Review Archive

Laura Dern in All Her Feminine Beauty

Winner of best supporting actress at the BAFTAs, Academy Awards, Oscars and Golden Globes, Laura Dern has certainly turned heads this awards season – and rightly so. Her performance in Noah Baumbach’s emotional divorce drama Marriage Story is powerful and nuanced and this is underpinned by her character’s striking wardrobe.

In Marriage Story Dern plays a powerful, savvy lawyer – Nora – who acts on behalf of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as she seeks a divorce from her husband Charlie (Adam Driver) and tries to obtain custody of her son. Throughout the film, Nora’s outfits work to emphasise her experience and her power as a highly sought-after solicitor. However, in his choice of dress for Dern, costume designer Mark Bridges (who also designed the costumes for another 2020 hit, The Joker) highlights the particular potency of Nora’s feminine power in the largely male-dominated field of law. Nora’s character capitalises on her femininity through her clothing, projecting an image of herself that is unapologetic and confident, asserting her authority and, most importantly, bringing focus to her client.

At the beginning of the film, Nora and Nicole meet in her office. In this scene, Nicole is clearly nervous – worried that she’s done the wrong thing by hiring a lawyer – even though she agreed with Charlie that they would proceed without them. Nicole turns up in a blue shirt and jeans – a staple look of hers. By contrast, Nora wears an overtly feminine pink floral blazer with skin-tight jeans and high, bright red heels. This establishes an obvious contrast between the two women, we sense that they are not going to get along and have completely different priorities. But as the meeting progresses, she positions herself as a likeable but capable lawyer. As Nicole begins to get emotional, opening up to Nora about the difficulties in her marriage, Dern removes her floral blazer, revealing a plain white top. This tones down her outfit to match the simplicity of her potential client, her exposed arms being suggestive of both vulnerability and strength.

Later on, in the courtroom scene, Nora’s dress again resonates with Nicole’s and is suggestive of the solidarity between the two. In one shot, the pair are sat on a bench in a hallway in an almost identical pose – legs crossed and hands in their lap, although Nora seems more relaxed. Here, Nora wears a light pink dress, a dark grey blazer with rolled-up sleeves and Louboutin shoes, whilst Nicole appears in a purple dress spotted with flecks of pink and white and a blue blazer. They enter the courtroom together: their visual similarity unites them as a team but their dark blazers also echo the dress of Charlie and his team of lawyers. This resonance indicates a certain harmony and civility amongst the group – they all share a common goal. That is, until Nora removes her blazer.

As things begin to get heated, Laura Dern’s character removes her outwear to reveal the dress underneath. This garment is closely fitted and silky in texture – a light pink dress over what looks like a black slip. By removing her blazer Nora differentiates herself from the other lawyers by highlighting her femininity: the dress almost resembles lingerie, attracting attention and representing her as the bolder, more confident lawyer. Embracing her sexuality, the colour of her dress also highlights the ‘men versus women dynamic’ previously hidden by professional niceties.

However, by removing her blazer Nora also distances herself from Nicole. Nicole does not speak in this scene and Nora takes charge of the situation, removing the pretence that the power is shared between them: her experience and knowledge means that she knows best. Indeed, this foreshadows the ending of the film in which Dern’s character negotiates a custody agreement that privileges Nicole’s access to her son over Charlie’s, despite Nicole insisting against it.

In Marriage Story, Laura Dern’s costumes play an important part in emphasising the three-dimensionality of her supporting character. This, paired with her outstanding, subtle acting makes the character of Nora especially memorable.

Constructing Images of Kylie Jenner and Marie Antoinette

In their March cover shoot and interview, Harper’s Bazaar photographed Kylie Jenner and recreated Marie Antoinette portraits from the 1770s and 1780s. Jenner is photographed wearing extravagant gowns that directly reference paintings by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun. These paintings depict a notorious celebrity known for setting fashion trends at a time of political and financial turmoil. Kylie Jenner, an equally notorious celebrity known for setting fashion and makeup trends, remakes these connections between fame and sartorial extravagance. In a portrait of the Queen from 1778, Vigée-Lebrun painted Marie Antoinette in a white grand habit de cour with gold tassels, the most formal style of dress from this period. In Jenner’s version, she wears a white Thom Brown dress with the same trompe l’oeil gold tassel detail. The wide shape of her skirt resembles the shape of the pannier undergarment worn in the 18thcentury. For Marie Antoinette, this portrait constructed an image of her as a powerful monarch through luxurious and expensive gowns and jewelry. The same could be said of Jenner’s image. Jenner’s constructed identity in this photograph is of the youngest “self-made billionaire” who is a powerful monarch over her own beauty company.

Comparisons of the two

Left: Kylie Jenner in Harper’s Bazaar, photographed by the Morelli Brothers
Right: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and her Children, 1787, Château de Versailles

Another direct comparison can be made with the cover photo and Marie Antoinette with a Rose from 1783. Marie Antoinette wore a blue satin dress in this portrait which was the traditional and queenly attire the public was accustomed to. (This painting was the second iteration of a similar portrait in which Marie Antoinette wore the scandalous, white muslin chemise and looked like she was wearing undergarments.) Jenner, dressed similarly to the blue satin gown, wears a Dolce and Gabbana dress with light blue stripes. Both images show the women holding a pink rose with a white ribbon. Once again, Bazaar styles Jenner like Marie Antoinette who wears formal, stately outfits instead of the casual, white chemise dress most woman could afford. This comparison cements Jenner’s status as powerful fashion plate and businesswoman who controls her own empire.

