Wardrobes in the Museum – Two Exhibitions Examined

Isabella Blow: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty for Somerset House

Isabella Blow: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty for Somerset House

Final Touches Made To Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, A New Somerset House Exhibition

Isabella Blow: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty for Somerset House

Roman d'une garde robe - Coll. été 20-02 copy 2

Roman d’une garde-robe: Raphaël Chipault and Benjamin Soligny

Roman d’une garde-robe: Raphaël Chipault and Benjamin Soligny

Roman d’une garde-robe: Raphaël Chipault and Benjamin Soligny

The wardrobe is a physical space that houses clothing and insinuates expressions of self. It was also the subject of two exhibitions that came to a close this month: Roman d’une garde-robe. Le Chic d’une Parisienne de la Belle Epoque aux Années 30, Musée Galliera, held at the Musée Carnavalet, Paris, and Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! At Somerset House, London examined the ‘wardrobes’ of Alice Alleaume and Isabella Blow, two women who lived during very different periods. Both occupied advantaged positions in society and the fashion world, thus allowing exhibition viewers a privileged glimpse into histories of the early and late years of the 20th century in Paris and London. With the wardrobe as a foundation, as opposed to one designer’s work for example, we can approach fashion as a complex web of topics, sections, and professionals, including Alleaume – head saleswoman at the Maison Chéruit and other couture houses, and Blow – editor, muse, and broker.

The metaphor of the singular wardrobe also presents the personal and subjective dimensions of fashion and allowed viewers, in these instances, to re-examine a well-known media persona, as well as rediscover a forgotten figure. Both exhibitions began with explorations of the family histories of their subjects, which served to establish and extend the narratives chronologically, to Belle Epoque Paris for instance, and psychologically, providing insight into the subjects’ mindsets. In the case of Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!, curated by Alistair O’Neill with Shonagh Marshall, viewers were confronted with fragments of personal and national history that informed how Blow deciphered the world, and subsequently, how viewers analysed the exhibition’s contents.

The notion of the multilayered wardrobe reflects the complexity of any person’s narrative, as well as curators’ scrupulous research. The diverse resources on display at Roman d’une garde-robe, curated by Sophie Grossiord, including letters, paintings, notebooks, photographs, fashion plates, and surviving clothing, reflected the organising institutions’ focus on fashion and Paris history. Most importantly, Grossiord made use of the Paris Archives’ collection of drawings, fabric samples and dépôts de modèles – photographs of numbered garments that protected against copying. During her lecture at the Archives on 6th February, Grossiord explained how they served as valuable tools, along with cahiers de ventes, to piece together historic collections. The curatorial possibilities of these documents, however, are vast.

The wardrobe functioned as spatial metaphor for the installations. O’Neill staged sets that reflected the fanciful, sometimes archival workings of Blow’s psyche and wardrobe. Grossiord was much more conservative in terms of display and did not exploit the wardrobe’s spatial potential. The exhibition, however, situated fashion in the cultural and historic context of Paris due to its location in the Musée Carnavalet, which, according to the brochure, “invites visitors to discover Paris, the world fashion capital, in the company of Alice Alleaume.” Although the exhibition upheld the usual ideas on Paris’ fashion hegemony, its attempt at narrative was respectable. Equally, it would be interesting to use the wardrobe to explore the narratives of more ordinary subjects, which might further drive viewers to turn inward and question their own.

Alexis Romano

Contemporary Reliquaries and Utopian Fashions

Problems Regarding Evolution & French Fashion Exhibitions

Architecture & Fashion: a look at two images from 1964 – 1965

Prêt-à-porter, Subjectivity and Filmic Visualisation in the 1961 French Fashion Press

5 Minutes with… Michaela Zoschg

Elle C’est Vous: Some Comments on French Fashion and Art in the 1960s

Shaping Prêt-a-Porter in the Fourth Republic (1946-58): The Paris/New York Dialogue

50 Years of History of Dress at the Courtauld Alumni Internviews Part 7: Camille Benda, MA (1999)

Faces, Phases and Dress: Zanele Muholi at the Brooklyn Museum

Denis Diderot, ‘Tailleur d’habits et Tailleur de Corps, Contenant Cingt-quatre Clanches,’ extract of Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers (c.1771)

Ready-to-Wear, Rupture and Continuity in the Space of Elle Magazine post 1968

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

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

Observations from Several Sides of the Lens: On Women, Fabric and Space in Maria Kapajeva’s Photographs 

