Commentary Archive

The Whimsical Works of Marcel Vertès

Marcel Vertès epitomised innovation in twentieth-century design and fashion illustration. Born in Hungary, he moved to Paris and studied at the Académie Julian. He travelled to New York frequently, even staging his first show there in 1937. With the outbreak of World War II, Vertès fled Paris and settled in New York, his home for the next decade. He returned to Paris in his later years and spent the majority of his time there before his death in 1966. Among his many talents, Vertès experimented with costume design in film, painting, needlepoint, and silkscreen prints. However, his illustrated advertisements for Elsa Schiaparelli will always be my favourite.

Harper’s Bazaar, February 1944

Vertès created some of his more notable works for Schiaparelli’s perfume advertisements from the late 1930s through the 1950s. He created numerous fantastical illustrations for her ‘Shocking Schiaparelli’ campaign featured in Harper’s Bazaar. Vertès’ playful style shines through in these advertisements. Many depicted flirty and poetic drawings that often incorporated elements of the mystical. Women became dainty nymphs and fairies surrounded by autumn leaves or spring flowers as they danced around the page. The perfume bottle, designed to mimic the female form, often had bouquets of flowers blooming from the top, representing the scent of the perfume as well as implying the femininity a woman would attain while wearing it. Vertès’ passion for other art forms also manifested in his works for Schiaparelli. He frequently paralleled ethereal depictions of women with artistic tools such as painter’s palettes or bouquets made of sheet music. The designs were often suggestive and used various objects, such as a palette or leaf, to conceal yet hint at the intimate parts of the female body.

Harper’s Bazaar, October 1943

Harper’s Bazaar, April 1939

Harper’s Bazaar, October 1944

Harper’s Bazaar, October 1940

Vertès also wove societal undertones into his advertisements for Schiaparelli, altering the connotation of the campaign according to the era’s values. One of his drawings depicts a sailor on a date in a park with the female-shaped perfume bottle. This advertisement was released in 1942, and its drawing hinted at the ‘beauty and duty’ ideal that women and girls were encouraged to uphold during the war in order to bolster morale. Women pitched in for the war effort in various physical ways, but the illustration signified to women that, by wearing Schiaparelli’s perfume, they could demonstrate their patriotism while still embodying the very essence of beauty. On the other hand, one of Vertès’ 1953 illustrations exploded with the colour pink. It featured a woman beaming in a gown reminiscent of the ‘New Look’ style and high heels, the epitome of traditional, feminine beauty. With the war over, the men returned, pushing women out of workforce positions and back into the home. The fashion industry once again favoured the restrictive, ultra-feminine ensembles that signalled a return to ‘normalcy’ in society. Vertès subtly captured this shift in his illustrations.

Harper’s Bazaar, November 1942

Harper’s Bazaar, May 1953

Marcel Vertès also collaborated with Elsa Schiaparelli in designing the costumes for the 1952 film Moulin Rouge. He won two Academy Awards for his work, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. Beyond these achievements, Vertès painted murals for both private and public display, including one for the Café Carlyle at the famous Carlyle Hotel in New York City. He even explored fashion design, creating pieces that showcased his whimsical illustrations.

Marcel Vertès
MOULIN ROUGE (MARIE ACCOSTE LAUTREC), 1952
Gallery 19c

Marcel Vertès Mural at Café Carlyle via Tillett Lighting Design Associates

An artist in every sense of the word, Marcel Vertès worked with a diverse array of mediums, but stayed true to his light, flowing style with every project he undertook. Vertès translated culture into his illustrations and portrayed ‘Shocking Schiaparelli’ as more than a perfume. Rather, his drawings enabled the viewer to envision and desire a way of life.

By Genevieve Davis

 

Sources:

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, April 1939.

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, October 1940.

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, November 1942.

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, October 1943.

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, February 1944.

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, October 1944.

“Advertisement: Shocking de Schiaparelli (Schiaparelli).” Harper’s Bazaar. New York, United States: Hearst Magazine Media, Inc, May 1953.

The Annex Galleries. “Marcel Vertes Biography | Annex Galleries Fine Prints.” Accessed March 18, 2021. https://www.annexgalleries.com/artists/biography/3209/Vertes/Marcel.

Anatomical Fashion

Dress is so intimately linked to human anatomy. It has the capacity to hide, manipulate and expose our ‘natural’ contours and our skin tone. Dress’s poetic relationship to human anatomy is what separates us from other mammals. It is a truism that our physical bodies have been on the line in the last year. We have been overly conscious of the status of our own healthy bodies as well as those we care about. And by virtue, the value of our dressed bodies have been impacted.

Contemporary American designer and trauma nurse Oluwole Olosunde obliquely addresses fashion’s intimate links with our primal form through his collections. His comfortable-looking streetwear designs quite literally strip the human body to its core. In an interview for The Business of Fashion, Olosunde highlights the similarities between his continued work as a trauma nurse and as a designer: he says in both roles the individual has to have an eye for detail, an understanding of human anatomy and human sensations, but most importantly have empathy. He also notes that both industries have been irreversibly shaken by the pandemic as both have spotlighted the values concerned with healthy bodies.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKZhDCcnntZ/

 

Olosunde was not the first to have the human body at the front of his design. In 1938, Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali collaborated to create the Skeleton dress. Under dimmed lights and by focusing on only the front of the figure, the woman wearing this silk crepe dress would have seamlessly blended in with the crowd of women wearing similarly supple dresses. With the lights up and back turned, however, it would expose the true intention of the trapunto quilting technique. Unmistakably, the dress replicates the human skeleton and creates an almost second skin through the contradictory soft texture of the protruding elements.

 

Skeleton Evening Dress by Elsa Schiaparelli [Source: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O65687/the-skeleton-dress-evening-dress-elsa-schiaparelli/]

Both artists tested the boundaries of what was deemed acceptable within their artistic discipline during a time of increasing anxiety. Schiaparelli’s career has been defined by these surrealist experiments of dress that humorously played with the visual language surrounding the female body and fashion dictates. Her fingernail gloves are another example of this. Dali was similarly concerned with the use of the female body to represent the essence of human anatomy as seen in Voluptuous Death. In a time of anxiety, fear, and economic hardship in Europe, the double image of the human body represents the inescapable and impossible situation of navigating the bridge between internal and external relations.

 

Voluptuous Death by Salvador Dalí [Source: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dali-in-voluptas-mors_n_4373479]

Conversely, the human body has also been overtly used in fashionable dress as a means to liberate. Mildred Orrick’s 1940 design was informed by a detailed study of the body’s propensity to move. Orrick’s leotard was created with the freedom of movement in mind. In 1943, Harper’s Bazaar praised the leotard: “[the leotard is] a new idea, leading towards the 21st century and the cosmic costumes of Flash Gordon’s Supergirl.” Bazaar was clearly aligning the leotard with the super potential of women in their newly liberated clothing. However, this statement was premature as Orrick’s leotard would not be a success. The ‘body suit’ in fashion would become popular much later, in the 1970s.

