From English Fashion Plate to Japanese Print

After a period of limited trade, Japan opened select cities in 1859 as part of a commercial treaty with France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. As traders flooded into the port of Yokohama, native artists capitalized on Japanese print tradition to spread information about the country’s new inhabitants. For centuries, widely accessible paper prints depicting beautiful women, actors, and mythological scenes entertained the masses. The new print genre, called Yokohama pictures, educated consumers through descriptive poetry and colorful images that emphasized the foreignness of Westerners.

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, A Frenchwoman from the series The People of the Barbarian Nations (Bankoku jinbutsu zu: Furansu fujin), 1861. Polychrome woodblock print. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number 1968-165-119). http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/249307.html

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, A Frenchwoman from the series The People of the Barbarian Nations (Bankoku jinbutsu zu: Furansu fujin), 1861. Polychrome woodblock print. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number 1968-165-119).

Native Japanese dress differed greatly from dress styles popular in Europe. As such, clothing became an essential tool to identify foreigners. In A Frenchwoman by Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, the inscription reads, “Wearing her foreign garb of spring brocade, a young woman strolls along the streets of Yokohama.” The background of the print is blank and the woman’s skin tone is similarly neutral: The real subject of the print is not the figure herself, but her brightly colored clothes. To Western eyes, the mantle, skirt, and bonnet may look oddly drawn. The familiar exaggerated hourglass silhouette of 1860s European womenswear is shrouded by a too-long mantle, the skirt has an unusual two-tone teardrop pattern, and the headdress only suggests a bonnet.

Dismissing this print as crude is a misstep, however. A Frenchwoman actually displays an impressive amount of invention in the face of artistic difficulties. Though there were some Western women in Japan, most traders were single men. With a shortage of real-life subjects, artists turned to foreign newspapers to complete their visual vocabulary.

‘The Paris Fashions for October.’ Illustrated London News (September 29, 1860). Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

‘The Paris Fashions for October.’ Illustrated London News (September 29, 1860). Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

A Frenchwoman directly supports this notion. Printed in the first months of 1861, it bears a striking resemblance to a fashion plate entitled ‘The Paris Fashions for October,’ which was published September 29, 1860 in the Illustrated London News, a paper widely available in Yokohama. The leftmost woman in the plate wears a multi-tiered mantle with crimped edging that unmistakably inspired the mantle of the Frenchwoman.

Recognizing that Yoshitsuya used fashion plates to create foreign figures helps explain his artistic choices. To avoid replicating the corseted waist, whose shape defied Japanese artistic training, Yoshitsuya added a long blue tier to the bottom of the mantle. The blue teardrop shading on the skirt resembles dark etching used in fashion plates to create depth in folds. And the figure’s open cloth head covering suggests that Yoshitsuya moved the bonnet’s close-to-the-chin bow, seen on the other two figures in ‘Paris Fashions,’ onto the collar of the mantle, a possible interpretation of the two-dimensional plate. Despite some difficulty translating the European costume into a Japanese print, the inscription still rings true to the context of the Frenchwoman’s clothing: The mantle was an outdoor covering that any foreign woman “stroll[ing] along the streets of Yokohama” would have worn. Using English fashion plates and reasonable estimation, Yoshitsuya created an imaginative representation of European women viewed through a Japanese lens.

Further Reading

Ann Yonemura, Yokohama: Prints from Nineteenth-century Japan (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1990), 82.

Judith Clark: Fashion Redefined – The Vulgar and The Proust Questionnaire

 

Judith Clark, photograph by Hyea W Kang, 2016

Judith Clark, photograph by Hyea W Kang, 2016

How do you rethink an idea, or a word, or a dress? Or question what a fashion exhibition is, while at the same time creating an exhibition about fashion?

Visit Judith Clark’s show The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined at the Barbican Art Gallery and you will find out.

Bold, ambitious, yet subtle and witty, the exhibition is a tour de force, and makes you engage and reconsider your own attitudes to this very slippery term from the start. Adam Phillips definitions of ‘vulgar’ tease out its meanings, and the range of objects, as well as the exhibition’s design suggest ways to redefine …

To give some insight into Judith Clark’s way of thinking, I asked her to fill in a Proust Questionnaire – a 19th century parlour game popularised by Marcel Proust, which is designed to reveal the respondent’s personality.