Paris, Capitale Prestigieuse de la Mode

Exhibition Update: Goodbye Summer, Hello Winter! Planning Winter Mode 

Self-expression, Space and Style: A Conversation with Camilla Branda at Bergdorf’s

Fashion Week Reactions Part 1

Collar Meets Bar: Historicism and Circuitous Timelines at Dior 

The Summer Body

Textile Fragments at the Courtauld Institute of Art 

‘Bravo la Confection Francaise!’ Researching French Ready-to-Wear 1947-1957

Flugel, Fashion and Cardboard Cutouts: An Evening at the Fashion Space Gallery

Re-Thinking the Experience and the Representation of Dress 

Wardrobes in the Museum- Two Exhibitions Examined

A French Dress and the OPjectscape of 1965-6

Miniskirts and Mods: A Review of the Mary Quant Retrospective

Museum exhibition, two mannequins wearing raincoats

Rainwear display, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019. (all photos taken by Ali)

Mary Quant brought fun to fashion during the postwar era, a time when clothing rationing had just ended and Christian Dior was strangling women’s waistlines. Quant’s shop Bazaar was the headquarters of the Swinging Sixties, where one could buy miniskirts, neon tights, and psychedelic blouses. She wanted women to have fun again; her miniskirts liberated legs and allowed for dancing and her waterproof mascara held up in a walk through the rain. The V&A’s retrospective of Quant’s work takes viewers chronologically through her career, starting with her unassuming, yet innovative designs of the late 1950s and ending with a showcase of her global brand which produced cosmetics, lingerie, accessories. Although somewhat lacking in imagination, the exhibition proves that Quant’s designs allowed all kinds of women, not just wealthy ones, to incorporate imaginative designs into their wardrobes.

When you enter the exhibition, it’s not a blatantly colorful exhibition about the 1960s mod culture, but it is rather a slow burn that lingers on Quant’s somewhat conservative early designs. Meandering through a display of glass cases, we see that Quant slowly deconstructed fashion rules that existed in the 1950s. Quant did this carefully, as innocent wool pinafores and thick coat jackets with bright patterns dominate the first half of the exhibition. She started to create revolutionary designs by incorporating masculine traits into her fashions. Her use of ties and more shockingly trousers, are a signal of her journey into a completely new style.

Museum vitrine with three mannequins dressed in Mary Quant dresses and coats

Early Mary Quant Designs, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019.

The second floor more clearly conveys the fun and light-heartedness one might expect of Quant’s mod designs. Set in a brightly-lit, white arena, Quant’s brightly colored designs pop and are strikingly contemporary. Glittering tartans, pinstriped raincoats, and crocheted frocks prove not only Quant’s talent in working with many fabrics and techniques, but also her seemingly endless creativity. I found myself making a mental-shopping list of what items I would happily wear on a daily basis (a pink sailor dress and monochrome PVC clutch, please). I could hear people of all ages around me doing something similar, proving Quant’s ability to make her clothes universally attractive by combining comfortability and bold patterns.

Five mannequins in museum wearing mini skirt dresses

Iterations of the miniskirt, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019.

There is a clear attempt throughout the show to breathe life into these clothes, many of which are paralyzed by rigid mannequins. The majority of outfits had an accompanying text panel that explained who owned the garment, why they chose it, and how they wore it. There were also numerous photographs behind the outfits, showing how models or regular women moved and posed in Quant’s clothes. These curatorial efforts suggest that these clothes were not designed to be shown on stiff mannequins, but were designed for walking, skipping, and dancing. Some mannequins strike outlandish poses, but there is an overall dullness that hangs over the exhibition, particularly on the dimly-lit first floor of the two-story exhibition. Quant’s shop Bazaar on King’s Road was known for creating psychedelic, dreamlike tableaus, but this kind of eccentric experimentation and creativity seems absent from the exhibition design. Perhaps I was too optimistic in hoping to see a recreation of one these infamous store front designs behind one of the many glass cases.

The focus on the exhibition is not an experiential recreation of the quirkiness of the 1960s, but a focus on how actual women wore Quant’s designs. At the center of the upstairs display is a giant rounded screen that scrolls through pictures from the 1960s and 1970s of women wearing Quant’s designs. Quotes from these women describe how they wore their Quant pieces and how much they treasure them. In fact, a large portion of clothes in the exhibition were collected from regular women all over the world. The home photos show mothers, working women, brides, and young girls wearing Quant’s clothes and giving them life. This curatorial decision embraces the sacred relationship between designer and customer with the clothing as a bridge between them. Ultimately, this show is really about how Quant democratized the postwar London fashion scene, allowing middle-class women to take part in the exciting and eccentric innovations of mod culture.