 

Penis Pants by Eldridge de Paris [Source: https://www.messynessychic.com/2013/08/01/the-1970s-political-activist-who-invented-penis-pants/]

Male bodies have also come under examination when exploring dress as a supposed means of liberation in the 20th century. Eldridge de Paris, a former black panther member, invented the Penis Pants to represent the idea that men have been castrated through clothing. “Clothing is an extension of the fig leaf — it put our sex inside our bodies,” Cleaver told Newsweek in 1975, “My pants put sex back where it should be.” (I feel like things may have been easier for him if he had just designed a skirt…)

Reasserting the human body through fashion is the purest form of social commentary. During this time of continued uncertainty and anxiety around our bodies, the human body as a design element in dress helps us to navigate our human existence. By appropriating a visual rhetoric that many or all can understand, it encourages empathy which in turn establishes a community of people that can overcome societal structures, bringing them back to their primal form.

By Bethan Carrick

Sources

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O65687/the-skeleton-dress-evening-dress-elsa-schiaparelli/

http://vestoj.com/the-fig-leaf-mentality/

https://www.wsj.com/articles/still-risque-the-formfitting-bodysuit-rises-again-11574857951

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dali-in-voluptas-mors_n_4373479

https://www.messynessychic.com/2013/08/01/the-1970s-political-activist-who-invented-penis-pants/

Put on the Garments of Shame: Cross-dressing in 1620

For hundreds of years, women’s fashion has been a magnet for satire and mockery. A woman interested in fashion, astutely observed by feminist scholar Sandra Clark, is often associated with two ‘fruitful themes of misogyny’: frivolous excess and overt sexuality. In a brief (yet repeating) and curious phenomenon, London in the year 1620 saw such satire distort itself into an attack on a particular type of fashionable women – those who were dressing and acting like men.

We should, first, imagine ourselves in the bustling streets of London in the year 1620; King James I was the first Scottish king as the increasingly urban capital became populated with an emerging merchant class that was – controversially, of course – wealthier than ever before. The English Renaissance was at its peak, and theatrical culture was flourishing. Nestled among this transforming social landscape of seventeenth-century England was the strange and sudden condemnation of women wearing men’s clothes.

Man’s doublet of black silk shot with silver, with silver ribbon points, made in England, circa 1630-1635. Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Accessed via: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O361542/doublet-unknown/

Evidence of this first emerged in a letter written on 25 January 1620 by prolific author John Chamberlain to a friend outside of the capital. A new fashion was spreading across London, it seemed – he wrote of women in ‘broad brimmed hats’, ‘pointed doublets’, with their hair ‘cut short’. ‘The world is very far out of order’, he lamented. King James I must have too felt a disruption to gendered stability and instructed all bishops and preachers in London to ‘to inveigh vehemently and bitterly … against the insolence of our women’ via their sermons.

Title page of ‘Hic Mulier’. Hic Mulier (London: Eliot’s Court Press, 1620) in E. Arber (ed.) A transcript of the registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1640, (5 vols, 1876).

Soon after the King’s reported orders to the pulpit, on February 9 1620 an anonymously written pamphlet was printed and distributed around London, hatefully entitled Hic Mulier, or, the Man-Woman. A vitriolic document, it is addressed to the fictional titular character Hic Mulier, a cross-dressing woman who has ‘cast off the ornaments of [her] sexes, to put on the garments of Shame’. These garments of shame, much like the letter of John Chamberlain, included a ‘broad-brim’d Hatte, and wanton feather’, and the ‘loose, lascivious embracement of a French doublet, being all unbutton’d to entice all of one[‘s] shape’. To this pamphlet’s anonymous author, the Hic Mulier type, in her confusingly masculine-yet-seductive garments was represented in growing numbers of ‘city wives’ – the new class of wealthy mercantile (not aristocrats nor gentry) women.

A wall painting of two masculine women in broad-brimmed feathered hats, smoking a pipe and holding a mirror. Part; English, c. 1632, painted plaster, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Accessed via: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78991/fragment-of-a-unknown/

Up until this point, fashion was something heavily regulated by the Crown. Sumptuary legislation ensured that only those of high status could wear fine clothes and fabrics like lace and silk. But repeated proclamations of these laws in 1574, 1577, 1580, 1588, and 1597, can only suggest alarm from the government at the growing agency of fashion. For the first time, too, the legislation specifically imposes restrictions on not just men but their wives. Women, clearly, in the context of apparel, were becoming increasingly independent. Fashion itself was upsetting social and gendered order, and as the merchant class became established, the explosion of the cross-dressing controversy in 1620 epitomised this this. Indeed, in the weeks following Hic Mulier, or, the Man-Woman, two more satirist pamphlets featuring the cross-dressing women were rapidly published and circulated.

Illustration of Mary Frith, or Moll Cutpurse, an infamous London cross-dresser. The title page of the 1611 quarto in The Roaring Girl ed. Paul A. Muholland (Manchester, 1987).

In such a rigid and orderly society, men’s clothes were obviously perceived differently on women’s bodies. The scandalously unbuttoned doublet worn by the androgyne in Hic Mulier was not uncommon in men for in the early seventeenth century; indeed, it was fashionable particularly for artists or poets to sport a somewhat unkempt appearance with open collars and their doublets undone. A woman in an unbuttoned doublet, of course, was no longer melancholic and artistic but immodest and enticing, revealing the natural shape of her body. According to the pamphlets, the cross-dressed woman was the antithesis to the modest, feminine woman, and ‘will give her body to have her bodie deformed’. Crucially, to these moralists, Hic Mulier was conversely masculine in both behaviour and appearance (even carrying a dagger for duelling) yet promiscuous and ‘bawdy’.

Edward Sackville in an unbuttoned doublet. William Larkin, Edward Sackville (1613), oil on canvas; 206.6 x 121.6 cm, Kenwood House: London. Accessed via: https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1610-1619/

This masculine fashion trend clearly exacerbated patriarchal fears of the overtly sexual woman who both looked and indeed acted like a man. But the issue of fashion is also integral – to moralists, wearing masculine clothing served to accentuate a woman’s sexuality, but also highlighted her vanity and frivolity. Unsurprisingly, the illustration on the title page of Hic Mulier depicts a woman in a broad-brimmed feathered hat looking at herself in a mirror.