Comparison for Kylie Jenn er article

Left: Kylie Jenner in Harper’s Bazaar, photographed by the Morelli Brothers
Right: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette, 1778, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Unfortunately, these images miss an opportunity for Jenner to use Marie Antoinette’s constructed identity in her portraits to illicit a sympathetic response from readers that isn’t the obvious out-of-touch-celebrity comparison to Marie Antoinette.

In another photograph, Jenner is shown wearing a white dress with an exaggerated sleeve while holding her daughter. Her hair is topped with large pink feathers and she is surrounded by pastel pastries and cakes. This imagery is reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette. Through this reference, Bazaar links the film’s themes of youth, fashion, and hedonism to Jenner through the saccharine color palette and sugary macarons. It reminds the viewer of Coppola’s fun, champagne filled, shopping montages. It is unfortunate that this was the image that included Jenner’s daughter because there is another Vigée-Lebrun painting that would have been more appropriate. In Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Her Children from 1787, the subject is surrounded by her children in a pyramidal composition suggestive of a serious, renaissance painting. A jewelry box stands behind the group in the shadows. This jewelry box could be alluding to a Roman story of Cornelia, a virtuous woman who valued her children over worldly possessions like jewelry. Unlike the other portraits referenced in the Bazaar editorial, this portrait with her children attempted to situate Marie Antoinette as a virtuous, loving mother who values her children above everything else. Referencing this piece of monarchy propaganda would have been a perfect and interesting way to create an image of Jenner that focused on her supposed virtues as a person and a mother. Instead, the images render Jenner as a pseudo-Coppola pastiche, an image of hyper-femininity and excess.

Comparison for harpers Bazaar

Left: Kylie Jenner in Harper’s Bazaar, photographed by the Morelli Brothers
Right: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, 1783, Château de Versailles

These portraits and photographs both construct female identities through makeup and clothing to demonstrate both women as rich, powerful and fashionable at a time of great political turmoil or change. Yet, the photographs of Jenner feel thematically unimaginative by comparing yet another rich celebrity in ‘pretty dresses’ to Marie Antoinette. When it comes to constructing images of Jenner, however, maybe the goal isn’t to create new images that illuminate interesting parts of her identity. The only goal is to get viewers to look at beautiful, superficial images. In this case, we can’t always have our cake and eat it too.

 

References:

Kylie Jenner’s Interview in Harper’s Bazaar

FKA Twigs at The Wallace Collection

Cello strings are heard vibrating through the Wallace Collection, as the camera descends into the golden billiard room. Singer, FKA Twigs, is partially revealed behind the grand piano in which she plays gentle chord progressions. She begins to perform her song ‘Cellophane’ as the camera glides around her, revealing her full outfit, carefully chosen for the occasion. Twigs is reclaiming the space of the Wallace Collection for herself, both complimenting and transforming the artwork into her own vision through the entirety of her dress.

FKA twigs inta

Image from Instagram @FKATwigs

The clothing worn by Twigs, her tights, corset, jacket, jewelry and headscarf are all from her own archive pieces of Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Portrait’ collection (fall 1990), which ultimately took direct influence from the artworks at the Wallace Collection. This cycle of influence from art to fashion to music is perfectly presented in this one performance, reflecting on the past while also re-situating it within the present. Westwood took François Boucher’s Shepherd Watching a Sleeping Shepherdess (1743) painting which hangs in the Wallace Collection, and printed it directly onto the corset bodices for her ‘Portrait’ collection. By doing this, Westwood takes the past and its existing artworks to be ‘plundered’ and reinterpreted, thus creating something entirely new and original.

Screenshot from FKA Twigs

(Screenshot from FKA Twigs performance of Cellophane, timestamp 0:17, from Youtube)

Twigs further ‘plunders’ these Westwood pieces to celebrate her own identity and style, one Westwood scarf decorated with 18th century artwork is wrapped around her hair to form a durag. She drapes another Westwood scarf, printed with Boucher’s Daphnis and Chloe (1743), around her left side, creating a cape-like garment while visually extending the look of the headwrap into something more elevated than a scarf or durag from the 1990’s. The golden flecked embroidery of her black velvet jacket glimmers against the gold fireplace as the camera continues to circle around her body, offering the viewer multiple angles of her Westwood ensemble. This jacket references the work of French cabinet maker, André Charles Boulle, who’s black and gold gilded furnishings can be found in the large drawing room of the Wallace Collection, just above where Twigs is performing and becoming almost a piece of the furniture herself.

FKTAwigs screenshot

(Screenshot from FKA Twigs performance of Cellophane, timestamp 2:50, from Youtube)

As her performance comes to an end, the camera closes in on her face, providing a closer look at her jewelry as she turns to gaze out at the viewer. In her ear she wears a Westwood pearl drop earring, symbolising the timelessness of this classic yet modern performance and location. The final frame of the video connotes to the imagery of Girl with a Pearl Earring(1665), by Johannes Vermeer, with the similar headscarf, pearl earrings and intense stares which will continue to permeate across time, fashion, music and art.

