Summer Archive

Documenting Regency Fashion with La Belle Assemblée

Today, 18 July 2017, marks the bicentenary of the death of Jane Austen, author of classic novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Much of her work, and their subsequent adaptations, are set in the Regency era (broadly categorized as 1795-1820) and their fashions reflect that time. Jane herself was quite fond of fashionable dressing: letters from time spent living with her brother Henry in London mention visits to Grafton House for trimmings and hosiery, and to Bedford House for dress fabrics.

Fashion plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by John Bell), 1807. Hand-coloured etching. Los Angeles County Museum of Art: www.lacma.org. Accession number: M.86.266.84.

In order to keep abreast of the latest fashions, women of the Regency era consumed ladies’ magazines, among them the high quality La Belle Assemblée or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine addressed particularly to the Ladies. John Bell first published Le Belle Assemblée in 1806 as a monthly source of prose, poetry, biographies, and fashion advice for leisured women. There is even reason to suspect that Jane Austen would have read La Belle Assemblée as one of her favourite nieces, Fanny Austen Knight, had an 1814 issue of that periodical among her possessions.

‘Bourbon Hat and Mantle’ plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by John Bell), May 1814. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.1025-1959.

La Belle Assemblée’s price established it as a thoroughly affluent periodical. Its rival, the Lady’s Museum, cost 1s. in 1806, while La Belle Assemblée cost 2s. 6d. for black-and-white etchings and 3s. 6d. for hand-coloured illustrations. Though only two fashion plates were included with each issue, they were prepared by highly skilled illustrators, engravers, and painters. The 25cm x 16cm dimensions of this periodical further added to its luxury. Whether coloured or not, the sizable fashion plates are works of art in their own right, as their inclusion in museum collections around the world confirms.

‘Walking Dress’ plate from La Belle Assemblée, September 1822. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.2818-1888.

John Bell’s wife Mrs. Bell was credited with the designs of many outfits seen in the plates of La Belle Assemblée. As a dressmaker in London known for extremely up-to-date fashion knowledge (she had foreign fashions imported for study twice each week), Mrs. Bell possessed a reputation for unbeatable fashion acumen. She was not just a dressmaker and designer however. Mrs. Bell, ever the visionary, invented the ‘Chapeau Bras,’ a foldable hood small enough to store in a bag, and a corset to reduce the appearance of pregnancy.

‘Dinner Party Dress’ plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by Whittaker & Co.), February 1827. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.1972-1888.

Plates from La Belle Assemblée reflect both minute and radical changes in fashion during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. From 1800-1820, differences in fabric, colour, and accessories set old and new fashions apart. The 1820s saw a gradual widening of sleeves and skirts as the decade progressed, morphing the columnar silhouette of the beginning of the century into the exaggerated hourglass shape of the early 1830s. In 1832, La Belle Assemblée merged with the Lady’s Magazine; the new Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée continued to publish the latest advances in fashion throughout the 1830s.

Read, W., ’Full Dress, Ball Dress, Morning Dress’ plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by Whittaker & Co.), October 1830. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.1972-1888.

Further Reading

Jane Ashelford, ‘Perfect Cut and Fit’ in The Art of Dress: Clothes Through History 1500-1914 (London: National Trust, 1996), pp. 167-210

Margaret Beetham, ‘The ‘Fair Sex’ and the Magazine: The Early Ladies’ Journals’ in A Magazine of Her Own? Domesticity and Desire in the Women’s Magazine, 1800-1914 (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 17-34

Au Revoir MA Documenting Fashion Graduates of 2017!

The MA graduates at a post-graduation celebration on Somerset House’s River Terrace. Courtesy Harriet Nelham-Clark.

Even after all these years, it is still a little surprise when graduation suddenly appears again on my calendar.  My MA course at The Courtauld seems to rush by – nine months of seminars, visits, discussions and so much more. The most exciting aspect for me is always meeting the students as a group for the first time in October, and getting to know them and watching their responses to the images and ideas we discuss.

