In Conversation with Isla Simpson

Isla Simpson seems to live in a world bedecked in the beauty of her own creation. The multifaceted designer has adorned stationery, china, mirrors, linens, and candles with her delightfully romantic visions of climbing ivy, budding roses, and silky ribbons, creating a portfolio that is nothing short of a chintzy fairytale. Before she lent her hand to the world of lush interiors and painted papers, Simpson spent a decade and a half working in accessories design, an experience she says informs her work now but also gave her courage to set off on her own away from the world of fashion. To add further to her impressive resume, Simpson is a Documenting Fashion alum of sorts, having studied with Dr. Rebecca Arnold during their time at Central Saint Martins! Below, we caught up with Simpson about the journey she’s taken following the passion that has always tugged at her (surely bow-tied) heartstrings.

 

Portrait of Isla Simpson taken by Kyle Galvin for L’Occitane

 

I’ve garnered from your social media and your lovely website that you started your career working in fashion (and I’ve also gathered that you might be eager to talk about it! No pressure if you are not, of course). How did you enter into the fashion industry and what did your career in the fashion world entail?

I knew from the moment I arrived at Saint Martin’s that accessories design was for me, so I worked as a weekend shop girl at Anya Hindmarch and went straight into women’s handbag design on graduation. I worked for various brands over 15 years, designing everything from the shape of the bag and purses to the metal componentry and the leathers. It was a niche career, but I’d engineered myself into the ‘It bag’ era, so my skill set was in demand.

 

What made you decide to depart from the fashion industry to start your independent career as a designer and illustrator?

Longevity in my field has always been important to me. The generation of designers above me all seemed to disappear after 40, so I knew I had a problem on the horizon. I could foresee the industry would only support me if I went into middle management in an age-appropriate brand. The only way to future-proof myself was to set up on my own, and I thought it was scarier not to try…

I should add I was also creatively burnt out, too. When I entered the industry, we designed the traditional two seasons a year. By the time I left, it was nudging eight collections. It took a pandemic to stop those product-churning cogs, even though we all knew it was wrong.

 

Do you find that your time in fashion informs the way you work now? Have you reshaped your creative process as you work independently?

Absolutely! Fashion training was second to none, I learnt everything I know standing on the factory floor (my factories were amazing), drawing technical drawings, software packages etc. You have to meet the deadline; the buck stops with you.

When that chapter closed, I had to ‘reboot and unplug’ myself from trends, and the merchandising team whispering ‘bestseller’ in my ear. I sought inspiration in the British Library archives and old country houses. I allowed myself to be besotted with everything chintzy and feminine, for no reason other than my enjoyment.

I now only design products that I truly love, in the hope that my followers love them too. Because my designs come from a place of true passion, and respect for chintz patterns, that sustains me through the tough times such as 2020.

 

 

You work with such a wide variety of media – gorgeous papers, linens and, of course, the iPad. Do you find that your approach to illustration changes across each?

It definitely keeps things fresh! The uniting aesthetic is that my work is always quite flat, respecting that tradition of graphic, block printing in chintz surface pattern.

Sadly, few new chintz patterns are designed – it’s just no longer commercially viable to pay a designer for weeks to hand paint as they would have done in the old days. I’ve developed techniques that mimic the textures and brushes of old chintzes on the iPad, which means I can design that old-school look faster. All the brands I collaborate with are in a hurry, so there’s no time for scanning in and cleaning up.

 

 

Your work seems so steeped in the lush beauty of British history. Are there any particular periods or styles of design history that inform your work?

I used to spend hours at the Museum of Costume in Bath as a teenager which probably tells you everything you need to know about my love for Regency aesthetic. I’m drawn to the sentimentality of Victoriana, but stylistically I’m always trying to return to the 80s/90s – the cosy chapter of my childhood.

 

 

Is there a relationship between your personal style and your designs?

The two are now so intertwined, I barely know where one begins and the other starts…I want ruffles on my dresses, bed linen and my linen hand towel designs.

In the fashion years, I had to suppress my own style in favour of whichever accessories brand I was designing for and represented. Now, I just feel unapologetically myself – you could come back in twenty years’ time and the house will still be full of blousey curtains and pie-crust collars. It’s just part of my DNA.

 

 

Finally, this might be a bit selfish, but it seems that you have an unbelievable collection of vintage ribbons and textiles and I’m so curious to have a metaphorical peek: is there one ribbon or swatch that has been particularly inspiring or comforting to you during this year spent inside?

I used to feel embarrassed about being a grown woman collecting ribbons, but I am in good company on Instagram, so I’ll happily share.

My Mum studied Italian in Naples as a mature student, and I used to visit her during the holidays. This silky swatch came from the most fantastic vintage ribbon shop – I wish I could remember the address – I’d give my right arm to return to. The woven underside is as beautiful as the top. I’m launching lots of embroidered table linen designs this year, all of which were designed during the pandemic year, when I had to make do and be resourceful with my inspiration. Ribbons make the best colourway and construction research.

 

Courtesy of Isla Simpson

Interview by Ruby Redstone

The Italian suit: Fellini, Mastroianni and Jep Gambardella

Suits have been considered ‘naturally masculine’ since their birth in the late seventeenth century, as argued by fashion scholar Anne Hollander. Tracing their modern evolution back to the Enlightenment, when a rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman ideals took place, Hollander explains that the survival of modern suits is due to their simultaneous suggestion of classical nudity and confident male sexuality. In Italy, the sartorial suit has come to represent the quintessential mise of elegant and fashionable men, reinforced by the outfits of two characters embodying an image of Italian masculinity and style recognised worldwide: Marcello Rubini of La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960), and his modern reincarnation, Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza (2013). Their suits speak of the most refined Italian sartorial tradition, emblematic of a vision of the Italian ‘Latin Lover’ much indebted to Fellini’s masterpiece.

Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita (1960) gave birth to a powerful trope signifying Italian style, fashion and glamour, recognized both in Italy and abroad. Especially in terms of menswear, the movie started a real revolution. Piero Gherardi, costume designer, set designer and art director of La Dolce Vita, chose for Marcello Mastroianni Brioni’s ‘Roman style’ suits, which he wore throughout the film. The brand, founded in Rome in 1945 by tailor Nazareno Fonticoli and businessman Gaetano Savini, received greater exposure thanks to the incredible success of the movie and became known as the epitome of Italian sartorial elegance. As opposed to the Savile Row’s ‘boxy, almost military suits of stiff lines and finite palette of materials, colors and details’, Brioni put forward a form-fitting style of suits for men: ‘elegant, impeccably made, and undeniably formal’, but also relaxed and unpretentious.