Twigs released this statement on her experience at the Wallace Collection: ‘This is my love letter to the artefacts and paintings held within its walls, and to one of my favourite designers Vivienne Westwood whose portrait collection was inspired by these pieces. It was an emotional experience to perform in that magical place, and to be wearing these beautiful clothes I’ve spent years collecting.’- FKA Twigs (May 2019, from Instagram @fkatwigs).

FKTAwigs screenshot

(Screenshot from FKA Twigs performance of Cellophane, timestamp 3:54, from Youtube)

Bibliography:

https://www.instagram.com/fkatwigs/?hl=en

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/style/durag-solange-met-gala.html

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/vivienne-westwood-a-taste-for-the-past?gclid=CjwKCAiA4Y7yBRB8EiwADV1haXq0xISVqFySuTddYEZBF6WsBKy9KzuXmHZZkVnr5EsIVFcVur7rVBoCHOMQAvD_BwE

https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/fka-twigs-vivienne-westwood-corset-the-wallace-collection-cellophane-matthew-josephs-avant-garden-stylist

Balenciaga’s return to couture

On the first day of Paris Couture Week, Balenciaga announced that they would be returning to couture fashion in July 2020. After a fifty-two-year hiatus, the artistic director Demna Gvasalia has chosen to restart the production of couture fashion for the first time since the closing of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s atelier in 1968. In a statement to the press, Gvasalia cited the return was an act of creative and visionary duty: ‘For me, couture is an unexplored mode of creative freedom and a platform for innovation. It not only offers another spectrum of possibilities in dressmaking, but also brings the modern vision of Balenciaga back to its sources of origin. Couture is above trends. It’s an expression of beauty on the highest aesthetic and qualitative levels.”

Balenciaga couture

Instagram @vogueparis

Cristóbal Balenciaga is often remembered as one of the greatest couturiers in the world. Revered by many of his contemporaries, Christian Dior described him as “the master of us all”. Balenciaga’s designs, of which the famous cocoon coat or bubble skirt are two, are characterized by spare and sculptural forms. His unique shapes and silhouettes revolutionized women’s fashion during the 1950s and 1960s and still continue to have influence on fashion design today.

In order to understand the significance of Balenciaga’s return to couture, a look back at the history of the fashion house is important. Founded in 1937, the brand opened in Paris on Avenue Georges V, after the Spanish Civil War causedBalenciaga to flee from his native country. The designer’s loose silhouettes, such as his ‘sack’ dress, offered an alternative to the intrinsically feminine, hour-glass shape of Dior’s ‘New Look’ and the designer quickly gained popularity amongst aristocrats and celebrities alike. With followers in both France and the United States, buyers thought nothing of risking their safety to return to the capital to buy his clothes.

However, the designer unexpectedly closed the fashion house in 1968 before passing away suddenly in 1972.

dress archive

Instagram @vintageklunseren

Over a decade after Balenciaga’s death, the label was resurrected in 1986 and began to focus on ready-to-wear collections. A variety of notable designers have served as creative director since then, (Nicolas Ghesquière is now the creative director of Louis Vuitton). After taking over from Alexander Wang in 2016, Gvasalia sought to modernize Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original sketches for the contemporary age. Stating that the designs should be remembered for their volume rather than their decoration, Another Magazine described Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear show as a ‘viral’ social media moment: ‘Couture-like in their splendor, the dresses referenced some of Cristóbal’s original couture shapes’ with a series of ball gowns that formed the collection’s final looks. This offers us an exciting glimpse of what might come in July with the revival of Balenciaga’s haute couture.

dress balenciaga

Instagram @hiveblog

Ultimately the return of Balenciaga to couture demonstrates how the past, present and future are merged together by a fashion house universally recognized for their contribution to both street wear and couture.

 

References

AnOther Magazine, ‘Balenciaga Is Returning to Haute Couture’ https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12189/balenciaga-will-return-to-haute-couture-half-a-century-after-cristobal

Harper’s Bazaar, ‘Balenciaga is returning to couture after more than 50 years’, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/fashion/fashion-news/a30596039/balenciaga-couture/

Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Introducing Cristóbal Balenciaga’, https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-cristobal-balenciaga

WWD, ‘Balenciaga to Return to Couture in July’, https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/balenciaga-returning-couture-paris-1203442133/

Stop and Smell the Roses: A fresh take on the Alexander McQueen archives.  

Through songs, films, and books it sometimes feels like Alexander McQueen never left. February 11th marks the tenth anniversary of McQueen’s passing: In both life and death, the designer holds a mythical trope in the fashion world.

Despite not being able to afford his tuition, fashion illustrator and educator Bobby Hillson allowed McQueen entry into Central Saint Martins because she saw that he had obvious talent. His patron Isabella Blow- who famously bought his entire graduation collection from Central Saint Martins- nurtured his talent as muse and unofficial publicist. He took inspiration from personal hobbies like scuba diving, his Scottish heritage, and 90s’ club culture.

Imani's pic

The famous Rose Dress from the Spring/ Summer 2007 collection on display in the exhibition.

These stories are told over and over again but in the countless retellings of McQueen’s life, it is rare that the public gets to fully understand the details that lured so many people to his talent. Organized by Alexander McQueen’s creative director, Sarah Burton, Roses is a new exhibition at the flagship McQueen store on Old Bond Street that offers a retrospective look at the designer’s long-standing employment of flowers in his work.