This year, I had the great pleasure of seeing Jamie, Dana, Barbora, Harriet, Yona and Sophie progress from early essays thinking about key methodologies and theorists, through film reviews, blog posts, formal essays and a virtual exhibition, to their final piece of work – a 10,000 word dissertation on a subject of their choice.  You can look back at the posts they wrote a couple of months ago to learn about the amazing topics they chose, suffice to say, I was reading drafts on everything from 19th century Decadents to 1930s bathing suits – and enjoying guiding the students as their ideas developed and their writing became ever more fluent and sophisticated. They all worked incredibly hard, were great fun to teach and graduated with excellent grades.

So, please join me in congratulating these brilliant, talented graduates, and wishing them luck for their future, no doubt wonderful careers!

MAs in academic dress, along with History of Dress Ph. D. graduate Lucy Moyse. Courtesy Harriet Nelham-Clark.

A toast to a wonderful year! Courtesy Barbora Kozusnikova.

MA 16/17 Year-in-Review, Part 2

It’s difficult to capture a such a busy year as ours in a few lines or even a few paragraphs. Instead, I asked each of the MAs to sum up our time in Documenting Fashion with a song. Some noted the quick pace of the course, others selected songs from their studies, and a few chose personal favorites for the year. Take a look (with accompanying videos!) below:

Barbora: A few songs popped into my head. “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai is one. Quite self-explanatory, I think. Parts of the year, especially when writing my dissertation, felt like that. Also “Faith” by George Michael felt appropriate, I definitely needed a reminder to believe in myself quite a few times. But most of the time, the year was more like “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. “Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball!”

 

Jamie: I’m tempted to say “I’m So Tired” by the Beatles (for very obvious reasons) or pick something Astaire/Rogers, per my second essay (“I’m Putting All My Eggs in One Basket” from Follow the Fleet), but I have to give the song that I started each week with its due: “Manic Monday” by The Bangles. The weekends never seemed long enough to finish the laundry list of tasks from the week before–it was work, work, work the whole nine months!

 

Yona: The song that best represents my year is a live City Medley sung by Tony Bennett and Andy Williams from March 1, 1965. The clip, which includes songs such as “Gypsy in My Soul,” “My Kind of Town,” and “San Francisco,” served as one of the inspirations for my exhibition proposal and I have been obsessed with the casual style of the performance.

 

Harriet: Max Richter’s music has been the soundtrack to long library days – especially his music for Woolf Works, the ballet inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf, and his recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

 

Dana: Although I don’t have a favourite for this year, as I usually I listen to playlists of jazz, 50s-60s R&B, Latin, soul or popcorn, my song pick is “Johnny Lee” by Faye Adams. Or anything by Aretha Franklin. Although the lyrics don’t really relate to my year, the rhythm and music feel like my year’s pace (if that makes any sense). I’d encourage you to have a look as it’s a fantastic song.

 

Sophie: “We Don’t Eat” by James Vincent McMorrow. It came up on a random Spotify playlist at the beginning of the year and then it became one of my go-to songs on my morning commute to Somerset House. So it’s very much my Courtauld song.

MA 16/17 Year-in-Review, Part 1

Just as quickly as our time at the Courtauld began, so too did it end. During these nine months of intensive schoolwork, we’ve grown as scholars and people, forming close friendships over shared stress and joy. Here are some reflections about our time in MA Documenting Fashion:

What surprised you the most about the course?

Barbora: I knew I would absolutely love my year at The Courtauld. The lessons were stimulating, fun, thought provoking and always the highlights of my week, as sad as that may sound. What surprised me the most, however, was how close-knit our Documenting Fashion group became. With limited contact hours and only a year together, I was skeptical when people said we would all become great friends. But somehow, that really did happen. The support network we created was invaluable at times of assignment crises, of which there were a few, and the girls, as well as our fabulous professors, Rebecca and Liz, made the year the best it could have possibly been.