Saying ‘au revoir’ to Class of 2019

As another academic year draws to a close, I want to reflect on the wonderful time I have had teaching my Class of 2019 MA Documenting Fashion students…

The autumn term started with a breakfast to greet my new students—and it was clear what an interesting and sparky group they would be.  During the initial thematic classes, we discussed what the terms ‘dress’, ‘fashion,’ ‘costume’, etc. meant and looked at a range of books in our Special Collections—from a 1598 edition of Vecellio’s Habiti antichi, et moderni di tutto il mondo to Paul Iribe’s beautifully illustrated Les robes de Paul Poiret of 1908, to consider the ways fashion has been documented and represented through history.  

Jeordy and Lacey

We talked about our sensory experiences of fashion, fashion’s relationship to memory—personal and historical—and visited archives to develop our ideas. This included a trip to see Beatrice Behlen, Head of Fashion and Decorative Art at the Museum of London, where she showed us several people’s wardrobes; there, the group was entranced by the ways individual style can be recognised and analysed in any era.

Marielle and Daisy

And this was just the opening section of the course and of the students’ entry into the world of Dress History.  It has been so rewarding to see all of you develop from this point—increasing your already considerable skills and finding exciting lines of enquiry as you developed your dissertation topics.  

So, thank you Daisy, Ellen, Fran, Imogene, Jeordy, Lacey, Lily and Marielle—you have all been a complete joy to teach, and I am really looking forward to seeing what you do next. Enjoy the summer—get some well-deserved rest and relish your success at The Courtauld.

 

A Look Back on ‘Fashioning Winter’ at Somerset House

It’s December, the ice rink is up and running in the Somerset House courtyard, and we couldn’t be more excited for Christmas and, more importantly, winter fashion! To get in the mood, we have been looking through the Documenting Fashion archives and reminiscing about the wintery display that Dr Rebecca Arnold, PhD student Alexis Romano and MA History of Dress alumnus Fruszina Befeki curated as part of last year’s Winter Mode exhibition in Somerset House. Their display, Winter Mode, showcased a group of fashion journals from the Courtauld’s collection, giving the reader tips for how look chic in the snow! Read on for a recap of their experiences!

Exhibition Update: Goodbye Summer, Hello Winter! Planning ‘Winter Mode’
by Alexis Romano

Co-curator Fruzsina Befeki puts together a mock display

Co-curator Fruzsina Befeki puts together a mock display

As they design fashion collections, with their clear link to upcoming seasons, designers must continually have the impression of being projected into the future. Fashion’s futurity affects shoppers too, who imagine their bodies in clothing that relates to seasonal elements. Co-curating the display Winter Mode (with Dr Rebecca Arnold and Fruzsina Befeki), one of the exhibitions that constitute Fashioning Winter at Somerset House, has resulted in a similar detachment between present and future for me. Summer and now autumn has been winter focused, as our display explores wintry fashion illustrations from the 1910s and 1920s, and specifically, how illustrators connected the subject to her environment, and represented at once the style, modernity, warmth and comfort of winter dress.

And as a rather warm autumn lingers, installation has already begun! While we, along with head curator Shonagh Marshall and dress historians such as Amy de la Haye, install our individual displays, technicians work to erect the ice skating rink that has inhabited the courtyard of Somerset House for fifteen years each winter. Both rink and exhibition open to the public on 11th November.

Although our installation is only two days away, there is still much to do. Our display showcases the fashion journals Gazette du Bon Ton, Femina and Journal des dames et des modes, and we’ve chosen the individual fashion plates as they relate to our three themes: The Elements, Fashion and Sport. We decided on the content months ago, but we must constantly adapt and adjust the display in view of issues that arise, relating to conservation or to display case constraints for example. And as display objects change so must our overall aesthetic. In the above photograph taken several weeks ago Fruzsina works on one of our mock exhibits! We are especially thankful to Antony Hopkins, Kilfinan Librarian, Head of Book, Witt and Conway Libraries at the Courtauld Institute, and Kate Edmondson, Paper Conservator at the Courtauld Gallery, for their support and guidance during this process.

Each journal on display will be identified by a caption that recalls an antique price tag, which we hope will carry viewers to a figurative shopping space, embellished by layers of history. And although they won’t be able to handle the journals on display, we’ve created a booklet for them to touch and peruse, with the help of the exhibition designer Amy Preston. It is our abstract interpretation of a historic fashion journal, and includes a fashion plate, editor’s letter, and other surprises. Will this intimate interaction heighten readers’ bodily sense of setting, and plunge them into winter? And those who attend some of the exhibitions’ associated events, such as our December workshop, will obtain their very own copy!

