Commentary Archive

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Femina 1951

We are less than two weeks away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


Cover of Femina, October 1951. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Femina was a French fashion magazine active from the early twentieth century.  It is a great documentary source for the history of French couture as shown by these images.  During the war, Parisian couture was necessarily scaled back in its production due to a lack of material resources as well as customers.   Fashion, however, was often a way for the women of Paris to resist the occupation of their city by asserting nationalistic pride through the cultural tradition of high fashion.  After the war, Christian Dior asserted a return to luxuriant and grand femininity with his “New Look” collection of 1947 featuring narrow sloped shoulders, hand-span waists, and voluminous longer skirts.  Although some people were shocked and even dismayed at what seemed an excessive use of fabric, the silhouette was largely embraced by women happy to have a change that expressed beauty and luxury.

Illustration of a Christian Dior gown. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

By 1951, as these illustrations attest to, the New Look silhouette was an integral part of fashion.  Dior’s gown features a blue back panel with bow that is reminiscent of the earlier nineteenth century bustle emphasizing the back of the skirt.  This silhouette was very consciously a return to the history of dress from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which Dior felt celebrated femininity in a way that resonated in the post-war period.

Illustration of a Nina Ricci gown. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Nina Ricci was one of many female couturiers before the war who opened her house in 1932. Though she isn’t as well remembered today as Dior, she was a great success in the thirties and after the war, designing until 1954 when her son took over the business.  The gown illustrated here exemplifies Ricci’s aesthetic of a highly refined femininity infused with romantic details.  The caption refers to the Second Empire period in mid-nineteenth century France which the gown seems to revivify in its sweeping trained skirt and oversized bow emphasizing the hips.  By contrast, the waist appears even smaller.  The matching long evening gloves also continue a fashion tradition in eveningwear.  The model’s coiffure, however, is a modern post-war style which reminds us that fashion is always a blend of past and present.

What I love so much about these illustrations is the way they capture a sense of drama from the dress itself.  Photographs often rely upon the model and settings to create a fuller scenario but illustrations really focus on the silhouette and textures of the garment.  The shading on the Dior gown conveys the stiffness of the material and the sheen of a silk.  That I can “feel” the surface and shape of the dress is what draws me in.  In a sense, the drawing convinces me that the gown is real, that fashion is real, because it connects to what I already know in part – the textures, colors, and shape, but offers the possibility of even more – the actual dress.

The mark of the artist’s hand speaks to the agency of my own hands and the knowledge they quite literally hold.  The architectural quality of the gown can be felt with just a few lines in the right place.  By contrast, the more fluid, softer drape of Nina Ricci’s gown seems to telegraph the movements of the woman’s body.   I can imagine the train swaying in echo of her hips as she glides across the ballroom.  The illustrations heighten the sensuality of the gowns.  The differences in aesthetic qualities reflect the type of woman imagined as the wearer and express the designer’s vision of her desires.

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Femina 1947-1948

We are just two weeks away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


 

Femina, December 1947-January 1948. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

This illustrated fantasy world of fashion was published in the 1947 to 1948 Christmas issue of Femina magazine. Femina was founded in February 1901 by Pierre Lafitte in Paris and focussed on “the real woman, the French woman raised in the best tradition of elegance, bon ton and grace.” Published on a bimonthly basis, Femina was aimed at an affluent readership of modern, urban, French women, who were not only encouraged to shop and dress like the social elite, but to be interested in culture, literature and politics. Femina reached its peak readership with around 40,000 readers in 1934 to 1935, and, uniquely, was edited and staffed by women only. In addition to influencing its normal readership, Femina impacted Parisian fashion through dressmakers who often took Femina issues to their customers to show examples of the latest designs.

Femina’s higher price point is evident from the editorials, advertisements and design of this issue. Most of the editorials feature couture evening gowns rather than daywear, such as gowns to wear to the opera, and many of the illustrations and photographs are in colour. The large pages are luxuriously laid out with often considerable white space around the subject. Perfume, watch, jewellery and liquor advertisements express the celebratory nature of the issue. For instance, illustrated fireworks spell out the characteristics of a Lanvin Parfums wearer and a ‘dark Brilliance de Lenthéric’ perfume bottle replaces a regular Christmas tree ornament.

