Documenting Fashion


Ready-made Fashion and France’s Urban Fabric in Elle Magazine in 1963

April 17, 2015 by Alexis

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Bodies, dress and city space intersected in new ways in the 3rd May 1963 issue of Elle in an editorial that presented ready-made garments in toile, a linen textile. One photograph by Fouli Elia depicted a cross-legged model standing against the grid of the metal beams of a nondescript Modernist building that composed and dominated the photograph’s backdrop. She stared fixedly at something located off the page, and her look suggested that it was an open expanse of scenery, or an extension of her imposing architectural surroundings. Behind her, the building took on the greenish sheen of her shirt and skirt ensemble by the ready-made brand Stanley. Structure embodied the dressed model, both cast in the same hue, constructed from the same fabric. Likewise, the article’s text described clothing in spatial terms, and figure one was identified as “a large green space for this two-piece ensemble, comfortable and sweater style. In what? In toile fibranne.” This material, a rayon fabric similar to linen, was pictured alongside natural fibres in this spread. Yet the characteristics of this synthetic cloth, soft yet grainy, unstructured yet weighty, reflected paradoxes held within the fabric of the photograph. In contrast to the text, the image suggested a lack of space, through the subject’s close crop and the seemingly nonexistent distance between figure and building.

The editorial, with its images of models with outlined bodies superimposed onto buildings, appeared during a period of rapid urbanisation in France. From the 1950s and increasingly into the 1960s and 1970s, low-income housing estates, or Habitations à Loyer Moderé (HLM) were erected in cities’ suburbs to accommodate factory workers, immigrants, and Paris’ growing population. By 1964, there were at least 1,000 of these buildings in the three departments of the Parisian region. In direct contrast to deteriorating and crowded housing in Paris, the government promoted these cités, usually comprised of towers and high-rise blocks (grands ensembles) with park space, schools and other facilities, as symbols of France’s economic modernism and ‘progress.’ This language resembled that used to describe the developing French ready-to-wear, pictured increasingly in the fashion press during the 1950s and early 1960s. Articles in Elle also regularly discussed the housing transition; in 1961 for example, editor Anne-Marie Raimond surveyed women who lived in suburbs and sought to depict the vastness of these spaces and the new way of life they offered:

It is the most formidable exodus of modern time, causing the upheaval of landscapes as well as man’s customs and spirit. […] A new style is born, that of ‘garden cities,’ ‘ensembles,’ ‘residences,’ where sun and greenery come with the deed or lease. Inhabitants (almost) remain Parisian, Lyonnais, Lillois, but have changed rhythm and character. They blossom like plants uprooted from undersized pots, put into the wide earth.

As in the 1950s, descriptions such as this instilled the modernity and progress of the vast, new spaces in their female inhabitants. Elle’s 1963 article likewise conflated clothing, bodies and wide spaces, portraying garments as “very sunny dream ensemble[s],” and “To live in right away.” Yet, the incongruity between idealising text and subtly dark imagery hinted at growing criticism of these estates, and a heightened awareness of their realities.

These outer spaces likewise became normalised in magazine imagery. Pages in Elia’s editorial that displayed a fashion photograph beneath a landscape illustrated how magazines’ new definition of fashion city and urban space stretched to Paris’ suburbs and airport. One such image was cited as “Modern Paris. View from the southern highway between Paris and Orly.” Similarly, in light of Paris’ expansion, Henri Lefebvre wrote in 1970: “The urban fabric proliferates, extends itself, corrodes the residues of agrarian life.” In contrast to photographs of old, iconic, and static Paris (which traditionally upheld the symbolic construction of haute couture), these images visualised modern Paris in perpetual construction and expansion. Below this image, which stressed the vastness of suburban space and sky, a photograph pictured a model in front of a building. Like her above counterpart, the model seemed superimposed, and the frame could not contain her body. The caption identified her location as boulevard Lannes in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, the appropriate well-to-do setting for her expensive suit, in raw silk with and jersey blouse designed by Chloé, which was sold for 700 francs at the fashionable boutique Henry à la Pensée. Financial access to ready-to-wear was a constant promotional factor, which did not always correspond to reality. In this instance, readers were offered, yet barred from purchase of toile, and the ambiguous all-encompassing urban fabric of Paris.

Sources

“Faites vos plans sur la toile,” Elle, no. 906, 3 May 1963, 96, 99, 100, 102. Author’s translations.

Anne-Marie Raimond, “Une enquête une revelation une revolution: le visage et la vie des nouvelles banlieusardes,” Elle, no. 826, 20 October 1961, 84. Author’s translations.

Paul Clerc, Grands ensembles banlieues nouvelles: enquête démographique et psycho-sociologique. Paris: PUF, 1967.

Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. Robert Bononno, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota, 2003 [1970], 3.

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5 Minutes with….Professor Deborah Swallow

April 14, 2015 by Rosily

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Professor Deborah Swallow is Märit Rausing Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art. Before coming to the Courtauld in 2004, she worked in various museums, including the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she was head of the Indian department. Teaching in India for a year gave her a deep interest in the culture of the country, which she explored through the discipline of social anthropology and as a curator in the context of an art museum. While at the V&A she also oversaw the creation of the Nehru Gallery of Indian Art.

