Fashion Interpretations Symposium – Part I

It is going to be an exciting week for fashion enthusiasts around the world! The Fashion Interpretations Symposium has officially begun and so also begins our daily recaps here of each night.

Dr. Rebecca Arnold’s discussion on Man Ray’s images for February 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar kickstarted the event, emphasising how the artist manipulated the photographic medium to blur the line between photography and illustration, respectively the most recent and the most established forms to represent fashion during the interwar years. Man Ray simultaneously saw himself as the creator of the image but also of the medium through which it would have been received. Using the technique of solarization to achieve a tone reversal effect on the black and white photograph, he would then apply a gouache to certain areas of the image to emphasise the colours. In one of the images presented, the perception of a white dress with a ghostly grey train was contrasted by the bright hues suggested by the applied splashes of colour, reflecting the descriptive text under the picture. Man Ray’s images were, to quote Dr. Arnold, ‘foregrounding the medium, drawing upon the idea of us as embodied viewers’, experiencing the image through the use of both optic and haptic sensations.

Detail of Man Ray’s picture for February 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

Elisa De Wyngaert, fashion curator at MoMu Fashion Museum in Antwerp, followed Dr. Arnold’s presentation, discussing her process when planning a new exhibition. She explained how, for her, the early stages of exhibition planning resemble the feeling of being a teenager decorating her walls: for a brief moment every item seems able to reach, without logistic or conservation challenges, and no budget restriction. What follows is the very slow process of “letting go”, as sometimes pieces are missing, too fragile or too expensive to loan, and the moment when the “wall of dreams” is translated to a more practical excel sheet. Elisa emphasised how the wall collage is an important part of the exhibition history: this is the moment corresponding to the teenage years of the exhibition, which is in the process of developing its identity. The “exhibition of dreams” then grows up into what we audience see. At this point, the exhibition does not belong to the curator anymore, but to everyone. Every person becomes part of the story, in the way they personally experience the exhibition.

Charles Tepperman, Associate Professor of Film Studies at The University of Calgary, concluded the presentation part of the night with “A World Dressed in Kodachrome – Fashion and Amateur Film in the mid-century”. Kodak introduced the Kodachrome film stock in 1935, becoming an amateur favourite for the way it allowed to capture formal and vernacular dress, and use colour almost as a textile in its own right. Kodachrome provided one of the first widely accessible tools to capture colour and created a true “chromatic modernity”. Amateur filmmakers such as Chicago-based Warren Thompson and Matthew Ko dressed the world in colour and motion, and their amateur films can now be considered kinetic records of how people dressed. Through their lenses, the city was transformed into a chromatic composition of streets, fabrics and styles.

As the event came to an end, I was left with a question: what are we attracted by when looking at fashion? Is it the colours it presents? Or the emotions it sparks? Is it its mix of textures, inviting us to touch the garments or imagine how they would feel on our skin? It may well be a combination of these three factors and many others relating to our subjective experience. What is clear to me, however, is that people are central to the shaping of fashion, and that the fashion object can only be fully understood in relation to people’s experience of it.

Tune in tonight for Fashion Interpretations Symposium Part II!

 

By Simona Mezzina

A Generational Shift: From Bouffant to Hot Comb

As a teenager growing up in London in the 2010s, it was a rite of passage to ask for hair straighteners for Christmas – at least it was for my group of friends from our Catholic all-girls school. I remember when I got my first pair of straighteners at about 14. I was overjoyed. I could get rid of the kinks in my hair, and there was no need to go around to my mate’s house to get her to straighten my hair. I could frazzle my hair away on my own terms.

Everyone had to have straight hair: no matter who you were, no matter what texture your hair was, even if it was straight already, you’d straighten it. Dead straight. No-room-for-movement straight. Not only were we at ease because we were fitting in, we’d also have hours of fun sat, splitting our split ends.

I’d look at photographs of my grandma and her friends with their bouffant hairstyles. I used to call the style ‘pie heads’ because it seemed as though they had just set something on top of their heads, covered it with hair, and put it in the oven to bake. (I wasn’t far off, to be fair.)

But I was confused. What was under there? How did it stay in place? And why on earth would they put themselves through the arduous task of defying gravity for a hairstyle that wasn’t even cool?

Grandparents and friends, Hyde Park Hotel, 1972.

Recently, my grandma and I were looking through old photographs, as we often do, and I came across this image of my grandparents with their group of Welsh friends who all moved to the South East London/Kent area in the mid-fifties. You can see each of the women’s hair is immaculate; their curls look as though they would stay completely still even through ferocious head-shaking. My grandma told me this was possible because of hair pieces and expert hairdressers, stating:

“I wore a hair piece. Everywhere you went people back combed and permed their hair. Generally, if you didn’t have natural curly hair you would have it permed to give it body and curls. I used to have a demi-perm which would last about 6-8 weeks. (My hair, if I had a full perm, would frizz so I had a weaker solution).”

Her hairdresser, friend and neighbor, Judith, would do my grandma’s hair for these special occasions (she was a lecturer at Bromley college for hairdressing, my grandma hastened to add): “Judith would buy the dark chestnut hairpiece and give my hair a rinse [with dye] – which would last about 4-6 weeks – so that it would match the piece exactly. She would wash my hair, put rollers in and put me under the dryer. At the same time, she would wash the hair piece and put it under the dryer next to me.” The idea was to give more height and volume to the style.

Grandparents, Hyde Park Hotel, 1971.

I asked my grandma the question that had been burning inside me since my teen hair days. But why? Why would you go through such a laborious process for one night?

Magazines were full of photographs of these hairstyles and suggestions on how to wear your hair: “I used to read Vanity Fair in the hairdressers to look at new styles.” Some hairdressers were major celebrities at the time and mixed with high society and theatre stars.” She urged me to look up ‘Monsieur Raymond’ AKA Mr Teasy-Weasy AKA Raymond Bessone.

Raymond Bessone was Brixton-born but adopted a faux-French accent. He was affectionately called Mr Teasy-Weasy after his trademark of ‘teasy-weasy’ curls. He opened his Mayfair salon in the 1950s and became a critically acclaimed celebrity hairstylist in Britain and the U.S. His own presentation, as seen on TV, was immaculately flamboyant. His suits were consistently decorated with dyed carnations, and his dogs had their hair dyed to match whatever Bessone dictated to be the colour of the season.

Bessone saw women’s hair as a work of art. “It must have balance and composition. Lines must mean something, with every curl adding to the whole effect.” He was concerned with creating a complete look that crowned the woman’s face. In his 1957 style called the Shangri-La, he pronounced the four main principles of hairstyling: “colour, line, youth and softness.”

His voluminous, precise styles transformed women even in the depths of South Wales, where, in the early 50s, my grandma would be sat home perming her and her sister’s hair to get the perfect bouffant.

However, my grandma noticed a shift happening around her at the end of this decade: “Mary Quant had her hair cut in a straight simple style and the times changed drastically.”

Clothes designer Mary Quant, one of the leading lights of the British fashion scene in the 1960’s, having her hair cut by another fashion icon, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, 10th November 1964. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ironically, Mary Quant’s famous hairstylist who gave her the geometric ‘wash-and-wear’ cut in 1964, Vidal Sassoon, began his training under our very own Mr Teasy-Weasy in his Mayfair salon. Sassoon revolutionised not only the look of femininity, harking back to the ‘gamine look’ found in the first part of the century, but also the process of looking after your hair. Much like Quant’s designs, Sassoon’s cut was ready-to-wear. This revolutionised hairdressing from the technique of the hairdresser, working with lines and geometric shapes to match the face and the personality of the sitter, to the routine of the customer, as it released women from the chore of getting their hair in the salon every time there was an event. They only needed to go every six weeks for a trim to upkeep their natural style.

