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To conceal, then reveal

A hood can contain a multitude of meanings

Matthew Sweet | November/December 2014

MONASTIC "St Francis of Assisi", c1487
If St Francis rolled up today at the Bluewater shopping mall near London, hoping to blow a wad at Tommy Hilfiger, he’d get no further than the doors. The hoodie is banned. “Guests”, says the mall, extravagantly, “don’t feel at all comfortable” among the cowled. Confirmation perhaps that Francis’s monastic predecessors were right to adopt a uniform modelled on the clothes of their poorest and most unloved contemporaries. The habit was formed in the fourth century. It still fits

RED “Lonely Woman in a Park” by Wladyslaw Wankie, c1900
The red is so eye-catching that it renders its wearer nameless; just as it stops children asking why a girl in a riding hood can’t just saddle up and gallop to granny’s cottage. Perhaps it was the colour that made Little Red Riding Hood so indigestible: the Wolf stood no chance of metabolising her carcass. What does she signify? Rebirth, say the Freudiansand maybe Wankie, a Polish exile in 19th-century Munich, did stand at his easel, dreaming of a day when his nation could be cut from the belly of Russia.

EMBROIDERED Valentino AW14
Is there room in the calendar of Middle Earth for Lothlórien Fashion Week? If so, here’s the design that would rouse the line of orcs on the front row: a hooded cloak, conjured by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli, creative directors of Valentino since 2008. Sarah Lamb, principal dancer at the Royal Ballet since 2006, is the being en pointe beneath its folds. This, I suppose, is why the Lady Galadriel needed that mirror.

Sarah Lamb wears double felt, sequined and embroidered cape, £13,050, by Valentino (valentino.com); body suit, £23, American Apparel (americanapparel.net); shoes, similar from £39.95, Bloch (blochworld.com). Lamb dances the lead in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” at the Royal Opera House, London, Dec 19th-27th


PHOTOGRAPHER RICK GUEST
STYLIST OLIVIA POMP

Hair Jonathon @ Billi Currie salon
Make-up Ruby Hammer

SPORTING Cassius Clay, Kentucky, 1963
Clay, as yet untransmogrified into Ali, jazz-hands his objection to the presence of the snapper from Life magazine—or to the Jim Crow conditions on the other side of the limousine glass—while dressed like some lost order of mendicant. Why do boxers do this? To maintain the heat stoked by last-minute skipping and bag-punching. To magnify the big moment when they reveal, ringside, the result of weeks of dieting and violence. But most importantly, perhaps, to reduce their world to one narrow path of action—a tunnel down which they can steam, an unstoppable force in search of an immovable object.

INUIT Greenland, c1940
By the time an unknown photographer snapped this baby snug in her sealskin second womb, southerly audiences had been feeling warm and fuzzy about the Inuit for decadesthanks to the cuddling and nose-rubbing in Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North” (1922). Perhaps it was a guilty pleasure. The mid-20th century was the era of the outdoor baby-cage and the stern injunctions in John B. Watson’s “Psychological Care of the Infant and Child” (1928): “Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit on your lap.” Tears can freeze at 40 below zero.

TUDOR “Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford”, 1527
The French hood, as Lady Guildford’s headwear was known, was popularised by Anne Boleyn at the court of Henry VIII, and thus condemned to yo-yo in and out of fashion with every passing regal consort. The black veil flows backwards over the neck. No symbolism intended, I suspectbut someone must have watched these fluttering on execution day, and breathed the words “memento mori”.

PARKA Mick Jagger, 1964
He may be in a parka, but Jagger is no Mod spending amphetamine-swashed weekends kicking over deck chairs in Brighton. Terry O’Neill took this shot, but he wasn’t the only oneDavid Bailey, too, snapped Jagger hooded and coquettish. So let’s credit the iconography to the subject. The parted lips, the halo of fur, the hand pinching soft folds of fabric: it’s Dietrich in “Shanghai Express”, Garbo in “Flesh and the Devil”. Satisfaction seems imminent.

DUFFLE Paul Gallico, 1952
A novelist with an unerring nose for popular taste, Gallico makes a good fist of anticipating the kind of image guaranteed to go viral on Twitter. Kittens, yes, but the duffle hood is the real killer—cosy enough for a cold day in Manhattan, yet dropping a hint of Left Bank, beatnik and Michaelmas-in-Oxford. Six years later, the same look worked for Paddington Bear. But not as well as it did for Gallico. Paddington lived in a box-room in west London; Paul died rich, and in Monaco..

CONCEALING Jerez de la Frontera, 2006
It’s not the Klan. These are penitents at a Holy Week cathedral procession in Andalusia—and the KKK don’t do apologies. Why is it those starched spikes make us nervous? Blame D.W. Griffith, whose “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) made heroes of the klansmen and fluffed their membership to a 4.5m peak. But if the hood gave anonymity to Klan lynch mobs, it was also a gift to the infiltrators who exposed them—and who knew that real justice works uncovered.

SUPERHERO Herb Ritts, 1988
It’s bad luck to see a superhero from behind - it means they’ve decided not to save you from the burning building; also it looks, inevitably, like something from the ninth circle of Tinder. This is Michael Keaton during the filming of “Batman”. Is Michael at home? The photographer doesn’t care, and would like you to see this as a sculpture. A Brancusi, perhaps, crafted from Ann Summers leatherette

HIP-HOP A$AP Rocky, 2012
A$AP Rocky—the Harlem-born hip-hop star—transforms the hoodie into a form of macho drag. Not since Ursula Andress emerged from the waves has anyone been quite so pouting and unzipped. Rocky’s own line of sweatshirts carry a printed declaration: “I be that pretty motherf***** A$AP Rocky”. Not quite “I am Spartacus”, but close. That cowl is a place to hide – but also a place from which to challenge those suspicious of your motive for concealment.

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