Discovering ‘The World of Anna Sui’

Entrance to the Fashion and Textile Museum.

May 2017 will stand out in designer Anna Sui’s memory as a month full of successes and landmarks. As well as receiving an honorary degree from Parsons School of Design, the designer and her influential career became the subject of London’s Fashion and Textile Museum’s latest exhibition. Entitled ‘The World of Anna Sui,’ the show takes visitors on a journey through the Chinese-American designer’s inspirations, obsessions and most iconic moments, which formed her style and established her as one of the key figures of 90s American look, alongside names such as Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi.

A view of the entrance to the exhibition space.

The title of the exhibition could not be more accurate – as soon as one steps into the first gallery, Sui’s vision becomes unmistakable and overwhelming. Her voice beams out of the speakers as she describes how she came to be interested in fashion, proclaims her love for Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, and explains how her own style developed in her teenage years, despite strange looks from her peers. As the visitors listen to Sui’s narrative, archive videos of The Beatles, celebrity culture, markets at Portobello and Carnaby, and scenes of boho youths frolicking in the park bring into forefront the environments and mentalities within which Sui grew up, capturing her imagination, and eventually manifesting themselves in her designs. With the understanding of her background, Anna Sui’s exhilarating universe is ready to be explored.

A photograph of Anna Sui’s first boutique at 113 Greene Street in Soho, New York, which opened in 1992.

The main gallery space almost teleports the visitor into one of Sui’s boutiques, a photograph of which is featured in the corridor between the different rooms. Entering through a grand, black lacquered door, groups of mannequins clad in Sui’s extraordinary garments, arranged according to their clique (nomads, punks, mods, surfers, rockstars and schoolgirls all make an appearance), lure the spectator deeper into the space, in an almost hypnotic state. The colours, patterns, textiles and surfaces are otherworldly, creating a kaleidoscope of all the characters one can become in Sui’s fashions. With vitrines in which shoes, make-up, sunglasses, hats and other Sui paraphernalia are showcased, the gallery space is almost a treasure chest in which anyone and everyone can find something to lust over. Completing and complementing the exhibits are purple walls, red platforms and Sui’s signature pattern with which the space is decorated. The curator Dennis Nothdruft and exhibitions designer Beth Ojari transformed the relatively small space of the Fashion and Textile Museum, with great success, into an enchanting and intriguing environment.

A view of the ‘Fairytale’ section.

Installation of the ‘Punk’ garments.

The ‘Rockstar and Hippie’ group with Sui’s signature patterned wallpaper.

‘The World of Anna Sui’ is unlike any other recent fashion exhibitions. While the space is limited and a lot is packed in, it is never to the detriment of the clothes on show. There is something reminiscent of Diana Vreeland’s multi-sensory exhibitions at The Met’s Costume Institute in the London show. Unsurprisingly, the designer loved Vreeland’s stories for Vogue and The Met. Consequently, Sui’s perfume is pumped into the rooms of the Fashion and Textile Museum, corresponding to the message the garments are relaying. As such, ‘Sui Dreams,’ a perfume described as “inspired by independent women who follow their hearts and exceed their own expectations” provides the scent for the first gallery, that of Sui’s influences and childhood dreams. The main space, where the iconic Anna Sui garments are on show, fills one’s nose with ‘Fairy Dance,’ offering “an escape into a mystical garden where fantasy lives. A happy, whimsical place filled with sunlight and the enchantment of the fairy world.” Not much can be more appropriate for Sui’s story-filled collections. Elsewhere, Nirvana cries out from the speakers, while visitors can study Sui’s design process through the installed mood boards, or find out about the figures she collaborates with on her shows, such as make-up artist Pat McGrath, milliner James Caviello and photographer Steven Meisel. The exhibition is all encompassing, rich, informative, joyful and optimistic. An absolute must-see this summer! And don’t forget to visit the gift shop – you can take a bit of Anna Sui away with you in the form of her fabulous make-up, a scarf, or Tim Blanks’ new coffee-table book on the designer published in conjunction with the exhibition, also titled The World of Anna Sui. And one last tip – leave yourself a lot of time to peruse the exhibition, you will not want to leave!

