Documenting Fashion


50 YEARS OF HISTORY OF DRESS AT THE COURTAULD Alumni Interviews Part Five: Jennifer Potter,

May 29, 2015 by Lauren

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

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Jennifer Potter, MA (2014)

Jennifer Potter is a graduate intern at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles where she assists in developing grant-making programs in various areas of the arts including museum-work and conservation. Additionally, she is currently involved in the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, a series of thematically linked exhibitions across Southern California that explore Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.

What led you to pursue graduate studies in the field of dress and fashion and what attracted you to the Courtauld in particular?

As an undergraduate, I studied art history and thought that I wanted to become a curator, but I always had a personal interest in fashion. A pivotal experience for me was seeing the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris where I realized that fashion, like art, connected more broadly to identity and ways of seeing the self. I decided to pursue graduate study in art history, and I knew that I wanted to focus on history of dress and textiles. I was always interested in the visual representation of dress so I think this is what attracted me most to the program at the Courtauld. I also especially wanted to study with Dr. Rebecca Arnold, given her prominent reputation in the field.

 You graduated in 2014. What was the topic and structure of your MA course? 

The topic of my MA course was Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Films, and Image in America and Europe, 1920-1945. The course consisted of two parts. In the first term, we studied key methodologies in dress history, and, in the second term, we focused in on American and European fashion and identity during the interwar period. In particular, we looked at fashion’s representation in documentary photography and non-fiction film. The course consisted of seminar-style discussion and object study in several London art and dress collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of London. We also had the opportunity to travel abroad to Washington, D.C. to visit the archives in Library of Congress and the National Museum of American History.

 What was the subject of your dissertation?

My dissertation focused on Irene Castle, an early twentieth-century American social dancer who is most remembered for her refined style of exhibition ballroom dance that she performed in a gown of flowing silk chiffon. My paper argued that Castle used dress as a means of self-promotion and as a marketing tool for modern dance. Through a visual study of three key performance from her career, I situated the dancer within the media and consumer culture of the early twentieth century and positioned her as a key figure in the emergence of the modern woman.

 You were a Student Ambassador during your time at the Courtauld. What did that position entail and did it have a positive impact on your time at the Courtauld?  

As a Student Ambassador, I regularly met with prospective students to share my experience studying at the Courtauld and living in Central London. I had a very positive experience at the Courtauld, and I loved being able to share this with others. I also enjoyed learning about people’s diverse interests within the history of art. MA work is often very solitary and isolating so it was refreshing to meet and share my passion with other students.

What did you gain most from studying at the Courtauld?

The most important skill that I gained from the Courtauld was the ability to flesh out key ideas from a large body of text. I also learned how to analyze objects and images closely.

 You are currently interning at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, can you describe your role there?

As the graduate intern in the Getty Foundation, I have the opportunity to learn about arts and culture philanthropy by working on international grant-making programs in the areas of art history, conservation, museum practice, and professional development. My primary task is to assist the Program Officers in administering grants which includes reviewing incoming grant applications, composing acknowledgement letters and internal grant write-ups, and updating grants information in the FLUXX database system. As a more long-term project, I am responsible for conducting an evaluation of the Foundation’s professional development grants, a program that supports the attendance of colleagues from developing countries at large-scale international forums for professional exchange. This task involves reading through many historical grant files and drafting reports with recommendations for moving forward.

I also have the opportunity to contribute to the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, a series of thematically linked exhibitions across Southern California that explore Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. In particular, I am working with the Deputy Director to help plan a convention for the research and curatorial assistants associated with the exhibitions.

Foundation work is diverse and dynamic, and I have gained a deep understanding of the lifecycle of a grant, including research, assessment, and evaluation.

Did studying dress at the Courtauld provide you with any particular skills – analytic or practical- that have proven useful in your current job and/or any other of your recent endeavors?

Besides (arguably) being the best dressed person at the Getty, studying dress has made me incredibly detail-oriented and visually-aware. These qualities are especially helpful in my current work in the Foundation where I am constantly multi-tasking among different tasks.

 You completed your undergraduate studies in Florida, your graduate studies in the UK and you are currently working in California. Have you noticed that the different places you have visited possess unique fashion trends?

I think that the social culture of a place and the weather influences fashion trends. At my large university in Florida, there was a lot of comradery around the school and the sports teams, and this shaped how people dress (orange and blue!). Given the climate, there was also a lot of Lilly Pulitzer and flip flops. In London, black was definitely the uniform. Now, in California, I find the fashion to be very laidback and bohemian. Especially in Santa Monica where I live, many people dress for an easy transition to the beach or the gym. I find it really refreshing.

 Describe your style. Has studying the history of dress had any effect on your fashion choices?  