4 November, 2014

Installing ‘Winter Mode’ at Somerset House
by Fruszi Befeki

An empty vitrine...

An empty vitrine…

Objects and condition reports

Objects and condition reports

Conservator Frances Halahan and co-curator Alexis Romano look over condition reports

Conservator Frances Halahan and co-curator Alexis Romano look over condition reports

Co-curator Alexis Romano arranging the display

Co-curator Alexis Romano arranging the display

Under glass! The final display awaiting wall text...

Under glass! The final display awaiting wall text…

I must admit, rather unprofessionally perhaps, that I was like a child on Christmas day during yesterday morning’s installation of Winter Mode, a display that I am curating with Dr Rebecca Arnold and Alexis Romano for Fashioning Winter at Somerset House. We had decided on our object list, approved labels, wrote condition reports and even devised a ‘dress rehearsal’ (see Alexis’s blog post from 4th November) well in advance of installation, but we had never seen all of these components come together.

We started our day by going over the contents of our to-do list, which we proceeded to tick off one by one. The two book cradles that Kate Edmondson, The Courtauld’s paper conservator, kindly made for us were ready. They were waiting for us at the studio, along with the two books they were designed to hold. We headed back to Rebecca’s office where we very carefully laid out all of the objects, to go over our sequence and arrangement one last time. This gave us the opportunity to make sure that we had the right viewing dynamic, with the different illustrations’ subjects connecting with one another through the direction of their gaze and body language. All of the fashionable ladies featured in the display are engaged in the act of looking, either at themselves, at art objects or at a winter scene, as if illustrators sought to remind their viewers of their own tendencies. We aimed to highlight this and to animate the display through their interaction.

At two o’clock we headed to the East Wing of Somerset House with boxes in tow, to find the empty vitrine waiting to be filled. Once Shonagh Marshall and Susan Thompson (head curator of Fashioning Winter and Somerset House exhibitions organiser, respectively) had arrived, we began by placing the textile panel, bound in a lovely Christopher Farr fabric, in the display case. Conservator Frances Halahan then carefully cleaned the surface so that no dust or microscopic insects would endanger the magazines once under glass. We then proceeded to arrange objects according to our well rehearsed plan and matched them up with their respective condition report so that Frances could verify our details’ accuracy.

Once the object labels arrived we reached the penultimate stage of installation; all that remained to do was meticulously review every arrangement before placing the glass over the display. We commissioned captions to look like vintage price tags in order to emphasise that, for many viewers, looking at these illustrations was like window-shopping. They are labelled according to one of three themes: Fashion, Sport, Battling the Elements. These refer not only to the scenes depicted, but also to the sense that each illustrator tried to convey to viewers: the thrill of ice-skating or the comfort of a warm coat on a frosty winter afternoon, for example.

With everything in position and checked, technicians expertly lifted and placed the glass over the case. As Shonagh pointed out, there is something quite satisfying about this final stage of installation. The glass seals and protects the objects, which will stay in place until the exhibition closes. Visitors are now welcome to move around, lean in close, and inspect the display. We hope you will enjoy Winter Mode!

We would like to thank the staff at Somerset House and at the Courtauld Institute of Art for their generous help on the day and leading up to the exhibition.

7 November 2014

A Walk Through ‘Fashioning Winter’
by Fruszi Befeki

Opening party and inauguration of the ice rink, 10 November 2014

Opening party and inauguration of the ice rink, 10 November 2014

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Although we have been focusing on our own displays for Fashioning Winter in order to give you some behind the scenes access, now that the exhibition is up and running it is time to introduce you to the fascinating exhibits that make up the rest of the project. As with most shows, it really is best if you go see it in person, but for those who cannot make it, here are a few photographic guides to Somerset House’s winter fashion history treasure hunt.

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Caroline Evans’s Skating on Film is directly next to our installation in Somerset House’s East Wing. The display focuses on footage of people skating in the early 20th century, and features clips from the Netherland’s Eye Filmmuseum.

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These clips provide a parallel to Skate in Somerset House’s courtyard and encourage viewers to compare their own wardrobes and motions with sets of gestures from the past.

Amy de la Haye used her own collection of postcards by the illustrator Xavier Sager, and these depictions of fashionable women ice-skating and rollerblading are also in keeping with the theme of winter sports. Sager’s works are a combination of beautiful workmanship and a healthy dose of humour and when seen together, these illustrations reveal a connection between modernity, fashion and motion.

