Denis Diderot, ‘Tailleur d’habits et tailleur de corps, contenant vingt-quatre planches,’ extract of Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (c.1771)
“Tailleur d’habits et tailleur de corps” (tailor and corset maker) is part of the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, assembled by Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Jean le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783). This ambitious and scandalous project, that comprised twenty-eight volumes by specialists in the sciences, arts and crafts, was published between 1751 and 1772. “Tailleur d’habits et tailleur de corps” was it fact largely extracted from François-Antoine de Garsault’s article “L’art du tailleur” in the Description des Arts et Métiers (1769). The presentation of free knowledge to a large public, with its emphasis on observation, reason and analysis, was a feature of the wider Enlightenment project. Yet such freedom and scientific empiricism disputed the authority of Church and State leaders in Ancien Régime France. The Encyclopédie was thus published clandestinely after its royal privilege was revoked in 1759. Eighteenth-century France, torn between different modes of government and systems of knowledge, was undergoing a period of uncertainty. The notion that order and meaning could arise from somewhere other than the will of God triggered a chaos of sorts, which the Encyclopédie’s systematic ordering and classification of knowledge could remedy. The “Tailleur d’habits et tailleur de corps,” which resembles a manual, attests to this. It attempted to shed light on the tailor corporation, a remnant of the Medieval guild system, during a period that witnessed changes in business practices and advances in textile production. It is also revealing of fashion, politics and thinking in the immediate years leading to the revolution.
“Tailleur d’habits” discussed the trade pictorially through twenty-four plates of engravings by the architect Jacques-Raymond Lucotte, which Berard copied onto copperplate. The first plate showed the interior of a tailor’s workshop, “where several workers are employed”: it portrayed an animated group of men who “stitch and assemble the fabrics […] take measurements, and […] cut.” The eye is led to the view outside a window, and the reader thus connects the scene to the wider city. The following plates deconstructed the scene and presented its elements: tools for all levels of production, current fashions, such as the waistcoat and abbot’s mantle, patterns, stitches, and ways of cutting drapery. Only the last four plates, which described the corset maker, concerned women consumers.
At the time of the Encyclopédie’s publication, literacy was increasing and the printed word, in the form of books, pamphlets and newspapers, flourished. The Encyclopédie resembled journals such as Courrier de la Mode (1768-1770) and La Gallerie des modes (1778-87), in that both types of publications acted as repositories of information. It also anticipated the encyclopaedic study of dress by early historians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Recently rebound, the book’s new exterior belies its age. Touching the old, soft paper within, however, transports readers to another time. They connect to the many individuals that might have handled it in the past, immortalised in pencil and ink markings in the margins. As they absorb the text, they take part in a project that involved many – from engravers and writers, to publishers and booksellers.Commentary, From the Collections | Tags: 500 years of dress historiography, clothing ancient and modern, Denis Diderot, dressmaking, fashion book month, fashion books, Tailleur d'habits et tailleur de corps, tailoring, technique, woodcuts | Comments Off
Cesare Vecellio (1521 – 1601), a Venetian painter, engraver and publisher (and the less recognised cousin of Titian), published his first illustrated costume book in 1590. Entitled The Clothing, Ancient and Modern, of Various Parts of the World, Vecellio’s extensive monograph is a rich historical study into dress from Europe, Africa and Asia in the sixteenth-century. This second edition, published eight years after the original, brings with it a New World section, prompted by geographical exploration and colonization of the Americas. Vecellio’s introductory index lays out his immense global coverage, with an impressively detailed list of the known world, subdivided into further sections by gender, class and occupation. The additional inclusion of a second table, this time meticulously indexed by garment, in both Latin and Italian, suggests he created these volumes to be read, studied and enjoyed by a diverse readership. Vecellio’s visual profiles, made up of over 500 original woodcuts and illustrations, complement the often-humorous commentaries dedicated to each figure. Naturally, the Venetian section is the most comprehensive, outlining character types as diverse as the ‘doge antico’ (old doge), the ‘pizzicamorti’ (corpse-bearers) and the ‘spose nobili moderne’ (noble modern brides). In each case, the inhabitants of Venice, and all subsequent regions, are categorized and defined by their clothing and bodily adornments. In this way, Vecellio adheres to the accepted mode of defining identity by a set of material signifiers. Yet simultaneously, Vecellio’s project is rather modern in its inclusion of such a diverse collection of costume from faraway places that is representative of a fast changing world.