The only evidence of these masculine-presenting women is in the written criticism and condemnation by men. But it’s affirming that, against the backdrop of socially fluid, urban and increasingly commodified London, a subverting trend in women’s fashion was able to briefly disturb the rigidity of the royal court, pulpit, and press. Although we will never know how many women really cross-dressed in early seventeenth century or what type of women participated, one thing is clear: as long as women’s changing fashions has long caused crises among the male ruling classes, women have been purposefully dressing to subvert, dupe, disguise and express themselves.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Clark, Sandra, ‘”Hic Mulier”, “Haec Vir”, and the Controversy over Masculine Women, Studies in Philology 82 2 (1985), pp. 157-183

Hooper, Wilfrid, ‘The Tudor Sumptuary Laws’, The English Historical Review 30 119 (1915), p. 433-449

Newman, Karen, Fashioning Femininity: Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago, 1991)

Vincent, Susan J., ‘“When I am in Good Habitt”: Clothes in English Culture c. 1550 – c. 1670’ (PhD dissertation, University of York, 2002)

 

Copy Culture and Creativity

As long as there has been fashion, there have been fakes. Couture was copied from its earliest days: sketchers or buyers working for counterfeiters were sent to shows to bring back new designs for replication as soon as they were available. Garment labels were developed, in part, as a measure to combat the copyists – Madeleine Vionnet even went as far as to mark her labels with her own thumbprint. Others frequently altered their label designs to stay one step ahead of the thousands of counterfeit labels being produced. In France, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was set up so that designers could register their original works in an attempt to protect themselves against counterfeiting. In the United States, however, the legality of copying remained murky. In a video created for the 2014-15 exhibition Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits at The Museum at FIT, US experts on fashion law note the legal differences between counterfeit items – “made in exact imitation … with intention to deceive” – and knockoffs, which are similar but not identical to the original item, as well as the lack of copyright protections for fashion design in the US.

Madeleine Vionnet labels with thumbprint via Susan Scafidi [http://www.counterfeitchic.com/2006/02/marking_territory.php]

It is standard practice for artists to copy masterpieces as part of the process of developing their own style and, in the same way, fashion designers are able to hone their skills by observing and replicating the work of master couturiers. But just as commercial forgery is widespread in the art world, so in fashion, the most popular high-end designs inspire corporate copycats. These range from terrorist groups and drug cartels, who exploit the high profit margins that can be achieved by selling counterfeit ‘It bags’ produced using cheap materials and labour, to highly creative designers like Dapper Dan, who began riffing on designer logos as part of his own fashion line in the 1980s. In the grey area between these ethical extremes lie brands like Fashion Nova, who reinterpret – as quickly and as minimally as possible – the work of more expensive and often emerging designers, to sell to the masses at a fraction of the cost.

For those with an appetite for high-end fashion but without the means to purchase it, fakes that mimic the style (without necessarily replicating the standards of production) offer an affordable alternative. Excepting those that are produced in a moral vacuum, counterfeit designer goods are a democratising power for consumers. However, the cost to the designers – and to emerging designers, in particular – is self-evident. Furthermore, the barefaced copying arguably contributes to the homogenisation of style by negating the need for self-styling through innovation. An alternative to this can be found in the ‘Versage’ style noted by Allyn Gaestel in Lagos: she writes that the self-styling is just as important to the overall look as the ‘knock-off Versace’, and that, often, the garments themselves don’t feature a logo, but rather an aesthetic nod to the designer brand that has been reinterpreted for the Lagosian consumer.

Photography Bénédicte Kurzen / Noor [https://nataal.com/versage]

With the widespread access to visual culture that the internet affords comes a partial exposure of the processes of creativity, which almost always involve references to existing creations. The growing acceptance of this fact can open up conversations around copying and inspiration, thereby facilitating respectful homages rather than theft. This same access to images means that those who do copy without crediting or sincerely reinterpreting their inspirations are likely to be targeted by watchdogs like Diet Prada. The increased awareness of references means that – regardless of the law – those who do reuse logos, whether for prestige by association or the complex forms of expression associated with ‘post-parodies’ (as described by Charles Colman), are encouraged to use them innovatively, creating designs that are evidently not direct copies of ‘originals’.

This form of homage, which is so important in hip-hop, brings us back to the work of Dapper Dan. When Gucci largely copied a Dapper Dan jacket in 2017, they initially rejected the idea that the design had been stolen. After much furore online, Gucci partnered with Dapper Dan, eventually opening a store in Harlem. This reclamation of the prestige of copying can be seen elsewhere in Diesel’s ‘DEISEL’ pop-up on Canal Street in 2018. With the explosion of visual culture for all online, attitudes towards copying in fashion are being forced to evolve and adapt to an acceptance of creative reinterpretation.

By Lucy Corkish

Sources:

Allyn Gaestel, ‘Versage’ in Nataal, issue 1 (2018)

Charles E. Colman, ‘Trademark Law and the Prickly Ambivalence of Post-Parodies’, NYU School of Law Public Law Research Paper No. 14-45 (2014)

Ellie Pithers, ‘Why Diesel Is Selling Knock-Offs To Unsuspecting Customers’ (2018) [https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/diesel-fake-store-new-york-february-2018]

Farah X and Lisa Cortes, ‘The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion’, Netflix (2019)

Nancy J. Troy, Couture Culture (2002)

TED, ‘How fake handbags fund terrorism and organized crime | Alastair Gray’ (2018) [https://youtu.be/5UH7uTpTa44]

The Museum at FIT, Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits (2014-15) [https://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/faking-it.php]

The Museum at FIT, ‘An Insider’s Perspective on the Counterfeit Industry’ (2014) [https://youtu.be/Is9Hxn7Wr5w]

Gunne Sax: A Cottagecore Fantasy

Gunne Sax was founded in 1967, the Summer of Love, by San Francisco-based dressmakers Elle Bailey and Carol Miller. The brand became hugely popular under the direction of Jessica McClintock in the 1970s. Known for their prairie dresses, Gunne Sax designs incorporated elements from various romanticised time periods, from the front-lacings of a medieval kirtle, through the low-cut square neck of Renaissance French gowns, out to Victorian mutton sleeves and the lace inserts of Edwardian tea dresses. They also often resembled traditional folk costume – many look like refashionings of the German dirndl, for instance. The overall effect is one of fairytale escapism. This is a European heritage through American eyes. In 1984, McClintock herself told People magazine ‘I sell romance and fantasy’. The name of the dress, however, suggests the prairie skirts worn by colonisers in the mid-19th century. The dresses were popular with hippies in the 1970s, connecting back to the more progressive politics of the sixties and therefore appealing to the young women for whom they were made. Yet the invocation of “traditional values” in the whitewashed historical references and relative modesty of the designs made them double agents, and therefore supremely financially viable.

The overarching sense of historical fantasy is picked up by Laird Borrelli-Persson in an article for Vogue.com in 2016, entitled ‘How the Gunne Sax Dress Went From Cliché to Cool’. She writes that “at the end of what was, for many, an annus horribilis, the escapist fantasy aspect of Gunne Sax dresses resonates and makes them look fresh, not frumpy.” 2016 might well have been a horrible year for America, but 2020 was unfathomable in terms of collective trauma. If we take this need for escape and nostalgia as a key factor in the resurgence of Gunne Sax-style prairie dresses, it makes sense that we have seen so many iterations of the prairie dress in recent years, in a time of such huge socio-political upheaval. From Alexander McQueen spring/summer 2019 and Gucci fall/winter 2020, to Cecilie Bahnsen and Batsheva autumn/winter 2019, to Ganni and Dôen’s most recent collections, prairie dresses have already been established as a wardrobe essential of sorts.

