings here and there) we could not take our eyes off of the diamonds. Sinéad Kidao gained access to the Bulgari archives (dreamy) and so a lot of the lavish jewellery we see in The Pursuit of Love not only dated from the 1930s but also contained real jewels. That necklace Linda wears on her wedding day? It consisted of 12 pear diamonds and a whopping 670 round diamonds!
Obviously, we are going to love anything 20th century fashion-focussed, but The Pursuit of Love really was great Sunday evening viewing. It was full of whimsical love, stylish outfits and funny moments - you might need tissues for the final few scenes though.
The Pursuit of Love is available on BBC iPlayer until April 2022.