This double-page spread, called ‘VISIONS’, shows illustrator Baumgarter’s dream of fashion silhouettes traversing against an imagined background. His dream includes the latest designs by Lucien Lelong, Paquin, Maggy Rouff, Madeleine de Rauch, Nina Ricci, Balenciaga, Jacques Fath, Piguet, Pierre Balmain, and Dior. The slight blurriness helps to show that the illustration is a fantasy, which is less apparent when the illustration is digitised or photographed. The smoothness of the magazine’s paper is decisive in the experience of looking at the illustration: not only does it convey a kind of refinement that mirrors the luxury of the gowns, but the moderate glossiness helps to bring the illustration to life. Rather than looking at a photograph on a screen, moving the somewhat shiny illustration helps to create a tactile link to the gowns depicted and encourages the reader to imagine the volume and fabric of the designs.

Further adding to the experience is the thickness of the paper, which seems almost reluctant to open fully. Indeed, the quality of the paper has resulted in near perfect preservation, with the exception of the cover, for almost seventy years. In 1947, it would not have required a lady to be familiar with Femina to recognise the quality and lavishness of the magazine. Moreover, it perfectly answered the needs of a society whose faith in the strength of its fashion industry had to be restored and which craved the comfort and joy of luxury after half a decade of restrictions and loss.

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Harper’s Bazaar

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


Harper’s Bazaar, October 1940. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

This magazine is an October edition of Harper’s Bazaar published nationwide in the year 1940, during the London Blitz. Despite the hardships of wartime, the magazine targeted the female upper classes, which were the only ones with enough purchasing power to afford it. With the costly price of 2 shillings 6 pence, it was a considerable expense that could feed an average family for one day. In contrast to DIY publications, Harper’s Bazaar relies on the desire to emulate the rich and powerful to disseminate latest fashions. With the upcoming winter, the issue centers around the season’s new fashions coming from the capital, presenting a wide array of greatcoats both furless and completely fur-lined, made mostly out of warm wools or commonly available types of fur like squirrel, mole, and rabbit. The effects of rationing clearly influence the choice of images which are plain in their style with scarcely any accessories and minimal display of jewelry, painting a picture of a simple, although fashionable, woman. The practicality of the inside contrasts sharply with the flamboyant cover which is aimed at defying the grim realities of wartime and giving people back the feeling of normality.

Looking closer at the front cover, we can examine it as a historical source from the era, a social history document that tells the historian part of the story of Britain in the 1940s, and more particularly its dress history. A closer inspection may reveal that the colours chosen in such a specific moment in history are not random. The predominant purple tones, which are one of the first elements that catch the viewer’s attention, are historically associated with opulence, richness, royalty and empire. The crispness and silky texture of the sleeve contrast with the other colours of the dress that look as if they are polluted with randomly distributed red dots. The grainy and wooly texture of the material creates an off-focus effect that contrasts with the smooth and well-shaded arm and the sharp colours of the jewellery that richly decorates it. Our gaze is naturally led towards the hand that holds the cigarette, a luxury item that was rationed and reserved mostly for the servicemen at the front. Smoking, at the time, was an activity reserved for the feminine elite, symbolic of the defiance and rebellion against the male culture and male-centred workplace. The model positions herself in a relaxed and mindful manner looking down upon the viewer in an almost spiteful way, suggesting her higher status. This projects an image of power and confidence, a new Britannia clothed in all the riches of the Empire, watchful and confident of her power to withstand the dangers that befell her.

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Für die Dame

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


This is a January 1927 issue of Für die Dame – Schweizerische Illustrierte Monatszeitschrift für Mode und Gesellschaft (For the Lady – Swiss Illustrated Monthly Magazine for Fashion and Society), a Swiss fashion magazine, published by Druck und Verlag Buchdruckerei Wittmer & CIE in Basel. The cover informs that this is the “3. Jahrgang” (3rd Year) suggesting that the magazine was launched in 1925. Its content consists of a mixture of fashion, society portraits, a novel and short pieces of varied nature. These range from a discussion of hotel staff in Russia to an obituary on William Macdonald II, to humorous short stories. Photography is used especially for the society and fashion sections. The latest Parisian fashion by ‘Romain’ and ‘J.Paquin’ are captured on models standing either in front of a curtain or in a living room tending to flowers. Dresses show a dropped waistline and straight silhouette. The content of Für die Dame is, as for most magazines still today, interspersed by advertisements. These range from soap ads to ‘hygiene’ related articles, to furniture/ interior design shops. The magazine thus, not least through its title, has a very clear female audience, one that the magazine’s content suggests is educated, modern and interested in a variety of different areas of fashion, literature, health and society.