Why has the novelty of hairstyling been lost on me? Did Sassoon’s easy-to-wear style push many of us towards easy followable trends and subsequently the standardisation of cuts? Without Sassoon, would I have been asking for a hairpiece to create the ‘teasy-weasy’ bouffant just like grandma’s rather than a pair of straighteners?

By Bethan Eleri Carrick

Christopher Reed, ‘Vidal Sassoon Obituary’, Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2012/may/09/vidal-sassoon 
Jon Henly, ‘A Cut Above’, Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2008/jan/09/fashion.shopping
Mary Quant, Vidal Sassoon remembered by Mary Quant https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2012/dec/22/vidal-sassoon-obituary-mary-quant
Susan J Vincent, Hair: An Illustrated History. (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018)
‘Teasy Weasy’, Timeshift, BBC, 2013
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01kgq18

Tea Gowns: At-Home Style in Victorian England

Months of lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus has kept much of the world inside, limiting our social and professional interactions to computer screens and causing even the most sartorially-conscious to shed our typical trappings. Jeans, we bemoan, are far too stiff for Zooming from our living rooms, even though they once seemed fine for eight-hour office days bookended by crowded commutes. Fabulous faux-furs that once eased our winter blues? Useless now–it’s not like we’re headed anywhere that requires a coat! Many have struggled to strike a balance between the clothing that keeps us snug in our homes and wardrobes that offers us power and a sense of self in the crowded public world, a dilemma encapsulated quite neatly and comically in the pajama-trousered, dressy-bloused ensemble that became an unofficial uniform for so many working from home this year.

This predicament, however, is not wholly new. Over a century and a half ago, upper-middle class Victorian women struggled with the same set of concerns, seeking out a style of dress that struck a balance between the comfort desired for time spent mostly indoors and the formality necessary for a life that required constant socialising. Thus the tea gown was born, a garment specifically designed to bridge the gap between private and public dressing. The tea gown was worn, as the name suggests, for evening tea. It had to be comfortable enough to allow for relaxation but dressy enough that its wearer would not risk embarrassment should a caller drop by. Tea gowns were relatively simple in shape and loose at the waist, allowing them to be worn without a corset–a small act of rebellion in Victorian society. Tea gowns were, however, decorated heavily to maintain decorum and indicate status. Freed from some of the physical and societal constraints of the time period, tea gowns became a canvas upon which progressive members of the upper class could engage in stylistic experimentation.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. ‘A Useful House-Dress ; An Elaborate Tea-Gown’. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 26, 2020. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-ebab-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

The parlour where tea was served acted as a liminal space between interior and exterior, contained within the private home but open for entertaining guests, not dissimilar to our own homes now put on view for our colleagues’ computer screens. Fashionable tea gown wearers sought to coordinate their gowns with the decor of their parlours. (Though, as Freyja Hartzell notes in ‘The Velvet Touch’, it was common practice for many Victorian women to match their ensembles to their interiors). For followers of the Aesthetic and subsequent Art Nouveau movements, this meant that tea gowns could be printed with abstract swirling motifs and rendered in rich colour palettes. Charles Frederick Worth’s tea gowns are particularly beautiful examples of this effect with their thickly piled blue velvet and shocking purples and greens that would have looked right at home against a similarly sumptuous wallpaper. Liberty, the nineteenth century mecca for all things Aesthetic, produced a wide variety of tea gowns. Oscar Wilde dubbed the store to be ‘the chosen resort of the artistic shopper’, a nod to the fact that both the homewares and the fashions for sale at Liberty would have set the store’s shoppers apart from their strict Victorian counterparts.

 

The tea gown also served as a means of escapism, transporting its wearers on flights of fancy far from their parlours. When Japan opened its ports to Western trade in the mid-nineteenth century, British and French designers were quick to take inspiration from the nation’s vast array of beautiful garments and textiles. Tea gowns could be inlaid with swaths of Japanese textiles or, in some cases, produced in Japan for Western customers. A tea gown from the Kyoto Costume Institute illustrates this cross-cultural exchange in its spectacular sleeves alone, a mix of heavily-puffed Victorian shoulders and Kimono-style wide cuffs. Tea gowns offered the potential not only for international travel from the comfort of the settee, they provided the possibility of time travel as well. Designs for tea gowns often borrowed from eighteenth century French designs, featuring Watteau backs that swept away from the body (providing a dash of both historicism and comfort) and mimicking the silhouette of the robe à la française.

 

An 1879 critic wrote sharply of the tea gown in the Evening Post: ‘It is of elaborate design and infinite cost…. It is absolutely useless and utterly ridiculous, but this is not the worst that may be said about it’. Does this not, however, make the tea gown the perfect item to lift the spirits of a woman typically tightly corseted and kept indoors? It is an act of self-indulgence, but it is also a small rebellion against the dreary constraints of the every day. (The Metropolitan Museum notes that one of the tea gowns in its collection was worn by prominent member of American high society Amelia Beard Hollenback just after she gave birth to her daughter, an indication that there may be a very practical purpose to the tea gown unknowable to its male critic). Perhaps the tea gown is also just what the locked-down, early-sunsetting end of 2020 calls for as well, offering us a lift off of our collective couches into the depths of history and encouraging us to engage in costumed camouflage with the interiors of the homes to which we are confined. This seems an opportunity too tempting to pass up in favour of sweatpants.

Designer unknown (American), Tea Gown, 1875, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession no. 2009.300.397.

by Ruby Redstone

Sources

‘Free and Easy Manners in London Society. (London World.)’. Evening Post Vol. XVII, Iss. 387 (5 April 1879): 5. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP18790405.2.35.

Hartzell, Freyja. ‘The Velvet Touch: Fashion, Furniture, and the Fabric of the Interior.’ Fashion Theory Vol. 13, Iss. 1 (2009): 51-81. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/175174109X381328.

Lee, Summer. ‘1898-1901 Green Silk Embroidered Tea Gown’. Fashion Institute of Technology Fashion History Timeline. Last updated 13 January 2020. https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1898-tea-gown/.’

Liberty. ‘Our Heritage’. Accessed 26 November 2020. https://www.libertylondon.com/uk/information/our-heritage.html.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ‘House of Worth, Tea Gown, 1900-1901’. Accessed 26 November 2020. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/157330.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ‘Tea Gown, 1900’. Accessed 26 November 2020. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/158923.

 

Fashion Interpretations, a Symposium

We are pleased to announce that next week The Courtauld and London College of Fashion will host Fashion Interpretations, a five-part symposium series hosted every evening from 30 November to 4 December. Documenting Fashion’s own Dr. Rebecca Arnold will lead this series alongside London College of Fashion’s Judith Clark, as both are co-founders of Fashion Interpretations: Dress, Medium, and Meaning, a Fashion AHRC-funded networking project. Each night Fashion Interpretations’s leaders will be joined by a selection of brilliant guests and speakers, and the series will culminate in a roundtable discussion to celebrate the launch of Archivist Addendum. Please book tickets to the week’s events here: https://courtauld.ac.uk/research/research-forum/events/fashioninterpretations. If you’ve missed out on tickets for any of the nights, not to worry–the Documenting Fashion blog will be updated daily with our recaps, new knowledge, and perhaps even a few of our own fashion illustrations from Thursday night’s master class with Richard Haines.

 

The Then and Now of Second-Hand Shopping

It is now a well-circulated fact that the fashion industry is the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. Unsurprisingly, this has shocked many consumers into the pursuit of a more sustainable way of dressing. As a result, the second-hand clothing trade has embraced – for better or for worse – a surge in popularity.

Second-hand shopping in charity and vintage shops, and on eBay and apps like Depop, has become not only a sustainable way to dress but also a way to express individuality against the mainstream current of mass-produced fast fashion. Second-hand clothing is often conceptualised as something both antique and unique. It is easy to imagine, then, that second-hand clothing shops are a modern invention, a response to modern anxieties about sustainability and individuality.

