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From English Fashion Plate to Japanese Print

After a period of limited trade, Japan opened select cities in 1859 as part of a commercial treaty with France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. As traders flooded into the port of Yokohama, native artists capitalized on Japanese print tradition to spread information about the country’s new inhabitants. For centuries, widely accessible paper prints depicting beautiful women, actors, and mythological scenes entertained the masses. The new print genre, called Yokohama pictures, educated consumers through descriptive poetry and colorful images that emphasized the foreignness of Westerners.

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, A Frenchwoman from the series The People of the Barbarian Nations (Bankoku jinbutsu zu: Furansu fujin), 1861. Polychrome woodblock print. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number 1968-165-119). http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/249307.html

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, A Frenchwoman from the series The People of the Barbarian Nations (Bankoku jinbutsu zu: Furansu fujin), 1861. Polychrome woodblock print. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number 1968-165-119).

Native Japanese dress differed greatly from dress styles popular in Europe. As such, clothing became an essential tool to identify foreigners. In A Frenchwoman by Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, the inscription reads, “Wearing her foreign garb of spring brocade, a young woman strolls along the streets of Yokohama.” The background of the print is blank and the woman’s skin tone is similarly neutral: The real subject of the print is not the figure herself, but her brightly colored clothes. To Western eyes, the mantle, skirt, and bonnet may look oddly drawn. The familiar exaggerated hourglass silhouette of 1860s European womenswear is shrouded by a too-long mantle, the skirt has an unusual two-tone teardrop pattern, and the headdress only suggests a bonnet.

Dismissing this print as crude is a misstep, however. A Frenchwoman actually displays an impressive amount of invention in the face of artistic difficulties. Though there were some Western women in Japan, most traders were single men. With a shortage of real-life subjects, artists turned to foreign newspapers to complete their visual vocabulary.

‘The Paris Fashions for October.’ Illustrated London News (September 29, 1860). Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

‘The Paris Fashions for October.’ Illustrated London News (September 29, 1860). Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

A Frenchwoman directly supports this notion. Printed in the first months of 1861, it bears a striking resemblance to a fashion plate entitled ‘The Paris Fashions for October,’ which was published September 29, 1860 in the Illustrated London News, a paper widely available in Yokohama. The leftmost woman in the plate wears a multi-tiered mantle with crimped edging that unmistakably inspired the mantle of the Frenchwoman.

Recognizing that Yoshitsuya used fashion plates to create foreign figures helps explain his artistic choices. To avoid replicating the corseted waist, whose shape defied Japanese artistic training, Yoshitsuya added a long blue tier to the bottom of the mantle. The blue teardrop shading on the skirt resembles dark etching used in fashion plates to create depth in folds. And the figure’s open cloth head covering suggests that Yoshitsuya moved the bonnet’s close-to-the-chin bow, seen on the other two figures in ‘Paris Fashions,’ onto the collar of the mantle, a possible interpretation of the two-dimensional plate. Despite some difficulty translating the European costume into a Japanese print, the inscription still rings true to the context of the Frenchwoman’s clothing: The mantle was an outdoor covering that any foreign woman “stroll[ing] along the streets of Yokohama” would have worn. Using English fashion plates and reasonable estimation, Yoshitsuya created an imaginative representation of European women viewed through a Japanese lens.

Further Reading

Ann Yonemura, Yokohama: Prints from Nineteenth-century Japan (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1990), 82.

Judith Clark: Fashion Redefined – The Vulgar and The Proust Questionnaire

 

Judith Clark, photograph by Hyea W Kang, 2016

Judith Clark, photograph by Hyea W Kang, 2016

How do you rethink an idea, or a word, or a dress? Or question what a fashion exhibition is, while at the same time creating an exhibition about fashion?

Visit Judith Clark’s show The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined at the Barbican Art Gallery and you will find out.

Bold, ambitious, yet subtle and witty, the exhibition is a tour de force, and makes you engage and reconsider your own attitudes to this very slippery term from the start. Adam Phillips definitions of ‘vulgar’ tease out its meanings, and the range of objects, as well as the exhibition’s design suggest ways to redefine …

To give some insight into Judith Clark’s way of thinking, I asked her to fill in a Proust Questionnaire – a 19th century parlour game popularised by Marcel Proust, which is designed to reveal the respondent’s personality.

 

Proust Questionnaire

__1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being with my family.

__2.__What is your greatest fear? Snakes on a plane.

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Wanting to be liked. It means drowning out other more interesting thoughts about people and situations.

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others? False allegiance.

__5.__Which living person do you most admire? Mr Rob Crossley, Mr Matt Jones

__6.__What is your greatest extravagance?  Other than clothes?

__7.__What is your current state of mind?

__8.__What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Academic intelligence.

__9.__On what occasion do you lie? To make others feel better about themselves.

__10.__What do you most dislike about your appearance? Different parts at different times.

__11.__Which living person do you most despise? Today, anyone voting for the far right.

__12.__What is the quality you most like in a man? It is something to do with how the difference is negotiated rather than denied.

__13.__What is the quality you most like in a woman? Loyalty

__14.__Which words or phrases do you most overuse? No (to my children); Props and Attributes (to my students).

__15.__What or who is the greatest love of your life? The father of my children.

__16.__When and where were you happiest? Walking from Carbis Bay to St Ives, 2013.

__17.__Which talent would you most like to have?   Anything and everything to do with craftsmanship.

__18.__If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would be much more courageous.

__19.__What do you consider your greatest achievement? Having had the courage to have a family.

__20.__If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Someone born in the countryside and not a major city.

__21.__Where would you most like to live? My current home in London only with more room, or Rome.

__22.__What is your most treasured possession?  My sketchbook at any given time.

__23.__What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Stubborn loneliness.

__24.__What is your favorite occupation? Exactly my occupation, making exhibitions of dress with the people I build them with.

