New York, New York

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

This trip was my first visit to New York and sneakily coincided with my birthday (nobody was allowed to forget this). We celebrated by walking in Central Park, visiting a rooftop bar with plastic igloos, as well as another bar with live music, including questionable renditions of Oasis.  

A highlight was seeing sketches by Bergdorf Goodman staff artists of couture designs, which represented clothing available to order at their custom salon. These sketches were made between 1950-69 and are from the FIT archives. I was in awe of the Dior sketches, particularly a beige ballgown with sparkling embellishment.  

SPARKLE

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was another highlight, as that day was clear, bright and just a tad freezing. It also gave me a different view of Manhattan, with the skyscrapers in front of me rather than surrounding me. My flatmates had given me a pink, felty bucket hat not just because it averaged –1 degrees in New York, and but also to take pictures with at appropriate New York landmarks. I took full advantage of this. 

Bucket hat bonanza on the Brooklyn Bridge

XOXO

On our last afternoon, we rushed over to the Met to overload ourselves with a last dose of some of art’s greatest hits. We also gleefully overfilled some frozen yoghurt pots with allllll the toppings before realising the price was calculated by weight. With half an hour to go before we needed to leave, I saw a postcard of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X and decided I had to see her. I rushed off to the second floor and ended up on the opposite side of the building, and when I got to the connecting room, it was closed. Eventually I managed to go a different way, running through the Temple of Dendur. With its floor-to-ceiling windows and fountain, the calm space contrasted with my frantic run-walking. I eventually found Madame X, just as I realised I had two minutes to get back to the others. Even though I nearly jeopardised our airport timings, it was a great end to the trip. 

The Temple of Dendur room

The scandalous Madame X

Daisy on NYC’s Modern Art

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

One of the things I was most looking forward to about our trip to New York was visiting the city’s many amazing museums and galleries, and NYC did not disappoint! The Modern and Contemporary galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art absolutely blew me away. They have an incredible collection of works by Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, which really complement the beautiful collection at The National Gallery in London. Being familiar with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at The National, it was amazing for me to see how he depicted similarly vivid colours in Irises and Roses, both of which were painted as a patient at the asylum at Saint-Rémy. One of my favourite finds was a wall label for Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and Pears, which detailed how he once proclaimed ‘with an apple I want to astonish Paris’. The Met also has a brilliant array of works by American artists, which you rarely get to see on permanent display in Britain. Having never seen a painting by Jackson Pollock or a Mark Rothko before (except in photographs) I now feel that I am a fully qualified expert! 

Left to right: Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1890, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and Pears, ca. 1891-92, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), 1950, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Having written an essay on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the third year of my BA, I couldn’t wait to see the original at MoMA. On my way to the Cubism rooms, I passed by Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, van Gogh’s Starry Night and a Water Lilies series by Claude Monet—just to mention just a few!  Often seen as the first truly Cubist painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is monumental in real life, nearly filling the large gallery walls and attracting a huge crowd. It is interesting to observe in galleries how everyone (myself included) gathers around the most ‘famous’ pieces. While I loved seeing the renowned names, it was almost more exciting to see and love work by artists I had never previously heard of. I feel like I only scratched the surface of what New York has to offer—The Met is absolutely vast—and definitely feel that I now have a valid excuse to make a return trip to explore further. 

Left to right: Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, MoMA.
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889, MoMA.
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-26, MoMA.

Morris Cohen: The Forgotten Businessman who Shaped 20th Century Womenswear in London

For the most recent essay for our MA course, I researched the history of the Jewish garment industry in London, particularly during the interwar period. My interest in this topic began when Rebecca mentioned an exhibition called Broken Threads, staged in Vancouver in 2007, that explored the decimation of the Jewish fashion and textile industries in Germany and Austria during the Nazi regime. Despite knowing that Jewish people had a long history as tailors and clothing merchants, and that a huge part of the Nazi agenda was to destroy Jewish businesses, I had never connected the dots. I realized that I had stumbled across an enormous legacy throughout Europe and America that is often forgotten, and contemporary scholarship is just beginning to study it.