Für die Dame, January 1927. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

The magazine’s remarkable front cover shows a beautiful illustration of a young blonde lady with fashionably bobbed hair on a ski slope. She is wrapped in a yellow scarf, striped jumper and trousers that cut off just below the knee to reveal brown socks and what are possibly the beginning of boots with a blue and red chequered pattern. She stands assertively, holding her yellow skis, while behind her the white piste with two trees forms a winter backdrop. A fellow skier is indicated to her left and a tiny ski-jumper in the background completes the picture of a day on the slopes. The illustration corresponds to an article on the likes of health, posture and diet on the inside of the magazine, which is complemented by photographs of women with skis. Only marked “RI CO” in the bottom right hand side corner, the illustrator’s full identity could not be determined. Offset through grey and white frames on a light blue background, the art-deco styled illustration is striking through its geometric design and modern appeal. The cover is matte and paper-like, suggesting to us viewers that what we are holding is in fact nearly an art print that one could hang on the wall. The paper used for the pages too is a little thicker, rather soft and slightly shiny suggesting quality and preventing the magazine from having a simple throw-away quality such as that of a newspaper. It implies that the magazine would not be entirely out of place in one of the lavish rooms showcased in its interior design spread. Therefore, the lifestyle encapsulated by the front cover, is supported and expressed through the material quality of the magazine itself.

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Gazette du Bon Ton

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


From 1912-1915 and 1919-1925, fashion and art met on the pages of Gazette du Bon Ton. This French publication entertained upper-class consumers with elaborately illustrated articles and sumptuous fashion plates. Though the First World War loomed on the horizon, the stories in this issue from March 1914 showed no signs of global tension. From an article detailing exotic pearl-net masquerade masks to a list of elites vacationing at the French Riviera, the authors of Gazette du Bon Ton created a world ruled by novelty and luxury.

Stimpl, ‘Riviera… Riviera…” in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Each issue included a set of ten plates with couture fashions by houses like Doucet, Lanvin, and Worth. Two plates from this issue feature designs by masters of 1910s couture: Paquin and Paul Poiret. In ‘La fontaine de coquillages’, George Barbier set an evening gown by Paquin against a luscious blue courtyard and classical fountain. Pearl embellishments on the turquoise velvet and grey tulle dress mimic shells, which Barbier echoes in white on hanging shell clusters. A shell in the figure’s hand catches water from the fountain, merging the background and foreground. In comparison, Simone A. Puget’s illustration for ‘Salomé’, an evening gown by Paul Poiret, is striking in its simplicity. By placing the figure on a plain black base, the artist focuses attention on the dress. The design speaks to the sensuality of the legendary Salomé, as fishnet stockings emerge from beneath the diagonal skirt hem and the figure’s nipples, colored the same red as her lips and nails, peek through the swirled, off-the-shoulder bodice.

George Barbier, ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Simone A. Puget, ‘Salome’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Every turn of the page in Gazette du Bon Ton offers a new feast for the eyes. At just 25cm x 7cm it is very easy to hold, though the heavy paper prevents the issue from feeling flimsy. With at least one color illustration in the pochoir technique on every page, the magazine presents itself as something to be slowly cherished. The difference in style of the vivid ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ and stark ‘Salomé’ plates exemplify how artistic variety creates the tantalizing feeling of ‘What’s next?,’ urging the reader to turn the page. This sumptuous array of visual delights did not come cheap: the price of a yearly subscription was 100 francs, or more than 400 pounds today!

Artists sometimes used striking metallic paint to enliven their illustrations. Here is one illustration of dancer Armen Ohanian viewed straight on and at an angle. Valentine Gross, ‘Armène Ohanian’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Gazette du Bon Ton invites haptic interaction as well. The metallic paint used on some illustrations, for example, requires the reader to tilt the page to get the full effect. Should the reader give into temptation and run a finger over the fashion plates, they may feel more than just the horizontal ridges of the thick paper. In ‘Salomé’, the outline of the figure and the dots on the skirt are debossed. Contact with the flat surface of the page brings the gown to life, but also acts as a tangible barrier to the beautiful world displayed in the plates. That space of breathtaking couture fashion, endless luxury, and carefree joy exists only between the covers of Gazette du Bon Ton.