 

Proust Questionnaire

__1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being with my family.

__2.__What is your greatest fear? Snakes on a plane.

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Wanting to be liked. It means drowning out other more interesting thoughts about people and situations.

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others? False allegiance.

__5.__Which living person do you most admire? Mr Rob Crossley, Mr Matt Jones

__6.__What is your greatest extravagance?  Other than clothes?

__7.__What is your current state of mind?

__8.__What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Academic intelligence.

__9.__On what occasion do you lie? To make others feel better about themselves.

__10.__What do you most dislike about your appearance? Different parts at different times.

__11.__Which living person do you most despise? Today, anyone voting for the far right.

__12.__What is the quality you most like in a man? It is something to do with how the difference is negotiated rather than denied.

__13.__What is the quality you most like in a woman? Loyalty

__14.__Which words or phrases do you most overuse? No (to my children); Props and Attributes (to my students).

__15.__What or who is the greatest love of your life? The father of my children.

__16.__When and where were you happiest? Walking from Carbis Bay to St Ives, 2013.

__17.__Which talent would you most like to have?   Anything and everything to do with craftsmanship.

__18.__If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would be much more courageous.

__19.__What do you consider your greatest achievement? Having had the courage to have a family.

__20.__If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Someone born in the countryside and not a major city.

__21.__Where would you most like to live? My current home in London only with more room, or Rome.

__22.__What is your most treasured possession?  My sketchbook at any given time.

__23.__What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Stubborn loneliness.

__24.__What is your favorite occupation? Exactly my occupation, making exhibitions of dress with the people I build them with.

__25.__What is your most marked characteristic? I don’t know, you would have to ask other people.

__26.__What do you most value in your friends? Their memory.

__27.__Who are your favorite writers? Those who have made dress sound interesting, valuable, serious. Those who have resisted the temptation to be snide, or apologise for their interest in it. Many years ago Elizabeth Wilson made it more possible for me to become interested in fashion. And Adam Phillips.

__28.__Who is your hero of fiction? Mrs Moore, in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Like her, I don’t like muddles, and I don’t like racism.

__29.__Which historical figure do you most identify with? I would always like to identify with a female artist who had a studio. If she had a studio it meant that she was taking her work seriously and maybe was herself taken seriously.

__30.__Who are your heroes in real life? People who really manage to be kind to other people.

__31.__What are your favorite names? Marianne and Seth, and Jacob.

__32.__What is it that you most dislike? I’m not sure.

__33.__What is your greatest regret? That my mother did not live long enough to know my children better.

__34.__How would you like to die? In a way that would not make my children feel guilty.

__35.__What is your motto?    ‘All experiments are good’.

 

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is at Barbican Art Gallery until 5 February 2017

The Winter Palace, run by the Belvedere Museum - where the exhibition travels to in 2017

The Winter Palace, run by the Belvedere Museum – where the exhibition travels to in 2017

Installing the Gucci Ad in the exhibition

Installing the Gucci Ad in the exhibition

Maison Doucet

During the Belle Epoque period, at 21 Rue de la Paix in Paris, stood Maison Doucet, one of the most fashionable couture houses of the day. Under the tutelage of Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret got his start there, as did Madeleine Vionnet, before they went on to their own success as couturiers. The clients at Doucet, as with most top couture houses, ranged from social elites and nobles to courtesans and celebrity actresses such as Rejane and Sarah Bernhardt (Figs. 1 and 2). Notably, Doucet was also patronized by younger American socialites such as Carrie Schermerhorn Astor, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Edith Wharton.

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Fig. 1: Actress Rejane wearing a Doucet at-home gown, cover of Les Modes, August 1902.

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Fig. 2: P. Nadar. Actress Rosa Bruck in Doucet, Les Modes, November, 1901.