Before the exhibition opened Sarah Burton and members of McQueen’s designer team hosted a talk and walkthrough of the exhibition for university students in fashion studies in which they offered a refreshing take on the legacy and artistry of Alexander McQueen. There was no mythologizing or eulogizing of McQueen as one of the ‘all-time greats’. Instead, the exhibition celebrates the coming together of embroiders, designers and interns to maintain the designer’s vision and narrative.

Burton and long-time collaborators talked about how shows and designs came together with the pressure of final essays and group projects that were due the next day. When McQueen would have ideas for designs and needed one of his collaborators to help him make it come to life, he would simply say, “try it and see what happens” whenever they had doubts about if it could be executed.

 

Imani's pic for MxQueen

Dresses and mood boards from the Spring/ Summer 2013 on display at the exhibition.

 What is great about this exhibition is how we see Burton’s own reading and experience of the archive come alive. For the Spring/ Summer 2013 collection for example, Burton incorporated McQueen’s use of corsets but used bees as a way to focus on the life that floats around his roses. Reminiscent also of McQueen’s use of  winged moths for his Spring/ Summer 2001 finale.

Imani's pic of McQueen

Up-close details from the Spring/ Summer 2013 on display at the exhibition.

Taking inspiration from the rose shaped dress that of Autumn/Winter 2006 and sleeves from Autumn/Winter 2008, Burton forged her own vision of McQueen’s rose. Whilst this motif has long been associated with the house’s namesake, Burton’s was largely inspired by the Rose Queen celebrations she saw during her childhood in the North of England and let that experience blossom in her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.

 

Imani's pic of roses

Rose shaped dress from the Autumn/Winter 2006, sleeves from the Autumn/Winter 2008, and a later iteration of the rose shaped dress from Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.

Today, McQueen is a massive global fashion brand. You see this on your way up to the gallery: as you climb up a winding wooden staircase at the centre of the store, you witness the array of clothing, accessors, and shoes from recent collections on mannequins, hangers, rocks and carefully carved wooden display tables. And yet, through garments, mood boards, photographs and film, this exhibition reminds you that regardless of whose name is above the door, no great designer is bigger than the sum of their parts. Perhaps most importantly, a great designer is a hardworking co-worker and collaborator.

 

 

Dress in Film: Little Women on the Big Screen

As Academy Award season approaches, there comes a time to reflect over the films that strike us and I believe that many will agree with me in saying that Little Women’s spectacularly intricate and artistic costumes are worth discussing.

The most notable thing about Jacqueline Durran’s costumes for Little Women is that they reflect the personalities of the characters. As each character evolves, so does their dress, illustrating not only the passing of time but clear moments of narrative development. This, along with a wealth of artistic references, means that the movie is likely to bring joy to any art historian watching it. From Impressionism to the Pre-Raphaelites, the movie becomes an Easter egg hunt for artistic references.

Firstly, each March sister is given a colour palette that repeatedly resonates with their character throughout: Meg’s was green and lavender, Beth’s was brown and pink, Amy’s was light blue, and Jo’s was red and indigo. Whilst Durran tried to remain period-accurate, the costumes became a tool to convey mood, season and temperature. Never straying from the dress conventions of the period, Durran still used dress to show each character’s personality and each actor had the freedom to choose and combine outfits.

screenshot for argument

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

Set in Concord, Massachusetts during the American Civil War, the girls’ initial outfits clearly reflect that time. Although women were expected to wear bloomers, chemises and corsets, Durran tweaked this framework to reveal the individual personality of each sister. For example, Meg’s conventional attitude towards life and marriage is reflected in outfits that feature corsets and bloomers, whilst Jo’s rebellious and feminist side is clear in her masculine, corset-free wardrobe of vests, blazers and collared shirts. This masculinity is reinstated in the interchanging clothes between her and Laurie. From the buttercup-coloured paisley vest or Jo’s straw hat at the beach, these swaps further instate Jo’s need to transcend social rules placed on her gender. The androgenicity of their outfits also emphasises them as equals and partners.

androgene article

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

One of the most memorable scenes in Little Women (2019) would be their trip to the seaside which clearly hints at Winslow Homer’s seascapes. Their use of checks, stripes and paisleys as well as straw hats makes reference to traditional Victorian style and American Impressionism. Each girls’ persona is again emphasised in their combinations of attire. Winslow Homer also often depicted strong-working women in his work which perhaps further resonates with the March girls’ persona.

supportive forar ticle

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

Further into the movie, the girls put on a play for Christmas. The set-up is a clear reference to Julia Margaret Cameron’s theatrical photography of her daughters: the paper-cut stars, branches, leaves, fairytale-esque costumes all serve to set up a world where the women are equal to men. The flower crowns also become symbols of innocence. The allusion to strong feminine figures in art history clearly parallels the girls’ ambition to be recognised in the art world.

Instapic

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

The beauty of the March sisters is also clearly represented in their likeness to Pre-Raphaelites women. Visible in the loose but elegant clothing worn by characters like Jo and Meg, the characters are suggested to have timeless and elegant beauty. Like Rosetti’s muses, the girls engage in artistic activities such as writing, playing instruments or reciting poetry.

instapic little women

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

Finally, the influence of American Impressionism clearly dominates the ‘before’ portion of the film whilst French Impressionism dominates the later parts of the film. Particularly evident with Amy’s dress after she moves to Paris. Although she was always weary of her looks, older Amy becomes the most decorated out of all the sisters and frequently adorns herself with embroidered dresses, large skirts, embellished coats and hats. This ‘maximisation’ of dress shows the personal growth her character. Paralleling her loss of innocence, it further reflects her determination to become the main provider for her family.

