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...
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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