Vecellio’s book is surprisingly easy to follow, even without a grasp of Italian or Latin. This gives credit to the illuminating woodcuts, which skilfully evoke each persona through meticulous observation of fabric, gesture and posture. The depicted fashion minutiae allow the reader to identify a wide range of costumes – from the plain and domestic, to the exotic and extravagant: everything is worthy of inclusion. We meet noble brides, old brides, ordinary brides, modern brides, brides outside the house, and brides en route to a temple, all with their own distinct ensembles and attitudes – who knew so many types of bride existed! We encounter over thirty types of hats, each painstakingly labelled in the introductory index. Every accoutrement is placed under Vecellio’s scrutiny: his intricate vocabulary illuminating the various textiles and garments in circulation at that time. The artist also seems to have gone to great length to pinpoint the figures’ various stances. Some are depicted from behind, some stare ahead pompously. Others are still, whilst others have been captured mid-motion. There is a distinction made between those who are idle, and those whose occupation demands activity. This makes for a very naturalistic portrayal, yet simultaneously relies on stereotypical caricatures to enhance their significance. In the same way, Vecellio’s evidence is sourced from first hand observation, as well as other visual sources, such as painting, architecture and earlier costume books, rendering the work not wholly reliable as a source for the dress historian. However, these sketches must be approached with an acceptance of the work’s reliance on visual conventions: this only furthers our understanding of social identity as it was seen then.
The inclusion of annotated pages by ‘Angelo Antonio Cervelli’, is further evidence that this book was read, re-read and used as an important document of popular dress. However, what is not clear is whether readers took Vecellio’s work as documented fact or fabricated fiction. To the modern reader, Vecellio’s work can be both instructive and enchanting. By charting the ‘constantly changing’ nature of clothing, and the hybridization of fashions across borders, we are reminded of a loss of national identity by globalization that is arguably still relevant today.
June is Fashion Book Month! Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in June we will be posting the MA and PhD Dress History students’ responses to their chosen texts that constitute our ’500 Years of Dress Historiography’ display, which is currently on show in the Courtauld Institute of Art. Today we are starting with the text panels, written by Dr Rebecca Arnold, which feature at the beginning and end of the display.
Text Panel 1
As part our celebrations of 50 years of the History of Dress at The Courtauld Institute, this display explores the subject’s historiography through items from the Book Library’s Special Collections. Collected by Stella Mary Newton, who originated the Institute’s first course on the subject, the books represent varied perspectives on dress and fashion.
Each book has been chosen by a current History of Dress student, as an example of a key moment in the subject’s articulation in text and image. The display begins with the earliest book in the collection, Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi, Moderni di tutto il mondo… published in 1598, which seeks to catalogue dress in all its variety, and ends with Genevieve Dariaux’s Elegance… of 1964, a guide for modern women on how to dress successfully. It thus encompasses the myriad ways dress had been written about up to the point that the History of Dress department opened in 1965.
Vitrine 1 displays books that record existing dress, seeking to understand its history, diversity and manufacture through an encyclopedic approach to the subject. Vitrine 2 focuses on books that are more thematic in approach. These texts explore fashion and dress’ meanings and significance in relation to the period in which they were published.
Conceived as a dialogue between The Courtauld’s current History of Dress staff and students, and their counterparts in Fashion Museology at London College of Fashion, the display represents interplay between the objects themselves and our responses to them.
Text Panel 2
In 1965, when The Courtauld Institute’s then director, Anthony Blunt, incorporated History of Dress into its list of courses, it marked the subject’s formal entry into academia, and an intervention into its historiography to date. From this point, History of Dress became a discrete area of study within the university, allied to Art History, and therefore to the ways dress resonates within imagery. Stella Mary Newton, Head of Department in its early years, sought to establish the subject’s significance through close analysis of types of dress as seen in art, and in relation to extant examples. Her own writing, and that of many of her students, most notably, her successor, Aileen Ribeiro, encouraged a style of visual analysis that has become distinct to The Courtauld. Since 2009, under Rebecca Arnold’s direction, this specialism has evolved further to integrate into The Courtauld’s contemporary approach to Art History, and to develop its interdisciplinary methodologies and international scope.