Screenshot from Instagram for little

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

These are only a small number of artistic influences that can be found in Little Women (2019). The three balls also clearly mark the evolution of style from the mid-19th century to late 19th century. As the ideal female figure moves from an Empirical-styled dress to modern French fashion, the movie encompasses a wide range of costumes and dress. Jacqueline Durran’s dress research in 19th century photography and paintings, as well as books and fashion magazines of the time, brings out, for me, the joy of cinematography. Her modern twist on periodically accurate clothes illustrates that filmography is often embedded in dress. All that can be said is this: Go get that Oscar Jacqueline!

Beyond the Buckle: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection

 

Blue striped wall with gold framed pictures of women and a bright pink decorated show beneath

Image C/O Maia Heegaard

The relationship between art and fashion is fraught with complexities, but the two disciplines have always drawn heavily from one another, in ways both synergistic and hostile. At the Wallace Collection’s recent exhibition An Enquiring Mind: Manolo Blahnik at the Wallace Collection, we are presented with a glistening example of the collaborative nature of art and fashion at its best—a clear representation of how art can inform the fashion design process. Juxtaposing some of the designer’s most beautiful shoe creations with prominent works of art by Boucher, Rubens, Titian, and Gainsborough, all within in the architecturally exquisite setting of Hertford House, there is an obvious decadence to the exhibit that is impossible to not enjoy on an aesthetic level.

The Wallace Collection is rich and vast on its own—difficult to digest with a single visit. Upon walking in, I was pleasantly struck by the degree to which Blahnik’s shoes blended seamlessly with the collection—nothing felt forced, out of place. It was as though the shoes were a permanent part of the collection, echoing not only the paintings on the walls, but the gilding of a cabinet, the richness of a velvet window curtain. Each room was organized thematically to display a different historical moment or story, from the dimly lit baroque, full of velvet and brocade, to “Avant-Garde Fashion.” For fans of fashion, the exhibit offers clear insight into Blahnik’s creative process—the designer credits the museum’s collection as a source of design inspiration, and from early sketches to the final product it is clear how he has brought the fantastical aspects of the art into the realm of the living.

Light pink shoes with flowers in glass case beneath blue striped wall and painting of woman in pink dress

Image C/O Olivia Smales

Nestled between the paintings and gilded clocks and vases, I found myself engaging with the shoes as art objects rather than wearable items—objects of beauty, much like the paintings on the walls. Conceptions of art versus craft are challenged, and a dialogue between the two prompts the viewer to question what makes an object “art” to begin with. What are the difference between the traditional ‘high brow’ mediums of painting and sculpture, and where does fashion fall?

Placed within delicate domed glass cases, the shoes feel all the more at home in their rich and fantastical setting, precious objects to be protected from the corruptions of the external world. Despite this layer of glass between object and viewer, the shoes imbue the space with a certain unexpected intimacy. At a time in which fashion exhibitions are often sensationalized and overcrowded, it is refreshing to be able to get close to the shoes, to examine the subtle relationships between the objects and their surroundings, the details of their meticulous design.

Beyond crafting a dialogue, the shoes and paintings bring new meanings to one another, notably a pair of infamous Manolo’s—pink shoes designed for Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette. The shoes are placed beneath Fragonard’s The Swing (1767) in which a woman kicks off a pair of candy-floss pink heels that are remarkably similar. The viewer is immediately transported to the realm of the painting, able to connect via this real world object, and simultaneously better able to understand how Blahnik may have conceptualized these shoes to begin with. The same shoes exhibited within the sterile confines of a luxury store might appear as simple objects for purchase by the privileged, drawing attention to the importance of context when it comes to all works of art (called to mind are Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, and those same boxes on a supermarket shelf…).

Mint green shoes in glass case with feathers and jewels on dark green table

Images C/O Olivia Smales

While perhaps a stereotypically feminine object, the shoes crystallized the presence of women, both within the collection and throughout history. I found myself noticing prominent female figures in the works of art around me, and considering the place of women across history, from the Marquesses who once inhabited Hertford House to the largely female crowd viewing the shoes around me.

We all share in the experience of putting on shoes. Whether or not they are as decadent as those designed by Blahnik, there is a familiarity to the object, and a desire to know who stood in these shoes before, and to be like them. The exhibition offers something to art and fashion fans alike, teaching art fans about a revolutionary designer, and bringing in a crowd who may otherwise have missed out on the Wallace collection’s treasures.

 

Sources:

https://www.tatler.com/article/manolo-blahnik-an-enquiring-mind-wallace-collection

http://www.arteviste.com/arteviste/a-review-of-manolo-blahnik-an-enquiring-mind-at-the-wallace-collection-london-lhhj5

   

The Met’s Camp: Notes on Fashion Exhibition Review

This summer I attended the Met’s Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition. The hype surrounding this annual exhibition is initially generated from the Met Gala held in May, which officially celebrates its opening and is considered one of the most important fashion events of the year. After seeing pictures of models, celebrities and designers processing up the famous museum stairs, I was excited to see such eccentric and elaborate outfits in person. I was also looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of the term ‘camp’ which I recognized had a deeper meaning and history than I was aware of.

