5 Minutes With… Niall

 

Niall is a Courtauld MA Student currently on Rebecca Arnold’s Documenting Fashion course, about to graduate in July. During our end-of-year class trip to Kew Gardens, I caught up with him about his style.

Describe what you are you wearing today?

I’m wearing a black turtleneck with black trousers, a black blazer, and a black umbrella to keep away the summer sun.

Does your style differ depending on where you are?

I literally wear a black turtleneck and high waisted black trousers everywhere, even at home.

How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style by saying, “I’m going to the opera at 7, and I’m meeting my Coven at 11.” That’s how I would describe it, especially because in the Winter I have this big, black faux-fur coat, and I tend to wear velvets a lot. I feel like my approach to style is very Minimalist because the basis of what I wear is very plain and I wear the same things everyday, but then I also have more extravagant items as well which add a little touch. Because I love texture, I like velvets, satins, lace and silk, so I’ll wear those fabrics sometimes. I actually was going to wear black lace gloves today, too.

Have you always dressed like this?

No, I haven’t. I used to wear colour but then I felt really self conscious and it made me feel like I stood out, and then I started to wear all black — just because I think it looks best on my skin tone and my hair.

Do you remember an early fashion memory?

When I was four of five I would wear every single day the same red Postman Pat t-shirt with black trousers and the same pair of white trainers. I wore them everyday, until the shoes fell apart and the t-shirt had holes in, which I think is interesting because now I wear the same thing everyday as well.

Are you associated with the word ‘uniform’?

Yes, I like to wear a uniform because it makes me feel like I always look put together. It takes so much time out of the morning… I never have to be self conscious about what I’m wearing. I found my uniform just by accident because I ended up just naturally gravitating towards things that I felt the most comfortable in and the things that I feel like I looked best in. Because I wear the same thing everyday, I never have to worry about whether it looks nice or not, and can just throw something on and have it always look put together.

Do you have any favourite accessories?

One item that I wear a lot is my black and purple velvet shawl. It’s more of a Wintery thing, but I like that its kind of witchy. I got it after I went to see Stevie Nicks in the Summer Hyde Park concert, so obviously have a fond memory of it.

Can you note any inspiration for your style?

A big inspiration for me was a picture of Audrey Hepburn. Its a studio portrait of her and she’s in a black top with high waisted black trousers which are basically the same ones that I wear, and she’s got black ballet flats on. Another inspiration, honestly…. in the first two Harry Potter films, Professor McGonagall always wears a black turtleneck dress with a green velvet cape and a brooch around her neck. That was a big inspiration to me as well because I like vampiric, witchy things. And obviously American Horror Story’s Coven is a big aesthetic inspiration too. Stevie Nicks is also a style inspiration to me because she doesn’t strictly wear a uniform, but she’s always in all black, and she wears similar things to me.

 

All photographs taken by Niall

 

Live Podcast Recording: What Do We Want From Fashion Writing And Imagery Now?

Please join us Friday 29 June, 2018 at the Courtauld Institute of Art 10:30am-12:00pm for a live recording of The Conversations with Jason Campbell & Henrietta Gallina podcast, open to all free admission

Speakers include

  • Jason Campbell – journalist, personal stylist and forecaster
  • Henrietta Gallina – creative strategist and consultant

Organised by

  • Dr Rebecca Arnold – The Courtauld Institute of Art

Writers and critics represent a shrinking talent pool in the fashion industry, meanwhile fashion imagery has become a staple in our daily social media digest. With that, how we document fashion is shifting in an unprecedented way, so we will discuss how these changes are manifesting and put forward the question of what is needed and wanted today.  Join us for a live recording, with Q&A.

The Conversations With Jason Campbell & Henrietta Gallina is a weekly podcast hosted by two fashion professionals and enthusiasts. For years, Henrietta and Jason found that the conversations they were having about the fashion industry and culture were not ones being had in mainstream arenas, so in the summer of 2017, they decided document their ongoing discussions via their podcast which can be found on iTunes, Podbean and Stitcher.