The second-hand clothing trade, however, has existed quietly for centuries.

Nineteenth-century second-hand clothing stalls, accessed via Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2013).

In 1700, second-hand clothing stalls were scattered across London, in both the East and West End. They existed mainly to clothe the poor but also benefitted the emerging middle classes.

Second-hand clothing dealers in this period were usually skilled tailors, and the business was considered both respectable and profitable. Merchandise was often sourced from servants who transported their wealthy employers’ discarded clothing to the markets to sell. For them, there was more merit in making a profit from a gifted item of clothing than wearing what would be considered socially inappropriate. These upper-class fashions would be repurchased and worn by the urban merchant class, much to the dismay of contemporary commentators.

While the second-hand trade flourished throughout the eighteenth century, industrialisation in the nineteenth century made new clothes more affordable and thus caused a relative decline in the second-hand clothing trade. However, second-hand trade remained a central way for the poor to buy clothing, and it was at this point that it became associated solely with poverty.

The stigma surrounding the second-hand has been memorialised in the writings of Charles Dickens. In 1836, he reflected with horror on the second-hand clothing market in Monmouth Street:

… To walk among these extensive groves of the illustrious dead, and to indulge in the speculations to which they give rise; now fitting a deceased coat, then a dead pair of trousers, and anon the mortal remains of a gaudy waistcoat …

The second-hand clothing trade became a ‘burial place of fashions.’

The rich history of the second-hand clothing trade has largely been forgotten by scholars and curators. Indeed, as Madeleine Ginsburg pointed out: ‘the staples of the nineteenth-century second-hand clothing trade are most of the items missing from most museum collections.’ By the time the ‘history from below’ approach to museum curation became popular in the 1970s, the second-hand clothes for the poor sold on market stalls had long disintegrated.

Dickens’ contemplation of the deathliness that surrounds second-hand clothing remains something Western society still negotiates with today. Second-hand clothes are perceived as dirty, and in them is the lingering sense of another unknown body – indeed, we must give our purchases from charity shops a good wash before we wear them.

Some second-hand business owners still choose to accentuate the fact they are ‘pre-owned’ (many businesses prefer to use this term to second-hand). In an interview with i-D Magazine, Hokkiee, the owner of the cult vintage shop Zen Source Clothing in Tokyo, expressed his effort to make the interior ‘really feel like somebody’s personal closet’.

A photograph of a ghostly display inside Hokkiee’s Tokyo-based vintage shop, Zen Source Clothing, accessed via https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/8898dx/zsc-best-cult-vintage-stores-zen-source-clothing-japan-tokyo

Similarly, The Grotesque Archive, a Berlin-based vintage shop on Depop, collects grotesque and uncanny second-hand designer pieces, capitalising on a strange, deathly aura only second-hand clothing can capture.

LA, wearing items from The Grotesque Archive, photographed by Timothy Schaumburg, accessed via https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12953/the-grotesque-archive-is-the-vintage-shop-harnessing-the-power-of-depop

Much like its eighteenth century counterpart, second-hand clothing today is a profitable business. Twenty-first century vintage shops are fashionable and innovative, and often marketed towards a trendy, environmentally conscious, and affluent consumer. It goes without saying that those who are able and can afford to shop sustainably should. However, as increasing popularity in second-hand clothes drives up the prices in charity shops, perhaps we should keep in mind the second-hand stalls of past-centuries: primarily an affordable (and sustainable) way of clothes-shopping for those who could not afford the alternative.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe, Second-Hand Cultures (London, 2003).

Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2013).

Madeleine Ginsburg, ‘Rags to Riches: The Second-Hand Clothes Trade 1700–1978’, Costume 14 1 (1980), pp. 121-135.

Eilidh Duffy, ‘The Grotesque Archive Is the Vintage Shop Harnessing the Power of Depop’, Another Magazine, https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12953/the-grotesque-archive-is-the-vintage-shop-harnessing-the-power-of-depop

Eilidh Duffy, ‘Inside the best cult vintage stores: Zen Source Clothing’, i-D, https://id.vice.com/en_uk/article/jgxvvk/inside-artifact-new-york-fashions-most-exclusive-designer-archive

Anti-surveillance wearables

Those who use facial recognition technology to unlock their smartphones may have found themselves recently unable to do so, the phone’s technology rendered useless when the cameras are no longer able to ‘see’ the faces of their owners behind now-ubiquitous face masks. Ever since facial recognition technology came into use in public spaces, privacy activists have been formulating tactics to avert its gaze. However, their methods have spanned far beyond the use of simple socially (or legally) mandatory face masks, ranging from t-shirts printed with celebrities’ faces (the delightfully named ‘Glamouflage’ by Simone C. Niquille) to a crowd-funded prosthetic mask reproducing the face of Leo Selvaggio, who has, in an unusual but noble gesture, sacrificed his own facial identity to offer privacy to others. A ‘wearable projector’ by Jing Cai Liu is also available, which casts shifting and ghostly images of strangers’ faces onto the wearer’s own.

 

A ‘wearable projector’ by Jing Cai Liu (Photo: Jing Cai Liu) via https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

Not all designs are so uncanny. Isao Echizen’s scientific goggles studded with LEDs would look at home on the shelves of neon-spattered ravewear emporium Cyberdog. The CHBL Jammer Coat, designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au, is embedded with ‘metallized fabrics’ to ‘block radio waves’. It is architecturally beautiful with undulating quilted segments covered in a swelling sea of black dots “reminiscent of Yayoi Kusama”, ostensibly to confuse cameras. Some techniques, including ‘CV Dazzle’, are so appealing that the possibility of avoiding detection could be demoted to a secondary part of their appeal. Artist Adam Harvey designed ‘CV Dazzle’ a decade ago, using a combination of colourful hair extensions, graphic makeup, accessories and gems to ‘dazzle’ the (now largely defunct) Viola-Jones face detection algorithm.

 

The CHBL Jammer Coat (Photo: Markus Pillhofer / Coop Himmelb(l)au) via https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

The reasons to obscure one’s face are many and ever-increasing as facial recognition technology is harnessed by powers unknown. According to Larry Anderson, editor of SourceSecurity.com, “algorithms can […] identify traits such as ‘calm’ or ‘kind’”, as well as demographics, and use this information for marketing purposes – he’s not clear to what extent these practices are in use. Away from the private sector, governments around the world use facial recognition for law enforcement. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong’s government banned face masks after protestors wore them in an attempt to avoid identification and persecution. Following the death of George Floyd, encrypted messaging service Signal distributed ‘anti-facial recognition masks’ to protestors for the same reasons. In addition to government surveillance, individuals are able to harness facial recognition software for their own means. In March, a writer for The New Yorker met with Kate Bertash of the Digital Defense Fund who reported that anti-abortion activists were photographing those who entered clinics in a possible attempt to track down their home addresses.

The paradoxical effect of many wearable anti-identification systems is that they draw much more human attention to the wearer. Chloe Malle experimented with ‘CV Dazzle’ in a piece for Garage magazine and found that passers-by “swivelled en masse to look and chuckle,” and one woman, horrified, ushered her daughter away from the writer. Now that face masks are omnipresent, the movement for facial concealment may be given the space to flourish and become mainstream. It appears, however, that new designs will continue to be necessitated, as technologies like ‘thermal facial recognition’ are already beginning to be rolled out—and those in opposition to it will be pushed towards yet more creative and technological innovation.

