Monday, March 12, 2012

Mary Katrantzou’s Red Typewriter Dress and the Olivetti Lettera 35 That Inspired It

About a year and a half ago, J and I found ourselves with two Lettera 35s - the Olivetti we loved so much, we purchased it twice: one in Switzerland, and the other from France via the Venezuelan embassy (a thrift store find). We decided to keep the Lettera from Paris, which had a more interesting personal story attached to it. Keeping both hefty machines was not an option, so we set about selling the Swiss keyboard Lettera 35. These typewriters, bulky and heavy but with a modern streamlined design, come in a beige/ off-white color that is not all that inspiring. To spruce it up a bit, J painted it scarlet red, and I took a few photos for the blog and an auction listing. Predictably, it sold fairly easily and we sent it off to a happy buyer. I thought we had heard the last of it...

Photo from Mary Katrantzou's F/W 2012 show, photographer: dpa / Facundo Arrizabalaga

Until a few weeks ago, when Richard shared the story of a typewriter dress that had gone on the runway at London Fashion Week, and was being written up in the news. Now, as a collector and enthusiast of a largely-forgotten technology, I’m always excited when typewriters turn up in the media because more people will be intrigued, even if temporarily. This means a few more collectors welcomed into the fold, a few more people who remember the joys of typewriting and seek out a machine for their own use, and, ideally, fewer incidents of keychopping as whole typewriters become more valuable. So, while I have no claims of sartorial expertise, seeing a typewriter on the runway in such a visible venue seemed to me a very good thing.

Photo from Mary Katrantzou's F/W 2012 show, photographer: Morgan O'Donovan
Looking closer - as we collectors all are inclined to do - I wondered which red typewriter the designer had depicted on the dress. It wasn’t the obvious Olivetti Valentine, which has black keys and no ribbon cover. Still, there aren’t very many natively-red typewriters, so it was just a matter of time before we identified this one! Richard’s eagle eye spotted the Swiss QWERTZ keyboard, which got me to thinking there was a good reason why it seemed familiar... it took a few seconds for me to provide a positive identification: this was, indeed, our hot-rodded Olivetti Lettera 35. Fancy that!


Obviously, the image I took - I still remember setting my coffee table in front of our window to catch the best light on a cold December day - was not exactly what had been used on the dress. From what I could tell, the ribbon cover was enlarged to meet the keyboard, removing the Lettera 35 badge, the carriage and platen were not depicted, and the keyboard area was also a bit different, not true to life. Still, it was easily recognizable to me, especially because Olivetti did not, as far as I know, make any Lettera 35s in red. Of all the red typewriters to choose for her print, the designer had picked a one-of-a-kind, custom-painted machine.

Photo from Mary Katrantzou's F/W 2012 show, photographer: Morgan O'Donovan
In the past, I have gladly allowed my images to be used elsewhere on the Internet, when asked: the PEN International advertising campaign and the Collectors’ Weekly website, for example. Of course, many eBayers and Craigslisters have helped themselves to my pictures in the past, but I have ignored those. This was a special situation because the image used was not exactly my picture, and it was also being used in an international fashion show that made headlines all over the internet, a new first for me. Exciting, and surreal. After the show, I wrote to the designer, Mary Katrantzou, inquiring about the red typewriter used on her dress. 
 

Photo from Mary Katrantzou's F/W 2012 show, photographer: Morgan O'Donovan


Born in Greece in 1983 (coincidentally my birth year as well) and currently based in London, Mary Katrantzou is noted in the fashion world for her lush digital prints, and she was awarded the Swiss Textiles prize in 2010. Before I contacted her, I took a look at her previous work to get an idea of what she does, and I was impressed by her creativity and vibrantly colorful aesthetic. Mary was quick to respond to my inquiry, and confirmed that my picture had been used as an inspiration for her design, which she painted digitally from scratch before integrating it into a print that was used for her now famous dress. It appears my red Lettera 35 is in great company in terms of items that have inspired prints for Mary’s clothing: in the past, she has also referenced Fabergé eggs, Qing dynasty bowls, and iconic perfume bottles. This particular collection for Fall/Winter 2012 features spoons, coat hangers, pencils, and wristwatches in addition to the red typewriter, the theme being “everyday items”.