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing an older Indian jacket. It is made from a fabric that is normally used for shawls. It is a called a Nehru jacket, and the cut is based on India’s first independence Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It’s a man’s garment, and is very similar to the Achkan, which is North Indian court dress.

Where does the inspiration for your dress come from?

I started going to India in 1969 and wore what you would describe as ‘missionary dress.’ This was in the ‘60s so skirts were very short, but that wasn’t appropriate for India, so my mother made me a longer skirt. But I felt pressure to wear a sari. So I bought one for 45 rupees, but then I was told off because the quality wasn’t good enough for someone who would be lecturing at a university. So I stopped wearing saris because I couldn’t afford to buy good enough quality ones on my budget.

So I started to wear a shalwar kameez, which is long shirt over loose trousers. Now there is a very heavy Western influence on Indian dress, and Indian styles are subject to changing fashions, such as the length of the sleeves or trousers. There are also subtle regional and local variations.

Where do you get your clothes from?

I buy all my jackets readymade- I’m back and forth like a yo-yo so I’m never in India long enough to have them made for me! I get them in Jodhpur in the old town bazaar. Jodhpur trousers that are worn for horse riding actually originate in Jodhpur, because they’re horse riding people. The bazaar is seven stories tall, with really narrow staircases. It is absolutely full of textiles, both antique and new.

Do you feel that being the head of the Courtauld dictates the way you dress?

Yes, I feel I have to dress reasonably formally. I tend to wear a lot of structured clothing because it suits me. I have to wear things that are suitable for both day and evening. I wear a lot of trousers, as you might have noticed, because they are comfortable. These jackets are very practical because they can be worn over anything to be dressed up or dressed down. I can wear them over trousers like this, or over silk trousers to be more formal.

Libby [Debby’s PA] said that you keep a cupboard full of jackets at the Courtauld?

 Yes I do, to put on if I need to, but it’s not very full at the moment. This jacket is really nice- it’s quilted. There is one quilted style from Jodhpur that I really want. It’s very long and made of velvet and normally dark green. Jodhpur is in Northern India so it’s desert and can get very cold at night. So this style is perfect, it’s like being wrapped in a divan.

Any other comments or clothing secrets?

 A group of us from the Courtauld had our colours done once, so I know what goes with my complexion. I avoid yellows and browns and stick to reds and blues.

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Red Capes and Glitter Jelly Heels: An Interview with Curators Colleen Hill and Ariele Elia

April 10, 2015 by Alexis

1.Museum at FIT website with image from the Comme des Garçons, Spring 2015 runway show

Museum at FIT website with image from the Comme des Garçons, Spring 2015 runway show

Unlicensed copy of Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress, rayon crepe, black and gold seed beads, c. 1925, USA, 76.125.1

Unlicensed copy of Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress, rayon crepe, black and gold seed beads, c. 1925, USA, 76.125.1

Detail of "Little Horses" dress

Detail of “Little Horses” dress

I first met Colleen Hill, associate curator at The Museum at FIT during a visit to the museum archive to research garments by Emmanuelle Khanh in 2008. We bonded over our love of 1960s fashion and French culture. I met Ariele Elia, assistant curator, in 2011 at an exhibition opening—she was dressed as an 1890s tennis player and I went in 1860s croquet wear. And on 13th January the three of us caught up over coffee on 7th Avenue.

What were your reasons for choosing this career path?

CH: I’ve loved fashion, museums, and writing for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine a job better suited to my interests.

AE: From a young age I was exposed to the inner workings of the fashion industry. My mother started off as a fashion designer, but ended up owning a series of women’s apparel boutiques. While working in her stores I enjoyed learning about the business side of fashion, but was more fascinated with the creative process of the designers. In college I majored in Art History, and almost went on to pursue an M.A. in that field, until I realised Fashion History existed. However, this was not a viable career option in California. So I moved to New York to continue my studies and could not be happier about that decision.

Your current project?

CH: I’m opening an exhibition in February 2016 called Fairy Tale Fashion. It will use both historical and contemporary garments to illustrate more than twelve fairy tales, including well-known stories such as “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty.” In addition to offering a brief history of the fairy tales and their significance, the show will highlight their direct references to fashion.

AE: Currently I am co-curating an exhibition titled Global Fashion Capitals, set to open in June 2015. The first half of the exhibition looks at dynamics that allowed Paris, New York, London, and Milan to become established as global powers in fashion. While the second half of the exhibition explores emerging cities that attempt to rise as new fashion capitals, including Istanbul, São Paulo, Seoul, Mumbai, and Shanghai.

Your current object of fascination in the collection?

CH: I’m currently researching a hooded, red cape from the eighteenth century.

AE: I am fascinated with Madeleine Vionnet’s “Little Horses” dress from 1921. While researching for Faking It, I had found a few versions of this dress that I had assumed were unauthorised copies, including the one in our collection. Recently I had discovered that Eva BOEX, a French atelier was authorised to create copies of the dress. The description of her version is very close to the one in our collection, so I am hoping to find a sketch to confirm my findings.

Can you discuss your curatorial vision? What do you enjoy most about curating? What aspect do you find most challenging?

CH: I’ve organised numerous exhibitions in the Fashion History Gallery at The Museum at FIT, which are intended to be straightforward, educational, and, of course, historical. Within those parameters, I tend to select topics that are subtly provocative. For example, I’ve curated exhibitions about the role of women in the fashion industry, gender and fashion, sustainable fashion, and lingerie. I aim to put together shows that are accessible and entertaining, but also intelligent.