A cabinet filled with an array of sunglasses and other accessorues from Sui’s shows through the years.

An example of Sui’s research board for a collection – here, Hawaii is on her mind.

‘The World of Anna Sui’ runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until October 1, 2017.

‘A Charming Consideration’: Edwardian Lingerie Dresses

The woman preparing food for this boat picnic wears a sheer lingerie dress, c. 1910. Courtesy SSPL/Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images.

When the heat of June rolls in and spring layers give way to bright, flowing dresses, I cannot help but be reminded of the quintessential summer garment, and perhaps my favorite historical fashion trend, the Edwardian lingerie dress. Its name derived from the undergarment-like materials with which the dress was made: sheer cotton or linen inset with lace, all bleached vivid white, with a white or pastel silk slip underneath. Primarily worn from the early 1900s until 1914, these delicate gowns embodied docile and leisured Edwardian femininity.

Women’s Dress, 1908. Cotton organdy with machine-made Valenciennes lace and trim. Made in the United States. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number: 1966-163-2).

Despite its salacious name, the lingerie dress was a staple of a respectable woman’s wardrobe. The 1905 Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette, for example, suggested that women have a ‘white lingerie dress’ for luncheon or afternoon tea. It could also be worn as a wedding dress or a casual evening gown during the summer. Since it was appropriate attire for multiple occasions, the lingerie dress is commonly identified as a tea gown, an afternoon dress, a summer dress, or (when made with plain weave cotton or linen) a lawn dress. The lingerie dress eschewed the loose, comfortable fit of the late-nineteenth century tea gown, its predecessor, in favor of the fashionable silhouette. An American lingerie dress from the 1908, pictured above, demonstrates the silhouette of the first decade of the twentieth century, the thrust-forward bust and curved back indicative of the s-bend, or swan bill, corset. Later lingerie dresses exhibit the straight line introduced in Poiret’s Directoire revival gowns.

Actress Carol McComas in a lace gown, 1905. Courtesy London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images.

Lingerie dresses were available at many price points, with some simple styles ready-made and more ornate designs offered by top couturiers. Doucet and Redfern, for instance, produced lavishly embellished gowns of hand-made lace and extensive embroidery. Such dresses were suitable for trips to the races and other society functions. White lingerie dresses, at least at first, represented the unhurried, tidy lifestyle of upper class women. Their delicate embellishments necessitated careful cleaning, an especially arduous task for white gowns which had to be washed at extremely high temperatures and repeatedly bleached. As its popularity increased, less elaborate gowns with machine-made lace were produced. These dresses, theoretically, could be machine washed; thus, women of the lower-middle class could wear lingerie dresses similar to those worn by society women without the laborious washing process of more delicate gowns. This proliferation of the lingerie dress across socio-economic boundaries indicates a society-wide aspiration to toward a pure, tranquil femininity of upper class leisure.

Suffragettes in ‘Votes for Women’ sashes and all white ensembles, c. 1910. Courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The symbolism of the white lingerie dress was later co-opted by British suffragettes as they campaigned for women’s rights. Throughout the nineteenth century the women’s suffrage movement allied closely with dress reform, both aimed at increasing female liberation. Trouser-like garments such as the bifurcated skirt doomed those attempts to notoriety, since the adoption of masculine clothing was viewed as a challenge to patriarchal power. The suffragette uniform of white shirtwaists and tailor-made skirts capitalized on the reputation of the white lingerie dress. As Kimberly Wahl describes, white not only acknowledged accepted fashion, but also, ‘offered itself as a purified and visible marker of difference, conforming to gender binaries of the period, and was thus reassuringly feminine.’ Women’s liberation groups, then, manipulated the white lingerie dress, a symbol of traditional Edwardian femininity, to advance their cause. Though primarily a representation of traditional gender roles, the lingerie dress established sartorial conventions for the suffragettes and helped democratize dress across social boundaries.