__25.__What is your most marked characteristic? I don’t know, you would have to ask other people.

__26.__What do you most value in your friends? Their memory.

__27.__Who are your favorite writers? Those who have made dress sound interesting, valuable, serious. Those who have resisted the temptation to be snide, or apologise for their interest in it. Many years ago Elizabeth Wilson made it more possible for me to become interested in fashion. And Adam Phillips.

__28.__Who is your hero of fiction? Mrs Moore, in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Like her, I don’t like muddles, and I don’t like racism.

__29.__Which historical figure do you most identify with? I would always like to identify with a female artist who had a studio. If she had a studio it meant that she was taking her work seriously and maybe was herself taken seriously.

__30.__Who are your heroes in real life? People who really manage to be kind to other people.

__31.__What are your favorite names? Marianne and Seth, and Jacob.

__32.__What is it that you most dislike? I’m not sure.

__33.__What is your greatest regret? That my mother did not live long enough to know my children better.

__34.__How would you like to die? In a way that would not make my children feel guilty.

__35.__What is your motto?    ‘All experiments are good’.

 

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is at Barbican Art Gallery until 5 February 2017

The Winter Palace, run by the Belvedere Museum - where the exhibition travels to in 2017

The Winter Palace, run by the Belvedere Museum – where the exhibition travels to in 2017

Installing the Gucci Ad in the exhibition

Installing the Gucci Ad in the exhibition

Childhood Unveiled at the Museo Nacional del Prado: Spanish children’s fashion from the reign of Isabel II

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Whilst in Madrid I had the opportunity to visit the recently opened special display La Infancia Descubierta (Childhood Unveiled) at Museo Nacional del Prado. With this exquisite display, el Prado recalls the importance of the children portrait genre in the nineteenth century by focusing on two key locations during Romanticism: Madrid and Seville.

The recent purchase by the Prado Museum of an almost unknown canvas by Antonio Maria Esquivel and Suárez de Urbina (1806-1857) that portrays a pair of brothers might be one of the reasons for the organisation of this exhibition. This would be the first time the piece is presented to the public. Javier Baron, Chief Curator of 19th-century painting at the museum, has used the painting as a centrepiece to articulate a small sample of eight works dated 1842 to 1855. Collected from Madrid and Seville and dated to the reign of Isabel II, each child portrait is now part of the museum’s collection. From the eight pieces exhibited, only one, the portrait of Federico Florez and Márquez by Federico de Madrazo and Kuntz (1815-1894) – a great representative of the court’s painters – is part of the permanent display; the other seven canvases are usually kept in storage, so this exhibition is the perfect opportunity to see them in person.

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

These portraits, commissioned by middle-class, aristocrat and bourgeois clients, reveal different interpretations of childhood, a theme that became particularly popular among Romantic painters as a reflection of their clients’ new interests.

Baron explains that child portraiture emerged in Spanish painting at the end of the 18th-century and further developed in the 19th. It did so in relation to the ideals that emerged with the Enlightenment, particularly childhood purity espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This idea stated that children had their own interests and autonomy, rather than childhood being simply a stage that led to adulthood. The virtues associated with childhood – spontaneity, grace, innocence, purity versus the negative aspects of civilization – were highly valued. We can see them reflected in details such as the outdoor settings of the paintings.

Through this display, we have a glimpse at children’s fashions in Spain during the reign of Isabel II. During this period, Spanish children’s fashion followed the canons of the French style. Mothers copied models  from figurines seen in Paris, and girls wore miniature versions of their mothers’ attire: long dresses on top of several layers of petticoats, to give the desired shape to their skirts. It was very common that mothers ordered small crinolines for their daughters so they would lighten the weight of so many petticoats.

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Younger girls wore shorter skirts, revealing their white cotton undergarments that were trimmed with delicate lace or English embroidery. At the age of six girls would begin to wear small corsets similar to adult models.

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós. Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Kid leather ankle boots were the most common everyday footwear. For more formal occasions, boots usually had decorative satin embroidery to match the dress. In wintertime, outerwear included gloves and coats made of woven fabric for everyday fashion. Cotton velvet and fur were used to make ensembles for special occasions, accompanied by lined hoods for girls and hats and caps for boys. As we can appreciate from the selection of paintings, boys and girls wore the same fashions regardless of gender until approximately the age of five. As for the fabrics used, the most popular were velvet, taffeta, organdy and tarlatan.

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Fashion for boys was more comfortable and functional than girl’s fashions. From the age of 6 – 7, boys would start to wear long trousers, and their outfits were very often jacket and trouser sets made of woven fabric in one colour; the addition of hats, badges and military inspired golden buttons created a more formal look.

Source
Video commentary of exhibition by Javier Barón, Chief Curator of 19th-century Painting (Spanish with English subtitles)

Unmasking Rococo Masquerade Costume

From the 1720s until the end of the eighteenth century, large masquerades epitomized vice and excess in European cities. In spite of this, people from almost all walks of life frequented masquerades, including nobles, clergy, townsfolk, and prostitutes. There were only two requirements for admission: first, a purchased party ticket, and second, a costume. With the blurring of class boundaries, excess food and alcohol consumption, and libertinage came the necessity to hide one’s identity. Thus, revelers donned fantastical costumes and masks to disguise themselves as they met in assembly rooms and pleasure gardens. At the height of masquerade madness, artists depicted how these partygoers adapted fashionable dress to create costumes that complemented the topsy-turvy atmosphere.

Henry Moreland, The Fair Nun Unmasked, c. 1769. Oil on canvas. Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries (LEEAG.1948.0009.0001). Available here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/pages/object.aspx?oid=43215.

