Documenting Fashion

A Biography of Objects: Second Floor: The Private Apartment of Coco Chanel by Sam Taylor-Johnson

October 24, 2014 by Julia


Second Floor: Lion with Pearls


Second Floor: No. 5 Chandelier I


Second Floor: Sofa


Second Floor: Staircase II
[All photographs by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Courtesy of Chanel]

“Little events, ordinary things…imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story”- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Haunting, evocative and profoundly intimate, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s series of photographs of the private apartment of Coco Chanel, exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, is a visual biography of emotion conveyed through the poignant rendering of objects, and the moments and memories of a life preserved in talismanic form. Although it is closed to the public, the Paris apartment, located above the Chanel boutique at 31 Rue Cambon, has long been the fabric of legend. Forming the ornate backdrop to iconic photographic portraits by Man Ray and Horst, it also regularly played host to gatherings of Chanel’s illustrious social circle and provided her with rare moments of solitude away from her atelier. Today, the apartment, which has stood untouched since Chanel’s death in 1971, is only frequented by a privileged few, such as Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld, who frequently draws inspiration from its famous Coromandel screens and décor saturated with symbolism. A mysterious, closely guarded shrine to its former inhabitant, the exotic opulence of the apartment’s interior stands as a living, breathing contradiction to the streamlined simplicity of the couturiere’s clothing designs. Yet look for the signs and they are there: the symbols and the spirit which form the beating heart of both Chanel the brand and Chanel the woman.

Familiar and recurring Chanel design emblems appear in the form of gilded lions (Chanel’s astrological sign), a chandelier of tumbling glass ‘5’ and interlocking double ‘C’ motifs and beige suede cushions which bear the same quilted effect of the iconic ‘2.55’ handbag. More personal and emotionally metaphoric objects, such as Buddhas, tarot cards, a smoky crystal ball and sheaves of wheat, sit alongside, hinting at a deep inner life characterized by intense spirituality, superstition and profound loss. A particularly poignant close-up image of a miniature jewelled cage containing two tiny pearl lovebirds serves not only as a tangible reminder of Chanel’s great love of precious materials but as, in the words of Harper’s Bazaar editor Justine Picardie, a ‘treasured amulet of a coupledom that was to elude Chanel’.

This photographic series was inspired by a conversation between Taylor-Johnson and Picardie, who wrote part of her acclaimed Chanel biography in the apartment and who, like the artist, has come to develop a very personal connection with the designer. For both photographer and writer, what appears to be the most striking and profound element of being immersed in the Chanel interior is its undeniably ethereal overtones, and its overwhelming and almost uncomfortable sensation of coming too close. Chanel herself described the interior of a home as ‘the natural projection of the soul’ and, indeed, it is within this intimate setting that her spirit still lingers, her loves, passions and even heartbreaks crystallized within the now abandoned collections of rare books, art and objects. What strikes Picardie most about Taylor-Johnson’s remarkable images ‘is that they capture absence, at the same time as presence’. Looking at these photographs, one suspects that Chanel’s own image may be glimpsed at any moment in the smoked glass mirror, whose octagonal form echoes the familiar shape of a Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle stopper, yet, simultaneously, the famous cream silk chair in which she reclined for many a portrait, its cushion worn from constant sitting, stands eerily empty.

For many, the glossy chiaroscuro of these large-scale photographs will be the closest they will come to experiencing this secret inner sanctum. Taylor-Johnson’s powerful and intriguing rendering of Chanel’s most cherished items, however, undoubtedly succeeds in drawing its viewers deeper into the authentic and indissoluble aura of Chanel, forming a portrait of a woman and the narrative of a life told through objects that is, at once, both elusive and inescapable.


Second Floor: The Private Apartment of Coco Chanel by Sam Taylor-Johnson was exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, London in September 2014.

The book Sam Taylor-Johnson: Second Floor will be published by Steidl on 24th November 2014.



Morand, P. (1976), The Allure of Chanel, trans. E. Cameron, London: Pushkin.

Picardie, J. (2014), ‘Kindred Spirits’ in Harper’s Bazaar, London: September 2014.

Picardie, J. (2011), Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, London: HarperCollins.