Photo from Mary Katrantzou's F/W 2012 show, photographer: Morgan O'Donovan

The way I see it, this one dress represents a very small part of her entire oeuvre, so if she needed a picture of a red typewriter to make her collection complete, I am glad I could help out, even inadvertently. If this design resonates with Mary’s customers, perhaps the Typosphere will gain a few visitors. At the very least, I have another story to tell about Retro Tech Geneva and the fun surprises that come with blogging about typewriters. Mary offered to make me a typewriter dress of my own, which I accepted. I should add that it will be quite the departure from my usual simple wardrobe - besides which, me wearing a typewriter dress would be like David Beckham wearing a suit plastered with footballs! However, it will be fun to have one, and if it fits, I might even wear and photograph it for the site. She also shared with me a few pictures of her collection, taken backstage by photographer Morgan O'Donovan, to use for this post.

Photo from Mary Katrantzou's F/W 2012 show, photographer: Morgan O'Donovan

22 comments:

  1. (Spelled correctly, this time.)

    Sounds like a happy ending for all, Adwoa. And a great story to tell, too! Now you'll have something special to wear to your next Swiss type-gathering. :-)

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  2. Adwoa, I'm so glad you came to a workable agreement; I thought it was going to be bad news from the tone of your last post on this issue. I'm glad you accepted the dress, it would be fantastic to see you wearing it!

    And I'd like to congratulate you for having inadvertently crossed over to the fashion world, really goes to show the quality of your typewriters and your blog in general. Cheers!

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  3. What a fantastic story! But you turned down the typewriter dress?!

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  4. It is great everything worked out good for you. That is a very nice typewriter, dress and gift.

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  5. This is a story that should be more widely known. Sounds like something strikethru would turn up somewhere.

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  6. This is a story with a happy ending, it seems. I can hardly wait to see you in *YOUR* typewriter dress!

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  7. I got this story via a google alert just yesterday. Glad you managed to steer clear of litigation. That's a direct derivative of your photo and constitutes a rights infringement. The term 'painted digitally from scratch' is misleading. Scratch never came close - that's your photo with some quick and dirty Photoshopping and a professional designer would (and should) know better than to appropriate other peoples' intellectual property without asking. But there's a happy ending and you get a retro-tech dress - congratulations!

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  8. It's a great story and I know we all look forward to seeing you in that dress. I noticed that you were scrupulous about providing credit to the photographers here -- well done! :)

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  9. Oh, wait. I see now that you "accepted" the typewriter dress offer. Reading comprehension ain't my strong suit.
    Speaking of suits...do you think she could...?
    Ah, never mind.

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    Replies
    1. That's hilarious, Duffy! I bet you would look great in a typewriter suit. I should suggest it to Mary.

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    2. I'll go one simpler: I'll accept a necktie made from scraps. Looking at the whole show, I have to admit that like her analog-tech aesthetic. What a surprise. :-)

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  10. wow, what a story and a real happy ending. I hope that dress fits you, you deserve it.

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  11. This story has now come full circle: your blog is being cited in a fashion section...

    http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2012/03/typewriter-collector-scores-free-katrantzou-dress.html

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  12. What. First the $10 Valentine and now this? What are you, Adwoa, some kind of typewriter saint? Because clearly you have the whole miracle thing down pat.

    Man...now I wish someone famous would bite off of one of my photos...

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    Replies
    1. Who, me, a typewriter saint? *Adjusts halo, checks to make sure no one sees*

      I don't know what you're talking about :)

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  13. What a great story! I didn't go to the show but i saw the pictures of the collection. It's an incredible collection but I love knowing the backstory. It sounds like you both handled this very graciously - those dresses aren't cheap. What is keychopping?

    (PS, I found this story via Fashionista)

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    Replies
    1. Hello Disneyrollergirl,

      Thanks for your kind comment! Keychopping is when the keys of a typewriter are removed (for jewelry/ other crafts) and the rest of it usually thrown away. There are many sets of keys being sold on eBay and etsy, which is a pity because sometimes they are taken off working typewriters.

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  14. You're going viral, Adwoa. My aunt just sent me a link to the NY Mag story, which was sent to her by a friend!

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  15. You're becoming famous! And also the proud owner of a typewriter dress... How wonderful is that?

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  16. Adwoa, I just saw the NY Mag story too. Congrats!

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  17. http://fashionbombdaily.com/2012/10/02/splurge-erika-liless-young-jeezy-party-mary-katrantzou-typewriter-print-dress/

    and I did see an article in The London Evening News in August last year as well... about the dress.

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