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita wearing the Brioni “Roman Style” suit. (https://www.artribune.com/attualita/2014/02/percezioni-proiezioni-dellitalia/attachment/2_marcello-mastroianni-ne-la-dolce-vita-federico-fellini-1960/)

This was the starting point of a different image of masculinity, one that moved past Flügel’s idea of ‘Great Masculine Renunciation,’ in which – since the end of the eighteenth century –men had abandoned their beauty in favour of being ‘only useful’. The character of Marcello Rubini, a socialite journalist part of the Roman elite made of Hollywood stars like Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), and incredibly wealthy youth like Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), became the symbol of this revolution, reclaiming menswear’s right to draw attention to itself. Fellini played a crucial role in the establishment of this attire, and it is not a coincidence that in his three movies starring Mastroianni – La Dolce Vita (1960), (1963) and City of Women (1980) – the costumes worn by the Italian actor are variations of the classic male suit. The cynical journalist Marcello Rubini, the indecisive director Guido Anselmi and the middle-aged businessman Snàporaz, all equally tormented by feminine figures who seem to dominate their universe, can be seen sporting the dark suit – completed with a white or striped shirt, and a dark tie – and the almost inevitable pair of dark glasses. These elements transformed Mastroianni into ‘the man everybody wanted to be, or be with,’ a model of consumption for a consumer society, whether European or American, and the embodiment of the Italian ‘Latin Lover.’

Marcello Mastroianni in 8½. Photo by Paul Ronald. Centro Cinema Città di Cesena. (https://iicberlino.esteri.it/iic_berlino/de/gli_eventi/calendario/2017/02/ciao-marcello.html)

Today, the symbol of the suit has become an integral part of Italian culture and style, and the character of Marcello still echoes in modern productions, such as Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (2013). Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of the movie, seems to be shaped as an older version of Marcello Rubini: same profession, same social milieu, and above all the same sense of fashion. There are some almost identical outfits worn at similar occasions, such as the black suit and tie as everyday uniform, and the impeccable white suit they both sport at the beach – or near it, in the case of Jep. The white suit – an equally iconic style that continues to appear in menswear collections – was symptomatic of the introduction of colour that characterized the new style created by Brioni, which also presented red as one of the colours of men’s eveningwear.

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita. Cineteca di Bologna/Reporters associati. (https://iicberlino.esteri.it/iic_berlino/de/gli_eventi/calendario/2017/02/ciao-marcello.html)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing the white suit as he visits the place where the cruise ship Costa Concordia sank. Photo by Janus Film, 2013. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2358891/mediaviewer/rm96719360/)

All these elements were translated in the style of Jep, whose outfits included red and yellow sport jackets matched with white cotton trousers and shirts, worn without ties for a more relaxed look. Behind Jep’s impeccable image stands another historical sartoria, Cesare Attolini of Naples, birthplace of Sorrentino, Servillo and the character of Jep, too. One of the oldest and finest sartorie in Naples, Attolini created a series of bespoke suits with the help of Servillo himself and costume designer Daniela Ciancio, who decided to mix them with more formal Armani suits. Jep’s tailor-made outfits seem to caress his body as he slowly and elegantly walks among the ‘great beauty’ of Rome, constituting a ‘soft armour’ and ‘his shield against the ugliness and vulgarity of the world.’ They are as eccentric and dandyish as Gambardella himself, in a way that perfectly matches his tenor of life. In fact, by alternating scenes of ‘high life,’ be it the extravagant parties on Jep’s terrace or his night-time walks around the city’s splendid streets, Sorrentino represented a sense of wealth, both cultural and economical, that often degenerates into pure excess.

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing a red sport jacket by sartoria Attolini. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing a yellow sport jacket by sartoria Attolini. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) in a black suit and tie in La Grande Bellezza. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

The emphasis on the artisanal, made-by-hand and luxury aspect of the ‘Made in Italy,’ represented by Attolini’s suits for La Grande Bellezza, as well as Brioni’s in La Dolce Vita, reflects a globally defining mark of Italian style that especially characterises men’s sartorial elegance. These suits present a specific economic and cultural value which identifies the men who wear them with a certain type of masculinity not predetermined but rather culturally and publicly sustained. Worn and afforded only by certain individuals, socialites and trendsetters, they become emblems of a lascivious lifestyle that characterised, and still characterises, the model of the ‘Latin Lover,’ presented on screen through the figures of Marcello Rubini and Jep Gambardella.

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources

Flügel, J. C. The Psychology of Clothes. London: Hogarth Press & the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1940.

Hochkofler, Matilde. Marcello Mastroianni: the fun of cinema. Translated by Jocelyn Earle. Rome: Gremese International, 1992.

Levy, Shawn. Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome. London: Hachette UK, 2016.

Paulicelli, Eugenia. Italian Style: Fashion & Film from Early Cinema to the Digital Age. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Reich, Jacqueline. Beyond the Latin lover: Marcello Mastroianni, masculinity, and Italian cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

 

Films

(Federico Fellini, Italy, 1963).

City of Women (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1980).

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1960).

La Grande Bellezza (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy, 2013).

An Ode to Grace

The burn out from sitting at the same desk for weeks on end is starting to get to me. Starved of external stimuli, I’ve found myself scrolling through Pinterest, Instagram, even Tumblr, for images which might evoke a sense of life before lockdown. In my search for inspiration, I keep coming back to the work of Grace Coddington. The iconic stylist known for her collaborations with Bruce Weber, Annie Leibowitz and Mario Testino amongst others, she is hailed by many as the most influential fashion editor of the past forty years. Her eclectic repertoire, from moody to ethereal to romantic to noir, provides an endless source of uplifting imagery. Over the past few weeks, I have found myself pondering what makes her images so unique, and indeed so ‘Grace’.

Vogue US, April 2012. photographed by Tim Walker. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @supernovafashionn

In her memoire, Grace reflects, ‘For me, one of the most important aspects of my work is to give people something to dream about, just as I used to dream all those years ago as a child looking at beautiful photographs.’ As Fashion Director of British Vogue and, later, as Creative Director of American Vogue, she masterminded page after page of dream-like editorial. Naomi Campbell in a white convertible surrounded by a pack of dalmatians. Natalia Vodianova as Alice in Wonderland flanked by John Galliano as the Red Queen and Stephen Jones as the Mad Hatter. Keira Knightly bottle feeding an elephant in Kenya in Comme des Garçons. All these images are rooted in the same desire to create a world which readers can escape to and momentarily revel in the beauty of the impossible.

Vogue US, December 2003. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @cybele.atis; Vogue Britain, June 1990. Photographed by Peter Lindbergh. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @inniconceptualmagazine

Grace is thought of by many as a romantic heroine who premises her work solely on her vision of beauty as opposed to commercial ideals. In the 2009 documentary The September Issue, we see her grappling with Anna Wintour over budget and advertising constraints, adamantly defending her twenty-two-page spread ‘Paris, je t’aime’. When she arrives at the Palace of Versailles to shoot the September 2007 couture story, she becomes tearful when confronted by the beauty of the gardens and reflects ‘I think I got left behind somewhere as I’m still a romantic.’ For me, this moment perfectly encapsulates the essence of Grace, and her authentic approach to fashion. In the midst of an increasingly commercialised industry, her images have a sense of purity and fullness, and it is as if she is seeing everything for the first time.