As my research continued, Rebecca suggested I focus specifically on the case of London so I could access collections and archives in the city. Eventually, my final paper focused predominantly on the menswear retailer Montague Burton, a Russian Jewish immigrant who dominated his sector, owning 600 shops by 1939 all over the United Kingdom. A key component of his success was that he was able to rely on the ethnic economic niche of Eastern European Jews working in the tailoring industry. They provided both a community into which he could enter upon arriving in England, and, later, a workforce to employ in his enormous Leeds factory.

Burton’s factory in Leeds

Burton was not unique in his reliance on the Jewish community for his entrepreneurial success. Morris Cohen, a lesser-known figure in this history, is regarded as the grandfather of London’s Jewish garment industry, as explained by Anne Kershen. His name has now effectively faded into oblivion, but his contributions have long outlived him and deserve recognition. He was an Eastern European Jewish immigrant who began in London as a gentlemen’s tailor, but eventually moved over to the women’s ready-to-wear sector, capitalizing on an enormous growth industry as women were becoming more economically active and independent in the 1920s and 1930s. Kershen describes Cohen as opportunistic and entrepreneurial as he built a mantle manufacturing factory using expertise working as a tailor for the Russian Court. Eventually, through his success in this area, he was able to employ many of his friends and neighbors in his community. He was very successful in this business, but his most significant contribution was in planting the seeds for future growth in his community.

Morris Cohen

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Cohen bought thirty-nine houses in Albert Square, building workshops in the rear and renting them to workshop masters, primarily in the mantle-making industry. According to Kershen, he was a ‘considerate and caring landlord who … in addition gave his tenants advice on the most economical ways to purchase raw materials and organize their production’. He saw potential in his tenants to become major players in a growth industry. Among these individuals were the founders of Alexon, Windsmoor, and Ellis and Goldstein, all of which became successful companies in the following decades. Though Cohen’s name is not as well-known as someone like Burton, he played a fundamental role in nurturing the Jewish economic niche in London, which eventually became one of the most successful womenswear manufacturers after the Second World War. His biggest contribution was to invest in his community, believing in the potential to transform Jewish immigrants working in the sweated trade into major entrepreneurs in the twentieth century fashion industry.

References

Kershen, Anne J. ‘Morris Cohen and the Origins of the Women’s Wholesale Clothing Industry in the East End’, Textile History 28, no. 1 (1997), p. 39-46.

“Do You Mind If I Borrow…”: The Fun and Significance of Sharing Clothes

Recent theoretical discourse has sought to emphasise the emotional significance of dress, with many studies – academic and anecdotal – highlighting how the tactile and visual nature of clothing, and its prominence in our everyday lives, can imbue clothing with deep emotional resonance and also can be an important part of the human bonding experience. This idea of connecting through clothing resonated with me as my brother, Zak, and I now regularly exchange items of clothing, and always have a comment ready (usually, though not always, complimentary) on one another’s outfits. We have similar tastes, both favouring bright colours and bold patterns, and find most of our outfits in charity shops or (cheap) vintage markets.

Zak and I both chose some of our favourite garments from each other’s wardrobes, styling them with our own clothes. He chose two of my (many) jumpsuits and a pair of high-waisted trousers that he has always loved the colour of – and annoyingly suit him better than they suit me! I chose some of Zak’s outfits outright – you can’t go wrong with jeans and a t-shirt! – and also incorporated one of his favourite jumpers into one of my usual outfits.

Daisy

Zak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our discussions on clothing while taking the photos for this blog highlighted to me some interesting distinctions in the kinds of garments currently designed for men compared to those for women. My brother has mentioned that the clothing he sees for men in high street shops is often less colourful and daring than the clothing available to women, while I feel that some of the clothing marketed at women is impractical; as highlighted by the ongoing debate on why women’s clothing often comes without the useful addition of functional pockets.

