Commentary Archive

Dressing for the Metropolis – Simmel in the City

How does your environment affect the way you dress? Of course, there’s the weather to be taken into consideration.  But what about the type of place that you live? For example, are we shaped – literally and figuratively – by urban dwelling?  Does the city impact not just the type of clothes we choose, but also how we feel when we wear them? Living amongst huge numbers of people, coping with the speed of street-life, the fleeting encounters with our fellow citizens … surely this impacts our psychology, our way of being, and therefore our way of dressing?

These are not new questions, German sociologist Georg Simmel published an essay in 1903 and updated in 1950 entitled, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life,’ which tackled just such concerns.  At the core he argues, is the constant tension between individuality, and being part of society.  What is at stake is the ways we adapt (or don’t) to these twin desires/pressures.  Of course, Simmel was writing at the start of the 20th century, but many of his ideas remain relevant, and suggest the subconscious issues brought to bear on our daily outfit choices.

Or as Simmel puts it in relation to the ‘psychology of metropolitan individuality’ – which is founded upon: ‘the intensification of emotional life due to the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli.’ Even crossing the road means experiencing multiple sights, sounds, and encounters with people and machines.

And this must be considered in relation to our brief interactions with other humans in much of daily city life, as well as the money economy that distances consumer from producer.  This means that the counter impulses to be hyper-individual and to assert your sense of self, versus the desire for a protective shield of conformity and anonymity are likely to influence how we dress.  It makes you think again about the ubiquitous male suit – is it in part saving city workers from the ‘violent stimuli’ Simmel identifies as part of urban life? Does it reinforce his argument that city dwellers must react rationally, rather than emotionally – creating a protective sartorial barrier between themselves and the city?

What is produced, he says, is a blasé attitude that tempers the dissonance that surrounds us.  Simmel sees this as a rich site for mental development, despite its problems.  And clearly, the Metropolis is equally rich for the development of multiple fashions as well.  Just as the suit-clad banker assimilates, so designers and wearers can experiment and create in response to the city’s speed and excess of stimulation.

By Rebecca Arnold

You can read Simmel’s essay in full here

 

 

Travelling on the Ocean Liner in the 1920s

During my Christmas break at home in the Netherlands, I visited the TextielMuseum, located in a former textile factory in the city of Tilburg, in order to view their recently opened exhibition, JAZZ AGE | Fashion & Photographs. Organised by the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, this exhibition aims to show the variety of dress available to the modern woman and the completely new way of dressing that symbolised her new-found freedom and active lifestyle in the period after the First World War. The exhibition showcases more than 150 haute couture and ready-to-wear garments dating from 1919 to 1929 in different settings such as ‘In the Boudoir,’ ‘Tennis Match,’ and ‘Chinatown After Dark.’ As might be expected from a dress and textiles enthusiast, I was swooning in front of the quintessential fringed and beaded drop-waist flapper dresses and sumptuously embroidered velvet evening capes one would have worn for a night out.

The current exhibition at the TextielMuseum seems to have a slightly different design than the exhibition that was staged in London (see the excellent review written last year by former MA student Sophie Assouad). Instead of writing another review, I have chosen to focus on a specific display in this exhibition that sparked my interest because it gave me a fresh perspective on this particular period in fashion history.

Conjuring the scene of a steamboat’s deck, ‘On the Ocean Liner’ takes the visitor beyond the notion of the 1920s as a decade of glamourous nightlife and the familiar flapper dress. It does so by showcasing daytime and leisurewear suitable for the journey aboard an ocean liner on its way to a sunny destination.

Lounging in a rotan chair to the left is a mannequin wearing a simple, cream-coloured tunic dress with a jacket in the same colour, both dating from c. 1924–25. While the dress has been made from silk, the jacket’s material, interestingly, is ‘rayon’, a man-made fibre made from chemically treated cellulose. Generally known as ‘artificial silk,’ this material was first developed in the late nineteenth century but only became widely available from the 1920s onwards. The fibre was officially renamed rayon in 1924 through an industry-sponsored contest with the aim to counter the frequent associations with artificiality or inferiority to natural silk. Rayon grew in popularity as it provided women from all backgrounds the ability to wear certain garments that were previously reserved only for those who could afford to buy silk.

