Costume Inspiration: Nancy Cunard

Considered to be one of the Great Muses and Lovers of the 20th century, she was born into the Cunard Shipping family in the late 1800’s. Her grandparents started the Gilded Age practice of the british aristocracy marrying into America’s top 100 families to gain access to their fortunes. Nancy spent the first 15 years of her life on the family estate but when her parents separated in 1911, she move to London with her mother. She spent the rest of her youth in boarding schools and with her mother and her long time admirer novelist George Moore. The rumor was that Moore was actually Nancy’s biological father. Nancy education was mainly in boarding school in England and on the continent. 

Nancy only married once in her early 20s, sadly that’s where her affair with monogamy ends. Nancy not only had a thirst for knowledge and to experience the world, she also had a thirst for men. Many of her great loves were the key people who shaped the 20th century. From great authors like Langston Hughes, Hemingway & James Joyce and even great artists as Constantin Brâncuși & Man Ray. Nancy became a great patron of the arts with her great wealth and even developed such great bonds, that she became the muse to many of those artists. Like artists Tristan Tzara and Wyndham Lewis and with writer Aldous Huxley & Ezra Pound.

Besides her artistic devotion, Nancy was also a great fighter of fascism and racism through out her life. In 1920 she moved to Paris and became apart of the birth of Modernism, Surrealism and Dada. In this period Cunard started to write poetry and published for the first time in 1921. Cunard opened her first press company in the late 20’s in Normandy. She would continue to publish great authors like Ezra Pound and Laura Riding. She also published a lot of works by many members of the Bright Young set in London, like Brian Howard and Harold Acton. Cunard’s fragile mind deteriorated later in life, suffering from mental illness she was placed in a mental hospital in London. She would later be released and move back to Paris. She would eventually be found unconscious on the streets of Paris and weighing less than 60 pounds. She would die two days later. 

Cunard’s legacy is most certainly the wealth of literature she published and the mark she made on fascism and racism in Europe. More importantly was Cunard’s sense of style. She was a great collector of historic African Cultural Artifacts. Cunard was also known for great collection of oversized jewelry, especially bracelets. Her attire was dubbed by the fashion world, Avant-Garde and her style the Barbaric Look. One of Cunard’s most prized possessions was the Boucheron African bangle bracelet. Boucheron exhibited the bracelet and its matching necklace at the 1931 Exposition Coloniale Internationale in Paris. Shortly there after Cunard purchased the bracelet. The bracelet recently went up for auction with an estimated sale of $150,000 to $250,000. The final bid was $976,000. Sadly the matching necklace was never sold and it’s not known if Boucheron still has the necklace in it’s private collection.

 Cunard with Tristan Zara in 1924

Cunard with Tristan Zara in 1924

 Cunard's African Bangle by Boucheron

Cunard's African Bangle by Boucheron

 Boucheron's original sketch of the Bracelet with matching necklace.

Boucheron's original sketch of the Bracelet with matching necklace.

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