Fashion Historial and consultant Laura McLaws Helms dedicates her time to bringing back the older flavors of fashion via her widely followed blog, Sighs and Whispers. A tastemaker’s dream destination, you can spend hours trawling through her finely selected images ranging from the 1940’s to the 1990’s. Having followed her blog for some time, I recently had the opportunity to interview Laura where she told me about her addiction to scanning magazines from libraries around the world to her current pastime of researching Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac to give a lecture on Stevie’s influence on fashion at the end of October this year….
(Image above of Laura McLaws Helms was taken by Paul Maffi.)
Where did you grow up? And where do you live now?
I was born in Manhattan but I spent most of my childhood in London. I moved back to New York ten years ago, and now split my time between Brooklyn and London.
When did you start Sighs and Whispers?
While I started it quite a few years ago, it has only been for the last three years that I have been really consistent and focused in my posting.
What was the motivation behind starting a blog like it?
The focus of the blog has evolved since I started it, though it was always centered on fashion history and photography. My passion for research and investigating the past leads me to encounter so many remarkable images that have been forgotten—I kept scanning things for myself and gradually realized I needed to be sharing these wonderful photographs and illustrations with others—passing the inspiration along while also, hopefully, activating interest in artists, photographers and other creatives who have been neglected.
Where do you find your images?
I collect old magazines so most images are from my own private collection, though I do also spend long hours scanning in libraries and archives around the world.
What eras are you on the scout for images from?
I am personally most interested in the 1970s, so I most often post images from that decade though I do find it hard to resist any old magazine—I try to mix the posts up every week, but they are probably at least all half seventies.
What magazine titles do you look out?
My personal favourites are Viva, Playgirl (from the 1970s), Chic, Lui, Petticoat, Twen, Honey and Nova.
Best magazine that does not print anymore?
Viva, hands down.
Best magazine today?
Lula, Tank, The Gentlewoman, 25.
What era of fashion do you personally appreciate?
Much of my taste in fashion and design is concentrated on the years 1967 to 1977. Over the last fifteen years I have amassed a large collection of vintage pieces from those years, as they both suit my personal aesthetic sense as well as my body type. Also, at this point, most of my academic work and my Phd are based is based during that period—between my clothes, the décor of my apartment and my constant reading of old newspapers and magazines, I often feel like I am totally immersed in that time.
What is your own fashion style like? Brands you admire/purchase?
Romantic, exotic, whimsical, sexy—I love clothes that have an aura of fantasy about them—that seem to drift in the liminal space between reality and the mystical. Almost all of my clothes are vintage— new, I only buy shoes and those are always by Terry de Havilland, who has been making the most glamorous platforms in the universe since the 1970s.
Tell us about your own work and what you do aside from Sighs and Whispers?
I am an independent fashion historian, which allows me to work on a number of interesting projects at one time. At the moment I am getting my PhD at the London College of Fashion, doing research for an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, and prepping for an exhibition I will be co- curating in 2014. I also consult for fashion and jewellery brands, and write articles for both fashion magazines and academic journals.
Any favorite blogs/websites you like to check?
Beyond the essentials, like Style.com, my favourite websites are blogs such as Vintage-a-Peel (http://emmapeelpants.wordpress.com/) who mine the past for inspiring images with entertaining commentary. VFiles, the new website from V magazine, is an amazing fount of visual information.
Who in your eyes is creating work worth talking about? (fashion or art or design)
With so many artists and designers are recycling ideas from the past, I am mainly intrigued by those who are able to look back while also moving forward—whether through design, innovative technologies or futuristic materials. My friend Eddie Borgo inspires me with his constant curiosity and desire to push jewellery in new directions.
Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac — I am giving a lecture on Stevie’s influence on fashion at the end of October, which has been very interesting (and enjoyable) to research. Otherwise, I am a heavy metal girl at heart.
Any exciting plans coming up for the end of the year?
Continuing work on a secret book and exhibition project, as well as my PhD and consulting jobs- never a quiet moment!
Linda Evangelista photographed by Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, February 1994.
YSL ads scanned from Harper’s Bazaar, March 1983.
Jean Patou Haute Couture (designed by Christian Lacroix) ads scanned from L’Officiel 720, 1986.
Editorial by Walter Chin, styled by Anna Dello Russo with models Yasmeen Ghauri and Helena Christensen for Vogue Italia, June 1992.