My favourite ensemble in this arrangement is a simple, but chic, striped dress with pockets and pleats made from silk that dates from c. 1922–23. This dress combines comfort and freedom of movement with elegance and is reminiscent of the silhouette and style of clothing designed by Coco Chanel.

Detail of the display showing my favourite dress to the left. To the right, a cotton swimsuit in herringbone pattern. Photo: Nelleke Honcoop

Moving to the right, the eye meets a group of mannequins wearing boldly-coloured, Art Deco-patterned beach pyjamas and loose, kimono-inspired dresses worn over cotton swimsuits. This group hints at a day spent swimming – or perhaps lounging and sunbathing at the pool, cultivating the tanned skin that was promoted by Chanel and became popular during this decade.

Top and trousers, c.1925, cotton. A pyjama inspired two-piece reflecting the contemporary vogue for wearing pyjamas as lounge wear in, as well as outside, the confines of the boudoir. © Photo Tessa Hallman. Collection Cleo and Mark Butterfield

 ‘On the Ocean Liner’ addresses how swimming became popular among women in the second half of the decade when American competition swimmer Gertrude Ederle (1905 –2003) became the first woman to swim across the Channel in 1926. A cotton swimsuit in a herringbone pattern with a subtly integrated skirt is used to illustrate the active lifestyle and freedom of movement of modern women during the 1920s. I particularly enjoyed the attention given to materials and construction details, such as the contrasting cuffs of a cotton swimsuit that were not only a chic addition, but also helped to keep it in shape when immersed in water.

Finally, by focusing on 1920s women’s fashion from the angle of sports, leisure, and travel, ‘On the Ocean Liner’ felt like an inspiring warm up to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s upcoming exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed & Style, which will explore the golden age of ocean travel around the world.

By Nelleke Honcoop

JAZZ AGE | Fashion & Photographs is on display at the TextielMuseum, Tilburg, The Netherlands, until 27 May 2018. See: http://www.textielmuseum.nl/en/

Ocean Liners: Speed & Style will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 3 February – 10 June 2018. See: https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/ocean-liners-speed-style

 

The Politics of a “Wardrobe Malfunction”

 

I have a dream this Super Bowl season. Now, to be quite honest, I do not follow American football at all, but I do follow the halftime performances. This year, Justin Timberlake performed at the Super Bowl LII halftime show over a decade after his infamous performance with Janet Jackson. While I am a big fan of the “Prince of Pop” and can honestly say that Justified was the catalyst for my sexual awakening, the way in which Janet Jackson (and the female body for that matter) was chastised after Nipplegate is not only telling of America’s ongoing “fear” of the of the female body entering the public sphere, specifically the black female body, but also the legitimization of rape culture’s place in the public sphere.  Nipplegate became a discursive event in that it affirmed the existence of rape culture within the public sphere. After the alleged “wardrobe malfunction”, topics regarding broadcasting censorship and free speech came into question. The Federal Communications Commission fined CBS over half a million dollars for the incident to set a precedent for this type of overexposure.