As seen in the students’ choice of texts, and their own writing on each book, we espouse a rich and analytical approach to writing on dress. We aim to push the discipline’s boundaries and consider dress as image, object, text and idea. Our publications attest to this, and to our status as the only History of Dress department with such a long and illustrious history. We want to show why good writing matters to thinking about and understanding dress.Categories: Commentary | Tags: 500 years of dress, Aileen Ribeiro, courtauld institute of art, Fashion, fashion books, history of art, History of Dress, Judith Clark, rebecca arnold, stella mary newton | Comments Off
One of the most powerful and memorable chapters I read as part of the History of Dress MA course was Kitty Hauser’s ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin’ (2005), in which she describes a series of bombings and robberies that took place in 1996 in the Spokane area of Washington. What was remarkable about this case was that the culprit was identified by his clothes: the seams and hems on their jeans showed patterns of wear and fade that were so distinct to the wearer that they acted almost like his fingerprint at the crime scene, allowing the detectives to eventually identify him.
Hauser’s article claims that each person’s clothes bear the imprint of the body of the wearer, becoming a second unique ‘fingerprint.’ However, it is not only the trace of the wearer that is visible on a garment. Clothing does not gain individuating features only from the consumer; the mark of the maker is also present. Visible traces of the creator’s hands can be seen in the structure of each garment, especially along seams and hems, where the subtle differences in the way they work the sewing machines will result in tensions building up in the material. Each piece is not a tabula rasa, it is already a highly personalized record of the maker long before it is worn.
Hauser’s article seems particularly pertinent in relation to the recent Fashion Revolution Day, which took place on April 24, and was conceived as a way to encourage consumers to be more conscious when making clothing choices and to consider where it has come from. It is especially concerned with raising awareness of the unethical sweatshop conditions that many thousands of people, often women, must endure for hours a day in return for very little pay. It encourages consumers to think about what the human cost of their cheap clothing is.
Last year, I attended a Fashion Revolution Day film screening and panel discussion focusing on the issue of ethical fashion. The film, directed by Mary Nighy and entitled ‘Handmade,’ was awarded silver in the Young Director Category at the Cannes Lions in 2014 and highlights the exact same concept that Hauser discusses. It begins with a scene that will be all too familiar to many fashion conscious women: clothes, accessories and shoes are strewn across the floor of a bathroom, while a girl wrapped in a towel washes her face and then proceeds to get dressed.
But it is not her hands that slip her dress over her back, zip it up, fasten her belt and put in her earrings. Multiple hands of different ages and ethnicities dress this glamorous woman; then, she looks in the mirror, and the faces of these people are revealed. The film ends with the quotation ‘you carry the stories of the people that make your clothes,’ forcing the viewer to be more conscious and curious when purchasing their clothes. As in Hauser’s essay, the dress already carries the identities and memory of the people who made it.
To the consumer, the people who make our clothes are completely anonymous, invisible and silent, however, their mark is all over our most personal objects, and therefore there may be more of a connection between creator and wearer than one might think.
Kitty Hauser, ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin,’ in Christopher Breward and Caroline Evans (eds) Fashion and Modernity, (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005) pp 153-170
Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in June we will be posting the MA and PhD Dress History students’ responses to their chosen texts that constitute our ’500 Years of Dress Historiography’ display, which is currently on show in the Courtauld Institute of Art. The display was created as part of our 50 Years of Dress History at the Courtauld celebrations, and was on display for our conference ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Make Women’. The display was a collaboration between the History of Dress department at the Courtauld and the Fashion Museology department at London College of Fashion. We hope you enjoy reading the posts as much as we did the texts and come back to the blog on Wednesday for the first in the series.Categories: Commentary, Fashion Now | Tags: Cannes 2014, Ethical Fashion, Fashion, fashion books, Fashion Film, Fashion Revolution Day, Fingerprint of the Second Skin, Handmade, Kitty Hauser, Maker, Mary Nighy, Wearer | Comments Off
Each month in 2015, we will post an interview with one of our alumni, as part of our celebrations of this year’s auspicious anniversary. The Courtauld’s History of Dress students have gone on to forge careers in a diverse and exciting range of areas. We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and their memories of studying here.
