Goodbye Norma Jean, interview with Fran Boyd

Illustrations by Marisa Crane

What is your personal interest in the vintage style? Why do you find it appealing and inspiring, and when did this interest begin?  

My interest began early in childhood, when I had the privilege of playing dress-up in some amazing 1920s, Victorian and 1950s clothing belonging to my grandmother and aunts.

I loved the unusual textures, styles and fabrics, finding them utterly glamorous and romantic.

I thought it was somewhat magical that the clothing had ‘outlived’ its original owners, and served as a direct link to a mysterious past where clothes looked and felt more like costumes, with delicate lace, rustling taffeta or gold bullion thread that seemed heavy and cold on the skin. I was hooked from then on!

How does the vintage/ retro aesthetic inspire your own look?

I feel that recycling and sustainability are very important issues, and a big part of my interest lies in trying not to purchase anything new for environmental reasons; fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry due to the amount of land and chemicals involved.

I take a lot of inspiration from watching old films and pop videos, so sometimes this influences my choice of clothing as I like to emulate what I’ve seen or re-interpret it.

Some films I love the costumes from are:

The Wings Of The Dove, Funny Face, 9 1/2 weeks and Pretty in Pink.

Are your outfits accurate to a specific decade, or do you mix and match different styles and looks from different eras in one outfit?   

I prefer an individual approach rather than trying to re-create a particular era, as it can look a little too clichéd, or too contrived, much like‘fancy dress’.

I mix and match depending on my mood and like to tone down ‘grander’ items by teaming them with scruffy trainers or worn-in jeans.

Could you tell me a little about your business and how Goodbye Norma Jean was created?

I purchased some ‘deadstock’ woven caps from a disused mill and used them to start my first stall, was trained as a vintage ‘picker’ for a shop in Vancouver, and started my business in an independent market when I returned from my year in Canada, using clothing I had collected during my travels.

After years working in fashion retail I wanted to do something sustainable, that highlighted the many fabulous qualities of vintage clothing.

Your business name is inspired by Marilyn Monroe, could you describe why you named your business this and why you find Marilyn an inspiring figure in today’s world?

It took me ten years to find the right name for my business! A lifelong Marilyn Monroe fan, I found the name on a promotional poster for a 1976 biopic in a flea market in Los Angeles, and instantly felt it captured the spirit of re-incarnation and glamour I associate with dressing in vintage clothing…a little ‘eureka’ moment!

I admire Marilyn’s ready wit and free spirit, and the fact that she broke away from the Hollywood studios to form her own production company. She was a smart businesswoman who took control of her own destiny after a difficult childhood, exploitation, 3 marriages and total objectification by men.

She turned people’s low expectations of her as a ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype to her advantage, and was underestimated by her peers during her lifetime, which was sadly cut short before she reached her full potential.

Born Norma Jeane Baker, she re-invented herself as Marilyn Monroe, so my business name ‘Goodbye, Norma Jean’ is a nod to casting off the things that hold us back, to become who we choose to be!

It seems to be a name and logo people remember easily,  which is gratifying.

Why do you think many women find the vintage look so appealing and what do you think they gain from it? 

I think an appreciation for vintage clothing chimes with people’s nostalgia for simpler times, pre-technology, and is almost a rebellion against the modern age for some people. There’s a big Vintage movement in Japan, for example.

I think the exaggerated femininity of certain eras holds a fascination for women who enjoy flaunting a ‘pin-up’ aesthetic, and possibly abhor today’s casual/sportswear looks.

I think the fabrics and styles of different eras appeal to imaginative women who appreciate design and craftsmanship, who feel an association of some kind with these eras, or identify with the music and culture of former decades, whilst enjoying the benefits of living in today’s sophisticated world.

I think vintage-lovers enjoy the fact that the quality of manufacturing and purity of design is superior to the modern,  high street equivalent.  The wearer can achieve a unique look, which allows them to stand out from the crowd. One’s collection of vintage clothing may even appreciate in value as the years pass!

Could you comment on the link that many women find between body and mind positivity and the vintage/ retro aesthetic?  

I think it takes a confident mindset to look different from rest of the mainstream population, so it could be considered empowering to dress in an alternative and retro way.

Playing with the idealised, über-feminine looks of eras where women weren’t treated as equals could be said to be ‘reclaiming’ these aesthetics and therefore feminist, as the juxtaposition of dressing in an extreme, sexy way whilst enjoying more equality than ever before could be considered a triumph over the patriarchy!

1950s clothing in particular lends itself to a curvier body shape, and tv shows like Mad Men helped to popularise this celebration of the traditional ‘hourglass‘ body type, in contrast to the skinnier ideal that has been in vogue since the 1990s and finally seems to be falling out of favour. Long may it continue!

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