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Sophia Hedman and Serge Martinov have created a highly conceptual display that focuses on the changing meanings of the colour white in Western fashion history. Exhibits are suspended in the Stamp stairwell, allowing viewers to walk around the objects displayed and admire them at a remarkably close range.

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Ben Whyman’s Winter in Wartime is a timely exhibit that will resonate with audiences on the 100th anniversary year of the outbreak of the First World War. The display consists of contemporary illustrated newspaper cuttings, which demonstrate what members of the British Armed forces wore to keep warm at the Front.

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If you head to the Great Arch Hall you will find Tory Turk’s and Beatrice Behlen’s respective exhibits facing each other, as if in conversation. Turk has created a “capsule archive” of skiing culture that includes gems such as a Burberry ladies’ ski suit c. 1927. The display maps the evolution of skiwear through an exciting assortment of objects.

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While Tory Turk’s exhibit revolves around global skiing culture, Beatrice Behlen has focused on the vogue for skating in interwar London. The exhibition’s focal point, a pair of skates from the 1930s, is given a historical frame with the help of newspaper clippings and photographs. A map that shows viewers where one could find ice-rinks during this period illustrates just how popular the sport was at the time.

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The Nelson Stair is now home to Alistair O’Neill’s display of photographer Angus McBean’s imaginative Christmas cards. Humourous, surreal, yet sensitive, these greeting cards, which span the period 1949 to 1985, illustrate a lifetime of creative experimentation.

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Head curator Shonagh Marshall examines how the world of fairy tales inspire designers for the autumn/winter shows with the help of evocative literary excerpts and wonderful illustrations by Stephen Doherty. The three projections, set up in alcoves, transform Seamen’s Hall into a living storybook of fashion.

18 November, 2014

Shoes: Pain and Pleasure Review

Heels by HM Rayne

Heels by HM Rayne

Adidas sneakers collection

Adidas sneakers collection

As the title  – Shoes: Pleasure & Pain – indicates, the V&A’s latest exhibition aims to grab the viewer’s attention. If not through the appeal of footwear itself, then by the suggestion of eroticism that is underlined further by the choice of Helmut Newton’s provocative image ‘High & Mighty’ of 1995 as both catalogue cover and poster. This photograph shows supermodel Nadja Auermann awkwardly scaling steps in shoes that are so vertiginous she needs not just crutches, but two burly male helpers to make it to the summit.  This photoshoot has been controversial – since its first publication there has been comment about its use of imagery of disability for a fashion spread. By using this as publicity the museum is therefore courting media attention and aligning the show with sex and fetish as key themes.  This may entice visitors, but what of the content and curation itself?

From the displays focusing on eroticism and shoes

From the displays focusing on eroticism and shoes

The exhibition is split into two parts – and that difficult central space in the Fashion Court is put to good use. Completely reimagined, the downstairs area is clad in deep purple – velvet drapes and deep pile carpet soften the interior and mute sound. It is a sensory experience to walk through the dimly lit galleries, conscious of the feel of the fabric, even if one may not touch. This is heightened by the contrasting bright red of some of the displays – and gives the effect of a louche boudoir, or peep show. In turn, the themes focused upon explore consumers’ and wearers’ desire for shoes, and span a wide historical and geographical period to underline persistent connections between shoes and sexuality.  It is no surprise that risqué lingerie brand Agent Provocateur was part sponsor of the exhibition: its ad campaigns and underwear mirror the sensory overload here.

Climbing the stairs, the mood changes completely, the visitor enters a clinical realm of brightly lit white space, that signals the exhibition’s shift from emotional connections to shoes, to focus on designing and making, before it twists back again to look at obsession, via several avid shoe collectors’ most treasured footwear wardrobes.

Manolo Blahnik discusses his work.

Manolo Blahnik discusses his work.

This area shows everything from the shoes’ component pieces, to digital 3D designs and intriguing insights into functional, sports shoe design versus heel prototypes for fashion shoes.  If downstairs reinforced the idea of shoes as items of lust and myth, then here, one is opened up to the process of creation, with videos showing key designers, including Manolo Blahnik explaining their approach.  The fact that Sex and the City raised Blahnik’s name to international notoriety denotes another aspect of shoes’ status in recent years – as a staple media-trope of female desire and excess. And while this exhibition certainly plays to this idea, it makes clear men’s interest in shoes too, in relation to sexuality, but also obsessive collection and fetishisation of another kind – as demonstrated in one man’s collection of box fresh sneakers.