I find nearly every aspect of curatorial work to be enjoyable, but identifying a small but crucial bit of research is especially rewarding.

Like most curators, I would imagine, one of the most challenging aspects of my work is meeting short deadlines.

AE: I have curated a few exhibitions in the museum’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery. I love to investigate interdisciplinary topics within fashion such as fashion and technology and fashion law.

The aspect I enjoy most about curating is studying an object. It is incredible what a garment can tell you by just observing it.

One aspect that I am constantly working to improve is editing. There is so much information a curator would like to tell their public; however a curator must synthesise the content into a digestible form. I don’t want to overwhelm someone visiting the museum for the first time, but I also want to maintain an academic standard to a fashion historian. It’s a difficult balance!

Can you name an exhibition that marked you?

CH: My earliest museum memory is going to see Colleen Moore’s fairy castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It’s essentially a massive, meticulously constructed doll’s house. I was completely fascinated by its beauty and intricacy, and also the way it was presented—with only one part of the castle lit at a time, allowing the visitor to focus on its details. I’m obviously still interested in fairy-tale worlds!

AE: Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion (2007) was the first fashion exhibition I had seen. I was in awe over the incredible shapes of the garments designed by Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake, and Yohji Yamamoto. It was here that I realised there were other people that spoke the same language I did.

Can you discuss a personal fashion memory?

CH: I found a copy of Radical Rags by Joel Lobenthal in my local library when I was ten years old. I became completely obsessed with it. The book affected the way I dressed, my interest in music, and my future career choice.

AE: I always have fond memories of my mother getting ready for work. She was a huge fan of Donna Karan in the 90s. Her 7 easy piece collection worked perfectly for my mom and her busy schedule. She always looked so elegant in her black wrap skirt, body suit, and large gold belt. I wish I could emulate her style.

Can you discuss an item of clothing or an accessory that you no longer have but still think about?

CH: I purchased a pair of Dr. Martens when I was about 14. They were brown with a subtle cheetah print. Since the shoes were second-hand, they didn’t even fit well, but I wore them with everything.

AE: When I was about 10 I owned a pair of glitter jelly heels. In the heel was an Eiffel Tower that floated in water and glitter like a snow globe. I wish I would have kept them!

If you could be dressed by any past couturier, who would it be?

CH: André Courrèges.

AE: Charles James. I absolutely love the architectural shapes he created! He made the women he dressed look so elegant. I wish I could have his Butterfly dress remade in lavender.

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MA Study Trip to New York City: Voices from the past, visions for the future: a visit to Condé Nast’s New York archive.

April 7, 2015 by Emma

One has only to scan the bibliographies of most major academic fashion articles to see that Vogue maintains a position of the highest authority in sartorial research, particularly concerning the interwar years. This is not to say that other contemporary fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar lack academic importance: more so that the material bound to each issue was not deemed worthy of preservation back then, in fact much of Bazaar’s archive – including prints by Richard Avedon, Man Ray and Louise Dahl-Wolfe – was destroyed in the 1980s. This was not the case with Condé Nast’s archive, which dates back to the 1920s, instigated by Mr Nast’s awareness of the monetary value of this vast collection of images. In our recent visit to the New York archive, Shawn Waldron, Senior Director of Archives and Records, showed us just how vast this collection really is. State of the art, temperature-controlled rooms house the thousands of high-quality original prints in colourful, expertly alphabetized folders. The effect is mesmerising, like a sweetshop lined with Steichens and Horsts, instead of Flying Saucers and Humbugs.

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Another room boasts a staggering quantity of loose and bound copies of publications, such as Architectural Digest, Glamour and Vanity Fair and, of course, Vogue. A researcher from a well-known fashion label pores over bound copies of the latter, highlighting the scholastic potential of the archive. Loose copies of many publications are also available for perusal, offering a more haptic experience for the viewer. The archive today is a dynamic editorial asset, both from an information and commercial point of view, and a far cry from ‘The Morgue’ that it once was. Mr Nast’s business model was ahead of its time, incorporating what is known today as ‘Blue Economy’: the process of turning waste into revenue. ‘The Morgue’ transformed into the active editorial asset that it is today, generating revenue through digital licensing and distribution of images.

As an informative resource, apart from the proliferation of beautiful fashion images, the intricate daily contracts visible on each spread, detailing the names, locations and costs of each shoot, are invaluable to the historian. What emerges is the closely linked relationship between business and preservation, and business’ potential in shaping the fashion canon. Were it not for Mr. Nast’s willingness to invest in the protection of his publication’s material, alongside his fastidious account-keeping, this barometer of social and cultural change would not exist.

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The archive promotes cultural research from many other trajectories; with publications, including Charm exposing what editors told young homemakers was necessary to set up home in the interwar period. Similar interdisciplinary research pathways exist within House & Garden, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveler. These publications bring the past alive, and are a testament to the complexity of day-to-day concerns.

These research opportunities would not be possible without the painstakingly selective process of acquisition, organisation, and digitisation, undertaken by Waldron’s team. The resulting collection, with millions of objects, is unique in fashion publishing. Despite the challenges faced by a small team of archivists and photo editors, working with an ever-growing collection, the archive has become a valued editorial asset that can generate income, promote fashion research, and influence new interdisciplinary study.

