Hey Ma! What do you think?: A Fashionable Look at Goodfellas

In Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), there’s a scene when Henry Hill’s mother (Elaine Kagan) opens the door to greet her son (Christopher Serrone). Tilting down to match the mother’s point of view, Henry is shown with wide open arms and an even wider smile, wearing a double-breasted beige suit and a shiny pair of shoes.

Screenshot of Marti nScorcese

Screen capture of teenage Henry (Left), and adult Henry (right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From Netflix.co.uk).

As Anna Pendergast notes, the suit is “too big, and too beige, but Hill wears it with pride, the equivalent of a young sportsman being given his first jersey.” Henry asks her what she thinks, encourages her to look at his shoes and says, “Aren’t they great?” When the camera moves back to his mother, she proclaims, “You look like a gangster!” The clothing marks Henry’s transition from part-time errand boy to full-time mobster. Later in the film an adult Henry (Ray Liotta), eventually has a closet full of suits and shoes that grows as a result of years of illegal crime. Whether it is marking a character’s identity or illegal actions, what these two scenes underline is his how clothing plays a central role in Goodfellas.

Screenshot imani's scorcese article

Screen capture of Billy Bats pointing at Tommy noting his suit (Left), and Tommy telling Billy Bats to “Watch his suit!” (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From Netflix.co.uk).

Clothing also marks a point of transition when recently freed mobster Billy Bats (Frank Vincent), sees mob associate Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) at a welcome home party. When Bats encounters him he initially notes that the latter is “all dressed up,” before hugging him, to which  Tommy repeatedly tells him to “Watch the suit!”. Bats then proceeds to joke that the last time he saw him he was “Shoeshine Tommy” and boasts about how he used to make shoes shine “like mirrors.” Eventually, Tommy’s fuse goes off when Bats teases him to get his “fucking shine box.” This particular scene highlights the importance of clothing, as it helps mark the characters’ transition from mafia outsider to insider; Bats recognizes Tommy’s new identity through his suit, and that being a wearer (as opposed to a cleaner) is part of the identity for mafia associates in the film.

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Screen capture of Karen’s coat (Left), and Karen pulling food out of her coat (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From Netflix.co.uk).

Aside from marking the transitional moments of mafia life, clothing also plays a crucial role in hiding and exposing illegal actions in the film. When Henry’s wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) goes to visit Henry while he is incarcerated, she manages to sneak in food and drugs under a long powder blue down coat. Overtly visible against the muted browns and grays that fill the prison meeting area, Karen’s coat allows her to carry-on and conceal her husband’s illegal actions, and yet its ordinary style also signifies her status as civilian visiting her husband.

Screen capture of Imani's good fellas

Screen capture of Jimmy Conway seeing the mink coat (Left), and Jimmy Conway taking off the mink coat (Right). (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From Netflix.co.uk).

This coat completely differs from a coat worn by a fellow mafia wife later on in the film. With cops surveilling Henry’s crew after a multimillion-dollar heist, Henry’s fellow associate Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) warns the crew not to spend money in a conspicuous manner. When a crew member’s (Frank Sivero) wife arrives in a brand-new white mink coat at a Christmas party shortly after the heist, an enraged Conway demands that she takes it off and have it removed from the premises. While the coat is more unapologetic in its display of illegal activity compared to Karen’s, both coats mark the simultaneous conspicuousness and inconspicuousness illegal crimes that take place in the film and define mafia culture.

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Screen capture of Karen, Lois (in her lucky hat), and Henry getting ready for one of her trips to transport drugs. (Source: Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1990. From Netflix.co.uk).

Another important clothing moment comes just before Henry drops-off his babysitter and part-time drug mule Lois (Welker White) at the airport. Before leaving, Lois insists she cannot fly unless she has her lucky hat, which was shown earlier in the film as Henry, Karen and Lois were getting ready for one of her flights. In what turns out to be a setup, the feds bust Henry and Lois just before they pull out of the driveway. The attempt to retrieve the hat marks the end of Henry’s insular life as a mobster. This takes on greater significance given the fact that the wide sloping brim design of a bucket hat was designed to protect fisherman and soldiers from the elements of the natural world. In this regard the hat that Lois takes comfort in, and that is designed to protect from the natural world, exposes and returns Henry to civilian life after he is busted by the feds. Ultimately, from showing Henry’s entry into mob life to causing his downfall, clothing in Goodfellas marks the identity of characters and the visibly of their illegal actions the film.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/mar/13/from-fishermen-to-ravers-why-we-cant-kick-the-bucket-hat

https://therake.com/stories/style/celluloid-style-goodfellas/

Redefining Luxury: What’s Left of Fashion Week?

As lockdown starts to ease throughout Europe, the Haute Couture Imperium has started to reopen slowly but questionably. With high-profile events gradually being cancelled for the rest of the year and customers now being followed by overly-eager-to-clean employees in department stores, it seems as if the world was settling into a “new” normal.

However, over the past week, the pandemic seems to not only have accelerated, but forced big designer brands into a more carbon-conscious spread of fashion (at least for now). Indeed, as household names gradually pull out of the massively-publicised Fashion Weeks (FW), designers and creators are finally starting to question the real and immediate legitimacy of FW in the twenty-first century.