As with many of its fashion shows, entertainment plays a prominent role, and the exhibition is not short of spectacle. However, this is underpinned by a strong foundation of research and a desire to provoke visitors, not just to be dazzled by the array of beautiful objects, but also to think about their creation and cultural meanings.

From Rationing to Ravishing: The Transformation of Women’s Clothing in the 1940s and 1950s

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Photographs by Alberto Ferreira and Lucy Moyse, with permission of the Museum of Vancouver

The Museum of Vancouver’s current From Rationing to Fashioning exhibition thoroughly and exhilaratingly takes its viewers through a turbulent interval of history. The glitter and roar of the 1920s had come to a sudden and catastrophic cease, with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and subsequent economic depression. Beforehand, women ‘s newfound freedom and fun was reflected in looser fits and higher hemlines. However, after the crash, the sartorial mood turned towards sentimentality, and the traditional feminine figure began to re-emerge. Women’s dress of the 1930s delicately navigated changing ideals, later taking on designers’ nods to masculinity and the need for practicality during the Second World War. Peacetime instated the womanly silhouette once more: elaborate amounts of fabric countered wartime shortages, and sloping shoulders, full busts, cinched waists and full, long skirts glorified the female form and took it to new heights.

Guest curators Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke display the complexities of these changes with thought and flair. On show until March 2015, the exhibition highlights the intrinsic connections between fashion, those that wear it, and the society that surrounds them. The underlying driving force behind the curatorial rationale is clear: fashion reflects, responds to, and helps to drive change. The exhibition expresses the way clothes had to be adapted according to changing conditions, availabilities, and moods, but also how they affected and constructed views of the women who wore them, from the diligent wartime worker to the immaculate housewife.

The exhibition is neatly divided into two main spaces. The first pulls visitors into a comprehensive overview of 1940s fashion. It slickly demonstrates transitions, whilst maintaining the range of styles available within them. Rainbows of both day- and evening-wear reveal fashion’s determination to thrive even during wartime, whilst also making clear the practical and aesthetic limitations imposed. The dual role of the idealised woman’s wartime appearance is revealed: soothing society involved a juggling act between putting her best face, and dress, forward, and cleverly working around restrictions such as rationing, all the while emanating a sense of pragmatism and tactful restraint. A 1943 blouse by London designer Anita Bodley, for example, demonstrates simultaneous practicality and frivolity. Its comfortable fit and short sleeves allowed movement, and a high, Peter Pan-collared neckline maintained modesty, while its silk fabric and assorted bright colours were enlivening.  Most poignant of all are the spirited written messages that make up its pattern. Inspired by propaganda posters upon a brick wall, it includes phrases such as ‘-Go! –to! –it!’: one example of several wartime pieces that were especially designed to boost morale and brighten wardrobes.

The second main space leads the viewer to the eventual exultance of the post-war years, but not before an enchanting and specialized interlude: a select display of specifically Canadian clothing. For example, a pair of Boeing Vancouver overalls, displayed with its cuffs turned back to reveal red underneath, and the mannequin’s hand jauntily placed on its hip, exemplify both women’s active agency, and the modernist style and nationalist pride through which it was executed. Indeed, throughout the show, there is an equal emphasis on both internationality and the Museum’s own heritage in Vancouver, with objects originating from almost all of the powers involved in the conflict. In this spirit, an inter-disciplinary approach was taken: German ration books, Elsa Schiaparelli’s signature scrawled on a fashion student’s notepad, a bottle of Chanel perfume and ‘Victory Red’ Elizabeth Arden cosmetics imbue the exhibition with an enriching sensory dimension, which underlies and unifies fashion’s all encompassing interconnectedness.

Just a step away, the final room is a visual delight. Pigmented pinks and reds mingle with elegant whites and dramatic blacks, converging into intricate party concoctions. With the war effort over, and a return to notional normalcy allowed indulgence and amusement and girlishness was prized. This revival, explosion and celebration of full-skirted femininity reached its peak during the 1950s, and culminates the exhibition on an appropriately triumphant note.

