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Liberty in Fashion

This year Liberty of London turns 140 years old; favourite purveyor of fine fabrics, the decorative arts and department store-based fantasies. In October the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London opened their exhibition ‘Liberty in Fashion’ to mark the occasion and celebrate Liberty’s most visible contribution to British design.

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On a blustery, rainy Saturday morning in November (when I probably should have been squirreled away in a library doing MA course work) I trekked south of the river for a day of unashamed textile ‘geekery’. I was at the F & T museum with the express purpose of undertaking an introductory course in textile weaving with the added incentive of a quick look around the Liberty exhibit once I had proved my worth as a weaver.

Master Weaver Caron Penney and her unwavering patience and enthusiasm, took the class of a dozen with varying skill-levels during a seven-hour crash course in the techniques of tapestry weaving. I got carried away with pink, black, white and silver glitter threads and powered through a 4 x 3” patch (tapestry is not a race). In a testament to Caron’s own skills, we all got quite ambitious with our techniques and I would urge anyone curious to keep an eye out for the many classes she runs throughout the country.

Work in progress

Work in progress

The finished product

The finished product

On a textile induced high, fingers buzzing with a new skill (“I could make a rug if I wanted!”) I breezed through the ‘Liberty in Fashion’ exhibition before the museum closed. There are over 150 examples of textiles and garments spanning Liberty’s lifetime, from the heritage of late 19th century Aesthetic dress and 20th century Art Nouveau designs, through to collaborations with Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. The beauty of the exhibition, and it really is hard not to call it beautiful, is the drawing of a concurrent thread through a century of British Fashion. Pattern is king at Liberty, but the emphasis on fabric production lends accessibility to the garments. Liberty doesn’t draw a distinction between the high and low, and while Manolo Blahnik may be covering his iconic shoes in the Hesketh print this November, your Grandmother could be using that same fabric to make her handkerchiefs.

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‘Liberty in Fashion’ is open at the Fashion & Textile Museum until February 28, 2016.

Opening times and tickets available here: http://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/liberty-in-fashion/

Caron Penney has worked with artists like Tracey Emin, and now runs her own Tapestry studio called Weftfaced. Dates for her workshops can be found there: http://www.weftfaced.com

 

Welcome New MAs!

We are so pleased to welcome the new MA group to The Courtauld! Look out for posts by Aric, Giovanna, Carolina, Emerald, Leah, Eleanor, Saskia and Aude in the coming weeks, as they start to settle into life at the Institute and share their thoughts on Dress History with you.

Here are some photos of their first week of studies – including looking at examples from our amazing collection of rare books and fashion journals on during the first class.  It’s always great to see Iribe’s Les Robes de Paul Poiret, Vecellio’s 1598 book on dress of the world, and Fish Annuals, showing 1920s Flapper style…

looking at rare fashion journals in our first class

looking at rare fashion journals in our first class

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CALL FOR PAPERS – Posing the Body: Stillness, Movement, and Representation

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress Collections, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Gazette du bon ton, 1921, History of Dress
Collections, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Friday 6 May 2016, Regent Street Cinema, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Saturday 7 May 2016, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

CALL FOR PAPERS

Posing has been central to art, dance, and sculpture for thousands of years. In recent years, the growing interest in fashion media and modelling has also focused attention on questions of pose and posing. Incorporating notions of movement and stillness, posing can be understood in terms of historical modes of representation, as well as contemporary media and rapidly evolving relationships between bodies, subjects, and technologies of representation. Posing incorporates symbolic and semiotic meaning alongside embodied action and feeling. Recent coverage of the work of choreographer Stephen Galloway in 032c magazine, and new publications such as Steven Sebring’s Study of Pose: 1000 Poses by Coco Rocha testify to the growing interest in the cultural significance of posing and the pose – yet both remain under-researched areas with little discussion of their significance.

This symposium will assert the importance of pose as both a creative practice and an emerging area of critical inquiry. It will bring together multi-disciplinary academics and practitioners to discuss and develop new ways of understanding pose and posing in a historical and contemporary context. We encourage proposals for papers that address pose from global and diverse perspectives. This event represents a potentially fruitful and exciting moment to bring these strands together to the benefit of researchers within practice and theory-based media, historians of dress, photography, art and film and allied disciplines.

The keynote lecture will be delivered by David Campany, internationally recognised writer and curator, and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster.

Possible themes include (but are not limited to):

Modelling (fashion and artistic)

Gesture Dance (popular and classical)

Pose and the everyday

Movement and stillness

Posing, corporeality and the body

Posing and social media (Blogs, Instagram, etc.)