Although many are unaware of this fact, FW actually originated during the Second World War, when American journalists found themselves unable to enter Nazi-occupied France for the season’s ‘new looks’. Eleonor Lambert, an American fashion publicist, believed this to be the “perfect” opportunity to promote local designers and American fashion which had long been on the back-burner of Paris and London. And voilà, NYFW was born.

Schiaparelli’s first show after WW2 (source: @julienbaulu on Instagram)

A bit over half a century later, FWs have evolved into long-awaited social events, showcasing the dos and don’ts of the season in front of (literally) rows of famous people sharing their ‘favourite looks’ on Instagram and making us lowly people feel a part of it all. But quite frankly, in the midst of this information overload, it becomes clear that some designers have felt the pressure to perform and deliver on time, and consequently, have been sacrificing their creative drive.

Now, with the uncertainty of social interactions at events looming over Luxury Houses, many designers have indeed taken a moment to reflect on their creative process behind-the-scenes. Amongst the many brands using the pandemic as a way to reshape their artistic expression are Saint Laurent and Gucci.

The latter’s creative director Alessandro Michele is already much beloved for having redefined chic Italian menswear, ultimately playing on a more androgynous style. In the search for a connection with creativity, he has decided to distance himself and the brand from the more ‘commercial’ aspect of FW by withdrawing the household name from it and by choosing to showcase only two collections a year. In extracts of his personal diaries published on Gucci’s Instagram, he goes on to explain in what ways the fast pace of fashion nowadays does not allow him to feel fulfilled creatively. This comes only a couple of days after Saint Laurent also drew back from the FW schedule to focus, not on set and specific deadlines, but on its own “creative flow”.

These trends of ‘going back to their creative roots’ is clearly setting a new pace for Fashion which seemed to be going down a hole of “who’s-who” rather than on the actual clothes and designs. The lack of focus on creativity as mentioned by Michele has indeed been a debated issue in recent times, with discussions regarding the environmental viability of hosting four shows in three cities in one year. Not only is the carbon footprint of such travelling massive, but the ever-changing looks and materials used are not exactly environmental-friendly. Some designers are however already taking full advantage of the whole world only being accessible digitally, with Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba already putting her creative spin on a digital runway.

Covid-19 has thus ultimately promoted a more eco-friendly FW in the short-term, and how these new houses’ take on Couture will ultimately reflect and affect the fashion industry in the foreseeable future remains to be seen. The greater impact of digitalising Fashion Week would perhaps be on the hosting cities’ economies, as it yearly represents a major source of revenue for restaurants, clubs, hotels and tourism in general.

As lockdown comes to an end, it remains quite clear that the virus does not, and it will be interesting to keep an eye out on how the public’s interaction with Haute Couture and its creative side will ultimately evolve. And whereas this period of quarantine has been a period of self-reflection on the little specks of happiness and fulfilment in life for some, others were fast to queue up at Zara and Pull&Bear as soon as it re-opened. Needless to say that fast-fashion will be disappearing anytime soon, but maybe for now, think before you shop, and think locally.

Alexander McQueen and The Welsh Dress 

It sparked my interest to see a link posted on the Twitter account of St. Fagans National History Museum in Wales, leading to an online Vogue article. The two worlds of Welsh history and Vogue Magazine seem so far apart, and yet here was an article, explaining how the Alexander McQueen FW2020 collection was inspired by Sarah Burton’s visit to St. Fagans Museum in South Wales. Burton was inspired predominately by the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt, which was created over a decade from 1842-1852, during the leisure hours of James Williams, who was a military master tailor. Williams used recycled fabric; a technique often adopted by Welsh people when creating dress. These pieces of fabric are a variety of felted woolen cloths, possibly off-cuts of broadcloth from military uniforms. Motifs on the quilt include scenes from the bible, including Noah’s ark, Jonah and the Whale, and the Garden of Eden’s Adam. Woven amongst these biblical scenes are also pieces of Welsh architecture, and this inclusion of Welsh architectural feats amongst biblical scenes reveal the status of Welsh pride and craft standard 

Wrexham Quilt

The Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt, James R. Williams, 1842 – 1852, Wool and Silk, 23.4 x 20.10cm,
Source: https://museum.wales/articles/2020-03-02/The-Wrexham-Tailors-Quilt-1842-52/

The dominant colours of the quilt are blue and red, as typically seen in Welsh textiles from the 19th Century, and grey, black and brown. The background of the quilt is made up of geometrical patterns of diamonds, squares and chevrons, in alternating colours, sometimes symmetrical on both sides or varying slightly in colour. In total, the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt is compiled by 4,525 separate pieces of cloth. These aesthetic details from the colour, patchwork method, and figures depicted are quite easily spotted on Burton’s McQueen collection.  

Vogue outfits

Source: screenshot from Vogue Runway (https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2020-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen), Alexander McQueen, fall/winter 2020 collection (depicting the patterns/motifs of the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt).