Cléo de Mérode and the Seduction of Beauty

Léopold-Émile Reutlinger and Giovanni Boldini, Cléo de Mérode (collage)

What makes someone beautiful? Or maybe the question is, what makes someone photogenic? Or the perfect subject for representation in any media? Symmetry? Expressive eyes? The ability to pose, to present yourself just so? In Cléo de Mérode’s case she seemed to possess all the necessary qualities – from an early age she inspired image-makers and sparked styles. She had a quality – what a very vague term – that spoke of modernity at the turn of the nineteenth century. Her dancer’s poise, long neck and tiny waist presented an apparently perfect silhouette – slim yet curved to express the contemporary line of beauty. For Boldini, she was coquettish, glancing over her shoulder, blouse slipping from milky shoulder … in Belle Époque photographs she is still usually in profile – she knew how best to display herself – Amazonian with puffed sleeved blouses, sculpted torso and perfect posture. Painted, sketched, photographed repeatedly, artists sought to capture her beauty and show how it expressed a transcendent modern ideal that still entices today.

Born in 1875 to an aristocratic, artistic family, she was dancing professionally from the age of 11. She soon existed both in reality – dancing at the Paris Opéra, for example, and brave enough to risk outrage by appearing with the risqué Folies Bergère – and in parallel – she lived as an image, a vision of a ideal that seduced and entrapped viewers. She was a cipher – a perfect neck, the smallest waist, the newest hairstyle – who seemed knowable through these depictions, and yet out of reach, a modern star to be consumed visually. She was famous internationally, desired by royalty – pursued by the Belgian king, and sculpted by Alexander Falguière, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec and photographed by Nadar.

Mérode’s ability to transcend time is evidenced in Cecil Beaton’s interview with her for Vogue in 1964 – 2 years before she died. By then she was elderly, but no less elegant, and still astute in her approach to photographer and camera. In his photograph of her, she remains uniquely herself – true to her image, posing to present her herself and reflect her beauty towards the light, and to potential viewers. For Beaton she represented a key period of style and living – a lost age, filled with enigmatic women in trailing gowns and elongated corsetry, their hair piled up for extra height. His book The Glass of Fashion is a paean to these indomitable proto-modern women, able to live with a greater degree of independence because of their class, talent or refusal to adhere to contemporary morality.

Cecil Beaton, Cléo de Mérode (collage)

His interview with her, upstairs in her elegant Parisian apartment connects with themes that thread through his work – beauty, ageing and feeling out of synch with time. As he gains her confidence they walk through each room, seeking the best light for her to pose and reclaim her decades of modelling with gestures that resonate in hundreds of pictures. She denies the racier aspects of her reputation – no nights at Maxim’s she says, but she still knows how to perform, her body responds to artistic attention, and recreates the beauty of her youth. On his way out, Mérode became anxious – worried about the results of her sitting – and said ‘Remember, I am trés coquette. Now you’ve promised you’ll destroy all those pictures which are bad?’ As Beaton notes, she ‘knows how to protect her legend,’ perhaps the other key ingredient necessary to remain an eternal beauty.

 

Further Reading:

Cecil Beaton, The Glass of Fashion (1954)

Cecil Beaton, ‘Cléo de Mérode Today’, Vogue (Feb 15, 1964)

Hampton Court Archive Visit

With our essays handed in and the end of term in sight, the MA Documenting Fashion class caught the train from Waterloo to that great red royal palace on the Thames, Hampton Court. The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection was the reason for our visit, and we were welcomed into the archives by curator Eleri Lynn, fresh from the opening of her new exhibition at Kensington Palace, ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story.’ The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection comprises dress worn by members of the Royal Family, by officials and dignitaries undertaking ceremonial roles, and court dress. The collection dates from the 18th to the late 20th century. 

Hampton Court Exterior

 In keeping with our course’s period of specialism, Lynn had selected pieces from 1920-1960 worn by young women on occasion of their presentation at court. After making their entrance into society in this way, the young women were permitted to attend court events and mix with the rest of the aristocracy; many would use the opportunity to catch the eye of an eligible young man and marry. Whether you were a young debutante or a sponsor – usually the girl’s mother, mother-in-law or guardian – there were strict rules about how to dress issued by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. Gowns were white or pale in colour, with a train of specified length; three white feathers were worn in the hair to recall the emblem of the Prince of Wales; gloves were worn, and a fan carried. Slight shifts occurred over time, before the ceremony was abolished in 1958; Prince Phillip reportedly thought it ‘daft’ and Princess Margaret famously declared that ‘we had to put a stop to it … every tart in London was getting in!’