My style is constantly evolving. I travel and move around a lot so I definitely find that how I dress is influenced by where I am. I like to follow trends, but I also am a self-described vegan hippie who enjoys dressing up a pair of yoga pants and making morally- and ethically-minded purchases.

I think that studying the history of dress has actually made me more confident and adventurous in what I choose to wear. I now understand how dress is bound up with body image and identity so it really has become my primary means of expressing myself to the world.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I see myself living somewhere sunny and warm, working in a job that I love, and surrounded by a community of like-minded people who support me.

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‘Dress and History Since 1965′ from Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women Conference, May 2015

May 26, 2015 by Rosily

Dr Rebecca Arnold delivering her paper at the 'Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Make Women conference'

Dr Rebecca Arnold delivering her paper at the ‘Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Make Women conference’
organisers Dr Rebecca Arnold, Liz Kutesko and Lucy Moyse

organisers Dr Rebecca Arnold, Liz Kutesko and Lucy Moyse

On 16 May we held our conference ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women,’ to celebrate our 50th Anniversary, and we wanted to share the introductory lecture ‘Dress and History since 1965,’ with our readers. This talk was given by Dr Rebecca Arnold, and was written in collaboration with the conference’s other organisers, and current PhD students, Lucy Moyse and Elizabeth Kutesko.

We’ve included some of the illustrations shown during the talk and also it’s abstract:

This talk considers the development of History of Dress at The Courtauld Institute since its inception in 1965, and the subject’s development and relationship to art history over this fifty year period. It will examine the context of History of Dress’ emergence as a discrete academic field and relate this to contemporary writing and scholarship on dress and fashion. Within this, the role of women will be analysed to situate our conference’s title ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women’, in relation to the discipline’s emergence, its reception and its sometimes contested significance and meaning within wider academia.
Dress History will be framed as a potentially radical and innovative way to rethink history, and art history, bringing to light new insights into a given period. The importance of dress and fashion to women, and the changing landscape of gender politics over this period sharpens our exploration of the History of Dress, and The Courtauld’s importance as its pioneer within the academy.

We hope you enjoy reading it!

‘Dress & History since 1965′ pdf

Images from the paper:

Four items currently displayed within the Dress Historiography: 500 Years of Fashion Books exhibition, The Courtauld Institute

Four items currently displayed within the Dress Historiography: 500 Years of Fashion Books exhibition, The Courtauld Institute

nvoice to Dodie Smith, Stella Mary Newton (née Pearce) Haute Couture, 1934

nvoice to Dodie Smith, Stella Mary Newton (née Pearce) Haute Couture, 1934

Professor Aileen Ribeiro photographed with the Harris Textiles Collection in the 1970s

Professor Aileen Ribeiro photographed with the Harris Textiles Collection in the 1970s

MA students examining an 18th century stomacher, Harris Textiles Collection

MA students examining an 18th century stomacher, Harris Textiles Collection

Professor Joanna Woodall speaking at the Helene Fourment Study Day, The Courtauld, April 2015

Professor Joanna Woodall speaking at the Helene Fourment Study Day, The Courtauld, April 2015

MA students looking at items in store at Museum at FIT, during a study trip to New York City

MA students looking at items in store at Museum at FIT, during a study trip to New York City

PhD student Alexis Romano preparing the Winter Mode exhibition

PhD student Alexis Romano preparing the Winter Mode exhibition

nstagram post of an Addressing Images Even

nstagram post of an Addressing Images Even

 

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Ready-to-wear, rupture and continuity in the space of Elle magazine post 1968

May 26, 2015 by Alexis

Image

The student protests of May 1968 brought focus to Paris’ streets on national and global levels, and this was echoed in French fashion imagery. A ready-to-wear editorial in the 2 September 1968 issue of Elle by Claude Brouet and Marie-Thérèse des Cars set the tone for the straightforward representation of women and the city that would characterise those in magazines in the latter part of the decade and into the next. Here, Peter Knapp photographed women in the streets of Paris, walking or standing against city walls, sometimes looking beyond the camera or directly into its lens. In one image, a model traversed the picture plane in long, confident strides with one arm stretched upwards, as though to shield her face from the bright sunlight. This pose was repeated throughout the editorial; in some instances, the model’s smile was absent, turning the functional gesture into one of protest. In view of the student protests and strikes that engulfed the country three months earlier, contemporary readers might have interpreted the editorial in terms of solidarity.

Indeed, in this imagery, Knapp may have directly referenced the first day of the protest, in which many commentators later remarked on the still, sunny aspect of Paris’ streets before violence erupted. In the 17 June 1968 issue of Elle, for example, journalist Denise Dubois-Jallais contrasted what began as “a lovely Friday in May” with the image of “[…] enraged young people, cobblestones in hand, running towards a police car and, all of a sudden, the noise of shattered glass […].” And although those protests did not focus on women’s rights, they served as a symbolic call to arms, according to commentaries such as that by Michèle Perrein, in the 21 October 1968 issue of Elle. In an article on her personal experience of sexual inequality, Perrein wrote that: “the student revolt […] did me well, so much that I felt, deep down, it corresponded to my own.” Likewise, Knapp’s images represented the calm period that loomed before more vocalised feminist struggles in 1970, the year that saw the establishment of the Mouvement de Liberation des Femmes, as well as Elle’s Etat Généraux de la Femme debates.