To dispel the expenses of a trip to Paris, Doucet dresses were sold in New York at Arnold, Constable & Co. and Lord & Taylor’s and models were available at the exclusive dressmaking establishments of Madame Barnes and Madame Donovan. More than one woman who did return from Paris with a Doucet in her trunk reportedly tried to evade customs because of the excessive duties.

Turn-of-the-century fashions were characterized by exuberant surface decoration, where the materials, techniques, and styling of different decorative elements showed off one’s prosperity, indeed Doucet indulged heavily in such excess of beautification. One of the characteristic traits of the Doucet aesthetic is the use of fluid, unstructured fabrics such as lace, tulle, silk, fur, and satin (Figs. 3 and 4). From the turn of the century, with the body-skimming Directoire style and the taste for tea gowns, Maison Doucet’s expertise with fabrics put the couture house at the height of fashion. Doucet dresses were just a bit softer in their drape, delicate in their surfaces and the vision of beauty fit in with the more sensitive side of the time. That Doucet’s clients were daughters of great society matrons, wives of executives in the fashion retail industry, and popular actresses, confirms that the ultra-femininity of the Maison’s designs were fashion-forward and distinct from the stiffer prestige image of the House of Worth. Is it any wonder then that both Edith Wharton and Marcel Proust conjured up characters that answered to the siren call of Doucet frocks?

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Fig. 3: Doucet. Reception or ball gown. 1910. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Fig. 4: Doucet. Afternoon or tea gown. 1900-1903. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

High society dressing was very much a public consideration, a performance of wealth, class belonging and taste in the age of crass overnight millionaires and dollar princesses. In the highly codified world of social elites, elaborate surface decoration gave expression to the complexity and power of social wealth, presenting ornate femininity as an index of masculine financial prowess in the new business order.

The Maison Doucet sensibilities dovetail with the eighteenth-century revival fashion trend to which he contributed and executed at the highest level, informed by his own art collecting and connoisseurship. The sinuous lines of a peach embroidered ball gown in the art nouveau style have their clear precedent and inspiration in the eighteenth-century meandering lines of Rococo design, found particularly in textiles (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5: Doucet. Ball gown, 1898-1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Nouveau tiger lily design reminiscent of the Rococo period. Worn by Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson.

Of all the dress styles in a lady’s wardrobe, it was the tea gown, or at-home gown, that most embodied and fulfilled the sensual femininity of the Doucet aesthetic. Due to its light and clingy materials that skimmed a woman’s uncorseted body, it had a naturally suggestive quality to it. The abundance of airy lace over fluid, unstructured silk of a 1907 tea gown conveys the romantic and delicate aesthetic of the early century under the lofty eye of Doucet (Fig. 6). The tea gown’s softness underscores the traditional relationship between femininity and the private sphere while also promoting modern modes of dressing for comfort. The secret to the successful Doucet aesthetic seems to lie in the unabashed sensuality of the clothes no matter what the occasion.

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Fig. 6: Doucet. Tea gown, 1907. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Further Reading

Cole, Daniel James and Nancy Diehl. The History of Modern Fashion. London:Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

Coleman, Elizabeth Ann. The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat. New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1989.

Joslin, Katherine. Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion. Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1998.

Review of Inside Vogue: A Diary of my 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman

Alexandra Shulman, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016)

Cover of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016). Photograph courtesy of publisher.

The centenary year of British Vogue saw numerous celebratory events, from a bumper June issue covered by the Duchess of Cambridge to a retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a BBC2 documentary punnily titled Absolutely Fashion and a Vogue Festival featuring Grace Coddington, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Kim Kardashian and Charlotte Tilbury as speakers. Inside Vogue – the final treat of this momentous year for the magazine established in 1916 – is a personal account of the hard work that went into these events, the pressure, frustrations, and challenges faced in doing justice to Vogue’s legacy.

A rich picture is painted by Inside Vogue’s author, editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. What could have easily have hit shelves as a puffed-up piece of marketing is in fact peppered by nuanced criticisms. Absolutely Fashion’s narrator is rightly a cause for concern, as is rogue photographer David Bailey, though real indignation is reserved for the hypocritical jabs at Vogue’s portrayal of women made by The Daily Mail’s Liz Jones and Sarah Vine. Beauty confessions (‘I can only stick so far to “Il faut souffrir pour être belle”. The less souffrir going on the better, I feel.’) and reminiscences about growing up as the daughter of features writer Drusilla Beyfus and theatre critic Milton Shulman are interrupted – as even the most fabulous working lives are – by domestic chaos, spontaneously combusting bins and failing boilers.