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MA Study Trip to New York City: The Fashion Institute of Technology Archive

April 3, 2015 by Lisa

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The MA class admiring a beaded dress from the 1920s.

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Muslin copy of a 1920s Chanel dress.

On one of our museum visits in New York, we were lucky enough to be shown a selection of objects from the Fashion Institute of Technology Archives. On arrival, we were greeted by an alumnus of our course, Emma McClendon, now an assistant curator at the museum at FIT, with whom we discussed our similar academic and Courtauld experiences, and then our not so academic love of Percy Pigs that we had brought over as a souvenir from the UK.

Her colleague, Liz Wei, then brought us to a study room in which we came face-to-face with the garments, fashions and trends that have graced our books, seminars and imaginations. On a packed, non-descript clothing rail were some of the most beautiful and well-preserved examples of dress from America and Europe ranging from the 1920s to the late 60s. We were shown couture, eveningwear, daywear, sportswear, and everything-in-between-wear from European designers such as Chanel, Schiaparelli, Vionnet, and Paul Poiret. We were also shown examples of ready-to-wear and couture by American designers such as Adrian, Charles James, Phil Macdonald and Claire McCardell.

We were able to get familiar with the objects (without actually touching them) and see the minute details of stitching, beading and construction, and really gain an understanding of the craftsmanship of these beautiful garments. Having discussed these objects in an abstract manner in seminars and readings, we were able to finally see the objects themselves and fully appreciate the properties and themes that encapsulated fashion in the interwar period in a tangible way.

Unlike other fashion archives, FIT also functions as an educational institute, and so has a unique set of muslin copies of select objects. This allows design students to physically interact with garments that would otherwise be too delicate to handle. This allowed us, as dress historians, to grasp an understanding of dressmaking techniques, and see the innovative and diverse methods of construction employed by couture designers, tailors and home dressmakers in these historical garments.

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Fortuny tea dress curled up in its storage box.

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Detail of pleats on the Fortuny dress.

Despite the feeling of deep reverence for all of the objects introduced to us, for me, there was one standout object. Unlike the other garments hanging on the clothing rail, this garment was curled up inside a square white box. Furled up in a whirl of finely pleated silk, was a stunning, peach-coloured, Mariano Fortuny dress and belt from the 1930s. When the dress was unravelled, the intricate tight pleats sprung forth to reveal the long, elegant sheath and the Venetian glass beads that decorated the seams. The pleating, loose-fit and columnar style of the dress reflected its original intent as a Tea Gown, to be worn without a corset, and on more relaxed social occasions, entertaining at home. This garment encompassed concepts of modernity, machinery and the changing activities of women in the 1930s, despite its classical inspirations. Remarkably, this notion of modernity still survives within the garment today, with the endurance of its tight pleating that would rival Issey Miyake’s authority of the technique. Indeed, the gown is as fresh as a Pleats Please garment available for purchase today. Much like Miyake’s technological textile research, Fortuny experimented with machinery and techniques to create his unique pleating system, a process that is still a mystery to this day. Only a few pieces of archival information on his pleating process remain. This method used a pulley system and included heated ceramic rollers through which the silk was passed to create the tight folds. Though this is still speculative, as Fortuny kept the process a well-guarded secret and it seems never recorded it. Women would have to resend their dresses to Fortuny to be re-pleated, if they had been flattened from sitting, or been dampened.

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Detail of the top of the Fortuny dress.

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Detail of the bottom of the Fortuny dress.

The technological innovation of Fortuny’s pleating, the modernity of the garment, its classical sources and its relatively intact condition, seem almost anachronistic and belie its era. It was this clash of temporalities, the captivating mystery surrounding Fortuny, and its resonances in contemporary fashion that provoked a visceral response in me.

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50 YEARS OF HISTORY OF DRESS AT THE COURTAULD Alumni Interviews Part Three: Rachel Worth, MA (1989), PhD (2003)

March 31, 2015 by Rosily

Each month in 2015, we will post an interview with one of our alumni, as part of our celebrations of this year’s auspicious anniversary. The Courtauld’s History of Dress students have gone on to forge careers in a diverse and exciting range of areas. We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and their memories of studying here.

Rachel In The Late 1980s

Alumni Interview Part Three: Rachel Worth, MA (1989), PhD (2003)

Rachel Worth is Professor of History of Dress and Fashion at the Arts University Bournemouth. She is currently working on two books, Clothing and Landscape in Victorian England: Working-Class Dress and Rural Life (I. B. Tauris) and Fashion and Class (Bloomsbury), both forthcoming 2016.

You did the MA in the late 1980s with Aileen Ribeiro. What was the structure of the course like then?

I did the course from 1987 to 1989 when it was a two-year syllabus. The first year was a survey of the history of dress, from the medieval period right up to the twentieth century. It introduced us to a subject that few of us had studied before. Being at the Courtauld, the perspective adopted was very much an art historical one. But as well as Aileen’s core input, there were guest lecturers who would focus on particular periods, source material and / or methodological approaches. I absolutely loved it and soaked it all up! I think I particularly relished the analysis of paintings that the course entailed. It informed how I have looked at art ever since.