Political concern was also held in tension within the text that accompanied Kanpp’s images. It conceived of ready-made fashion in terms of action and choice. The author ranked the season’s clothing trends as secondary to the reader herself, who would deploy the clothing to feel comfortable and liberated in it: “But the essential, in all that, will be you. Your way of choosing clothing for its comfort and freedom […].” The text thus highlighted both continuity and rupture. Magazines had promoted ready-made clothing’s freeing attributes—achievable through the wearer’s skill and personality—since they began to feature ready-to-wear in the mid-1950s. However, given magazines’ constant representation of novelty, these attributes were repositioned in view of the May protests to signify the reader’s recognition of her control and capability.

The clothing produced in the mid to late-1960s also worked alongside Elle’s new discussion of wearer experience. From the mid 1960s, magazines characterised jersey and other knitted garments as second skins. And consumer testimonies were consistent, such as that of Monique Naudeix, who recounted how her prized knitted jackets by Sonia Rykiel from the late 1960s “hugged the body.” Peter Knapp’s photographs in the 8 September 1969 issue of Elle highlighted the ways in which fabric clung to and draped against models’ moving bodies. Several small images flanked central ones to depict subsequent steps in the act of walking. In one image, a model wore a knitted ensemble by Sonia Rykiel, a garment that allowed for her swiftness, evidenced by its blurred edges that also blurred the boundaries between body and fabric. These photographs showcased clothing for easy, confident feminine movement. Also central to the image, although secondary in importance to the monumental, active model, was the Paris street, which imbued it with urban capital. And after the events of May 1968, simple streets and pavements assumed an iconic status. As opposed to post-war imagery, in which models hesitatingly tested Paris’ new spaces, busy with street traffic, that symbolised modernity, in 1969 and 1970, magazines showcased women walking assertively on Paris’ pavements. In her June 1968 article, Denise Dubois-Jallais unknowingly set the stage for these visualisations in her description of the aftermath of the May barricades: “the people, curious, arrived with the sun. No cars. The streets [were] like pavements. No cars except for burned carcasses (what a symbol!).”

 

Sources

Denise Dubois-Jallais, “Sous le balcon d’Albertine, cinq mois, une révolution éclate,” Elle, nos. 1171, 1172, 1173, 17 June 1968.

Michèle Perrein, “Le droit de renaitre,” Elle, no. 1192, 21 October 1968, 35.

Elle, no. 1185, 2 September 1968.

Author, Interview with Monique Naudeix, Paris, 1 December 2014.

 

We will be posting a sneak peak of our Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women conference on the blog later today, for those who missed it. Watch this space for this special unscheduled post!

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Beneath the Corset

May 22, 2015 by Lisa

X-Ray image showing the ill-effects upon the ribcage. Dr. Ludovic O’Followell, Le Corset (1908)

X-Ray image showing the ill-effects upon the ribcage. Dr. Ludovic O’Followell, Le Corset (1908)

X-Ray images showing the ill-effects upon the ribcage. Dr. Ludovic O’Followell, Le Corset (1908)

X-Ray images showing the ill-effects upon the ribcage. Dr. Ludovic O’Followell, Le Corset (1908)

The corset is a highly problematic garment that represents a multitude of signifiers. Imbibed with connotations of gender, history, and sex, the corset is an example of how dress can transcend mere sartorial choice, and come to represent more than just undergarments. In whichever context the corset is placed, the undercurrents of its history and its present are brought to mind in a clash of temporalities, whereby contemporary connotations of sex and fetishism are placed onto the historical garment. More so than any other object of dress, the corset raises questions of the body, pain, control and oppression as well as history. When thinking about the way dress shapes and changes the body, one automatically thinks of the extremes; implants, tattoos and piercings. However, body modification through dress, or the way that the body is altered through dress is not relegated to subcultures and foreign groups, but is part of the history of dress, and the present fashion system.

The nineteenth century fashion for tight lacing that gave women tiny, waspish waists through the aid of whalebone corsets is an example of how dress can change a person’s physiognomy through extreme body manipulation. Though these effects are evident in the altered external silhouette of the body, the internal, and often damaging, modifications are difficult to comprehend.