Camp was based off of Susan Sontag’s 1964 “Notes on Camp,” which brought the term into mainstream culture. Likewise to Sontag, the curators of the museum sought to explore the various connotations of the word and its affect upon culture and fashion. Camp is a term often synonymous with LGBT culture, however it can refer to anything theatrical, artificial, excessive, effeminate and much more. Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, states that the aim of the exhibition was to generate more questions than answers, as camp is incredibly difficult to define. Through basing the exhibition around Sontag’s essay, I found that it gave the audience a lens in which to view the objects and items of clothing. In the first room, Sontag’s “58 principles of camp” is outlined and details how terms such as nostalgia, irony, pastiche and parody are used to describe camp. I thought that this was a great way to prepare the viewers for the sensory overload of what was to come.

Two mannequins in exhibition, one wearing a purple, fluffy ensemble with butterflies. The other wearing a black dress.

Jeremy Scott (American, born 1975) for House of Moschino (Italian, founded 1983). Ensemble, spring/summer 2018. Courtesy of Moschino. Author’s own image.

Camp was divided into two sections, with the first looking at the origins of camp and the second showing how it is reflected in fashion. I thought the chronological theme was extremely helpful in enhancing the viewer’s understanding of how the camp sensibility has pervaded throughout history and into modern day culture. Bolton argues that the reemergence of camp in the present decade is not surprising as it comes about during periods of social, economic and political change. This in turn led me to think about how certain exhibitions are chosen by curators during the time when the public imagination needs them most.

The visitor is immediately confronted by the bright pink walls of the exhibition, which welcomes them into the loud and excessive world of the camp aesthetic.

The first room details how camp came about in order to challenge conventional notions of beauty, through adopting a daring and bold style. In the first few rooms, objects from Versailles, Louis XIV and Oscar Wilde show how an increasingly theatrical style developed, which valued the nineteenth century ideal of male beauty. This emphasizes how camp is found not just in fashion, but also in a variety of other forms that span different centuries and geographies.

I thought that the most impressive room of the exhibition was a vast space filled with varying glass cases that contained different examples of camp clothing. The indefinable nature of camp is exhibited by the voice-over of a variety of quotes in this room, which are narrated by different celebrities and important figures; for example, Phoebe Philo for Céline recounts a quote by Mark Booth that “Camp is mock luxurious.”

Dark exhibition room with two levels of colorful boxes with mannequins.

View of the “Camp: Notes On Fashion” Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC. Author’s own image.

Camp is defined by artifice and exaggeration, to do with style and not content that is expressed in fashion through colour, patterns, shapes, ornament and materials. Below are some pictures from my visit that I thought captured this:

Mannequin wearing black dress with pink bow wrapped around the waist.

Jeremy Scott (American, born 1975) for House of Moschino (Italian, founded 1983). Dress, spring/summer 2017. Courtesy of Moschino. Author’s own image.

Mannequin wearing a tight body suit with covers of Vogue magazine printed on the fabric.

Sequined Vogue–Sequined “Vogue Magazine” Jumpsuit from Gianni Versace S/S 1991. Author’s own image.

Mannequin wearing light pink dress with layers of tulle.

Gown from Giambattista Valli Haute Couture. Author’s own image.

Overall, I found that the representation of camp within fashion was one of excess, which was shown through the overload of sequins, bows and feathers on the items. The exhibition was an immersive one, asking the viewer to consider their own conceptions of camp and how this can be challenged. I thought that the curators successfully showed how camp is present in our culture and everyday lives as it embraces both high art, popular culture and a variety of other opposing features.

References

The Personal is Defiantly Political in MoMu’s Latest Show of Transnational Textiles at Texture Kortrijk

 

 

Poster for exhibit with image of girl partially covered and accompanying text

Campaign Image ‘Textile as Resistance’ (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin, Graphic design: Jelle Jespers

Textile as Resistance: The Power of Fabrics Without Slogans is the latest offering in MoMu Antwerp’s external programme of events whilst the fashion museum is closed for renovation and development. It is currently on display on the upmost floor of Texture Kortrijk, a fitting guest location given that this innovative textile museum is devoted to the international networks of exchange and influence that lie behind the local production of flax and linen in the Flemish province of West Flanders. Nestled on the River Lys, Kortrijk is home to linen damasks – originating, of course, from the Syrian capital Damascus – where locals pioneered a particular technique of production in the late 15th century, with a signature trademark of symmetrical patterns depicting hunting scenes, historical battles and biblical stories. Positioned at an apposite local/global intersection, the exhibition Textile as Resistance weaves together geography – telling stories of the land, nationality – telling stories of the nation, and identity – telling stories of the self, all narrated through the powerful storytelling medium of cloth.