Submission process: Please submit abstracts of 150-200 words in English, along with a short biography of approximately 100 words to Posingthebody@gmail.com by 2 October 2015.

Organised by Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katherine Faulkner, Study Skills and Widening Participation Academic Coordinator, The Courtauld Institute of Art; Katerina Pantelides, Visiting Lecturer, The Courtauld Institute of Art and Eugénie Shinkle, Reader in Photography, University of Westminster.

Congratulations History of Dress MA Graduates!

Documenting Fashion graduates, Lauren Dobrin, Brianna Carr, Lisa Osborne, Nicole Prattis and Rosily Roberts

Documenting Fashion graduates Lauren, Brianna, Lisa, Nicole and Rosily

Congratulations Courtauldians!

Congratulations Courtauldians!

Dr Rebecca Arnold, MA student Rosily Roberts and PhD student Elizabeth Kutesko welcome honorary doctorate Valerie Steele (far right) to the Courtauld

Dr Rebecca Arnold, MA student Rosily Roberts and PhD student Elizabeth Kutesko welcome honorary doctorate Valerie Steele (far right) to the Courtauld

Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women Conference

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion)

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion)

Our conference celebrating 50 years of dress history at the Courtauld is drawing closer, and we can now reveal the programme for the event, which will be taking place on Saturday 16 May.

Speakers will explore the relationship and significance of women in designing, wearing, promoting, curating and writing about dress, from both the perspective of those working in the field and those who wear, consume and document fashion. The conference will provide the opportunity to question how changes in dress, and its representation and exploration through the media, academia, and exhibiting have impacted upon relationships between women and fashion, since 1965.

Women, including Stella Mary Newton, who set up the first Courtauld course in the History of Dress, have been central to developing the discipline and exploring dress’ multifaceted meanings. They have also been important in the design and dissemination of fashion as a product and as an idea. This conference celebrates and critiques the role women have taken in making fashion, and, by extension, the role fashion plays in making women – by defining and constructing notions of gender, sexuality, beauty and ethnicity. We will take a global, interdisciplinary perspective to seek an overview of women’s significance to fashion and dress and vice versa.

PROGRAMME

09.30 – 10.00      Registration

10.00 – 10.15      Introduction: Lucy Moyse (PhD Candidate, The Courtauld)

10.15 – 10.45      Lecture: ‘Dress & History since 1965,’ Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld)

10.45 – 11.00      Discussion

11.00 – 11.30      TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)

Fashion Media

(Chair: Dr Sarah Cheang, Senior Tutor Modern Specialism, History of Design, RCA)

11.30 – 12.00      Clip: People in the Street, Pathé (1968) followed by discussion led by Katerina Pantelides (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

12.00 – 12.30      Panel: ‘Zuzu Angel: Fashioning Resistance to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, 1971-76’, Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld) & ‘The Feminine Awkward,’ Dr Eugenie Shinkle (Senior Lecturer in Photographic Theory & Criticism, University of Westminster)

12.30 – 12.45      Discussion

12.45 – 14.00      LUNCH (provided for the speakers only – Seminar room 1)

Fashion History

(Chair: Dr Robin Schuldenfrei, Lecturer in European Modernisms, The Courtauld Institute of Art)

14.00 – 14.40      Keynote lecture: ‘Designing Women,’ Cheryl Buckley (Professor of Fashion & Design History, University of Brighton)

14.40 – 15.00      Discussion

15.00 – 15.30      Panel: ‘Interpreting Memory and Image: Women, Spaces, and Dress in 1960s France,’ Alexis Romano (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), & ‘Misfit: Aspirational Fashion Practice and the Female Body,’ Kathryn Brownbridge (Senior Lecturer in Clothing Design Technology, Manchester Metropolitan University)

15.30 – 15.45      Discussion

15.45 – 16.15     TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)

Fashion Curation

(Sonnet Stanfill, Curator of 20th Century & Contemporary Fashion, V&A Museum)

16.15 – 16.25      Clip: Ancient Models, featuring Doris Langley Moore, Pathé (1955)

16.25 – 16.45      Lecture: ‘Women and the Fashion Museum,’ Rosemary Harden (Manager, Fashion Museum, Bath)

16.45 – 17.00      Discussion

17.00 – 17.40      Keynote lecture: ‘Feminine Attributes,’ Judith Clark, (Professor of Fashion & Museology, London College of Fashion)