Henry Moreland, The Fair Nun Unmasked, c. 1769. Oil on canvas. Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries (LEEAG.1948.0009.0001). Available at this link.

Concealment was the chief aim of masquerade costume. An issue of London’s Universal Spectator in 1729 declared that “Everyone…wears a Habit which speaks him the Reverse of what he is.” As such, costume contrasted with the everyday personality of its wearer. For example, in Henry Morland’s The Fair Nun Unmasked, though the woman’s cross and veil indicate that she is dressed as a nun, the low cut of her dress hardly conveys the piety required for the role. Further, the beauty patches on her mask indicate flirtation, both drawing attention to details on the face (or, in this case, the mask) and communicating secret meanings through patch position. A nun costume blatantly sexualized the wearer in eighteenth-century Protestant England: to be called a ‘nun’ meant one was a whore.

Detail of Charles Nicolas Cochin II (design) and Charles Nicolas Cochin I (engraving), Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, on the Occasion of the Marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, c. 1860 reprint of 1764 plate. Etching with engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930). Available here: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/359942.

Detail of Charles Nicolas Cochin II (design) and Charles Nicolas Cochin I (engraving), Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, on the Occasion of the Marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, c. 1860 reprint of 1764 plate. Etching with engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930). Available at this link.

Costumes designs varied widely, as seen in Cochin’s print of the Yew Tree Ball of 1745. The most popular styles included fancy dress (toned-down costume dresses), pastoral (particularly shepherdesses), Oriental (Turkish or Chinese dress), seventeenth century (dress inspired by Rubens’ 1638 portrait of Hélène Fourment), and harlequin. People were hardly confined to these styles, however. Just as the masquerade encouraged bodily excess, so too were revelers encouraged to play with extremes when designing their costumes. Cochin etched one extreme into posterity by depicting the namesake of the Yew Tree Ball: at this masquerade, celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin, King Louis XV and his male courtiers dressed as topiary yew trees. In a world ordinarily controlled by pomp and carefully honed manners, this and other costumes embodied the magical escapism of the Rococo masquerade.

Further Reading

Ribeiro, Aileen. The Dress Worn at Masquerades in England, 1730-1790, and its relation to Fancy Dress in Portraiture. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

Review of the Met’s Spring 2016 exhibition: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

I walked through the Metropolitan Museum of Art and as I approached the exhibition, gentle music gradually filled the air. I was awestruck by an otherworldly sight of gold, glittering and dancing in the light. This wonderful sight was the 20-ft train of a Chanel haute couture wedding gown from the Autumn/ Winter 2014- 2015 collection.

The entrance had a cathedral-like quality, with a zoomed in image of the dress projected onto the dome ceiling. Pages of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie, ou Dictionnaire raisonne des sciences, des arts et des métiers Crafts, 1751-72, were placed in glass cases around the dress – almost like manuscripts on display. Meanwhile, ethereal music played in the background (Brian Eno’s “The Ascent”). This church-like atmosphere created a quiet space to reflect on the exhibition and gave importance to the dress and items on display, informing visitors that the contents and ideas raised by the exhibition were sacred, to be studied and respected.

The exhibition highlighted the distinct relationship between fashion and technology, challenging the traditional idea of handmade clothing as more valuable than machine-made. The Chanel wedding gown at the entrance was a striking first example of how hand and machine techniques can work together. This dress was first sketched by hand, then manipulated on a computer to have a look of pixelation, then heat-pressed with rhinestones, hand-painted in gold and hand-embroidered.

The book on display at the entrance, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie, described métiers, or trades, of dressmaking. These métiers were used to curate the exhibition into sections, including embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework and leatherwork. In addition to these métiers, a room featured toiles and paper patterns, as well as tailoring and dressmaking. The layout of the exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, was clear and accessible, spreading over two floors.

Throughout the exhibition garments were juxtaposed beside each other; to highlight similarities between them and the continued relationship between hand and machine-made fashion throughout time. For example, the “Wet Lace Frill Dress”, a 2014 machine-made and machine-embroidered dress by Irish-born designer Simone Rocha, was placed deliberately beside a hand- sewn and machine-embroidered “Cocktail Dress” with hand-applied flounces and bows, from the House of Balenciaga Autumn/ Winter 1963-4 collection.

One of my favourite garments in the exhibition was the “May” Dress from the ‘Artificial Flowers’ section. It was a beautifully feminine Christian Dior dress, from the 1953 Spring/ Summer collection. The dress was formed by a combination of hand and machine techniques; it was machine-sewn, had hand- finished white silk organza and net, and was hand-embroidered with artificial flowers, clover and grass.

The exhibition was very informative, enriched by wall displays in each section presenting information on the métiers. Each garment was also accompanied by a label, description of its process of manufacture and sometimes a quote from the designer. Some garments were displayed against the background of a blown up image detailing its construction, which allowed the spectators to inspect the garment more closely.

I really enjoyed visiting the exhibition, sadly it has just ended so I can’t recommend visiting it any more, but I hope this provides some insight as to what it was about.

Anna Maria Garthwaite, Spitalfields Silk, and English Rococo

The Spitalfields area of London was a major force in shaping eighteenth-century fashion as it was the center of the silk-weaving industry in England.  Silk manufacture drove the very business of fashion for the increasing pace of change in trends during the century was found primarily in new textile patterns rather than garment styles or silhouettes which held sway for lengthier periods of time.[1]  The type of motifs, scale, rendering, and color palette in textile patterns went in and out of fashion and can be used to identify a garment as being from the 1710s, 1740s, or 1760s.  The importance of silk-weaving and new designs to Georgian fashion cannot be underestimated as they conveyed not only taste but also status and wealth for the wearer.