In 1908, Dr. Ludovic O’Followell, a French doctor interested in the long-term effects of corsets on the body, published x-rays of women’s bodies altered by the constricting items. The images show the movement of the rib-cage structure, with the lower ribs pointing downwards and collapsing towards each other in some cases. Medical images and testimonies such as these, along with stories of organs being shifted, women fainting, and the suppression of appetites, provoked debate and calls for Dress reforms in the nineteenth century; a call that was answered when the uncorseted designs of Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny were in vogue.

The images also help to cement the contemporary preconception of the corset as a tool of bodily constriction and nineteenth century social oppression of women. The contemporary association of the corset to the body in pain, its relationship to fetish subcultures and therefore its alignment to sex, heighten this notion of the corset as a gendered, taboo, and archaic object of dress. Images of contemporary tight-lacing enthusiasts such as Ethel Granger, Mr. Pearl, Fakir Musafar, and Cathie Jung show the body transformed permanently through corsetry. The defiance of modern hetero-normative gender roles, ideal body shape, and silhouette through their practice distinguish them as ‘other’, and not part of the mainstream, everyday fashion system.

However, the corset is an object that has arguably never left fashion. Corsets appear and reappear each season as items of supporting underwear and risqué outerwear. Even the subculture icons of Ethel Granger and Mr Pearl entered the conventional fashion system. Photographs of Ethel Granger appeared in Vogue Italia, inspiring and featuring alongside an editorial photo-shoot starring Stella Tennant. Mr Pearl, a corsetiere, is renowned throughout the fashion world for his craftsmanship and skill, with regular commissions from Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Thierry Mugler. He also designs the corsets worn by Dita von Teese during her Burlesque performances.

 For the majority of people though the corset is no longer an item of everyday wear, however it is impossible to say that the sartorial choices we make do not impact our bodies. Though not to the bone-crushing extent of the nineteenth century, our clothes leave imprints and indents in our skin. Items of underwear like bras or the fashion for tighter and tighter skinny jeans leave imprints and lines in our flesh from the restriction of these garments. The photographer Justin Bartels documented women’s bodies that show the ephemeral traces of clothing. As examples of body modification in fashion the photographs oppose the concept of twentieth century fashion as a site of bodily liberation. They suggest that contemporary standards of beauty have simply replaced older regimes of discipline. Where once a framework held the body in place through fabric and laces, our bodies are now kept in line through exercise regimes and diets. Bartels’ photographs literalise the traces of the nineteenth century whalebone corset on the modern female body.

 Sources:

Joanne Entwistle, The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory (United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2004)

Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity (United States: University of California press 1992)

Susan Vincent, The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today (United Kingdom: Berg Publishers, 2010) p.133.

 

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War, Women and Lipstick

May 19, 2015 by Brianna

WarWomenLipstick

‘War, Women and Lipstick’, House of Tangee Advertisement, Vogue, July 15, 1943, page 75.

In recent months, countless hours perusing the US Vogue database has enabled, or rather become an outlet for, my intense cosmetics and advertisement addiction.

There is much pleasure to be had in tracing the origins of what we now consider to be heritage brands, and the pivotal campaigns that have shaped their iconic status. In many cases, Second World War years were fundamental, as the backdrop of turmoil and increased social changes inevitably became a barometer of cosmetic houses’ ability to adapt and remain relevant. At the same time however, the progression from the 1930s into the 1940s stood to magnify the deeply complex relationship shared between the cosmetics industry and women.

In a recent Man Repeller article, the modern use of cosmetics was categorized as either ‘shield’, or ‘weapon’. This echoes a study undertaken in 2008 by LVMH researchers that attributed two inherent abilities to cosmetics: the ability to ‘camouflage’, and the ability to ‘seduce’. Hardly a revelation, yet the recognition that camouflage relies on an internal desire, while seduction relies on the external surface, was as pertinent if applied to examples from the 1930s and 1940s, as it is to today’s cosmetics.

As we saw in Nicole’s January post, ‘Cosmetics: freedom in a tube’, the 1930s was synonymous with possibility and opportunity. Not only for the liberation of the female body in terms of activity, but for the promotion of a new visual discourse that encouraged exploration of surface identity through the use cosmetics. In this respect, the cosmetics industry was pivotal in mobilizing both the wearer and spectator, as makeup became a recognizable symbol of free will and autonomy- a ‘shield’ with which to navigate, or identify modern femininity. What is clear moving into the 1940s is the apparent reversal of feminine ideals, repositioning women both as wearer and consumer, and cosmetics as ‘weapon’. Though this is surely to be expected during such upheaval, the wearer becomes a vessel though which the aims of the nation can be expressed, and thus loses her individual identity under the guise of ‘femininity’.