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Favourite Online Resources

October 21, 2014 by Rebecca

Fashion Horizons

Fashion Horizons 1940, Prelinger Archives

Zam Buk - Wellcome

Zam Buk advertisement, Wellcome Collection.

As the new academic year starts, we got together to choose some of our favourite online and digital resources for researching dress history.  We wanted to share these with you, and to give you examples of some of our best finds amongst the rich selection of material each resource contains. Hope you enjoy exploring them, as much as we do.

Alexis: I discovered, the site of the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA), as I conducted research for my thesis on French culture and ready-made dress from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. The site, which archives a wide range of contemporary and historical materials, including interviews, television episodes, documentary film and radio reports, and fashion shows, has enriched my research, which is based on more typical textual and visual sources. One example of a chance discovery that provides insight into the period is a news report from 1974 that discussed the couture trade syndicate’s acceptance of ready-to-wear designers. Its mix of current affairs, industry, women, fashion imagery, and Paris scenery brings together many of the components of my research.

Katerina: My favourite online research resource is WorldCat, a database that connects you to both bibliographic and archival material on a subject. It’s especially useful if you’re looking up a person, because it can advise you about where their archives are located, or about lesser known, but relevant articles on them. During the course of my PhD research I wanted to find out about the photographer Alexey Brodovitch’s activity as a designer in 1920s Paris, but all the publications I had encountered overlooked this phase in his career. When I looked up ‘Alexey Brodovitch’ on Worldcat however, it brought up Nathalie Cattaruzza’s work on Brodovitch’s early career.

Liz: Berg Fashion Library (BFL) is an online reference resource distributed by Oxford University Press to academic subscription holders. The Courtauld Library holds a subscription to BFL, through which I can view the entire series of Berg Encyclopedia of World Fashion and Dress, countless e-books, extra reference resources and numerous images. These subjects can all be searched for by place, date, or key terms. BFL is always my first port of call for my own research, which has encompassed Morocco, Africa, Japan and Brazil. I find it particularly useful given the extensive attention paid to Western but also non-Western modes of everyday and high-end fashion and dress.

Rebecca: The resource I return to again and again – for work and pleasure – is the Prelinger Archives. This has an extensive collection of non-fiction films that can be watched online, downloaded and reproduced free! It’s a really exciting collection, one favourite is Fashion Horizons from 1940. This is a travelogue that shows Hollywood starlets modelling contemporary fashions, as they travel by plane to various landmarks in America. The film is in colour, and gives a really good idea of attitudes to modernity, luxury, ethnicity and gender just before America entered the war.

Lucy: Wellcome Images is the online counterpart to the Wellcome Collection, one of London’s most unique and diverse museums. It hosts a broad and endlessly fascinating range of images that explore the human experience through life, death, the body, art, and more. For my research, its medical and military material helps me to contextualise ways violence encroached upon fashion during the interwar period. The resource also reveals examples of this phenomenon, such as a 1930s Zam Buk advertisement. Here, the isolation of body parts upon a black background participates in a post-First World War trend that I have identified, towards fragmentation in fashion and beauty.

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Self-expression, space and style: a conversation with Camille Branda at Bergdorf’s

October 17, 2014 by Alexis

Camille 01

Camille, 4th Floor, Bergdorf Goodman

Camille 02

4th Floor, Couture and Evening Collections, Bergdorf Goodman

Camille 03

3rd Floor, Designer Collections, Bergdorf Goodman

Camille 04

View of Bergdorf Goodman from 5th Avenue

Camille 05

Bergdorf Goodman windows

Camille 06

Camille, 1960s, Brooklyn, New York

Camille 07

Camille, 1970s, Brooklyn, New York

Camille Branda, associate and personal shopper in couture and evening collections at Bergdorf Goodman since 2011, considers the shop a museum, in that it is a space defined as much by beautiful things, as the creative people that work with them. In September, we met and discussed how these elements intersect to shape one of New York’s most iconic specialty stores. It was a pleasure to wander its spaces together, and admire the craftsmanship and ideas behind the garments. And Camille has a discerning eye – before launching her own Image Consulting Business a few years ago, she led a fulfilling career as the VP of Product Development and Sourcing for The Echo Design Group, an accessory and home décor company. While there, she travelled the world to look for novel fabrics, products and manufacturers. Camille relives this experience of discovery every day at BG, as interaction with designers enhances her understanding and appreciation of the clothing. It is the constant flow of diverse people – from the designers to those that work on the window displays and customers – that make BG an ever-changing creativity hub. This is reflected in the way she talks about her job:

Everyday I arrive excited, as I approach 5th Avenue, and see the store and its magnificent window displays. This may sound silly, but it really does thrill me. We start most mornings with a clinic, directed by a designer or designer representative, who introduces us to a particular product, to understand this brand and its seasonal inspiration. We then go live and meet the customers. Curtain unfolds at 10:00 and the real show begins!

This sense of theatre is reflected in the movement and crowds that characterise the store’s ambience. And Camille clearly moves to this fast rhythm: when we met, an hour before her next appointment, she seamlessly conversed with me in between phone calls to clients and fitters. Perhaps it is the personal shoppers, who are the most integrated within the intricate spaces of the shop: they tie all the floors together in their creation of looks. And their clients, who Camille describes as more “educated” than ever, demand thorough service. In turn, she has learned much about the many individual and cultural perceptions of fashion and the body. For Camille, ‘the “one-on-one” relationship is intimate and rewarding. We talk lifestyle, goals, preferences, and challenges, as well as colour, style and proportion as we walk through the store to feel for likes and dislikes… I am not only interested in making a big sale, I want to build a relationship with customers for a lifetime.’ Through close observation – the unspoken is most revealing – and listening, she is able to best advise on clothing that ‘accommodate[s] and improve[s] a customer’s personal style.’

Clothing is one element of a puzzle that shapes the picture of one’s image or style, based on self-presentation, expression, and the physical realities of the body in a certain space. In a typical day for Camille, she might style outfits, as ritualistic as that for a wedding or debutante presentation, or plan wardrobes to correspond to the minimalist space of an art gallery, a formal state dinner, or business and casual settings. This multi-layered definition of style was a thread that ran through our conversation, especially when we discussed unique characters, such as the late American heiress, horticulturalist and collector Doris Duke. Camille became fascinated with Duke after a recent visit to her mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, whose objects and decoration reflected its owner’s extraordinary life and unique outlook. Similarly, Camille’s memory of her mother, as ‘sophisticated, polished and elegant’ and ‘a true style icon,’ lives on in objects and pictures, with which she surrounds herself. She joked that her mother ‘groomed [her] for Bergdorf Goodman at a very tender age,’ and a few days after our meeting, she sent me a childhood photograph of herself in a carefully constructed ensemble ‘styled by Mom.’ Taken in her bedroom, she wears a coat with a large white fur collar over a dress, accessorised with leather gloves, a bag, and an ornamented hat. Her prim crossed-legged pose completes the image.

As she grew older, Camille used fashion as her own means of creativity and self-expression. She recalls wearing a shearling coat and printed headband while in high school. The processes of styling and wearing this outfit were, for Camille, transformative experiences that made her feel ‘so cool and simply amazing.’ Through them she could assert her independence, as well as relate to the wardrobes of films, including Love Story and Annie Hall.

Camille has thus always combined the realities of fashionable dressing, with a ‘romantic, fun’ fantasy realm. Throughout her career, Camille has honed her expertise and fashion eye, and now similarly seeks to enhance and elevate her clients’ images to match Bergdorf’s own, stylish reputation.

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Wearable Technology

October 14, 2014 by Lucy

During the summer of 2014, the Barbican staged its Digital Revolution – an exhibition that celebrated technology. From the humble home computer of the 1970s, to innovative special effects and interactive artworks of the present and future, it highlighted the way technology has come to immerse itself within, and drive, almost every aspect of daily life. Fashion is by no means immune to this convergence, and the show duly acknowledged this, by featuring garments by Studio XO for TechHaus, the technical division of Lady Gaga’s Haus of Gaga, and wearable technology by Pauline van Dongen. The examples on display went beyond wearable gadgets that are solely functional, such as sporting devices, and instead demonstrated how technology can be fused seamlessly with sartorial ensembles, breaking any boxy, plastic stereotypes and looking unmistakably like couture.