Remarkably, one of the most successful and influential designers of silk patterns was an English woman, Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), who came to Spitalfields in 1730 and quickly infiltrated the male-dominated and family-based industry.  In fact, the establishment and prosperity of Spitalfields silk-weaving was due largely to waves of immigration by French Huguenots fleeing persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries, many of whom were weavers bringing advanced skills.[2]  As a forty year old single woman, it is unlikely that Garthwaite received much if any of the formal training required of her male counterparts.[3]  She worked in watercolor and at her most prolific produced approximately eighty designs a year, tapering off in the 1750s to about thirty designs per annum

Garthwaite’s talent in floral patterns lent itself to the emergent Rococo style in the design arts.  Concurrently, the development the points rentres technique allowed for rendering more three-dimensional, detailed shading on the drawloom in imitation of painting.[4]  The result was that larger, bolder designs showing off greater detail came to characterize flowered silks of the 1730s.  As English designers such as Garthwaite took up the aesthetics of painting in woven silk design, naturalism came to be the “English” style, defining their version of the Rococo in contrast to the greater French inclination towards stylization, busier patterns, and colored grounds often incorporating ribbons, lace, shells, fur, and rocaille (stylized rock formations) alongside floral motifs.

Garthwaite’s composition above ingeniously creates opportunities to show off three-dimensional shading with leaves that curve outwards, petals and small posies that overlap each other, and peaches that seem to revel in their own roundness.  Because Garthwaite’s style  doesn’t seem to bear influence from the leading naturalists of the day, scholar Natalie Rothstein believes that Garthwaite would have visited botanical gardens directly to familiarize herself with the details of a wide variety of plants, especially those not native to the area.[5]  Garthwaite’s style then appears to be down to her own artistic vision and natural talent, and if her designs show the current trends in English silks, it is because she drove those trends.

The most distinctive feature of the Rococo was the S-curve line known as the Line of Beauty, promoted by William Hogarth in his treatise, Analysis of Beauty (1753) as well as the influential manual Laboratory or School of the Arts (1756).  This meandering line can be found as early as 1743 in Garthwaite’s designs.[6]   Though a connected line is not always present, the curving motifs draw the eye on a sinuous path, seemingly turning and greeting each other in mimicry of partnered dances such as the minuet.

Most garments made from Spitalfields silks were altered, usually in the late 1780s or in the 1830s when dress styles changed and such flowered silks could fit the fashions.  Surviving silks designed by Garthwaite can be viewed at the V&A in the British Galleries, Room 52B.  In addition, a panel thought to be a Garthwaite design hangs in the Dennis Severs House in Spitalfields in the Hogarth room (to the left of the window).  Her home at the corner of Princelet and Wilkes Streets still stands today and is marked by a plaque.

It is remarkable that a woman like Anna Maria Garthwaite achieved the level of success that she did.  It is a testament not only to her sheer talent and vision but also her courage to value her own abilities.

[1] Natalie Rothstein, The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750.  (New York: Canopy Books, 1994), 7.

[2] Natalie Rothstein, The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750.  (New York: Canopy Books, 1994), 17

[3] A. K. Sabin, Spitalfields Silks. (London: Bethnal Green Museum, 1931), 8-9.

[4] Catalog entry, silk skirt panel by Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1749, Victoria and Albert Museum.

[5] Natalie Rothstein, The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750.  (New York: Canopy Books, 1994), 15.

[6] Rothstein, The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750.  (New York: Canopy Books, 1994), 8.

Further Reading

Brown, Clare, ed.  Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century from the Victoria & Albert

Museum.  New York: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Buss, Chiara.  The Meandering Pattern in Brocaded Silks 1745-1775. Milan:

Ermenegildo Zegna Holditalia Spa, 1990.

Flanagan.  Spitalfields Silks of the18th and 19th Centuries.  Leigh-on-Sea, UK: F. Lewis, 1954.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art. An Elegant Art: Fashion and Fantasy in the

Eighteenth Century.  Los Angeles: LA County Museum of Art, 1983.

Miller, Lesley Ellis. Selling Silks: a Merchant’s Sample Book 1764.  London: V&A

Publishing, 2014.

Ribeiro, Aileen.  Dress in Eighteenth Century Europe, 1715-1789.  London: Batsford,

1984.

Rothstein, Nathalie. The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven Textile Design in Britain to 1750.  New York: Canopy Books, 1994.

_____________________.  The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Woven

Textile Design in Britain 1750 to 1850.  New York: Canopy Books, 1994.

______________________.  Spitalfields Silks. London: H. M. Stationery, 1975.

Sabin, A. K.  Spitalfields Silks. London: Bethnal Green Museum, 1931.

Thunder, Moira.  Spitalfields Silks. London: V&A Publishing, 2011.

David McDermott’s Fashion

Just over a month ago I had the chance to chat to David McDermott, of American artist duo McDermott and McGough. In their works and lifestyle they describe how they have chosen ‘to immerse themselves in the period from the late Victorian era, at the close of the 19th century, to the style of the 1930s’ and as such, refuse ‘to embrace the historical present’. As part of an exhibition of photography held at Dublin’s Solomon Fine Art Gallery, I got to pick McDermott’s brains on anything related to fashion. Unfortunately, the below is only a snippet of the long, insightful conversation that I had with the artist. Overwhelmed by the choices of what I could possibly ask him, I settled quite simply on his clothes of the day as a starting point.