Cover of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Cover of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Interior of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Interior of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Preview of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year

Page preview of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year

Structured as a diary, Inside Vogue also provides a valuable first-hand account of what is takes to produce a contemporary record such as Vogue magazine. How best to showcase Vogue’s contribution to readers’ awareness of contemporary conversations, culture and styles, and determine which faces from the worlds of fashion, art and music most deserve places in Tim Walker’s ‘hall of fame’ shoot? How to do this in the face of a digital revolution, with new challenges for print publishing; how to fight for a gold foil-embossed logo on instinct alone? Shulman’s accounts of her meetings with the Duchess of Cambridge will likely prove an essential source for our understanding of (and indeed future studies on) the representation and role of the royal family in these times. That the palace is easier to deal with than Naomi Campbell and David Beckham is just one takeaway.

Although Shulman makes clear the account is somewhat polished, not unlike Instagram – ‘everything we put out about ourselves is edited’ – there is plenty here to delight, intrigue, and learn about what life is like at the helm of Vogue, that powerful force in documenting fashion.

Alexandra Shulman, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016). Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

Somerset House Welcomes a New Addition

In Somerset House’s long history, many artists have walked through its courtyard and created their works in the endless nooks and crannies of its maze-like interiors. The long legacy of vision, beginning in 1779 when the Royal Academy of Arts became the first resident in the newly refurbished Somerset House, through its many Royal Academy Exhibitions, the move of The Courtauld Institute of Art into the North Wing of the building, becoming the home of British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week, to hosting blockbuster fashion and art exhibitions as well as multiple annual festivals such as Pick Me Up and Photo London, now continues with a new venture.

From October 2016, the New Wing of the former sixteenth century palace has been transformed into a home of Somerset House Studios, a new experimental workspace for a wide spectrum of creatives. Musicians, filmmakers, performance artists, designers, writers, architects, visual and internet artists are among the first residents in the repurposed, 36,000 sq ft space, soon to be joined by 25 new arrivals. Eventually, the space will house 300 creators, inventors and originators, making Somerset House a vibrant hub for London’s visionaries.

Somerset House Studios comes at a time when London’s uncompromisingly high rent has driven out artists such as Gareth Pugh, a world-renowned British designer, from their previous spaces. Pugh laments, “there is so much about creativity and how London is this place people go to and look to, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to actually make ends meet and make things work. Responding to this very serious problem, the Studios are offering up to two and a half years of residency at a capped rental price equivalent to 2014 rates for workspaces, allowing creativity to flourish, while offering much needed security to vulnerable artists and at the same time preventing the flocking of precious British talent elsewhere. The community Somerset House Studios will create is also crucial, as musician, artist and writer Brian Eno highlights: “People sometimes think that everything artists need is in their own minds. But it isn’t: as well as talent and enthusiasm, they need good places to work, and they need people to talk to and share ideas with…it represents a lot of possibilities for creative cross-pollination.”

This artistic exchange will not be exclusive to the residents, however. Instead, performance spaces, event and exhibition rooms will showcase the talent to over 3.2 million guests which come to Somerset House each year. The first round of exhibitions, called Somerset House Studios 01 has already been a great success. Newcomer but already one of the most exciting London designers, Charles Jeffrey, hosted one of his famous LOVERBOY raves in his space during the opening night. Inés Cámara Leret conceived an out-of-the-world cube which catches the spectators’ breaths and imprints them, creating a tangible object out of our DNA, while design practice Superflux set up a fictional court case, leading the visitor from their lab through sheets of plastic hanging off walls to the crime scene itself, posing questions about the world of gene-fixing and genetic profiling. What makes this work really compelling is its interaction with the audience, a new area which art is just beginning to tap into, but is already very much at the forefront at the Studios. Exciting things are happening at Somerset House and we cannot wait to see the incredible, inspiring and invigorating work which will once again announce London and one of its iconic buildings as the leader in artistic innovation.