Book of Dress Rules

Book of Application Rules

 Delving into the boxes, we found a range of dresses and trains, most of them worn from the shoulder, crafted from the most luxurious and decadent fabrics. Freed from their layers of conservation tissue paper: a beige net dress worn for the 22nd July 1926 presentation by Miss Fraser made by Jays of London; a sequined ivory train; a salmon pink silk velvet train with silver beading worn by Lady Eversham in 1926, a highlight.

 

Sequin Train

Velvet Train

Beige Net Dress

The boxes kept coming. A tasseled iridescent green gown with silver trim worn by Beatrice Pease, who later became Countess of Portsmouth, was handled with great care, likely as it was to split or shatter as a result of the chemical dyes used at the turn of the century, too heavy on tin. A pale blue silk georgette dress with black lace and ribbons (conservation efforts on the lace are in evidence) betray the fact that its wearer in 1937, sponsor Lady Gwendoline Benn, was in mourning. These were hugely sentimental dresses, many of which, when gifted, came with the original invitations, anecdotes and photographs of their first outing.

Lace Train

Lace Dress

Tassle

A huge thank you to Eleri for showing us these treasures. We spent the rest of the day waltzing around Henry VIII’s rooms and taking a turn around the splendid gardens, planning a further trip for when the flowers are in bloom. 

Blue Bow Dress

Green Velvet Dress

Welcome Spring! A Look at Lanvin’s Floral Frocks

Pierre Brissaud, “Dansons la capucine” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

With April fast approaching, so too come the beautiful blooms of spring! In celebration of warmer weather and brighter days, here are some fun floral designs from the early-twentieth century couturier Jeanne Lanvin.

Jeanne Lanvin for the House of Lanvin, “Roseraie” dress, Spring/Summer 1923. Silk. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Anonymous gift, 1964). Available at this link.

Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) started a millinery business in the 1890s and later expanded into couture as the clothes she designed for her daughter became popular among friends and fashionistas. By the 1920s the House of Lanvin was well established and wide-reaching, producing fragrances and clothes for men, women, and children. A guiding principle in her creation of female couture, as Lanvin put it in 1929, was that “modern clothes need some sort of romantic quality.” As such, her designs reveled in femininity through the use of ruffles, lace, ribbon, and, most notably, flowers. Many wonderful examples of Lanvin’s floral dresses survive in collections around the world, including a striking red and cream dress embellished with roses from 1923. This gown demonstrates how Lanvin’s preference for embroidery and appliqué (instead of patterned fabric) resulted in sumptuous, highly detailed creations. Ombré ribbons are arranged in a geometric pattern and punctuated with folded-ribbon roses, as well as a rose collar, sleeves, and belt. The marriage of a sleek pattern and soft roses evinces Lanvin’s eye for romanticizing trends to fit her house’s characteristic charm.

Jeanne Lanvin for the House of Lanvin, Dress, 1927. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Gift of Varney Thompson Elliott and Rosemary Thompson Franciscus in memory of their mother, Margaret Whitney Thompson, 1985). Available at this link.

Pierre Brissaud, “Il n’a pas pleuré” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Lanvin excelled at the robe de style, a gown that favored full skirts instead of the straighter silhouette popular at the time. While her robe de style were occasionally embroidered with flowers, it was more common for a large flower pin with copious ribbons to be pinned to the dress. Nearly identical pins can be seen in a dress from 1927 and a fashion plate from seven years earlier in the Gazette du Bon Ton. Pinned at the bust instead of the waist, this pin speaks to the continuity of style in the House of Lanvin, as well as a prevailing trend for florals.

Pierre Brissaud, “On t’attend” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Nearly every issue of the Gazette du Bon Ton features illustrated gowns by Lanvin, many of them with floral embellishments. Gazette du Bon Ton, which ran from 1912 to 1915 and 1920 to 1925, was an elite fashion magazine with intricate pochoir illustrations. The sweet scenes displaying Lanvin’s couture for women and children embody in turns a maternal ideal and feminine elegance. In both instances, florals lend a graceful naturalness to the looks on show.

Pierre Brissaud, “Venez danser” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Further Reading

Cole, Daniel James and Nancy Deihl. The History of Modern Fashion from 1850. London:
Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Fashion Designers. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

Pel, Martin. 1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs. London: Unicorn in association with
Fashion and Textile Museum, London, 2016.