Jason Campbell is a 25-year veteran of the fashion industry working as a journalist, personal stylist and forecaster. From 2002-2012, Jason published the seminal newsletter JC Report, covering trends, talents and movements from across the globe. In his role as consultant, brands such as the NFL, American Express Centurion, and Limited Brands depend on his fashion wisdom to inform their strategic marketing. Jason has also been a contributing writer to Style.com, New York Times Magazine and Surface Magazine.

Henrietta has over 12 years of experience working with a multitude of fashion, lifestyle and corporate companies across brand, creative and digital strategy and storytelling. Having worked with notable companies as Fred Perry, Topshop, Shinola, COS, Karla Otto, Nike, Parley For The Oceans, Universal Standard and many more, her focus is overall brand and cultural relevancy via bespoke strategic thinking, creative vision, content and special projects.

Book Review: The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th Century Women Designers, edited by Nancy Deihl. Bloomsbury 2018.

Nancy Deihl has edited a fascinating compilation of sixteen essays each of which examines an American fashion designer whose work has been all but forgotten. The chosen examples are women who were successful in their day, and their style encompasses everything from custom-made to ready-to-wear, as well as demonstrating interconnections with the entertainment industry and fashion media. As such, it is a book that relies on forensic research of fashion history, and exposes the rich narratives of individuals who helped to build the American industry.

I was thrilled to see Tina Leser included in the list of contents. I have long admired her work, having become fascinated by the beautiful hand-painted blouses and dresses I saw in museum collections when researching my book The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear & The Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s New York.  Written by FIT Special Collections Archivist April Calahan, the chapter reveals new details of Leser’s life and career that illuminate her progress and the significance of her work.

It is so interesting to read about her early married life in Hawaii in the mid-1930s, and how her glamorous, sportswear-inspired style developed when she opened a shop opposite a chic hotel, whose clients quickly became her key customers.  Here, she imported leading designers from the mainland, including Nettie Rosenstein, and gradually built her own signature look, before she switched to the East Coast herself.  She was prompted to move by a series of external events, from a shipping strike that cut off her wholesale supplies, to the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941.  Once in New York, she began to work with manufacturer Edwin H. Foreman, and continued to grow her business over the coming decades, to become a significant member of America’s fashion industry.

What Calahan’s essay eloquently shows is the way Leser’s career developed to include international influences in her use of fabrics and design elements, as well as her commitment to outsourcing production to other countries. She was, as such, a pioneer of globalisation, looking, for example, to Indian tailors to make up her designs, and seeking to create mutually-beneficial partnerships with her collaborators. Although not always as successful in execution, her dedication to overseas artisans is admirable, and adds a new layer of understanding to her well-known love of Asian references in her designs.  Dhoti-inspired evening dresses, for example, are the perfect encapsulation of her version of the American Look – simple, fluid jersey forms given emphasis through their Indian silhouette.

Calahan’s chapter demonstrates the book’s strength as a whole – it celebrates female creativity and business knowledge – and will surely, as Deihl states in her introduction to the compilation, inspire further work on America’s myriad fashion talents.

Florence’s Nightdress Case & Embroidered History

 

Where do you keep your nightwear? Squashed under your pillow? Or neatly folded in a beautifully embroidered case that you made yourself?

In the first decades of the 20th century, the latter was the more likely answer. Magazines contained examples to make and customise. Placed on the bed below your pillows, a nightdress case reflected the value of garments in an era before readymade fashions meant clothing was less precious.  Importantly, they also signalled feminine accomplishment and style. Monograms, elaborate designs and artificial flowers could all be used to personalise the case.

 

Women’s magazines advised that these cases should resemble ‘boudoir cushions’ – pretty and delicate – a foretaste of the nightdress itself.  They were part of a large repertoire of handmade items that populated the domestic sphere – demonstrating women’s skills and care for themselves and their home.

I am lucky to have an example made by my maternal grandmother in the early 1900s.  She embroidered her case with a curling ‘F’ for her name – Florence – and embellished her whitework stitches with the flowers that mimicked those she loved to arrange in vases and draw.  She decorated the edges with scallops and daisy-shaped eyelet embroidery. She also left us other tokens of her craft skills – crocheted bags, and a little baby blanket trimmed with pink ribbon.