 

Furthermore, the filtering of clothing styles through the rigid wall of traditional gender boundaries can sometimes seem somewhat one sided. Sarah Wilson has argued that the adoption of traditionally ‘masculine’ garments, such as trousers, by women in the 1920s initially resulted in a popular ‘hysteria’ in response to this supposed transgression of gender boundaries. This raised the point in my mind that while it now is generally accepted for women to wear conventionally ‘masculine’ clothing – I can easily incorporate Zak’s t-shirts or trousers into my outfit – it is still seen as less socially acceptable for men to wear ‘feminine’ garments or cuts. Additionally, I’m not sure if it’s the case that the cut of women’s clothing doesn’t flatter the male body shape, or that we are still culturally programmed to see men in women’s clothing as jarring, but some of my more ‘feminine’ clothing, such as dresses or flared trousers (not shown here), really didn’t seem to suit Zak at all. By sharing clothes with one another, and experimenting with some outfits that we wouldn’t necessarily try on in a shop changing room, we thought more closely about the clothes we choose to wear and why. As such, while swapping clothes with my brother is primarily a fun and playful bonding experience, I also now see it as an interesting exploration of the gender boundaries which have come to define sartorial norms.

 

 

What Does a Clinical Psychologist Wear to Work?

Dressing for a work environment alters our experience of clothing significantly. We are used to uniforms for school, but the world of work has a different set of rules, with each type of work/ workplace having a different dress code. This came to mind for me when I was talking to my friend, Maddy, who is currently in the first year of her doctorate for clinical psychology. She mentioned that when visiting wards and patients she couldn’t dress too formally, as she would appear intimidating, but still needs to look professional as she’s in a working environment. The psychological consequences of Maddy’s outfits interested me, so I decided to ask her some questions about her dress code and how it contrasts with her day to day outfits.

Maddy’s workwear

In relation to the outlined dress code, Maddy told me that what she was given was to be smart, clean and appropriate, a variation really on the (in my opinion) infuriating smart/casual. For example, her supervisor wears jeans paired with a waistcoat, whereas Maddy will opt to wear a cardigan rather than a blazer. She writes that while visiting wards she has to dress smarter than she would on community visits, and she has to adhere to the guidelines on NHS dressing. This means that she doesn’t wear an assigned uniform like nurses and healthcare assistants, but must still look smart (while also not dressing super smart) to be on a relatable level to patients. Maddy also mentioned that the older students gave advice in terms of the dress code, and they responded that it was difficult to know, but a tip was to avoid wearing red, as this is seen as an angry and aggressive colour.

Maddy’s workwear

These multiple factors demonstrate how many contradictory elements there are to consider when getting dressed. In Maddy’s case, how her clothing is received by others is of prime importance, and she says that it is best to not stand out and conform, as you don’t want the attention on you when dealing with people. She describes what she wears to work as boring, and she doesn’t like dressing smart. At the same time, when I asked Maddy how her clothing made her feel, she replied that she felt more confident, proper and competent.

Maddy’s day to day wear

In reference to Maddy’s personal style, her work clothes differ greatly. As shown by the images of us together (admittedly before nights out) Maddy has a clearly individualised sense of dress which I feel compliments her personality. She considers her work clothes boring, and admittedly they are made up of soberer colours, but I feel that she still manages to inject her personal flair into her work outfits, illustrated by her (Maddy trademark) Doc Martens and the prints on her clothing. I feel that with her career, as with any, there is a careful balance to strike with clothing. She doesn’t have a uniform but has to obey guidelines, while also appearing smart but not excessively so. Maddy’s working environment means that she has to consider not only her preferences for dress, but also her employer’s, the hospital environment, and how her patients will react. This shows the layers of meaning behind a deceptively simple and conformative work outfit.