The performance wardrobe of both Jackson and Timberlake aided in the cementing of their public image as popstars, but in different ways. At the time of the performance, the public image of Janet Jackson was arguably branded as a sexualized, mature, political, divorcée. Wayne Scot Lukas, Janet Jackson’s stylist for the show, said in an interview with Channel Guide Magazine that, “For the Super Bowl we had to really have a special, big outfit to create some kind of look that was going to be really magical. I told you the war had started, so we were thinking it had to be semi-military, but it had to still be a little bit sexy and fun.”[1] The semi-military inspired look was appropriate for the show because the public was still coming to terms with the United States’ decision to invade Iraq. Instead of the militarization of armed bodies, Janet’s performance wanted to inspire the militarization of the youth voice. The use of military outfits in music performances was popularized by Jackson’s brother, Michael, and has become a symbol of resistance towards hegemonic forms of power when used by minorities. Justin Timberlake was only 23 at the time of the performance, he had recently released his first solo album Justified (2003) after his split from the boy-band, NSYNC. His public image rested on his youth, his looks, and also his new bachelor status after Britney Spears cheated on him, ending their three-year relationship together. Timberlake, was branded as the heartbroken and tortured artist trying to find his way after he was scorned by love. Justin’s outfit lacks a political motivation. He is dressed casually in baggy jeans paired with an oversized shirt and jacket—a precursor to the f*c@boy image and style.

Timberlake joins Jackson on the stage to perform his single Rock Your Body. In their performance, Janet plays the love interest. Both playfully dance with each across the stage. Timberlake chases Jackson as she coquettishly plays “hard to get”. At the end of the performance, Timberlake finally catches Jackson in a moment of embrace and rips the bust of her bustier revealing Jackson’s breast. The camera stills, but only for a moment to catch both Timberlake and Jackson in a state of shock and then the stadium lights immediate fade to black. Planned or not, the action of ripping one’s clothes is an act of aggression. The immediate fade to black and blame for the incident on Jackson and her team perpetuates rape culture in the way that it normalized Jackson’s body as an explicit sexual object meant to be censored, while also promoting victim blaming (establishing a whodunit? rhetoric) and slut shaming vis-à-vis her outfit and flashy nipple clamp. Timberlake was portrayed as the naïve and innocent one, who claimed to not know anything while also refusing to acknowledge any possible chance of responsibility.

My dream this Super Bowl halftime show is a small one. I wish for Janet Jackson to storm the stage on live TV during Justin’s performance in an all-black gritty, military-inspired wardrobe (which is still appropriate today), with big hair, attitude, and a full dance troupe so that people remember her halftime performance as what it should have been remembered 13 years ago–iconic.

[1] Acken, Lori. “Nat Geo’s The 2000s: A New Reality – Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Stylist Wayne Scot Lukas Tells Us What Really Down.” Channel Guide Magazine, 12 July 2015, www.channelguidemag.com/tv-news/2015/07/09/nat-geos-the-2000s-a-new-reality-janet-jacksons-super-bowl-stylist-wayne-scot-lukas-tells-us-what-really-down/.

By Destinee Forbes

It’s Complicated: Our Relationship Status with Denim

 

Denim is a staple in many of our wardrobes. We wear it weekly, or even daily, not really acknowledging our involved and complicated relationship with this sturdy and versatile fabric. Our relationship with denim is like dating: at first difficult and tumultuous, developing into a beautiful and loving coexistence—only to eventually end in a split (sometimes even literally).

I will be examining our relationship with shopping for denim jeans, inspired partially by Kitty Hauser’s “Fingerprint of the Second Skin” (2005).

Shopping for denim jeans is difficult to say the least, in fact, I think it is something even people who love to shop find difficult. The process is exhausting. We enter a store, decide on styles and cuts that look appealing and flattering, grab a few different sizes and washes, and head to the fitting room—only to find out that in fact your usual size does not fit, and all of the styles are too long/short, frumpy, or unflattering. Not to mention at this point, you are drenched in sweat—getting in and out of denim is physically more demanding than one would think.

After these trials and tribulations, finding a pair of denim jeans you love is blissful. This process of selecting denim is deeply personal, laborious, and absolutely an investment of time and energy, much like the process of dating.

Once finding a pair, you are now set on a much longer and stable relationship with not just the pair of jeans, but also a company, style, size, and wash. There is a beauty to ordering jeans online that you know will fit and that you will like, without going through the tumultuous shopping process.

We then love and enjoy this relationship with our denim jeans. The versatile denim pants are worn time after time, accompanying the wearer through multiple seasons and phases of personal style.