Harriet, Sophie, Jamie, and Barbora celebrating with champagne after the graduation ceremony

Dana: First, I’d have to say the location of the Courtauld, and the insight and knowledge that Rebecca shared with us. Second, I have to mention some of the trips to archives; for example, the trip to the Museum of London helped us better understand the histories behind London’s inhabitants.

Which assignment did you enjoy the most?

Yona: The exhibition proposal, which we were required to write as part of the course, was by far my favourite assignment. The task involved not just writing the proposal itself, but also the development of sample panels and exhibit labels. As I enjoyed developing a full exhibition, I even included an illustration of the exhibition design and submitted a playlist that visitors could listen to while walking through the galleries. The playlist consisted of 1940s songs that were declaration of love of American cities and I still find myself singing the songs.

Jamie: Though I may just be a glutton for punishment, the dissertation was my favorite assignment. It certainly took a lot of time and effort (not to mention self-motivation), but my absolute adoration of the topic made it all worth while. The development of my argument, slowly building something from months of research, was immensely satisfying. And the quirky stories I found as I researched late-19th century newspapers helped lighten the mood even in the most stressful of times. In short, I enjoyed every milestone, month, and minute of the dissertation process.

Favorite trip?

Harriet: New York, New York! Just before Christmas – surely the best time to visit, with all the spectacular store windows and Christmas trees for sale on every corner – the MA Documenting Fashion class crossed the pond to visit the FIT, Parsons and Brooklyn Museum’s archives. We also met the brilliant Pat Kirkham at the Bard Graduate Centre and visited the Masterworks exhibition at the MET (and took the opportunity to indulge in dumplings in Chinatown, skate in Central Park and catch some jazz too).

MA Documenting Fashion students in the archives at the Brooklyn Museum, December 2016

Sophie: Oh there were too many! The trip to the Museum of London to see fashion curator Timothy Long especially stands out. Not only did he show us some fabulous objects, including Anna Pavlova’s dying swan costume, but his enthusiasm and blatantly obvious love for his job was so striking and incredible to see. He gave us some great and honest insights into his career that are very valuable as we all try to find our own feet in the art and museum world.

Check back next week for a very special summary of the year by each MA student!

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

The conference Reading Fashion Magazines may be over, but our display of 9 items from the collection is still available to be viewed outside the Courtauld Library vitrines. Please come and visit, before it closes in August. In order to tempt you, you can read the introduction to the display, and our conference, below, available for you to download in a pdf.

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

Some of the earliest fashion magazines in the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive are on show in the exhibition. Here, Gazette du Bon Ton, Für die Dame and Pinpoints are displayed.

A view of the 1940s section of the exhibition featuring Harper’s Bazaar and Femina.

Elizabeth and three MA Documenting Fashion students after the completion of the exhibition instal.

Fashion, Desire and Anxiety

Welcome back from summer holidays!

We thought we would start Autumn off with some reading for you.  As our Instagram followers will know, my book Fashion, Desire & Anxiety: Image & Morality (I B Tauris) in the 20th Century was recently published in Russian. To celebrate, we are giving away this PDF from the English edition.

The book explores the ways fashion challenges contemporary morality – through its design, representation and the way it is worn, covering examples from subculture to haute couture.

So we hope you enjoy reading the book’s Introduction – explaining the ways fashion simultaneously provokes desire and anxiety, plus a section from chapter one titled ‘Simplicity’ – which considers the tensions between luxury and restraint in fashion.

We hope you enjoy the extract, and look forward to resuming our regular Tuesday and Friday blog posts for you.

ARNOLD_COVER

The front cover of the Russian edition of Fashion, Desire and Anxiety

Roger Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917

Roger Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917

Documenting Fashion – Happy summer holidays!

Documenting Fashion will be taking its summer holidays during August – so we thought we would leave you with some vacation reading while we are away – essays to download from our archives.