Such items connect generations of my family, recall my grandmother’s life over one hundred years ago and speak of the way young women were brought up to create things for themselves and their families.  Nightdress cases may have fallen out of fashion, but they are still treasures of our past.

Spotlight On: ALOK

ALOK is a gender non-conforming performance artist of color based in New York. They use self-fashioning as a type of self-narration to break harmful racial and gender stereotypes that people impose on their body. For them, style is not only a form of self-expression, but also a form of political activity. Often spotted wearing brightly colored outfits, mixing different materials and prints together and always serving looks, Alok uses color as a way to make their body unapologetically visible within a white heteronormative cis-gender society.

 

Photo sby Elif Kulick

As a performance artist, Alok uses the body as both medium and object of activist work. The body, especially the stylized body, within their performance is a means of reifying the notion that social categories do not make individuals coherent or complete functioning beings in society, but rather one’s understanding of self does. It is through the acknowledgment that these social categories are harmful and imposed on marginalized bodies as a method of erasure where the individual can free themselves through the knowing of self.

 

Alok fights to make their body and their being artful in order to show not only their beauty and strength but also their status as a desiring subject. Alok takes on the challenge of using their style to tackle the question of, “what does it look like to live a visible and fulfilling life as a trans person-of-color?” Through dress and personal style Alok imagines this futurity.

Photo by Alex Hopkins

Dress and style then becomes a strategy of the visible process of and individual working to know themselves and understand themselves in a world that deems them as othered.

 

To embody creativity, which Alok does in their art, is to embody new hopes and visions of a future where people can color outside of the lines.

Exhibition Review: Bruce Davidson Retrospective at Sala Rekalde, Bilbao

Unobtrusively nestled into the Sala Rekalde’s building in the city center of Bilbao, Spain, the largest career spanning retrospective of American photographer Bruce Davidson left its mark on this artistically rich gem of a city. Comprised of over 200 prints shot primarily in black and white, Davidson’s work was exhibited in various rooms with 16 themes, each accompanied by display cases in the center of each room with magazine and newspaper printings with photographs from Davidson’s career.

 

The experience of witnessing Davidson’s photographs in person was truly enchanting. The prints are poignant and evocative, and convey a stronger sense of Davidson’s vision that cannot simply be replicated on a screen. The way the light in the building reflected off each glossy surface of the photograph, and the details and movement captured in each shot left the viewer with a visceral and emotional reaction to Davidson’s work.

 

Spanning the duration of his career, the retrospective highlighted some of Davidson’s most famous series from the 1960s, including Brooklyn Gang, East 100th Street, and photographs from the Civil Rights Movement.

Brooklyn Gang, New York City, 1959. Coney Island, Kathy fixing her hair in a cigarette machine mirror Magnum Photos

Montgomery, Alabama, 1961. National Guardsmen protect the Freedom Riders during their ride from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi Magnum Photos

The retrospective also included images from Davidson’s travels to the U.K. during the 1960s, with photographs from London, Scotland, Wales, and Yorkshire. Currently residing in London, these images were particularly exciting to see, as Davidson captured an experience of what it was like to live in these cities 60 years ago.

London, U.K. 1960 Magnum Photos

The reason behind my trip to Bilbao to see the retrospective was specifically for Davidson’s Subway photographs from 1980, the topic of my dissertation. The exhibition displayed early photographs of the series which were taken in black and white, as opposed to the majority color images I explored in my dissertation. Seeing the photographs first hand in conversation with and situated within Davidson’s career was an invaluable experience, and extremely beneficial towards my research.

Subway, 1980. New York City Magnum Photos

The exhibition concluded with photographs Davidson took in Southern California between 2008-2013, which were particularly evocative personally, having grown up in Los Angeles. He captured the essence of Los Angeles through his depiction of beaches, high-rise buildings, palm trees, and traffic, which evoked a sense of home and nostalgia that concluded the retrospective on a perfect note.