In the second we year did a ‘special subject’, ‘Dress in England and France c 1760 – 1820’ which drew upon one of Aileen’s research specialisms. We also wrote a dissertation. Because it was a two-year Masters, there were financial implications for students, then as now. Not only was the course itself intensive, but one of the things that was so much a part of my experience of it was the fact that I had three part-time jobs! I had a daily library job at the Courtauld itself, a Saturday job at Liberty’s in the scarf department, and I taught English as a foreign language to private students.

What were your first impressions of the Courtauld?

It was in a very different location – Portman Square. I can remember well the feeling of being in the basement where the dress history library was located  – and it always seemed rather dusty!  What was great was that it was only a short walk away from the Wallace Collection, so I often went there at lunchtimes! I think that wonderfully eclectic collection has influenced some of my interests, particularly 17th century Dutch art and a fascination with armour and its relationship to dress. It reinforced a number of the topics that we were studying on the course and the importance of considering different source material in relation to dress history.

 What was your favourite thing about the History of Dress MA? Do you have any particularly fond memories?

There were many many things I enjoyed. One of the things that stands out in my memory was that Aileen Ribeiro would take us through a wonderful range of paintings in the context of a particular period or theme. And she would leave the slides – physical slides then of course – in the room for the rest of the day so that we could go back through them and check that we’d got a proper slide list. It was very important to make sure that we had comprehensive notes: – artist, date, location of the work etc. And I still have those lecture notes! They were so useful and I still sometimes refer to them! It was an excellent foundation for things that I’ve done since.

You came from a History background – BA in History at Newnham College at the University of Cambridge. Why did you decide to study History of Dress at postgrad?

That’s right: in my BA I’d specialized in social history but I’d always been interested in cultural and art history, and I felt (and feel!) very strongly that dress is an absolutely essential part of social history. At the time, it was most unusual to study dress on a history course. So for me the Courtauld course was the obvious postgrad choice – and it was unique.

As a young child I had always loved fabrics and haberdashery and I was always making things. My mother taught me to sew – she would make all her own clothes. She was born in 1931 so her formative teenage years were in the post Second-World-War period – late 1940s. The suits and evening dresses she made and wore were very much based on her interpretation of the Dior image. In my own teenage years I got totally hooked on the history of dress, perhaps because, as a dedicated daydreamer, I was always imagining how it would be to live in another time and place and dress is such an imaginative way into another world. During my history degree I felt increasingly that there was huge potential for the study of dress but that it hadn’t been ‘tapped’ by the undergraduate history curriculum.

Did you find that the transition from History to History of Art and Dress in particular was difficult?

Not really. After my BA I took a year ‘out’ and worked at the Museum of Costume, now the Fashion Museum, in Bath, as a tour guide and that really fuelled my interest. It was wonderful to be surrounded by actual garments and to imagine the past societies that ‘produced’ them. The people who visited were mostly non-specialists and tourists taking in a number of museums in Bath so you had to try to interest them and make connections. Those amazing garments on display did my work for me and probably helped me to make the transition you allude to.

What did you do after the MA?

In 1990 I got a place on the Marks and Spencer ‘Graduate Management Training Scheme.’ I was really interested in the whole idea of retail. It was an incredible experience: I trained as a buyer (we were called ‘selectors’) and it was a totally different environment from what I was used to. It taught me so much about how fashion is understood on a popular level as well as issues around design and manufacturing for mass production. I loved visiting the Midlands knitwear factories – they were pockets of incredible textile skill and expertise, but they are mostly – sadly – gone now. After two years, I decided that retail wasn’t for me! But having an insider’s knowledge of the company meant that I got to know about the M&S Company Archive – which wasn’t a public archive at the time – and that led to my research for my book on M&S.

In 1991 I secured my first academic job at Staffordshire University, responsible for the dress history elements of a BA and MA in history of design and visual culture. Having done a PGCE before my MA I knew that I would love teaching. Then, in the late 1990s a got a course leader job at what was then the Arts Institute at Bournemouth (now Arts University) At the time they had a Higher National Diploma (HND) in fashion but they were looking for someone to write a new BA. The course that I wrote with my colleagues brought together fashion theory and history, design and marketing, and it’s still running…

And what about your PhD? What was that on?

It was while I was at Staffordshire University that I started my PhD, part-time while I was working full-time. It was a study of potential sources for, and representations of, rural working class dress in the 19th century. I finished writing it about two days before the birth of my son – it’s always good to have a deadline!

Would you say that your style of teaching was influenced by that of Aileen’s?  

I’m sure it has been. I have tried to take on board her meticulous attention to detail and her insightful analysis of the work of art or artefact as central to an understanding of dress history. I’ve also taken inspiration from other excellent teachers over time. By the way. I nearly did a BA in philosophy, and I really like to encourage students to think about and analyse concepts and ideas too.

What is your favourite thing about teaching History of Dress?

That depends on whom I’m teaching. If I’m with a first year undergraduate group  - say, fashion design students – who’ve never done any dress history before, I love seeing them start to make connections and realise why the history is so fascinating and so important. Equally, discussing in depth an aspect of a student’s PhD research is immensely stimulating. Being in a position to teach something you love and that many people can relate to in so many ways is amazing and a privilege. Even if some students find some of the theory tricky, there is usually a way of presenting it so that they can relate it to something that has meaning for them.

If you could own any piece of clothing, what would it be?

That’s difficult. What I would actually love is to have in front of me and be able to explore an item of clothing that we might see in, perhaps, a 15th century Netherlandish painting by, say, Rogier van der Weyden or Hans Memling.