Jennifer Potter, MA (2014)
Jennifer Potter is a graduate intern at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles where she assists in developing grant-making programs in various areas of the arts including museum-work and conservation. Additionally, she is currently involved in the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, a series of thematically linked exhibitions across Southern California that explore Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.
What led you to pursue graduate studies in the field of dress and fashion and what attracted you to the Courtauld in particular?
As an undergraduate, I studied art history and thought that I wanted to become a curator, but I always had a personal interest in fashion. A pivotal experience for me was seeing the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris where I realized that fashion, like art, connected more broadly to identity and ways of seeing the self. I decided to pursue graduate study in art history, and I knew that I wanted to focus on history of dress and textiles. I was always interested in the visual representation of dress so I think this is what attracted me most to the program at the Courtauld. I also especially wanted to study with Dr. Rebecca Arnold, given her prominent reputation in the field.
You graduated in 2014. What was the topic and structure of your MA course?
The topic of my MA course was Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Films, and Image in America and Europe, 1920-1945. The course consisted of two parts. In the first term, we studied key methodologies in dress history, and, in the second term, we focused in on American and European fashion and identity during the interwar period. In particular, we looked at fashion’s representation in documentary photography and non-fiction film. The course consisted of seminar-style discussion and object study in several London art and dress collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Museum of London. We also had the opportunity to travel abroad to Washington, D.C. to visit the archives in Library of Congress and the National Museum of American History.
What was the subject of your dissertation?
My dissertation focused on Irene Castle, an early twentieth-century American social dancer who is most remembered for her refined style of exhibition ballroom dance that she performed in a gown of flowing silk chiffon. My paper argued that Castle used dress as a means of self-promotion and as a marketing tool for modern dance. Through a visual study of three key performance from her career, I situated the dancer within the media and consumer culture of the early twentieth century and positioned her as a key figure in the emergence of the modern woman.
You were a Student Ambassador during your time at the Courtauld. What did that position entail and did it have a positive impact on your time at the Courtauld?
As a Student Ambassador, I regularly met with prospective students to share my experience studying at the Courtauld and living in Central London. I had a very positive experience at the Courtauld, and I loved being able to share this with others. I also enjoyed learning about people’s diverse interests within the history of art. MA work is often very solitary and isolating so it was refreshing to meet and share my passion with other students.
What did you gain most from studying at the Courtauld?
The most important skill that I gained from the Courtauld was the ability to flesh out key ideas from a large body of text. I also learned how to analyze objects and images closely.
You are currently interning at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, can you describe your role there?
As the graduate intern in the Getty Foundation, I have the opportunity to learn about arts and culture philanthropy by working on international grant-making programs in the areas of art history, conservation, museum practice, and professional development. My primary task is to assist the Program Officers in administering grants which includes reviewing incoming grant applications, composing acknowledgement letters and internal grant write-ups, and updating grants information in the FLUXX database system. As a more long-term project, I am responsible for conducting an evaluation of the Foundation’s professional development grants, a program that supports the attendance of colleagues from developing countries at large-scale international forums for professional exchange. This task involves reading through many historical grant files and drafting reports with recommendations for moving forward.
I also have the opportunity to contribute to the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, a series of thematically linked exhibitions across Southern California that explore Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles. In particular, I am working with the Deputy Director to help plan a convention for the research and curatorial assistants associated with the exhibitions.
Foundation work is diverse and dynamic, and I have gained a deep understanding of the lifecycle of a grant, including research, assessment, and evaluation.
Did studying dress at the Courtauld provide you with any particular skills – analytic or practical- that have proven useful in your current job and/or any other of your recent endeavors?
Besides (arguably) being the best dressed person at the Getty, studying dress has made me incredibly detail-oriented and visually-aware. These qualities are especially helpful in my current work in the Foundation where I am constantly multi-tasking among different tasks.
You completed your undergraduate studies in Florida, your graduate studies in the UK and you are currently working in California. Have you noticed that the different places you have visited possess unique fashion trends?
I think that the social culture of a place and the weather influences fashion trends. At my large university in Florida, there was a lot of comradery around the school and the sports teams, and this shaped how people dress (orange and blue!). Given the climate, there was also a lot of Lilly Pulitzer and flip flops. In London, black was definitely the uniform. Now, in California, I find the fashion to be very laidback and bohemian. Especially in Santa Monica where I live, many people dress for an easy transition to the beach or the gym. I find it really refreshing.