Los Angeles, 2008 Magnum Photos

Pairs in Richard Avedon’s ‘In the American West’

 

Starting in 1979 Richard Avedon began a project, commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum in Texas, documenting the American West. He spent five years traversing the western part of the United States taking portraits of average, overlooked people. The project concluded with an exhibition of selected works and a catalogue called In the American West. The magical quality of these photographs is in the immediate connection the viewer forges with subject. Looking at these photographs you begin to feel as though you know the person in the portrait. Part of this comes from the equalizing way Avedon went about taking each photograph:“I photograph my subject against a sheet of white paper about nine feet wide by seven feet long that is secured to a wall, a building, sometimes the side of a trailer. I work in the shade because sunshine creates shadow, highlights, accents on a surface that seem to tell you where to look. I want the source of light to be invisible so as to neutralize its role in the appearance of things”.  Avedon created a blank slate where the personality of the subject could be freely expressed without any distractions. In this neutral space, the sartorial choices of the subjects come under greater scrutiny and become even more symbolic of their inner lives. What struck me as particularly interesting in these photographs was they ways in which Avedon photographed pairs and how their bodies interacted within the frame.

In Rusty McCrickard and Tracy Featherstone, Dixon, California 1981 a man and woman stand staring directly into the camera. The woman is dressed in matching tropical print shorts and a button up top, while the man wears jeans and no shirt. Their hands are clasped together in the centre of the frame. The man’s bare chest seems to blend with the white background and create a sense of negative space, contrasting with the woman’s vibrant print. While the man physically takes up more space due to his size, they share the frame fairly equally.

In John and Melissa Harrison, Lewisville, Texas, 1981 there is a sense of harmonious shared space as well. John stands facing the camera straight on. He holds his daughter in the crook of his left arm so that she dangles upside down in front of him. Her right foot hooks around his neck mirroring the angle of his bent arm. His dark clothing contrasts with her white shirt and diaper. Although he, like Rusty McCrickard in Rusty McCrickard and Tracy Featherstone, Dixon, California 1981, is larger than Melissa their intertwined bodies form one unit that sits in the centre of the frame.

In Teresa Waldron and Joe College, Sidney, Iowa, 1979, Teresa stands as the centre of the frame. She hooks her index finger into the pocket of Joe’s jeans, thus linking them together. Her white cowboy hat frames her face, while her light-coloured striped tank and dark jeans contrast with Joe’s silky shirt and lighter-wash jeans. Joe’s prominent, shiny belt-buckle draws the eye to him, yet his body is only partially in the frame. The portrait focuses in on Teresa, while Joe is pushed to the side.

In Jonathan and Sam Stahl, Gilford Montana, 1983 this is taken a step further. While Jonathan, on the left, is prominently featured, Sam, on the right, is only half in the frame. Their matching checked shirts gives the feeling that they are connected. Sam’s arm seems to disappear into the Jonathan, thus enhancing the sense that they are one unit. That being said Jonathan is in the centre while Sam is cut off by the frame, almost as if Avedon capture their image while walking by them. The dynamism he finds in the contrast between bodies in his In the American West series is truly captivating.

Dissertation Discussion: Niall

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

The Dancing Faun: Constructing the Queer Body in the Works of Vaslav Nijinsky

What led you to choose this subject?

I started reading Nijinsky’s diaries earlier in the year and absolutely fell in love with a man who truly was a victim of his time. You can feel the anxiety and unease surrounding his homosexuality through the page and this was something that I strongly identified with. I therefore thought it might be interesting to consider how his queerness was actualised within his performances and choreographic style.

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

Nijinksy’s diary.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favourite performance of Nijinsky was his work in L’Après Midi D’un Faune which he both performed and choreographed himself. As this work was his choreographic debut, it really showcased all of his ideas surrounding dance technique that was evidently distinct from the previous styles of the Ballet Russes.

Favorite place to work?

Where all the action happens: My bedroom 😉

Dissertation Discussion: Destinee

What is the working title of your dissertation? 

Readdressing Passivity in 1960’s Civil Rights Photographs through Dress

What led you to choose this subject?