It was a common strategy for all cosmetics houses, not limited to industry behemoths such as Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, to focus on the collective identity of women rather than their individuality. In doing so, they expressed what David Clampin has stated as the desire of the industry to participate in wartime society. The above advert from the House of Tangee, for example, encourages women to wear lipstick as a show of ‘strength’ for adapting so courageously to their new roles in masculine spheres. Superficially, the imagery employed by the advert suggests support for the freedom of female expression solidified in the ‘30s. However, such a ‘shield’ is re-positioned by the cosmetic house as a ‘weapon’, as femininity itself becomes an extension of the nation’s ambition to assert supremacy over Germany – a country that discouraged such displays of femininity. Makeup therefore becomes emblematic of carrying out a task, even if it is not a product of the wearer’s free will. The spectator recognizes cosmetics as national ambition, over the ambition of the wearer. In this light, solidarity is achieved, but external forces manipulate ‘self-expression’.

It is arguable, when following the trajectory of advertisements after the war that the use of makeup never quite returns to being the show of independence that it was in the ‘30s. There is always a task to be completed, often requiring seduction of some sort. Next time you are browsing the pages of a magazine, question whether the advert is positioning makeup as a shield, or as a weapon. I think you will be surprised.

Sources:

David Clampin, Advertising and Propaganda in World War II: Cultural Identity and the Blitz Spirit (New York: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2014)

R. Korichi, D. Pelle-de-Queral, G. Gazano, A. Aubert, Why women use makeup: implication of psychological traits in makeup functions, J Cosmet Sci, 2008 Mar-April, 59 (2)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18408870

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‘Second Skin’ Exhibition at London’s City Hall

May 15, 2015 by Rosily

Jennifer Rothwell's garment

Jennifer Rothwell’s garment

Natalie B Coleman's garment

Natalie B Coleman’s garment

Joanne Hynes' garment

Joanne Hynes’ garment

London’s City Hall is perhaps the least likely venue for an exhibition on sustainable fashion, however it was the setting for the recent ‘Second Skin,’ an exhibition that first opened in Ireland and came to London for a week in late March. It was part of the Irish Design 2015 programme and posed a challenge to four Irish fashion labels to source and create a garment totally within Ireland.

Lennon Courtney's garment

Lennon Courtney’s garment

The exhibition, nestled right at the bottom of the round glass building, displayed the finished garments, as well as photographs from the process of their manufacture. Starting with a series of fairly shocking facts about the fashion industry, such as ‘the Chinese textile industry creates about three billion tons of soot each year,’ and ‘in the UK 1.4 million tons of clothing is dumped onto landfills annually,’ it highlighted the ethical issues caused by the production and consumption of clothing.  In the past three decades, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed, and therefore it is vital that the fashion industry adapts its practices. There are, of course, also the humanitarian concerns that the production of clothing creates, such as the sweatshop conditions that many people, often young children, must work in to make the garments that we buy. It is often easy to overlook the ethical and environmental issues posed by the fashion industry, so displaying them so starkly is an important wake up call for many people. The objects on display in ‘Second Skin’ address these issues, as they are created using purely locally sourced materials and by Irish workers who were paid a fair wage.

 Curator Louise Allen writes that ‘today we have become used to fast fashion [however] we don’t tend to consider the collective impact of our individual buying patterns.’ This desire for cheap clothing that is not made to last is a fairly new phenomenon. For most of the twentieth century, the emphasis was on high quality clothing that could be worn for a long period of time. Our contemporary throwaway attitude is one of the main problems facing, and indeed caused by, the fashion industry, and something that the designers in ‘Second Skin’ seek to address.

The garments created by brands Natalie B Coleman, Joanne Hynes, Lennon Courtney and Jennifer Rothwell for the exhibition are the opposite of cheap, convenience clothes. They are handmade and unique garments, all inspired by aspects of Ireland. Natalie B Coleman, for example, was inspired by books from her childhood, such as ‘The Enchanted Wood’ series by Enid Blyton, and worked with textile artist Caroline Schofield to create objects both dark and whimsical. Jennifer Rothwell drew her inspiration from folklore and mythology, working with artist Harry Clarke to create a dress that resembled stained glass windows. She used vivid purples, blues, oranges and reds to depict the Eve of St Agnes. She claims to want to reignite the Celtic revival of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries today.

Sonya Lennon, of Lennon Courtney, worked with a local furniture designer to create the wooden shoulder pads that adorn her dress. She says that ‘the real value of producing in Ireland is in developing collaborative relationships.’ This intimate working relationship, that used to be so important in homemade and handmade clothes, is lost when garments are made by many different people who are part of a large system. Joanne Hynes also worked with local craftsmen to create her knitted garment, however, her use of 3D printing is aspirational and looks towards the future of textile production.

The 'Second Skin' exhibition space

The ‘Second Skin’ exhibition space

This exhibition served to highlight the importance of sustainability in fashion, especially in the years to come. It also showed how unique and beautiful clothing can be when created by local craftsmen and using locally sourced materials. It also provided an interesting insight into the contemporary fashion manufacturing process. The one shame is that it was on display in London for such a limited period, and in such an unheard of and little advertised exhibition space.