Free repro - please credit Paul sherwood Solomon Gallery, Dublin, exhibition opening of 'Contemplation of an Old Beit Family Photograph' by the renowned collaborative Irish American duo McDermott & McGough. September 2016Friday 2nd – Saturday 10th September 2016

This happened to be a white wool sports suit from 1928, which McDermott describes as ‘nipped in at the waist’ and with rounded shoulders. He explains to me that the trousers have a 22-inch bottom, which are the widest that trouser bottoms ever were, although the suit was probably sold in 1937 when trousers were beginning to narrow. McDermott suggests that extra fabric was left on the seam on the inside, for possible alteration because it was not yet sure that the trouser style would really change. Similarly, he believes the patch pocket on his coat stemmed from the need for extra material for patching. Such aspects of this clothing have also come in handy for David, who alters and sews his clothes by hand. He has forgotten where he bought the suit, but thinks it is the type that would have been worn in Hollywood. On the day of the interview, he has paired it with a straw hat, whose wear he says depends strongly on the Irish weather. We agree that summers in Ireland are often too short and invariably, so too is the wearing of his straw hat.

When asked about where he sources his clothes, McDermott tells me about great finds in Paris. At antique fairs, or flea markets as in this case, he once bought a collection of about fifty neckties ranging from the 1890s to 1910s. Indeed, McDermott collects widely, although he admits he would not be found collecting a Hawaiian shirt from the 1950s. His overall fascination of clothes from a different period began with a costume in a school play in which he was given a detachable collar to wear. Subsequently he sourced a collar made of cardboard and linen from a Costume House.

As enthusiastic and knowledgeable as McDermott is about fashion from another century, he is disheartened in his view of fashion today. He believes we live in a time in which fashion is over since there is no longer a use for it. McDermott criticises the fact that – in his view – people in contemporary society are not interested in fashion, but merely in clothing themselves. After all, he suggests, fashion is not about comfort, it is much rather about making a statement and creating a look.

More about the fascinating work and life of David McDermott can be found under the following link:

The Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/interiors/what-do-you-think-of-my-chimpanzee-muff-1.2751433

The Life and Collection of Charles W. Stewart

 Charles Stewart, Rosie, Wearing Day-Dress, c. 1873, 1970. Watercolour on paper. Private collection. © Estate of the artist.

Charles Stewart, Rosie, Wearing Day-Dress, c. 1873, 1970. Watercolour on paper. Private collection. © Estate of the artist.

Woman's bodice in purple silk, part of a dress ensemble (A.1977.737.1-3), with high round neckline trimmed with lace, fitted to waist with a flared skirt, fastening centre front with seven buttons, wrist length sleeves, trimmed with purple satin silk: European, possibly British, c. 1870 - 1873 Museum reference A.1977.737.1 Image © National Museums Scotland

Woman’s bodice in purple silk, part of a dress ensemble (A.1977.737.1-3), with high round neckline trimmed with lace, fitted to waist with a flared skirt, fastening centre front with seven buttons, wrist length sleeves, trimmed with purple satin silk: European, possibly British, c. 1870 – 1873
Museum reference
A.1977.737.1
Image © National Museums Scotland

Dress, c. 1876-1878 Museum reference K.2014.23.1&2 Image © National Museums Scotland

Dress, c. 1876-1878
Museum reference
K.2014.23.1&2
Image © National Museums Scotland

A pair of shoes by Edwin Bitton, 1835-1840 Museum reference A.1977.491 Image © National Museums Scotland

A pair of shoes by Edwin Bitton, 1835-1840
Museum reference
A.1977.491
Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference Pending Registration Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference
Pending Registration
Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference Pending Registration Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference
Pending Registration
Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference Pending Registration Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference
Pending Registration
Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference Pending Registration Image © National Museums Scotland

Museum reference
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Image © National Museums Scotland

While Charles William Stewart (1915-2001) mainly enjoyed the spotlight as an illustrator in the Royal Academy of Art’s 2014 exhibition “Charles Stewart: Black and White Gothic”, he also contributed to one of the most significant dress collections in the United Kingdom. Having personally worked with Stewart’s collection at National Museums Scotland, I found his collection to contain extraordinary pieces, whilst providing a valuable insight in the process of collecting fashion and the remarkable life of its collector.

Born in the Philippines, Stewart was sent to live with his uncle at the family home of Shambellie House, near Dumfries, Scotland, as a three-year-old boy. The land had been in possession of his family since 1625, while the Victorian mansion was built in 1855 after the design of principal Scottish architect David Bryce. In 1932, he started his study at Byam Shaw School of Painting and Drawing, during which time he was inspired to take up ballet by Colonel de Basil’s “Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo”. In 1936 and 1937, he was hired “by a freak of fortune” as a dancer at Covent Garden and was asked to design the male costumes and Lydia Sokolova’s solo costume for Thomas Beecham’s “Aida”. He continued work as a costume designer or assistant designer until the war, when his refusal to take lives led him to become a conscientious objector and join the Air Raid Precautions instead. With the 1946 commission to illustrate Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas”, he made the permanent career switch to illustration.

Like many historical fashion enthusiasts, Stewart’s passion for historical fashion began at a young age, when he came across a china doll in a mock 18th century dress in Edinburgh’s Princes Street. He later said: “[it] seemed to me supremely beautiful and I coveted [it] with the sharp acquisitive desire which collectors know so well”. To aid him with his historical illustrations, he collected numerous items from Portobello Road and Bermondsey Market (historical fashion had little value at the time so was cheap to acquire), although he favoured a shop in Soho. Shared by 23 cats, the trunks of garb were in an attic “where the rays of a winter sunset could scarcely penetrate the grime of ages on the window panes”. Here he found, illustrative to the diversity of his collection, two 18th century men’s dressing gowns as well as theatrical costumes worn by actors of Sir Henry Irving’s theatre company.

He used small labels to keep track of where he had found each item, his year of origin estimation and any additional information about the wearer. Many of his labels are still attached today as can be seen in the photo of accessories below. While mid-20th century methods of textile conservation were at times dubious, he was adamant about the care of his collection and had his housekeeper launder and pack his entire collection in plastic bags (see the trimmings in the plastic bag).

