The Trickster Prince

Matt Houlbrook: mobile historian; beard growing, head shaving; occasional cycling.

Perhaps! A little fashion fantasy (1922-3)

Perhaps! A little fashion fantasy (1922-3)

Something a bit different today: as always I’m slightly late but yesterday marked 90 years since the British archaeologist and his wealthy patron Lord Caernarvon opened the tomb of the young Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun. By then Tutankhamun had been dead for 3000 years, laying in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings surrounded by the riches that were to accompany him into the afterlife. In November 1923, however, he entered public consciousness as a distinctly modern celebrity. Newspapers and newsreels catalogued the “wonderful things” within. The Daily Mirror filled its front page with photographs and hailed an “Aladdin’s Cave Find of Ancient Egypt.” The tomb was painstakingly recreated in all its glory at the British Empire Exhibition of 1924. The discovery sparked an interest in Egypt that pervaded 1920s culture. Fashion, design and art deco architecture all showed the influences of the ancients — visible still in the Dickens and Jones department store on London’s Regent Street. In 1923 cinema-goers found this obsession lampooned in the British Pathé cartoon linked to above. “Perhaps! A little fashion fantasy” “Wonder[ed] whether Tutankhamen ever foresaw the trouble he was storing up for this peace loving (!) world?” A mock-newspaper cutting notes how “Egyptian find influences fashion”The cartoon shows a young woman standing before her dressing table and painstakingly transforming herself into an Egyptian Princess. A potion poured from a small urn lengthens her jet black hair from a flapper’s bob to shoulder length; powder colours her skin; she ties a sash around her waist to emphasise her slim figure and tears the sleeves from her dress. She walks like an Egyptian into an elevator and is greeted by a bowing mockery of a slave in a loincloth — part lift boy, part monkey and evidence of a cartoonist with a troublingly racist imagination.

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This entry was posted on November 27, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .
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