One dress from Pauline van Dongen’s Wearable Solar collection was especially striking. Smooth, cool leather moulds itself over the torso, joined by a simple, black, wool skirt that sits just above the knee. Generous, but form-skimming shapes prevent the look from being overly sexualized, and instead promote a strong, confident style, enhanced by elongated shoulders. One would be forgiven, from a distance, for presuming that the shining stripes made up of small squares that descend from each shoulder serve a decorative purpose only. However, the dress in fact incorporates 72 flexible solar cells, and is capable of fully charging the wearer’s mobile phone with just two hours of full sunlight.

This is just one example of new ways of thinking and working in the fashion industry, which are re-invigorating the existing model that has been in place for decades. The relationship between clothes and their wearers is changing: dress no longer must necessarily be worn passively. Rather, it is capable of responding, communicating, and even assisting. Furthermore, such developments create new links and dialogues between fashion and other areas, such as the energy industries.

Van Dongen asserts that this will help to restore sustainability, both in her work, through the clear environmental benefits of using solar energy, and, on a more general scale, by increasing the longevity of garments, on the basis that incorporated technology will raise their value (actual and perceived) and theoretically decrease their disposability. The implied sense of frugality and practicality maximizes the usefulness of something that is already a constant accompaniment in everyday life: clothing.

However, this infusion of technology into dress is not entirely new. For example, since the late-1980s the Cyber Goth trend has entailed distinctly future orientated and styled dress, incorporating technological elements such as LED circuits. However, it seems that the 2010s mark a new transition point towards usability and ubiquity within this phenomenon. Since the late 2000s, shoppers have been able to use digital representations of themselves to ‘try on’ makeup and fashion looks in a virtual reality environment, for example at Shiseido and Topshop. The launch of the Apple Watch in September 2014, blends design, function, and lifestyle, and Topshop Unique’s use of virtual reality to transport in-branch shoppers to the heart of its Spring/Summer 2014 catwalk show are two other uses of technology within fashion and design. It seems the Barbican’s crowning of a digital renaissance comes on the cusp of technology’s transformation of the ways we experience dress.

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October 13, 2014 by Alexis

MA Class

Please join us in welcoming this year’s MA students on the course Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Films and Image in America and Europe, 1920-1945, taught by Dr Rebecca Arnold. Look out for their posts when they join our blog team next month!

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Fashion Week Reactions Part 4. Redressing Feminism: Chanel’s Fashion Riot

October 10, 2014 by Julia


Under the glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais, a protest is taking place, a procession of women, signs held aloft, calling for female empowerment, as they stride confidently past the large crowds they have attracted. Its setting is a monumental screen print of a typical Parisian rue dubbed the ‘Boulevard Chanel’; its demonstrators, eighty models centered around such high-profile names as Cara Delevingne and Gisele Bündchen; the props, quilted megaphones and handbags dripping in Chanel iconography.

Indeed, the finale of Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2015 ready-to-wear show possessed all the ingredients for a potent collision of fashion and feminism, yet it left many a critic cold and confused as to its underlying intentions. A prevailing mood of discomfort regarding Lagerfeld’s seemingly hollow hijacking of the feminist cause for publicity purposes immediately permeated the international press, giving rise to concerns as varied as they are, perhaps, unfounded. While some dwelled on the apparent hypocrisy of this multi-billion dollar luxury brand’s attempt to promote a liberated individualism by way of exorbitantly expensive garments, others bristled at the narrow spectrum of ‘ideal’ female beauty represented by the designer’s casting of professional fashion models in the role of feminist activists. Protest signs carrying such slogans as, ‘Tweed not Tweet’, ‘Ladies First’ and ‘History is Her Story’ were widely derided as empty and naïve attempts to exploit the gravity of a highly topical social issue. Journalist Alexander Fury even went as far as to suggest that the show had been the very ‘artifice of anarchy’, a noisy, fussy publicity stunt lacking in any real, honest political statement.