By 1977, the anxiety about his collection being dispersed upon his death led him to donate his entire historical fashion collection, consisting of 2,000 pieces, to the Royal Scottish Museum (now National Museums Scotland). His family home, Shambellie House, was donated to the Scottish Government with the intent of displaying some pieces of his fashion collection. The Shambellie House Museum of Costume first opened in 1982, but sadly closed as a public museum in 2013. The pieces on display were then returned to NMS where the vast majority of his collection had been stored since donation.

His fashion collection is as diverse as his life’s experiences and includes dresses, skirts, bodices, capes, shoes, hats, hair pieces, belts, hosiery and men’s suits from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, both branded and unbranded. The collection covers dress for different occasions and parts of the day, including daywear, eveningwear (many skirts come with day- and eveningwear bodices), dressing gowns, wedding dresses and performance costumes. The non-textile part of his donation includes fashion plates from the late 18th century, full publications from the 19th century such as bound copies of “The Lady’s Magazine”, and his stunning watercolour designs for period stage costumes created in c. 1972-73. While Stewart bought most of the pieces, he also received many donations and an endearing part of the collection consists of his mother’s 1950s dresses.

The beautiful purple bodice (A.1977.737.1), a Worth dress and Lanvin cape from Stewart’s collection can be seen in the new “Fashion and Style Gallery” at National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, whilst other pieces of his collection can be viewed by appointment.

Timothy Long on becoming a fashion curator, peacock feathers, and social media…

Tim working at the store at the Museum of London. Copyright: Museum of London.

Tim working at the store at the Museum of London. Copyright: Museum of London.

“This #fashion business is hard work! Words can't describe how much fun I'm having bringing this collection to you!❤”. Copyright: Tim Long on Twitter

“This #fashion business is hard work! Words can’t describe how much fun I’m having bringing this collection to you!❤”. Copyright: Tim Long on Twitter

You hold a BA in fashion/apparel design. Did you know right after graduation that you wanted to become a fashion curator?

I knew before going into that program that I was interested if not in being a fashion curator, then in old clothes. I was 18-19 and I always had an interest in old clothes, but prior to my studies in fashion design I attended a music performance undergraduate program for two years. In my second year I realised it wasn’t for me; I was with other students who were very passionate for music, I wasn’t on their same level and I became quite jealous that they were so fuelled by something that I didn’t feel.

Also, in my family we have quite a few photographs of my ancestors dating back to about the 1870s and in those images there are women and men (but mainly women) dressed in styles that were very different to what my sister and other women in my family were wearing. It always stood out as something of interest, but a boy on a farm in the mid West is not really pushed into studying old clothes.

This is why I went with what I knew which was music, threatened to drop out, searched about to try and figure out what on earth I was to do, said all this to my course director and she mentioned that I should take a class on anthropology at the university. So, on the first day of “introductions to anthropology” the teacher used the civil war as an example of how a moment can affect material culture, and she discussed architecture, paintings and then she came upon clothing. That was the first time I’d ever hear anyone mention anything related to the study of historic dress and so I went up to her, mentioned to her why I was there, and she said I should look into the study of historic dress and textiles. So I did, and I chose fashion design as there are often fashion history courses.

I am also from a family of dressmakers and tailors, therefore dressmaking and clothing making is something I’ve been around and so it seems natural to me. So I went into undergraduate studies for fashion design but knowing that my goal was not to become a fashion designer, but rather, to eventually use that as a stepping-stone for graduate school in fashion history.

So, how did you end up at the Museum of London?

In order to graduate from my BA in fashion design I had to do an internship, I did that at the Chicago History Museum. My internship was ending at the time I was graduating and at the time I was looking into coming to England for graduate school. But the intern position that I had turned into an offer for a full-time permanent position as a collection manager of the Chicago History Museum’s fashion collection.

I was expecting to be there for a few years and then go to graduate school but that turned into 15 years, and I went from collection manager to assistant curator and then curator. After 15 years and a very exciting career there I began to want to see what else was out in the world, but I knew that if I was to apply for a position, my lack of graduate degree would be key, even though I had great experience of very large, traveling, multi-million dollar exhibitions; publications; and more. So I took a year of absence from my job at Chicago History Museum and came to London College of Fashion.

I was expecting to go back but I fell in love and got married, and so we decided to stay here. My partner is Italian and at the time we didn’t have the option of moving to the US or Italy as gay marriage was not allowed there, and so this was the only country that we could stay together. So I left my job, sold my house, left my family, arrived here and this job became available shortly thereafter. I’ve now been here for almost four years.

Why did you want to devote your career to fashion and textile history?

The reason why is because it is what fulfills my interests. I’ve found my passion. I know that it’s a luxury because I know that many people experience the same feeling I felt when I was at undergraduate school. So that’s why I decided to focus my energy, originally, because I really liked it.

For a long time I didn’t feel that I had a unique voice because I was young and inexperienced, I did not have a graduate degree, I never took label writing, museum nor curatorial studies, and so I felt really out of place very early on. I also had the pleasure of working alongside various seasoned curators very early on in my career who had tremendous influence on me but they just seemed so unobtainable in some way – I think that that was because I was 20-24. But then i found my specific interest, which is to look at the way in which garments are constructed, and I started thinking: “wait, I do, I’ve been around long enough now, I do have a voice, I do have something to say”. And so, that original passion continued to be fuelled by thinking that I might have something to offer. I had enough confidence in myself to have my own perspective.

You are currently working at The Museum of London for the past 4 years. What does your work there entail and your current project ‘Fashion & Science’ is about?

My job as a curator here is split into a variety of general tasks. One is assisting with academic research. Beatrice Behlen and I host about 450 people each year in the store, who are looking at the collection in a variety of ways, from individual undergraduate, MA and PhD students interested in whatever topic we might have, to student groups, so a significant amount of my time is aiding and hosting research.