References

www.museumofvancouver.ca/exhibitions/exhibit/rationing-ravishing

A walk through ‘Fashioning Winter’

Opening party and inauguration of the ice rink, 10 November 2014

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Although we have been focusing on our own displays for Fashioning Winter in order to give you some behind the scenes access, now that the exhibition is up and running it is time to introduce you to the fascinating exhibits that make up the rest of the project. As with most shows, it really is best if you go see it in person, but for those who cannot make it, here are a few photographic guides to Somerset House’s winter fashion history treasure hunt.

wm03

Caroline Evans’s Skating on Film is directly next to our installation in Somerset House’s East Wing. The display focuses on footage of people skating in the early 20th century, and features clips from the Netherland’s Eye Filmmuseum.

wm04

These clips provide a parallel to Skate in Somerset House’s courtyard and encourage viewers to compare their own wardrobes and motions with sets of gestures from the past.

wm05

Amy de la Haye used her own collection of postcards by the illustrator Xavier Sager, and these depictions of fashionable women ice-skating and rollerblading are also in keeping with the theme of winter sports. Sager’s works are a combination of beautiful workmanship and a healthy dose of humour and when seen together, these illustrations reveal a connection between modernity, fashion and motion.

wm06

wm07

Sophia Hedman and Serge Martinov have created a highly conceptual display that focuses on the changing meanings of the colour white in Western fashion history. Exhibits are suspended in the Stamp stairwell, allowing viewers to walk around the objects displayed and admire them at a remarkably close range.

wm08
wm09

Ben Whyman’s Winter in Wartime is a timely exhibit that will resonate with audiences on the 100th anniversary year of the outbreak of the First World War. The display consists of contemporary illustrated newspaper cuttings, which demonstrate what members of the British Armed forces wore to keep warm at the Front.

wm-10

If you head to the Great Arch Hall you will find Tory Turk’s and Beatrice Behlen’s respective exhibits facing each other, as if in conversation. Turk has created a “capsule archive” of skiing culture that includes gems such as a Burberry ladies’ ski suit c. 1927. The display maps the evolution of skiwear through an exciting assortment of objects.

wm11
wm-12

While Tory Turk’s exhibit revolves around global skiing culture, Beatrice Behlen has focused on the vogue for skating in interwar London. The exhibition’s focal point, a pair of skates from the 1930s, is given a historical frame with the help of newspaper clippings and photographs. A map that shows viewers where one could find ice-rinks during this period illustrates just how popular the sport was at the time.

wm13
wm14

The Nelson Stair is now home to Alistair O’Neill’s display of photographer Angus McBean’s imaginative Christmas cards. Humourous, surreal, yet sensitive, these greeting cards, which span the period 1949 to 1985, illustrate a lifetime of creative experimentation.

wm15

Head curator Shonagh Marshall examines how the world of fairy tales inspire designers for the autumn/winter shows with the help of evocative literary excerpts and wonderful illustrations by Stephen Doherty. The three projections, set up in alcoves, transform Seamen’s Hall into a living storybook of fashion.

Self-expression, space and style: a conversation with Camille Branda at Bergdorf’s

Camille 01

Camille, 4th Floor, Bergdorf Goodman

Camille 02

4th Floor, Couture and Evening Collections, Bergdorf Goodman

Camille 03

3rd Floor, Designer Collections, Bergdorf Goodman

Camille 04

View of Bergdorf Goodman from 5th Avenue

Camille 05

Bergdorf Goodman windows

Camille 06

Camille, 1960s, Brooklyn, New York

Camille 07

Camille, 1970s, Brooklyn, New York

Camille Branda, associate and personal shopper in couture and evening collections at Bergdorf Goodman since 2011, considers the shop a museum, in that it is a space defined as much by beautiful things, as the creative people that work with them. In September, we met and discussed how these elements intersect to shape one of New York’s most iconic specialty stores. It was a pleasure to wander its spaces together, and admire the craftsmanship and ideas behind the garments. And Camille has a discerning eye – before launching her own Image Consulting Business a few years ago, she led a fulfilling career as the VP of Product Development and Sourcing for The Echo Design Group, an accessory and home décor company. While there, she travelled the world to look for novel fabrics, products and manufacturers. Camille relives this experience of discovery every day at BG, as interaction with designers enhances her understanding and appreciation of the clothing. It is the constant flow of diverse people – from the designers to those that work on the window displays and customers – that make BG an ever-changing creativity hub. This is reflected in the way she talks about her job:

Everyday I arrive excited, as I approach 5th Avenue, and see the store and its magnificent window displays. This may sound silly, but it really does thrill me. We start most mornings with a clinic, directed by a designer or designer representative, who introduces us to a particular product, to understand this brand and its seasonal inspiration. We then go live and meet the customers. Curtain unfolds at 10:00 and the real show begins!