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                                     Gareth Pugh | Sycorax | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

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                                     Charles Jeffrey | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

Applications for Somerset House Studios are open until 7 January 2016.

 

References:

Somerset House Studios Press Release (https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/press/somerset-house-studios accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

R. Dex, ‘Gareth Pugh gets a studio at Somerset House after being priced out of Dalston’ in Evening Standard (Wednesday, 19 October 2016) (http://www.standard.co.uk/fashion/news/gareth-pugh-gets-a-studio-at-somerset-house-after-being-priced-out-of-dalston-a3373406.html accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

Childhood Unveiled at the Museo Nacional del Prado: Spanish children’s fashion from the reign of Isabel II

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Whilst in Madrid I had the opportunity to visit the recently opened special display La Infancia Descubierta (Childhood Unveiled) at Museo Nacional del Prado. With this exquisite display, el Prado recalls the importance of the children portrait genre in the nineteenth century by focusing on two key locations during Romanticism: Madrid and Seville.

The recent purchase by the Prado Museum of an almost unknown canvas by Antonio Maria Esquivel and Suárez de Urbina (1806-1857) that portrays a pair of brothers might be one of the reasons for the organisation of this exhibition. This would be the first time the piece is presented to the public. Javier Baron, Chief Curator of 19th-century painting at the museum, has used the painting as a centrepiece to articulate a small sample of eight works dated 1842 to 1855. Collected from Madrid and Seville and dated to the reign of Isabel II, each child portrait is now part of the museum’s collection. From the eight pieces exhibited, only one, the portrait of Federico Florez and Márquez by Federico de Madrazo and Kuntz (1815-1894) – a great representative of the court’s painters – is part of the permanent display; the other seven canvases are usually kept in storage, so this exhibition is the perfect opportunity to see them in person.

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

These portraits, commissioned by middle-class, aristocrat and bourgeois clients, reveal different interpretations of childhood, a theme that became particularly popular among Romantic painters as a reflection of their clients’ new interests.

Baron explains that child portraiture emerged in Spanish painting at the end of the 18th-century and further developed in the 19th. It did so in relation to the ideals that emerged with the Enlightenment, particularly childhood purity espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This idea stated that children had their own interests and autonomy, rather than childhood being simply a stage that led to adulthood. The virtues associated with childhood – spontaneity, grace, innocence, purity versus the negative aspects of civilization – were highly valued. We can see them reflected in details such as the outdoor settings of the paintings.

Through this display, we have a glimpse at children’s fashions in Spain during the reign of Isabel II. During this period, Spanish children’s fashion followed the canons of the French style. Mothers copied models  from figurines seen in Paris, and girls wore miniature versions of their mothers’ attire: long dresses on top of several layers of petticoats, to give the desired shape to their skirts. It was very common that mothers ordered small crinolines for their daughters so they would lighten the weight of so many petticoats.

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Younger girls wore shorter skirts, revealing their white cotton undergarments that were trimmed with delicate lace or English embroidery. At the age of six girls would begin to wear small corsets similar to adult models.

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós. Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Kid leather ankle boots were the most common everyday footwear. For more formal occasions, boots usually had decorative satin embroidery to match the dress. In wintertime, outerwear included gloves and coats made of woven fabric for everyday fashion. Cotton velvet and fur were used to make ensembles for special occasions, accompanied by lined hoods for girls and hats and caps for boys. As we can appreciate from the selection of paintings, boys and girls wore the same fashions regardless of gender until approximately the age of five. As for the fabrics used, the most popular were velvet, taffeta, organdy and tarlatan.

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Fashion for boys was more comfortable and functional than girl’s fashions. From the age of 6 – 7, boys would start to wear long trousers, and their outfits were very often jacket and trouser sets made of woven fabric in one colour; the addition of hats, badges and military inspired golden buttons created a more formal look.