Vogue US, September 2007. Photographed by Stephen Meisel. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @bibajude; Vogue US, December 2013. Photographed Annie Leibovitz. Styled by Grace Coddington. Via Instagram: @arthistoryfashion

Despite her reputation as one of the bastions of the fashion industry, Grace has always professed to disliking trends. In weaving her own narrative out of the latest looks, she creates a timeless vision which immunises the clothes from the ravages of time. In American Vogue’s September 2007 issue, she styled Fall/Winter Giorgio Armani and Carolina Herrera in the style of Brassai’s 1920s photographs of Paris. In the magazine’s December 2013 cover story, she styled Jessica Chastain in Alexander McQueen posing as Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting La Mousmé. In the December 1996 fashion feature, ‘A Feast For the Eyes’, nine supermodels are presented in Christian Lacroix Haute Couture, having a picnic in the park.

In her images, Grace creates stories and characters around the clothes, and in doing so she makes fashion secondary to beauty. This gives her work an enduring quality, and her images remain as magical now as when they were first created.

By Violet Caldecott

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2016/jan/23/grace-coddington-the-woman-who-made-fashion-art

https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/8239/lessons-we-can-learn-from-grace-coddington

https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/32576/1/peek-inside-grace-coddington-s-new-book

https://www.vogue.fr/fashion-culture/fashion-books/diaporama/eight-unforgettable-grace-coddington-fashion-editorials/37515?amp=

Rose-Coloured Tresses: Pink Hair for Dark Times

Every February, like clockwork, I am struck with the sudden urge to dye my hair pink.  The desire is almost inexplicable. Perhaps by this point it is a force of habit or evidence of my desire to blend in with saccharine Valentine’s Day decor, but it also feels like a small act of rebellion against the onslaught of bitter, grey days that blur together in late winter. This season it seems that I am not alone in this desire. Teen Vogue has deemed pink hair to be the ‘defining aesthetic’ of the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is supported by Alex Brownsell, founder of the hair salon Bleach known for its wild colours (and, for the record, producer of this author’s favourite at-home pink dye kit), who told The Guardian that her company has sold one pink hair product every 30 seconds in the past year – which makes for nearly 2,880 people buying bubblegum hues each day since the pandemic began.

While the exact number of Londoners sporting pink hair in lockdown remains difficult to calculate, the reasons the trend has spiked so much this year seem quite simple. Lockdown has felt like an endless late winter slump, each dreary day blending into the next and the familiar walls of our homes beginning to feel, well, too familiar. The visual equivalent of candyfloss made to top your head has the effect of a jolt of sugar to the system – an instant mood booster. Additionally, with screens limiting our outward appearance to the shoulders up, pink hair seems an easy way to set oneself apart from the crowd in an onslaught of endless Zoom calls. (I’ve also found that I receive many more smiles on the street with pink hair – proof perhaps that it’s not just my mood that the colour brightens).

Using blush hair as a distraction from dark times, however, is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. As long ago as Rococo France, men and women tinted their hair pink with powder, a trend which, in hindsight, may have been one of the more minor frivolous diversions from their festering societal problems. Several centuries later, pink hair took on a more practical purpose in cheering up citizens of a war-stricken nation. A 1940 issue of St. Joseph’s News Press proclaims a new fashion for pink hair, writing that across London: ‘Blondes are going to turn pink…for khaki and blonde don’t go together too well. The new pink fashion is becoming especially popular among women in uniform. The new pink tint is the invention of a West End hairstylist, who said that uniforms are playing a big part in hair fashions’.

As Pat Kirkham establishes in ‘Keeping Up the Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ hairstyling and beauty products were essential to the identity of women enlisted in the British military, who were encouraged to maintain traditionally feminine appearances both to differentiate themselves from male soldiers and to project a polished, confident image of unified nationalism. Women not enlisted in the military were similarly encouraged to adhere to their usual beauty routines or enhance them even further, as means of offering comfort to themselves and their families that all was well on the home front. In light of this, unnaturally pink hair seems to be a choice motivated by much more than the fact that blonde hair clashed with khaki uniforms. It seems more likely, perhaps, that a coif of pink hair poked out from a sea of khaki like a beacon of optimism, offering brief respite from the drabness of wartime rationing and imposed service. In occupied Paris, cosmetics took on an air of rebellion, signifying a refusal to adhere to the plainness essential to Nazi standards of femininity. Just four years after the liberation of Paris, the High Fashion Coiffeurs Union showed a shade of pale pink called ‘hermine rose’ as the hair colour of the season, which reads as a jubilant celebration of the full potential of beauty products.

Luminex hair dye ad shown in L’Officiel, late 1930s-early 1940s.

The trend for rosy locks was widespread enough to necessitate options for women who were not ready to take the plunge into permanently colouring their hair. A 1947 piece in Women’s Wear Daily describes how women could purchase pink nylon hair from British designer Bianca Mosca to mix with their own hair, creating a style that coordinated with their pastel evening gowns. A 1942 issue of Harper’s Bazaar praises socialite Mrs. Arturo Lopez-Willshaw for her ‘immaculate and lovely’ hair styles, braided creations that were festooned with pink velvet bows and pearls.

Lapinal hair colour chart, late 1950s, image via Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/listing/894710740/vintage-lapinal-hair-color-chart-poster.

Just ten years later, a brochure for Lapinal hair colour offered no fewer than four shades of pink available to women dyeing their hair at home. In 1964, famed costume designer Edith Head brought pink hair to the silver screen in the movie What a Way to Go! with Shirley MacLaine in a Pepto-Bismol hued bouffant and a fur coat to match. In a London where we are blessedly free from military draft and enemy occupation, pink hair seems a bit less shocking – these days it’s been seen on everyone from Kate Moss to Kylie Jenner. The sentiment behind the style, however, remains unchanged: when the going gets tough, it helps to look at the world with rose-coloured tresses.

Promotional image for What a Way to Go!, 1964, directed by J. Lee Thompson. 20th Century Fox.

By Ruby Redstone

Sources:

Bateman, Kristin. ‘How Pink Hair Came to Define the Aesthetic of Covid-19,’ Teen Vogue. 22 December 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/pink-hair-aesthetic-covid-19.

Elan, Priya. ‘Why pink hair is the “statement-making” hair color trend of the pandemic,’ The Guardian. 8 January 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2021/jan/08/pink-hair-color-trend-pandemic.

Felsenthal, Julia. ‘Pink Hair is All the Rage – Just Like it Was in 1914,’ Slate. 12 May 2011. https://slate.com/culture/2011/05/pink-hair-is-all-the-rage-just-like-it-was-in-1914.html.

Kirkham, Pat, ‘Keeping up Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ in   Atkins, Jacqueline M. ed., Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-45 (New Haven and London: BGC/Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 205-228

‘New Pink Hair Fashion’. St Joseph’s News Press. 14  September 1940. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=G4hkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U3UNAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=6185%2C2174950.