 

Model Hye Xun photographed by Cho Gi Seok via https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover

 

Model Hye Xun photographed by Cho Gi Seok via https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover 

By Lucy Corkish

 

Sources

https://www.businessinsider.com/clothes-accessories-that-outsmart-facial-recognition-tech-2019-10?r=US&IR=T

https://www.sourcesecurity.com/insights/anti-surveillance-clothing-facial-detection-adam-harvey-sb.22164.html

Dressing for the Surveillance Age by John Seabrook, in The New Yorker, March 16, 2020 Issue

https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover

https://cvdazzle.com

The Right to Hide? Anti-Surveillance Camouflage and the Aestheticization of Resistance by Torin Monahan, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2015, pp. 159–178

The rise and regulation of thermal facial recognition technology during the COVID-19 pandemic by Meredith Van Natta, Paul Chen, Savannah Herbek, Rishabh Jain, Nicole Kastelic, Evan Katz, Micalyn Struble, Vineel Vanam, Niharika Vattikonda in Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Volume 7, Issue 1, January-June 2020, lsaa038, https://doi.org/10.1093/jlb/lsaa038

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the semiotic power of the collar

2020 has been the year of the collar. Seen on the Fall/Winter catwalks of Gucci, Celine and JW Anderson, what was once perceived as a playful accessory during fashion week has taken on a whole new significance since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Uprooted from our everyday lives and thrust into the digital realm of Zoom where our appearance is confined to one small square from the shoulders up, the collar, whether it be an oversized-Peter Pan number or ruffled Victorian style neckline, provides a channel of self-expression amidst the monotony of working-from-home dress. As Natalie Kingham, the buying director at MatchesFashion.com, states: “Ornate Peter Pan collars are definitely having a moment, as they are perfect to wear working from home for Zoom meetings.”

Gucci FW 2020 (Source: @gucci on Instagram), JW Anderson FW 2020 (Source: @jwanderson on Instagram), FW 2020 Celine (Source: @celine on Instagram)

No one knew better the power of the collar as a means of self-expression than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As the United States’s second female Supreme Court Justice who fought for gender equality throughout her career, Bader Ginsburg broke through the patriarchal barriers of American law. She embodied the same feminist sentiment in her penchant for collars taking the judge’s robe, a uniform designed for men, and feminising it. As she recalled in an interview in 2009, “You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie”. Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female US Justice, “thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman.” Bader Ginsburg and O’Connor wore lace jabots for the Supreme Court group photo in 2003, a controversial choice made by these two women to embrace their femininity in the male dominated workplace.

Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing her first jabot by Everett Raymond Kinstler 1996. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute
TIME magazine Ruth Bader Ginsburg Cover (Source: @time on Instagram)

As Bader Ginsburg’s career progressed, she harnessed the semiotic power of accessorising, wearing different collars to give her opinions on rulings. As a Justice, she was required to remain neutral on most matters. The sartorial channel of the collar allowed her a small but significant means of expression. She had her “dissenting collar”, a bejewelled Banana Republic necklace on a black base with an armour-like appearance, worn to express disapproval. As she said to Katie Couric in 2014, eyeing up the collar’s metal spike-like beads, “it looks fitting for dissent”. She famously sported this collar the day after Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Dissent Collar (Source: @queenscityvintage on Instagram)

Then there was her collar of approval, the “majority opinion collar”, which she wore to announce rulings for the court. A crocheted yellow and pink collar with gold appliqué detailing and flowers, it seemed an appropriate sartorial choice to express agreement. Perhaps her most famous collar was white crochet jabot she brought back from a trip to South Africa. It was simple in design, with no embellishment or colour, but was worn on the most important of occasions—namely Barack Obama’s speech to congress at the 2012 State of the Union and on her 20th anniversary as a member of the bench in 2013. It was this collar that was printed on the cover of the New Yorker to pay tribute to Bader Ginsburg when she passed away in September. On the cover, the crochet detailing was manipulated into the form of the female gender symbol.

Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her favourite collar (Source: @bazaaruk on Instagram)
The New Yorker cover in tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Source: @newyorkermag)

Bader Ginsburg’s use of the collar as a tool for self-expression shows how a small sartorial detail can go a long way in asserting one’s own personal style, but may also hold the power to communicate cultural and political ideas. As we remain (for the moment at least) confined to the world of Zoom, we can take inspiration from her use of the collar, and fashion ourselves an identity from the neck up.

 

By Violet Caldecott

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/25/ruth-bader-ginsburgs-trademark-collar-dominates-week-of-tributes

https://www.ft.com/content/1a8a270d-7a4d-41d2-9f5d-b0265296aa17

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-09-23/life-lessons-ruth-bader-ginsburg-collars

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/g34097013/ruth-bader-ginsburg-collars-meaning/#:~:text=Though%20she%20had%20many%20collars,her%2020th%20anniversary%20on%20the

Oswald Birley’s “Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown”: dress in focus

Oswald Birley, Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny gown, 1919, oil on canvas, 101.5 x 76 cm. Private collection. Image taken from Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley. London: Philip Mould Ltd, 2017.

Oswald Birley was a prolific British portrait artist active between 1919 and 1951. He was one of the most beloved portraitists of the British monarchy, political leaders and other powerful men. He completed the portrait of the young British debutante Miss Muriel Gore in 1919, however the information available on this work and its subject is extremely scarce. Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown was completed at a time of significant social change for women, started in the final years of the nineteenth century and becoming more prominent with the end of the First World War. This change was translated in fashion and was echoed in the success the designs of Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo found in this historical time.

The scarcity of information available on Miss Gore’s life allows only for a partial understanding of her figure. It is likely that she was Scottish and belonged to the aristocratic upper class, as she was related in some way to Lady Mabell Gore, Countess of Airlie, wife to the 11th Earl of Airlie. It is plausible to say that, at the time the portrait was completed, Miss Gore was still nubile and probably making her debut in society. A few elements of this portrait, such as her title (Miss rather than Mrs.), the absence of a wedding ring, and her youthful appearance support this idea. After careful analysis, the only element revealing her social status remains the expensive Fortuny gown. Known as the Delphos gown, and existing in a variety of versions, this design stands out as the most typical of the Fortuny style.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Pale grey Delphos gown. 1920. Palazzo Fortuny, Venezia. http://www.archiviodellacomunicazione.it/Sicap/OpereArte/338940/?WEB=MuseiVE

A pleated tunic inspired by a robe seen on male and female Greek statues from the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, as well as figures painted on vases, the Delphos was named after the antique sculpture known as ‘Charioteer of Delphi,’ adorned with a long chiton held in place at the shoulders by simple bronze clasps. Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), a Venice-based Spanish artist and designer, patented the dress in 1909. The creation of a single sleeveless Delphos was a highly intricate production that reportedly took eight hours in total. The fabric was a luxurious silk imported from Japan, and the characteristic pleating, usually consisting of between 430 and 450 pleats per fabric width, was achieved by a process of evaporation. The wet and folded silk was laid on heated porcelain tubes, also patented in 1909, which permanently fixed such tight pleats in the material so that the dress looked carved or pressed. This time-consuming and complicated manufacturing process, along with the precious fabric used, made the price of this gown stratospheric, and it was only affordable for women of conspicuous means, such as Muriel Gore. The Fortuny pleat, which did not wrinkle nor lose its shape, expanded slightly over the natural feminine curves, remaining compact in other areas, thus creating alluring zones of light and shadow. Fortuny was particularly interested in enhancing the brilliance of the silk, and he found in albumin, an extract of egg whites, the perfect substance to do so. With the help of a brush, albumin was applied on the humified fabric, functioning on the pleats as a fixing agent, increasing the brilliance, and adding flexibility and softness to the fabric. Birley masterfully translated the characteristic traits of the Delphos gown on his canvas, in particular the malleable quality of the fabric when touched by light and the resulting effects of chiaroscuro, which was also highly important for the designer.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Pale grey Delphos gown completed with belt (detail). From the catalogue of the exhibition “Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise” (2017).