Sources

Clare Rose, Art Nouveau Fashion (London: V&A Publishing, 2014)

Daniel James Cole and Nancy Deihl, ‘The 1900s,’ in The History of Modern Fashion (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2015), pp. 77-98

Kimberly Wahl, ‘Purity and Parity: The White Dress of the Suffrage Movement in Early Twentieth Century Britain,’ in Jonathan Faiers, Mary Westerman Bulgarella, ed., Colors in Fashion (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), pp. 21-33

Marion Harland and Virginia van de Water, Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1905)

Victoria Thorne: An Illustrated Interview

A few months ago, after I had just started my fashion and dog Instagram account, I noticed that I had been mentioned in a post by Victoria Thorne. Inspired by my post from earlier that day, Thorne had drawn the loveliest illustration of a woman and two Dalmatians. Even though the professionalism and high quality of her work suggests otherwise, Thorne only started illustrating recently. Her career consisted mainly of art and design jobs, which included graphic, interiors and garden design, styling for photographers and advertising and organising events for a children’s bookstore. During the past years, she has started sketching people and images from Instagram and is now selling her illustrations on t-shirts and to organisations (including some for the Courtauld!).

Who is your favourite fashion designer?

What do you love to illustrate?

Souls.

Who would you like to swap lives with for a day?

The Dalai Lama. I want to know what it feels like to be that kind and that wise. I also want to learn how to laugh as often as he does.

How do you spend your favourite evenings?

With my family. There are a lot of us. Here are three of our newest additions.

What do you like most about yourself?

That I believe love can save us.

What animal do you think best represents you?

Snow fox (No idea why l think this).

Who do you admire?

Strong women. People with generous, open hearts. People who are concerned with living a reasonably selfless life.

What is your secret talent?

Being asked to leave the museum because I’m the last person there. Usually they ask nicely (I lose track of time).

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.

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

The conference Reading Fashion Magazines may be over, but our display of 9 items from the collection is still available to be viewed outside the Courtauld Library vitrines. Please come and visit, before it closes in August. In order to tempt you, you can read the introduction to the display, and our conference, below, available for you to download in a pdf.

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

Some of the earliest fashion magazines in the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive are on show in the exhibition. Here, Gazette du Bon Ton, Für die Dame and Pinpoints are displayed.

A view of the 1940s section of the exhibition featuring Harper’s Bazaar and Femina.

Elizabeth and three MA Documenting Fashion students after the completion of the exhibition instal.

Jewellery, Adornment and the Pursuit of Brilliance

Early 18th century diamond and gold necklace, Portuguese

Emerald and diamond girl dole brooch, c1830 and later

To Georg Simmel, adornment is a contradiction – on the one hand, it displays the wearer’s value, aesthetic taste, membership of a particular group, on the other, it is visible to the viewer, giving pleasure to her, as well as to the owner.  In his 1908 essay ‘On Adornment’, Simmel elaborates on this theme, outlining a spectrum, with tattoos at one end, since they are closest to the skin, and dress in between, moulded  by the wearer’s figure and marked by age, and finally, jewellery placed on the body, but separate from it.  Jewellery thus has special status, its uniqueness resides in its economic value, authenticity and style, but it always seems new, and supplementary to the wearer’s individuality.  While choice of fine jewels surely reflects personal taste, it is interesting to consider the ways gems interact with the wearer and add to her social value.

A case of sparking diamond and emerald jewels

I was reminded of Simmel’s essay when I visited Bonhams’ view day for an auction of fine jewellery last month.  Guided through the delicious rows of glittering rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches … by Emily Barber, Director of the Jewellery Department, I was continually struck by Simmel’s comments about the pleasure given to both wearer and viewer by these gems – a fleeting relationship created by the bright light reflected by a diamond brooch as you glance across a room, or the deep red glow of a spinel cut to display its clarity as the wearer moves her hands.  In so many interactions, jewellery catches the eye and draws our focus.