Source
Video commentary of exhibition by Javier Barón, Chief Curator of 19th-century Painting (Spanish with English subtitles)

The Life of a Young Fashion Designer: Yordan Mihalev

Born in Bulgaria, Yordan Mihalev is a 26-year-old fashion designer who studied at Varna Free University in Bulgaria, with a semester abroad at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp that also educated designers such as Dries van Noten. With a first prize for “Young Designer”, television interviews and an Italian shop interested in buying his latest collection, he is on his way to establishing his brand.

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Juanistyle Photography | First Model: Aïsha Bénédicte Mibenge |  Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels, 2013

What have you been working on since completing your study?

My first fashion show took place about a month before my graduation at Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels. The idea of the event was to gather a lot of designers from different countries to create a collection that was inspired by their own culture, so my entire collection was inspired by Bulgaria and presented by models of African origin.

Afterwards, I moved to Paris where I had a normal, paid job for an American brand, which I wasn’t really interested in. In addition to the job, I did a lot of side projects with different stylists, designers and artists which was really nice, but not spectacular. One of the projects, perhaps the most interesting one, was for Palais de Tokyo. I worked with a stylist and designer who is mainly famous for working with Lady Gaga. He’s a big name and a very interesting guy and I was lucky to have the chance to work for him as an illustrator.

I returned to Bulgaria about nine months ago, because I discovered that it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do in Paris. I was first thinking about going to Germany, but Bulgaria was a more obvious choice because I would have much more space to create my collection. Since February, I have constantly been working on my new collection, which I presented at the beginning of October at the Salone della Moda, a yearly event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

What is your favourite part of designing fashion?

The beginning and the end. The beginning and end are the most interesting because the beginning is when you have ideas; a vision of what you want to do. You’re only drawing and sketching and it feels free and you can experiment. The end is when you finally see everything three-dimensionally; everything is done. I don’t know about other designers, but I am always surprised at the end at what it finally became.

Are you now working on setting up your own brand in Bulgaria?

Yes. It’s interesting because for a lot of years I thought that I would have to be outside of Bulgaria, in France, Italy or the US, somewhere where fashion is huge. But this collection, for example, I made in Bulgaria, showed in the Netherlands and now I am going to sell it in Italy. Fashion is very international and the world is such an open place that it doesn’t really matter where you are physically based. I really want to establish my collections in Bulgaria, so that one day I can create spaces and jobs for people in my own country, but after that I want it to be everywhere.

Since the interview, a shop from Dubai has also shown interest in selling Mihalev’s latest collection.

 

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Make-Up: Maico Kemper | Models from left to right: Jalisa Minnaar, Aissa Sow, Julia Zendman, Liora Schoew, Djerra Zwaan, Sensemielja Letitia Sumter and Lauren Parmentier.

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Designer/Illustrator: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Denitsa Diyanova

http://www.mihalevcouture.com/

Unmasking Rococo Masquerade Costume

From the 1720s until the end of the eighteenth century, large masquerades epitomized vice and excess in European cities. In spite of this, people from almost all walks of life frequented masquerades, including nobles, clergy, townsfolk, and prostitutes. There were only two requirements for admission: first, a purchased party ticket, and second, a costume. With the blurring of class boundaries, excess food and alcohol consumption, and libertinage came the necessity to hide one’s identity. Thus, revelers donned fantastical costumes and masks to disguise themselves as they met in assembly rooms and pleasure gardens. At the height of masquerade madness, artists depicted how these partygoers adapted fashionable dress to create costumes that complemented the topsy-turvy atmosphere.

Henry Moreland, The Fair Nun Unmasked, c. 1769. Oil on canvas. Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries (LEEAG.1948.0009.0001). Available here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/pages/object.aspx?oid=43215.

Henry Moreland, The Fair Nun Unmasked, c. 1769. Oil on canvas. Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries (LEEAG.1948.0009.0001). Available at this link.

Concealment was the chief aim of masquerade costume. An issue of London’s Universal Spectator in 1729 declared that “Everyone…wears a Habit which speaks him the Reverse of what he is.” As such, costume contrasted with the everyday personality of its wearer. For example, in Henry Morland’s The Fair Nun Unmasked, though the woman’s cross and veil indicate that she is dressed as a nun, the low cut of her dress hardly conveys the piety required for the role. Further, the beauty patches on her mask indicate flirtation, both drawing attention to details on the face (or, in this case, the mask) and communicating secret meanings through patch position. A nun costume blatantly sexualized the wearer in eighteenth-century Protestant England: to be called a ‘nun’ meant one was a whore.