17.40 – 18.00      Discussion

Organised by Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), and Elizabeth Kutesko and Lucy Moyse (PhD candidates, The Courtauld)

Ticket/entry details: £16 (£11 students, Courtauld staff/students and concessions)

BOOK ONLINE  Or send a cheque made payable to ‘The Courtauld Institute of Art’ to: Research Forum Events Co-ordinator, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, stating ‘women make fashion conference’. For further information, email ResearchForum@courtauld.ac.uk

“Sweeping Guineas off the Vogue counter”: Art and Fashion, Then and Now

Art and Fashion

On the 12th December 2014, the V & A, in collaboration with the Photographers’ Gallery London, hosted a conference entitled ‘Inventing Elegance: Fashion Photography 1910-1945’. The presented papers placed the careers of Edward Steichen, Horst P. Horst, Louise Dahl-Wolf, Cecil Beaton and Toni Frissell, to name a few, within a period of dynamic social and technological transformation. The conference was a celebration of creative collaboration – not only between individuals (photographers, art directors, editors, models, designers and artists) but also between art forms. Susanna Brown discussed the link between Horst’s bas-relief series and Classical sculpture. Oriole Cullen described the interplay between fashion illustration and fashion photography. William A. Ewing drew some remarkable similarities between painting, particularly European portraiture, and the poses adopted by Steichen’s models. Ewing also posed the idea that these photographers were in someway ennobling ‘trivial’ fashion by referencing ‘high brow’ art forms. We see a similar strategy in the early 1920s with British Vogue, under the editorship of Dorothy Todd. Todd’s intentions were to convert Vogue into a study of the contemporary world: a guide to the modernist way of dressing, living, reading, and seeing.  Virginia Woolf, along with many of her Bloomsbury compatriots, contributed to the magazine and was criticised for doing so. The anxiety between art and commerce was as ubiquitous then as it is today. Artists such as Steichen saw no problem with art for commercial purposes, as Ewing pointed out, as long as the images were ‘useful’. The commissions were certainly useful to Woolf, both economically and in circulating her name. Yet some challenged the ethics of the Bloomsbury Group’s decision to accept these commissions. Writing to Vita Sackville-West in response to criticism by Logan Pearsall Smith, who asserted that Woolf should maintain prestige by only writing for ‘serious’ newspapers. Woolf asked “whats [sic] the objection to whoring after Todd [Editor of Vogue]? Better whore [. . .] than honestly and timidly and coolly and respectably copulate with the Times Lit. Sup.” However the assignments were short lived. Conde Nast, who was unhappy with the dwindling sales and the magazine’s overtly literary path, fired Todd in 1926.

Fast-forward ninety years, and Bloomsbury yet again adorns our fashion pages. Yet this time, it is within the November 2014 issue of Harper’s Bazaar in a spread entitled ‘Among the Bohemians’, shot at Charleston, The Bloomsbury Group’s country home. Justine Picardie, editor of Bazaar, wrapped up the conference with an insightful look into the pages of Bazaar today, through the eye of the magazine’s past. Picardie spoke extensively about Bazaar’s legacy to combine fashion with wider culture, in particular art and literature. Art and fashion have always had a complex relationship. As Picardie puts it, the two inhabit the same environment and hence often overlap – in their greatest moments colliding to make something brilliant, innovative, and beautiful. The collaboration between the V&A and Bazaar on their series of V&A covers, particularly those photographed by Cathleen Naundorf, are a testament to this. Bazaar has succeeded in the upkeep of ever-strengthening links between contemporary writers and artists. Picardie’s talent lies in achieving a unique point of view, balancing the witty with the serious, the light with the dark and the high fashion with the thought-provoking journalism. All the while, Bazaar maintains a unique point of view and above all, integrity.

‘Among the Bohemians’ is a poignant piece in that it acts as a bridge between the past and the present. There is an interesting conversation between Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s eclectically designed interior seen in the background, and the colourful dresses in the foreground by diverse designers ranging from Fendi, to Paul Smith, and Louis Vuitton. The photographs celebrate the irreverent clashing colours created by merging objects from the Omega Workshops, murals, textiles, textures, couture, shocking red hair, ceramics and furniture.

Woolf used fashion to explore binaries such as surface and depth, intellect and frivolity, commerce and art. At Bazaar, fashion, art and literature combine to create something beautiful. And if artists are “sweeping Guineas off the Vogue counter” by facilitating these interchanges, then let the whoring continue.