Yet, like with any garment, our denim jeans give out. They rip at the seams or are simply too faded or worn out to wear any longer. You must then bid farewell to your beloved denim, and start the process over again.

Our relationship with denim is so intimate and delicate, yet the fabric is sturdy and strong. Denim’s longevity allows us to build a deeply personal relationship with these garments. The shopping is difficult, exhausting, and dreadful—but eventually, you find a pair you love and adore until it is time to say goodbye—a lasting relationship between denim and its wearer.

 

By Arielle Murphy

 

Theda Bara: Hollywood’s Original Vamp and Femme-Fatale

We often associate film stars with their onscreen personas, which are inextricably linked to the costumes they wear while portraying their most iconic characters. Audrey Hepburn will forever be linked to Hubert de Givenchy’s black evening gown in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, just as Judy Garland’s blue gingham pinafore in The Wizard of Oz became a part of her lasting image. Identification between star and character can lead to typecasting and an audience expectation that a star will appear as a certain type of character. For example, Joan Crawford was the rags-to-riches girl. Crawford’s characters were often working-class girls who, through luck and hard work, were able to climb to the social ladder to their happy ending. One of Hollywood’s earliest manipulations of star into character, was Theda Bara.

 

Theda Bara, often cited as Hollywood’s first sex symbol, was one of the silent-film era’s most famous stars, second only to Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. Her career last from only 1914-1919, perhaps the reason why her name is not as well-remembered today as some of her contemporaries. After her first film A Fool There was (1914) her image as the vampire, in this case a woman who destroys men using her sexuality, was cemented. Fox Studios was so committed to this image that they fabricated a backstory for Theda, in which she was an Arabian princess raised in Egypt, trained in Paris, saved by director Frank Powell from the horrors of war in Europe, and brought to America. This outrageous story concocted to support her onscreen image linked Bara to her characters in the eyes of the audience.

Bara’s most famous film, Cleopatra (1917), created a Queen of Nile that mixed popular styles of the day, Egyptian motifs, and burlesque costumes to display a Cleopatra who would be both irresistible to the public, and maintain Bara’s public persona. Her costumes reflected her mysterious image. Her costumes were extremely revealing, and accentuated her voluptuous curves. Theda Bara biographer notes that “The Cleopatra costume created quite a stir because it cost $1,000 a yard and Theda seemed to be wearing only ten cents’ worth…the Plain Dealer declared that ‘Of all the Vampires of Screen There’s None So Bare as Theda’”. While Bara strove for historical accuracy in her portrayal of Cleopatra, the revealing costumes did more to enhance her existing image than transport the viewer back to ancient Egypt. Fox carefully controlled this sexy, mysterious persona, even going so far as to contractually insure that she did not appear in public without a veil. While studios would regularly control a star’s story and persona in the Golden Age of the Hollywood Studio System, Bara presents one of the earliest examples of this deception. Through her costumes and characters Bara projected the image of the Vamp and the femme-fatale, and helped to define their look in Hollywood.

By Olivia

Sources:

Landis, Deborah Nadoolman, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design, (New York: Collins, 2007)

Landis, Deborah Nadoolman, Hollywood Costume, (London: Victoria and Albert, 2012)

 

 

Our Silhouettes and Our Shadows

I walk over Waterloo Bridge most days, and most days I am carrying a heavy bag full of the things I need for my day: books, planner, laptop, wallet, bottle of water, etc.

One time while walking I caught sight of my shadow. It was a softened-outline and vague: I was swaddled in a long winter coat that ties with a belt at the waist (and reveals the waist that signs ‘this is a woman’s silhouette’ rather than ‘this is a murky walking blob’). My body’s shadow was tilted. I had curved my back to the left side in order to rebalance myself with the weight of the bag I carried on my right shoulder. The weight of the bag pulled this shoulder downward and it’s bulge protruded out of the side of my body… a massive lump… a drooping rotund side stomach… my mutation of human form from what I had adorned and weighed down my body with.