Maddy and I

In her image: the documentation of the Neue Frau in German Weimar-era lesbian magazines

I came across these magazines when researching the topic of my most recent written assessment. By now, I have carried an intense fascination with the sexual socio-political climate of the Weimar Republic for a couple of years. On the course ‘Reassembling Modernism: Artists’ Networks in Europe 1909-1960’ as an undergraduate, I was introduced to Weimar culture when we examined the Neue Frau in the Berlin of the 1920s. It was a text by Maria Makela entitled ‘New women, new men, new objectivity’, however, that truly peaked my interest in the subject. 

‘The Latest Acquisition of the Masculine Woman – the Tuxedo’, Das Magazin, August 1926, addition to image made by the author

This year, I revisited the Neue Frau and explored her myth and ideological potential whilst considering her as a phenomenon of cosmopolitanism—in relation to class, gender and violence in the city. Makela’s essay was my starting point, and these magazines gave me an example of how the Neue Frau’s multi-faceted identity was utilised to develop a progressive symbol of gender subversion. The Neue Frau/neue frauen is the German adaptation of the New Woman. The New Woman was a female figure, a new gender type, who emerged in modern society towards the end of the nineteenth century, becoming a popularised construct in the first half of the twentieth century. 

‘What do you say about Fräulein Mia?’, Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, November 1927, additions to image made by the author

The Neue Frau was a fashionable woman who adopted traditionally heteronormative, ‘masculine’ traits within her dress identity to disassociate herself from the pre-WWI woman. Her image epitomised modern femininity, but it also effectively mirrored how interwar Germany perceived itself to be under cultural threat from the masculinisation of a ‘New’ generation of emancipated women. In the pages of queer publications, however, the Neue Frau’s image was represented without ridicule or cynicism. It was interesting to reconfigure my own perception of her image after months of aligning it with the caricatured parody that male, Neue Sachlichkeit artists had painted her to be.

Otto Dix, Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926, oil and tempera on wood: 47¼ x 31½ in (120 × 80 cm), additions to image made by the author

In the case of the women depicted in Liebende Frauen (1927-1930), the tensions felt nationwide between opposing genders are made redundant. At the time of the1929/30 issue, Liebende Frauen was one of two lesbian magazines in Berlin; the other, the more widely-known Die Freundin (The Girlfriend: Journal for Ideal Friendship between Women) had been in circulation since 1924. Art historian Heike Schader notes that Liebende Frauen is most likely a reprint of the magazine Frauenliebe (Women Love); which in turn was renamed Garçonne in 1930.

Liebende Frauen: Wochenschrift des ‘Deutschen Freundschafts-Verbandes’ Vol. 4, no.13, (1929), Berlin, Spinnboden—Lesbenarchiv und Bibliothek, Berlin, additions to image made by the author

In the above image, a cover dated 1929, the female subject sports a bubikopf—a haircut strongly associated with the Neue Frau, which translates directly to ‘boy’s head’ and was reconfigured into numerous variations, such as the shortened and smoothed ‘Eton crop’, similar to that of Louise Brooks’ Lulu in Pandora’s Box. The overlapping strings of pearl necklaces that decorate her neck, the draped cut of her neckline and way in which her face is coquettishly turned from the camera’s gaze tells the reader that this Neue Frau, like Brooks’ Lulu—will not apologise for claiming her own sexuality. This cover presents allure and a conscious play on the provocation of desires, celebrating the figure of the New Woman by virtue of her dress and demeanour.

These covers are truly wonderful examples of how the New Woman, specifically the homosexual New Woman, found alternative means of how her image could be disseminated in popular culture via ways less damaging to her personhood. Each cover is a portal into an important history for women, and they each contribute to the Neue Frau as a social construct: one that was repeatedly well-documented until the Weimar Republic’s fall.  