‘Paris Picks Pink Hair-Calls It “Hermine Rose”’. Toledo Blade. 2 December 1948. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mNMpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AgAEAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=2723%2C5938092

“Pink Nylon Hair.” Women’s Wear Daily 75, no. 48 (Sep 08, 1947): 3. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/pink-nylon-hair/docview/1627474466/se-2?accountid=10277.

“SCRAPBOOK.” Harper’s Bazaar 76, no. 2772 (12, 1942): 58-59. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/scrapbook/docview/1832465226/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Shopping Bazaar.” Harper’s Bazaar 71, no. 2704 (01, 1938): 32-37. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/shopping-bazaar/docview/1832491061/se-2?accountid=10277.

The Pas de Deux of Fashion and Ballet

As a little girl, I watched prima ballerinas dress up in flowing tutus and sparkly leotards to perform seemingly impossible manoeuvres with only their bodies and a pair of pointe shoes. Slipping into my own tights, leotard, and shoes while pinning my hair into the tightest bun possible felt like a daily badge of honour. As a former ballerina, I can’t help but admire the intricate, graceful look of ballet costumes and how their designs highlight the elegance of a dancer’s body.

Ballet and fashion are inextricably intertwined, with each art form both inspiring and drawing inspiration from the other. Anna Pavlova, a world-renowned prima ballerina of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wore a particularly striking tutu in her 1905 performance of ‘The Dying Swan,’ a four-minute ballet choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. Pavlova performed the piece thousands of times over the course of her career, and her rendition influenced contemporary versions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Her costume features a tight bodice with soft panels, reminiscent of a swan’s wings, on either side of her tutu and a feathered headpiece.

‘Cygne Noir,’ an evening gown designed by Christian Dior in the mid-twentieth century, reimagined elements of Pavlova’s timeless costume. The gown also incorporates a tight bodice and its skirt billows out in a waterfall of silk and velvet. Furthermore, the gown reconceives the silky panels of Pavlova’s tutu. If Pavlova’s costume embodies the demure fragility of the white swan, Dior’s gown radiates the mystery and seduction of the black swan.

Herman Mishkin, ‘Anna Pavlova, costumed as the dying swan,’ 1905. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Christian Dior, Cygne Noir (Black Swan)
Evening Dress
1949-1950 (made)
Victoria and Albert Museum

The leotard, a fundamental component of ballet costumes and rehearsal wear, has been consistently reimagined and incorporated into fashion. In 1943, Harper’s Bazaar introduced ‘The Leotard Idea’ based on designs created by Mildred Orrick. With sportswear dominating wartime fashion, fashion editor Diana Vreeland hoped to introduce the styles to young women, particularly college girls. She worked with renowned sportswear designer Claire McCardell and Townley Sports to create ‘variations of the leotard theme,’ but the designs were ultimately too expensive to manufacture. However, twenty-first century bodysuits recycle this traditional piece of balletwear into contemporary streetwear.

‘The Leotard Idea,’ Harper’s Bazaar, 1943.

Stella McCartney, ‘Stella Wear Modern Open-Knit Bodysuit’ via https://www.neimanmarcus.com/p/stella-mccartney-stella-wear-modern-open-knit-bodysuit-prod234870329

Twentieth-century camp also seized upon the connection between ballet and fashion. Franco Moschino designed a strapless dress for his fall/winter collection of 1989, combining a bustier top with the ballet pink of a leotard. The dress is an optical illusion, depicting a pair of legs in pink tights and pointe shoes posing in passé, underneath a cropped, pink tulle tutu that protrudes from the black skirt. The ensemble comes alive as the wearer moves; a simple shift in direction sends the legs on the skirt spiralling into a pirouette.

Franco Moschino (Italian, 1950–1994) for House of Moschino (Italian, founded 1983). Dress, fall/winter 1989. Courtesy of Moschino. Photo © Johnny Dufort, 2018. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ballet slippers and pointe shoes are another source of consistent inspiration in fashion. Ballet slippers were first introduced in the eighteenth century by Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo, a French dancer who preferred to perform in soft slippers as opposed to high-heeled shoes, breaking away from traditional dance footwear. A century later, Swedish ballerina Marie Taglioni pioneered the creation of the pointe shoe, which would be further advanced by Anna Pavlova. Pavlova also worked with Salvatore Capezio to create the world’s first international pointe shoe brand. Pointe shoes and ballet slippers were traditionally made for white female ballet dancers. Therefore, pale pink – perceived to be close to the colour of white skin – became the standardised colour for ballet tights and shoes.

Until as recently as 2018, dancers of colour were forced to dye their pointe shoes. As most ballerinas go through two to three pairs of point shoes per week, many dancers spent as much as eight-hundred dollars per year on dyes. However, ballet manufacturers like Gaynor Minden have finally recognised the need to accommodate ballerinas of colour, and ballet shoes are now available in a range of satin colours that represent a wider variety of skin tones.

‘Melle. Taglioni dans La sylphide,’ 1860. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Gaynor Minden’s satin shades for pointe shoes via https://dancer.com/satin-colors/

Modern, prêt-à-porter ballet flats echo their onstage ancestors. They exploded in popularity after Rose Repetto designed flats for Brigitte Bardot in 1956, which Bardot later wore in her film …And God Created Woman. Today’s ballet flats come in a range of colours and styles from various designers, and often feature the dainty bow and soft leather that define the ballet slipper. Brands like Repetto and Chanel continuously revamp the classic silhouettes each season. However, some feature modern twists, such as Simone Rocha’s combination of a ballet flat and trainer. Even the design’s crisscross straps resemble pointe shoe ribbons.

Simone Rocha spring/summer 2021 shoes via https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/simone-rocha-ss21-shoes

Ballet and fashion have also been linked in popular culture and advertising. Stuart Weitzman released a series of advertisements for the 2019 holiday season called ‘Step Inside,’ featuring Misty Copeland, one of the foremost prima ballerinas of the twenty-first century. In one variation, Copeland wears a black bralette and black tulle skirt, modernising the traditional tutu. Her shoes change colour as she chaînés across the room, aligning the artistry of ballet with the ephemerality of fashion.

 

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw wore a pink sleeveless bodysuit and white tulle skirt in the opening sequence of Sex and the City (1998-2004). With love of fashion being one of the show’s central themes, Bradshaw’s ballerina-meets-urban-woman look kicked off every episode, embodying the timeless elegance of the relationship between fashion and ballet. Although I am no longer a ballerina, ballet flats, bodysuits, and the occasional tulle skirt are staples in my wardrobe, and I can’t wait to scoop up more reinvented pieces that put me onstage again.

By Genevieve Davis

Sources:

Arnold, Rebecca. “Sportswear and the New York Fashion Industry during the Second World War.” In the American Look: Fashion and the Image of Women in 1930’s and 1940’s New York. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

Daher, Nadine. “From Ballerina Flats to Tutus, Ballet Has Left Its Mark on Fashion.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ballerina-flats-tutus-ballet-has-left-its-mark-fashion-180974296/.