Detail of Charles Nicolas Cochin II (design) and Charles Nicolas Cochin I (engraving), Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, on the Occasion of the Marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, c. 1860 reprint of 1764 plate. Etching with engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930). Available here: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/359942.

Detail of Charles Nicolas Cochin II (design) and Charles Nicolas Cochin I (engraving), Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, on the Occasion of the Marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, c. 1860 reprint of 1764 plate. Etching with engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930). Available at this link.

Costumes designs varied widely, as seen in Cochin’s print of the Yew Tree Ball of 1745. The most popular styles included fancy dress (toned-down costume dresses), pastoral (particularly shepherdesses), Oriental (Turkish or Chinese dress), seventeenth century (dress inspired by Rubens’ 1638 portrait of Hélène Fourment), and harlequin. People were hardly confined to these styles, however. Just as the masquerade encouraged bodily excess, so too were revelers encouraged to play with extremes when designing their costumes. Cochin etched one extreme into posterity by depicting the namesake of the Yew Tree Ball: at this masquerade, celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin, King Louis XV and his male courtiers dressed as topiary yew trees. In a world ordinarily controlled by pomp and carefully honed manners, this and other costumes embodied the magical escapism of the Rococo masquerade.

Further Reading

Ribeiro, Aileen. The Dress Worn at Masquerades in England, 1730-1790, and its relation to Fancy Dress in Portraiture. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

Review of the Met’s Spring 2016 exhibition: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

I walked through the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as I approached the exhibition, gentle music gradually filled the air. I was awestruck by an otherworldly sight of gold, glittering and dancing in the light. This wonderful sight was the 20-ft train of a Chanel haute couture wedding gown from the Autumn/ Winter 2014- 2015 collection.

The entrance had a cathedral-like quality, with a zoomed in image of the dress projected onto the dome ceiling. Pages of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie, ou Dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des métiers Crafts, 1751-72, were placed in glass cases around the dress – almost like manuscripts on display. Meanwhile, ethereal music played in the background (Brian Eno’s “The Ascent”). This church-like atmosphere created a quiet space to reflect on the exhibition and gave importance to the dress and items on display, informing visitors that the contents and ideas raised by the exhibition were sacred, to be studied and respected.

The exhibition highlighted the distinct relationship between fashion and technology, challenging the traditional idea of handmade clothing as more valuable than machine-made. The Chanel wedding gown at the entrance was a striking first example of how hand and machine techniques can work together. This dress was first sketched by hand, then manipulated on a computer to have a look of pixelation, then heat-pressed with rhinestones, hand-painted in gold and hand-embroidered.

The book on display at the entrance, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie, described métiers, or trades, of dressmaking. These métiers were used to curate the exhibition into sections, including embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework and leatherwork. In addition to these métiers, a room featured toiles and paper patterns, as well as tailoring and dressmaking. The layout of the exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, was clear and accessible, spreading over two floors.

Throughout the exhibition garments were juxtaposed beside each other; to highlight similarities between them and the continued relationship between hand and machine-made fashion throughout time. For example, the “Wet Lace Frill Dress”, a 2014 machine-made and machine-embroidered dress by Irish-born designer Simone Rocha, was placed deliberately beside a hand- sewn and machine-embroidered “Cocktail Dress” with hand-applied flounces and bows, from the House of Balenciaga Autumn/ Winter 1963-4 collection.

One of my favourite garments in the exhibition was the “May” Dress from the ‘Artificial Flowers’ section. It was a beautifully feminine Christian Dior dress, from the 1953 Spring/ Summer collection. The dress was formed by a combination of hand and machine techniques; it was machine-sewn, had hand- finished white silk organza and net, and was hand-embroidered with artificial flowers, clover and grass.

