Documenting Fashion

MA Study Trip to New York City: A Different Kind of Beautiful Thing: Helena Rubinstein, Beauty is Power

March 24, 2015 by Brianna

Graham Sutherland, Helena Rubinstein in Red Brocade Balenciaga Gown, 1957, Oil on Canvas, 156.9 cm x 92.7 cm, Daniel Katz Gallery, London.

Graham Sutherland, Helena Rubinstein in Red Brocade Balenciaga Gown, 1957, Oil on Canvas, 156.9 cm x 92.7 cm, Daniel Katz Gallery, London.

Graham Sutherland’s portrait of an 85 year-old Helena Rubinstein can be viewed as an ode to her legacy, which was built upon the deliberate rejection of convention. Rubinstein’s sagging neck and jawline, sallow complexion and thin hair offer a genuine depiction of age, something which is glossed over in many of the other portraits included in the exhibition. The painting’s prominent position in the first room therefore reinforces the exhibition’s primary focus on the formidable story of the woman behind the brand.

Though such realism could be seen to detach the portrait from serving any commercial function, Sutherland’s emphasis on colour and surface textures becomes a purposeful inflection of Rubinstein’s personal ethos, which was inseparable from her company.

Infamously quoted as saying that, “there are no ugly women, just lazy ones”, Rubinstein’s over-rouged cheeks and matching red lacquered nails and lips, become suggestive of the means to instantly participate in established ideals of femininity. On the other hand, the jewellery that adorns Rubinstein’s hands and neck equals the prominence of the cosmetics shown in the portrait. This removes the hierarchy between products of high and lower end, democratizing ideals of taste. In this light, instead of ‘established femininity’, Rubinstein is using cosmetics to promote the ‘new-age’ femininity that her salons made available to all women, and which distinguished her career from contemporaries, such as Elizabeth Arden.

As the exhibition unfolds, and with it Rubenstein’s lifelong preoccupation with primitive and surrealist art, it is clear that she did advocate prescriptive ideas of beauty, nor claim that a monolithic notion of femininity is necessarily the ultimate goal. Indeed, Rubinstein stated that, “I like different kinds of beautiful things and I’m not afraid to use them in unconventional ways”.  The priority of self-fashioning as an external expression of personality, rather than as a disguise, unites Rubinstein’s brand of beauty with the essence of the exotic figures that she collected. Femininity is therefore the by-product of participating in the desire to reveal the best, most authentic version of the self.

The Balenciaga brocade gown that Rubinstein is wearing in her portrait embodies the philosophy of her salon, which aimed to inspire its female cliental to make choices that expressed their own personalities. The bright red floral, oriental fabric informs the decision to accessorize with complimentary red and pink makeup. The almost overwhelming use of colour defies the conventional depiction of age that traditionally relies on subdued tones.  The gown subsequently becomes an emboldened expression of Rubinstein’s innate qualities that reject convention and look to the modern age. This is further emphasized by the physical inclusion of the gown, and the fact that she had it shortened, to ensure it remained relevant in the years following the portrait’s completion.

Rubinstein’s participation in self-creation connects her aesthetic ideals directly with non-western cultures that place value on individuality and inherent difference.  Cosmetics are re-contextualized as they encourage each wearer to be the most powerful version of themselves.


Image source:  Helena Rubinstein, Beauty is Power exhibition catalogue, page 135.

Text source: Mason Klein (2014) Helena Rubinstein, Beauty is Power. Yale University Press, New Haven.

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MA Study Trip to New York City: The Dress Archive at the Museum of the City of New York

March 20, 2015 by Rosily

The Dress Archive in MCNY; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Dress Archive in MCNY; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell jumpsuit; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell jumpsuit; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York archive is an absolute treasure-trove of old clothes. Unlike the majority of other archives we have visited as a group, both in New York and London, the clothes are not wrapped in tissue or stored in boxes, but rather are hung, as if in a shop, on rails. The whole experience of being inside the archive is, thus, one of visceral, fashion-loving pleasure. All of us had to constantly fight the urge to reach out and touch everything.

We were taken through the archive by Phyllis Magidson, curator of costumes and textiles at the museum. She showed us dresses ranging in date from the early 1920s to the 1960s. The glittering 1920s party dresses and gowns for costume balls and the brightly coloured, heavily tasseled ‘60s dresses were amazing, but what was most memorable, and indeed most pertinent to recent discussions on our course, were the late 1930s and early ‘40s WWII uniforms.