 

A Visit to the National Portrait Gallery Archives (Heinz Archive and Library)

From the archive

On a sunny Wednesday in London, Liz and the Documenting Fashion MAs took a trip to the archives of the National Portrait Gallery to view a selection of photographs from our study period of 1920-1960. Tucked behind the main building of the National Portrait Gallery, the archives were an oasis of calm in the centre of bubbling London. The Photographs Collection began in 1972 and today holds about a quarter of a million images. 2000 of these form the primary collection consisting of the most important images with the remainder of the material (photographs, negatives etc.) forming the bulk of the collection. The selection we viewed was wide-ranging including a book, two albums, an illustration and, of course, black and white, as well as colour photography.

Of particular interest to us MAs was an album from the “Lady Ottoline Morrell Albums.” It showed a variety of subject matter ranging from a rather less glamorous cow on a field to the beauty of Claude Monet’s garden. However, seeing one of the albums first hand mainly provided further insight and context to the way in which fashion is also captured in these photographs. We had touched on the album collection’s value and richness in conveying fashion related information in class while discussing Lily Le Brun’s (former Documenting Fashion MA) article on Siegfried Sassoon’s depiction in the album (see below for details of this fascinating read). Other highlights included an illustration by Cecil Beaton which captured a stunning hat and dress with a tiny waist in just a few artistic strokes. As the illustration is merely in black and white, the references to the racecourse scene in the film “My Fair Lady” were strong – Beaton had been responsible for the costume and art direction of the film. A variety of his photographs on display also led us to discuss poses taken by the models or sitters. From the carefully posed and constructed to the informal snapshots from Lady Ottoline’s album, we mused over the different effects each has on the representation of the sitter. Are those in the snapshots truly less aware of a camera being present or is their awareness possibly heightened by trying to stay casual? Interesting backdrops also theme in the selected images. From polka dots, through geometric patterns to a design resembling the form of a bedspring were all instrumental in forming a highly stylised and distinctive look. A photograph taken by Louise Dahl-Wolfe here served as a refreshing contrast. It showed two men sitting in a park, dappled sunlight and shadows on their hair and clothing, resting and enjoying a moment of peace and quiet. Moving onto 1950s and 1960s images on the other hand gave us a chance to peek at photographer Norman Parkinson hanging upside down from a gymnasts climbing wall amongst his models. Beside this, there were three images by Horst, one of which showed a young Carmen Dell’Orefice, as stunning back then as she is today.

Although only a miniscule part of the overall collection, the images on display today showed the wide scope fashion imagery encompasses and the multiple different ways they can be decoded or read. From the personal to the public, the colourful to the dull, the professional glance to the amateur take, all store information on a time gone by, now preserved and ready for inspection in the wonderful archive of the National Portrait Gallery.

 

Sources:

Conversation with the Archivists of the NGP, 15/03/17.

Further Reading:

Le Brun, Lily, ”Life Lived on the Plane of Poetry:” Images of Siegfried Sassoon in the Lady Ottoline Morell Album Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art, MA Dissertation (2011).

 

Easter Break 2017 – Fashion Exhibitions in Europe

Want/need a break from your dissertation writing, busy city life or 9 to 5 job? With the Easter holiday around the corner (plus Brexit being trending topic again), I thought I would share some of my personal favourite fashion-related temporary exhibitions that are on in museums all over Europe during the (UK) Easter holidays.

I can’t think of a better excuse to travel and tour wonderful cities, eat delicious food, immerse yourself into the richness of other European cultures and whilst doing so, explore some of the most interesting fashion exhibitions of this year outside the UK.

 

MUSEE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS (Paris), from 1 December 2016 to 23 April 2017.

“Tenue Correcte Exigée: Quand Le Vêtement Fait Scandale” revisits the scandals that have marked the great turning points in fashion history from the 14th century to today. Featuring outfits, portraits and objects, it explores the liberties taken with dress codes and how they breached moral values. The robe volante, women in trousers, men in skirts, female tuxedo, miniskirt… (with examples as Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo, Elsa Schiaparelli’s jumpsuit and Yves Saint Laurent’s female tuxedo, among others).

http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr/en/exhibitions/current-events-1322/musee-des-arts-decoratifs/tenue-correcte-exigee-quand-le-vetement-fait-scandale/

Dior by John Galliano, Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2000, inspired by Paris homeless population. From “Tenue Correcte Exigée : Quand Le Vêtement Fait Scandale” at Les Artes decoratifs © Guy Marineau

PALAIS GALLERIA (Paris), from April 27th to August 13th 2017.

