Anarchists of Style: Nancy Cunard

 

When is a bracelet more than a bracelet? When worn, en masse, by Nancy Cunard (1896-1965), a jazz-age beauty who came to be known for much more than her dramatic presence. Ultimately, the fashion world appropriated Cunard’s signature style—stacks of wood, bone, and ivory bangles collected during her world travels—calling it “the barbaric look.”

But if the look was aggressive, more so indeed was Cunard herself. Eschewing the life of ease made possible by her family’s shipping fortune, Cunard established a bold reputation amongst the 1920s’ Paris avant-garde, refashioning a lonely little rich girl into a poet, a publisher, a journalist, and a “fierce campaigner against prejudice and injustice.” In 1928, she began The Hours Press, which published authors such as Samuel Beckett and Ezra Pound. And in 1934, she released the collection Negro. With contributions by W.E. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Cunard hoped the book would define the African-American experience.

“Never in her life, I believe, was she frightened of anything,” said the critic Raymond Mortimer. A certain overstatement, as Cunard died largely alone, after decades of alcohol abuse. Nonetheless, it’s clear that at the height of her powers, Cunard fought the good fight, those bracelets her charms against cowardice and the symbol of her strength.

(Photo (at t0p): Man Ray)

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Lulu Frost, S/S 2013 inspiration: Nancy Cunard

LINKS

Biographer Louis Gordon speaks to NPR about Cunard–”poet, publisher and paramour.”

Biographer Anne Chisholm addresses Cunard’s style following the 2011 Gucci announcement that Cunard inspired its Hard Deco collection.

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