Vera Maxwell Summer jumpsuit for Sperry Gyroworks factory; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell Summer jumpsuit for Sperry Gyroworks factory; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

The Museum has a large collection of Vera Maxwell garments, including jumpsuits designed for women workers in the factories in 1942. Before creating the jumpsuit, which is both fire retardant and oil repellent, Maxwell conducted a survey of women to find out what they most wanted from their uniforms. Besides the obvious, highly functional elements, these women also requested a neckline that would prevent men from putting ice down their backs – indeed the jumpsuit is perfectly ice-proof too! However, Maxwell was keenly aware of the aesthetic elements too. Very careful attention to detail is paid in the design, such as the shape of the pockets and top stitched pleats in the front, which ensured that the fit was as flattering as possible. It is not only highly functional and utilitarian, but also a carefully made, designer garment, and Maxwell received a government award as a result.

The collection includes both her winter and summer jumpsuits. War restrictions limited the types of fabric available to designers and manufacturers, and extraneous decoration was largely prohibited, so Maxwell used elements such as pleats and darts to make her jumpsuits attractive. The summer jumpsuit is short sleeved and made of a lighter material, with red piping down the side. Again, Maxwell has used a series of pleats down the front of the garment to give it aesthetic appeal and make it flattering on the body.

Vera Maxwell jacket decorated with ribbons imported from Peru; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Vera Maxwell jacket decorated with ribbons imported from Peru; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Detail of the Peruvian decoration on the jacket; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Detail of the Peruvian decoration on the jacket; photo courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

In her other designs, she found imaginative ways to decorate. She traveled to South America, particularly Peru, and imported ornamental ribbons and braids that she used to adorn her garments. She worked hard to ensure that her clothes did not feel as though they were lacking anything. She wanted the wearers to not feel at all deprived, an aim that resonated with the fashion media of the time. Despite the shortages caused by war, the message perpetuated by magazines and films was that there was no deprivation. People used garments such as aprons to spruce up their outfits, and became imaginative, using natural objects like seashells in their jewellery. The prospect of wearing a uniform had an appeal in itself, and magazines ran articles about how to look good in military clothing. Many women who volunteered for service chose which in area to do so based on the attractiveness of the uniform. Vera Maxwell understood this basic, universal desire to look good, and channeled it in the design of her jumpsuits.  The aesthetic qualities she incorporated, as well as the highly functional elements, both contributed to her success as a wartime designer.


Pat Kirkham, ‘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

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Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women Conference

March 19, 2015 by Rosily

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion)

Fashion Show, Barrett Street School, 1958. (Courtesy of the London College of Fashion Archives © (1958) The London College of Fashion)

Our conference celebrating 50 years of dress history at the Courtauld is drawing closer, and we can now reveal the programme for the event, which will be taking place on Saturday 16 May.

Speakers will explore the relationship and significance of women in designing, wearing, promoting, curating and writing about dress, from both the perspective of those working in the field and those who wear, consume and document fashion. The conference will provide the opportunity to question how changes in dress, and its representation and exploration through the media, academia, and exhibiting have impacted upon relationships between women and fashion, since 1965.

Women, including Stella Mary Newton, who set up the first Courtauld course in the History of Dress, have been central to developing the discipline and exploring dress’ multifaceted meanings. They have also been important in the design and dissemination of fashion as a product and as an idea. This conference celebrates and critiques the role women have taken in making fashion, and, by extension, the role fashion plays in making women – by defining and constructing notions of gender, sexuality, beauty and ethnicity. We will take a global, interdisciplinary perspective to seek an overview of women’s significance to fashion and dress and vice versa.


09.30 – 10.00      Registration

10.00 – 10.15      Introduction: Lucy Moyse (PhD Candidate, The Courtauld)

10.15 – 10.45      Lecture: ‘Dress & History since 1965,’ Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld)

10.45 – 11.00      Discussion

11.00 – 11.30      TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)

Fashion Media

(Chair: Dr Sarah Cheang, Senior Tutor Modern Specialism, History of Design, RCA)

11.30 – 12.00      Clip: People in the Street, Pathé (1968) followed by discussion led by Katerina Pantelides (PhD candidate, The Courtauld)

12.00 – 12.30      Panel: ‘Zuzu Angel: Fashioning Resistance to the Brazilian Military Dictatorship, 1971-76’, Elizabeth Kutesko (PhD candidate, The Courtauld) & ‘The Feminine Awkward,’ Dr Eugenie Shinkle (Senior Lecturer in Photographic Theory & Criticism, University of Westminster)

12.30 – 12.45      Discussion

12.45 – 14.00      LUNCH (provided for the speakers only – Seminar room 1)

Fashion History

(Chair: Dr Robin Schuldenfrei, Lecturer in European Modernisms, The Courtauld Institute of Art)

14.00 – 14.40      Keynote lecture: ‘Designing Women,’ Cheryl Buckley (Professor of Fashion & Design History, University of Brighton)

14.40 – 15.00      Discussion

15.00 – 15.30      Panel: ‘Interpreting Memory and Image: Women, Spaces, and Dress in 1960s France,’ Alexis Romano (PhD candidate, The Courtauld), & ‘Misfit: Aspirational Fashion Practice and the Female Body,’ Kathryn Brownbridge (Senior Lecturer in Clothing Design Technology, Manchester Metropolitan University)