Image of gallery interior with picture of woman hanging and pictures on walls

Textile as Resistance at Texture Kortrijk, (c) MoMu Antwerp, Photo: Stany Dederen

Three female dolls in textile posed on white floor with pots in background

Palestinian dolls in traditional festive dress made at the Ein El-Hilweh camp where 64 women are trained in this technique in order to preserve the Palestinian embroidery and heritage. Beirut, Lebanon, 2019, (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

Fashion and textiles are, of course, emphatically transnational phenomena, which operate across rather than within hermetically-sealed borders. We know that clothing is transformed by the different pairs of hands through which it passes –acquiring new values, serving different purposes, bearing the biographical traces of both maker and wearer. It is precisely this mobility – not least the privileged potential that fabric occupies as the connective tissue between individuals, communities, cultures and nations – which the exhibition curators take as their starting point. Whilst photographer Mashid Mohadjerin (b. Iran, 1976) and journalist Samira Bendadi (b. Morocco, 1966) conceived of the exhibition in Antwerp, the compelling stories of migration and diversity that it narrates expand far beyond the borders of Europe, unravelling identities and histories that stretch back and forth across the world. The curators were concerned, first and foremost, with the messages that textiles embody and disseminate as an insidious form of resistance – one that is frequently mobilised by women in response to war and crisis. The exhibition thus encapsulates Shahidha Bari’s acknowledgment in Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes (2019) that clothing the body is a means of ‘turning out’, of mobilising a critical engagement with our surrounding world. It is a pertinent topic, painfully resonant amidst the European migrant crisis, which has witnessed more than 4,000 deaths in 2018 alone. Textiles as Resistance interrogates how clothing and fashion can respond to social and cultural displacement, reassuring individuals who are in search of their identities and a communal sense of belonging.

 

Image of gallery interior with photos hanging from ceiling and on walls

Textile as Resistance at Texture Kortrijk, (c) MoMu Antwerp, Photo: Stany Dederen

Image of street in Beirut with portraits of man and flags on old buildings

Street scene depicting two portraits of the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Beirut, Lebanon, 2019, (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

What is made clear from the outset is that neither identity, nor textiles, can be easily reduced to a singular narrative. Nor can they be straightforwardly mapped onto a spinning globe – especially when considered in relation to globally distributed production and consumption networks, the lasting effects of colonialism, imperialism and decolonisation, and asylum and migration in both the past and present. The large-scale map that viewers are presented with on entering the exhibition makes this point palpably clear. Antwerp is at the epicentre. From here, needles threaded with red cotton have been stitched across the map, drawing lines to locations as far afield as Nigeria, Morocco, Iran and Mexico. Russia appears vast, whilst the USA is far smaller than cartography normally affords it.  Geography is presented as a fictitious retelling. By logical conclusion, the viewer is encouraged to recognise that using geographical boundaries as a tool to analyse religious, cultural and national identities remains ceaselessly problematic. It resonates with the remarks of geographers Martin Lewis and Karen Wigan in their seminal text The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (1996):  ‘we talk of African wildlife as if it constituted a distinct assemblage of animals’ and yet countries and continents do not neatly denote biological and cultural groupings. Similarly, the mapping of nations encourages a false understanding of the world as a jigsaw of discreet places that can be examined in isolation. African wax print cloth, which originated in Asia inspired by Indonesian Batik and was only introduced to the African continent in the late 19th century by the Dutch company Vlisco, is a case in point. The truth is that identity is situational; it involves both insiders and outsiders to the group, acquires new meanings as it travels, and remains in an inconclusive state of continually ‘becoming’.

Dilapidated staircase with wires and old advertisement on building

Shatila Refugee Camp, Lebanon, 2019, (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

Human stories, as the exhibition makes clear, often have the greatest currency, particularly those that give individuals the greatest prominence, both physically and emotionally. One of the subjects given a voice is Samira Salah (b. what was then Palestine, now Israel, 1945), who questions: ‘What does it mean to be a Palestinian today? My daughter has French nationality and my other daughter has German nationality because their husbands have these nationalities […] Nationality is not identity. Ultimately, the Palestinian issue is not a matter for Palestinians alone. It is a universal and human issue. You don’t have to be a Palestinian to embrace the Palestinian cause’. It is the process of enquiry that appears most cathartic in many of the stories narrated and is rooted in the painstaking processes of sewing, embroidering and textile printing, which bring makers and wearers together in intimate dialogue that transcends religious, cultural and national borders.  Another story shared is that of Zena Sabbagh (b. Syria, 1971), who lives in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where she has transformed her living room into a meeting place for women to socialise, sew and share stories. ‘I don’t like the word ‘refugee’’, she explains.  ‘Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their country. But why not meet and get to know the others? I’m against borders. I’m for getting people to meet.’ Many of these tantalising snapshots of lives lived in the face of adversity are left deliberately untied. Whilst the exhibition catalogue provides further insight, the fragmented method of display fits the disjointed stories and memories that are recalled by the subjects, prompting speculation on the part of the viewer, who may feel inclined to fill in the gaps with his or her own thoughts, feelings and lived experiences of identity. It is this humanitarian aspect of the exhibition that resonates so profoundly with the viewer: these are human stories, and it is the very personal relationship that we have to clothing – our intimate knowledge of how it feels on our skin, how it moves on our bodies, and how it connects us to other people and to the world at large that the curators so expertly tap into.  