 

Sources:

‘Inventing Elegance: Fashion Photography 1910-1945’, 12th December 2014, V&A

A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Leonard Woolf (London: Persephone, 2012)

Cohen, Lisa, All We Know: Three Lives (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012)

http://blog.nextmanagement.com/2014/10/06/lera-tribel-harpers-bazaar-uk-november-2014/

http://www.charleston.org.uk/bohemian-fashion/

Women Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women conference on 16 May 2015

Please join us to celebrate fifty years of History of Dress at the Courtauld!

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion.)

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion.)

As part of our celebration, this one-day conference, ‘Woman Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women’, explores the relationship and significance of women in designing, wearing, promoting, curating and writing about dress and fashion. Speakers will consider this both from the perspective of those working professionally in the field, and those who consume, wear and document fashion. The conference will provide the opportunity to question how changes in dress, and its representation and exploration through the media, academia, and exhibiting, have impacted upon relationships between women and fashion, since 1965.

Women, including Stella Mary Newton, who set up the first Courtauld course in the History of Dress, have been central to developing the discipline and exploring dress’ multifaceted meanings. They have also been important in the design and dissemination of fashion as a product and as an idea. This conference celebrates and critiques the role women have taken in making fashion, and, by extension, the role fashion plays in making women – by defining and constructing notions of gender, sexuality, beauty and ethnicity. We will take a global, interdisciplinary perspective to seek an overview of women’s significance to fashion and dress and vice versa. 

As part of our preparations for the conference, we are interested in hearing stories of studying dress history at The Courtauld from alumnae. If you would like to contribute a story, please send it to Elizabeth.kutesko@courtauld.ac.uk.

 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

10.00 – 18.00 (with registration from 09.30), Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

Keynote Speakers: Cheryl Buckley (University of Brighton) and Judith Clark (London College of Fashion)

Speakers: Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), Dr Eugenie Shinkle (University of Westminster), Alexis Romano (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), Kathryn Brownbridge (Manchester Metropolitan University), Rosemary Harden (Fashion Museum, Bath)

Ticket/entry details: £16, £11 concessions BOOK ONLINE

Organisers: Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), and Lucy Moyse (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

For more information and updates on the conference please see the website: http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/researchforum/events/2015/summer/may16_WomenMakeFashion.shtml

We look forward to seeing you there!

From Rationing to Ravishing: The Transformation of Women’s Clothing in the 1940s and 1950s

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Photographs by Alberto Ferreira and Lucy Moyse, with permission of the Museum of Vancouver

The Museum of Vancouver’s current From Rationing to Fashioning exhibition thoroughly and exhilaratingly takes its viewers through a turbulent interval of history. The glitter and roar of the 1920s had come to a sudden and catastrophic cease, with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and subsequent economic depression. Beforehand, women ‘s newfound freedom and fun was reflected in looser fits and higher hemlines. However, after the crash, the sartorial mood turned towards sentimentality, and the traditional feminine figure began to re-emerge. Women’s dress of the 1930s delicately navigated changing ideals, later taking on designers’ nods to masculinity and the need for practicality during the Second World War. Peacetime instated the womanly silhouette once more: elaborate amounts of fabric countered wartime shortages, and sloping shoulders, full busts, cinched waists and full, long skirts glorified the female form and took it to new heights.

Guest curators Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke display the complexities of these changes with thought and flair. On show until March 2015, the exhibition highlights the intrinsic connections between fashion, those that wear it, and the society that surrounds them. The underlying driving force behind the curatorial rationale is clear: fashion reflects, responds to, and helps to drive change. The exhibition expresses the way clothes had to be adapted according to changing conditions, availabilities, and moods, but also how they affected and constructed views of the women who wore them, from the diligent wartime worker to the immaculate housewife.

The exhibition is neatly divided into two main spaces. The first pulls visitors into a comprehensive overview of 1940s fashion. It slickly demonstrates transitions, whilst maintaining the range of styles available within them. Rainbows of both day- and evening-wear reveal fashion’s determination to thrive even during wartime, whilst also making clear the practical and aesthetic limitations imposed. The dual role of the idealised woman’s wartime appearance is revealed: soothing society involved a juggling act between putting her best face, and dress, forward, and cleverly working around restrictions such as rationing, all the while emanating a sense of pragmatism and tactful restraint. A 1943 blouse by London designer Anita Bodley, for example, demonstrates simultaneous practicality and frivolity. Its comfortable fit and short sleeves allowed movement, and a high, Peter Pan-collared neckline maintained modesty, while its silk fabric and assorted bright colours were enlivening.  Most poignant of all are the spirited written messages that make up its pattern. Inspired by propaganda posters upon a brick wall, it includes phrases such as ‘-Go! –to! –it!’: one example of several wartime pieces that were especially designed to boost morale and brighten wardrobes.