15.30 – 15.45      Discussion

15.45 – 16.15     TEA/COFFEE BREAK (provided – Seminar room 1)

Fashion Curation

(Sonnet Stanfill, Curator of 20th Century & Contemporary Fashion, V&A Museum)

16.15 – 16.25      Clip: Ancient Models, featuring Doris Langley Moore, Pathé (1955)

16.25 – 16.45      Lecture: ‘Women and the Fashion Museum,’ Rosemary Harden (Manager, Fashion Museum, Bath)

16.45 – 17.00      Discussion

17.00 – 17.40      Keynote lecture: ‘Feminine Attributes,’ Judith Clark, (Professor of Fashion & Museology, London College of Fashion)

17.40 – 18.00      Discussion

Organised by Dr Rebecca Arnold (Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles, The Courtauld), and Elizabeth Kutesko and Lucy Moyse (PhD candidates, The Courtauld)

Ticket/entry details: £16 (£11 students, Courtauld staff/students and concessions)

BOOK ONLINE  Or send a cheque made payable to ‘The Courtauld Institute of Art’ to: Research Forum Events Co-ordinator, Research Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, stating ‘women make fashion conference’. For further information, email

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MA Study Trip to New York City: High Fashion in Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Revue Blanche

March 17, 2015 by Lauren

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Revue Blanche, 1895, Lithograph, MoMA.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Revue Blanche, 1895, Lithograph, MoMA.

Toulouse Lautrec 02

Detail of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Revue Blanche, 1895, Lithograph, MoMA.

Our MA New York City study trip fortunately coincided with ‘The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters’ exhibition currently on view at the MoMA. As the name suggests, an amalgam of images capturing bustling fin-de-siècle Parisian culture through Lautrec’s lens are arranged thematically for visitors to enjoy. From nightlife culture in dance halls and pubs, to female performers and prostitutes, the exhibition highlights Lautrec’s diverse portfolio. Lautrec’s representations of subjects and venues that fall short of respectability signal his repudiation of his aristocratic roots and the snobbery that characterized high-class culture. Plagued with a genetically generated illness that resulted in severely stunted growth and reliance on a cane to walk, Lautrec’s abnormal appearance perhaps contributed to his artistic affinity to more obscure subjects such as bohemians, prostitutes and criminals.

While the exhibition underscores the democratic nature of Lautrec’s art, a perusal of several of his posters led me to think otherwise. In particular, his images of women in lavish dress connote an air of exclusivity. For example, La Revue Blanche is a poster that features a woman wearing an ornate dress paired with ample accessories. Her long-sleeved dress is decorated with a sea of orange polka dots that stand out from the garment’s deep midnight blue hue. Its exaggerated puffed sleeves culminate at the woman’s elbows, becoming tight around her forearms and wrists. Matching light grey fur pieces wrap around her left hand and envelop her neck and shoulders. The fur accessories are embellished with red designs that are sea-creature-like in shape. Intricate swirls of dark and light green feathers dramatically emanate from the round hat that secures a translucent, but dotted, veil covering her ivory complexion. The variety of colours, embellishments, textures and volumes of the woman’s dress convey an opulent sense of style, diluting the sense of ‘everyday’ and ‘ordinary’ characterizing Lautrec’s oeuvre. The woman’s stern facial features further create a barrier between her and viewers. Her pursed lips and slightly furrowed eyebrows form a surly and unwelcoming expression.

In addition to the woman’s elevated fashion, the poster’s stylistic affinity to high fashion illustrations contributed to my perception of its prestige. Despite the historical time difference, I detected several parallels between La Revue Blanche and early 20th century illustrations featured in high-class magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The isolated woman positioned against a blank backdrop, seemingly unaware of onlookers in the midst of walking or moving, is a standard compositional framework of high fashion illustrations. Moreover, the inaccurate rendering of details and imprecise brushwork are stylistic trademarks of illustrations that convey a sense of dynamism and capture a passing moment. The uneven application of jagged dots on the woman’s dress, the patchy colour gradations and undelineated contours in Lautrec’s poster reflect this loose style.

Despite the chronological implausibility of Lautrec’s connection to early 20th century high fashion illustrations, the woman’s dress and features still convey an air of sophistication and elegance that belies the bohemian thrust of his art.

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MA Study Trip to New York City: The Museum at FIT

March 13, 2015 by Nicole

In February the MA History of Dress students had a week long study trip to New York to visit archives and museums. The next six posts will share various aspects of the trip and the objects we saw. 

Part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the '70s exhibition.

Part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the ’70s exhibition.


A Halston dress from the Fashioning the ’70s exhibition.

