Style Icon | Nancy Cunard

For those unfamiliar, Nancy Cunard was an English writer, heiress and political activist, the daughter of Gilded Age heiress Maud Alice Burke and British heir Sir Bache Cunard. Although born into the upper class, she jilted her family's material values, devoting much of her life to fighting both racism and fascism.

Over the course of her life, she became a muse to numerous writers and artists, most notably Aldous Huxley, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Langston Hughes, Man Ray and William Carlos Williams, several of whom were her lovers.

Cunard experienced the Modernist, Surrealist and Dada movements of 1920s Paris directly, a time during which much of her published poetry was written. In 1927, she left the bustle of Paris for a quiet farmhouse in Normandy where she established the Hours Press publishing house. Her inheritance allowed her to support experimental poetry and gave rise to a higher-paying market for writers.

Soon after, she met African-American jazz musician Henry Crowder, who had been working in Paris at the time. She eventually struck up an intimate relationship with him that took her to Harlem and prompted her involvement in racial politics and civil rights in the US.

Their relationship also inspired Cunard's unique style, which was heavily influenced by African culture. This was unconventional for the time, and unfortunately sparked public ridicule. Although her over-sized bangles elicited a media frenzy against her, photographers of the day looked to her Cubist jewelry for inspiration. Eventually, the fashion world came to embrace her personal style, deeming it "avant-garde."

Vintage style icon, Nancy Cunard
Vintage style icon, Nancy Cunard photographed by Man Ray.
Style icon Nancy Cunard in her famous African bangles.
Style icon Nancy Cunard, 1920s
Vintage style icons, Nancy Cunard
1920s African inspired fashion
Nancy Cunard, 1920s
Nancy Cunard, vintage style icon

Unlike last week's style icon, there is a plethora of information about Cunard available online. I found her story quite fascinating, and have added her biography, Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Idealist, to my reading list. If you're unfamiliar with her legacy, you should too.