I was inspired to write about the idea of protest wear in relation to the black body after seeing the King in New York exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. I became quite fascinated by the idea of protest buttons after seeing Benedict J. Fernandez’s Photograph from a Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Central Park from April 5, 1968 on view. There is exhaustive scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement and for that reason my main objective in my dissertation was to find a new angle of viewing civil rights photographs that was not reductive or contrived. Reading civil rights photographs through dress and both individual and collective dress practice in moments of protest proved to be an interesting way of critiquing the reading of the black body as being passive or docile in the face of white-aggressive as reading it as an active embodiment of resistance.

Ivan Massar, Doris Wilson on the Selma to Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965, Gelatin silver print, Image/plat: 13 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2 inches, copyright Ivan Massar, Access: https://prod.high.org/collections/doris-wilson-on-the-selma-to- montgomery-march-alabama/

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

My favorite book that I have read for my dissertation has been bell hook’s Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992). The way in which hooks deconstructs and provides alternative ways of viewing blackness really helped push me to look at the images used in my dissertation in different ways. My second favorite read would have to be Sharon Sliwinki’s Dreaming in Dark Times: Six Exercises in Political Thought (2017) because I thought it was so interesting how she aligned dreaming and more specifically dream-work as a radical political action that could be situated within the context of the social sphere.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favorite image I wrote about is a photograph of the Washington Monument and part of the United States flag reflected in sunglasses of a young boy called Austin Clinton Brown from the March on Washington in August of 1963. I think the image is quite powerful in that it addresses the idea that the American dream is an illusion in the way that these symbols of American freedom are distorted and warped on the reflective surface of the young boy’s sunglasses.

Washington Monument and part of the U.S. flag reflected in sunglasses of Austin Clinton Brown, 9, of Gainesville, GA, March on Washington, August 28th 1963
Access: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/NATL-The-1963-March-on-Washington-in- Photos-219401841.htm

Favorite place to work?

Hands down, my favorite place to work is the Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It is a vegetarian and vegan café with both indoor and outdoor seating with lots of natural light and great music. I have spent many days work there and they have the most delicious “loaded” vegan chili fries.

Dissertation Discussion: Abby

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

I’m trying to come up with something more creative but right now it is: “More Than a Backdrop: Fine Art in the Fashion Magazine 1930s-1950s”

What led you to choose this subject?

Well literally all of my academic research has investigated the intersection between art and fashion in some way so continuing to look at this relationship was a given. I wrote one of my previous MA essays on the fashion magazine as a designed object so I also wanted to build on that research. I love the way image, text and layout work together in fashion magazines to construct ideas of femininity as well as national identity for readers. I found art historians who had dismissed the use of art in fashion magazines, saying fashion simply used art as a backdrop to sell clothing. So, I wanted to assert that actually art and fashion work together to create significant aesthetics and messages.

I had always planned to write about classicism and couture in the 1930s because I have a low-key obsession with all things Greco-Roman and I’m fascinated by modern classicism. But about a month before we had to choose our topics I kept thinking about photographs by Cecil Beaton of models in eveningwear in front of Jackson Pollock paintings, and earlier this year I also came across photographs by Genevieve Naylor of models in Alexander Calder’s studio and then I was interested in modern art and fashion. I thought I had to choose between classicism or modern art but Rebecca (shout-out to Rebecca Arnold!!) helped me realize I was essentially looking at the same thing: art and fashion in magazine editorials. So, I didn’t have to choose and I really think it is the perfect topic for me.

 

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

In my quest to tie together art, fashion, and mid-century American politics I found a fantastic article by Alex Taylor about how Calder’s sculptures were used for both U.S. cultural propaganda and Latin American dissent during the Cold War.

Also, I got to re-visit the catalog from my favorite Met Costume Institute exhibition, 2003’s Goddess: The Classical Mode which spotlighted fashion designer’s affinity for the classical.

 

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

A Vogue 1931 editorial “Bas Relief” featuring George Hoyningen-Huene’s photographs of Madeleine Vionnet evening pyjamas where the model is actually lying down against a dark background but it looks like she floats while her dress swirls around her. The meeting of timeless classical imagery and modern photography is breathtaking and Hoyningen-Huene is my favorite photographer AND Vionnet is the best – it just doesn’t get any better.

 

Favorite place to work?

I can only focus in my room or in the Courtauld library