Batsheva A/W 19 Final Look Prairie Wedding Dress

But then came cottagecore, an internet aesthetic which revolves around a romanticised western pastoral, free from the urban spaces to which so many of us have been confined through quarantine. As Rowan Ellis points out in her video ‘why is cottagecore so gay?’, cottagecore is not a subculture, but imagery consumed online, through social media sites like Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok. But even if a cottage in the woods is unavailable to most, there are active elements of a cottagecore lifestyle that are available to all. Speaking to i-D, 16-year-old Redditor InfamousBees says “I can make bread in a tiny city apartment. I can grow herbs in my windowsill or in flowerpots or in old mugs. I can surround myself with loved, cared-for plants that can thrive on little sunlight. I don’t need a huge yard to have a few chickens or a big, fluffy dog. I certainly don’t need a cottage to be vulnerable with my girlfriend.” These small things are all examples of behavioural activation, small goals that result in positive rewards. The queer roots of this focus on handmaking and craft are outlined beautifully by Eleanor Medhurst in her article ‘Cottagecore Lesbians And The Landdyke Legacy’. Here, she discusses landdyke ecofeminism, which is based on a network of communities of lesbian activists. One function of these communes has traditionally been “living important values through everyday acts”, like the small rituals that link teenagers looking at images online to the aesthetic that underlines those images. Gunne Sax dresses, as they are now necessarily bought vintage – by virtue of the closure of the brand – play into the ecological concerns of cottagecore enthusiasts, but also hold a sense of the significance and integrity of something owned before. They hold stories of the past and therefore connect us to other human beings. There is community in pre-owned clothing.

@widowmeiker

Very princess-y haul today! Going to try to post some collection videos this week! #gunnesax #brigerton #vintage #aesthetic #cottagecore #princesscore

♬ original sound – Madeline The Person

Yet this is a community in which few can participate. Gunne Sax dresses, though labelled “affordable” by Borrelli-Persson, tend to sell at around £300 a garment, which is unreasonably expensive for most. They are also size restrictive – though a prairie dress looks great on everyone, most Gunne Sax examples for sale are between an XS and an S – even as a mid-size girl, I’ve yet to find one that will fit me. These price and size restrictions reflect some of the more problematic aspects of the aesthetic, which align with its predecessors. Ronald Creagh identifies hippies as the last guard of utopian socialism, following in the footsteps of the Romantics and William Morris, but I would argue that cottagecore is reflective of this ideology, too. It falls into many of the same pitfalls – an idea from the mind of those who are alienated from the real toil of farm life, who do not know the struggles of working the land, and who think of it only as “simple”, at their most detached approaching Marie Antoinette and her model farm, Le Hameau de la Reine.

A third problem with the cottagecore aesthetic is the exclusion of BIPOC – if you look under the hashtags for Gunne Sax, almost every photo is of a thin white woman. Indeed, many of the touchpoints of the aesthetic are of colonial Western Europe. Leah Sinclair argues that “black women embracing cottagecore is an act of defiance”. Like many exercises in reclamation, it is both ambivalent and powerful. Some of my favourite BIPOC cottagecore creators include @hillhousevintage, @obrienandolive, @sallyomo, @puffybunni, @victoriamisu and @camriehewie.

https://www.tiktok.com/@enchanted_noir/video/6920707784816233733?sender_device=pc&sender_web_id=6934974510681179653&is_from_webapp=v1&is_copy_url=0

However, the white supremacist possibilities and the traditionally patriarchal values espoused by the aesthetic have drawn interest from alt-right circles, particularly through the figure of the tradwife, a woman whose position is based on traditional wifely activities, namely cooking, cleaning and babymaking. It’s substantially different from being a housewife, a job which (like many caring professions) is vastly undervalued in society today, because it relies on an ideology that dictates that women are naturally more gentle, more submissive, and weaker. It’s also clearly trans- and homophobic. In so many ways, it is the opposite of the WLW cottagecore community. The danger in an aesthetic, perhaps even more so than a subculture, is that the focus on imagery rather than politics allows for the visual markers of a group to be taken up by those who actively wish harm to others who might look or dress quite like them. Ultimately, the success of cottagecore online is its marketability. To span both sides of the political spectrum is quite a feat, and there’s huge commercial potential to be tapped, which is, I’m sure, partly why we’ve seen such a proliferation of Gunne Sax-style dresses in the past few years, and why the imagery has been pushed forward by the algorithms: it makes people buy. But even if this is the drive behind its popularity, the value of community and care, environmental activism, handmaking and crafts which cottagecore encourages are not lessened by that fact. If anything, it provides a drive to make a world where these things are valued more.

By Alexandra Sive

 

Sources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5odKiL7jRW0

https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/g5xjgj/cottagecore-aesthetic-lgbt-teens-tumblr-tik-tok

https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/ep4egw/is-cottagecore-a-colonialist-fantasy-

https://dressingdykes.com/2020/08/28/cottagecore-lesbians-and-the-landdyke-legacy/

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/10/style/cottagecore.html

https://www.vogue.com/article/vintage-trends-gunne-sax-dress

https://zora.medium.com/black-women-embracing-cottagecore-is-an-act-of-defiance-3df8696d8811

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/people-explain-why-baked-bread-quarantine_l_5ec73570c5b6698f38f5035c

https://www.verywellmind.com/increasing-the-effectiveness-of-behavioral-activation-2797597

 

 

The Italian suit: Fellini, Mastroianni and Jep Gambardella

Suits have been considered ‘naturally masculine’ since their birth in the late seventeenth century, as argued by fashion scholar Anne Hollander. Tracing their modern evolution back to the Enlightenment, when a rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman ideals took place, Hollander explains that the survival of modern suits is due to their simultaneous suggestion of classical nudity and confident male sexuality. In Italy, the sartorial suit has come to represent the quintessential mise of elegant and fashionable men, reinforced by the outfits of two characters embodying an image of Italian masculinity and style recognised worldwide: Marcello Rubini of La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960), and his modern reincarnation, Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza (2013). Their suits speak of the most refined Italian sartorial tradition, emblematic of a vision of the Italian ‘Latin Lover’ much indebted to Fellini’s masterpiece.

Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita (1960) gave birth to a powerful trope signifying Italian style, fashion and glamour, recognized both in Italy and abroad. Especially in terms of menswear, the movie started a real revolution. Piero Gherardi, costume designer, set designer and art director of La Dolce Vita, chose for Marcello Mastroianni Brioni’s ‘Roman style’ suits, which he wore throughout the film. The brand, founded in Rome in 1945 by tailor Nazareno Fonticoli and businessman Gaetano Savini, received greater exposure thanks to the incredible success of the movie and became known as the epitome of Italian sartorial elegance. As opposed to the Savile Row’s ‘boxy, almost military suits of stiff lines and finite palette of materials, colors and details’, Brioni put forward a form-fitting style of suits for men: ‘elegant, impeccably made, and undeniably formal’, but also relaxed and unpretentious.

