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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.

‘Laura Dern wears a floral blazer, jeans and red heels at the beginning of the film’, source: still from Film

‘Laura Dern wears a floral blazer, jeans and red heels at the beginning of the film’, source: still from film

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.


for argument

‘Nora removes her blazer for a simpler look’, still from film.

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.


‘Laura Dern wears a floral blazer, jeans and red heels at the beginning of the film’

‘Nora and Nicole wait together in the hallway’, source: still from film

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.

Still from film

‘Nora removes her blazer for a simpler look’, still from film

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.

A Rumination about Tattoos and Fashion

The new designs that came out of Paris Fashion Week were all fabulous and exciting, but one collection in particular made me think deeply about clothing, the body, and how we present ourselves to the world. Viktor and Rolf’s spring 2020 collection featured a collection of slender, doll-faced models who marched down the runway in patchwork gowns pieced together with contrasting fabrics. Their ensembles were avant-garde, prairie-style dresses; childish and playful, some were even reminiscent of my Grandma’s housedresses.

What took me by surprise was the highly visible tattoos that covered the models faces, necks, legs, and arms. Every model was covered in traditional, American-style tattoos with slogans like “keep calm and get tattooed” and “success is not final; failure is not fatal.” At first, somewhat naively, I assumed that Viktor and Rolf hired only models with gothic-typeface facial tattoos for this show until I realized that almost every model had “DREAM,” “LOVE,” or “SKY” tattooed across their foreheads. These matching tattoos were clearly crucial accessories for this show and essential to Viktor and Rolf’s ‘tough but innocent’ vision for the collection. The mixture of pastel floral fabrics, ruffle dresses and jelly sandals (an icon of early 2000s childhood) were combined with bold, almost macho tattoos.


Instagram v and told

Victor and Rolf, Spring/Summer 2020 Couture, Instagram: @viktorandrolf

Tattoo design made its first major appearance into haute couture in 1971 when Issey Miyake presented his seminal “Tattoo” collection. His now-famous ‘tattoo dresses’ and body suits were flesh-toned garments covered in a tattoo illustrative style that featured portraits of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. This dresses and bodysuits blurred the line between skin and clothes, suggesting that this full-body tattoo could be slipped on and off with ease. As tattooing was usually used to identify prostitutes and criminals in Japan, this ‘taboo’ technique shocked his audience but has come to inspire many younger generations of designers.

Miyake Issey installation

The Work of Miyake Issey installation view at The National Art Center Tokyo, Photography by Masaya Yoshimura; printed in AnOther magazine.

In 1994, Jean Paul Gaultier incorporated a similar method and used mesh clothing covered with tattoo designs to evoke real tattoos in his show entitled “Les Tatouges.” Using models both with and without actual tattoos, Gaultier extended the work of Miyake to create tattoo-inspired sleeves and tops. Again, the clothing suggested that tattoo designs could be put on and taken off, but it seemed that all kinds of body modification were integral to this collection. Models sported realtattoos, face jewelry and long nails, proving that any form of self-presentation could be fashion. Gaultier’s models were not simply blank canvases in which he could showcase his designs, but real people with the agency to alter their bodies who lived outside of the world of Gaultier.

Tatoo artile

Jean Paul Gaultier, Autumn/Winter 1994.

Thinking again about Viktor and Rolf’s 2020 spring show, the tattoos brought a dark and intense atmosphere when used to accessorize jelly sandals and quilted dresses. In comparison to the colorful designs, the tattoos seemed dire, serious, and intense and presumably permanent. This integration of tattoos brings a sense of endurance and devotion to the fast-changing world of fashion. Even though the models could easily wash off the temporary tattoos after the show, tattoos make you think about what is important, consistent, and lifelong. The use of Vocabulary like “dream” and “love” put a hopeful and sentimental spin on the often masculinized art of tatouage. The messages are sweet, if not cheesy, perhaps pointing out the revealing, intimate nature of body art. After all, getting a meaningful, visible tattoo permanently embellished onto your body is like wearing your heart on your sleeves (or on your skin). It’s like constructing a second skin of your own that is unchanging and everlasting.

Tattoos are essentially a permanent form of fashion. They alter the appearance of our body as clothing does, but tattoos even more profoundly construct our style and identity because they are permanent. They are certainly not going anywhere without a large amount of pain and money anyway. Constructing one’s identity through fashion is a small endeavor compared to doing so through tattoos. Clothing can be changed, taken off and bought new. But what makes something so important that one should get it embedded into one’s skin? These designers’ attempt to incorporate tattoo design into their fashions is admirable and fresh, but ultimately, clothing will never match the power and devotion of a tattoo. Unlike the constant barrage of change and flux that comes with each fashion season, tattoos last a lifetime.