 Sources:

http://www.nationalcraftgallery.ie/secondskin/essay

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Zuzu Angel

May 12, 2015 by Liz

Zuzu Angel, the mother of Brazilian fashion, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo

Zuzu Angel, the mother of Brazilian fashion, Itau Cultural, Sao Paulo

The Pepsi Ladies, 1965

The Pepsi Ladies, 1965

Pink organza dress of pure silk, no date

Pink organza dress of pure silk, no date

I’m currently researching a paper that I plan to give at the conference we are holding on the 16th May, ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women’. My paper is entitled ‘Zuzu Angel: Fashioning Resistance to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, New York, 13th September, 1971’ and concerns the Brazilian fashion designer Zuzu Angel, who earned the title ‘Woman of the Year’ in 1969, awarded by the National Council of Women in Brazil.

On 14th May 1971, Zuzu’s son, twenty-six year old Brazilian student Stuart Edgar Angel Jones, was ‘forcibly disappeared’ in Rio de Janeiro by the intelligence agents of the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985). This was because Stuart was a leader of the left-wing guerrilla organisation, MR-8, who opposed the right-wing regime, which was covertly supported as a result of Cold War tactics by the U.S. government.

Prior to Stuart’s disappearance, Zuzu was celebrated for her exotic and colourful designs that drew on folkloric images of Brazil, such as Carmen Miranda and tropical flora and fauna. Yet following 13th September 1971, when Zuzu held a fashion show at the general consul of Brazil’s residence in New York, her designs initiated a radical change in tone. As she explained: ‘Four months ago, when I began to think about [the show], I was inspired by my country’s colourful flowers and the beautiful birds. But, then, suddenly this nightmare entered my life and the flowers lost their colour and the birds went crazy and I produced a collection with a political theme’.

Some of Zuzu's fabric prints

Some of Zuzu’s fabric prints

I began my research last year in Sao Paulo, whilst on a study trip researching my PhD at National Geographic Brasil headquarters. My time spent in Sao Paulo coincided with a fashion exhibition about Zuzu, held at the Itau Cultural Centre (1 April 2014 – 11 May 2014). It was curated by her daughter Hildegard Angel, a journalist and founder of the Instituto Zuzu Angel, with Valdy Lopes Jn, Itau Cultural’s art director, and entitled ‘Occupation Zuzu: Mother of Brazilian Fashion’.

The exhibition presented dresses, documents, objects, sketches, photographs and letters, some of which Zuzu wrote to famous Brazilian and foreign intellectuals, politicians, such as Henry Kissinger, and celebrities, such as Brazilian singer Chico Buarque, all connected to her attempt to draw international attention to her son’s assassination. Most notable in the collections displayed was the drastic change in Zuzu’s designs after 1971, which were much darker and more solemn, as can be seen in a long black silk gown printed with gold detail. Designs such as this one marked a stark contrast from earlier collections, which were exuberant and colourful, as can be seen in Pepsi Ladies (ca. 1965), and in her print designs, which used embroidered tropical birds.

My paper will examine the coverage of Zuzu’s sobering collection in the United States fashion press to consider the representation of women and maternal femininity. This will be contextualised within the broader news coverage of systematic torture in Brazil that was reported under the military regime. I’ve already done some research at the National Library in Rio de Janeiro, but I’ll be visiting the British Library to look at American papers such as the New York Times and Washington Post. Zuzu’s story is a chilling one in Brazilian fashion history, namely because she died in 1976, in a car crash whilst traveling late at night through one of the tunnels in Rio de Janeiro. It was discovered later that her car had been doctored by the Brazilian political police and her early death, like Stuart’s, was not coincidental.

Photo of Zuzu with a model

Photo of Zuzu with a model, date unknown, probably mid 1960s

Mourning of Zuzu, ca 1971-76, a mix of pure silk and muslin

Mourning of Zuzu, ca 1971-76, a mix of pure silk and muslin

‘Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Make Women’, a conference celebrating fifty years of history of dress at the Courtauld, will take place on 16 May at the Courtauld Institute of Art. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/researchforum/events/2015/summer/may16_WomenMakeFashion.shtml

 

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Nick Waplington at Tate Britain

May 8, 2015 by Rebecca

Nick Waplington, Untitled 2008-2009, Tate Britain

Nick Waplington, Untitled from the series ‘Alexander McQueen Working Process’ 2008-09
© Nick Waplington

Nick Waplington, Untitled 2008-2009, Tate Britain

Nick Waplington, Untitled from the series ‘Alexander McQueen Working Process’ 2008-09
© Nick Waplington

Nick Waplington, Untitled 2008-2009, Tate Britain

Nick Waplington, Untitled from the series ‘Alexander McQueen Working Process’ 2008-09
© Nick Waplington

You may not have noticed, but there are currently two exhibitions on in London about Alexander McQueen’s work. While the V&A’s ‘Savage Beauty’ has garnered most of the headlines, and ticket sales, Nick Waplington’s display of photographs he took of McQueen’s ‘Horn of Plenty’ collection of 2009 at Tate Britain, is an excellent insight into working process, and a fascinating combination of artist and designer in terms of themes and approach.