But as debates raged over potential misinterpretations of that significantly weighted word – feminism – and accusations of trivialization poured forth, the very point of the show itself appeared to have been not just overlooked, but also largely, and sadly, missed. The true stars of the show were, in fact, the clothes themselves, which formed, in the words of Vogue’s Suzy Menkes, a ‘back-to-Coco parade’, one which confirmed that the dynamic spirit of the label’s fiercely independent female founder still endures, nearly a century after its sartorial debut. Gabrielle Chanel herself was fashion’s greatest inadvertent feminist. She bestowed a freedom of movement and gender blurring right to comfort and function upon women, whose experiences of dress had, thereto, been characterised by restriction, adornment and submission. This specific collection’s layering of menswear-inspired elements (boxy tweed jackets, wide-leg trousers and sailor stripe knits) atop feminine basenotes of florals, unusually vibrant prints and classic Chanel monochrome palettes travelled to the very heart of the brand’s unique heritage, while, simultaneously, allowing the image of the modern, active woman to be effectively reimagined and updated for a post-Coco society.

It is important that such a presentation is not taken out of context as, after all, it seems illogical to dismiss the theatrical spectacle of the show’s format as mere ‘publicity stunt,’ when the very function of a fashion show is that of self-promotion and commercial endorsement. Unlike the design philosophies at the root of the Chanel brand, gender equality debates can arguably never truly be timeless, as constantly shifting social mores require them to move and morph with their times, never standing still. Therefore, to accuse Chanel of presenting a reductive view of diluted feminism seems a step too far, and the very fact that it is engaging in the discussion at all should be applauded. Fashion, viewed through the lens of feminism is likely to remain a problematic concept on many levels, but it should be recognized that attempts to exclude it from the conversation would only be counter-productive. The most negative aspect of feminism’s fraught relationship with fashion does not lie in the sartorial embrace of what it means to be a modern woman, in any era, but in the fact that the two spheres are being forced to uncomfortably co-exist as conflicting and contradictory ideologies. Lagerfeld’s riot of a show may not have brought about longed-for permanent change, but it has taken us one step closer to breaking down the seemingly obligatory boundaries between the two by, at last, allowing them to assume a much-needed dialogue that is imperative to the future success of both.



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Fashion Week Reactions Part 3: JPG retires from RTW

October 7, 2014 by Fruzsi


l’Année de la Mode (1989)


l’Année de la Mode (1989)


l’Année de la Mode (1989)

The expression ‘enfant terrible’ seems to crop up frequently when Jean Paul Gaultier is mentioned. Since the founding of his fashion house in 1976, the designer has become known for collections characterised by a canny, yet humorous take on current affairs, and a high degree of craftsmanship. As of September this year, Gaultier will exclusively focus on his haute couture line, which he launched in 1997. The designer cited increasing commercial pressures and the rapid pace of the ready-to-wear industry as contributing factors in his decision. He also expressed the need to satisfy his desire for creative experimentation and innovation through his continued work in couture. Gaultier’s brand, backed by Spanish perfume company Puig, will be kept afloat financially by the sale of the designer’s popular line of fragrances, and a soon-to-be developed beauty range. It has also been suggested that the designer may venture into the world of interior design and pursue creative collaborations.

The closure of Gaultier’s ready-to-wear line has come at a time when the growing pressure on designers is frequently discussed in the fashion media. Following a series of unexpected deaths and public meltdowns, some journalists have identified the increasing rate of global fashion consumption as the root of the problem. Additional shows, including, pre- and cruise collections, aimed at keeping buyers interested all year round, have considerably increased designers’ workload. There are those, such as Azzedeine Alaia, who have refused to participate in this gruelling system, although up until now his was a rare example. Will Gaultier’s decision, which goes a step further, to focus on one aspect of his clothing design, inspire others to follow his lead? Although this is not a likely possibility, the move does indicate a changed state of affairs in the fashion industry. While in recent years many feared the death of haute couture, now the consensus seems to be that it has instead become the last vestige of Fashion with a capital F. Haute couture is exempt from a direct commercial pressure, because it has become the essence of a fashion house and an artisanal heritage to be preserved. Lavish shows and rarefied craftsmanship are cultivated in order to produce a brand DNA that consumers can vicariously buy into when purchasing cheaper products.  It is not surprising therefore, that a designer with a high fashion education, such as Gaultier – he began his career working at Cardin and Patou – should choose to shift his creative focus and brand strategy.