A spinel and diamond ring, c1915

Simmel describes how ‘the radiations of adornment, the sensuous attention it provokes, supply the personality with such an enlargement or intensification of its sphere: the personality, is more when it is adorned.’  As such, wearing fine jewellery is ‘a synthesis of the individual’s having and being,’ it implies wealth, but also personal qualities – of taste, discernment, perhaps even beauty and style matching the gems.  At the heart of this is jewellery’s ‘brilliance’:

‘By virtue of this brilliance, its wearer appears at the centre of a circle of radiation in which every close-by person, every seeing eye, is caught.  As the flash of the precious stone seems to be directed at the other – it carries the social meaning of jewels, the being-for-the-other, which returns to the subject as the enlargement of … [her] own sphere of significance.’

Gold, diamond and fire opal ‘cinnamon stick’ brooch/pendent by Andrew Grima, 1970

So, as you look at these photographs of the jewels I saw at a Bonhams, consider Simmel’s words and the ways that, once purchased, they might infer what the wearer has, but also who she is.  As Simmel notes, ‘Adornment, thus, appears as the means by which … social power or dignity is transformed into visible, personal elegance,’ – a magical process brought about by the jeweller’s skill at cutting and setting each gem.

With thanks to Emily Barber, all images by permission of Bonhams.

Sapphire, ruby, emerald and diamond brooch, Van Cleef & Arpels, c1970

Sources:

Fine Jewellery, 27 April 2017 (London: Bonhams, 2017)

Georg Simmel, ‘On Adornment,’ (1908), in Daniel Purdy, Ed., The Rise of Fashion: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), pp.79-84

Dissertation Discussion: Sophie

Photographs of Parkinson’s Wife, Wanda Rogerson in Robin Muir, ‘Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion’ (London, National Portrait Gallery 2004)

What is your title?

The title of my dissertation will probably still change. However at the moment I am going with How very British: National Identity in Norman Parkinson’s fashion photography for Vogue, 1950-1952. Parkinson produced some stunning images for different spreads, many of which lend themselves really well to a study of British national identity. Delving a little deeper into these specific images, Parkinson’s biography and the history of 1950s Britain has been great fun.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The topic stemmed from a mixture of previous interests and pure chance. I had no pre-conceived idea of what I wanted to look at for this dissertation. However, I always studied World War II and the Cold War when I had the chance as an undergraduate, so I knew I wanted to stick within that time frame. Couple this with my love of 1950s fashion and elegance, and the random selection of a beautiful book on Norman Parkinson whilst browsing the stacks at the Courtauld and – ta dah! – the dissertation title was born. I had also wanted to be practical about my choice and choose a topic that would enable me to make the most of London based archives. Norman Parkinson has his own in south London (big shout out to the lovely and wonderful people that work there!), so it all came together beautifully.

Norman Parkinson Archive

Most interesting research find thus far?

I believe I read in Parkinson’s book that Irving Penn babysat Parkinson’s son. As you do. No big deal. On a more serious note, I am still continually blown away by how clever his images are. They seem so simple at first glance, and then, the more you look, the more you realise just how good he was in expressing a certain image, feel or identity to a wide range of readers. This was especially interesting with regards to the way in which his photographs for a 1951 South Africa spread differed, or were used in a different way, from the May edition in British Vogue to the July edition in American Vogue. On a side note I have become obsessed with an image that I’m not even using in my essay. It is just too stunning. Everyone- google “Carmen’s Armpit” and you will understand! Or not, in which case it is just my inner dress history nerd coming to the fore…

Favourite place to work?