To see more of these wonderful covers, go to the Spinnboden Lesbenarchiv und Bibliothek, Berlin’s online archives: www.meta-katalog.eu 

Additionally, there are lots of many interesting texts covering the Neue Frau’s image, such as: 

  • Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture by Katherina von Ankum 
  • Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation by Ute Frevert
  • Women in Weimar Fashion: Discourses in German Culture, 1918-1933 by Mila Ganeva 
  • The New Woman International by Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco
  • Visions of the “Neue Frau”: Women and the Visual Arts in Weimar Germany by Marsha Meskimmon
  • The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany by Katie Sutton 

Sources
Maria Makela, “New Women, New Men, New Objectivity” in New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic 1919-1933
Heike Schader, ‘Liebende Frauen’
Katie Sutton, ‘The Masculinisation of Woman’ in The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany

L’Eau de Vie

I remembered the Maison Margiela perfume display at Charles de Gaulle as comprised of postcards, but they are actually faux Polaroid snapshots: even more emblematic. Two tiered marble shelves curve around the countertop with sunken perfume samples before upright ‘photographs’. A white Fuji Instax camera nestles between the minimalist bottles, reminding you, lest you miss the themes, of photography and construction, of the pull between vintage and contemporary.

The clichés are filtered, lit and cropped for uniform appeal while offering the promise of personalisation and aspiration: a nude back before the ocean or tucked in white sheets, sunsets and foliage-framed shots. White borders invite inscription, notes of time and place to complete the instant and make it your own.

If you examine the labels, everything falls in to place: ‘REPLICA. Reproduction of familiar scents and moments of varying locations and periods’. The names speak not of fragrance but of states of being, or destinations or occasions, that correspond with the picture: By the Fireplace, Sailing Day, At the Barber’s, Lipstick On. ‘Provenance and Period’ comes before fragrance description on the label, reaching for the abstract with a Proustian flair. Funfair Evening is from Santa Monica, 1994, Promenade from Oxfordshire, 1986. Here, you don’t just buy the perfume. You buy the experience it evokes and adopt the memory for yourself.

Though I would never buy perfume in an airport or train station. It would always make me think of leaving and loss… absence instead of presence.

***

Or consider: presence in absence. She took me in her arms to say goodbye. When I left, my coat smelled like her, and her perfume bloomed in the cold air on the way to Port Royal. It is hard not to wax poetic.

***

My psychology professor on Miss Dior: ‘Dior worried that they weren’t appealing to you. Because of course you don’t care if your perfume is French; you just want something that you like. So they hired Natalie Portman to be their face and then they changed their recipe’.

This is true. I don’t care if my perfume is French. I wrote fledgling essays about Coco Chanel and Marie Antoinette’s scented gloves, and the first perfume I remember is my grandmother’s bottle of Jean Patou Joy. But I care so much more about what a perfume does for me than about its aura or provenance. Perhaps it’s hard to believe, but being French isn’t everything.

But.

***

But while others in Rennes were learning the subjunctive, my language teacher had us read Süskind’s Le parfum. Years later in Paris, I filled a paper bag with mirabelles and thought of Jean-Baptiste. If you could make a perfume that smells the way a mirabelle – or better, a Reine Claude – tastes, that would be very good.

September 3, 2015

Back in Paris the next year, I bought two bottles of Atelier Cologne perfume: clementine for me, some kind of absinthe apéro for my mom. I don’t know if she liked it, but for me it was all part of the story I tell myself of my life, an assemblage of confected happenings and prefabricated, gold-plated memories.

Imagine getting a box of absinthe perfume directly from Paris. The vision itself is the idea-analogue of the gift box I sent, wrapped up in mental ribbons. Truly: it is the thought that counts.

For my part, I loved my clementine perfume. The bottle fit perfectly in my hand; I used it every day, with rose oil inside my wrists. I ran out a year later.