Describe your style. Has studying the history of dress had any effect on your fashion choices?
My style is constantly evolving. I travel and move around a lot so I definitely find that how I dress is influenced by where I am. I like to follow trends, but I also am a self-described vegan hippie who enjoys dressing up a pair of yoga pants and making morally- and ethically-minded purchases.
I think that studying the history of dress has actually made me more confident and adventurous in what I choose to wear. I now understand how dress is bound up with body image and identity so it really has become my primary means of expressing myself to the world.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I see myself living somewhere sunny and warm, working in a job that I love, and surrounded by a community of like-minded people who support me.Categories: Interviews | Tags: Alumni, Courtauld, getty foundation los angeles, History of Dress, ma history of dress | Comments Off
On 16 May we held our conference ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women,’ to celebrate our 50th Anniversary, and we wanted to share the introductory lecture ‘Dress and History since 1965,’ with our readers. This talk was given by Dr Rebecca Arnold, and was written in collaboration with the conference’s other organisers, and current PhD students, Lucy Moyse and Elizabeth Kutesko.
We’ve included some of the illustrations shown during the talk and also it’s abstract:
This talk considers the development of History of Dress at The Courtauld Institute since its inception in 1965, and the subject’s development and relationship to art history over this fifty year period. It will examine the context of History of Dress’ emergence as a discrete academic field and relate this to contemporary writing and scholarship on dress and fashion. Within this, the role of women will be analysed to situate our conference’s title ‘Women Make Fashion/Fashion Makes Women’, in relation to the discipline’s emergence, its reception and its sometimes contested significance and meaning within wider academia.
Dress History will be framed as a potentially radical and innovative way to rethink history, and art history, bringing to light new insights into a given period. The importance of dress and fashion to women, and the changing landscape of gender politics over this period sharpens our exploration of the History of Dress, and The Courtauld’s importance as its pioneer within the academy.
We hope you enjoy reading it!
Images from the paper:
Categories: Commentary | Tags: Aileen Ribeiro, conference, courtauld institute of art, Fashion, History of Dress, rebecca arnold, stella mary newton | Comments Off
The student protests of May 1968 brought focus to Paris’ streets on national and global levels, and this was echoed in French fashion imagery. A ready-to-wear editorial in the 2 September 1968 issue of Elle by Claude Brouet and Marie-Thérèse des Cars set the tone for the straightforward representation of women and the city that would characterise those in magazines in the latter part of the decade and into the next. Here, Peter Knapp photographed women in the streets of Paris, walking or standing against city walls, sometimes looking beyond the camera or directly into its lens. In one image, a model traversed the picture plane in long, confident strides with one arm stretched upwards, as though to shield her face from the bright sunlight. This pose was repeated throughout the editorial; in some instances, the model’s smile was absent, turning the functional gesture into one of protest. In view of the student protests and strikes that engulfed the country three months earlier, contemporary readers might have interpreted the editorial in terms of solidarity.
Indeed, in this imagery, Knapp may have directly referenced the first day of the protest, in which many commentators later remarked on the still, sunny aspect of Paris’ streets before violence erupted. In the 17 June 1968 issue of Elle, for example, journalist Denise Dubois-Jallais contrasted what began as “a lovely Friday in May” with the image of “[…] enraged young people, cobblestones in hand, running towards a police car and, all of a sudden, the noise of shattered glass […].” And although those protests did not focus on women’s rights, they served as a symbolic call to arms, according to commentaries such as that by Michèle Perrein, in the 21 October 1968 issue of Elle. In an article on her personal experience of sexual inequality, Perrein wrote that: “the student revolt […] did me well, so much that I felt, deep down, it corresponded to my own.” Likewise, Knapp’s images represented the calm period that loomed before more vocalised feminist struggles in 1970, the year that saw the establishment of the Mouvement de Liberation des Femmes, as well as Elle’s Etat Généraux de la Femme debates.
Political concern was also held in tension within the text that accompanied Knapp’s images. It conceived of ready-made fashion in terms of action and choice. The author ranked the season’s clothing trends as secondary to the reader herself, who would deploy the clothing to feel comfortable and liberated in it: “But the essential, in all that, will be you. Your way of choosing clothing for its comfort and freedom […].” The text thus highlighted both continuity and rupture. Magazines had promoted ready-made clothing’s freeing attributes—achievable through the wearer’s skill and personality—since they began to feature ready-to-wear in the mid-1950s. However, given magazines’ constant representation of novelty, these attributes were repositioned in view of the May protests to signify the reader’s recognition of her control and capability.