Woman sitting at table outside cafe in colorful coat

Zolaykha Sherzad, Afghan-born designer wearing one of her native inspired coats. She deconstructs existing pieces and reunites the textiles into in new pieces that reflect on new perspectives and hopes for a better future. Paris, France, 2019, (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

 

Man in colorful jacket holding cane and wearing black shirt and hat with other men in colorful garments in background

African Fashion Weekend at the Meise Botanic Garden. Brussels, Belgium, 2019, (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

Textile as Resistance is a pivotal contribution to the fashion exhibition landscape in Europe, which emphasises non-Eurocentric narratives of fashion and clothing exchange. Belgium, like most European nations, has a chequered history of colonisation, decolonisation, asylum and migration, the ramifications of which are strongly felt in the postcolonial present. Exhibitions such as this, by inviting a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, ethnicities, identities and histories into the gallery space, provide a necessary voice and visibility to the lived experiences of Belgian’s immigrant population. As MoMu Director Kaat Debo explains, ‘Antwerp is home to more than 170 nationalities. 183 languages are spoken here. The exhibition is part of our mission to make MoMu meaningful for everyone and to enable social, aesthetic and personal change’. It is a perspective that underlines the importance of global perspectives in shaping local identities, whilst reiterating that fostering strong local roots is not in opposition to sharing an international outlook. Just as ‘national’ fashion cultures are always mediated by ‘international’ networks of exchange, Textiles as Resistance marks a systematic shift in museum curation to present histories of globalisation as truly histories of the globe, rather than continuing Eurocentric histories of the West.  The success of the exhibition will ultimately be measured in terms of its ability to attract a substantial number of new audiences from migration backgrounds into the museum, and for the stories articulated to have an impact long after the exhibition closes on 16th February 2020.

Woman in black garment and pink scarf with child in red jacket in front of graffiti covered staircase

Malak Bakoor, has her own embroidery workgroup involving Syrian women in Shatila Refugee Camp. Beirut, Lebanon, 2019, (c) Photo: Mashid Mohadjerin

Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican

Exhibition at the Barbican, a brown wall with many framed woodcuts and a vitrine with four carved masks.

Mexico City room at the Barbican, that lacked the “voom”. (author’s own image)

“I was kind of expecting more va va voom”.

“There is va va just no voom”.

I overheard this from a couple behind me, as we walked into another skeletal room for the Barbican Art Gallery’s ‘Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’ exhibition. Like me they were also disenchanted by this exploration of Modern Art, cabarets, and clubs in New York City, Tehran, London, Paris, Mexico City, Berlin, Vienna, Ibadan, Rome, Strasbourg, and Zurich from the 1880s to the 1960s.

I had previously been to the Barbican back in 2017 to see the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit, ‘Basquiat: Boom for Real’. Basquiat, like the artists and works featured in this exhibition, was deeply influenced by his own exposure to night life. At that exhibition Basquiat made the clubs and streets of New York City fill the space beyond its assigned walls and display platforms. The whole atmosphere radiated a boundless world of art and reality, that was present the moment you entered the space. In comparison to the Basquiat exhibition the atmosphere of ‘Into the Night’ was extremely muted. Walking into the Barbican’s art gallery on a Saturday evening, felt like walking into work early on a Monday morning.

Museum vitrine with carpet sample and pencil drawn curtain design.

Carpet sample and curtain design for the Cabaret Fledermaus, 1907. Designed by Josef Hoffman. (author’s own image)

‘Into the Night’, begins with the city of Vienna. The room features posters, plans, designs, and decorative art objects from the Cabaret Fledermaus. The objects were sparsely spread out across the room on frozen grey walls and a blue display platform. On the wall text it says that Cabaret Fledermaus was created to be a space in which, “‘boredom’ of contemporary life would be replaced by the ‘ease of art and culture’” but walking around the space did not feel like “ease” at all. Objects like the original curtain designs, a carpet sample, coupled with some well-preserved posters felt more like observing specimens in a lab, than understanding than the connection between the clubs and cabarets, and Modern Art.

With the exception of a few notable rooms (New York City, Berlin and a room dedicated to American dancer Loïe Fuller), this feeling plagued me throughout the exhibition. By the time I got to Mexico City (which was about a quarter of the way through the upstairs gallery) I heard the couple behind me make the comment that I mentioned earlier. Cabarets and clubs are intrinsically and indubitably lively, but the Barbican failed to capture the conditions that these objects derived from and the objects failed to capture aura of their conditions. While the Barbican provided “recreations” of certain cabarets and clubs on the lower gallery level, as Time Out critic Eddy Frankel noted they felt static and disjoined from the original “exchange” between cabarets and clubs, and Modern Art.

Film stills from Film Lumiere no 765,1- Danse serpentine [II], featuring Loïe Fuller by Austste and Louis Lumière, c. 1897-99. (author’s own images)

Almost halfway through the upper galleries, it occurred to me that what was lacking from this exhibition was presence. When I entered the space that focused on Loïe Fuller’s contributions to the Folies-Bergere, I was mesmerized and captivated by Fuller’s movements. On the wall text it said that Fuller utilized costume and colour as a means for experimenting with dance. As she twirled and swished in her costumes that were painted in violet, red, and green film colour against the black and white film, you could see the how modernism was moving forward from the past. Fuller’s ability to use costume and movements as a means for claiming space, showed why clubs and cabarets mattered for the development of Modern Art. Clubs and cabarets provided boundless empowerment and inspiration for artists to challenge and change the course of art, because they encouraged artists to engage with their bodies and minds through moving and occupying space.

In short with the exception of a few instances, ‘Into the Night’ is more of an encyclopedic approach to Modern Art’s relationships to clubs and cabarets, that fails to enhance and resuscitate the understanding of clubs and cabarets in Modern Art.

 

References:

Frankel, Eddy, “Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art review.” Time Out London, 2019.