Marshall, Alex. “Brown Point Shoes Arrive, 200 Years After White Ones.” The New York Times, November 4, 2018, sec. Arts. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/04/arts/dance/brown-point-shoes-diversity-ballet.html.

Pike, Naomi. “It’s A Ballet Slipper, But Not as You Know It: Simone Rocha Has Created A Shoe We Never Knew We Needed.” British Vogue. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/simone-rocha-ss21-shoes.

Pointe. “1820s–1830s: Marie Taglioni and the Romantic Ballerinas,” August 5, 2020. https://www.pointemagazine.com/history-of-pointe-shoes-2646384074.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3?rebelltitem=3.

Staff, C. R. “The History of Ballet Flats.” CR Fashion Book, October 15, 2019. https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/a24663992/the-history-of-ballet-flats/.

Sensory Experience in a Virtual World: Three Young Designers in Focus

As our stay-indoors-dystopia trudges into its eleventh month, an early symptom of a wandering fashion sense may present itself in the form of recent searches on eBay like ‘vintage velvet loungewear’, ‘green knitted balaclava’ and ‘faux fur bonnet’. With nowhere to go where people might look at us, the sense of sight in fashion has been reduced to looking at shoulders on Zoom and the top halves of faces at supermarkets. We finally have chance to experiment with the strange and probably ugly. Even the most fashionable of the work-from-home brigade have relinquished their visually appealing outfits in favour of something that feels comfortable. When looking and being looked at disappears, fashion must search for a more all-encompassing sensory experience.

Of course, fashion and the senses have long been connected. In 1972, Diana Vreeland’s pioneering Balenciaga exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art played traditional Spanish music, and the galleries were misted with the scent of Le Dix. While Vreeland was revolutionary in constructing a playful, multi-sensory experience of fashion, the exhibition retained a disjunct between seeing, smelling and hearing.  Innovative young designers Chet Lo, Monirath and Helena Thulin, on the other hand, are pushing the boundaries of bodily experience by creating and thinking through the senses. Without ignoring the aesthetic importance of design, they invite us to imagine, too, how things could taste, smell and feel.

Chet Lo’s ‘durian’ designs, accessed via https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela

A recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, Chet Lo makes vivid, tight-fitting knitwear that stretches over and hugs its wearer. The fluorescent colours and spiky textures of skirts, leg-warmers, and puff-sleeved jumpers are shamelessly striking. But the arresting visuals take us on a further sensory journey – Lo’s trademark puckered, pointed knitting technique (which was a ‘happy accident’ in his final year of study) mimics the appearance of the durian fruit, an Asian fruit known for its potent smell and formidable spikes. We are taken aback not only optically, but also by imagining a powerful smell and taste. Described by i-D magazine as ‘push[ing] the boundaries of wearability’, the softness of these garments’ feminine silhouette is contrasted with the abstract prick of sharp thorns. The 24-year-old designer’s mantra is to let things happen naturally, so it seems fitting that his happy knitting accident twists ideas of wearability by combining the body’s ordinary outline with an otherworldly-but-natural fruit that conjures up an abundance of sensations.

Departing from the fun and fruity, Brisbane-based designer Monirath creates jarring jewellery and hats that wholly challenge the way we consider accessories and their visual appeal. Her most recent ambitious project includes the ‘Water Hat’, a clear, rippled, ambiguously plastic hat that fastens under the chin with a white or black satin ribbon. The reflections of the wrinkles in the hat create ‘wave refractions’ on the wearers face when beneath a source of light, evoking the sensation of skin submerged in water. Made to order, each ‘Water Hat’ has a different arrangement of waves, creating a unique sensory experience that alters both the feel and appearance of the face (Monirath, with a playful nod to Instagram, describes her work as ‘a real life filter’). Such ground-breaking design gives birth to an entirely distinctive accessory that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but interacts with the body and its surroundings, activating both real and imagined senses.

Helena Thulin, an alumni of Studio Berçot in Paris, similarly experiments with the connection between accessories, nature, and the senses. Through delicate beading, the French designer portrays the simplicity and prettiness of a flower, freshly picked from a grassy meadow. Her earrings, either an asymmetrical pair or a single earring, imitate the individuality of wildflowers. Indeed, her designs are intended to be cherished like a flower, and her beading techniques are intentionally reminiscent of the childhood pleasure of making daisy chains.

‘ASTER CHINENSIS – Pair’, Helena Thulin, accessed via https://helenathulin.com/collections/earrings/products/aster-chinensis-pair

The dainty floral jewels are often photographed on a bed of grass that you can virtually smell and feel, reminding us to associate Thulin’s jewellery with senses evoked by nature’s flora. Toying with the senses even further, a recent promotional shot by Ignacio Barrios for London concept store 50-m shows her beautiful crystal flowers sandwiched jarringly between two slices of white bread.  In creating naturally charming jewellery that is intentionally photographed to arouse the senses, Thulin’s designs are almost good enough to eat.

When considering the work of these young artists, an argument put forward by fashion scholar Marco Pecorari feels pertinent: ‘the materiality of dress is not its sole defining element but rather is part of a network of affects and sensorial activities’. In an increasingly digital universe, feeling connected to our bodies through dress is crucial, and a new generation of designers are helping to activate all of our senses with their innovative and striking designs.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Zoë Kendall, ‘Screwing with silhouettes: these designers are reimagining shape and form’, i-D, published 7 January 2021, https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/bvxy54/young-designers-reimagining-fashion-silhouettes (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Jade Wickes, ‘Chet Lo: a designer set on switching up the knitwear narrative’, The Face, published 3 December 2020, https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Marco Pecorari, ‘Beyond Garments: Reorienting the Practice and Discourse of Fashion Curating’ in Annamari Vänskä and Hazel Clark (eds) Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond (London, 2017), pp. 183-198.

Chet Lo, personal website, https://www.chetlo.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Monirath, personal website, https://monirath.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Helena Thulin, personal website, https://helenathulin.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bimbo: A Fashion Icon

The bimbo has recently been reclaimed as a feminist icon by Gen Z content creators on TikTok. By their standards, being a bimbo involves a self-aware performance of hyper-femininity, whether ‘you’re a girl, a gay or a they’, according to Queen Bimbo Chrissy Chlapecka. There’s even a space for straight ‘himbos’, too. As ‘thembo’ Griffin Maxwell tells Rolling Stone, ‘if [being a bimbo] was originally about catering to the male gaze, we’re taking that back.’ Though originally, bimbos were thin, white women, those reclaiming the term are not bound by the patriarchy’s expectations of white femininity. This performance often includes, but is not limited to, peroxide blonde hair, heavy makeup and false nails and eyelashes… Before the inevitably pink and sparkly garments have even been put on, the body is made bimbo. This aesthetic of artifice is precisely camp. As Susan Sontag puts it, ‘the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural,’ but modern bimbos are not ‘de-politicised’ in the way that Sontag believed camp should be.