The second main space leads the viewer to the eventual exultance of the post-war years, but not before an enchanting and specialized interlude: a select display of specifically Canadian clothing. For example, a pair of Boeing Vancouver overalls, displayed with its cuffs turned back to reveal red underneath, and the mannequin’s hand jauntily placed on its hip, exemplify both women’s active agency, and the modernist style and nationalist pride through which it was executed. Indeed, throughout the show, there is an equal emphasis on both internationality and the Museum’s own heritage in Vancouver, with objects originating from almost all of the powers involved in the conflict. In this spirit, an inter-disciplinary approach was taken: German ration books, Elsa Schiaparelli’s signature scrawled on a fashion student’s notepad, a bottle of Chanel perfume and ‘Victory Red’ Elizabeth Arden cosmetics imbue the exhibition with an enriching sensory dimension, which underlies and unifies fashion’s all encompassing interconnectedness.

Just a step away, the final room is a visual delight. Pigmented pinks and reds mingle with elegant whites and dramatic blacks, converging into intricate party concoctions. With the war effort over, and a return to notional normalcy allowed indulgence and amusement and girlishness was prized. This revival, explosion and celebration of full-skirted femininity reached its peak during the 1950s, and culminates the exhibition on an appropriately triumphant note.

References

www.museumofvancouver.ca/exhibitions/exhibit/rationing-ravishing

A precarious balance: Reflections on ‘The 50s: Fashion in France, 1947- 1957’ at the Palais Galliera, Paris

Dior Woolmark

Christian Dior, 1947. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion archives and The Woolmark Company).

1950s couture is characterised by its dramatic silhouettes which ranged from the rounded hourglass, to the stark, boxy H shape.  While the exhibition provided a comprehensive showcase of garments of extraordinary proportions alongside vignettes of fifties style icons, the women who wore the clothes remained a mystery. As I studied the well-displayed outfits, I tried to imagine how the wearer would move and feel in them.

The first exhibit, Christian Dior’s 1947 bar suit with its silk tussore jacket and wide pleated wool crepe skirt, stiffened with taffeta, was striking for its embalmed, papier mache texture. The wide brimmed straw hat and spindly Perugina escarpins that accompanied the suit indicated that a degree of lightness was intended to animate this heavy, structured garment.  Dior claimed that with his 1947 collection, he had ‘brought back the neglected art of pleasing’, in other words, a prettiness that made women attractive to men, as opposed to the eccentricity and utilitarianism that had characterised war-time fashion. However, a woman’s ability to please in this challenging ensemble would depend on her ability to pose and walk in a manner that was as balanced and delicate as a trained mannequin.  The contemporary American model agent, Helen Fraser explained how from the late 1940s onwards, models were increasingly required to ‘double as dancers…’.She explained that ‘high fashion… employs as its basic pose a semi-ballet stance. The weight is on the hind foot, hips turned away, and the shoulders to the camera, the face half-profile, half straight…’

Film footage of mannequins in the exhibition showed how they would begin their procession from a variation of ballet’s fourth position, and advance in tiny mincing steps, their pivots almost as exact and mechanical as a ballerina’s. The filmed couture displays begin with coats and outerwear, and end with the decade’s jewel: eveningwear. There are at least two rooms devoted to small-waisted, full-skirted dresses in the exhibition, which one young visitor called ‘princess dresses’.  She had a point:  with their naive star and flower embellishment and spouts of tulle, some of these dresses do appear to have been designed for grown-up children, who have only recently graduated from reading fairytales to attending balls in outfits that materialise these fictions.

However, in other garments, a more adult combination of daring and anxiety prevails with regard to revealing the body. In their desire to appease contemporary ideals of feminine sex appeal and modesty simultaneously, these cocktail dresses strive for a precarious balance between titillation and demureness; in an almost formulaic manner, an inch of flesh revealed in one area, is compensated for in another.  For example, sweetheart necklines either dive deep and narrow, or remain high and wide; a plunging décolletage is counterbalanced by a high back and vice versa.  Still, by the late 1950s, the ingenuity displayed in the dresses’ methods of exposure, implies that wearers increasingly revealed their sexuality on their own terms. One 1957 fuchsia moiré dress by Hubert de Givenchy, which was cut to show the knees and lower limbs from the front and permitted longer strides, indicated that the age of docile pleasing had passed its high noon.