I’m thinking about how lifestyle, environment, need alters the silhouette.

My bag (it’s weight, size, the way I was carrying it) and coat (it’s length, thickness, style, the way I chose to wear it) altered the form and movements of my body, my posture, my walk, my silhouette.

I chose this bag for it’s functionality and autonomy. The same dark hues as my clothes, it looks like it could be a part of my coat like a bulging pocket, or a growth my coated body has produced for survival (carrying the things I need to navigate my way through that day). The bag is made of a light canvas material, so that it has little of its own weight, instead it is more the contents of the bag that make up its weight and bulky form.

In 1994, Kosuke Tsmura launched Final Home with a transparent nylon coat that consisted of 40 pockets to be filled with what one needs to survive. This version of a survivalist way of thinking about dress, and how the filled pockets of the coat could simultaneously function as a form of insulation for the wearer reflects Tsumara’s concern with what a designer can do for people in desperate situations. Each individual wearer of this coat has their own idiosyncratic silhouette and form due to their needs, for depending on what they fill the coat with and in which pockets a different outline of the body would be created.

In 1997 Rei Kawakubo created a collection for Comme des Garçons called ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’, which is more often referred to as the ‘lumps and bumps’ collection. The collection used padding to alter the silhouette of the models bodies. Stuffed protuberances seemed like swellings of the body that exaggerated the shape of hunched backs, warped monobosoms or sloping shoulders and grew from the models bodies through the clothing design. This is what I was reminded of when I noticed my lumpy shadow on Waterloo Bridge.

MoMA’s current exhibition ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ had a display of bulging mannequins in a row that were either of bulging bodies in which the clothes adhere to such growths (for instance the pleated Modular Dress 2.0 designed by Wei Hung Chen in which the pleats can adjust and loosen alongside the growth of a pregnancy bump, or open completely so that the wearer can breastfeed) or accessories such as bum bags and baby carriers that add the protrusion to the body’s form for purposes of functionality.

The Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 sculpture series of what a woman’s body would be like if the clothing she wore actually fitted her body was also exhibited in ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’. These comic sculptures (we cannot ignore the flapper figure’s lack of arms and drooping bottom or how the bustle of the Victorian woman reveals the body of a centauress) display the changing silhouette of woman through her dress, and how fashion alters the way one might regard the human body.

Here are some of the visual notes I made while writing this article that were inspired by Rudofsky’s sculptures, the line-up of bulgy bodies at MoMA and my deformed shadow on Waterloo Bridge…

 

 

By Evie Ward

‘A Document of Modern Living’: How to become a Fashion Illustrator

How do you advise a budding artist? Encourage and suggest the correct path to fashion success? Well, it seems Harper’s Bazaar (HB) solved this problem in 1933, in ‘The Road To Fashion Art,’ its response to a reader’s letter.

Firstly, HB notes that becoming a fashion illustrator requires quite different skills from becoming a fashion creator, since:  ‘To design clothes you need about as much technique as is required for the drawing of daisies or mustaches on a telephone pad – just enough to get your idea across.’

However, a fashion illustrator needs have far more refined abilities in this regard and must ‘draw superlatively well.’  This assertion is perhaps the key to HB’s excellent advice – that fashion illustration is a branch of that ancient technique of drawing, and as such must be learnt and nurtured.  One need only look at some of the most well-known illustrators, Eric, or Rene Gruau to see evidence of this.  Or for more contemporary inspiration scan Richard Haines’ Instagram feed and examine the way emotion and movement are captured in every line.  His work encapsulates what HB describes as every art director’s wish – not to be shown every buttonhole and seam, but to receive an illustration that is ‘a document of modern living.’  Haines’ images of men striding the city streets are proof of this – at once showing the newest styles, and capturing life as it is lived.

Richard Haines

To achieve this, you must, HB says, ‘Draw and keep drawing.’  To start: life drawing, to gain complete understanding of the body.  Next develop an understanding of colour, keep building from this, to examine gesture of every kind, for example ‘the gloved hand picking up the reins.’