***

What about loyalty? What about having signature objects? Instead of replacing my clementine perfume, I tried Kabuki Blanche by Byredo. Top notes: aldehyde, pink pepper, white rose. Heart: neroli, peony, violet. Base: blonde wood, musk, sandalwood. Over a year later, I still don’t recognise it. It is a powder in a black stick that you brush on. I miss the feeling of the bottle in my hand, the crisp mist that lets me feel the perfume and not just its applicator, the bite of clementine in the air just like the spray of oil when you peel an orange.

***

Before coming to London, I spent a twilight month back in New York. I moved from apartment to apartment, admired different modes of living, tried on my best friend’s makeup so that I too could have shimmering eyelids and jasmine-scented pulse points. I didn’t even ask if I could: I went and bought my own, a little pot of persimmon-y pink balm. When my brother mentioned on 155th a craving for jasmine milk tea, I knew he could smell my perfume, magnified in the tropical city heat.

***

Anonymous but highly personalised, elegant but base and bodied. How intimate perfume is. It is a ready-made product until the consumer turns it bespoke. I am the final chemical element, and when you smell my perfume, you don’t just smell the eau de parfum – you smell me, the way it has reacted to my skin and my heat in particular. There is that exchange when women embrace, approach and slot in to place. Perfume is worn behind the ears, on the sides of the neck. Right where faces rest and lips brush: faire la bise. What else worn has so little to do with the boundaries of the body? We absorb one another, particles mingling.

You impose yourself on the world, you and your perfume. And while I love the idea of signature belongings as my own uniquely resonant significant forms, it is just as thrilling to consider being recognised. I want to make a sensory impression; I want to linger. I want the sharp spray of clementine to announce, evoke and recall me. This requires discipline and, indeed, loyalty. I should know better than to try Byredo Blanche… or Chloé Eau de Parfum, which I would very much like but resisted getting last week in Paris – at the Gare du Nord, of all places.

Perfume is so personal and unpredictable that I’d hardly think to select it for someone else. But what a power play. Give your perfume to someone you love: an aromatic love potion. Tread carefully, and give it to your enemy: remake her in your own scent.

If I ever give you perfume, wear it, and know that I have designs on your soul.

All photos taken by the author.

University Girl Wardrobe Essentials

What are the fashion staples any university girl must have in her wardrobe?

If you were one of the lucky young women attending university in the 1940s, numerous magazines had entire sections dedicated to helping you budget and obtain the perfect collegiate capsule wardrobe. I recently came across a number of these articles from both Women’s Wear Daily and American Vogue, dating from 1940 to 1946. The recurrent theme is how to achieve the most variation in a wardrobe with the fewest essential items. Naturally, there was wide variation in what was deemed essential, and proposed budgets varied from $100 for an austere annual collegiate wardrobe (Vogue, August 1941) to a lavish $1,400 (Women’s Wear Daily, December 1940). What then is the verdict on the wardrobe essentials for a 1940s female collegian?

Following the lead of the articles from the time, I’m going to break the wardrobe necessities down into categories. These will be: Dresses, Suits, Separates, Outerwear and Extras.

‘$100 Campus Wardrobe’, Vogue August 15, 1941

Dresses: A college girl would ‘need’ anywhere from three to ten dresses. In the most austere case of three dresses, she would need one formal dress, for events such as faculty dinners or serious dates. The other two dresses would be day dresses, either in cotton, rayon or silk, and preferably one in wool. For a girl with a larger budget, two nice dresser were necessary, one for formal events, and one ‘dressy black crepe, for fall date and town wear.’ She would also have at least two wool, two or three rayon or silk prints and four to six cotton dresses.

Suits: The most highly advertised item was a fashionable suit. The girl on a $100 budget might have one suit, while more fortunate girls would have three to six. In 1942, Vogue listed tweed as the number one must-have suit material, but in 1946, it had been ousted by gabardine, preferably in black, navy, brown or beige. In 1946, the tweed suit was still one of the top preferences, however, and was seen as ‘an intrinsic part of campus wardrobe.’