This sense of theatre is reflected in the movement and crowds that characterise the store’s ambience. And Camille clearly moves to this fast rhythm: when we met, an hour before her next appointment, she seamlessly conversed with me in between phone calls to clients and fitters. Perhaps it is the personal shoppers, who are the most integrated within the intricate spaces of the shop: they tie all the floors together in their creation of looks. And their clients, who Camille describes as more “educated” than ever, demand thorough service. In turn, she has learned much about the many individual and cultural perceptions of fashion and the body. For Camille, ‘the “one-on-one” relationship is intimate and rewarding. We talk lifestyle, goals, preferences, and challenges, as well as colour, style and proportion as we walk through the store to feel for likes and dislikes… I am not only interested in making a big sale, I want to build a relationship with customers for a lifetime.’ Through close observation – the unspoken is most revealing – and listening, she is able to best advise on clothing that ‘accommodate[s] and improve[s] a customer’s personal style.’

Clothing is one element of a puzzle that shapes the picture of one’s image or style, based on self-presentation, expression, and the physical realities of the body in a certain space. In a typical day for Camille, she might style outfits, as ritualistic as that for a wedding or debutante presentation, or plan wardrobes to correspond to the minimalist space of an art gallery, a formal state dinner, or business and casual settings. This multi-layered definition of style was a thread that ran through our conversation, especially when we discussed unique characters, such as the late American heiress, horticulturalist and collector Doris Duke. Camille became fascinated with Duke after a recent visit to her mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, whose objects and decoration reflected its owner’s extraordinary life and unique outlook. Similarly, Camille’s memory of her mother, as ‘sophisticated, polished and elegant’ and ‘a true style icon,’ lives on in objects and pictures, with which she surrounds herself. She joked that her mother ‘groomed [her] for Bergdorf Goodman at a very tender age,’ and a few days after our meeting, she sent me a childhood photograph of herself in a carefully constructed ensemble ‘styled by Mom.’ Taken in her bedroom, she wears a coat with a large white fur collar over a dress, accessorised with leather gloves, a bag, and an ornamented hat. Her prim crossed-legged pose completes the image.

As she grew older, Camille used fashion as her own means of creativity and self-expression. She recalls wearing a shearling coat and printed headband while in high school. The processes of styling and wearing this outfit were, for Camille, transformative experiences that made her feel ‘so cool and simply amazing.’ Through them she could assert her independence, as well as relate to the wardrobes of films, including Love Story and Annie Hall.

Camille has thus always combined the realities of fashionable dressing, with a ‘romantic, fun’ fantasy realm. Throughout her career, Camille has honed her expertise and fashion eye, and now similarly seeks to enhance and elevate her clients’ images to match Bergdorf’s own, stylish reputation.

Capsule Wardrobe

summer fashion

I love packing for my summer holidays. I realise that may seem an odd, even slightly masochistic statement. But no, for me, packing is a pleasure – it taps into my innate enjoyment of organization and neatness – and more than that, it allows me to combine my research into fashion history with my lived experience of dress. My fascination with American sportswear from the 1930s-50s, and special interest in designers Vera Maxwell and Claire McCardell can be given full reign, as I pursue the perfect travel wardrobe.

While fashion magazines are now full of stories on ‘capsule wardrobes’ and articles on how to dress for every possible travel destination, in the 1930s, this was a newly emerging trend. Maxwell and McCardell helped to define this idea of a small, well-curated selection of separates that could be mixed-and-matched for the duration of the holiday. Developments in diverse areas, including, ready-to-wear manufacturing, advances in dying various fabrics the same colour and the growth of travel as a leisure activity – think cruise ships and new airlines – meant the coordinated capsule wardrobe was the rational and modern way to approach dressing.

By the late 1930s, McCardell was making five or seven piece collections of clothes that addressed women’s lifestyle needs – whether travelling for business or pleasure. Lightweight chambray in an easy dress, shorts, jacket and sun top, for example could be taken for a short beach holiday. Or a navy-based wardrobe of jacket, skirt, trousers, culottes and knitted top might be good for a business trip.

What mattered was the sense of ease and appropriateness – these designers were professional women themselves, they understood the demands of modern life and saw their task as problem-solving – making their customers’ choices more straightforward, allowing them to carry minimum luggage, while being assured of their fashionable status.

But their designs are not just logical, cold answers to a fashion question. Their love of fabric and detail, focus on clear silhouettes and variety-through-combination make them fascinating pieces of modern design. And fashion photography of the time, by Louise Dahl-Wolfe for example, emphasized the sense of happiness and ease their work promoted.

So when you pack your suitcase this summer, think of these pioneers of travel fashions, and enjoy the pleasures of simple, modern classics.