One suit appears as a ‘cool tone’ version of the quilt, decorated with the same panther motif. Another beautifully cut coat adopts the same geometric pattern and vivid colour palette as the quilt, while some dresses take a more subtle influence of drapery found in historic Welsh dress. The use of blankets used by Welsh women for protection and convenience of carrying babies are noted in the swathes of fabric used by Burton to adopt this past, cultural trend. The famed Welsh ‘love spoon’ can also be seen referenced in this collection, as Burton cuts the celtic decorative pattern into white lace love-hearts, as well as directly using the ‘wheel’ design in a red lace design, a symbol of support for a loved one. The earliest Welsh love spoon can be found at St Fagans, dated from 1667, although this was a tradition dating much further back from then. Welsh love spoons were given by suitors to their romantic interest, to demonstrate not only their love, but their skills in woodwork vital for providing a future income. 

Vogue runway welsh

Source: screenshot from Vogue Runway (https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2020-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen), Alexander McQueen, fall/winter 2020 collection (showing similarity of drapery and use of blankets in historic Welsh dress, as well as pattern).

The Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt is a stunning representation of Welsh tailoring and recycling of fabrics to create beautifully patterned designs. The pride of Welsh heritage has often been expressed through nostalgia, this new collection by Burton encourages a modern and refreshed Welsh pride for the future, and a recognition of the inspired designs and skills of historic Welsh dress. Alexander McQueen’s inspiration highlights the beauty of Welsh textile patterns and recycling of fabric. It offers a new perspective on how Welsh traditional dress can be used in the present and distanced from the romanticised tourist perception often presented as ‘traditional’ Welsh lady costume. Sarah Burton commented, ‘We went to Wales and were inspired by the warmth of its artistic and poetic heritage, by its folklore and the soul of its craft. The woman is courageous, grounded, bold: heroic. There is a sense of protection in the clothes, of safety and comfort, evoked through quilting and blankets. The hearts are a symbol of togetherness, of being there for others.’ (Sarah Burton, 2020) Alexander McQueen’s 2020 collection captures the ethos of Welsh dress and design, transcending the heart of the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt into high fashion. 

Vogue runway

Source: screenshot from Vogue Runway (https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2020-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen), Alexander McQueen, fall/winter 2020 collection (reference of Welsh Love Spoons).

 

References: 

Phillips, Ellen, The Wrexham Tailors Quilt 1842-52, (National Museum Wales, 2 March 2020), https://museum.wales/articles/2020-03-02/The-Wrexham-Tailors-Quilt-1842-52 

Cluley, Richard, Patchwork Bedcover, (National Museum Wales, 13 November 2019), https://museum.wales/collections/online/object/4ce80b8d-182e-3822-8038-54080af6b0b8/Patchwork-bedcover/field0=string&value0=quilt&field1=with_images&value1=1&field2=subject&value2=Wrexham%20Quilt&index=0 

Burton, Sarah, Women’s Autumn/Winter 2020 Show, (Alexander McQueen Trading Limited, 2020) https://www.alexandermcqueen.com/experience/en/womens-autumn-winter-2020-show/ 

Bowles, Hamish, https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2020-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen, (Paris, March 2, 2020) 

Four Wise (Wo)Men

It is hard to imagine that when Kodak initially introduced the portable camera, it was designed for women. Considered a ‘low art’ long into the 20th century, photography was given menial importance and seen as the perfect “hobby” for women who simply did not have the supposed ‘capacity’ and ‘skills’ to train in proper fine art. These initial Kodak cameras were even converted into colourful chic purses called Kodak Ensembles, which came in a variety of colours and, as the name hints towards, could match your own ensemble.

Kodak Ensemble

Kodak Ensemble Set (Source: @documentingfashion on Instagram)

Fast-forward a century and fashion photography has become a respected and sought-after art form, with certain images vowing up to 610,000 USD at auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Nevertheless, as famously argued by Griselda Pollock, the art world has managed to remain “a man’s world” despite photography’s supposed feminine nature. Names such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton and David Lindbergh remain the most prominent ones in the domain, leaving little space historically, and currently, for women fashion photographers. Let this therefore be a reminder of a few (of many) well-regarded female photographers who have contributed to fashion photography through technique, talent and vision.

Cover pic for article

Lillian Bassman, self-portrait. (Source: screenshot from @artartland on Instagram)

Yva (1900-1944)

Also known as Else Neuländer-Simon, Yva was a German photographer who famously captured modern renderings of the female body in interwar Weimar Germany. In an artistic athmosphere shaped by Constructivism, Bauhaus and German Expressionism, her dramatic play on light and shadow as well as clean geometric shapes enabled her to create emotional and feminine works of art. Indeed, although men predominantly dominated the industry at the time, her feminine outlook was deemed refreshing for many. Nevertheless, her career was cut short during the Second World War as she was arrested by the Gestapo alongside her husband when trying to flee, and presumably killed in a camp in Majdanek, Poland. She is also remembered as the artist to have trained and shaped the young Helmut Newton, who would remain her faithful admirer for the rest of his life.

Source: screenshot of @williampinfold and @studioegt on Instagram

Lillian Bassman (1917-2012)

Working under the famous art director of Harper’s Bazaar Alexey Brodovitch, Lillian Bassman was known for her high-contrast black and white fashion images. Although she originally worked for Harper’s Bazaar in the 40s by promoting the works of Richard Avedon and Paul Himmel (her husband), she was then encouraged to take on the art form herself, thus developing incredible photographic skills that were unfortunately not fully recognised until the 70s. Focusing on lingerie, cosmetics and liquor, her incredible manipulation of images through cropping and bleaching are truly unique to her style, and leave a highly emotional impression on the viewer.