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita wearing the Brioni “Roman Style” suit. (https://www.artribune.com/attualita/2014/02/percezioni-proiezioni-dellitalia/attachment/2_marcello-mastroianni-ne-la-dolce-vita-federico-fellini-1960/)

This was the starting point of a different image of masculinity, one that moved past Flügel’s idea of ‘Great Masculine Renunciation,’ in which – since the end of the eighteenth century –men had abandoned their beauty in favour of being ‘only useful’. The character of Marcello Rubini, a socialite journalist part of the Roman elite made of Hollywood stars like Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), and incredibly wealthy youth like Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), became the symbol of this revolution, reclaiming menswear’s right to draw attention to itself. Fellini played a crucial role in the establishment of this attire, and it is not a coincidence that in his three movies starring Mastroianni – La Dolce Vita (1960), (1963) and City of Women (1980) – the costumes worn by the Italian actor are variations of the classic male suit. The cynical journalist Marcello Rubini, the indecisive director Guido Anselmi and the middle-aged businessman Snàporaz, all equally tormented by feminine figures who seem to dominate their universe, can be seen sporting the dark suit – completed with a white or striped shirt, and a dark tie – and the almost inevitable pair of dark glasses. These elements transformed Mastroianni into ‘the man everybody wanted to be, or be with,’ a model of consumption for a consumer society, whether European or American, and the embodiment of the Italian ‘Latin Lover.’

Marcello Mastroianni in 8½. Photo by Paul Ronald. Centro Cinema Città di Cesena. (https://iicberlino.esteri.it/iic_berlino/de/gli_eventi/calendario/2017/02/ciao-marcello.html)

Today, the symbol of the suit has become an integral part of Italian culture and style, and the character of Marcello still echoes in modern productions, such as Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (2013). Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of the movie, seems to be shaped as an older version of Marcello Rubini: same profession, same social milieu, and above all the same sense of fashion. There are some almost identical outfits worn at similar occasions, such as the black suit and tie as everyday uniform, and the impeccable white suit they both sport at the beach – or near it, in the case of Jep. The white suit – an equally iconic style that continues to appear in menswear collections – was symptomatic of the introduction of colour that characterized the new style created by Brioni, which also presented red as one of the colours of men’s eveningwear.

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita. Cineteca di Bologna/Reporters associati. (https://iicberlino.esteri.it/iic_berlino/de/gli_eventi/calendario/2017/02/ciao-marcello.html)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing the white suit as he visits the place where the cruise ship Costa Concordia sank. Photo by Janus Film, 2013. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2358891/mediaviewer/rm96719360/)

All these elements were translated in the style of Jep, whose outfits included red and yellow sport jackets matched with white cotton trousers and shirts, worn without ties for a more relaxed look. Behind Jep’s impeccable image stands another historical sartoria, Cesare Attolini of Naples, birthplace of Sorrentino, Servillo and the character of Jep, too. One of the oldest and finest sartorie in Naples, Attolini created a series of bespoke suits with the help of Servillo himself and costume designer Daniela Ciancio, who decided to mix them with more formal Armani suits. Jep’s tailor-made outfits seem to caress his body as he slowly and elegantly walks among the ‘great beauty’ of Rome, constituting a ‘soft armour’ and ‘his shield against the ugliness and vulgarity of the world.’ They are as eccentric and dandyish as Gambardella himself, in a way that perfectly matches his tenor of life. In fact, by alternating scenes of ‘high life,’ be it the extravagant parties on Jep’s terrace or his night-time walks around the city’s splendid streets, Sorrentino represented a sense of wealth, both cultural and economical, that often degenerates into pure excess.

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing a red sport jacket by sartoria Attolini. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing a yellow sport jacket by sartoria Attolini. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) in a black suit and tie in La Grande Bellezza. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

The emphasis on the artisanal, made-by-hand and luxury aspect of the ‘Made in Italy,’ represented by Attolini’s suits for La Grande Bellezza, as well as Brioni’s in La Dolce Vita, reflects a globally defining mark of Italian style that especially characterises men’s sartorial elegance. These suits present a specific economic and cultural value which identifies the men who wear them with a certain type of masculinity not predetermined but rather culturally and publicly sustained. Worn and afforded only by certain individuals, socialites and trendsetters, they become emblems of a lascivious lifestyle that characterised, and still characterises, the model of the ‘Latin Lover,’ presented on screen through the figures of Marcello Rubini and Jep Gambardella.

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources

Flügel, J. C. The Psychology of Clothes. London: Hogarth Press & the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1940.

Hochkofler, Matilde. Marcello Mastroianni: the fun of cinema. Translated by Jocelyn Earle. Rome: Gremese International, 1992.

Levy, Shawn. Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome. London: Hachette UK, 2016.

Paulicelli, Eugenia. Italian Style: Fashion & Film from Early Cinema to the Digital Age. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Reich, Jacqueline. Beyond the Latin lover: Marcello Mastroianni, masculinity, and Italian cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

 

Films

(Federico Fellini, Italy, 1963).

City of Women (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1980).

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1960).

La Grande Bellezza (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy, 2013).

An Ode to Grace

The burn out from sitting at the same desk for weeks on end is starting to get to me. Starved of external stimuli, I’ve found myself scrolling through Pinterest, Instagram, even Tumblr, for images which might evoke a sense of life before lockdown. In my search for inspiration, I keep coming back to the work of Grace Coddington. The iconic stylist known for her collaborations with Bruce Weber, Annie Leibowitz and Mario Testino amongst others, she is hailed by many as the most influential fashion editor of the past forty years. Her eclectic repertoire, from moody to ethereal to romantic to noir, provides an endless source of uplifting imagery. Over the past few weeks, I have found myself pondering what makes her images so unique, and indeed so ‘Grace’.

Vogue US, April 2012. photographed by Tim Walker. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @supernovafashionn

In her memoire, Grace reflects, ‘For me, one of the most important aspects of my work is to give people something to dream about, just as I used to dream all those years ago as a child looking at beautiful photographs.’ As Fashion Director of British Vogue and, later, as Creative Director of American Vogue, she masterminded page after page of dream-like editorial. Naomi Campbell in a white convertible surrounded by a pack of dalmatians. Natalia Vodianova as Alice in Wonderland flanked by John Galliano as the Red Queen and Stephen Jones as the Mad Hatter. Keira Knightly bottle feeding an elephant in Kenya in Comme des Garçons. All these images are rooted in the same desire to create a world which readers can escape to and momentarily revel in the beauty of the impossible.