Despite the difficult issues that contextualise Gaultier’s departure from prêt-à-porter, his final spring/summer 2015 collection was anything but a solemn affair. Instead, we saw a theatrical farewell in the form of the ‘Miss Jean Paul Gaultier Pageant’, which showcased the most iconic designs of the brand’s history. The ten-part extravaganza featured Gaultier’s signature nautical, striped shirts, asymmetrically cut, sharply tailored gender-bending suits, and a tamed version of the cone bra, in the shape of a corselet dress modelled by Coco Rocha. A lively assortment of characters, from Lucha Libre superhero wrestlers, footballers’ wives sporting paisley, sequins and denim, to boxers-cum-cyclists confirmed the designer’s love for all things related to popular culture. Gaultier has a history for challenging norms of taste, beauty and gender, therefore it was a shame that references to some of his more controversial collections were missing. It would have been good to spot a few men in skirts, for example – perhaps his most daring contribution to fashion history. Although models of all ages graced the runway, a greater diversity of gender, ethnicity and body shapes would have also spoken more clearly of Gaultier’s fashion legacy. Nevertheless, this final collection was an apt celebration of the end of a chapter in ready-to-wear’s history.


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Fashion Week Reactions Part 2

October 3, 2014 by Rebecca


Shifting attention from the catwalk to the street.


Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.


Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.


Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.


Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…


One of the most striking aspects of the current fashion weeks’ coverage is the shift of focus away from the catwalk and onto the streets surrounding the venues. Many posts from, for example, headlined with street style, rather than designers’ latest showings. The dynamic between clothes, settings and photographers has gradually shifted emphasis, from professional models, in designer clothes, carefully shown to convey the latest season, to celebrities on the front row and, in the last few years, to a carnival of self-styled visitors, who perform for the cameras and each other. So, what and who are fashion shows really for nowadays? And who is watching whom?

Fashion editors – who move between the various players in this scenario – act as a conduit to the wider public through print and digital media, and bridge this move from centre to periphery.  Whereas most editors used to be fairly anonymous, their every outfit is now commented upon, as they mirror bloggers use of self-presentation to build a distinctive identity. In each case, the way they dress has become a focus – a way to ‘democratize’ fashion, with the editors adopting street style tactics, as a means to assert their authority, and compete with the mass of ‘amateur’ fashion commentators.

As bloggers renegotiated the ways fashion was communicated at the start of the century, access to new styles via the Internet, and a closer, more direct style of writing and, importantly, photographing new styles impinged on traditional media. Using your own body as a way to display emerging trends appears more direct and linked to how the wider public uses fashion.

Ironically, couturiers originally tried to keep the press out of their shows – wishing to control access to their designs and the timing of their release. Now, changes brought about by the Internet, combined with recession-led conservative styles on the catwalk, have shifted the gaze again, and blurred lines between professional and amateur, design and performance.


Hot Fuzz: Shrimps

The newly launched girly and kitsch faux fur label Shrimps, the brainchild of 23-year-old LCF graduate, Hannah Weiland, made its debut on 12th September at London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2015. Rainbow-coloured beautifully-crafted fluffy pieces inspired by the Flintstones, Muppets and Popeye the Sailor provided a humorous and invitingly tactile contrast to the more austere creations seen in other collections. Enthused by the pop-art witticisms of Eduardo Paolozzi, sixties style and British humour, Weiland showcased furry mid-length coats with horizontal contrasting stripes, oversized clutches adorned with pearls, luxurious collars in hot pink or orange, and fur-trimmed biker jackets, all of which were made from the synthetic fibre modacryclic. ‘Why wear real fur when the potential for luxe faux fur is so rich and unexploited?’ quizzed the designer. The label makes faux fur, which, while not cheap, costs considerably less than the real thing – the ‘Wilma’ striped faux fur coat is currently £595 on Net-a-Porter and is made more desirable with its bright colours, pastel hues and overall silly charm. ‘Perhaps my obsession with fluffy animals is the reason why Shrimps came about — I’m imitating the animals I grew up with’. But with stockists Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and Opening Ceremony all queuing up to place orders for spring, the names of items, which include Pluto, Mabel and Dulcie, don’t seem quite so silly…

Check out Shrimps’ quirky fashion film ‘Shrimps World’ featuring Laura Bailey, complete with langoustines, chewing gum, gherkins, and a caravan, here:


Dark Naturalism: Beauty at New York Fashion Week, Spring 2015

Many of the beauty looks featured at New York Fashion Week displayed takes on the city’s impeccably groomed, understated trademark style, and Derek Lam and Vera Wang’s respective shows were no exception. Shiny curls softly bounced, though with a subtle irregularity and loosened nature that prevented them being uniform and kempt. Faces were left fresh and dewy, lips glossy but in natural hues, and eyebrows full and merely brushed. The fine plaits that peeked out within models’ hair as they moved down the Vera Wang catwalk, quietly conjured an air of refined rebellion, encapsulating this insouciant individualism.

This was furthered by the shades of violet that were washed over the eyes in each show. At Derek Lam, brown eyeliner, and mauve lipstick smudged onto the lids avoided a classic, explicit finish, and merged the product with the skin. The purplish tones were emphasised with mascara of the same shade. At Vera Wang, similar tones were apparent in a heavier manner, here without the definition of mascara. Colour surrounded the eye and was extended below the lower eyelid, creating a sunken effect.

While praised by media coverage for injecting colour, the shadows’ considered placement and thorough blending create not so much a colour pop, as a suggestion that they are part of the skin, and therefore represent bruising: in-keeping with the rest of the looks’ naturalism, but focusing on an unconventional and controversial condition of the skin. They recall the haunted, hollow eyes that prevailed within the ‘heroin chic’ look of the late 1990s, when fashion images depicted models styled as drug abusers, their rake-thin bodies and lack of vitality enhanced by a haze of smoky shadow. Just as at the end of the last millennium, the suggestion of violence is never far beneath fashion’s seemingly impenetrable surface.

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Fashion Week Reactions Part 1

September 30, 2014 by Alexis and Katerina


As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…


“I love New York, I’m a New Yorker, I can’t imagine living anywhere else” – video, DKNY S/S 2015

The city of New York has played a role in the shaping of American fashion since industrial professionals such as Eleanor Lambert and Dorothy Shaver worked to promote original American design in the 1930s and 40s. As the site of the country’s garment industry as well as, in advertisements, a prime space of imagined consumption of clothing, New York became synonymous with fashion over the course of the twentieth century. Since its creation in 1988, DKNY, the less expensive extension of Donna Karan New York, has utilised the city as a tool of branding. DKNY even defines itself, according to its current website, as “the energy and spirit of New York. International, eclectic, fun, fast and real.” And the presentation of DKNY’s S/S 2015 collection on 7 September in Lincoln Center began with a video that visualised these ideals. A rapid patchwork of faces, clothed bodies and minute details of New York spaces – from the subway to wire fences and graffiti-covered brick walls – the video set the tone for the show, which presented models of various ethnicities in sporty and colourful garments. Styled by Jay Massacret, the models conveyed a quirky femininity in their A-line skirts and boldly patterned garments. They painted a portrait of style found, according to the video, as “you walk down the streets…different energies, different styles…a lotta noise, colours.” The show thus extended the definition of New York to its outer, less affluent spaces. And the models, dressed in sweaters and neoprene bomber jackets, recalled 1990s B-girls. With their sunglasses, foam stacked trainers, and gelled baby hair and braids (conceived by Eugene Souleiman), they commemorated inner city street style – today a part of American fashion heritage – and the specificity of this image to New York.


Audrey Hepburn’s Granddaughter Emma Ferrer Makes Her Modelling Debut

Fashion has made no secret of its fascination with Audrey Hepburn. From the mid-1950s films Sabrina (1955) and Funny Face (1957), which dramatised the gamine actress’s transformations through Hubert de Givenchy’s couture, to subsequent pronouncements that a new model has something of her eyebrows or quality of movement, fashion has remained entranced with Hepburn’s delicate, extraordinary face and waif-like, ballerina body. The latest model to be cast in Hepburn’s mould is her twenty-one-year-old grand-daughter Emma Ferrer. Ferrer, who to date has been an art student in Florence, is moving to Manhattan and embarking upon a modelling career. Her debut into fashion was the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, where she was photographed by Michael Avedon, the grandson of the famous Richard, who worked with her grand-mother. Although Ferrer, has been ballet-trained like her grandmother and shares her deportment, she is not Hepburn’s doppelganger in either appearance or life experience. Nevertheless, in the photo-shoot, she has been made to adopt Hepburn’s characteristic poses, for example: her face in profile and tilted up to exaggerate her neck-length; or in a Funny Face style frieze-frame of quirky spontaneous movement. There is something sad and forced about asking a young woman to literally take her grandmother’s position, and in my opinion, the photo shoot is too derivative to be inspiring.