As your eye becomes attuned to these telling nuances, HB advises that the budding fashion artist is ready to begin looking for ‘the quality called chic.’  With sketch book in hand, an illustrator must observe all closely – visiting fashionable locations and venues, ‘look at ankle bones, hair waves, the hang of expensive tweeds.’  Everything is a potential source, from films to restaurant customers. Of course, HB states ‘Go to Paris if you possibly can.’

Richard Haines

Only there can fashion be seen in its purest form, alongside the best in dining, socializing, art and culture.  And HB is practical too – as well as this emersion in French couture style, you must, ‘Talk to printers, engravers; learn all you can about colour reproduction, first hand.’

Richard Haines

What this master class provides is a careful guide in how to shape your talent, how to focus on drawing as a means to evoke life, to show how fashion is an expression of culture and emotion, and how to work constantly at producing the most observant images that will trigger a corresponding feeling in viewers.

By Rebecca Arnold

All images courtesy of Richard Haines

 

‘The Road To Fashion Art,’ Harper’s Bazaar, December 1933

Follow Richard Haines on Instagram: @richard_haines

Balenciaga’s Fabrics

 

Upon a recent viewing of the Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion exhibition at the V&A, as well as the focus on shapes and forms, I was particularly interested in the mentioning of Balenciaga’s fascination with fabrics. In the exhibition there featured a couple of displays of fabric swatches and samples, including a huge book with fabric samples. One of the textile boards showed a multitude of fabric choices for a single collection — so many colours, patterns, and textures. The board was used as a marker for the models for the order of the show. Rather than representing fashion and dress predominantly through its shape and overall look like we usually do, Balenciaga associated his designs with their fabric, texture and colour. On the board he detailed where the fabric was made and the name of its wearer, providing almost a personality and identity to the fabric itself.

Rather than starting with a design or a sketch, Balenciaga began with the fabric. As he said, “It is the fabric that decides.” His knowledge and interest for different cloths led him to forge very close working relationships with many textile manufacturers worldwide. In order to create the magnificent shapes of his garments, fabric was the most important aspect. Because of this, stiff materials were often needed to hold the shapes of his designs. After his careful selection of fabrics, Balenciaga preferred to start making instead of dwelling on sketches and designs. Instead, a sketch artist would work on the drawings for him, and Balenciaga would attach a fabric sample to the sketch. In the exhibition, a huge book of fabric samples is displayed in a glass case, offering a tactile tease to us viewers — the beautifully coloured fabrics shone in the display light, away from our grasp. In selecting the fabric first, Balenciaga was choosing the viewer and the wearer of the garments, whose skin these designs would be in contact with. The exhibition also had a replica dress of Balenciaga’s that visitors of the exhibition could try on, all in order to recreate the feeling of enveloping oneself in one of his designs.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion is on at the V&A until February 18th, don’t miss it!

By Grace Lee

Wearing Rank: Mandarin Squares in Chinese Court Dress

 

I thought I would pay tribute to my stay in Hong Kong this winter and write an Asia-themed dress history blog post about Chinese rank badges.

The Chinese rank badges, also referred to as mandarin squares, are silk badges that were once embroidered or woven onto the front and back of court robes, as an indication of a wearer’s rank within the Chinese court and were worn primarily between 1391 and 1911, during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The origin of the rank badges can be traced to square embroidered plaques containing animal and flower designs featured on the robes of Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) officials, mostly for decorative purposes. These badges were not designated as official court dress until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The mandarin badges, indicating a court official’s rank, were to be sewn onto the front and back of their court robes. It was determined that there would be nine ranks for both the literary and military officials; different animals were designated for different ranks. Birds were associated with literary elegance and were to be used for the civil officials, whereas carnivorous mammals were associated with courage and fierceness of soldiers, to be used for the military officials. This system survived the collapse of the Ming dynasty and the succeeding Qing dynasty (1644-1911) retained the same rank badge system.