Vogue US, December 2003. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @cybele.atis; Vogue Britain, June 1990. Photographed by Peter Lindbergh. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @inniconceptualmagazine

Grace is thought of by many as a romantic heroine who premises her work solely on her vision of beauty as opposed to commercial ideals. In the 2009 documentary The September Issue, we see her grappling with Anna Wintour over budget and advertising constraints, adamantly defending her twenty-two-page spread ‘Paris, je t’aime’. When she arrives at the Palace of Versailles to shoot the September 2007 couture story, she becomes tearful when confronted by the beauty of the gardens and reflects ‘I think I got left behind somewhere as I’m still a romantic.’ For me, this moment perfectly encapsulates the essence of Grace, and her authentic approach to fashion. In the midst of an increasingly commercialised industry, her images have a sense of purity and fullness, and it is as if she is seeing everything for the first time.

Vogue US, September 2007. Photographed by Stephen Meisel. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @bibajude; Vogue US, December 2013. Photographed Annie Leibovitz. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @arthistoryfashion

Despite her reputation as one of the bastions of the fashion industry, Grace has always professed to disliking trends. In weaving her own narrative out of the latest looks, she creates a timeless vision which immunises the clothes from the ravages of time. In American Vogue’s September 2007 issue, she styled Fall/Winter Giorgio Armani and Carolina Herrera in the style of Brassai’s 1920s photographs of Paris. In the magazine’s December 2013 cover story, she styled Jessica Chastain in Alexander McQueen posing as Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting La Mousmé. In the December 1996 fashion feature, ‘A Feast For the Eyes’, nine supermodels are presented in Christian Lacroix Haute Couture, having a picnic in the park.

In her images, Grace creates stories and characters around the clothes, and in doing so she makes fashion secondary to beauty. This gives her work an enduring quality, and her images remain as magical now as when they were first created.

By Violet Caldecott

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/jan/23/grace-coddington-the-woman-who-made-fashion-art

https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/8239/lessons-we-can-learn-from-grace-coddington

https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/32576/1/peek-inside-grace-coddington-s-new-book

https://www.vogue.fr/fashion-culture/fashion-books/diaporama/eight-unforgettable-grace-coddington-fashion-editorials/37515?amp=

Rose-Coloured Tresses: Pink Hair for Dark Times

Every February, like clockwork, I am struck with the sudden urge to dye my hair pink.  The desire is almost inexplicable. Perhaps by this point it is a force of habit or evidence of my desire to blend in with saccharine Valentine’s Day decor, but it also feels like a small act of rebellion against the onslaught of bitter, grey days that blur together in late winter. This season it seems that I am not alone in this desire. Teen Vogue has deemed pink hair to be the ‘defining aesthetic’ of the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is supported by Alex Brownsell, founder of the hair salon Bleach known for its wild colours (and, for the record, producer of this author’s favourite at-home pink dye kit), who told The Guardian that her company has sold one pink hair product every 30 seconds in the past year – which makes for nearly 2,880 people buying bubblegum hues each day since the pandemic began.

While the exact number of Londoners sporting pink hair in lockdown remains difficult to calculate, the reasons the trend has spiked so much this year seem quite simple. Lockdown has felt like an endless late winter slump, each dreary day blending into the next and the familiar walls of our homes beginning to feel, well, too familiar. The visual equivalent of candyfloss made to top your head has the effect of a jolt of sugar to the system – an instant mood booster. Additionally, with screens limiting our outward appearance to the shoulders up, pink hair seems an easy way to set oneself apart from the crowd in an onslaught of endless Zoom calls. (I’ve also found that I receive many more smiles on the street with pink hair – proof perhaps that it’s not just my mood that the colour brightens).

Using blush hair as a distraction from dark times, however, is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. As long ago as Rococo France, men and women tinted their hair pink with powder, a trend which, in hindsight, may have been one of the more minor frivolous diversions from their festering societal problems. Several centuries later, pink hair took on a more practical purpose in cheering up citizens of a war-stricken nation. A 1940 issue of St. Joseph’s News Press proclaims a new fashion for pink hair, writing that across London: ‘Blondes are going to turn pink…for khaki and blonde don’t go together too well. The new pink fashion is becoming especially popular among women in uniform. The new pink tint is the invention of a West End hairstylist, who said that uniforms are playing a big part in hair fashions’.

As Pat Kirkham establishes in ‘Keeping Up the Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ hairstyling and beauty products were essential to the identity of women enlisted in the British military, who were encouraged to maintain traditionally feminine appearances both to differentiate themselves from male soldiers and to project a polished, confident image of unified nationalism. Women not enlisted in the military were similarly encouraged to adhere to their usual beauty routines or enhance them even further, as means of offering comfort to themselves and their families that all was well on the home front. In light of this, unnaturally pink hair seems to be a choice motivated by much more than the fact that blonde hair clashed with khaki uniforms. It seems more likely, perhaps, that a coif of pink hair poked out from a sea of khaki like a beacon of optimism, offering brief respite from the drabness of wartime rationing and imposed service. In occupied Paris, cosmetics took on an air of rebellion, signifying a refusal to adhere to the plainness essential to Nazi standards of femininity. Just four years after the liberation of Paris, the High Fashion Coiffeurs Union showed a shade of pale pink called ‘hermine rose’ as the hair colour of the season, which reads as a jubilant celebration of the full potential of beauty products.

Luminex hair dye ad shown in L’Officiel, late 1930s-early 1940s.

The trend for rosy locks was widespread enough to necessitate options for women who were not ready to take the plunge into permanently colouring their hair. A 1947 piece in Women’s Wear Daily describes how women could purchase pink nylon hair from British designer Bianca Mosca to mix with their own hair, creating a style that coordinated with their pastel evening gowns. A 1942 issue of Harper’s Bazaar praises socialite Mrs. Arturo Lopez-Willshaw for her ‘immaculate and lovely’ hair styles, braided creations that were festooned with pink velvet bows and pearls.

Lapinal hair colour chart, late 1950s, image via Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/listing/894710740/vintage-lapinal-hair-color-chart-poster.

Just ten years later, a brochure for Lapinal hair colour offered no fewer than four shades of pink available to women dyeing their hair at home. In 1964, famed costume designer Edith Head brought pink hair to the silver screen in the movie What a Way to Go! with Shirley MacLaine in a Pepto-Bismol hued bouffant and a fur coat to match. In a London where we are blessedly free from military draft and enemy occupation, pink hair seems a bit less shocking – these days it’s been seen on everyone from Kate Moss to Kylie Jenner. The sentiment behind the style, however, remains unchanged: when the going gets tough, it helps to look at the world with rose-coloured tresses.

Promotional image for What a Way to Go!, 1964, directed by J. Lee Thompson. 20th Century Fox.

By Ruby Redstone

Sources:

Bateman, Kristin. ‘How Pink Hair Came to Define the Aesthetic of Covid-19,’ Teen Vogue. 22 December 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/pink-hair-aesthetic-covid-19.