“Dalida, Une Garde-Robe De La Ville À La Scène” pays homage to Dalida with an exhibition of her wardrobe, recently donated to the museum. Dressed by the greatest designers both on and off-stage, in haute couture or in prêt-à-porter, Dalida has remained an immensely popular star in France. Her wardrobe always followed the movements of fashion, but it also reflected her artistic development.

And

From March 8th to July 16th 2017

“Balenciaga, L’oeuvre Au Noir”. Spanish Season – A Palais Galliera Extra-Mural Exhibition pays homage to the couturier with an extra-mural exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle. The exhibition resonates with the black tones of an alchemist of haute couture: variations of black repeated in over a hundred of pieces from the Galliera collections and the archives of Maison Balenciaga. This exhibition opens the Palais Galliera’s Spanish season, which will continue with Costumes espagnols entre ombre et lumière (‘Spanish costumes from dark to bright’) at the Maison Victor Hugo (21 June – 24 September 2017) and will finish with Mariano Fortuny at the Palais Galliera (4 October 2017 – 7 January 2018).

http://www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr/en/exhibitions/

Dalida, Paris, Bobino, October 1958. © Boris Lipnitzki / Roger-Viollet ; Jean Dessès, dresss, Dalida, 1958. © Julien Vidal / Roger-Viollet. From “Dalida, Une Garde-Robe De La Ville À La Scène” at Paris Galliera.

MODEMUSEUM HASSELT (Hasselt, Belgium), from 4th March to 3rd September 2017.

“Across Japan” features the fascinating innovations introduced by the Japanese avant-garde designers and their younger peers in combination with newer Western interpretations of the ‘Japanese’ aesthetics. At the same time, the show seeks to illustrate that this concern with Japan in the West is nothing new and has a long tradition going back to the seventeenth century, which is explored through a set of themes and a selection of silhouettes supplemented with visuals aiming at pinpointing the peculiar nature of it. The exhibition is part of the Yokoso Festival – 25 Years Japanese Garden in Hasselt.

http://www.modemuseumhasselt.be/#/tentoonstelling/across-japan/en/id/175

 MoMu (Antwerp, Belgium), from 31st March to 27th August 2017.

“Margiela, the Hermes Years” will display Belgian stylist Martin Margiela’s Hermès collections from 1997 to 2003 for the first time. As well as this, the tribute exhibition also explores the relationship during these years between these collections and his own label, Maison Martin Margiela. Groundbreaking deconstruction and timeless luxury – the two worlds of designer Martin Margiela – are the starting point of this exhibition.

http://www.momu.be/en/tentoonstelling/margiela-de-hermes-jaren.html

An image from “Margiela: The Hermès Years” at © MoMu

STAALICHE KUNSTSAMMULUNGEN (Dresden, Germany, State Art Museum), 3 March to 5 June 2017.

“Women Cross Media. Photography, Porcelain and Prints from China and Japan” is a presentation in the context of the exhibition Dresden • Europe • World and is dedicated to the cross-media issue of how femininity was portrayed in images in East Asian art of the early 18th to the late 19th century – in a dialogue between objects from the Porcelain Collection, the Photography Collection of the Museum of Ethnology and from the Kupferstich-Kabinett.

http://www.skd.museum/en/special-exhibitions/women-cross-media/index.html

“Kyoto Girls” (Drei Kurtisanen), Kyoto, from the album “Japan III”, 1880–1900, Museum für Völkerkunde. From “Women Cross Media”at Dresden State Art Museum, © SKD

KUNSTGEWEBERMUSEUM (Berlin, Germany), Until March 2017 (only for early birds, but I had to include it, looks fantastic!).

“Uli Richter Revisited – Fashion Visionary, Teacher, Inspiration” coincides with Uli Richter’s 90th birthday, and features some of the highlights of the Berlin fashion designer’s work. As one of the youngest major designers working in Berlin in the early 1950s, he played an important role in forging a ‘made in Berlin’ style. Over the more than 40 years in which he worked as a fashion designer, he succeeded in reinvigorating and consolidating Berlin’s reputation as an international centre of fashion. Clothing, design sketches, and photographs, provide the viewer with a glimpse into Berlin’s young fashion scene in the 1980s and 1990s.

http://www.smb.museum/en/exhibitions/detail/uli-richter-revisited-modedenker-lehrer-inspiration.html

Heinrich von der Becke, Uli Richter with Mannequins Gisela Ebel and Gitta Schilling during the presentation of his first solo collection, 1959 © Bildarchiv Heinrich von der Becke, Sportmuseum Berlin. From “Uli Richter Revisited” at Kunstgewerbemuseum.