Fortuny’s vision of fashion stemmed from his travels to Greece in 1906, where he found antique printed textiles and admired the beauty of the archaic Korai and Delphi’s Charioteer. His intention was never that of becoming a couturier like Worth; he did not present an annual collection, nor show separate summer and winter designs. His aim was to find his own version of a timeless ideal form, detached from the fleeting trends of fashion, and with his Delphos gown he successfully transformed the past into an eternal present.

The Delphos gown quickly became a must-have garment for the most cultured and liberated women of the time. Eccentrics, divas, intellectuals and aristocrats flocked to buy Fortuny’s dress, which spoke of refined extravagance while exalting the personality of the wearer. The association with such timeless beauty attracted those women who could perceive the uniqueness of the dress, and Miss Gore may be seen as one of them, as she decided to be portrayed wearing a Delphos. With this gesture, she also implicitly showed her support to the movement that had started in the years just before World War I, freeing women from corsets and rigidly constructed gowns. Dancers like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Loïe Fuller made the liberation of women’s dress a cause, and they did so by performing their pioneering choreographies enveloped in mermaid-like Delphos. Their choreography sought to express a mix of asceticism and sensuality associated with the Minoan women who had inspired Fortuny’s creations.

The controversial nature of the Delphos stemmed precisely from the sensuality presented by the gown, in particular the ‘clinging fashion’ with which it enveloped the female body to reveal its shape and rendered lingerie impossible to wear. In a society that had not totally abandoned the use of tight bustiers and stays, this feature understandably caused quite a scandal, and the gown was initially considered more suited to be worn in the privacy of one’s home, or complemented by a shawl, coat or robe when in public, often designed by Fortuny himself. Likely aware of such tensions, Miss Gore chose to be portrayed wearing an embroidered shawl over her Delphos, which she gently falls down to her elbows to uncover another beautiful detail of Fortuny’s design: the drawstrings used to tighten and change the height of the short arum-lily sleeves.

Roger Viollet. Isadora Duncan and her husband Sergei Essenin with one of her adoptive daughters, Irma Duncan, wearing Delphos gowns. Photograph. Harlingue-Viollet collection, Paris. From the catalogue of the exhibition “Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise” (2017).

During his life, Birley was considered one of the most gifted portraitists both in Britain and overseas for his ability to combine physical likeness with psychological realism. The portrait of Miss Muriel Gore, dated 1919, shows the image of a wealthy debutant, nonetheless controversial for her clothing choice. The expensive Fortuny gown Miss Gore decided to be depicted with carries meaning reflecting not only her social status but also her character and personality Ultimately, Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown emblematically illustrates how eloquent the depiction of a dress can be in the context of a portrait, as it becomes the only key to unlock the mystery surrounding the sitter’s identity.

 

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources:

Black, Jonathan. ‘The Life and Portraiture of Sir Oswald Birley MC’. In Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley. London: Philip Mould Ltd, 2017.

Deschodt, Anne-Marie and Davanzo Poli, Doretta. Fortuny. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Desveaux, Delphine. Fortuny. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Mariano Fortuny. Edited by Maurizio Barberis, Claudio Franzini, Silvio Fuso, Marco Tosa. Venezia: Marsilio, 1999.

Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise. Edited by Sophie Grossiord. Paris: Palais Galliera, Paris Musées, 2017.

Zamrock Fashion: 1970 – 2020

A few weeks ago, I decided to watch a video that was recommended to me online, which detailed the history of the Zamrock music scene. Zamrock is a term used to describe the psychedelic rock scene of 1970s Zambia. This video described how Zambia’s independence from the UK in 1964 saw a rise in Zambian creativity; the first President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, decreed that 95% of music played on radio stations had to be of Zambian origin. Zamrock can be described as a mix of traditional African music with psychedelic funk and rock elements, with influence from musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and the Rolling Stones. I was instantly captivated by this scene, and surprised that I had never heard of it before.  

I was determined to discover more, as I could only find a few images online of Zamrock bands and their fashions. I noted one band called WITCH (We Intend To Cause Havoc) and was struck by their outfits. They wore a mix of traditional clothing with Westernstyle elements, and the most incredible floppy hats with brims so low that they disguised the faces of the band members. Luckily, I found that WITCH had an Instagram account, and saw that a film had been made about the band in 2019, directed by Gio Arlotta. The film documents the history of WITCH, the life of its sole survivor, EmanyeoJagari’ Chanda, and the subsequent re-formation of the band. I sent a message to see if I could find out more about their fashion and received a reply from Gio saying he could help. After watching the film, and kindly receiving a wealth of images and information from email correspondence with Gio, I got the answers I was searching for. 

Emmanuel Kapembwa 

In my first email from Gio he stated that the fashion aspect of Zamrock is one of the things that drove him to make the film. In the film, we are introduced to Emmanuel Kampembwa, the Zamrock tailor who made the clothes that WITCH wore back in the 1970s, and still creates outfits for them to perform in today. A particularly fascinating design by Emmanuel is the big floppy hat, which is fitted at the head, then secured with an adjustable buckled strap, with the deep brim falling in sturdy pleats from the forehead. Jagari, a self-proclaimed hat enthusiast, commented in the film that the hat was useful for when you didn’t want to look at certain people in the crowd, and allowed the musicians to follow their feeling inwards. Gio stated ‘that the hats slowly became a staple of their look both to protect from the sun since they often would play during the day, but also to create an interior space of reflection while onstage’ (Gio Arlotta, email correspondence with author, 2020). Pictured below is Jagari wearing a hat and suit designed and made by Emmanuel, which reminisces to the hippie style of the 70s with the bold, geometric patterns and warm colour palette. 

(Jagari in Emmanuel Kapembwa designed suit and hat, film still from WITCH: We Intend To Cause Havoc, 2019, by Gio Arlotta, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

The hat is one of the defining accessories of WITCH from their performances in the 70s. This film still of Jagari illustrates how the buckle allows for adjustments around the head, although Emmanuel tailors each hat to fit the head of the wearer perfectly. The brim can be worn down to cover the face, as demonstrated in this image, to give the wearer more privacy. Alternatively, the volume and thickness of the hat fabric also allows for it to be folded back over itself, to reveal the face of the wearer. 

Gio also shared with me some photographs of Emmanuel modelling his own creations in the 70s. These photographs are truly special. They reveal elements of what was fashionable to wear in Zambia with the signature style elements of the Zamrock scene being noted through the wearing of bell bottoms and highheeled boots. 

(Emmanuel Kapembwa, 1972, photograph provided by Kapembwa, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

(Emmanuel Kapembwa, c.1970s, photograph provided by Kapembwa, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

(Emmanuel Kapembwa, c.1970s, photograph provided by Kapembwa, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

These everyday looks designed by Emmanuel appear to be popular across the Zamrock scene, and young Zambian people at the time, regardless of gender. As seen in this photograph of Violet Kafula, dubbed the ‘Godmother of Zamrock. She is pictured wearing typical 70s squared sunglasses, with her subtle paisley print shirt tucked neatly into her trousers.  

(Billy, Violet, Shaddick, c.1970s, emailed to author by Arlotta 25th August, 2020)

Gio informed me that Emmanuel is still a full-time tailor. He sometimes creates his more flamboyant looks like the suit worn by Jagari in the first image, as well as day to day outfits. Either way, they are always completed with his signature flair. 

Platform Boots 

One of the key style elements of Zamrock that stood out to me through examining these images were the platform boots. An article from the late 70s from The Times of Zambia appears in the film, titled ‘Those Boots Weren’t Made For Walking!’. The article describes the new fashionable fad of high heeled boots, which were being hand made by young people in Zambia from planks and animal skins. One of the photographs sent to me shows Jagari in 1975 wearing an incredible pair of platforms. The muted yet bright colours of yellow, orange, blue, and teal are composed together in a contrasting striped pattern. His jeans are cut just above the knee to ensure maximum exposure of these statement boots. 