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)






History of the Hairband: Feminism, Frivolity and Function

2019 was the year of the accessory. From statement hoops to slogan slides, every inch of the body can be decorated for full sartorial effect. My head turner of choice – the hairband. A hair-raising trend since striking reemergence at Prada’s Spring Summer 2019 show, the so-called padded ‘powerband’ transformed the practical accessory into a major feature. The secret behind the success of these seemingly juvenile accessories? Their combination of practicality, prettiness and power.

Far from a decorative accessory, headbands find their origins in ancient Greece. A popular feature of classical dress, wreaths were symbols of godly status, intellectual authority or sporting prowess. The accessory of choice for emperors, goddesses or poets alike, a walk in the sculpture gallery of the V&A shows a whole host of headwear on the heads of statues and busts from classical antiquity.

Antonio Canova, Apollo Crowning Himself, 1757, Getty Museum

Moving forward to the 20th century, designers like Paul Poiret and Gabrielle Chanel looked to the Orient and the exotic costumes of the Ballet Russes for head-turning inspiration. A means of channeling the glamour and mystery of the east, turbans, headwraps and silk scarves became the accessory of choice for stylish Hollywood starlets. Best worn over the sharply chopped ‘bob’ of the female ‘garcons’ or across the forehead of a fringed-clad ‘flapper’, the accessory served up serious style when worn on the court by tennis star Suzanne Lenglen in 1921. A symbol of increased female liberation, this simple hair accessory was part of a whole host of clothing and accessories that allowed women to engage in a more independent and active lifestyle. Thanks to the hairband, women could run, jump or dance their way into the twentieth century without hair in their eyes.

Suzanne Lenglen, 1921

In the 1940s, headwraps and hairbands were popularised by the Ministry of Information as a means of promoting ‘war-time’ chic. A utilitarian essential for women working in ammunition factories, the practical reworking of this Hollywood trend was a far cry from the spotless white turban sported by Lana Turner’s ‘femme fatale’ in the 1946 film, ‘The Postman always rings twice’.

Ammunition Factory Worker, 1942


Lana Turner, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, 1946


Most recently termed the ‘powerband’ by Vogue’s Julia Hobbs, the headband has been connected to female empowerment throughout history. In the 1980s, headbands were often paired with the power suit: a quick google-search of Hilary Clinton proves the politician had quite the collection! With this in mind then, it’s hardly surprising that both Cher Horowitz (Clueless) and Blaire Waldorf (Gossip Girl) frequently accessorised their high school politics with a band in black velvet or heavy pink embellishments.

Hilary Clinton, December 1995

Now, nearly 150 years after the hairband was worn by Alice as she stumbled ‘Through the Looking Glass’, (The 1871 illustrations of Lewis Caroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’ are said to be one of the first appearances of the accessory in popular culture), headbands remain a pretty yet practical style solution. Just last month, Net-a-Porter announced a 19% increase in hairband sales. A far cry from juvenile frivolity though, these reworked accessories are anything but saccharine. Appearing alongside Miuccia Prada’s hyper-female silhouettes at her SS’19 show, these elevated padded styles in studs, neon and satin are a powerful accompaniment to Prada’s feminine, yet feminist, muse. Similarly, frequent reiterations of the baroque crown – see Dolce and Gabbana or Charlize Theron at the recent Costume Guild Awards – afford the wearer a modern, regal edge.


Prada SS/19

Charlize Theron wearing Louis Vuitton at the Costume Designer’s Guild Awards – Instagram @misstheron

The fact of the matter is this: the hairband has been a powerful accessory for centuries. Far from frivolous and exceptionally functional, the simple bands can elevate an outfit and evoke a variety of moods. Whether topped with studs, sequins or stones, they allow us to dress our bodies from head to toe.






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.



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/

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and the Myth of 20s Fashion

When considering sartorially rich moments in American history, the mind easily jumps to the 1920s. There exists a glamorous image of 1920s fashion in the popular imagination that is centered around the “flapper”—one of feathers, beads, and cloche hats. Elements of this may ring true, but as amateur film and photo from the 1920s (or your grandmother’s old clothing) can attest to, much of what was actually worn in the 1920s was far more boyish and less decadent, with a sophisticated and muted color palette. The style of the 1920s has been some of the most incorrectly reproduced and imitated in film and popular culture through the contemporary moment, and the myth of 1920s fashion can largely be attributed to Hollywood, beginning in the 1950s when “Hollywood began mining the 1920s…in order to make it work, they adapted the costuming of the period to look more like what people were actually wearing in the ‘50s,” (Jeanine Basinger). The obsession and interest still seen today with the aesthetic of the 1920s appears to have begun its emergence in the 1950s, when the 1920s was already being viewed as a “theme”—for parties and costume.