Elan, Priya. ‘Why pink hair is the “statement-making” hair color trend of the pandemic,’ The Guardian. 8 January 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2021/jan/08/pink-hair-color-trend-pandemic.

Felsenthal, Julia. ‘Pink Hair is All the Rage – Just Like it Was in 1914,’ Slate. 12 May 2011. https://slate.com/culture/2011/05/pink-hair-is-all-the-rage-just-like-it-was-in-1914.html.

Kirkham, Pat, ‘Keeping up Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ in   Atkins, Jacqueline M. ed., Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-45 (New Haven and London: BGC/Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 205-228

‘New Pink Hair Fashion’. St Joseph’s News Press. 14  September 1940. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=G4hkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U3UNAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=6185%2C2174950.

‘Paris Picks Pink Hair-Calls It “Hermine Rose”’. Toledo Blade. 2 December 1948. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mNMpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AgAEAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=2723%2C5938092

“Pink Nylon Hair.” Women’s Wear Daily 75, no. 48 (Sep 08, 1947): 3. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/pink-nylon-hair/docview/1627474466/se-2?accountid=10277.

“SCRAPBOOK.” Harper’s Bazaar 76, no. 2772 (12, 1942): 58-59. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/scrapbook/docview/1832465226/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Shopping Bazaar.” Harper’s Bazaar 71, no. 2704 (01, 1938): 32-37. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/shopping-bazaar/docview/1832491061/se-2?accountid=10277.

The Pas de Deux of Fashion and Ballet

As a little girl, I watched prima ballerinas dress up in flowing tutus and sparkly leotards to perform seemingly impossible manoeuvres with only their bodies and a pair of pointe shoes. Slipping into my own tights, leotard, and shoes while pinning my hair into the tightest bun possible felt like a daily badge of honour. As a former ballerina, I can’t help but admire the intricate, graceful look of ballet costumes and how their designs highlight the elegance of a dancer’s body.

Ballet and fashion are inextricably intertwined, with each art form both inspiring and drawing inspiration from the other. Anna Pavlova, a world-renowned prima ballerina of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wore a particularly striking tutu in her 1905 performance of ‘The Dying Swan,’ a four-minute ballet choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. Pavlova performed the piece thousands of times over the course of her career, and her rendition influenced contemporary versions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Her costume features a tight bodice with soft panels, reminiscent of a swan’s wings, on either side of her tutu and a feathered headpiece.

‘Cygne Noir,’ an evening gown designed by Christian Dior in the mid-twentieth century, reimagined elements of Pavlova’s timeless costume. The gown also incorporates a tight bodice and its skirt billows out in a waterfall of silk and velvet. Furthermore, the gown reconceives the silky panels of Pavlova’s tutu. If Pavlova’s costume embodies the demure fragility of the white swan, Dior’s gown radiates the mystery and seduction of the black swan.

Herman Mishkin, ‘Anna Pavlova, costumed as the dying swan,’ 1905. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Christian Dior, Cygne Noir (Black Swan)
Evening Dress
1949-1950 (made)
Victoria and Albert Museum

The leotard, a fundamental component of ballet costumes and rehearsal wear, has been consistently reimagined and incorporated into fashion. In 1943, Harper’s Bazaar introduced ‘The Leotard Idea’ based on designs created by Mildred Orrick. With sportswear dominating wartime fashion, fashion editor Diana Vreeland hoped to introduce the styles to young women, particularly college girls. She worked with renowned sportswear designer Claire McCardell and Townley Sports to create ‘variations of the leotard theme,’ but the designs were ultimately too expensive to manufacture. However, twenty-first century bodysuits recycle this traditional piece of balletwear into contemporary streetwear.

‘The Leotard Idea,’ Harper’s Bazaar, 1943.

Stella McCartney, ‘Stella Wear Modern Open-Knit Bodysuit’ via https://www.neimanmarcus.com/p/stella-mccartney-stella-wear-modern-open-knit-bodysuit-prod234870329

Twentieth-century camp also seized upon the connection between ballet and fashion. Franco Moschino designed a strapless dress for his fall/winter collection of 1989, combining a bustier top with the ballet pink of a leotard. The dress is an optical illusion, depicting a pair of legs in pink tights and pointe shoes posing in passé, underneath a cropped, pink tulle tutu that protrudes from the black skirt. The ensemble comes alive as the wearer moves; a simple shift in direction sends the legs on the skirt spiralling into a pirouette.

Franco Moschino (Italian, 1950–1994) for House of Moschino (Italian, founded 1983). Dress, fall/winter 1989. Courtesy of Moschino. Photo © Johnny Dufort, 2018. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ballet slippers and pointe shoes are another source of consistent inspiration in fashion. Ballet slippers were first introduced in the eighteenth century by Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo, a French dancer who preferred to perform in soft slippers as opposed to high-heeled shoes, breaking away from traditional dance footwear. A century later, Swedish ballerina Marie Taglioni pioneered the creation of the pointe shoe, which would be further advanced by Anna Pavlova. Pavlova also worked with Salvatore Capezio to create the world’s first international pointe shoe brand. Pointe shoes and ballet slippers were traditionally made for white female ballet dancers. Therefore, pale pink – perceived to be close to the colour of white skin – became the standardised colour for ballet tights and shoes.

Until as recently as 2018, dancers of colour were forced to dye their pointe shoes. As most ballerinas go through two to three pairs of point shoes per week, many dancers spent as much as eight-hundred dollars per year on dyes. However, ballet manufacturers like Gaynor Minden have finally recognised the need to accommodate ballerinas of colour, and ballet shoes are now available in a range of satin colours that represent a wider variety of skin tones.

‘Melle. Taglioni dans La sylphide,’ 1860. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Gaynor Minden’s satin shades for pointe shoes via https://dancer.com/satin-colors/

Modern, prêt-à-porter ballet flats echo their onstage ancestors. They exploded in popularity after Rose Repetto designed flats for Brigitte Bardot in 1956, which Bardot later wore in her film …And God Created Woman. Today’s ballet flats come in a range of colours and styles from various designers, and often feature the dainty bow and soft leather that define the ballet slipper. Brands like Repetto and Chanel continuously revamp the classic silhouettes each season. However, some feature modern twists, such as Simone Rocha’s combination of a ballet flat and trainer. Even the design’s crisscross straps resemble pointe shoe ribbons.

Simone Rocha spring/summer 2021 shoes via https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/simone-rocha-ss21-shoes

Ballet and fashion have also been linked in popular culture and advertising. Stuart Weitzman released a series of advertisements for the 2019 holiday season called ‘Step Inside,’ featuring Misty Copeland, one of the foremost prima ballerinas of the twenty-first century. In one variation, Copeland wears a black bralette and black tulle skirt, modernising the traditional tutu. Her shoes change colour as she chaînés across the room, aligning the artistry of ballet with the ephemerality of fashion.