The exhibition was very informative, enriched by wall displays in each section presenting information on the métiers. Each garment was also accompanied by a label, description of its process of manufacture and sometimes a quote from the designer. Some garments were displayed against the background of a blown up image detailing its construction, which allowed the spectators to inspect the garment more closely.

I really enjoyed visiting the exhibition, sadly it has just ended so I can’t recommend visiting it any more, but I hope this provides some insight as to what it was about.

Review: The First Monday in May

Since The September Issue came to our screens back in 2009 and the enigmatic world of American Vogue opened up before our eyes, the market for fashion documentaries has exploded. Bill Cunningham: New York; Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel; In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye; Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s; and Dior and I have been watched and re-watched endlessly by fashion industry insiders and fashion students alike. These, alongside movies such as the ever-quotable The Devil Wears Prada, have helped bring fashion to the forefront of culture, exposed what goes on behind the scenes and crucially , somewhat de-alienated and democratised the world of fashion to those outside of it. Fashion films and documentaries make the unreachable world of fashion magazines and designers human, approachable, and relatable – something fashion often struggles to be for the large majority of people.

Considering the huge success and acclaim of The September Issue and other documentaries, there is little wonder a new fashion documentary is back on the silver screen. The First Monday in May, directed by Andrew Rossi, known for his insider and expose films such as Page One: Inside the New York Times or Ivory Tower, is yet another quest into the world of American Vogue. This time, however, the world-class institution is joined by another – The Metropolitan Museum of Art – in a movie which uncovers the preparations, ordeals and, inevitably, fun, that goes into putting together The Met’s annual fashion exhibition and its famous opening night  – The Met Ball.

On the first Monday in May 2015, The Met was witness to red carpet event extraordinaire. A charity event like no other. Set up to sponsor the Consume Institute of the museum, The Met Ball is a party everyone wants to attend, but only a few make the cut. A party that sees the most glamorous fashions and amazing performances. A party everyone talks about, knows about and pores over the next morning on the Vogue website. A party which, in 2015, raised $12.5 million. Now, who said parties were frivolous?

Celebrating the launch of the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition, models, actors and actresses, musicians, politicians, designers and fashion folk stepped out on the famous Met stairs in the best couture money can buy, all beautiful-faced and smiling at the cameras, as everyone screamed their names. Looks easy, doesn’t it? Well, this is exactly the myth Rossi’s new film works to abolish. The ball is only a reward for the incredibly hard and demanding work, sleepless nights, juggling diplomatic concerns with making a strong statement (such as displaying an image of Mao Zedong among Buddha statues), thousands of meetings, travelling all over the world and very tight schedules that precede and allow the unveiling of the magical world created inside The Met. Following the fantastic Andrew Bolton, the head curator of The Met’s Costume Institute, and his right-hand and a Met trustee, Anna Wintour, The First Monday in May tells a tale of the exhibition, from conception, through its many issues, successes and worries, to its final stages. It is a moving portrait of a man who has dedicated his life to the museum and to fashion – to showing that clothing is, indeed, a form of artwork and not a medium that can be dismissed as something irrelevant or superficial. It is, too, a portrait of a woman who is often seen as fierce and cold, but who, in the movie, shows her passions and worries, where we see her as a mother and as someone completely in awe of art and fashion, someone who even appears humble at times.

The First Monday in May has nail-biting drama at times. It is deep, intellectual, and moving. It has stunning imagery, rare cameos by John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and the late Bill Cunningham. It marries two distinct cultures beautifully and tactfully. It allows everyone a look into the most exclusive event on the social calendar and lets those unable to visit the exhibition discover its treasures at home. Ultimately, it is loads of fun, “a Super Bowl of social fashion events” according to André Leon Tally, who is also filmed tutting at Mr and Mrs Clooney for not stopping to talk to him. Diane von Furstenberg also seems to be having a blast, strutting her stuff to Rihanna’s live performance of Bitch Better Have My Money. If it’s good enough for fashion royalty, it sure is good enough for us. Just in case you needed more reasons to drop everything and run to the nearest cinema, with 800,000 visitors, China: Through the Looking Glass topped the blockbuster Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. Now, surely, a movie about that is worth seeing!