Set in the roaring ‘20s and filmed in the ‘50s, the iconic movie Singin’ in the Rain is highly regarded for its glamorous and bold fashion, with detailed and elaborate technicolor garments worn by each character from the film’s leads to its hundreds of chorus dancers. The costumes are far from period-correct, but the film provides an excellent case study for the way the 1920s has been reimagined in subsequent decades, and a lens through which to examine the ways we attempt to portray (and inevitably muddy) the past. During one particularly compelling number entitled Beautiful Girl—a pastiche of Ziegfeld Follies-style tableaux vivants—we are treated to a series of vignettes of different women dressed extravagantly for particular occasions, while the male singer describes each one in poem.

Singing in the rain

Image from vintagehandbook.wordpress.com

There is an obvious element of satire here and throughout the entirety of the film that pokes fun at the aesthetic of the 20s, and the number is barely connected to the plot, but nevertheless functions as a testament to the significance of fashion in the film, and the impact it had on the picture of the 1920s in the 1950s imagination.

It seems only appropriate that Hollywood in the 1950s looked towards the 20s for mass appeal, given correlations in society and culture. Both decades experienced the boom of productivity and rapid economic growth of a postwar economy, a relaxation of sexual mores, and the emergence of new styles of popular music that challenged previous tastes–jazz and rock n’ roll. Perhaps these parallels provided contemporary viewers in the 1950s with something that resonated with them—distant enough to be romanticized, but similar enough to understand.

Subsequent films, including Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 rendition of The Great Gatsby, have continued to betray the 20s in their costuming, with dresses cut far too close to the body. When attempting to reproduce the past, we are never able to fully eviscerate the modern lens. Regardless, Singin’ in the Rain, with its bright color palette, rich satins and furs, and glittering sequins and fringes is a feast for the eyes.


Sources: https://www.racked.com/2017/5/19/15612000/flappers-fringe-myth

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.


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!

Chanel No.5 and Christmas

‘Christmas and Chanel Perfumes go Together’ reads the tag line of a Chanel No.5 advert in Harper’s Bazaar, 1937 New York, December issue. The world-renowned scent is perhaps the most recognizable perfume name of the 20th century, since its debut to select clients on May 5th, 1921. The release of the perfume of the fifth day of the fifth month was no coincidence, but rather an homage to Chanel’s favorite number- five. Her affiliation for the number five stemmed during her time spent at the care of nuns in Aubazine, where the pathways leading to the Cathedral were laid out in patterns of five extending into the abbey gardens. When sampling glass vials of scents numbered one to twenty for her first perfume, she of course chose the vial presented to her with the label ‘five’ on it, and thus the iconic name was born.

Chanel No.5 became a cult like fragrance, presented in a classic glass bottle, it disregarded any frivolity and fussiness of perfume bottles preceding it. The clean lines and invisible quality to the bottle design further highlights the simple, square label on the front reading ‘No.5, Chanel, Paris, Parfum’, as well as allowing focus to remain on the golden, honey coloured liquid inside. The popularity of the perfume continued decades later. In 1952 actress Marilyn Monroe claimed she wore nothing else to bed except ‘5 drops of Chanel No.5’, this statement further cemented the perfumes iconic scent status.

With such desire surrounding the perfume it is natural to see its correlation with Christmas, as a gift which is more than a perfume, but a lifestyle. Adverts in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue from the 1920’s up until 2019 have continued to advertise Chanel No.5 as the perfect Christmas gift, emphasisng it’s timelessness, as well as revealing its modernity as the scent stands the test of time. The advert first mentioned from 1937 shows a model looking up towards the light with a flower crown on her head, evoking an aura of a Grecian Goddess, in her hands she casually holds a cigarette, placing her back into the modern world. The advert states, ‘It is only natural, then, that at Christmas, feminine thoughts turn to the perfumes of Chanel’. This idea is repeated in Harper’s Bazaar, 1985 New York, December issue, in an article titled ‘The Scents of Christmas’, illustrated with different gift boxes of Chanel No.5 containing bath oils, soaps and of course, the fragrance itself.

Harper’s Bazaar, 1937 London, December issue also featured a Chanel No.5 advert detailing the various other products you can buy to further layer your “Christmas” scent, including a cologne for men, the tag line reads ‘The Gift of Good Taste’, expressing how men and women can gift each other something synonymous with fashion. This idea is reflected in an advert from 1976 in which the various perfume products are detailed with the words, ‘You don’t have to ask for it. He knows what you want. Chanel No.5’, concluding how the fragrance has become intrinsic with gifting, lifestyle and status. Now, in 2019, the Chanel No.5 advert is the embodiment of Christmas, as snow falls around the bottle in a Chanel Christmas snow globe, complete with limited edition Christmas packaging. It is safe to say that for nearly a century now, Chanel No.5 and Christmas really has gone hand in hand.