Also, acquisition, looking at ways of adding pieces to the collections or finding where the holes might be. Recently I’ve acquired quite a bit of things specifically related to menswear – because menswear is a great interest of me.

Another task is considering what type of exhibitions we might be able to produce, from small displays, like next to us here [pointing to his left] is the small show space display, which is a quick rotation of a few cases that we can change every month or month and a half. 1 to 17 objects is the maximum I can put here.

We also have other quick rotation spaces. I am also working on the rotation of the Pleasure Garden display which is a costume display that was installed many years ago and needs a refresher. It is costume from 1735 to 1869 and now I’m beginning to come up with the object list for the 16 mannequins, dressed in styles from those dates.

The curatorial exhibition work involves knowing the collection well so a percentage of my time is just being in the collection. To answer researcher’s requests I go into the store and often I’ll spend extra time looking around just to try and get my eyes onto everything that exists so I know it well.

Additionally we are now about to move the collection, so a lot of my work is beginning to focus on what the new museum might be, so proposing ideas for curatorial work, exhibitions, for public programs, how we can use the collections in new and exciting ways… but then also beginning to prepare to move the collections (so a lot of collection management duties, etc.)

You are responsible for publishing onto the museum’s collections online, but you have gone a step further and are very active in social media too, showcasing some treasures from the museum’s collections. I’m very interested in that engagement with different audiences. Where the idea came from?

Social media was something that I was against for a while, because I did not find any value in it professionally. Although I had a Twitter account I didn’t use it for many years, and I’ve only been on Instagram for less than a year.

But that was wrong actually, I didn’t take the time, and also the reason why there was a negative reaction from me was that we were forbidden at first here to post anything related to the museum and that is because of licencing and copyright, intellectual property etc. And also, I think, there is a general negative reaction to social media that most museums have, fearful that they are going to be sending out stuff that they can make money on, fearful of it being taken the wrong way.

But then I started to prepare for launching my personal website. I was going through my CV and, in my previous job I had about two exhibitions that I curated per year, ranging from 35 objects up to 120 objects – medium size to large – multimillion-dollar exhibitions. When I was then updating my activity at the Museum of London my activity all but ceased, dried up, because we don’t have galleries here, we have one that is rotatable, and so all of a sudden was all this dearth of work as a curator. So I started to worry that if people were to look at my CV they would think, “what has he been doing for this last years? Why has he gone from 30 some odd major exhibitions to none?”.

It was about that time that the communications department here were starting to urge us to consider social media. We were maturing as an institution at the same time that I was starting to think that it could actually be a platform to talk about my work. I can have a voice here instead of waiting to produce an exhibition of substance, which might take years, I can talk about the collection through social media.

And also to finally answer this quest, I’ve had been trying to replicate those Aha! moments I have often in the store when I open a box and gasp because there is something amazing inside. Or when I bring people with me into the store, students or researchers, they also have those gasping moments, so it’s been a career long obsession to try and replicate that. If you put something on an exhibit it’s quite slick, so you really you don’t have the aha! moment of opening a box or a drawer.

How did it happen, was it planned?

All of that clicked one day and I decided to post a photo of what I was doing and it got a decent response, but although I thought it was interesting, I was sort of scolded by the museum because I didn’t put copyright in the image. But I protested, I think it shows something quite negative because most of the museums don’t put copyright in their images. Thankfully the response that I’ve got was positive.

Then I started posting videos which have got a great response, and it’s been remarkable. It kind of came about not in a very active way originally, but now I see it as a very high value, the museum sees it as a high value. Almost in every moment seems to be something tweetable or intagramable because I work with very cool things.

And where do you want to go with it?

Now we are starting to mature the idea, I’m getting better devices. Right now I’m doing it just with my phone, so sometimes you can see the shake in my hand or it’s not smooth, so I’m getting some devices to hold the phone and to make the transition smoother. We’ve tried to do it a bit more slick but I think that sort of goes against the idea. I’ve also tried with different software to put digital labels instead of the paper ones, but almost immediately people say: “bring back the paper labels!”.

It’s amazing, because never in my job outside of those aha! moments in the store, do we get that immediate experience, although with the ability to communicate the kind of questions that one might naturally ask if they are at an exhibition. I don’t have to wait for an exhibition now, I can find how I write labels or how I talk about labels based on the feedback I get from social media.

Twitter used to be my main focus but now the activity has gotten much greater on Instagram once they increased their video length… some of them having currently more than 45,000 views. Instagram seems to be a much greater reach and presents a much greater discussion – it also seems to be a 24h response.

Moreover we are about to do our first live presentation through Facebook at the end of October, trying to push the envelope a bit with what I do on social media and think a bit outside of the box now that the response has been so great.

The Fashion and Science project and the re-dress of the Pleasure Garden are two projects that we were hoping to use the research as things to promote on social media, so instead of an exhibition only being promoted once it’s open, now we are using the re-dress, the conservation, the mounting of the mannequins, the selection process… as something that we post on social media instead of “now it’s open, come look”, so that’s something new we are experimenting with now.

Social media is something that before would’ve been part of my job, but now it’s a task in my PMD. It’s something I really want to do and the museum wants to have embedded it in what I do as a curator.

What is your favorite piece from the collection and/or over the years?

The favourite piece I’ve ever worked with would be the Charles James “Puffer Coat”. I did my dissertation on James, I’ve curated an exhibition on Charles James and then recently I’ve published a book with the V&A about James “Charles James fashion designer in detail”. So one of my all time favourites is the Charles James Puffer Coat, late 1930s white acetate satin coat. And I’ve got a project brewing just on that piece. I had the pleasure of working with it, I figured out how it’s made, I’m not sure if others have yet, so I’d like to publish something on that.