I would love to say that it is The National Arts Library in the V&A. It surely wins the award for most aesthetically pleasing place to study- but I tend to be freezing cold in there, so sadly it loses out. I rather fluctuate between the Courtauld Book Library and my home. This arrangement provides the perfect balance between the comfort of home (sneaking a couple of biscuits and copious amounts of tea) and the beautiful comradeship between all Courtauld students during dissertation time in the library. We all really share the stress and joys of the process and that is unbelievably valuable as you are working. *Insert cheesy violin music here!*

Courtauld Library

Dissertation Discussion: Yona

The finale of ‘Billy Rose’s Aquacade’, 1939. Romano Archives.

What is your title?

Billy Rose’s Aquacade & The Search for American Identity

The ‘Aquagals’ dressed as the Statue of Liberty, 1939. Romano Archives.

What prompted you to choose this topic?

For my dissertation, I am looking at American identity in the costumes of ‘Billy Rose’s Aquacade’, which performed during the 1939 and 1940 New York World’s Fair. Not being aware of the Aquacade’s existence until recently, I came across this topic by chance. During the past year, I have spent considerable time researching American fashion and identity and knew I wanted to continue exploring the subject. When looking for an American film clip archive, I came across the Prelinger Archive, which was founded by Rick Prelinger in 1982 in New York City and consists of around 60,000 ephemeral films. The archive contained amazing amateur films of the New York World’s Fair, which also showed the Aquacade. The Aquacade was the most extraordinary show that I had come across for a long time. Its vast array of different acts included synchronised swimming, diving, dance, skating, fashion, clowns, and performances by important athletes of the time, including Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller. Due to its extravagant declarations of Americanness, the Aquacade provides invaluable insight into American identity around the start of World War II.

A birds-eye view of the Aquacade, 1 September 1939. Vogue Archive.

Most interesting research find so far?

One of the most exciting parts of my research has been analysing the use of the American flag and American symbols as an expression of American identity in the Aquacade. During the first New York World’s Fair season, World War II broke out in Europe. Even though the United States did not enter the war until 1941, the American government realised that the US needed a defined identity to be able to unite its people in patriotism. As the US did not have strongly embedded traditions and copied European ideas and design styles until well into the 20th century, identity had to be based on something other than traditions that could be considered unequivocally American. Therefore, American identity focussed on history and symbols, including the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. The Aquacade incorporated the colours, stripes and stars of the American flag in its costumes and props, and even showed 48 dancers dressed as the Statue of Liberty – one for each state (Alaska and Hawaii only became states in 1959).

Four of Billy Rose’s ‘Aquabelles’ stage a fashion show of the past, present and future bathing suit styles at the New York World’s Fair, July 4, 1939. Getty Images.

Favorite place to work?

Even though I am writing on an active performance with important athletes, I have barely moved myself since starting my dissertation work. I have always preferred writing at home as I like the comfort and endless supply of tea and prefer not to have any distractions. As such, I have been living like a hermit, only leaving my room for food and tea.

Dissertation Discussion: Harriet

Spot the illicit San Pellegrino

What is your title?

Something along the lines of  ‘Capturing Fashion at Work: Mark Shaw’s behind-the-scenes images of the Paris collections for LIFE magazine in the 1950s’

What prompted you to choose this subject?

Our tutor Dr Rebecca Arnold’s fondness for the work of American designer Claire McCardell (you may thank her for ballet flats, spaghetti straps, separates…) led me to a fine art and textile collaboration she worked on (Picasso prints!) which was photographed for LIFE in the mid-Fifties by Mark Shaw. The Mark Shaw Archive recently popped up on Instagram (@markshawofficial / @markshawlondonsydney), and scrolling through his work – snapshots of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy amongst the images – I discovered and became mildly obsessed with his images of models prepping for fashion shows. Amazingly few people have studied backstage images – these days they’re a mainstay of Instagram and Vogue Runway reports during fashion week.

Looking up at the lilac tree

Most interesting research find thus far?

Speaking to Mark Shaw’s daughter in law Juliet across the pond in Vermont and meeting his grandson Hunter in London. Juliet kindly sent me scanned film and contact sheets to pore over – a game changer. Coming across a key quote by Baudelaire (who famously coined the slippery term ‘modernity’) one grey day in the British Library got me pretty excited (#nerdalert).