Saul Leiter: Abstracting the Ordinary

There is a man standing outside a deli in New York. His long khaki raincoat is drenched by the mushy snow, and a yellow truck rushes behind him. He seems to be occupied counting pennies, hoping perhaps to be able to afford his morning coffee. Pedestrians pass him by. He is just an ordinary working man. Rendered beautiful by Saul Leiter.

Man through frosted window with writing on it

Snow, 1960, by Saul Leiter. source: Foundation/Gallery Fifty On

Saul Leiter had an eye for making the ordinary extraordinary. His coloured street photographs, normally captured with a cheap 35mm, are devoid of superficiality as he captures common New Yorkers’ routine in the city.

As a young Jewish boy from Pittsburgh expected to become a rabbi, he fled his family in order to pursue a career as a painter in New York. Once in the city, he was introduced to the New York School of Photographers, which included the likes of Richard Avedon and Diane Arbu and encouraged him to take up photography.

He then spent most of his life in New York’s East Village, where he would go on to become a true pioneer of colour photography. In a world that was defined by black and white, his refreshing outlook on perspectives and colours created unique images.

Men walking in city in snow

Postmen, 1952, by Saul Leiter. source: Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Image through dark boards with red on top

Through Boards, 1957, by Saul Leiter. source: Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

His training as a painter was clearly visible in his wonderful compositions of daily life as the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e and Expressionism clearly altered his shapes and colours. The dramatic cropping of the frame, the blurred focal points, the odd layering of multiple depths, … His photographs were pre-emptively moulded by his painterly vision.

Saul Leiter shaped an alternate reality which establishes a sense of intimacy between the subject and the onlooker by capturing pictures through mirrors, glasses and windows, in rain, snow or shine. As one of the first public consumers of Kodachrome film in the 50s and 60s, he would opt for out-of-date film in order to keep the cost of his hobby reasonable. This would embed his films with a muted and soft effect, which would only enhance the mysticality of everyday life.

Back of man in snow with hat and coat under shelter

Newspaper Kiosk, 1955, by Saul Leiter. source: Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

The common scene is made ambiguous through his photographs, which not only heightens the senses of the viewer but transforms it into something wonderful and mysterious. Somehow, his photographic skills transposes the anonymity of the city onto the people of New York.

Saul Leiter’s coloured street works were however not displayed or recognised until well into the 90s. He was mostly known for dominating the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Vogue in the 60s as a fashion photographer, and for introducing colour into the mundane black and white world of Haute Couture.

His career as a fashion photographer was nevertheless short-lived as it never truly brought him satisfaction – influenced by what he called a ‘Zen lifestyle’ he never sought out fame and even claimed that “in some secret place in my being was a desire to avoid success”.

Blurred woman holding hand with ring behind floral pattern

Soames Bantry, Nova, 1960, by Saul Leiter. source: Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

Woman in gown stands before large painting of man

Photograph by Saul Leiter source: Saul Leiter Foundation

It was ultimately his own wish for anonymity behind the camera that allowed him to create fugitive and cryptic renditions of the common New Yorker’s daily life. By using a new fashionable and commercial medium such as colour photography to render modernity and anonymity in his city, he renews Baudelaire’s own vision of modernity.

It is therefore only fair to suppose that, through his abstraction of the ordinaire and visions of the fleeting moment, Saul Leiter can allegedly be considered as New York’s own “contemporary flâneur”, equipped with a lens.

Saying ‘au revoir’ to Class of 2019

As another academic year draws to a close, I want to reflect on the wonderful time I have had teaching my Class of 2019 MA Documenting Fashion students…

The autumn term started with a breakfast to greet my new students—and it was clear what an interesting and sparky group they would be.  During the initial thematic classes, we discussed what the terms ‘dress’, ‘fashion,’ ‘costume’, etc. meant and looked at a range of books in our Special Collections—from a 1598 edition of Vecellio’s Habiti antichi, et moderni di tutto il mondo to Paul Iribe’s beautifully illustrated Les robes de Paul Poiret of 1908, to consider the ways fashion has been documented and represented through history.  

Jeordy and Lacey

We talked about our sensory experiences of fashion, fashion’s relationship to memory—personal and historical—and visited archives to develop our ideas. This included a trip to see Beatrice Behlen, Head of Fashion and Decorative Art at the Museum of London, where she showed us several people’s wardrobes; there, the group was entranced by the ways individual style can be recognised and analysed in any era.

Marielle and Daisy

And this was just the opening section of the course and of the students’ entry into the world of Dress History.  It has been so rewarding to see all of you develop from this point—increasing your already considerable skills and finding exciting lines of enquiry as you developed your dissertation topics.  

So, thank you Daisy, Ellen, Fran, Imogene, Jeordy, Lacey, Lily and Marielle—you have all been a complete joy to teach, and I am really looking forward to seeing what you do next. Enjoy the summer—get some well-deserved rest and relish your success at The Courtauld.