April 19, 2011

Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo

The past two nights have been TV-viewing heaven with the ABC screening their two-part docu-drama on the 1970s beginnings of Cleo magazine, a groundbreaking publication which articulated a new way of thinking for women and their role in Australian culture and society.

Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo tells the story of 30-year-old journalist and editor Ita Buttrose and a young Kerry Packer (heir to the ruthlessly powerful publishing empire) who in 1972 established the first risque yet empowering magazine for women, during a time when magazines and print media were king. The ABC writeup sums it up nicely; 'Cleo was a womens magazine with a libido and a curiosity about almost everything...'

Here is Ita's first editorial for Cleo:

Seeing the story unfold (albeit with a bit of creative licence) gave me a newfound respect and admiration for Ita Buttrose. She didn't accept the status quo and challenged the entrenched patriarchy in society, giving women an opportunity to be heard and dictate what they wanted, rather than being told what to do.

This was at a time when Ita, who was financially supporting her husband while he studied, couldn't apply for a bank loan without her husband's signature (unmarried women couldn't get a loan at all...). She forged a new path for women in the workplace at a time when women were expected to quit work on becoming pregnant (she worked right through her pregnancy and returned shortly after giving birth).

What I loved most about the show was its representation of Cleo's role in early 1970s women's liberation and the fashion. The 60s wave of freedom and womens-lib issues such as politics, contraception, equal pay, work-life balance and sex for female pleasure caught on a little later in Australia, heralded by the end of decades-long conservative government rule. The show captured the sense of anticipation that change was afoot. As Ita said to one of her bright young proteges, 'you can be anything you want Leslie, this is the 70s!'

The fashion of the day was an extension of this - clothing wasn't about conforming any more, it was about pushing boundaries and expressing yourself. I couldn't get enough of the clothes, look at these outfits!
The pink shirt-dress!

The three-piece wide-leg pant suit with matching red shoes and bag! And the translucent umbrella!

And I must add - Asher Keddie does a brilliant job embodying Ita, carrying herself with Ita's characteristic elegance and grace, right down to her noticeable lisp. Asher is currently up for a gold logie for her role in the Network Ten drama Offspring, but if the Twitterverse is anything to go by it's in the bag just based on her role in Paper Giants.

I was so inspired by the fashions - here I am today at work, 'channelling Ita':

What about you, were you 'dressed by Paper Giants' today?

Or did it at least leave you wanting to trawl ebay for vintage Diane Von Furstenberg or raid your mum's (or grandmother's!) closet?