Spread across several rooms, all of which were empty when I visited, the exhibition comprises huge prints that chronicle the collection’s progress from initial ideas, through mood boards, fittings and fabric choices, to the ultimate culmination of months of work – the catwalk show. What is so refreshing in Waplington’s images is his ability to capture the emotions of those involved, and, allied to this, the number of people necessary to produce such complex designs. His photographs show McQueen, at times elated, at times exhausted, surrounded by the detritus of a busy studio.  Spools of material, the omnipresent pin cushion wristbands worn by assistants, packets of cigarettes, chocolate bars, pens and sketches scattered on desks, as McQueen’s team strive to perfect each design, and thus its moment of triumph on the runway. Fit models stand stoically, as fabric is swathed and pinned to their form. Accessories are tried out and assembled. Each stage presents new complications, and new approaches, as shown in the detailed images.

Waplington juxtaposes these stills of fashion’s work in progress with photographs taken from a landfill site not far from McQueen’s studio. Each room in the exhibition presents the viewer with comparisons between luxury and excess, and the gruesome, yet oddly aesthetic piles of rubbish consumer society leaves in its wake. In each case, Waplington’s technical approach to his subject is evident; as much care is taken in a composition of fabric swatches pinned to a board, as with a stack of discarded compressed papers and food wrappers. The East End is therefore shown as a site of both creation and destruction, or rather of the beginning and end of the consumer food chain. Location becomes significant to each – part of McQueen’s own heritage and identity, and the throwaway culture and hidden recesses of the city where rubbish is laid to rest.

The final room is painted black; a literal dark room that glows with light boxes, each displaying an image of the catwalk shows backstage theatricality. Models are dressed in the final designs – and McQueen’s themes of exaggeration are dramatised further by their red lipsticked mouths and whited out faces. Waplington’s juxtapositions become even sharper, as the delicate silks used to create ‘plastic bag’ hats are worn by elegant women for the ensuing show, their gauzy delicacy mimicking the plastic sheaths photographed so scrupulously in the previous rooms.

The exhibition as a whole is an incredible journey through McQueen’s work on this self-consciously retrospective collection. He was reflecting on his own oeuvre, on the extremes of femininity that fascinated him, on his own roots and influences. In turn, Waplington’s approach mirrors and amplifies this, his artistic sensibility commenting on what he witnessed, and his role as outsider/observer of McQueen’s relentless pursuit of a fashion aesthetic that was self-reflexive and critical of its own world view.

‘Nick Waplington, Alexander McQueen: Working Process’ is on at the Tate Britain until 17 May

Sources:

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/nick-waplingtonalexander-mcqueen-working-process

https://www.nowness.com/story/nick-waplington-alexander-mcqueen-working-process-tate-britain

 

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De Djess: A Cinderella Story for MiuMiu

May 5, 2015 by Katerina

De Djess

The Ninth Women’s Tale for MiuMiu’s Spring Summer 2015 collection is told from the perspective of a newborn dress, or ‘djess,’ according to the film’s fictitious gamelot. In Alice Rohrwacher’s film, the dress, animated by stop-motion, is no mere piece of stuff, but a fully sentient being. According to animator Michaelangel Fornaro, being a feminine object, the dress had to possess the delicate, deft mannerisms of a woman. Certainly, thanks to an internal rig, its white satin body ripples with emotion, and the fringe of polyp-like beads that fringe its deep neckline, function as sensitive antennae.

The dress, which is different from its gaudier sisters in the collection, with their graphic prints, suggestive cuts and jazzy embellishments, resonates with fairytale or indeed couture show endings. Those familiar with either form, might comprehend that the white, ethereal garment is a wedding dress, and that it is saving itself for someone special.

The dress’s original intended is Divina, an Anita Ekberg-like actress with a halo of platinum blonde hair and a hibiscus-red mouth, who courts the paparazzi in a tight, scarlet pencil skirt. However, when the dress is presented to her in her hotel suite, where she reigns supreme in a white bullet bra and sheer tights, she is indifferent to it. She continues to talk on the telephone, despite entreaties from her agent, and caresses from the garment itself. After a tantrum, she reluctantly agrees to wear it, but the moment she touches it, the scorned dress mysteriously pricks her finger, and a drop of blood stains its white surface. It squeals in protest, and sobs ricochet through its satin body, as it sheds a trail of beads, and goes into hiding under the bed.