Continue to follow us on Instagram @documentingfashion_courtauld and we look forward to seeing all our wonderful blog followers again in September.

First, Rebecca’s essay with film historian Adrian Garvey – glamour and violence in the 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/09/29/sometimes-the-truth-is-wicked-fashion-violence-and-obsession-in-leave-her-to-heaven/

Next, another one from Rebecca – this time her discussion of the ‘New Rococo’ a style identified in contemporary fashion photography, and cinema – particularly Sofia Copploa’s films:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/09/08/the-new-rococo-sofia-coppola-and-fashions-in-contemporary-femininity/

If you feel like learning more about dress history’s development and the subject’s 50 year development at The Courtauld, then this one is for you:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/05/26/dress-and-history-since-1965-from-women-make-fashion-fashion-makes-women-conference-may-2015/

And finally, a discussion of reactions to Japanese fashion in the 1980s by Liz can be found here:

http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2016/04/29/3630/

Happy Holidays!

Documenting Fashion Graduation

This Monday, July 4th, the Documenting Fashion students (and Liz, PhD, though not pictured!) graduated from the Courtauld. We were all very happy to have been able to have been there and wanted to share some photographs from our special day. The black academic robes with the brown hood are the academic dress for MAs of the University of London (the Courtauld is a self-governing college of the University of London). What did you wear to your graduation? Let us know in the comments on here or on Instagram.

From Left to Right: Giovanna, Carolina, Eleanor, Aric, Leah, and Aude

From Left to Right: Giovanna, Carolina, Eleanor, Aric, Leah, and Aude posing outside of the Courtauld Gallery. 

The MAs standing outside St. Clement Dane's church, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, where the graduation ceremony was held.

The MAs standing outside St. Clement Dane’s church located on the Strand, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1682, where the graduation ceremony was held. It is the central church of the Royal Air Force. 

 

The graduates taking a "selfie" timed photograph.

The graduates taking a “selfie” photograph.

 

A graduation ceremony leaflet and two guest tickets.

A graduation ceremony leaflet and two guest tickets.

Questioning the value of my Jean Cocteau scarf: modern art, memory, and self

Cocteau 1
Cocteau 2

Found in a brocante market in Cannes a few years ago, my Jean Cocteau scarf is a treasure that links me to the Côte d’Azur and modern art throughout the year. Wrapping it round my neck, I feel the warmth, not only of the ivory silk it comprises, but also, of my memories of summer sun. Folded, its surreal face print transforms. No longer a sea god’s visage entwined with graphic fish, it becomes further abstracted and hides its complete image.

As we move into autumn, such connections with holidays become more significant – a means to use dress, or in this case, accessories, to re-trace our steps – at least metaphorically, and maintain a connection with our summer selves. This scarf, with its pale ground and liquid design in blue, lime, yellow and orange, is my favourite reminder of time spent on the coast.

It is also a minor mystery – although it bears the artist’s signature, it does not contain a clue to its actual maker. This double signature – or in this case, lack thereof – speaks to both authorship and value. For this to have been a major flea market find, it would need to also have the name ‘Ascher’ skimmed on its edges, or that of a similarly august textile designer and scarf producer. While my scarf speaks of its artistic legacy, it remains silent with regard to textile history.

An original Ascher artist scarf can fetch in the thousands. Founded in the early 1940s by Zika Ascher, this textile firm made highly desirable silk squares that carried on their surface the mark of mid-century modern art. With such storied names as Calder, Matisse and Cocteau contributing designs, Ascher’s printed scarves became highly regarded and very collectable. They followed in a line of artist-led textiles, that includes Dufy’s work for Bianchini-Ferier in the early 20th century, and are part of fashion and art’s close visual and material interplay – discussed in Fruszi’s post earlier this year.

Cocteau’s own links to fashion and design abound. His designs have been rendered in embroidery and beading on Schiaparelli’s garments. And his interest in the ways his graphic forms might work in different media mean that his oeuvre extends to include book design and ceramics. His relationship to the French coast is also entwined with his art – and includes two museums in Menton, and murals in the fisherman’s church at Villefranche-sur–Mer.