Indeed, a fundamental of the movement is its leftist values – bimbos are pro-choice, pro-sex work, pro-BLM and pro-LGBTQ+. It encounters many of the same stumbling blocks as choice feminism, especially when it comes to cosmetic surgery and upholding oppressive beauty standards. But in its extreme, almost parodic, hyper-femininity, bimbofication also requires us to remove the assumption that femininity is equal to stupidity, naivety, and weakness. This article will take a look at three iconic bimbo fashion moments of the past, and how they have influenced the present.

Perhaps the most famous bimbo of Old Hollywood is Marilyn Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Her most iconic outfit in the film is from the musical number ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’: the dress has its own Wikipedia page. Costume designer William Travilla originally designed an incredibly bejewelled, showgirl body stocking, but after nude photographs of Monroe (shot for a calendar before she had made it big) were leaked, the pink dress was created instead. It is constructed of a hot pink peau d’ange satin, with matching opera gloves and shoes by Ferragamo. The straight neckline covers Monroe’s cleavage, though the huge bow – which was stuffed with horsehair and feathers for shape – emphasises the movement of her hips as she dances. This extension of her physical expression is where the sensuality of the dress lies.

Aside from pink, the other essential component to any bimbo ensemble is sparkle.  Monroe’s wrist, neck and ears all drip in diamonds from Harry Winston. Crucially there is no diamond ring, a symbol since the late thirties that a woman was ‘taken.’ In this way, she is free from male ownership – the power is hers to choose. Monroe’s character is a gold-digger: she believes that women’s power is in their looks and men’s is in their money.  The mutual objectification gives all financial, and therefore all tangible and enduring power to men. Though she is painted and played as ditzy, Lorelei Lee is very successful in securing precisely what she desires: a very rich man.

The ditziness of this character has often been ascribed to Monroe herself. Rosenbaum beautifully illustrates this in his article Merry Marilyn, where he writes that her private speech is peppered with ‘citations from and sophisticated discussion of Freud’s introductory lectures, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare and William Congreve.’ He goes on to write that ‘the difficulty some people have discerning Monroe’s intelligence as an actress is rooted in the ideology of a repressive era, when super-feminine women weren’t supposed to be smart.’ If you’ve read any of the comments on BimboTok, you might argue that such an era has not yet passed.

The second, absolutely iconic look I want to explore is Dolly Parton’s pink, flared jumpsuit. It was worn for her 1974 performance of ‘Jolene’ on The Porter Wagoner Show, which launched her into stardom. The set of the show is old-fashioned and homey, with cardboard cut-out houses and a painted Western sunset in the distance. Juxtaposed against it, Parton’s outfit seems dramatically new.

 

 

The jumpsuit is magenta with bell bottoms and bell sleeves, flaring her whole silhouette so that she is literally larger than life. Her waist is picked up with a rhinestone belt and her chest sparkles with the jewels, too. Her body is totally covered by fabric, yet emphasised in the process. The white lace inserts on her sleeves fulfil much the same function as the bow on Monroe’s dress, completing her movement as she performs. Her hair, the same peroxide blonde as Monroe’s, is backcombed and teased to the gods.

Parton is staunchly apolitical in public, uncomfortably so for many of her fans. Above all, she is a businesswoman (hence her silence on most divisive issues), but, when it comes to gay rights, she breaks her silence to defend them. Like Monroe, she is constantly underestimated but, to Parton, it is a strength of sorts: ‘I’ve done business with men who think I am as silly as I look. By the time they realise I’m not, I’ve got the money and gone.’

The third and final bimbo fashion moment of this article is Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, specifically the court scene – a performance of a very different kind.

In a room full of men in dark suits, Witherspoon’s pink and sparkly dress pops. The body of the dress is hot pink, calling on the power of bimbos past. The wrap shape recalls the Diane von Fürstenberg dresses so popular with working women for their ease, comfort, and modest, yet flattering cut. The collar is wide, and with the cuffs suggest the shirt of an eighties Wall Street banker. This brings a high masculine element to the dress, but reframes it within the feminine by virtue of the cotton-candy, satin material. This same fabric is used on the rhinestone belt – which seems inappropriate in a court room setting, just like Woods herself. Yet ultimately, she wins the case, proving she is just as worthy as any of the law firm bros in the background. Like many other women, she overcomes sexual harassment and constant underestimation to gain the same respect as the men in the room. Regardless of the realism of the film, it is a situation which many women recognise all too well.

Bimbos continue to show up the ways in which society continually undermines and underestimates those who present as hyper-feminine. The real question is whether bimbofication is a revolutionary act – a detournement of the societal ideal – or one that plays into late-capitalist expectations of womanhood, and thereby is recuperated into misogyny.

By Alexandra Sive

Sources:

(https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/bimbo-reclaim-tiktok-gen-z-1092253/)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Monroe’s_pink_dress)

(https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/gallery/dolly-parton-best-quotes?image=5de1086e310d8c00088a752f)

 

Alice V Robinson: Confronting Consumerism

‘374’ is a collection of accessories and outerwear that includes: sleek, tan knee-high boots with a mid-heel; a belted suede mac with silver fastenings (and a second, interchangeable belt featuring cowhide pouches); a tan leather bucket bag with a silver clasp; suede mules; a cowhide jacket. Part of the collection – conceived, designed and created by Alice V Robinson – went on display at the V&A in 2019 as part of the exhibition Food: Bigger than the Plate. Visitors were able to get a closer look at the solid silver plates and leather tags engraved and embossed with the number ‘374’, a reference to ‘Bullock 374’, a longhorn bullock from whom the entire collection was created.

Alice V Robinson graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2018. Her degree collection, the predecessor to ‘374’, involved her purchasing a sheep (‘11458’) from a farm nearby where she grew up, attending its slaughter and designing a collection to make use of the entire animal. The resulting cream-coloured knitted jumper, finger gloves and butter-toned leather bag, shoes and purse are elegant and contemporary. Burgers made from the leftover meat were served at the degree show, shocking some attendees.

Robinson’s approach to the ethical and environmental concerns of the fashion industry was based on the attempts of the food industry to tackle their own similar production problems. Using a by-product of meat, Robinson was able to address the issues around sourcing fashion’s materials: the hide of ‘374’ would have otherwise been incinerated, at cost to the farmer who raised him. Her resource-led process and a zero-waste objective enabled her to work creatively and respectfully within the limits posed by what was available: ‘it is all defined by the animal used’. While supply chains can be murky in both industries, Robinson’s small-scale, entirely localised production allowed for complete traceability and transparency. Her process also demanded slowness, that desirable but elusive antidote to rampant consumerism, leaving her ‘unable to stick to the same deadlines as others in my class’ as she awaited the completion of each step. Style, too, is one of the most significant aspects of the collections’ sustainability. Classic pieces designed and made thoughtfully from durable materials, they are built to last without needing replacement, thereby negating the need for future production.