Source: screenshot of @peterfettermangallery and @atlasgallery on Instagram

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895-1989)

Although she was mostly known for her documentary work as a reportage photographer in the 1930s, she was also the first fashion photographer to truly embrace the use of colour in fashion photography. Having studied painting and colour theory at the San Francisco Institute of Art, her eye for subtle nuances and colour transparencies helped redefine American fashion photography and inspired many others such as Horst P. Horst and Irving Penn. Most importantly, she should be known for having contributed to the creation of the “New Woman” by for example incorporating art historical themes in her images when capturing femininity.

Source: screenshot of @allaboutfashion and @olivia_de_marmont on Instagram

Deborah Turbeville (1932 – 2013)

Working in parallel to the feminist movement in the 70s, her stronger displays of femininity in fashion photography differed immensely from those of her peers Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin. Her hauntingly erotic images of the female body were joined by a theatricality that conveyed a hazy laziness. Despite her prominent reputation as a fashion photographer, the clothes in her images become secondary as her delicate feminine lens allows a completely different interpretation of women. She believed her position as a female photographer of women enabled her to capture another side of the models – a more vulnerable side, enhanced by her longing for the mystical which adds an element of nostalgia and dreaminess to her images.

Source: screenshot of @documentingfashion and @magazinefan on Instagram

Dress in Film: We’re All in LaLaLand

Quarantine has made technological and cinematographic escapism almost obligatory, with fantastical and imaginative storylines, sets and costumes providing comfort to all of us stuck at home, daydreaming about the sky, the sea, the grass, or simply the pub.

Although some have called this movie overrated, the fashion historian in me can’t deny having a soft spot for LaLaLand (2016), the Academy Award winning movie from 2016. This critically-acclaimed work might not have been received as well as originally hoped by the general public, but it remains impossible to deny Damien Chazelle’s magical cinematographic touch in creating a contemporary Golden Age masterpiece.

His ode to Hollywood musicals doesn’t go unnoticed, with his subtle references to movies such as Singin’ in the Rain (1952), West Side Story (1961) or The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) shaping set design, filmography, and most importantly (and the reason why some might be reading this post) costumes!

Cover to point primary colours

Source: screenshot from @lalaland on Instagram

Despite the story being set in modern-day L.A., costume designer Mary Zophres draws inspiration from classical timepieces that have flooded the screens since the 1920s when dressing our main character Mia. Not only does she act out Audrey Hepburn’s fashion shoot from Funny Face (1957), her pastel pink halter-neck dress appears to be a clear reference to Ingrid Bergman’s early screen tests, whereas the stunning emerald dress worn by Emma Stone’s character in the planetarium is unfailingly similar to Judy Garland’s in A Star is Born (1954), with its classical neckline and sleeves reminiscing of 1950s Hollywood.

Judy Garland's and Ingrid Bergman's dress for Lalaland

Source: Screenshot from @lalaland on instagram

According to Zophres, One of the most striking (and time-consuming) pieces made for the film was Mia’s white chiffon dress. Its doubled layers enabled the fabric to move perfectly with her body as she waltzes away into the sky with her beau, both of them becoming as iconic a pair as Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The movie’s tight budget was clearly no issue in creating dazzling cinematographic references and costumes as Zophres’s timeless designs become a true homage to Golden Age Hollywood actresses.

Source: Image from Lalaland (2016) IMDB

This production is a treasure for film aficionados, as Zophres’s beautiful use of stark primary colours are highlighted thanks to Cinemascope, creating 120 minutes of pure colourful bliss. In ‘Someone in the Crowd’, the combination of red, yellow, green and blue dresses against the regular pavement in L.A. adds a fantastical touch to the everyday, whereas the ensemble of costumes could hint towards Cyd Charisse’s performance in Singin’ in the Rain, as the striped cut from her emerald green skirt bears a resemblance to this red one. Interestingly, these strikingly colourful outfits gradually seem to fade into monochromatic shades of black and white as tensions arise between Mia and Seb, clearly demonstrating the somewhat obvious symbolic power of clothes in film.

To explore argument of primary colours

Source: Image from Lalaland (2016) IMDB

The team’s incredible filmography is probably most apparent in the iconic tap-dancing scene between Mia and Sebastian. Perhaps my favourite outfit of the movie, Mia’s retro marigold yellow dress flows so fabulously well with her movements and is complemented with L.A.’s colourful sunset and nightfall, which would eventually lead to that incredibly aesthetically-pleasing film cover.

Saem shoes

Source: Screenshot from @lalaland on Instagram

Ryan Gosling’s understated-yet-incredibly-sexy (there is not point denying it) character was inspired by Marc Michel in Lola (1961), also a source of inspiration for Chazelle. Although his wardrobe remain pretty neutral throughout the movie, his two-toned tap-dancing shoes remain iconic. Not only are they also worn by Mia when she makes a (very relatable) point of switching her high heels to flat shoes, they become clear references to past dancing stars such as Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. This sense of nostalgia for Golden Age actors and Old School Jazz becomes apparent in Seb’s style, with combos of tweed jackets, white shirts, slim ties and rolled-up sleeves clearly reflecting his reminiscent personality. Throughout the movie he oozes a sense of effortless classiness which truly reflects his old-school tendencies.

