Uncategorized Archive

Dr Sarah Cheang to Speak at the Courtauld

Join us Monday 19 June in the Research Forum from 12:30 pm-1:30 pm for ‘Transnational Fashion History: Some Problems in Twentieth-Century Chineseness,’ a lecture by Dr Sarah Cheang! It will also be available on a live stream at this link.

‘Cloquelle et Cloky ou le Voyage en Chine,’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Fashion is an emphatically transnational form of modernity and yet it is continually made to serve national agendas and uses pervasive ethnic stereotypes to create cultural value. Fashion thus creates embodied and material engagements between national and cosmopolitan subjectivities. This paper explores the vexed topic of fashion, nation and diaspora, foregrounding histories of imperialism, East Asian and European identities. New narratives of national identity are investigated by engaging directly with the transnational as a flexible state of in-between during which fashion produces multiple modernities and multiple subjectivities from within colonialism’s complex webs of global exchange and unequal power relations. Posing new questions about twentieth-century Chinese identity by placing iconic forms such as the qipao and the Chinese shawl within a transnational context, the nature of the exotic, constructions of western and non-western fashion, and the field of fashion itself are reconsidered. The paradox of fashion is that it demonstrates through flows of objects and ideas, commerce, people and politics that fashion objects are not reducible to a single culture, but at the same time fashion constantly plays with symbols of national identity in order to create personal and public meaning. This paper takes up that paradox as a key site for a deeper understanding of the East Asian within fashion history.

Sarah Cheang is Senior Tutor in the History of Design at the Royal College of Art, London. Her research centres on transnational fashion, material culture and the body from the nineteenth century to the present day, on which she has published widely. Her work is characterized by a concern with the experience and expression of ethnicity through fashion and body adornment. She co-edited the collection Hair: Styling, Culture and Fashion (2008), writing on hair and race, as well as reflecting more generally on the meanings of hair within a wide range of cultures. Fascinated by states of in-between and the creative potential of metamorphosis and misunderstanding, she recently led the research project Fashion and Translation: Britain, Japan, China, Korea (2014-15), exploring East Asian identities through the ways that fashion travels between cultures. She is currently embarking on a new photographic project on hair, humanity and cycles of life and death.

Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating the Courtauld’s History of Dress journals archive

Fashion magazines provide a space for escapism and fantasy, but this imaginative realm of image and text is centred on the very real interactions that viewers have with these material objects. How does it feel to read a fashion magazine? Do you read it dutifully, from cover to cover? Or do you flip through more sporadically, waiting for something exciting to halt you in your tracks? Of equal importance is where we read fashion magazines. Is it in the silence of the library, inhaling the smell of the archive? Or at home, from the comfort of the sofa? Perhaps it’s on the tube, amongst the rush of commuters and the jolt of a train braking? These multisensory encounters all play a part in our interpretation of what we see – and read – within the fashion magazine.

These are some of the questions we are going to be thinking about on Saturday 6th May, at our conference ‘Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating the Courtauld’s History of Dress journals archive’. In celebration of the Courtauld’s recently catalogued History of Dress journals archive, our one-day symposium will examine how the fashion magazine has constructed and circulated social, cultural and political ideas concerning dress, body and identity.  In opening up the collection, we will examine fashion magazines more broadly as documents of the time in which they were produced, reflecting changing tastes and attitudes as well as social and technological developments. We will explore how the fashion magazine has been consumed by readers, whether glanced through or thoroughly read from cover to cover, and consider the sensory connections to be made between looking, seeing, being, feeling and wearing.

Speakers include Paul Jobling, Alice Beard, Rebecca Arnold, Lucy Moyse, Marta Francheschini and Maria Angela Jansen, will consider these overlapping themes from the interdisciplinary perspectives of design history, fashion studies, visual culture, sociology, and those working professionally within the field. The day will include a viewing session of some earlier examples from our collection as well as an opportunity to see a fashion magazine display curated in collaboration with History of Dress MA students. This symposium will provide the opportunity to question changes in the way that dress has been documented, worn and consumed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as to study the fashion magazine as image, object, text, idea and experience intertwined.

Booking is now open at the link below, so hurry!

http://courtauld.ac.uk/event/reading-fashion-magazines

Prof. Elizabeth Edwards to Speak at the Courtauld

Join us Monday 20 March in the Research Forum from 12:30 pm-1:30 pm for ‘Thoughts on historical pagents as photographs,’ an Ad/dressing History lecture with Professor Elizabeth Edwards!

Image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The early twentieth century saw a craze for historical pageants – popular re-enactments of the history of a locality. In these the stress on authenticity of historical representation through words, scenes and costume was particularly important. Prof. Edwards will consider the role of photography in perpetuating these quasi-ritual processes, values and the social efficacy of the pageants. She argues that photographs of pageants were not merely records of pageants, but, through the temporal complexity and reality effect of photographs, created a subjunctive ‘as if’ of history which extended the reach of the ritual qualities of pageants. This paper is part of a larger ethnographic project on photography and the emergence of public histories 1850-1950.