Here at the museum my favourite item shifts – as you can imagine – but currently it is this beautiful late-18th Century men’s ensemble that is being considered for the re-dress of the Pleasure Garden. It is silk satin with an embroidered peacock feather in silk thread.

If I remember well, you posted this piece in social media?

Yes I did. And when I posted it I did not click that there was a peacock feather. Until Paul Bench (colleague, friend and follower on social media) asked if that was a peacock feather. What is exciting about that is that my understanding of the term peacock as a way to describe a flamboyantly dressed men is something that I thought was mostly in the 1960s.

Finding this jacket and the embroidered feather made me question how long men have been referred to as peacocks and I found out that it is actually quite old. I found a reference that the 14th Century is the earliest time a man was referred to as a peacock, who was flamboyantly dressed. So that means that in the 18th Century the term had been around for many hundreds of years, and so this man, wearing this exquisite piece with a peacock feather was certainly not coincidental. The kind of humour that is involved in that, the concept of perhaps a dandy represented here earlier than we think (typically of dandies is the 19th Century). We don’t know anything about the original wearer but now we have a little bit more. He would potentially have ordered it that way, he would’ve taken great pride in wearing it.

Because all of that is why right now this piece is my favourite, but that might change soon when I find another amazing piece.

You can check Timothy’s social media work on:

Twitter @fasion_curator https://twitter.com/Fashion_Curator

Instagram as @timothylongfashioncurator https://www.instagram.com/timothylongfashioncurator/

 

Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior

After Raf Simons abruptly left his position as creative director at Dior after just three years last October, Dior was left with the task of recruiting, once again, a designer that would be able to continue the legacy and shoulder the burden of designing for one of Paris’ grandest fashion houses.

Maria Grazia Chiuri was announced as Simons’ successor, the first female creative director at Dior and lately of Valentino, where she formed one half of a successful 26-year-long design partnership with Pierpaolo Piccioli that began in the accessories department of Fendi. Her debut was scheduled for the 30th of September, at the end of a season fraught with questions of see-now-buy now, the pace of the system, and street-style spats, that also saw new hands at work at Saint Laurent (Antony Vaccerello) and Lanvin (Bouchra Jarrar).

The opportunity afforded by a single fashion show is well known to the house of Dior. In February 1947, a single presentation saw the popular dress of that decade transformed. Heralded as the most influential fashion event of the century, the collection was worthily dubbed the ‘New Look’ by Harper’s Bazaar’s Carmel Snow, and subsequently took on a mythic quality. The clothes’ exaggeratedly feminine silhouette, marked by tiny waists, generous hips and skirts full of volume were explicitly conceived in marked opposition to post-war, uniform-like austere dress. These new designs were created for ‘flower-like’ women. Dior’s awareness of the power of a single fashion show was re-established with the 2014 documentary film ‘Dior and I’, which captured the weeks running up to and including Raf Simon’s debut. Following in the footsteps of star designers and creative caretakers of this legacy (John Galliano and Yves Saint Laurent amongst them), under the scrutiny of the international press, crucial clients, and with a 1% drop in sales in the first quarter of 2016 having just been reported, Maria Grazia Chiuri faced one of the industry’s greatest challenges.

As guests took their seats in a simple, wooden-floored tent in the grounds of the Musee Rodin, a clue would emerge from the catwalk – laid out in the same format as the vast majority of Chiuri’s previous Valentino presentations. Striding out a soundtrack of Beyonce’s ‘Flawless’, featuring author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk on feminism, a newly pixie-cropped Ruth Bell sported a fencing-inspired ensemble, complete with heart motif on her left breast. Dior’s signature bar jacket, here with the regal peplum slimmed down, was relegated to the 31st look.

Rather than referencing and reworking the house’s famous feminine silhouettes then, Chiuri had opted to explore the house’s feminine principles – a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘we should all be feminists’ was matched with a long, flowing tulle skirt. Instead of voluminous proportions and nipped in waists, dresses were straight, sheer, revealing the straight up and down proportions of an especially youthful crop of models. Sportswear elements finished off many pieces, underwear was visible, braided hair referenced skaters. Inspiration for the slew of evening gowns’ ethereal embroidery was sought from Christian Dior’s highly superstitious nature, but were altogether too reminiscent of Valentino for many commentators (the top to toe blood red of two looks, the only explicit colour in this offering, is a particular Valentino signature). A regular visitor to clairvoyants, Dior was said to read tarot cards before each of his shows; motifs from these, lucky clovers, hearts and the number 8 were scattered throughout Chiuri’s designs. Dior and Chiuri happen to both be Aquarius. Astrologers would forecast that the age of Aquarius would bring upheaval; Chiuri’s debut was certainly a departure from her predecessors, but will have the impact of the New Look? Or was there simply not enough that was new?

As Tim Blanks noted, Chiuri has not had the ‘time to osmose the extraordinary archives at Dior; it was inevitable that she would fall back on what she was familiar with from her time at Valentino.’ CEO Sidney Toledano stated that Chiuri’s experience creating buzz-generating accessories was an important factor in her appointment in an interview with the Business of Fashion. Aside from explicit ‘J’aDIOR’ branded underpinnings (which, at a more ‘accessible’ price point will surely fly off shelves as logos see a surge in popularity this season) the issue for the consumer and regular deep-pocketed clients though is whether the clothes are evocative enough of a heritage that can arguably be pinned on a specific silhouette, here in dispute, to be worth investing in. Only next year’s financial report will tell.

References:

http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2017-ready-to-wear/christian-dior#collection

https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/sidney-toledano-maria-grazia-chiuri-talk-about-new-dior

https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/fashion-show-review/just-in-christian-dior-springsummer-2017