Source: Image from Lalaland (2016) IMDB

In a society where athleisure is being hailed like the Holy Grail and lockdown has only reinforced this with pictures of Anna Wintour in sweatpants appearing on the internet, I believe LaLaLand (2016) shows the value of dressing up and looking presentable. The editor-in-chief of Vogue US, by posing in such a garment, has demonstrated that in these periods of uncertainty it is ok to not look or FEEL like being on top of our game. But when things eventually, and hopefully, start returning to normal, I hope that people will not have forgotten how to look presentable to the outside world as it does not take much. I’m not saying we all need to walk around wearing frilly skirts, dresses, or suits on a regular day, but I truly believe that in these mentally strenuous times you need to look good to feel good.

Anna Wintour on sweatpants

Source: Screenshot from @wintourworld on Instagram

Then again, this might just be my French side speaking.

Aubrey Beardsley’s Fashion

This spring, before I had to essentially evacuate London because of this vicious global pandemic, I chose to go to an exhibition on a random Wednesday afternoon. I’m so glad that I decided to see the Tate Britain’s Audrey Beardsley exhibition because it was the only show I was able to attend this season. Not only is Beardsley one of my favorite artists from my favorite historical era, but I saw his art through new eyes: fashion eyes. I have studied Beardsley’s work quite a lot from the perspective of an art history student, examining his relationship to literature and the decadence of the 1890s. Viewing his art again from a fashion perspective was enlightening. The exhibition was expansive and educational, even though it was a rather conventional display of a completely unconventional figure. 

Aubrey Beardsley, The Black Cape, 1890s, print, V&A (author’s photo)

Whether he admitted it in his lifetime or not, Beardsley certainly had a flair for fashion. Many of his drawings and prints feature imaginative clothing with delicate drapery and peacock-inspired headdresses. In 1891, he illustrated Oscar Wilde’s rendition of Salomé. Heralded as his most imaginative and perverse work, the series features languid beauties with fabric falling off their chests and massive, swirling cloaks. One print in particular reads more like an avant-garde fashion plate than a narrative illustration. This particular illustration does not clearly relate to any particular scene in Salome, but rather seems to display Beardsley’s potential for designing women’s wear. The massive shoulders of the dress seem to merge into the sleeves and unfold like an armadillo shell. Beardsley also clearly was aware of the power of the S-bend silhouette which was gaining popularity in the 1890s. Beardsley’s dramatic s-curve in this print suggests a sense of languid, slinky elongation for which he was famous. Beardsley himself was known to be tall, thin, and wear clothing that highlighted his slenderness. 

Beardsley’s bold graphic style and bizarre visions inspired countless later artists. The exhibition featured a viewing room that showed a constant loop of Alla Nazimova in the 1923 film rendition of Salomé. This particular film sought to translate Beardsley’s still, two-dimensional illustration into a moving, filmic world. Some of Beardsley’s drawings, like the one shown above  are directly translated into real costumes which were designed by Natacha Rambova (see the background dancers below). Other costumes take on a more 1920s style such as Nazimova’s platinum wig and reflective rubber dress seen below. 

Screen capture of Alla Nazimova performing The Dance of the Seven Veils, in Salomé, directed by Charles Bryant, 1923 (from youtube.com).

The most striking innovation of the 1923 film is Nazimova’s wig, although it was not featured in the exhibition. Constructed from black coil with giant white pearls at the end, the wig is an ode to Beardsley’s graphic style and his love for massive locks of hair on his figures. Although the wig is not directly inspired from any particular illustration, it feels completely Beardsley. With every move of Nazimova’s head the coils of the wig bounce and make the pearls jiggle and reflect the studio lights. The overall sensation of the wig evokes a trembling eroticism, as Salomé childishly shakes her head and refuses Herod’s advances. Rambova’s design fully understands the tension, eroticism, and movement in Beardsley’s work. Once believed to be lost, the innovative wig was rediscovered in a storage trunk in Columbus, Georgia in 2014 and has since been donated to the Alla Nazimovia Society located in West Hollywood. 

Screen capture of Alla Nazimova wearing the “Salome wig” in Salome (1923); right: the wig as it appeared when it was discovered recently in a trunk (Jack Raines © 2014) via Alla Nazimova Society.

Our Documenting Fashion class got to see one of the more recent iterations of Beardsley’s work this fall in the V&A’s exhibition, Tim Walker: Wonderful Things. Also inspired by Beardsley’s Salomé prints, Walker translates Beardsley’s sensuous lines and bodies into fashion photographs. The exhibition featured an array of different photoshoots that were inspired from items in the V&A’s collection, but the Beardsley-inspired photographs were a highlight for all of us. Located in a stark-white room lit by fluorescent lights, the setting was eerily apt for these warped pictures. Our class was lucky enough to hear from head curator Susanna Brown about how difficult it was to mimic the thinness of Beardsley’s lines. In order to get the extreme point on the shoes seen in the photograph below on the right, stylist Amanda Harlech purchased the heels from a fetish shop. Quite fittingly, Walker’s photos exhibit a 21st-century take on Beardsley’s strange eroticism. Beardsley’s work has obviously deeply affected artists during and after his lifetime. Knowing he would not live long due to tuberculosis (he died at the age of 25), he embraced his eccentricities to create a bold, uncensored, and prolific oeuvre.