I suppose that is difficult, because not many of those survive.

I think that’s the point, that’s why I love the idea! My initial reaction when you asked the question was to say something designed by Worth (no relation!) but actually I don’t particularly feel the need to own something that survives and is well documented. So what I would really like is the impossible: to examine something that hasn’t survived, something that we know so well – or think we know – from paintings, but have ever only had a two-dimensional view of.

Do you have any advice for current MA History of Dress students?

…Grasp opportunities that present themselves, and also ‘make’ those opportunities. If you want to do something, never take no for an answer. Absolutely follow any dreams that you have. Stay focused but, at the same time, try to be open to the unexpected because the things that might seem like offshoots may turn out to be really useful later. This is a special time so immerse yourself in your studies – and relish every moment, even – dare I say it – the deadlines!

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‘Joan of Arc Had Style’: Interview with Amelia Troubridge

March 27, 2015 by Emma

Joan of Arc

‘Six herons standing quietly in a pool of water’. Set unobtrusively against the backdrop of the Design Museum’s ‘Women Fashion Power’ exhibition, Amelia Troubridge’s photographs do just that. Standing quietly along the room’s outer walls, amidst the vast array of multimedia objects pertaining to the exhibition’s theme, the dozen, photographed women exude a quiet confidence. They purvey the scene, staring quizzically at the visitor as if to say, ‘Oh you’re here, well you can observe me, but I’m just going to carry on being fabulous.’  The installation is made up of images from the London-based photographer’s latest book entitled ‘Joan of Arc Had Style’ (Trolley Books). Taking its title from Charles Bukowski’s canonical poem, Amelia’s photographs pay homage to stylish, influential women encountered during her long-spanning career as a photographer.

I caught up with Amelia to ask her a couple of things about the installation and her new book….

The launch of your book fittingly coincides with International Women’s Day, as well as the Design Museum’s exhibition, which is very much in line with the agenda of your latest body of work. Coincidence or planned?

Planned and a little bit of coincidence! To get the project out there, the sponsor and the Design Museum all realised Women’s Day was a great time to release this book.

Could you say a couple of things about the book?

It was a project that was a long time in the making, an idea I had ten years ago, that took on a number of forms and different edits. It became a collaboration with a lot of women, a place to discuss our lives, the world we live in, and to celebrate being a woman, individual style and creative thought. I would meet women and want to photograph them with this project in mind. Although the book came together in a very unplanned way, which is very much how I find myself living my life and developing my career. You never know who you are going to be working with next. It also became a personal story about my life as a woman.

I couldn’t help but think of Bukowski’s invocations of style as I walked through the exhibition, particularly the line ‘sometimes people give you style’. What would you define as style? ‘Women Fashion Power’ aims to show how women have used clothes to enhance their position in the world. Do you think style is heavily dependant on fashion or does it transcend materiality?

I was interested in looking at personal style. That comes from within….not just in the fashion sense…but in the sense that when a women walks into a room, she resonates a certain energy – that’s style. I like the idea that women can be whomever they want today. This was not the case not so long ago….

Whilst the exhibition is organised chronologically, the placement of your photographs defy this linear progression. Was this a conscious decision? To what extent did you pair your images with the objects on display? I thought that the image of Tiko Tuskadze next to the voluminous opera coat worked really well, the photograph could have been taken in the early twentieth century.

Tiko

Amelia’s photograph of Tiko Tuskadze next to the opera coat

I didn’t over think where the images hung. I think it came quite naturally to me. The young girl came first because I was interested in looking at all ages of women. I liked Dita [Von Teese] in between the two images of the women with men because that Dita image is about questions of love and identity without the conventional power couple of the man beside her. Tiko [Tuskadze] worked perfectly there with the mannequin; that was our favourite.  The image of Justine [Picardie] was very hard and corporate, so I felt it worked well next to the brightly lit technology display within the exhibition. I’m a visual person. I put something somewhere and it either works for me or doesn’t. I’m a great believer in going with your gut feeling.

I did try at one point to do my book in chronological order but it didn’t work. The book felt ‘magaziney’. In the end I handed over the final edit to my publisher. The book worked much better that way.

Back to Bukowski – thinking about style as ‘a way of doing, a way of being done’, can you talk a little bit about the artistic input of the sitter, alongside your own vision? The image of Polly Morgan comes to mind, casual yet staged, dark yet innocent…how did you capture her style in the creation of this image?

Polly Morgan

Amelia’s photograph of Polly Morgan

It always helps if you think the person you are photographing has immense personal style, and I think Polly has great style. She arrived in an old Jaguar and has great legs and makes beautiful art. But I love the idea of her as a little messily dressed, she shows herself as an artist like that and I find imperfection as something beautiful, so that was something I wanted to display. She really got into the shoot and we spent a couple of hours doing it. I like the formality of the table and chair, in the informal surrounding of nature. I think nature inspires most of us artists, so all the elements worked well together: landscape, props, persons and what they are wearing.

Finally, you have met a huge amount of inspiring, strong, courageous, fabulous women throughout your career. What do you seek to capture, preserve and share through these portraits?

For this project I was interested in collecting images of women as modern heroes/warriors; women taking on new frontiers, and as always, capturing a little bit of what’s going on on the inside too.