Still, the fashion industry’s interest in Hepburn’s granddaughter indicates that it values a model’s symbolic value in addition to her physical attributes. One speculates that when Lanvin asked Ferrer to make her catwalk debut at their Spring Summer 2015 show on September 25, they wanted to exhibit not only her beauty in their clothes, but the aura that manifests in her blood-relation to Hepburn. It’s too early to tell whether Ferrer will follow the successful path of Georgia May Jagger and other descendants of fashion royalty, but first, her collaborators have to allow her to emerge from Hepburn’s shadow.

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Fashioning the Little Mermaid c. 1935

September 26, 2014 by Katerina

little mermaid2

Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale, ‘The Little Mermaid’, is in many respects about a subordinated being who dares to seek a future that defies her society’s expectations. The eponymous protagonist rescues a Prince who falls overboard, and then vows to become human and win his love at great personal cost because the sea-witch who transforms her demands the mermaid’s beautiful voice, and also threatens that if she fails to win the Prince’s love she will dissolve into sea-foam on the morning of his marriage to another.

All visual interpretations of the fairytale face the challenge of expressing not only the mermaid’s transformation into a human, but her desire to be recognised by a so-called higher being, and the love that makes her grow, change and even break. The Parisian Librairie Delagrave edition from 1935, with its illustrations by Maurice Berty and watercolour by Christiane Hameau, is striking in its attempt to interpret the fairytale for contemporary readers.

Illustrations of the mermaid prior to her transformation show her as an inhabitant of a natural realm, largely untainted by civilisation. In a depiction of the mermaid beside a giant octopus, her waist-length brown hair, pink and white floral wreath and rosy cheeks and lips are perennials of Western feminine beauty, and seem untouched by contemporary fashion. Hameau’s gold highlight on the mermaid’s green tail gives her figure sculptural relief, and also indicates her otherworldly majesty. Nevertheless, her eyes’ feline slant and long, lean torso, with arms crossed to conceal her breasts, recalls mid to late 1920s beauty ideals, and indicates that Berty and Hameau’s vision of nature was influenced by the art deco movement.

Although this Libraire Delagrave edition was published in 1935, the mermaid’s transformation, after her acquisition of legs, is dramatised through her relinquishment of a timeless, feminine oceanic realm, to a masculine historic realm, and her subsequent resemblance to the 1920s garconne. In a departure from Andersen’s text, Berty’s illustration of the mermaid on shore in the prince’s court, depicts her with a straight page-boy bob, fashionable in the mid-1920s, wearing an androgynous red tunic and hose, which emphasise the ‘loveliest legs and feet that a young girl could dream of’. Her red garments symbolise her passion for the prince, but also the punishing pain that accompanied her acquisition of legs, because every step felt like walking on hot coals. The notion of sacrifice is further apparent in the mermaid’s androgyny. Although her high-arched feet and legs with their rounded tapering line are gendered feminine, her shorn hair and the phallic sword about her waist indicate that she has given up a measure of her femininity by occupying the active, masculine position of adventurer and wooer. Indeed, the fairytale duly punishes her for her presumption, because the prince admires, but dismisses her current form. He instead prefers to remain faithful to his original memory of her as his rescuer when she still had her fish-tail, and then eventually marries a human princess who mysteriously resembles the mermaid prior to her transformation.

While the patriarchal myth that a woman who occupies a masculine position sacrifices both herself and the love of men is timeless, it appears especially poignant in these 1935 illustrations, which were conceived in the wake of the female emancipation that characterised the post armistice years, and manifested most strongly in mid-1920s fashion. Thus, in their depiction of the mermaid’s metamorphosis for a children’s fairytale book, Berty and Hameau drew attention to society’s lingering discomfort with regard to feminine agency.

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