Jim Crewe and Kiki Walker photographed by Tim Walker, V&A, Tim Walker: Winderful Things, 2017 (author’s photo)

Remembering Peter H. Beard (1938-2020)

“The last thing left in nature is the beauty of women” – Peter Beard

Peter Beard pic

Source: screenshot from @clovis_sangrail on instagram

Peter Hill Beard rose to fame in the 60s when his infamous diaries were first published; combining his photographs with insects, leaves, feathers, transcribed telephone messages, quotes, bref – anything and everything that would inspire him – his unique documentation of African wildlife and landscapes transgressed regular travel journaling.

Beard’s chronicling of events in diaries started from a young age, as his favourable background enabled him to  grow up surrounded by artwork. This shaped his liking for art and aesthetic beauty, and would later come to influence his work and career path. Indeed, he explored this passion as an Art History student at Yale University under the tutelage of famed artists such as Josef Alberts before making his way to Kenya, where he would create his renowned journals and publish his first book “The End of the Game” (1963).

 

Peter Beard diaries

Source: screenshot from @peterbeardart on Instagram

Beard’s artistic abilities are reflected in his note-taking, as his notorious use of paint (and his own blood) to render footprints and handprints on his images highlight the rawness and violence of African wildlife and the human relation to it. The use of sepia-toned film further add a vintage and authentic feel to his images, conveying a sense of nostalgia for the past which he would further explore through themes of life and death. Indeed, as an environmental activist, Beard tried to spread awareness by displaying the effects of growing industrialisation on the African continent.

Peter Beard art

Source: screenshot from @maias.hgrd on Instagram

Alongside his love for African wildlife was his love for women. Beard was particularly attracted to female beauty, and would often assimilate the two in his diaries and photographs. By placing a partially-clad or nude female bodies in the midst of the African wilderness, he played with the idea of primitivism and appealed to women’s animalistic sexuality to display his version of femininity. Posing next to powerful and wild creatures such as elephants, lions and rhinoceros, his portrayals of women were empowering and beautiful and he would regularly shoot and feature in fashion reviews such as Elle, Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar.

Peter Beard fashion

Source: screenshot from @mllachapelle, @maias.hgrd and @geenarocero on Instagram

Nicknamed ‘the reckless playboy’ or yet ‘Tarzan’, the photographer was indeed known as a regular Casanova, with his views on monogamy and marriage sometimes deemed controversial. Nevertheless, his brilliant ability to capture beauty is undeniable, and his pioneering will to raise awareness of environmental issues truly placed him ahead of his time. Having worked alongside personalities such as Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Karen Blixen to shape and spread his unique vision of the world, he will truly be remembered as one-of-a-kind.

To sum it up, Beard, you seemed like an incredible man, who lived an incredible life.

Watching Time(s) Go By

Like many others quarantined at home, I find myself with an abundance of time to spend in front of the television. Passing from streaming service to streaming service, docu-series to foreign drama, digitized film to YouTube short, the days of the Coronavirus have increasingly been defined by what we’re watching. While a few choice programs, like Tiger King, are able to sweep the nation (the Nation of Netflix, for which we all stand), the decision of what to watch is left to one’s personal desires. So what does it mean if all I can watch are period pieces, set decades or even centuries before I was even born? 

It all started with a recommendation from Rebecca to watch Babylon Berlin, a German neo-noir TV-show set in 1929 Berlin. Needless to say, I was tantalized by the glittery fashions, clever plot twists, and mysterious, shadowy figures of the city’s criminal, political, and even medical underworld. For perhaps the entirety of the first season, I recommended the show to anyone who would listen, and waxed poetic about the incredible costumes, precise set decoration, and absolutely breathtaking world creation achieve by the production team.

Bailey

For the next few weeks, I craved the same sort of exhilaration I felt while watching that show and seeing a masterfully crafted work unfold before my eyes. After a lot of watching and even more scrolling, it has become clear that while the world creation I so adored was driven on its face by a need for beautiful visuals, it’s hiding a desire for escape in a moment characterized by a constant state of unpredictability and worry.

gatsy

To be sure, my list of “Have Watched” and “Want to Watch” reads like a cinematic traipse through some of the most lavish and visually compelling periods in modern history. In the former column: Netflix’s Freud, another German mystery set in the early 20th century; Hulu’s A French Village, a drama about a small French town during German occupation; The Tudors, a royal drama from Showtime; the ever-enchanting Gilda, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; Gosford Park; The Aviator…The latter column is populated with more of the same: The upcoming Mrs. America on Hulu, a show about the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s; Planetarium, a film starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as a pair 1930’s psychics; Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York; Elizabeth and Elizabeth the Golden Age; Netflix’s Alias Grace; Howard’s End; A Single Man … the list goes on.

I was able to convince myself for quite some time that what was attractive was the idea of visually exploring these different fashion eras without the pressure of a time constraint. That was until a friend recommended a show on HBO, High Maintenance. Set in contemporary New York (or as contemporary as 2012 can feel right now), it’s a comedy about a bicycle-riding marijuana dealer who ventures to different clients’ apartments in Brooklyn and the peculiar people and situations he encounters along the way. It’s one of those shows that puts a specific facet of New York life on screen for everyone to see and enjoy, and warms the hearts of those lucky enough to live there.