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MA Study Trip to New York City: A Different Kind of Beautiful Thing: Helena Rubinstein, Beauty is Power

March 24, 2015 by Brianna

Graham Sutherland, Helena Rubinstein in Red Brocade Balenciaga Gown, 1957, Oil on Canvas, 156.9 cm x 92.7 cm, Daniel Katz Gallery, London.

Graham Sutherland, Helena Rubinstein in Red Brocade Balenciaga Gown, 1957, Oil on Canvas, 156.9 cm x 92.7 cm, Daniel Katz Gallery, London.

Graham Sutherland’s portrait of an 85 year-old Helena Rubinstein can be viewed as an ode to her legacy, which was built upon the deliberate rejection of convention. Rubinstein’s sagging neck and jawline, sallow complexion and thin hair offer a genuine depiction of age, something which is glossed over in many of the other portraits included in the exhibition. The painting’s prominent position in the first room therefore reinforces the exhibition’s primary focus on the formidable story of the woman behind the brand.

Though such realism could be seen to detach the portrait from serving any commercial function, Sutherland’s emphasis on colour and surface textures becomes a purposeful inflection of Rubinstein’s personal ethos, which was inseparable from her company.

Infamously quoted as saying that, “there are no ugly women, just lazy ones”, Rubinstein’s over-rouged cheeks and matching red lacquered nails and lips, become suggestive of the means to instantly participate in established ideals of femininity. On the other hand, the jewellery that adorns Rubinstein’s hands and neck equals the prominence of the cosmetics shown in the portrait. This removes the hierarchy between products of high and lower end, democratizing ideals of taste. In this light, instead of ‘established femininity’, Rubinstein is using cosmetics to promote the ‘new-age’ femininity that her salons made available to all women, and which distinguished her career from contemporaries, such as Elizabeth Arden.

As the exhibition unfolds, and with it Rubenstein’s lifelong preoccupation with primitive and surrealist art, it is clear that she did advocate prescriptive ideas of beauty, nor claim that a monolithic notion of femininity is necessarily the ultimate goal. Indeed, Rubinstein stated that, “I like different kinds of beautiful things and I’m not afraid to use them in unconventional ways”.  The priority of self-fashioning as an external expression of personality, rather than as a disguise, unites Rubinstein’s brand of beauty with the essence of the exotic figures that she collected. Femininity is therefore the by-product of participating in the desire to reveal the best, most authentic version of the self.

The Balenciaga brocade gown that Rubinstein is wearing in her portrait embodies the philosophy of her salon, which aimed to inspire its female cliental to make choices that expressed their own personalities. The bright red floral, oriental fabric informs the decision to accessorize with complimentary red and pink makeup. The almost overwhelming use of colour defies the conventional depiction of age that traditionally relies on subdued tones.  The gown subsequently becomes an emboldened expression of Rubinstein’s innate qualities that reject convention and look to the modern age. This is further emphasized by the physical inclusion of the gown, and the fact that she had it shortened, to ensure it remained relevant in the years following the portrait’s completion.

Rubinstein’s participation in self-creation connects her aesthetic ideals directly with non-western cultures that place value on individuality and inherent difference.  Cosmetics are re-contextualized as they encourage each wearer to be the most powerful version of themselves.

 

Image source:  Helena Rubinstein, Beauty is Power exhibition catalogue, page 135.

Text source: Mason Klein (2014) Helena Rubinstein, Beauty is Power. Yale University Press, New Haven.

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MA Study Trip to New York City: The Dress Archive at the Museum of the City of New York

March 20, 2015 by Rosily

The Dress Archive in MCNY; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Dress Archive in MCNY; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell jumpsuit; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell jumpsuit; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York archive is an absolute treasure-trove of old clothes. Unlike the majority of other archives we have visited as a group, both in New York and London, the clothes are not wrapped in tissue or stored in boxes, but rather are hung, as if in a shop, on rails. The whole experience of being inside the archive is, thus, one of visceral, fashion-loving pleasure. All of us had to constantly fight the urge to reach out and touch everything.

We were taken through the archive by Phyllis Magidson, curator of costumes and textiles at the museum. She showed us dresses ranging in date from the early 1920s to the 1960s. The glittering 1920s party dresses and gowns for costume balls and the brightly coloured, heavily tasseled ‘60s dresses were amazing, but what was most memorable, and indeed most pertinent to recent discussions on our course, were the late 1930s and early ‘40s WWII uniforms.

Vera Maxwell Summer jumpsuit for Sperry Gyroworks factory; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell Summer jumpsuit for Sperry Gyroworks factory; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum has a large collection of Vera Maxwell garments, including jumpsuits designed for women workers in the factories in 1942. Before creating the jumpsuit, which is both fire retardant and oil repellent, Maxwell conducted a survey of women to find out what they most wanted from their uniforms. Besides the obvious, highly functional elements, these women also requested a neckline that would prevent men from putting ice down their backs – indeed the jumpsuit is perfectly ice-proof too! However, Maxwell was keenly aware of the aesthetic elements too. Very careful attention to detail is paid in the design, such as the shape of the pockets and top stitched pleats in the front, which ensured that the fit was as flattering as possible. It is not only highly functional and utilitarian, but also a carefully made, designer garment, and Maxwell received a government award as a result.

