MA Documenting Fashion 2017-18 Farewell

Just like that our MA has flown by and the Documenting Fashion group of 2017-18 graduates with our Masters in the History of Art on Monday! Documenting Fashion blog co-runners Olivia and I wanted to say goodbye and thank you for following along! As we reflect on this wonderful year, we’re sharing some behind-the-scenes photos and our favorite memories. Below are some lists I’ve compiled from the group reminiscing about moments from our time in class, our trips, and of course, our best food moments.

Niall and Arielle admire Rebecca’s Kim Kardashian Selfie book

In class:

  • Viewing the Courtauld’s collection of fashion magazines such as the Gazette du Bon Ton
  •  Rebecca’s seminar on Vionnet and the big reveal of her favorite Vionnet dress
  •  Book time! – For each seminar Rebecca would collect books from her impressive collection which pertained to that weeks topic. It was endlessly exciting and I think we all have book wish-lists a mile long now
  • Dr. Adrian Garvey’s guest lecture on film and World War II
  • Our seminar on Gordon Parks
  • last but certainly not least, when we were fortunate to have been visited by our favorite dachshund, Koda

The group with Beatrice Behlen at The Museum of London

Nelleke at the Posturing exhibit

Field trips:

  • Our first visit to the Courtauld’s own prints and drawing collection
  • V&A Blythe house where we got to see some show-stoppers
  • Our multiple visits to the Museum of London – especially when we considered dress and biography
  • Visiting Autograph APB
  • The Mod New York exhibition in NYC where we collectively marveled at the beautiful exhibition design and danced to the groovy playlist

Spotted: Destinee, Olivia, Niall, and Grace on the steps of the Met in NYC – xoxo Documenting Fashion

Food:

  • Our weekly after seminar lunches in the Coutauld cafe
  • Tutorials at Federation Coffee in Brixton
  • When Evie brought us to Fish n Chips in Camberwell
  • Our lunch at by Chloe during dissertation work

 

For me, the best part of this year has been the friendship I’ve found in my Documenting Fashion classmates. As you can tell from our posts, we all approach dress differently but we are also extremely supportive and encouraging of each other’s thoughts and work. Our personalities meshed together so well since day one and we have had such fun together while also pushing each other to think differently, and ultimately, be better art historians. I am truly thankful to have gone through this experience with such a lovely group of people.

Thank you for reading. We are so looking forward to what the next MA Documenting Fashion group creates for you starting in September.

Abby Fogle

Wilde Child: an homage to a key figure in defining queer aesthetics

 

The trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895 led to, as historians have argued, a conceptualisation and increased awareness of homosexuality. Within previous centuries the biblical notion of ‘sodomy’ fuelled the belief that all sexuality was fluid and that every man was capable of committing the heinous crime of same-sex relations. As a result of the Wilde trials however, the newly defined legal and medical idea of the ‘homosexual’ allowed for sexual orientation to become a marker of identity. It is no surprise, therefore, that this new label of social categorisation infiltrated ways of dressing and enabled the notion of homosexual style to emerge.

Within the exhibition catalogue, Queer Style, Valerie Steele locates the inception of homosexual dress within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in her discussion of Oscar Wilde. Wilde is often associated with two differing styles of masculine dress that are oft associated with the figure of the homosexual male: the ‘aesthete’ and the ‘dandy’. Steele defines the ‘aesthete’ as a flamboyantly dressed male whose outlandish sense of style became a marker of sexual deviance. For Wilde, his signature green carnation was adopted as a fashionable statement of such deviance amongst aesthetes.

While aesthetic modes of dress acted as a more visible form of locating the homosexual, dandyism revealed the sexual non-conformity of the individual through the hyper-conformity to male fashions. Steele observes how the dandy adhered to the male sartorial code to such an extent that he distinguished himself from his peers. When Wilde later transitioned to a dandyist approach to dress, he was thus able to signal his ‘deviance’ through conventional fashions. The dandy could protect himself within a heteronormative and homophobic society while also using his hyper-conformity as a means to present his homosexuality to those keen enough to observe it.

Wilde was a key figure in not only raising awareness of homosexual identity, but also in showing how this newly defined identity could be explored through dress. The impact of Wilde’s trial can be felt even now, as you see queer and homosexual aesthetics continually evolving and being redefined. Ultimately, the tragic downfall of Oscar Wilde allowed for the figure of the homosexual to be made visible within a heteronormative society, and it is this visibility that enabled the very notion of queer style to emerge.

5 Minutes With… Niall

 

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

Describe what you are you wearing today?

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

Does your style differ depending on where you are?

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

How would you describe your style?

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

Have you always dressed like this?

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

Do you remember an early fashion memory?

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

Are you associated with the word ‘uniform’?

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

Do you have any favourite accessories?

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

Can you note any inspiration for your style?

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

 

All photographs taken by Niall

 

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

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

Speakers include

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

Organised by

  • Dr Rebecca Arnold – The Courtauld Institute of Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence’s Nightdress Case & Embroidered History

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Spotlight On: ALOK

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

 

Photo sby Elif Kulick

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

 

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

Photo by Alex Hopkins

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

 

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

Exhibition Review: Bruce Davidson Retrospective at Sala Rekalde, Bilbao

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

London, U.K. 1960 Magnum Photos

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

Subway, 1980. New York City Magnum Photos

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

Los Angeles, 2008 Magnum Photos

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dissertation Discussion: Niall

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

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

What led you to choose this subject?

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

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

Nijinksy’s diary.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

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

Favorite place to work?

Where all the action happens: My bedroom 😉