Illustration for blog

Or that would be true if New York weren’t the global epicenter for an era-defining pandemic. I found myself unable to make it through a single episode of the show, and when my friend pressed me on why, I realized I couldn’t stand to watch normal 21st century people going about their normal 21st century lives. Not because the thought of anyone within 6 feet of each other suddenly made me squirm, but because it somehow felt as foreign and bygone as those other period pieces I’d been watching henceforth. Captive in my parents’ home and an ocean away from the city where I thought I would be spending this year, a return to normal—if even through a TV screen—seems as far-off a dream as wandering into the court of Louis XIV, manteau and all.

American television makes squaring the now with the very recent-past even more difficult due to the constancy of news, updates, and presidential pontificating. The crisis is inescapable from newspaper to news channel, and suffocates the mind, sending it spiraling in directions economic, political, medicinal, familial, and on and on and on. It seems the only respite from one’s own mind would be to erase the present altogether, and settle into a bygone era. An era either free from the complications of the present, or familiar enough that the mind can relish in the comfort of knowing exactly how it all plays out, and release the anxiety of uncertainty.

For us fashion lovers, film and television have always been an enjoyable part of our research. Allowing myself to escape into a period where beaded dresses were de rigeur at a nightclub or a corset was a social necessity or one was never to leave the house without at least a swipe of lipstick was always the best way to engage with the stories and societies that surround clothing—and it becomes especially enticing when I have no reason to wear anything but sweatpants for the foreseeable future. But in a moment where the fashion industry is faced with a reckoning the likes of which it has never encountered in its modern iteration, I fear to neglect an examination of the contemporary would be doing a disservice to the possibilities of the future. When every aspect of fashion production and its international scope is affected by changing buying habits and the global threat of infection; When multi-national luxury conglomerates have transformed their perfume manufacturers to hand sanitizer suppliers; When home-sewing has seen a resurgence to provide necessary equipment for our doctors and nurses; When all this and more is true at this very moment, it seems to me that the fashion of the near future and beyond will be forever changed. Decisions about what that change looks like relies on those of us who spend our days contemplating fashion’s constant importance through history and beyond.

Screenshot of two COVID19

Of course, I will never not recommend Babylon Berlin, as it’s certainly a masterpiece of the genre (CGI train notwithstanding). But in these next weeks of isolation, I think a valuable exercise may be one of actually allowing myself to come to terms with this moment and what’s to come: what’s to come for my studies and, more importantly, what’s to come for fashion.

Museums and the Music Video

A museum is a charged space. They hold objects, tell histories and stories and generally function as a public service. How does the public respond to that service? For decades musicians have been exploring this concept. By both taking over well-known museums, or in some cases making their own, performers question how we should respond to these institutional spaces.

Stills of Barbra Streisand performing “One Kiss” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Stills of Barbra Streisand performing “One Kiss” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

One of the most significant examples of this comes from Barbra Streisand’s video in the Philadelphia Museum of Art for her 1966 television special, Color Me Barbra. In the film, Streisand belts out tracks (from the album of the same name) while moving from gallery to gallery surrounded by sculptures, tapestries and paintings. In the second number “Yesterdays” she appears as a curious visitor wandering around the space and touching works of art until she finds a piece that inspires her. In another memorable sequence for the song “Gotta Move”, Streisand struts and dances her way through one of the PMoA’s modern art galleries in a bright, geometric print dress that echoes the cubist art on the walls.

Still of Barbra Streisand performing “Gotta Move” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Still of Barbra Streisand performing “Gotta Move” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Streisand chose to shoot at the PMoA because the found the art to be “so extraordinary and so inspirational” that it made her “want to climb into the paintings,” and “play in the period rooms.” Given the title of the album, album artwork, and this playful approach, Streisand makes the museum space her own, upholding the idea of museums as a place where people can integrate themselves into the space and become living works of art.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Almost twenty years later, Run-D.M.C. used a different approach to museums for their 1985 King of Rock music video. In a fictional Rock n Roll museum (the video predates the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Museum by ten years), Rev-Run and D.M.C are told by a white security guard that they don’t belong there because, “This is a rock museum.” Dressed in black leather suits, black fedoras, and crisp white adidas, the presence of black militancy, jazz fashion, and street style conveys a powerful mood of recognition and resistance inside an institution that has denied them the right to exist. As they walk around the museum, the pair engage with a variety of “cultural artifacts” including guitars and four white busts wearing Beatles wigs.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Watching videos of musical greats, they mock a Buddy Holly performance, respectfully turn their heads to the camera at Little Richard and later, shake their heads at a Jerry Lee Lewis performance. They even step on Michael Jackson’s famous white glove as a way of rejecting the universally lauded artist who was on the more respectable and conservative end of black popular music at the time. By the end of the video, the duo begin to break artifacts, knock over the black velvet ropes that exclude them from the ‘Rock culture’ section and spray paint “Run DMC King of Rock” on the gallery walls.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Ultimately, the video is a form of resistance: the group actively comment on the long-standing fight of black artists to be recognized in ‘Rock n’ Roll’.  A challenge to the genre’s lack of access, dominance of white artists and white-centric narratives, this was an issue that the group faced throughout their career. This is especially apparent with the constant presence of the security guard in every shot who acts like a gate keeper to culture and monitors the group’s activity in the museum.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Taking cues from Streisand and Run-D.M.C., The Carters (Jay Z and Beyoncé) deliver the best balance between critiquing and celebrating museums in their 2018  music video, Apeshit. Like Streisand, The Carters engaged with the museum as their own place to play and be inspired: female dancers lift and rise on the steps of Winged Victory of Samothrace whilst two more recreate their own version of  David’s Madame Récamier. The sculptured texture  of Beyoncé’s Stephane Rolland gown echoes the carefully carved drapery of the Winged Victory. At one point, the video captures an all-out dance-out in front of The Great Sphinx of Tanis.