The collection includes both her winter and summer jumpsuits. War restrictions limited the types of fabric available to designers and manufacturers, and extraneous decoration was largely prohibited, so Maxwell used elements such as pleats and darts to make her jumpsuits attractive. The summer jumpsuit is short sleeved and made of a lighter material, with red piping down the side. Again, Maxwell has used a series of pleats down the front of the garment to give it aesthetic appeal and make it flattering on the body.

Vera Maxwell jacket decorated with ribbons imported from Peru; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell jacket decorated with ribbons imported from Peru; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Detail of the Peruvian decoration on the jacket; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Detail of the Peruvian decoration on the jacket; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

In her other designs, she found imaginative ways to decorate. She traveled to South America, particularly Peru, and imported ornamental ribbons and braids that she used to adorn her garments. She worked hard to ensure that her clothes did not feel as though they were lacking anything. She wanted the wearers to not feel at all deprived, an aim that resonated with the fashion media of the time. Despite the shortages caused by war, the message perpetuated by magazines and films was that there was no deprivation. People used garments such as aprons to spruce up their outfits, and became imaginative, using natural objects like seashells in their jewellery. The prospect of wearing a uniform had an appeal in itself, and magazines ran articles about how to look good in military clothing. Many women who volunteered for service chose which in area to do so based on the attractiveness of the uniform. Vera Maxwell understood this basic, universal desire to look good, and channeled it in the design of her jumpsuits.  The aesthetic qualities she incorporated, as well as the highly functional elements, both contributed to her success as a wartime designer.

Sources:

Pat Kirkham, ‘Keeping Up Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ in   Atkins, Jacqueline M. ed., Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-45 (New Haven and London: BGC/Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 205-228

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Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women Conference

March 19, 2015 by Rosily

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion)

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion)

Our conference celebrating 50 years of dress history at the Courtauld is drawing closer, and we can now reveal the programme for the event, which will be taking place on Saturday 16 May.

Speakers will explore the relationship and significance of women in designing, wearing, promoting, curating and writing about dress, from both the perspective of those working in the field and those who wear, consume and document fashion. The conference will provide the opportunity to question how changes in dress, and its representation and exploration through the media, academia, and exhibiting have impacted upon relationships between women and fashion, since 1965.

Women, including Stella Mary Newton, who set up the first Courtauld course in the History of Dress, have been central to developing the discipline and exploring dress’ multifaceted meanings. They have also been important in the design and dissemination of fashion as a product and as an idea. This conference celebrates and critiques the role women have taken in making fashion, and, by extension, the role fashion plays in making women – by defining and constructing notions of gender, sexuality, beauty and ethnicity. We will take a global, interdisciplinary perspective to seek an overview of women’s significance to fashion and dress and vice versa.

PROGRAMME

09.30 – 10.00      Registration

10.00 – 10.15      Introduction: Lucy Moyse (PhD Candidate, The Courtauld)

10.15 – 10.45      Lecture: ‘Dress & History since 1965,’ Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld)

10.45 – 11.00      Discussion

11.00 – 11.30      TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)

Fashion Media

(Chair: Dr Sarah Cheang, Senior Tutor Modern Specialism, History of Design, RCA)

11.30 – 12.00      Clip: People in the Street, Pathé (1968) followed by discussion led by Katerina Pantelides (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

12.00 – 12.30      Panel: ‘Zuzu Angel: Fashioning Resistance to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, 1971-76’, Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld) & ‘The Feminine Awkward,’ Dr Eugenie Shinkle (Senior Lecturer in Photographic Theory & Criticism, University of Westminster)

12.30 – 12.45      Discussion

12.45 – 14.00      LUNCH (provided for the speakers only – Seminar room 1)

Fashion History

(Chair: Dr Robin Schuldenfrei, Lecturer in European Modernisms, The Courtauld Institute of Art)

14.00 – 14.40      Keynote lecture: ‘Designing Women,’ Cheryl Buckley (Professor of Fashion & Design History, University of Brighton)

14.40 – 15.00      Discussion

15.00 – 15.30      Panel: ‘Interpreting Memory and Image: Women, Spaces, and Dress in 1960s France,’ Alexis Romano (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), & ‘Misfit: Aspirational Fashion Practice and the Female Body,’ Kathryn Brownbridge (Senior Lecturer in Clothing Design Technology, Manchester Metropolitan University)

15.30 – 15.45      Discussion

15.45 – 16.15     TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)

Fashion Curation

(Sonnet Stanfill, Curator of 20th Century & Contemporary Fashion, V&A Museum)

16.15 – 16.25      Clip: Ancient Models, featuring Doris Langley Moore, Pathé (1955)

16.25 – 16.45      Lecture: ‘Women and the Fashion Museum,’ Rosemary Harden (Manager, Fashion Museum, Bath)

16.45 – 17.00      Discussion

17.00 – 17.40      Keynote lecture: ‘Feminine Attributes,’ Judith Clark, (Professor of Fashion & Museology, London College of Fashion)

17.40 – 18.00      Discussion

Organised by Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), and Elizabeth Kutesko and Lucy Moyse (PhD candidates, The Courtauld)

Ticket/entry details: £16 (£11 students, Courtauld staff/students and concessions)

BOOK ONLINE  Or send a cheque made payable to ‘The Courtauld Institute of Art’ to: Research Forum Events Co-ordinator, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, stating ‘women make fashion conference’. For further information, email ResearchForum@courtauld.ac.uk

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