(Emanyeo ‘Jagari’ Chanda, February 1975, photograph provided by Chanda, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

These boots do not appear to be handmade in the way the newspaper described, although Gio informed me that the boots were ‘bought and made in Nairobi, Kenya – still handmade, but in a more professional way.’ (Gio Arlotta, email correspondence with author, 2020). The Zamrock band, ‘Ngozi Family’ can also be seen wearing platforms, barely visibly under their bell-bottoms. Each member wears a stylish coat, identifiable to their 1970s era by the exaggerated, tapered collars. Tommy and Chrissy wear matching baker boy style hats, a style more familiar to the Western eye than the Kapembwa designed hats for WITCH, but still in theme with the popularity of wearing hats for performing.  

(‘Ngozi Family’ band, c.1970s, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

Standing Out 

The wearing of hats gets even more fascinating when looking at a performance photograph of the band ‘Salty Dog’. The one member wears a Scottish Tam O’Shanter bonnet, complete with a fringed leather waistcoat. Certainly not what you expect to be seen worn by a rock band in 70s Zambia. I discussed the effect of globalisation with Gio, as the crossing of cultures and fashion across borders kept standing out to me through these images and the film. This is illustrated in the film when Jagari went to visit his friend Groovy Joe. In his house a Tom Jones record is pinned to the wall, which excited me as a proud Welsh native, alongside other records by Black Sabbath and Cliff Richard. While globalisation may have played a part in influencing Zamrock fashions, the key ingredient was to stand out. Regarding Zamrock bands, Gio explained that ‘whatever could make anyone stick out from the others was their preferred choice, so they would just get their hands on anything they could find and just make it work.’ (Gio Arlotta, email correspondence with author, 2020) 

(‘Salty Dog’ band, c.1970s, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

The process of learning more about the fashion on Zamrock at first appeared limited due to the lack of resources I could find. However, Gio’s research of this scene in Zambia, and subsequent film, has shed light on this extraordinary moment in time. The fashion of Zamrock can be summarised to three elements: hats, bell-bottoms, and high-heeled bootsultimately, the final looks are demonstrations of individuality and boldness. 

(Jagari performing, 1974, emailed to author by Arlotta 24th August, 2020)

Gio described that ‘in a way their approach was very much an “anything goes” one, and often the more outrageous it was, the more they liked it (Jagari going onstage with torn pyjamas was something that many remember) and still to this day, before shows Jagari goes and looks for the most outrageous clothes he can find to wear onstage, be it at thrift shops or high street fast fashion shops.’ (Gio Arlotta, email correspondence with author, 2020). Jagari, and the re-formed members of WITCH, continue to perform in those special hats designed by Emmanuel, revitalising the 70s Zamrock scene and its fashion for a whole new audience of today. 

Special thanks to Gio Arlotta for answering my many questions, and for sharing these amazing images. 

View the trailer for ‘W.I.T.C.H: We Intend To Cause Havoc’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTJsp0oe3sA&t=11s 

Sources: 

‘W.I.T.C.H: We Intend To Cause Havoc’, film directed by Gio Arlotta, 2019 

Email correspondence with Gio Arlotta, 24th-25th August 2020 

https://www.instagram.com/weintendtocausehavoc/?hl=en 

facebook.com/weintendtocausehavocfilm 

The Times of Zambia , ‘Those Boots Weren’t Made For Walking!’, c.1975/76, ‘W.I.T.C.H: We Intend To Cause Havoc’ film still (34:26) 

 

Alumni Spotlight: Frances Crossley

Having completed her undergraduate degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Frances Crossley returned to study on the ‘Documenting Fashion’ MA course with Dr Rebecca Arnold in 2018. Frances currently works at Richard Green Gallery and is also the AHRC Networking Project Administrator for the Fashion Interpretations project. In this interview we discuss how the global crises of today’s climate has affected the way we interpret and approach fashion, as well as how Frances’ MA dissertation about the reproduction of fashion and its cyclical nature is especially relevant today. 

MB: Hi Frances! Could you please expand upon how you came to work at Richard Green gallery, and what led you into becoming the project administrator for Fashion Interpretations (AHRC networking project)? I am interested in your experience working with traditional paintings and modern British art, as well as working with fashion. Do you find any interesting correlations between the two?   

FC: Of course, so I began working at the gallery back in 2015. I had applied to do my undergraduate degree at the Courtauld and I knew that I would like to gain a little experience in the industry before committing to a degree, so I started at the gallery in a work experience capacity. I was older than most going into my undergraduate course and after working for a few years after finishing sixth form, I knew it was important to gain qualifications in a field I was interested in working in, long term.  

I thought I would be at the gallery for just a couple of weeks, but I slowly began to take on more responsibilities and then before entering into my first term at the Courtauld (so I had been at the gallery roughly nine months), I was asked to join the research department and cover a colleague’s maternity leave – so throughout both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I was incorporating what I was learning every day at university into my research practice at the gallery, the two spaces continually informing one another. It was hugely instructional for me and though incredibly challenging at times, it genuinely taught me how to manage my time effectively.  

In the years I spent as a researcher at the gallery, yes, fashion would occasionally creep into my work. In 2017, the gallery held an exhibition entitled “A Flair for Fashion” which celebrated the art of dress in British portraiture from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. This project was informative for me, highlighting how dress could be incorporated within the commercial art industry, but in a way that is educational and fun. It’s hard when you’re studying, to envision how our fashion-history obsessions can be tangibly woven into settings such as these; but this project proved it was possible.  

Each portrait from the exhibition was impeccably researched – I was obsessed with the catalogue, it was really beautiful, and something I was so proud to have worked on and contributed to – each painting had its own accompanying essay and Aileen Ribiero, formerly Head of the History of Dress at The Courtauld, wrote an introductory essay for the catalogue and smaller essays on each portrait’s dress. As I had only been part of the research department for a year, I contributed to the essays and research where I could, but I predominantly helped with sourcing comparative images from museums, galleries, institutes from around the world to enrich catalogue essays – I really learnt a lot! This is one of my favourites that I helped source, (interesting as I later wrote on Poiret in my MA dissertation!):  

Paul Poiret, LE JARDIN DE L’INFANTE: Robe du soir, de Paul Poiret, September 1920, Gazette du Bon Ton, No. 7, Plate 52, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I also helped to conduct several Instagram takeovers for the gallery, including one by Peter Copping [https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/peter-copping] which was a lot of fun. I think I find the most enjoyment in working collaboratively with people.  

Collage by FC, words and image selection made by Peter Copping

I have to admit, fashion theory, actually art theory in general; very rarely came into my practice at the galleries; however, it has of course been present throughout my role with Fashion Interpretations, so that has given me my much-needed dose of post-MA reading material! And my path to the role was really simple: Rebecca sent out a DM to our MA group (*The Glitter Gang*) last September, letting us know about the vacancy. I applied – with haste, finishing my application on my birthday! – interviewed with Rebecca and Judith (and Oliver, the Courtauld Insitute’s Research Manager) and was lucky enough to be offered the position. It has been ridiculously dreamy, ever since! 

MB: Could you discuss your role within the Fashion Interpretations project? 

FC: My role has a pretty snazzy title, if I do say so myself – I am the project’s AHRC Networking Project Administrator (yup.). This effectively means that I am responsible for the project’s upkeep, making sure all the behind-the-scenes, administrative stuff gets done. I have been involved with a number of different parts of the project, organising our Networking Project meetings, helping to draft and, actually, redraft our budget – COVID has meant a project extension, project members unable to travel, our symposium being translated into a virtual event, etc. – which is completely new for me, preparing for our symposium (details coming very soon!), setting up and curating both our blog and Instagram account, coordinating Instagram takeovers by our members, and soon, helping with the production of Archivist Addendum – the publication by Dal Chodha and Jane Howard that will house all our project members’ work and essays, I will be helping with proof-reading our members’ submissions.  