‘Campus Wardrobe’, Vogue, August 15, 1942

Separates: Separates were highly valued by college girls, as they added much variety to a constricted wardrobe. These items fell into their own categories: blouses, sweaters, skirts and trousers. At least three blouses, a mix of white collared masculine  shirts and feminine styes, were recommended. A simple wardrobe would have at least two sweaters: one long sleeve turtleneck in a subtle colour such as black or grey, or a bolder red, and another sweater in a college-specific colour. The most minimal wardrobe would feature two pleated skirts; a better funded one would have four, in plaid, pastels or checks. Finally, trousers. While never listed as essentials, tailored slacks, pedal-pushers and mens bluejeans were listed as ideal additions to a collegiate wardrobe. Some universities showed approval with loose regulations on length and styles. 

Coat: All the articles agree that every college lass needed at least one good wool coat. Brown, camel hair and beige box coats are recommended.

Extras: Finally, all the extra bits that pull a wardrobe together. Undergarments aren’t included in the descriptions, except where specific mention of the importance of stockings is made. The importance of a good hat and gloves is very explicit, however. Minimalist wardrobes suggest one hat and a turban, with one pair of versatile all-weather gloves. Berets in dark or bold colours are suggested, as are feminine felt riding hats. To finish off a college wardrobe is a sturdy pair of shoes. One or two pairs of oxfords or ‘moccasins’ are essential.

So, do you have all your college wardrobe essentials?

 

Both images accessed via Proquest.

Hybrid Style: Iris Van Herpen’s ‘Shift Souls’ Spring 2019 Haute Couture Collection

Having recently completed an essay on the zenith of haute couture in the late 1940s, I was particularly keen to see the couture collections that just showed in Paris to determine whether or not the designs are as avant-garde and innovative as they were once considered to be.

I was not disappointed.

From the moment I saw Iris Van Herpen’s opening piece, a blue-purple gown floating down the runway as though the model were a giant weightless bird gliding just above the floor, I knew that there would be more to this collection than what meets the eye. In true couture fashion, the show, with its multitude of colors and voluminous, graceful shapes invites us to enter a dream world for eight minutes. Sculpture, architecture and painting are all brought together in the materiality of these 18 made-to-measure pieces, which seem to be (surprise!) actually wearable.

The ‘Harmonia’ dress, look 1/18, Iris Van Herpen couture Spring 2019, Credit: Vogue Runway

The collection, called ‘Shift Souls’, was presented in Paris at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. A series of billowing gowns contrasted more statuesque pieces. As Van Herpen states on her website, she was inspired by celestial cartography and mythology. She also wanted to consider ideals of the female body and how these have shifted through time: ‘the fluidity within identity change in Japanese mythology gave me the inspiration to explore the deeper meaning of identity and how immaterial and mutable it can become within current coalescence of our digital bodies.’

The digital component of the inspiration comes from advances in technology that have been made with regards to human and animal hybrids, called ‘Cybrids’. Van Herpen sees this research on ‘Cybrids’ as particularly intriguing, considering how it links to a long history of mythological stories about humans morphing into animals. She explains that her intention was not to take an ideological standpoint on these scientific developments; rather, the collection is an acknowledgment of the fact that new links are being made between biology and technology, expressing ‘the fact that this reality is upon us.’

Left: Detail of face mask, Iris Van Herpen couture Spring 2019, Credit: Iris Van Herpen official Instagram account
Right: Look 4/18, Iris Van Herpen couture Spring 2019, Credit: Vogue Runway

Technology was not just evoked, but it was actually used in the creation process of this futuristic collection. For instance, 3D laser cutting technology was employed to create the wave-like shape of some of the dresses. A few of the models also donned 3D-printed facial ornamentation, made from 3D scans of their faces. The technology was used to create lattice-like facemasks delineated from changes in the density of their facial structures.