The dress and Divina’s mutual rejection of one another, somewhat evokes that of Cinderella’s stepsisters and the fateful slipper in Charles Perrault’s classic fairytale. Despite their best efforts, which include cutting off their toes,  in the Grimm Brothers’ later adaptation, the stepsisters cannot deceive the shoe, and by extension, the Prince, that it belongs to them. Rohrwacher’s cinematic tale draws upon the older fairytale’s premise that bespoke garments and their associated destinies, are the property of particular owners. However, her film is less morally clear than the Cinderella fairytale, because though Divina is blind to the dress’s extraordinary nature, she is wise enough to recognise that it is not for her.

De Djess 2

In another modification of the Cinderella story, the dress’s true intended, at first seems an unlikely candidate. A ingenuous, bare-faced, black maid, played by Yanet Majica, appears on scene, when she scrambles out from beneath the dust cloud of paparazzi. The viewer instantly recognises her as the highly-strung dress’s rightful wearer, because she is sensitive to every bead it sheds. However, she is initially  intercepted by a nun, who indicates that she must take it to Divina. Like Cinderella and the slipper, the maid and the dress find each other once more, and when she discards her maid’s uniform, it automatically glides up her stem-like body. If Perrault had scripted this tale, we might have expected the spot of blood to clear away in its contact with the maid’s virtuous flesh. However, Rohrwacher is once again more interesting, as the spot becomes the beginning of a cherry pattern that embroiders the dress.  Rohrwacher described this as the dress’s blossoming, because ‘it hadn’t already blossomed,’ and was therefore unfinished, prior to wear. Equally, the shy, serious maid, is incomplete without the dress, because she only smiles after she has put it on. As they step out to greet the zealous paparazzi, both dress and maid laugh audibly when they recognise that the latter have run out of battery. Thus, the dress lives happily ever after with the one who truly loves it, rather than merely wanting to capture its beauty. Rohrwacher thus subtly implies that aesthetic fulfilment is reached through the wear of bespoke garments, and not through the accumulation of images.

Sources

‘De Djess’ Directed by Alice Rohrwacher, for MiuMiu, Spring/Summer 2015. Posted on February 17, 2015

’De Djess’ Interview with Michaelangelo Fornaro. Published February 18, 2015.

 

 

 

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The White Wedding Dress in ‘For Richer, For Poorer: Weddings Unveiled’ at the Jewish Museum

May 1, 2015 by Lauren

Untitled1

The Jewish Museum recently opened a small but evocative exhibition showcasing the history of Jewish weddings in Britain from the 1880s to the mid-twentieth century. When walking through the exhibition I came across intimate, precious and rare objects relating to weddings that ranged from a local Jewish matchmaker’s recorded notes to bills for wedding cakes and other hefty expenses. The exhibition is formatted chronologically, and charts the evolution of Jewish weddings with reference to seminal historical and cultural events such as the two World Wars and the shift from predominantly arranged marriages to the custom of courtship that became popularized in the 1920s.

 

For an exhibition documenting the changes within the traditions of Jewish weddings over several decades, I was struck by a remarkable sense of continuity that linked the marital photographs and videos from disparate times. I was bombarded with a plethora of images that invariably featured a blushing bride wearing a white dress and armed with a veil, bouquet of flowers and, of course, a smile. The fashion rhetoric belonging to weddings is evidently deeply entrenched in tradition, as the white, fancy, and long gown continues to be mainstay of the celebratory ritual in contemporary times. Of course, the evolution of trends has inevitably resulted in modifications to the wedding dress in terms of cut, length and fabric. The general silhouette and colour, however, have astonishingly remained virtually the same. For instance, upon examining a wedding dress from 1905 displayed in the museum, I could not help but establish stylistic parallels between my conception of the contemporary white wedding dress and the clearly outdated one situated before me. This dress is, in fact, not a single garment but a silk ensemble consisting of a blouse, belt, skirt and petticoat. Richly ornate, the ruched sleeves and ruffled neck of the blouse are echoed in the matching long skirt with interchanging panels of ruffles and intricate lace details, culminating with several frilled layers at the bottom. While the outfit’s separate pieces and excess of materials render it firmly embedded in its past historical context, the modern day wedding dress is merely a pared down version – conventionally a singular dress rather than an ensemble, often containing minor lace or ruched detailing.

 

The white wedding dress was first popularized in the Victorian era and has persisted throughout centuries, becoming a crucial component of the white wedding phenomenon pervading Western culture. In this vein, although the exhibition focuses exclusively on Jewish weddings in Britain, the static nature of marital fashion fosters a sense of universality, as the fancy white wedding dress’ ubiquity cuts across national, ethnic and class divides.

 

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