Events such as our Networking meeting in May have really stood out to me as an opportunity to be grateful for, grateful to be a part of; getting to listen to this fabulous group of people discuss their work. How they have interpreted the project’s theme, their individual translations on the ways in which modern and contemporary fashion is reinterpreted through various mediums. If you want to read more about what we discussed, I wrote a comprehensive account of our meeting for the project’s blog: https://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/fashioninterpretations/2020/05/12/a-change-in-meeting/  

MB: Fashion Interpretations considers the way fashion is transformed through different mediums. Has this become even more prominent in discussion, now that the global pandemic has forced us all online in order to share and connect? 

FC: Medium truly informs everything, it is the lens through which we filter every facet of the everyday. Therefore fashion, as an expression of the self, through dress, modification, as a material interpretation, is unimaginably affected by the COVID-19 crisis.  

Fashion can be articulated through various media and though I am constantly viewing and cataloguing fashion imagery, as a personal practice and as part of my role for the project, the medium that I feel most readily in contact with is both the fashion I dress myself in and the fashion that defines the relationships closest to me. How each of my friends represents a unique interpretation of fashion, my sneakerhead brother’s endearing DMs about footwear drops he’s stalking online, the comforting smell of my mum’s bluey-green scarf that she wraps herself in when cold, the decorative hair accessories my best friends daughter removes throughout the day, punctuating the hours we’ve spent together – as we navigate through this crisis, it’s strange how I can identify the loss of these intimacies, small fragments of their personhood. That has been very meaningful to me, watching them resurface as lockdown has eased.  

In order to continue sharing and connecting, we have to make a more definite move into a virtual space. Within fashion, taking an intrinsically material form of expression, a subject designed to be shared and interpreted as a collective, and channelling it through a medium – the digital – which could potentially isolate those taking part, it is a tricky transition. I think what is most important during the current climate is the establishment of communities and I feel very fortunate to be part of one through the Fashion Interpretations project. Our digital communications have been important to me, in these past months. 

MB: Your MA dissertation examined what the act of ‘copying’ means in the fashion industry, specifically focusing on Parisian haute couture being copied by American ready-to-wear in the interwar periods. This ‘copying and recycling of trends is interesting to consider now, as fashion often looks to the past following moments of crisis (e.g Dior’s New Look). Do you think there will be a need for nostalgia in dress following the current global pandemic? Or will the increasing awareness in supporting local, small businesses, and buying vintage break the cycle? 

FC: Yes, so in my dissertation I discussed how reproduction, or “copying”, is a valid mode of fashion production and a trend perpetually readdressed throughout fashion history. I had originally wanted to place my exploration in the present, or recent-present, due to a conversation I entered into with Edward Crutchley over Instagram, before starting my dissertation. It was a weird but very 2019 entrance into a dissertation subject and the conversation actually formed the basis of my introduction too – though the process felt quite informal, it simultaneously felt as though it had developed with me and my experiences, which made it special.   

After the MA trip to New York, I formed a small obsession with American sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin and was regularly stalking the feed of the Instagram account @cashincopy [https://www.instagram.com/cashincopy], on which Dr Stephanie Lake (its owner) often posts comparative collages / images, placing designs of Cashin’s in conversation with similar contemporary fashions, “copies” – she has taken the matter of policing the reproduction of Cashin’s designs into her own hands. It encouraged a similar personal practice, wherein I began a sartorial version of snap with myself, banking images in my memory and “Saved” folder on Instagram, making connections to try and track this continuously looping pattern within modern fashion that kept resurfacing. Long story short – I found this image of Cashin wearing a tall, wide-brimmed hat online. As opposed to Dr Lake’s side-by-side layouts, I created and posted a two-image slide post. The cover image was from Edward Crutchley’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show during London Fashion Week Men’s in January 2019. The image features a collection of models backstage, two looking directly into the camera’s lens and a third – the point of interest in this comparison piece – whose attention is being held away from the camera’s gaze. Atop this third model’s head is a tall, wide-brimmed hat (designed by Crutchley, in collaboration with Stephen Jones), its structure is implied through a meshed, translucent nylon that allows the bones of the hat’s unique construction to be perpetually on show. It is fixed to the model’s head with a ribbon that fastens across the centre of her neck. Behind this image was an archival photograph of Cashin, modelling a cylindrical hat of similar design. 

The first half of the post I uploaded on my IG feed, featuring Edward Crutchley / Stephen Jones designs, and the second half

 

Dr Stephanie Lake later informed me that Cashin purchased the hat worn in this photograph during her travels for the Ford Foundation throughout Asia during the 1950s. I meant this post to act purely as a personal exercise, to visually demonstrate the cyclical movement of late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries fashion design and how fragments of the past are resurrected in contemporary modes, giving historicised motifs new meaning. But it inspired a response – as result, I assume, of a post-Diet Prada virtual fashion landscape – and Crutchley messaged me to correct my comparison, his AW19 hats were actually based on the traditional male, Korean bridal gat (a form of Joseon-era headwear): “My hat was based on a traditional Korean gat … the originals are horse hair but [Crutchley and Stephen Jones] used a nylon crin.” Another cycle, and we are shown how each articulation of this accessory is interconnected. 

Gat-gate, messages received from Edward Crutchley, detailing his reference

 

So maybe not so long story short, sorry (!), but these moments of reinterpretation, I find, are constant and so fascinating. And we crave them, look how many nostalgic, vintage-aesthetic Instagram accounts / influencers exist. I genuinely follow about 20-or-so fashion throwback accounts that feature the word “nostalgia” in their IG bio (now you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it). It is accounts such as these that push our eternal yearning to revisit the past in order to find new forms of inspiration – a gat for example, revisited for decades, taking on new meanings. I would love to think that the current climate will push us to support local businesses, to find creative, kinder new ways in which to reinvent our wardrobes and shopping practices but it’s so hard to not become disheartened by fast-fashion’s hold over so many of us. I feel – maybe it’s my age / who I follow on social media / the media or entertainment that I am constantly surrounded by – that our collective complacency has been recognised but it’s not being rectified ferociously enough. 

 

MB: This recalls a post you wrote for the Documenting Fashion blog in 2018, ‘A Portrait of Jeremy Scott’, in which you discuss his self-awareness in presenting as a “King of kitsch”. An artist I worked with, Ben Frost, had his artwork (which addresses pop-culture and consumerism) used in Moschino’s 2018 fall/winter collection. The models wore Jackie Kennedy style pillbox hats, referencing the 1960’s, while also painted head to toe in varying colours, to appear ‘alien-like’. Is this “kitschy” nostalgia, but also desire for the future/other-worldly, a theme that you think will keep developing now in fashion? 

 

FC: I think so, for certain brands, I think it’s connected to that desire to return to past styles. A craving for nostalgia, which, for me, is inherently linked to kitsch and this playful interpretation of “fashion” as something fun or borderline silly. To most, Jeremy Scott included, this could be translated through a childhood understanding of “dress up”, becoming a character and embodying their form through dress, makeup, exaggerated affectations. I remember this season that you’ve mentioned, Moschino AW18, the conspiracy theorist-esque backstory, the Jackie O uniforms absurdly blended with outer space undertones – I think Scott quoted his inspiration was sourced from this anecdotal urban-myth wherein JFK told Marilyn Monroe that aliens were real, Monroe freaked and threatened she was going to leak the story to the press and then she was killed as a consequence, total conspiracy vibes, messy, messy, messy. This is such a childlike reaction, you learn about a wildly fanciful story (be it fairytale or a political-sexual-extraterrestrial scandal), you pick at its most fascinating elements, then you haphazardly splice them together to create this wonderful hybrid. We’ve all been there…  

Even last week, when Scott rebuilt the runway in miniature for the Moschino SS21 presentation, as a gloriously fantastical puppet show, all I could think of was the magic that puppets, small ornate wooden bodies held up by string and painted with little, delicate faces, held for me as a child (think Jim Henson or John Wright of the Little Angel Theatre). Though in that blog post you mention, I gave Scott a bit of a hard time, I was stunned by the thoughtfulness he displayed throughout the SS21 presentation, the show already feels like a piece of fashion history that remarkably documents our current circumstances, and the need for boldness.  