The clothing produced in the mid to late-1960s also worked alongside Elle’s new discussion of wearer experience. From the mid 1960s, magazines characterised jersey and other knitted garments as second skins. And consumer testimonies were consistent, such as that of Monique Naudeix, who recounted how her prized knitted jackets by Sonia Rykiel from the late 1960s “hugged the body.” Peter Knapp’s photographs in the 8 September 1969 issue of Elle highlighted the ways in which fabric clung to and draped against models’ moving bodies. Several small images flanked central ones to depict subsequent steps in the act of walking. In one image, a model wore a knitted ensemble by Sonia Rykiel, a garment that allowed for her swiftness, evidenced by its blurred edges that also blurred the boundaries between body and fabric. These photographs showcased clothing for easy, confident feminine movement. Also central to the image, although secondary in importance to the monumental, active model, was the Paris street, which imbued it with urban capital. And after the events of May 1968, simple streets and pavements assumed an iconic status. As opposed to post-war imagery, in which models hesitatingly tested Paris’ new spaces, busy with street traffic, that symbolised modernity, in 1969 and 1970, magazines showcased women walking assertively on Paris’ pavements. In her June 1968 article, Denise Dubois-Jallais unknowingly set the stage for these visualisations in her description of the aftermath of the May barricades: “the people, curious, arrived with the sun. No cars. The streets [were] like pavements. No cars except for burned carcasses (what a symbol!).”
Denise Dubois-Jallais, “Sous le balcon d’Albertine, cinq mois, une révolution éclate,” Elle, nos. 1171, 1172, 1173, 17 June 1968.
Michèle Perrein, “Le droit de renaitre,” Elle, no. 1192, 21 October 1968, 35.
Elle, no. 1185, 2 September 1968.
Author, Interview with Monique Naudeix, Paris, 1 December 2014.
We will be posting a sneak peak of our Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women conference on the blog later today, for those who missed it. Watch this space for this special unscheduled post!Categories: Work in Progress | Tags: 1960s, 1968, Elle magazine, Fashion, History of Dress, Paris, Politics, Ready to Wear, Student Protests | Comments Off
The corset is a highly problematic garment that represents a multitude of signifiers. Imbibed with connotations of gender, history, and sex, the corset is an example of how dress can transcend mere sartorial choice, and come to represent more than just undergarments. In whichever context the corset is placed, the undercurrents of its history and its present are brought to mind in a clash of temporalities, whereby contemporary connotations of sex and fetishism are placed onto the historical garment. More so than any other object of dress, the corset raises questions of the body, pain, control and oppression as well as history. When thinking about the way dress shapes and changes the body, one automatically thinks of the extremes; implants, tattoos and piercings. However, body modification through dress, or the way that the body is altered through dress is not relegated to subcultures and foreign groups, but is part of the history of dress, and the present fashion system.
The nineteenth century fashion for tight lacing that gave women tiny, waspish waists through the aid of whalebone corsets is an example of how dress can change a person’s physiognomy through extreme body manipulation. Though these effects are evident in the altered external silhouette of the body, the internal, and often damaging, modifications are difficult to comprehend.
In 1908, Dr. Ludovic O’Followell, a French doctor interested in the long-term effects of corsets on the body, published x-rays of women’s bodies altered by the constricting items. The images show the movement of the rib-cage structure, with the lower ribs pointing downwards and collapsing towards each other in some cases. Medical images and testimonies such as these, along with stories of organs being shifted, women fainting, and the suppression of appetites, provoked debate and calls for Dress reforms in the nineteenth century; a call that was answered when the uncorseted designs of Paul Poiret and Mariano Fortuny were in vogue.
The images also help to cement the contemporary preconception of the corset as a tool of bodily constriction and nineteenth century social oppression of women. The contemporary association of the corset to the body in pain, its relationship to fetish subcultures and therefore its alignment to sex, heighten this notion of the corset as a gendered, taboo, and archaic object of dress. Images of contemporary tight-lacing enthusiasts such as Ethel Granger, Mr. Pearl, Fakir Musafar, and Cathie Jung show the body transformed permanently through corsetry. The defiance of modern hetero-normative gender roles, ideal body shape, and silhouette through their practice distinguish them as ‘other’, and not part of the mainstream, everyday fashion system.