 

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw wore a pink sleeveless bodysuit and white tulle skirt in the opening sequence of Sex and the City (1998-2004). With love of fashion being one of the show’s central themes, Bradshaw’s ballerina-meets-urban-woman look kicked off every episode, embodying the timeless elegance of the relationship between fashion and ballet. Although I am no longer a ballerina, ballet flats, bodysuits, and the occasional tulle skirt are staples in my wardrobe, and I can’t wait to scoop up more reinvented pieces that put me onstage again.

By Genevieve Davis

Sources:

Arnold, Rebecca. “Sportswear and the New York Fashion Industry during the Second World War.” In the American Look: Fashion and the Image of Women in 1930’s and 1940’s New York. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

Daher, Nadine. “From Ballerina Flats to Tutus, Ballet Has Left Its Mark on Fashion.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ballerina-flats-tutus-ballet-has-left-its-mark-fashion-180974296/.

Marshall, Alex. “Brown Point Shoes Arrive, 200 Years After White Ones.” The New York Times, November 4, 2018, sec. Arts. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/04/arts/dance/brown-point-shoes-diversity-ballet.html.

Pike, Naomi. “It’s A Ballet Slipper, But Not as You Know It: Simone Rocha Has Created A Shoe We Never Knew We Needed.” British Vogue. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/simone-rocha-ss21-shoes.

Pointe. “1820s–1830s: Marie Taglioni and the Romantic Ballerinas,” August 5, 2020. https://www.pointemagazine.com/history-of-pointe-shoes-2646384074.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3?rebelltitem=3.

Staff, C. R. “The History of Ballet Flats.” CR Fashion Book, October 15, 2019. https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/a24663992/the-history-of-ballet-flats/.

Sensory Experience in a Virtual World: Three Young Designers in Focus

As our stay-indoors-dystopia trudges into its eleventh month, an early symptom of a wandering fashion sense may present itself in the form of recent searches on eBay like ‘vintage velvet loungewear’, ‘green knitted balaclava’ and ‘faux fur bonnet’. With nowhere to go where people might look at us, the sense of sight in fashion has been reduced to looking at shoulders on Zoom and the top halves of faces at supermarkets. We finally have chance to experiment with the strange and probably ugly. Even the most fashionable of the work-from-home brigade have relinquished their visually appealing outfits in favour of something that feels comfortable. When looking and being looked at disappears, fashion must search for a more all-encompassing sensory experience.

Of course, fashion and the senses have long been connected. In 1972, Diana Vreeland’s pioneering Balenciaga exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art played traditional Spanish music, and the galleries were misted with the scent of Le Dix. While Vreeland was revolutionary in constructing a playful, multi-sensory experience of fashion, the exhibition retained a disjunct between seeing, smelling and hearing.  Innovative young designers Chet Lo, Monirath and Helena Thulin, on the other hand, are pushing the boundaries of bodily experience by creating and thinking through the senses. Without ignoring the aesthetic importance of design, they invite us to imagine, too, how things could taste, smell and feel.

Chet Lo’s ‘durian’ designs, accessed via https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela

A recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, Chet Lo makes vivid, tight-fitting knitwear that stretches over and hugs its wearer. The fluorescent colours and spiky textures of skirts, leg-warmers, and puff-sleeved jumpers are shamelessly striking. But the arresting visuals take us on a further sensory journey – Lo’s trademark puckered, pointed knitting technique (which was a ‘happy accident’ in his final year of study) mimics the appearance of the durian fruit, an Asian fruit known for its potent smell and formidable spikes. We are taken aback not only optically, but also by imagining a powerful smell and taste. Described by i-D magazine as ‘push[ing] the boundaries of wearability’, the softness of these garments’ feminine silhouette is contrasted with the abstract prick of sharp thorns. The 24-year-old designer’s mantra is to let things happen naturally, so it seems fitting that his happy knitting accident twists ideas of wearability by combining the body’s ordinary outline with an otherworldly-but-natural fruit that conjures up an abundance of sensations.

Departing from the fun and fruity, Brisbane-based designer Monirath creates jarring jewellery and hats that wholly challenge the way we consider accessories and their visual appeal. Her most recent ambitious project includes the ‘Water Hat’, a clear, rippled, ambiguously plastic hat that fastens under the chin with a white or black satin ribbon. The reflections of the wrinkles in the hat create ‘wave refractions’ on the wearers face when beneath a source of light, evoking the sensation of skin submerged in water. Made to order, each ‘Water Hat’ has a different arrangement of waves, creating a unique sensory experience that alters both the feel and appearance of the face (Monirath, with a playful nod to Instagram, describes her work as ‘a real life filter’). Such ground-breaking design gives birth to an entirely distinctive accessory that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but interacts with the body and its surroundings, activating both real and imagined senses.

Helena Thulin, an alumni of Studio Berçot in Paris, similarly experiments with the connection between accessories, nature, and the senses. Through delicate beading, the French designer portrays the simplicity and prettiness of a flower, freshly picked from a grassy meadow. Her earrings, either an asymmetrical pair or a single earring, imitate the individuality of wildflowers. Indeed, her designs are intended to be cherished like a flower, and her beading techniques are intentionally reminiscent of the childhood pleasure of making daisy chains.

‘ASTER CHINENSIS – Pair’, Helena Thulin, accessed via https://helenathulin.com/collections/earrings/products/aster-chinensis-pair

The dainty floral jewels are often photographed on a bed of grass that you can virtually smell and feel, reminding us to associate Thulin’s jewellery with senses evoked by nature’s flora. Toying with the senses even further, a recent promotional shot by Ignacio Barrios for London concept store 50-m shows her beautiful crystal flowers sandwiched jarringly between two slices of white bread.  In creating naturally charming jewellery that is intentionally photographed to arouse the senses, Thulin’s designs are almost good enough to eat.

When considering the work of these young artists, an argument put forward by fashion scholar Marco Pecorari feels pertinent: ‘the materiality of dress is not its sole defining element but rather is part of a network of affects and sensorial activities’. In an increasingly digital universe, feeling connected to our bodies through dress is crucial, and a new generation of designers are helping to activate all of our senses with their innovative and striking designs.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Zoë Kendall, ‘Screwing with silhouettes: these designers are reimagining shape and form’, i-D, published 7 January 2021, https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/bvxy54/young-designers-reimagining-fashion-silhouettes (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Jade Wickes, ‘Chet Lo: a designer set on switching up the knitwear narrative’, The Face, published 3 December 2020, https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Marco Pecorari, ‘Beyond Garments: Reorienting the Practice and Discourse of Fashion Curating’ in Annamari Vänskä and Hazel Clark (eds) Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond (London, 2017), pp. 183-198.

Chet Lo, personal website, https://www.chetlo.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Monirath, personal website, https://monirath.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Helena Thulin, personal website, https://helenathulin.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)