WIEN MUSEUM KARLSPLATZ (Viena, Austria), from 24th November 2016 to 26th February 2017

“Robert Haas. Framing Two Worlds.” Robert Haas (1898-1997) is among the great Austrian-American photographers of the twentieth century. He began his artistic career in Vienna as a graphic designer before studying photography. In the 1930s, Haas created stirring works of social reportage and sensitive depictions of everyday life, along with portraits and object studies of subjects in the city. On the way to his exhile to New York, Haas documented the American way of life beyond the big cities as well as public figures. The exhibition presents his virtually unknown oeuvre to the public for the first time: at once an artistic discovery of the first order and a richly detailed panorama of the times.

http://www.wienmuseum.at/en/exhibitions/detail/robert-haas-framing-two-worlds.html

Marlene Dietrich at the Salzburg Festival, 1936-1937 © Wien Museum/Sammlung Robert Haas. From “Robert Haas. Framing Two Worlds” at Wien Museum Karlsplatz.

LIVRUSTKAMMAREN (Stockholm, Sweden), from 15th September to 19th March 2017.

“Renaissance fashion in paper. The Medici family outside the frame”. Impressive costumes, opulent creations, extravagant forms and strong colours. Lace, frills, trains, rosettes and flounces. A Renaissance collection – inspired by the most powerful Renaissance family, the Medicis. The collection has been entirely made of paper by the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. Now her most extravagant collection is being presented in the Royal Armoury in the Royal Palace, for the first time in both Sweden and Scandinavia.

http://livrustkammaren.se/en/exhibition/renaissance-fashion-paper

MUSEO SALVATORE FERRAGAMO (Florence, Italy), from 19th May 2016 to 17th May 2017.

“Across Art and Fashion”, analyses the forms of dialogue between these two worlds: reciprocal inspirations, overlaps and collaborations, from the experiences of the Pre-Raphaelites to those of Futurism, and from Surrealism to Radical Fashion. It focuses on the work of Salvatore Ferragamo, who was fascinated and inspired by the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century, on several ateliers of the Fifties and Sixties and the advent of the culture of celebrities. It then examines the experimentation of the Nineties and whether in the contemporary cultural industry we can still talk about two separate worlds or if we are dealing with fluid roles.

http://www.ferragamo.com/museo/en/usa/exhibitions/

View of the exhibition © Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

GUCCI MUSEUM (Florence, Italy), from February 2017.

“The Tom Ford Rooms” showcase women’s and men’s ready-to-wear in one room and accessories in another. The aim of the spaces is to remind people of the way in which Ford encouraged self-expression through developing a distinctive, sensual aesthetic for the House. The decoration of the rooms and the way in which the items on display are presented contribute to a mood of provocative sensuality that perfectly reflects the image that Ford created for Gucci while he was at the helm of the design team at the label.

http://www.guccimuseo.com/en/gucci-archive/tom-ford/

View of the ready-to-wear room © Tom Ford Rooms at Gucci Museum

CRISTOBAL BALENCIAGA MUSEOA (Biarritz, Spain), 6th October 2016 to 7th May 2017.

“Coal And Velvet. Views On Popular Costumes By Ortiz Echagüe And Balenciaga” explores the romantic vision and the aesthetic revision that Cristóbal Balenciaga, in his Haute Couture creations, and Ortiz Echagüe, in his photographic narrations of traditional Spain, make of popular costumes. It establishes a dialogue offering interpretations of a reality, that of popular costumes, which was already becoming extinct in the early 20th century and which both, through works of undeniable artistic quality, give validity and bestow on them a timeless quality.

And

“Cristóbal Balenciaga. Un Legado Atemporal”, 1st January 2016 to 7 May, 2017.

One of the most influential couturiers of the 20th century and a tireless perfectionist with an exceptional creative talent that inspired him to design models that were audacious in both their form and aesthetics, taking the world by storm and setting the indisputable trend season after season. His command of the craft earned him the respect of his colleagues and he reigned supreme in the international haute couture world until he retired in 1968.

http://www.cristobalbalenciagamuseoa.com/en/explore/exhibitions/cristobal-balenciaga-a-timeless-legacy.html

Cristóbal Balenciaga París, 1960, © Balenciaga Archives, Paris. From “Cristóbal Balenciaga. Un Legado Atemporal” at Balenciaga Museoa.