It would be impossible to label this experiment as half-hearted greenwashing: it rips apart received ideas about sustainable fashion. Leather goods, like fur, have been demonised by some animal rights activists since the 1990s (unlike fur, however, leather remains prevalent and widely accepted) and, as in the food industry, veganism is considered by many to be the only ethical and environmentally-sound choice. Instead, Robinson confronts the reality of the cycle of production and consumption, including the violence, sometimes overlooked, that is undeniably present within the fashion industry. By identifying the once-living source of her materials by name, Robinson plays on the shame of many carnivores who admit that they would feel uneasy witnessing the death of their future food, or in this case, garment. The numerical name tricks the viewer-consumer, putting a figure to a life and, once the significance is illuminated, revealing the distance created between that life and its outcome. Wearing, like eating, is an embodied experience, which adds emotional weight to the subjects of fashion and food. Robinson’s method is certainly shocking to consumers accustomed to facing only the end product but, in some ways, violence seems the appropriate response to a system that is so frequently violent to its workers and ecosystem, in often only thinly veiled ways.

The ethics of Robinson’s project are far from clear-cut, but her exploration is valid and thoughtful. In its refusal to shy away from reality, it demonstrates a kindness that is missing from many attempts at sustainability in fashion. By borrowing lessons from the food industry, it builds ‘a bridge between farming and fashion where values between the two [are] mirrored’. This uncomfortable collection reveals that the most important directive for a sustainable system is to keep questioning, experimenting and reworking, because there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution.

By Lucy Corkish

 

Alice V Robinson, 374. Installation image at FOOD Bigger than the Plate © the artist. Photo Victoria and Albert Museum, London (https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/inside-the-food-bigger-than-the-plate-exhibition)

 

Sources:

Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, Food: Bigger than the Plate (2019)

Alice V Robinson, personal website (https://alicevictoriarobinson.com)

Rebecca Speare-Cole, ‘Budding London designer who makes clothes from entire animals to promote zero waste on show at V&A’ (2019) (https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/budding-london-designer-who-makes-clothes-from-entire-animals-to-promote-zero-waste-on-show-at-v-a-a4230996.html)

Rosario Morabito, ‘Fashion is a living thing: the RCA fashion show 2018’ (2018) (https://www.vogue.it/en/vogue-talents/fashion-schools-vogue-talents/2018/06/22/rca-royal-college-of-art-londra-fashion-show-students-2018/?refresh_ce=)

Depop vs Reality

When artist and writer Leanne Shapton gave her talk on the seduction of amateur fashion photography in the Fashion Interpretations Symposium in early December, I felt as though she had exposed to me the secrets of my online shopping habits. From this point on, I became fascinated (and a bit obsessed) with investigating what actually goes into my experience of buying second-hand clothes online.

Shapton happened upon the subjects of her 2020 painted series when scrolling through eBay and Craigslist. Through magical means, she transforms the one-dimensional amateur photography into whimsical painted expressions. Her talk and her work highlighted the absurdity of second-hand fashion online. The nuanced way in which we are seduced by amateur photography into buying something online that once belonged to someone else transcends the here and now to consider the imagined arena of what could be.

Depop is my queen. It has provided me with an escape – not only in this past year but since the day I first created my ‘shop’ – and a space in which to carve out my very own, very ‘authentic’ style. I sit for hours, ‘liking’ clothes listed as ‘authentic vintage’, ‘deadstock’ or ‘y2k’. I sort each item into ‘collections’ that I’ve labelled ‘vintagey’, ‘jewels’, ‘lingeree’, ‘hat’, ‘topz’, ‘dressup’. I hope that no one will see my collections, so that the dress (that I’ll forget about as soon as I close the app) is mine, in perpetuity.

I sometimes search for months and even years for the right version of the garment I want. In the past year and a half, I’ve spent an unfortunate amount of time trying to find the perfect cowboy boots at the perfect price point. When I finally found them, I felt as though my hard work had paid off. The caption read: ‘Blue embroidered cowboy boots. UK7. #cowboy #western #bohovibes #boots.’ Simple, effective and they only cost £30 (including postage and packaging)! The seller (@portlevenmermaid) put up four images of the pale blue boots with white embroidery, against a diamond-patterned carpet in similar colours. She photographed them on their side, then from the perspective of the toe, then from the heel. She even modelled them herself, sat on the floor with legs outstretched. However, this wasn’t enough for me to be sure that my £30 would be well spent. I wanted to see them standing up; I asked, and she made me a video.

To help me weigh up the pros and cons of investing, I imagined myself walking around in the shoes I hadn’t yet purchased. I put together outfits that I thought would go with them. I imagined events that I would wear them to. In essence, those cowboy boots spent a lot of time in my head before I would ever see them on my feet. The last push was the recognition that if I saw that ‘SOLD’ stamp appear, I would feel a guilty sickness for the time wasted as well as a size-seven-cowboy-boot-shaped hole in my heart. I confirmed with the seller and bam! £30 left my account.

I waited two weeks for our postman to hand me a shoe-sized package. As soon as they arrived, I excitedly ripped open the flimsy plastic purple packaging. They were exactly as @portlevenmermaid had shown them! The embroidery was delicate and yet pronounced against the pale blue faux-leather material. The wooden heel was a lot sturdier than I had expected. They looked in great shape. I rushed to put them on, unzipping the leather and sliding my foot inside. Oh… a bit tight. Not to worry – I was wearing thick bed socks and I would never wear them with these! I jumped into a pair of tights and slid the boots on again. Still a bit of a pinch… It was fine, I wouldn’t be walking long distances in them anyway.

Our Christmas Day walk was the first outing for me and my boots. We walked about 6,000 steps according to Apple Health. The pointed toe squeezed my thinly covered feet and, with every step, created a friction that became unbearable. Taking off the boots at the end of the walk felt like taking off the favourite bra that you won’t admit you’ve grown out of, despite the red-raw indents it leaves on your chest. I was disappointed to say the least, but I also felt a real sense of guilt. I thought of my grandma and the hours we had waited for my number to be called out in Clarks, to have my feet precisely measured for shoes that would last me years. This was clearly a lesson I did not bring with me into my adult life.

Outlining my Depop experience in words has been a bit bizarre. I’ve come to realise that this is not a standalone experience: it has happened to me multiple times, with shoes, suits, tops and jeans, and I’m sure it has happened to everyone who has ever bought something online. This imaginary incorporation of this digital thing into my real life is beautifully represented by Shapton in her latest series of images. She highlights the strangeness of making judgements (and handing over money to strangers online) based on a one-dimensional image that you have worked to make real in your mind’s eye.

The entire experience of buying clothes forces us to think of a life not yet lived. This imagined potential is greatly intensified online, even more so now that it allows us to hope for a future. With that in mind, I think I’ll try to cling on to the pleasure felt at the imagined version of me, wearing my cowboy boots.