Unknown artist, Fifth rank military official badge with bear, Qing dynasty, ca. 1820s. Peking stitch on blue silk satin. 

The Ming and Qing rank badges differed stylistically and structurally, although the animal and bird iconography remained consistent. The Ming badges had a few identifying visual and physical characteristics that differed from the Qing squares. The most obvious features were the size and shape. Most Ming badges were at least 35 cm in dimension and lacked any distinct borders. The Ming badges were sewn from seam end to seam end across the front of the robes, and were slightly trapezoidal in shape, as the Ming robes were wider near the bottom. Furthermore, strict Ming sumptuary laws forbade Ming officials from using too much gold, which resulted in most emblems embroidered in satin stitch or laid floss-silk. Only the principal design was outlined in heavier gold threads.

Unknown artist, Red Silk with Crane and Cloud Design, Ming Dynasty court robe with rank badge, red silk with embroidery. Shandong Museum.

Compared to the Ming squares, the Qing badges were a lot smaller, ranging on average from 25 to 30 cm in size. Moreover, the addition of the ornamental border and the unique innovation of the ‘sun disk’ to symbolize the emperor became the standard trends of the Qing dynasty rank badges. However, the most distinctive feature was the split seam down the center of the Qing square, which most Ming squares lacked. The split in the badge was a result of the structure of the bu fu, the surcoat on which the mandarin squares were attached. The bu fu, a creation of the Qing dynasty, opened down the front, which meant that the mandarin square on the front side was made in halves, one on each side of the coat flaps; the mandarin square on the backside was made in one piece. Contrastingly, the Ming squares, both the front and back badges, were made in whole, undisturbed by the flaps, since the Ming robes were designed to open to the side.

Besides the obvious structural difference between the Ming and Qing dynasty squares, there are also various stylistic, and thematic differences in each era. To find out more about the stylistic, and technical developments of Chinese rank badges, I recommend reading works by Schuyler V. Cammann, who has written most prolifically on mandarin squares.

By Lily Mu

References:

Wang, Zhihou. The Splendors of Costume: Special Exhibition Attire from Ming and Qing Dynasties. China: Qi Lu Press, 2013.

Haig, Paul; Shelton, Marla. Threads of Gold: Chinese Textiles, Ming to Ch’ing. Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2006.

The G-String King: A book review of Charles Guyette The Godfather of American Fetish Art by Richard Pérez Seves

Charles Joseph Guyette was a fascinating, albeit over-looked, pioneer of fetishistic art practice within the 20th century. He was primarily a costumer who designed fetish-wear specifically for burlesque, strip-tease and circus performances. Working from the 30s to the 60s, Guyette is often considered to have formed the foundation for modern fetish-wear today. In fact, his designs were deemed so scandalous that he was arrested and sent to federal prison in 1935 only to be released a year later and continue to work under various aliases. Guyette was at one point branded the ‘G-String King’ due to the popularity of his garments amongst burlesque performers, as well as being known for his shoe designs that featured 7 inch heels; a height thought to be extreme in the 30s and 40s.

Within his book, Richard Pérez Seves does an excellent job in documenting the hidden life of an extremely important man who paved the way for many fetish-wear designers in the decades to come. The popularity of Gaultier, Mugler and Dita Von Teese ultimately has its roots in the work that Guyette did in uniting the realms of fetishism and fashion to create some truly beautiful images. The book features numerous photographs of Guyette’s designs that depict the artistry and femininity behind fetish-wear as well as the inherent beauty that resides within the female form. Guyette’s burlesque pieces were made with the intentions of strip-tease and undress; each layer ultimately revealing the natural body beneath. Fetishistic clothing, while often seen as a remedy against castration anxiety, can also be seen as a celebration of the nude female figure as it places her within a position of power over her own sexuality —a position she was often barred from. This book perfectly highlights the work of a fantastic designer who needs some much-earned credit.

By Niall Billings

Further Reading:

Richard Pérez Seves, Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art, 2017