Elizabeth Edwards is a visual and historical anthropologist. She has worked extensively on the relationships between photography, history and anthropology. She is Professor Emerita of Photographic History at De Montfort University, Honorary Professor in the Anthropology Department at UCL and will soon join the V&A Research Institute as Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor.  She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2015. Her current book projects are on photography and the emergence  concepts of the collective ownership of ancient monuments, and on photography and the apparatus and practice of history.

Fashion Illustrator Richard Haines to Visit the Courtauld

Join us next week for two events with renowned fashion illustrator and visiting artist Richard Haines! After years as a fashion designer, Richard uses his eye for detail of fabric and form to produce striking images of fashion for clients like Prada, J.Crew, Pennyblack, Il Palacio del Hierro, Calvin Klein, Coach, Georg Jensen, Bobbi Brown, Unionmade Goods, Barneys, Mr. Porter, Grazia, The New York Times Style Magazine, Man of the World, GQ and GQ Italy. Richard also runs the fantastic blog “What I Saw Today,” where he records the style of trendsetters on the streets of New York City.

On Tuesday 21 February, Richard will be in conversation with London-based writer and editor Dal Chodha to discuss how he found his way to illustration from fashion design. This event will be held in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre at the Courtauld Institute of Art. The event is free to all, but make sure to come early to secure a seat!

We will be holding another event with Richard later in the week on Thursday 23 February. At this smaller lecture, Richard answers the question, “What does it mean to be a fashion illustrator in 2017?” through discussions of social media and collaboration. The event is open to Courtauld staff and students, though non-affiliated visitors may book a place at the lecture by emailing researchforum@courtauld.ac.uk. Seating is limited, so reserve your place soon.

If you can’t wait to learn more about Richard, check out his illustrations on Instagram. We hope to see you there!

Exhibition Review: Tino Casal, Art by Excess at the Madrid Museum of Costume

Photo: Dana Moreno

From November 15, 2016 to February 19, 2017, the Museo del Traje de Madrid (Madrid Museum of Costume) has one of its most ambitious projects on show, the exhibition Tino Casal, El Arte por Exces (Tino Casal, Art by Excess). It is a tribute to Spanish pop music artist Tino Casal, whose career in the 80s and early 90s was cut short in a fatal 1991 car accident. Tino Casal, El Arte por Exceso shows a small part of his legacy as a singer, musical producer, costume designer, set designer, painter, and sculptor that encouraged other artists to shake off the influence of the previous 35-year dictatorship in Spain.

The exhibition consists of 200 pieces, composed of about 50 outfits, album covers, photographs and works of art by Tino Casal on loan from his family, along with objects from the Museum’s collection and the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library). Also included are collaborations and pieces by associated artists including designers like Julián Ruiz, Paco Clavel, Francis Montesinos, Antonio Alvarado, and Fortu Sánchez.

Photo: Dana Moreno

His collaborations with musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and designers made him an icon of the post-dictatorship, countercultural artistic renaissance La Movida in Madrileña (The Madrilean Scene). During the 1980s, in addition to an increase in the number of firms with prêt-à-porter designs (far stylistically behind countries like the United Kingdom, France, or America), the expansion of fashion in Spain influenced society, the arts, and other cultural and industrial production. The figure of Tino Casal exemplified this amplification of the importance of image during the 80s, where his work displayed an array of influences that illustrated the cultural flow of international postmodernity.

Photo: Dana Moreno

Two of his early ensembles, late 70s. Purchased from Boy in London: black jacket. Biba: tapestry jacket, mustard crepe ensemble. Photo: Dana Moreno

What makes this exhibition special is that the Museo del Traje de Madrid has examined a facet of the artist that hasn’t been appreciated in the past: his excessive attire. During the transition to Spanish democracy, many young people played with gender identity and Tino Casal took self-expression to new heights. Though he invited scandal, Casal introduced a different, more triumphally frivolous perspective in society. Designers like Pepe Rubio, Antonio Alvarado, Pedro Morgao, Gene Babaleiro, and Francis Montesinos helped Casal become an ambassador of their work, creating a unique image born of his imagination. This image conveyed his central message of embracing difference.

Leather jacket customised by Tino Casal. He often sprayed his leather jackets with bright or metallic colours. Photo: Dana Moreno

The exhibition dedicates a room to each of his albums, focusing on the costumes and stage design of each album cover, music video, tour, and performance. Each set shows how the evolution of his personal style encompassed his idea of the total show, one that made him a pioneer of constructing artistic image in Spain.

Suits made for his songs “Lágrimas de Cocodrilo” and “Eloise”, recorded in Abbey Road with Andrew Powell. Photo: Dana Moreno

Detail of suit made for “Eloise.” Photo: Dana Moreno

For the styling of his first album cover, he was inspired by overlapping garments, flared trousers and animal prints of the English New Romantic movement. He refined his style on his next album with a wardrobe of bright-coloured, wide-shoulder jackets, frilled shirts, a multitude of accessories, and extremely pointy shoes. In the style of his later years, after his convalescence due to a broken femur, he sported shorter hair and cultivated the image of mature dandy, almost an elegant Count Dracula.