Favourite place to work?

The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum for its sheer opulence, or at home in my south London garden in the dappled light beneath the lilac tree. Most libraries don’t allow food or drink, and some days the need for constant cups of tea (and a visiting fellow art historian with a pair of puppies) wins out.

Puppy stress therapy

Dissertation Discussion: Jamie

Aubrey Beardsley, cover for The Yellow Book, Volume III, 1894. British Library. Photo by Jamie Vaught.

What is your title?

Decadence, Defiance, Death: The Last Years of Aesthetic Dress

What prompted you to choose this topic?

While studying dress reform as an undergraduate, I became enamored with Aesthetic dress, an alternative style of clothing adopted by followers of British Aestheticism primarily during the late-1870s and early-1880s. Female Aesthetes channeled medieval, Greek, and pastoral styles in muted-color dresses outfitted with puffed sleeves, straight, trained skirts, and unconstricted waists. As I researched, I was surprised to discover that very little scholarly work had been done on Aesthetic dress in the 1890s. This dissertation allowed me to explore that last decade of this style and the impact Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trial had on its reception. More specifically, I examined how three groups interpreted Aesthetic dress through extremely different ideals of womanhood, as elucidated in their respective writing and illustrations: Decadents (The Yellow Book, The Savoy, and the works of Wilde), artistic reformers (Aglaia and The Queen), and department stores (The Queen and Liberty catalogues).

Liberty gowns drew heavily from historical dress. In this ad, the cut of the coat resembles the Empire period, while the tea gown is very medieval. Detail from a Liberty & Co. ad in The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper, 3 June 1899, Vol 106. Courtesy of the British Library.

Most interesting research find so far?

I have found some absolutely odd gems during my exploration of Queen, including an embroidery pattern of a duck wearing a robe à la polonaise, yearly coverage of the Crystal Palace cat show, and a story on the flammability of dresses in the home. My all-time favorite line of text was from the 22 May 1897 installment of ‘Vista of Fashion’ in which author Mrs. Aria begins the article, ‘“GIVE ME FROCKS,” I cried, as I rushed up the stairs.’ I aspire to enter every clothing store this way from now until my last day.

Of all my research, Max Beerbohm’s satirical essay ‘1880,’ published in the fourth issue of the The Yellow Book (1895), left the greatest impression on me. Its tone when discussing the Aesthetic Craze is simultaneously mocking and maudlin; Beerbohm’s observations are truths with a bite to them. This sentimentality affected me considerably. After working on Aesthetic dress for two years, I have grown very attached to that elite coterie’s eccentric cast of characters and do sometimes wish I could experience what it was like to live among them. One passage in the essay stuck out to me the most:

‘All Fashion came to marvel and so did all the Aesthetes…Fairer than the mummers, it may be, were the ladies who sat and watched them from the lawn. All of them wore jerseys and tied-back skirts. Zulu hats shaded their eyes from the sun. Bangles shimmered upon their wrists. And the gentlemen wore light frock-coats and light top-hats with black bands. And the aesthetes were in velveteen, carrying lilies.’

I will admit to shedding a tear in the middle of a British Library Reading Room when I read that final sentence.

These four figures are examples of Greek-inspired dress designs in Aglaia, the journal of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union. Straight, flowing skirts epitomize the loose styles advocated by artistic reformers, and the sleeves are a less exaggerated version of the gigot sleeve fashionable in the mid-1890s. ‘The Empire Dress’ from Aglaia No. 1, July 1893, page 35. Courtesy of Senate House Library.

Favorite place to work?

I only really work in three places: the Book Library, the British Library (most often in the Newsroom), and a café near the Courtauld. I am most productive in the last, since jazz standards and the customers’ soft conversations give me writing tunnel vision. And the baristas are great­–they start preparing my usual breakfast, black tea and a blueberry muffin, as soon as I walk through the door!

My cafe workspace, complete with laptop, notebook, draft, and tea.