It is interesting though, to consider where such scarves real value lies – in their silk fabric? The quality of their printed designs? Their link to a ‘modern master’? Or perhaps to the name of the textile or fashion house that spawned them? I would add to this list, and perhaps even nudge to the top of the pile, their value and meaning to their wearers. Accessories always have an intimate relationship to the body. Curled around your neck, warmed against your skin, they shape to your form, while adorning it and drawing emphasis to your face. As we know from endless magazine articles, they can transform an outfit, punctuate your silhouette and raise your fashion status. By wearing a memento of the South of France, I can feel and see its colours and warmth, connect to personal memories, while carrying my love of modern art with me, and display hints of all these elements to those I encounter.

Florence: Italian Fashion’s Forgotten Capital

Nestled in a Tuscan valley, the ancient terracotta cityscape of Florence boasts a rich history as the birthplace of Renaissance art, literature and architecture, yet its starring role in the evolution of Italian fashion has long been overlooked and disregarded. Following the success of the V&A Museum’s 2014 exhibition The Glamour of Italian Fashion, the spotlight has once again fallen upon this national school’s distinctive blend of luxury craftsmanship and often family-run tradition. Florence has begun to emerge from the dominant shadow of Italian fashion capitals such as Milan.

As the birthplace of some of Italian fashion’s most prestigious designers, including Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli and Guccio Gucci, Florence formed the backdrop to Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s landmark fashion show in 1951. This fashion show is widely credited as Italian fashion’s first introduction to an international stage, and continued annually until Giorgini’s retirement in 1965. Driven by the prevailing appetite for post-war reconstruction, Giorgini invited an audience of primarily American department store buyers to his spectacular Florentine villa in order to showcase haute couture, knitwear and textiles that could equal and, occasionally surpass, the quality of their celebrated Parisian counterparts. In 1952, Giorgini also became the first designer to send a male model down the runway. Carmel Snow, the influential editor of Harper’s Bazaar, encapsulated the spirit of Giorgini’s shows when, writing in 1953, she stated:

If there were no other reason to go to Florence…just when spring begins to whisper, Italian fashion would fully justify our going.

Six decades later, Florence is still at the forefront of Italian fashion design, manufacturing and curation, with 2014 shaping up to be an exciting and prolific year for its industry. This year, the prestigious Florentine Centre for Italian Fashion, chaired by designer Stefano Ricci, celebrates 60 years of nurturing and supporting Italian tailoring traditions and emerging avant-garde talents, while the Costume Gallery of the city’s historic Palazzo Pitti continues to boast an important collection of dress to rival those of its international counterparts, including the first exhibition dedicated entirely to hats. The Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a museum devoted to the work of the prominent Florentine shoe designer, who is widely credited with the invention of the wedge heel, and whose loyal clients ranged from royalty to Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, has just launched its latest exhibition Equilibrium, which runs until Spring 2015. Innovative and dynamic, the exhibition seeks to explore Ferragamo’s dedication to the scientific craft of shoemaking, through close links to art, dance and history, and investigates the designer’s desire to achieve a symbiotic harmony between balance, movement and style.

Described by Dolce & Gabbana designer Stefano Gabbana as an ‘open air museum’ rather than a city, Florence’s dense concentration of museums, galleries and cultural institutions forms the historic setting for one of fashion’s forgotten capitals, one that is only just beginning to reassert itself as a nucleus of Italian luxury, craftsmanship and steadfast style.

Sources:

The Costume Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence: http://www.ferragamo.com/museo/it/ita

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-the-glamour-of-italian-fashion-1945-2014/

Ciulli, M. I. (2014), ‘Dolce & Gabbana: One mind in two bodies’ in Firenze No. 30, Florence: FM Publishing.

Stanfill, S. ed. (2014), The Glamour of Italian Fashion Since 1945, London: V&A Publishing.