By Bethan Eleri Carrick

References:

Kathryn Reed, Fashion Interpretations Symposium Part II, http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2020/12/03/fashion-interpretations-symposium-part-iii/

The Suggestive Power of Colour in Milena Canonero’s Costume Design

With a career spanning over four decades, four Academy Awards, and collaborations with some of the most acclaimed directors of the century, Milena Canonero is a legendary figure in costume design whose talent contributed to the creation of modern cinematic myths. As stated by former Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick, her excellence lays not only ‘in the art of subtly accentuating a character’s personality but also in enhancing the texture of a film through very detailed and original designs’. Her particular focus on colour – already visible in the contraposition between black and white in the droogs’ outfit in A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) – was brought to the spotlight thanks to the costumes she created for Marie Antoinette (2006).  But it was not until her collaboration with Wes Anderson that colour truly acquired the suggestive and symbolic power that enriched her creations with multiple layers of meaning.

With Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), Canonero won her third Oscar, after Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, 1975) and Chariots of Fire (Hudson, 1981). In the colours and textures employed, the fashion at the cinematic Versailles looks like the desserts in which the queen is seen indulging in multiple scenes. In fact, Canonero was inspired by a box of Ladurée macarons received by Coppola as a gift. The colour palette, then, was mainly constituted by pastel hues, with one significant exception: Madame Du Barry (Asia Argento), King Louis XV’s maitresse-en-tître. In fact, the colours of the dresses convey important unspoken messages throughout the film, a technique which Canonero later extensively employs in her collaboration with Wes Anderson. In the case of Madame Du Barry – whose relationship with the king Marie Antoinette historically deplored – the personal contrasts between mistress and queen, as well as their inherently opposite nature, are emphasised by the contrasting shades they wear. While Marie Antionette (Kirsten Dunst) and her retinue flaunt highly elaborate dresses in pastels and neutrals, Du Barry wears rich, luxurious colours like deep blue, burgundy and purple, even in bed, revealing her lascivious personality and conduct. The only moment in which the queen and her friends depart from their classic pastels is during the masquerade ball, in which they wear emerald green and black, allowing themselves to become their alter-egos and disobey the rules of the court. Emblematically, it is at this ball that Marie Antoinette, who is wearing a black dress with a matching sheer blindfold, meets Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan), delving for the first time into the same territory of affairs and lovers as Du Barry.

http://https://www.instagram.com/p/CJWvMg7FRlw/

Only two years before Marie Antoinette, Wes Anderson asked Canonero to work on the costumes of his new project freely inspired by the life of underwater filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). This was the beginning of a collaboration that still continues today, characterised by a precise work of coordination which ensures consistency throughout the film, especially in terms of colour palette. Colour is, in fact, fundamental for Anderson in establishing a mood that contrasts grim situations with the levity and fairy-tale-like appearance of his characters and mise-en-scène. Canonero has compared it to the musician’s approach to a melody: ‘colours have their own music, and Wes cares a lot that all of them hit the right notes’.

In The Life Aquatic, Canonero’s wardrobe choices echoed Anderson’s references to the French filmmaker. The red watch cap, one of the most memorable and iconic pieces worn by Zissou, was a characteristic feature of Cousteau and his crew, usually paired with a light blue shirt. Canonero recreated all these elements for the Belafonte’s crew, giving predominance to primary colours like red, blue and yellow. Conveying Anderson’s trademark levity, the movie narrates Zissou’s mission to kill a mysterious sea-creature that has eaten his best friend, yet the whimsical element of the red cap, worn with every outfit, formal or casual, prevents Bill Murray’s character from being taken too seriously.

Jacques Cousteau (left) and Bill Murray as Steve Zissou (right, down) in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). (https://www.primermagazine.com/2017/spend/the-life-aquatic-with-steve-zissou-menswear-at-the-movies)

Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). (https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Life-Aquatic-with-Steve-Zissou)

Similarly, The Darjeeling Limited (2007) presents a contrast between the rich colours of India’s Rajasthan region and the grey suits worn by three brothers, protagonists of the movie. Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) embark on a spiritual journey, in an effort to bond and heal after their father’s death and reconnect with their mother (Anjelica Houston). Each one is wearing a different shade of grey, a gloomy colour which reflects their inner turmoil, externally represented by a set of bright orange suitcases which the brothers had inherited from their deceased father. Hand-painted by Anderson’s brother Eric, these suitcases were the result of a collaboration between Canonero, Anderson, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. Their warm tones reflect the colours of the locations in which the movie was shot, a practice embedded in Anderson’s film aesthetics. But their main function is to embody the physical and emotional luggage of which the brothers will free themselves at the end of the movie.

Peter (Adrien Brody), Francis (Owen Wilson), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) in The Darjeeling Limited (2007) with their orange suitcases. (https://classiq.me/travelling-wes-anderson-style-the-darjeeling-limited)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2015), the latest collaboration between the costume designer and the American director which earned Canonero her fourth Oscar, saw the fundamental involvement of two world-known Italian fashion houses: Fendi and Prada. Fendi created pieces for Tilda Swinton’s Madame D., an eighty-four year old aristocrat, described by Anderson as ‘an eccentric beauty and an art collector’. For her wardrobe, Canonero was inspired by the paintings of Gustave Klimt and Tamara de Lempicka and included some hand-painted patterns which clearly referenced the artists. Prada created Jopling’s (Willem Defoe) black leather coat, inspired by 1930s military dispatch riders and with a front lapel functioning as a secret weapons arsenal, as described by Anderson in the script. The dark tones worn by Jopling and Dimitri (Adrien Brody) were contrasted by the pink, purple and mauve tones of the Grand Budapest hotel and its staff’s uniforms, as well as by the unforgettable Mendl’s pastries and their boxes.

Milena Canonero’s forty years of work have seen her involved in some of the most iconic and influential movies of the century. The partnerships with both directors and fashion houses she managed to secure throughout her career resulted in a deep trust that guaranteed communication and creative exchange, without the restrictions of a singular vision. In this way, her costumes deepen the audience’s understanding of each character, masterfully using colours to communicate unspoken truths or inner turmoil. The four Oscars and multiple awards won over the years are just emblems of her talent and genius, widely recognised by the film and fashion industries, as well as by audiences.

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources:

https://www.primermagazine.com/2017/spend/the-life-aquatic-with-steve-zissou-menswear-at-the-movies

https://classiq.me/travelling-wes-anderson-style-the-darjeeling-limited

https://www.nbcnewyork.com/blogs/threadny/Costume-Designer-Milena-Canonero-Talks-Stanley-Kubrick-Getting-Inspired-By-Macaroons-124499284.html

https://www.berlinale.de/en/archiv/jahresarchive/2017/06b_berlinale_themen_2017/hommage_2017.html

Zoller Seitz, Matt. The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel. London: Abrams, 2015.

 

Filmography:

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, United States, 1971).

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, United States, 1975)

Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, United States, 2006)

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, United States, 2007)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, United States, 2015)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, United States, 2004)