This exhibition shows the inseparable union of Tino Casal’s costumes and his public artistic identity.

Photo: Dana Moreno

Photo: Dana Moreno

Further Information

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QffBKrl_Eo

http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/11/15/tentaciones/1479202737_391026.html

A Magazine curated by Alessandro Michele

Cover: ‘Civita di Bagnoregio’ photographed by Giovanni Attili

Launched late last year, the new edition of A Magazine Curated By features 280 pages of interviews, imagery and musings brought together by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. It is the 16th issue since the concept was devised by Walter Van Beirendonck in 2001. Prior ‘curators’ have included Proenza Schouler, Stephen Jones, Maison Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto and Riccardo Tisci.

Advertisement for Gucci photographed at Chatsworth

Curator’s Letter

Credited with reviving the Italian house’s fortunes following his appointment almost exactly 2 years ago, this was an opportunity for Michele to express his creative perspective through exclusive content, free from advertising nods or commercial requirements. His vision for Gucci was made clear from the start with his first men’s show in January 2015. After 14 years in the company, latterly looking after accessories under his predecessor Frida Giannini, Michele was promoted with a week to go before the show. Jettisoning the entire pre-prepared men’s collection, he pulled together an aesthetically far-removed offering in a matter of days, showing sheer pussy bow blouses on both men and women, printed suits, and fur lined slip-on loafers, destined for stardom. The New Yorker have since labelled him ‘Gucci’s Renaissance Man.’

His clothes reflect a broad interest in adornment and embellishment over honing a silhouette; a devoted flea-market and museum goer, an antique-cluttered, retro sensibility suffuses his plucked-from-history’s-dressing-up-box offering. A Magazine provides an insight into Michele’s interests and inspirations, from curiosities and keepsakes to the work of artist Cindy Sherman and singer-songwriter Florence Welch, layered over prints which mirror the textiles used in Gucci’s printed suits and boutique interiors. Printed on matte paper of satisfying, substantial thickness, this is a magazine devoid of advice or instructions; it is closer to a personal scrapbook, easy for a reader to delight in its colour and detail-filled pages.

De Vera ‘A Pound of Flesh’ by Federico de Vera photographed by Ngoc Minh Ngo

A Man and His Symbols by Tavi Gevinson

Song by Florence Welch

Cindy Sherman Untitled #90. Untitled film still #27, 1981. Chromogenic colour print, 24 x 48 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and Metro Pictures

The list of contributors is impressive: Chloë Sevigny, Bruce Weber, Joe McKenna, Glen Luchford, Unskilled Worker, Madonna, Grace Coddington and Jared Leto to name just a few. Each were offered the words ‘blind for love’ – Michele’s theme for the issue, lifted from an 18th century manuscript – as a starting point. Their myriad narratives number around 40 in total.

I’ll Be Your Mirror photographed by Glen Luchford, styling by Jerry Stafford

Unpublished Photograph for Gucci, 2015, by Glen Luchford

Curator A.M.’s personal relic artwork / Hollywood Forever Superstar J.L.’s [Jared Leto] wisdom tooth artwork

‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ photographed by Bruce Weber, styling by Joe McKenna

Az Én Családom photographed by Petra Collins, styling by Zara Mirkin

Madonna photographed by Steven Klein

One of the most engaging spreads features the actor and model Hari Nef; openly transgender, she has been a force for increasing diversity in the fashion industry of late. She first walked Gucci’s catwalk a year ago in the Autumn/Winter 2016 men’s show. In Michele’s A Magazine she appears as an angel lensed by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, complete with feathered wings, glowing features and a wide-eyed, heavenward stare. Another Gucci model, the photographer Petra Collins, contributes a nostalgia-tinted fashion story. A further fashion story, photographed by Gia Coppola, nods to the film Picnic at Hanging Rock – a perennial favourite of many fashion creatives – with blurred figures clad in ethereal Gucci gowns in sherbet tones draped across a rocky landscape.

‘Angels in Love’, Hari Nef photographed by Inez & Vinoodh

Dream Within A Dream photographed by Gia Coppola, styling by Jacqui Getty (1)

Dream Within A Dream photographed by Gia Coppola, styling by Jacqui Getty (2)

Richard Ginori Factory est. 1735 photographed by Matthieu Salvaing

The resultant magazine is full of the same sense of purpose which defined Michele’s very first show; behind the scenes snaps of which, taken by Michele, conclude the magazine. It is a treasure: a rich narrative, complete with a youthful cast striving to redefine ideals of beauty.

Gucci Autumn Winter 2015 Behind the Scenes photographed by Alessandro Michele

Thank you… / Ilustration by Grace Coddington

Advertisement for Gucci photographed at Chatsworth

 

References:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/19/guccis-renaissance-man

http://www.amagazinecuratedby.com/issues/alessandro-michele/

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
Pending Registration
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/