A post from Fashion Interpretations’ Instagram feed, discussing the Moschino SS21 runway presentation

“Kitsch” could easily define the throughline that weaves Scott’s collections together or his overwhelmingly potent aesthetic. However, “kitsch” to me, is not too far away from the ironic, ironic fashion, which is interpreted far more subjectively. I also wrote a post on “fashion gimmickry” for the Fashion Interpretations blog, which takes a little more of an in depth look at this idea: https://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/fashioninterpretations/2020/02/03/fashion-gimmickry-interpretation-imitation/  

MB: You are interested in how repetition manifests within fashion, have you noticed any repetition of trends happening right now? Or have you had any personal desire to dress differently as the lockdown is slowly lifting? 

FC: Again, to me, to my eye, repetition manifests constantly, it is embedded into the fashion industry’s foundations. Fashion is a powerful cultural phenomenon that shouldn’t be reduced to a singular, “present-day” understanding. In her essay ‘So Last Season: The Production of the Fashion Present in the Politics of Time’, Aurélie Van Der Peer notes how we (academics / industry professionals / the fashion world-adjacent) tend to regard fashion as rooted in the present, that we discount how contemporary fashions are deceivingly characterised by the absence of fashion history. References such as the aforementioned: @cashincopy, promote the necessity of originality in fashion design but referencing of past fashion histories is essential to the way our current fashion system functions. 

“Trends”, whether knowingly or not, possess elements of past fashions, maybe scrambled or purist. I have formed a minor obsession with sweater vests for example recently, knitted and in a variety of different colours, prints, perfect for a mid-season shift in temperature. This is a garment I associate with the nineties, but it also hangs in my memory as a distinctly seventies garment, and it’s present again in imagery from the decade previous, it pops up throughout the century, being repeatedly revived. See here a pic of sweater vest I would love to own, money no object. 

 

From my favourite @persephonevint, find them on Etsy

I wouldn’t say how I am dressing is drastically different post-lockdown, I would say however that I am having to regain some confidence. In my early twenties, I had unshakable faith in my ability to covet and coordinate unique pieces, I always felt very strong in harnessing them into very *me* outfits but that strength had been slowly whittled away in the past couple of years and I think lockdown has exacerbated that feeling. Now, as I am venturing out into social settings a little more often, there’s time to prepare and put more care into the process, hopefully that will give me the space to rebuild the confidence that was lost. 

MB: I was interested in your blog post from 2019 about the ‘Neue Frau’ in German Weimar-era lesbian magazines. I examined the sexual and social liberations of Weimar-era cinema in my dissertation; how gender fluidity and drag was accessed in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, 1959, by using the disguise of the more risqué 1920s, and the film’s original roots in Weimar-era cinema. Your idea that gender subversion was accessed through the multi-faceted identity of the Neue Frau demonstrates how self-image reflects the climate of a country (i.e. Germany’s fear of masculine women). How relevant do you think these themes of disguise, and re-fashioning the body in times of crisis are, in fashion right now?    

FC: In lockdown we remained indoors for our own safety, for the safety of our family members and loved ones, those who were vulnerable and in need of protection – it served as a period of isolation, in order to preserve life. It felt like a hibernation, after which we would re-enter the outside world, though cautiously, in order to regain a sense of normality.  

Whenever I considered the figure of the ‘Neue Frau’ (this was also the subject of my second assessed essay during the MA) I imagined her building this impenetrable layer of sartorial armour around herself and in the case of the women documented in the pages of publications such as Liebende Frauen, her queer identity – the heteronormative ‘masculinity’ that underlined her new age interpretation of femininity acting as a protective shield, to ward away those who ridiculed or refused to understand her. I came across these queer, Weimar-age magazines by chance, I was researching for my assessed essay and reading different event pages for the 2016 LACMA exhibition “New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933”. In an article post by LACMA surrounding this exhibition entitled “Homosexuality Is a German Invention”, curator Nana Bahlmann noted several of these magazines, I then went on to contact SpinnbodenLesbenarchiv und Bibliothek in Berlin and trawled through lots and lots of issues! It was such a fun process of exploration.  

I think refashioning is conceived through conflict or trauma. In this tumultuous, interwar period an overwhelming number of men were removed from the urban workforce, throughout Europe and in Germany, through conscription. As in all combatant countries, women were therefore expected to fill vacant positions in order to maintain industrial productivity. Women occupied the spaces their male counterparts left behind. And in a post-war Germany, they visibly gained greater movement through previously inaccessible social and political spaces. However, this progression was compounded by economic and political insecurities that Conservative forces viewed as symptomatic of the newly formed Weimar Republic. A nationwide anxiety could work to actively stifle our self-fashioning freedoms, as this example demonstrates, but we have alternative spaces through which to channel such expressions. Though the virtual realm can be ugly and outright dangerous in many circumstances, it provides a much-needed environment to experiment with all manner of fashioning.  

Here is the link to the article we’ve mentioned: http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2019/02/26/in-her-image-the-documentation-of-the-neue-frau-in-german-weimar-era-lesbian-magazines/  

MB: At the start of May, the Fashion Interpretations group met as a full group for the first time via a zoom meeting. Will Fashion Interpretations continue to change and adapt to our current climate (regarding the black lives matter movement and covid-19 especially), in correlation with the way the fashion world is changing and adapting also? 

FC: The horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake have irrevocably altered the fabric of our global consciousness. The viral video of George Floyd’s death became a catalyst for a civil uprising, spurring the largest-scale protests in American history. These are unavoidable tragedies that force us all to reexamine our own social and political practices, our own educations on black histories, stories, experiences. I cannot speak for the Fashion Interpretations project as a whole, it is a group of academics and creatives who work independently, but the Black Lives Matter movement has and will forever continue to influence my own research and writing.  

And yes, the COVID crisis has affected how Fashion Interpretations functions logistically and certain events in our project’s calendar have had to be seriously adapted. As previously mentioned, later this year, we will be holding our symposium virtually, it will be a week-long event and our members will be discussing their contributions to the project and showing us they work – we can’t wait to share the details with everyone! A definite change in my working world that has been totally undone by the global pandemic is the constant influx of emails. 

MB: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom you can share for the Documenting Fashion students who have just graduated. There is certainly an air of uncertainty when you graduate, which seems especially amplified now! 

FC: To remember that if the future you had envisioned seems fragile or even unfathomable right now, that many others feel the terrifying weight of this crisis too. Also, none of us have encountered anything of this magnitude before, so to feel clueless in the face of its effects is not weak; we have to support one another through it, however we can. If you can’t find work relevant to your degree or the field in which you are interested, continue reading and educating yourself. Fill out as many applications in a week as you can stomach, write where you can, check in regularly with your *thing* – so for me, the patterns, if I can find a new link (it’s been fashion month, which has brought with it levity and some much-needed joy!) between the old and new, I am reminded of why I love fashion history and why I worked so hard for my degree – make lists (dream jobs, companies / institutions you would be proud to work for, different professional spaces you would be keen to occupy) – basically, keep busy. Don’t necessarily mount pressure on yourself but keep yourself agile. So, when your opportunity arrives, you are beyond prepared for it. Nobody ever suffered from being over prepared.  

Also, be kind. We all need a little kindness.  

Interview by Mollie Beese