However, the corset is an object that has arguably never left fashion. Corsets appear and reappear each season as items of supporting underwear and risqué outerwear. Even the subculture icons of Ethel Granger and Mr Pearl entered the conventional fashion system. Photographs of Ethel Granger appeared in Vogue Italia, inspiring and featuring alongside an editorial photo-shoot starring Stella Tennant. Mr Pearl, a corsetiere, is renowned throughout the fashion world for his craftsmanship and skill, with regular commissions from Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Thierry Mugler. He also designs the corsets worn by Dita von Teese during her Burlesque performances.
For the majority of people though the corset is no longer an item of everyday wear, however it is impossible to say that the sartorial choices we make do not impact our bodies. Though not to the bone-crushing extent of the nineteenth century, our clothes leave imprints and indents in our skin. Items of underwear like bras or the fashion for tighter and tighter skinny jeans leave imprints and lines in our flesh from the restriction of these garments. The photographer Justin Bartels documented women’s bodies that show the ephemeral traces of clothing. As examples of body modification in fashion the photographs oppose the concept of twentieth century fashion as a site of bodily liberation. They suggest that contemporary standards of beauty have simply replaced older regimes of discipline. Where once a framework held the body in place through fabric and laces, our bodies are now kept in line through exercise regimes and diets. Bartels’ photographs literalise the traces of the nineteenth century whalebone corset on the modern female body.
Joanne Entwistle, The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory (United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2004)
Elizabeth Wilson, Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity (United States: University of California press 1992)
Susan Vincent, The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today (United Kingdom: Berg Publishers, 2010) p.133.
In recent months, countless hours perusing the US Vogue database has enabled, or rather become an outlet for, my intense cosmetics and advertisement addiction.
There is much pleasure to be had in tracing the origins of what we now consider to be heritage brands, and the pivotal campaigns that have shaped their iconic status. In many cases, Second World War years were fundamental, as the backdrop of turmoil and increased social changes inevitably became a barometer of cosmetic houses’ ability to adapt and remain relevant. At the same time however, the progression from the 1930s into the 1940s stood to magnify the deeply complex relationship shared between the cosmetics industry and women.
In a recent Man Repeller article, the modern use of cosmetics was categorized as either ‘shield’, or ‘weapon’. This echoes a study undertaken in 2008 by LVMH researchers that attributed two inherent abilities to cosmetics: the ability to ‘camouflage’, and the ability to ‘seduce’. Hardly a revelation, yet the recognition that camouflage relies on an internal desire, while seduction relies on the external surface, was as pertinent if applied to examples from the 1930s and 1940s, as it is to today’s cosmetics.
As we saw in Nicole’s January post, ‘Cosmetics: freedom in a tube’, the 1930s was synonymous with possibility and opportunity. Not only for the liberation of the female body in terms of activity, but for the promotion of a new visual discourse that encouraged exploration of surface identity through the use cosmetics. In this respect, the cosmetics industry was pivotal in mobilizing both the wearer and spectator, as makeup became a recognizable symbol of free will and autonomy- a ‘shield’ with which to navigate, or identify modern femininity. What is clear moving into the 1940s is the apparent reversal of feminine ideals, repositioning women both as wearer and consumer, and cosmetics as ‘weapon’. Though this is surely to be expected during such upheaval, the wearer becomes a vessel though which the aims of the nation can be expressed, and thus loses her individual identity under the guise of ‘femininity’.
It was a common strategy for all cosmetics houses, not limited to industry behemoths such as Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, to focus on the collective identity of women rather than their individuality. In doing so, they expressed what David Clampin has stated as the desire of the industry to participate in wartime society. The above advert from the House of Tangee, for example, encourages women to wear lipstick as a show of ‘strength’ for adapting so courageously to their new roles in masculine spheres. Superficially, the imagery employed by the advert suggests support for the freedom of female expression solidified in the ‘30s. However, such a ‘shield’ is re-positioned by the cosmetic house as a ‘weapon’, as femininity itself becomes an extension of the nation’s ambition to assert supremacy over Germany – a country that discouraged such displays of femininity. Makeup therefore becomes emblematic of carrying out a task, even if it is not a product of the wearer’s free will. The spectator recognizes cosmetics as national ambition, over the ambition of the wearer. In this light, solidarity is achieved, but external forces manipulate ‘self-expression’.