Look 18/18, Iris Van Herpen couture Spring 2019, Credit: Vogue Runway

Van Herpen also collaborated with former NASA engineer Kim Keever, who is now an artist bridging painting and photography in his work on waterscapes. Together, they designed the translucent dresses that resemble aqueous gas or clouds to evoke the idea of shifting, transient identities.

Movement was also explored throughout the collection. The primary fabrics used, silk and organza, made the dresses appear to float through space. Loose pieces of material on some of the dresses, like the ‘Galactic Glitch’ dress, fluttered slightly, creating an optical illusion like a flicker as the model walked. Other dresses had petal-shaped cutouts that projected outwards, resembling undulating waves, which gave the impression of water ripples emerging from the model’s body. This play on movement gives the pieces a sense of liminality; shifting, they create a blur, and we cannot tell where the dress actually existing in space.

Left: ‘Galactic Glitch’ dress, Iris Van Herpen couture Spring 2019, Credit: Vogue Runway
Right: Look 5/18, Iris Van Herpen couture Spring 2019, Credit: Vogue Runway

Researching the historical development of haute couture since its conception at the end of the 19th century illuminates the fact that craftsmanship and savoir-faire are at the root of couture’s aura and prestige. I would argue that by forging an unlikely link between haute couture and technology, Van Herpen does not disavow the tradition of raw craftsmanship in couture, but rather, asks us to reconsider our preconceived notions of craftsmanship to create a new 21st century definition.

References: https://www.irisvanherpen.com/haute-couture

The Body Modified

Tattoo artists Deafy and Stella Grassman, early 1930s

I am a woman with tattooed arms and a face full of piercings. My ‘body modifications’ receive many compliments, but they also attract criticism. Most often, this criticism takes the form of unsolicited ‘advice’ from men, who tell me how attractive I would look if only I had fewer body modifications. Once, while I was at work, a man even asked me why I had ‘ruined a pretty face’ with piercings.

My experiences are anecdotal, but the opinions of the men I encounter are not dissimilar to those found in many academic works on body modification. In dress histories, tattoos, piercings and associated body modifications are frequently described as forms of ‘mutilation’ – that is, the infliction of a violent and disfiguring injury. This definition has filtered into common parlance, with legal and social consequences. For instance, a number of practitioners of more extreme body modifications – such as tongue splitting – have recently faced charges of grievous bodily harm, despite the consent of their clients. Tattoos and piercings might not be deemed harmful in quite the same way, but they are often viewed as indistinct from more extreme procedures, because Westerners have been taught to consider all modifications as (‘primitive’ and lower class) mutilations. Consequently, the perception that they ‘ruin’ one’s appearance is pervasive.

Medical studies which question whether there is a connection between body modification and mental illness have also had an insidious effect on public opinion, especially in regards to female body modification. Perhaps arising from the historical association of women with both adornment and hysteria, there now exists a stereotype of the modified woman as mentally unstable. If not certifiable, she is at least aberrant in some way (although the extent to which modified women with an appearance such as mine – white, skinny, and blonde – can actually be considered aberrant is debatable).

As such, I often feel frustrated when people ask, ‘But what do your tattoos mean?’ This question might seem innocuous, but it is effectively asking one to justify their modifications. In other words, ‘Why do that to your body?’ Taken to its extreme, this line of questioning then leads to the kind of intrusive, gendered comments that I have experienced. In turn, the notion that body modifications must be meaningful to be acceptable results in the bourgeois dismissal of any modification which does not have some significance to render it ‘refined’.

Such negative perceptions of body modifications have contributed to the argument that modified people should not be surprised if employers refuse to hire them based on appearance, especially since modifications are a choice. Yet, most forms of bodily adornment are a choice. In this way, getting a tattoo or a piercing is really not so different to dyeing one’s hair, putting on deodorant or using shape wear. In other words, as dressed bodies, every alteration or addition to our anatomies is a body modification in one way or another.