 

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Like Run-D.M.C. however, the film further critiques the dominance of white and lack of black narratives in museums. It’s well documented that this video is significant for putting black bodies into the historically white space of museums. They call out the whiteness of the Louvre by having black dancers dance in flesh colored tights in front of Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon. More importantly towards the end of the video they prominently feature Portrait D’Une Négresse, which scholar James Smalls calls an “anomaly because it presents a black person as the sole aestheticized subject and object of a work of art.” Perhaps most poignantly though, black subjects are also featured ‘behind the scene’. Shooting a group of almost totally obscured black men in front of metal drawers, the black subject is reintegrated into both the public and private spaces of the museum.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video

Overall these musicians provide a complex understanding about how people should respond to art historical institutions but nevertheless encourage all visitors to be active participants instead of passive spectators in the museum space.

Dress in Film: Emma’s frills and macarons

Watching Emma (2020) is like spending 125 minutes in a Ladurée shop set in the 1800s. A real life Fragonard painting, the film’s soft-hued colour palette submerges the viewer in a modern vision of Georgian romance and the world of the Jane Austen is re-imagined with frills, pastels and macarons.

Photo for Emma

‘Scene from Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

Ostentatious bonnets and colourful spencers brighten each scene whilst splashes of mint, pink, yellow and blue are reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” and Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel”. With every season being given a specific colour palette, the aristocratic aesthetic of Austen’s England is communicated through everything from extravagant floral wallapaper to delicate bone china.

Georgian background

‘Scene from Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne modernises the character of Emma by  re-interpreting her as a fashionable woman from the 21st century. Emma (played by Ana Taylor-Joy) becomes a symbol of Victorian vanity as her outfits bedazzle the viewer every time she enters a room. The focus on empirical hemlines is reminiscent of the Parisian fashion journals of the early 19th century which repeatedly showed dresses gathered under the bust and fashioned out of delicate white muslin.

Pictures for Emma

‘Emma for Vogue US, February 2020’ source: Instagram

Despite these direct references, Byrne revived the costumes by rendering the designs in  unusually modern fabrics and colours. Dismantling the common assumption that clothing was particularly demure during the 1800s, Byrne notes that new dying techniques colour had actually become common practice. On top of the layers of white muslin (the typical costume of choice for wealthy females at the time), Byrne further updates this style with bright accessories. Whilst the students’ bright red hoods seem to come straight out of the Handmaiden’s Tale, Emma’s deep blue pelisse and green checked coat makes her the focal point of every scene. It is worth noting that the milinary shop is featured repeatedly throughout the film: Emma’s world is one of fashion, manipulation and self-image, all of which are essential to her role as style-icon and matchmaker.Colour was a symbol of wealth during the 1810s and Byrne manipulates this to spectacular effect. The colour of each costume is used to vividly express the personality of each character; be it witm irony or ridicule, the viewer mocks Mrs Elton’s outrageous attire, her orange day dress and the comedically  large black ribbon atop of her head.

Pictures for Emma

‘Emma for Vogue US, February 2020’ source: Instagram

Men’s fashion is granted equal importance in Emma. Raised collars add an almost claustrophobic allure to each outfit, symbolising the rigid definition of masculinity at the time. With sharp cuts and tailoring being more predominant than embroidery for men’s fashion, the natural form of the body was enhanced in order to match with Neoclassical ideals. Indeed, the costumes of Mr. Woodhouse (played by Bill Nighy) and Mr. Knightly (Johnny Flynn) play on traditionally rich colours and materials to communicate wealth and superiority.

Photo for Emma

‘Film cover for Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

The naked body becomes just as important as the clothed body in Emma. Whilst the male form is shown completely (see Knightly’s dressing scene at the beginning of the film), the female nude is treated with irreverence. A stark contrast to typical presentations of the female nude at the time, Emma is shown warming her backside and Knightly’s declaration of love is comedially ruined by a nosebleed.

Photo for Emma

‘Scene from Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

Using the treatment of the body to subvert the Georgian gender hierarchies, the manipulation of the body is central to Byrne’s reworking of ‘Emma’ and a modern twist is given to a timeless novel which clearly shows that sometimes, less is not more.

 

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/feb/14/emma-review-jane-austen-anya-taylor-joy

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13823/evening-dress-unknown/

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/feb/16/emma-review-autumn-de-wilde-anya-taylor-joy-bill-nighy-johnny-flynn

https://variety.com/2020/artisans/production/costumes-production-design-emma-1203502490/