It is arguable, when following the trajectory of advertisements after the war that the use of makeup never quite returns to being the show of independence that it was in the ‘30s. There is always a task to be completed, often requiring seduction of some sort. Next time you are browsing the pages of a magazine, question whether the advert is positioning makeup as a shield, or as a weapon. I think you will be surprised.
David Clampin, Advertising and Propaganda in World War II: Cultural Identity and the Blitz Spirit (New York: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, 2014)
R. Korichi, D. Pelle-de-Queral, G. Gazano, A. Aubert, Why women use makeup: implication of psychological traits in makeup functions, J Cosmet Sci, 2008 Mar-April, 59 (2)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18408870Categories: Commentary, Work in Progress | Tags: 1930s fashion, Cosmetics, History of Dress, lipstick, War, women, women's fashion | Comments Off
London’s City Hall is perhaps the least likely venue for an exhibition on sustainable fashion, however it was the setting for the recent ‘Second Skin,’ an exhibition that first opened in Ireland and came to London for a week in late March. It was part of the Irish Design 2015 programme and posed a challenge to four Irish fashion labels to source and create a garment totally within Ireland.
The exhibition, nestled right at the bottom of the round glass building, displayed the finished garments, as well as photographs from the process of their manufacture. Starting with a series of fairly shocking facts about the fashion industry, such as ‘the Chinese textile industry creates about three billion tons of soot each year,’ and ‘in the UK 1.4 million tons of clothing is dumped onto landfills annually,’ it highlighted the ethical issues caused by the production and consumption of clothing. In the past three decades, one third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed, and therefore it is vital that the fashion industry adapts its practices. There are, of course, also the humanitarian concerns that the production of clothing creates, such as the sweatshop conditions that many people, often young children, must work in to make the garments that we buy. It is often easy to overlook the ethical and environmental issues posed by the fashion industry, so displaying them so starkly is an important wake up call for many people. The objects on display in ‘Second Skin’ address these issues, as they are created using purely locally sourced materials and by Irish workers who were paid a fair wage.
Curator Louise Allen writes that ‘today we have become used to fast fashion [however] we don’t tend to consider the collective impact of our individual buying patterns.’ This desire for cheap clothing that is not made to last is a fairly new phenomenon. For most of the twentieth century, the emphasis was on high quality clothing that could be worn for a long period of time. Our contemporary throwaway attitude is one of the main problems facing, and indeed caused by, the fashion industry, and something that the designers in ‘Second Skin’ seek to address.
The garments created by brands Natalie B Coleman, Joanne Hynes, Lennon Courtney and Jennifer Rothwell for the exhibition are the opposite of cheap, convenience clothes. They are handmade and unique garments, all inspired by aspects of Ireland. Natalie B Coleman, for example, was inspired by books from her childhood, such as ‘The Enchanted Wood’ series by Enid Blyton, and worked with textile artist Caroline Schofield to create objects both dark and whimsical. Jennifer Rothwell drew her inspiration from folklore and mythology, working with artist Harry Clarke to create a dress that resembled stained glass windows. She used vivid purples, blues, oranges and reds to depict the Eve of St Agnes. She claims to want to reignite the Celtic revival of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries today.
Sonya Lennon, of Lennon Courtney, worked with a local furniture designer to create the wooden shoulder pads that adorn her dress. She says that ‘the real value of producing in Ireland is in developing collaborative relationships.’ This intimate working relationship, that used to be so important in homemade and handmade clothes, is lost when garments are made by many different people who are part of a large system. Joanne Hynes also worked with local craftsmen to create her knitted garment, however, her use of 3D printing is aspirational and looks towards the future of textile production.
This exhibition served to highlight the importance of sustainability in fashion, especially in the years to come. It also showed how unique and beautiful clothing can be when created by local craftsmen and using locally sourced materials. It also provided an interesting insight into the contemporary fashion manufacturing process. The one shame is that it was on display in London for such a limited period, and in such an unheard of and little advertised exhibition space.