On a recent study trip to New York, the MA group were invited to an Alumni event at The Museum at FIT. Emma McClendon, who graduated from the Courtauld in 2011 is now an assistant curator at FIT, hosted the event, which was an exhibition she had co-curated: Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the 70s. The exhibition is the first to examine the careers and work of two of the biggest designers in 20th century fashion side-by-side. As both Saint Laurent’s and Halston’s designs came to exemplify, the 1970s has been considered a ‘singular and dynamic era in fashion history,’ and was also a decade framed by three themes which inspired the designers’ collections: menswear, exoticism, and vintage historicism.

When entering the space, the clothing is separated into platforms and pods.  The clothing on the platforms framed the pods, and also demonstrated how the designer’s visions and approaches to dress resulted in very similar outcomes, often indistinguishable from one another. Whereas, running through the middle of the exhibition space the pods established the juxtapositions between the designers, through the three themes and really showcased the differences, particularly towards the end of the decade. This was especially highlighted in the last pod, which was dedicated toward the influence of historical referencing upon the designers.

Saint Laurent was heavily influenced by fashions of the Belle Époque, which can be seen in some of his more feminine, yet, dramatic creations. He also drew upon the trend for vintage dressing, which had been emerging on the streets of Paris at the time. On the other hand, Halston was enamoured by the Hollywood glamour of the smaller time period of the 1930s and 1940s. He looked to women couturiers that had dominated high fashion during the inter-war period as sources of inspiration for his own pieces. Here, the identities of the two designers are really established.  For me, the third section really solidified the vocabularies of both designers as Halston became known as ‘the streamlined, unisex, minimalist,’ whilst Saint Laurent became ‘the fantastical colourist.’

This streamlined and minimalistic nature of Halston’s creations is effortlessly captured in the construction of the blue evening dress shown in the accompanying image. Made in 1972, the dress was gifted to the museum by Lauren Bacall. The blue, silk jersey dress features two long bands of fabric that can be tied in various ways to show the amount of skin desired. The fabric is what makes the dress, there are no obvious decorative elements, for example no buttons or zips can be seen, even as closures. This is because Halston did not believe in his clothes as having any ‘ostentatious decorative elements’ to them, and looked toward the inspiration of designers, such as Madeleine Vionnet and Claire McCardell for this more streamlined approach. This look also drew influence from 1930s bathing suits. In this respect, Halston appropriated the silhouettes of daytime swimwear and turned them into eveningwear ensembles.


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The End of Fashion (Again)

March 10, 2015 by Rebecca

Processed with Moldiv

On 1 March, reported on leading trend forecaster Li Edelkoort’s statement that ‘This is the end of fashion as we know it.’ In an interview, that drew upon her recent talk at Design Indaba in Cape Town, she set out her thesis that fashion has become self-absorbed and out of touch, and as such is irrelevant to the clothes (her new interest) that most people wear. After decrying bloggers, the decline of a connection between new designers, advertising and editorial, and noting a general malaise, Edelkoort identified the main source of potential as couture – which might rise again as the fount of fashions.

It is interesting that one of the designers she cited nostalgically as having created exciting and provocative shows in the past was Thierry Mugler. His huge, ticketed shows and spectacular theatrics of the early ‘90s, were themselves seen as a tipping point in fashion history. He was criticised as much at the time for being overly commercial, and including catwalk pieces that would never go into production and bore little relation to ‘clothes’.

So is this the ‘end of fashion’? Or just a new generation remaking the industry in its own image? It’s not the first time an insider has identified fashion’s finale. Teri Agins’ important book The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever of 2000, explored the ways fashion changed at the end of the millennium. She analysed the significance of wearable separates as the mainstay of high street brands and the importance of American designers at big name luxury labels, including Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, as signals of the industry’s identification of clothes rather than fashion as the mainstay of the future.

While this was a timely and thorough analysis of the status quo, what happened next was the rise of Top Shop, Zara et al, high street names that focused on high fashion as its main source for throwaway styles that referenced current trends. And, in the realm of luxury and couture, a resurgence in labels, and It bags, plus, more recently, a shift towards younger names, such as Alexander Wang at Balenciaga being employed to strike a balance between fashion and the kind of sporty clothes people on the street really wear.

This is not to say Edelkoort, or Agins are or were wrong, but rather to suggest it’s never the end of fashion, just another transition. Pressure on designers to produce more collections is unsustainable, as big names including Raf Simons and Olivier Theyskens have commented. Allied to this are the changes brought about by digital media, which have shifted power and undermined, or, to put a more positive spin on it, altered fashion criticism and commentary.  These, along with emerging technologies and globalization mean that the current, and to an even greater extent, the next generation of designers, marketers, writers working in fashion face different contexts and challenges. Couture’s resurgence in the last ten years, and online bespoke services are certainly one way in which changes within the industry are registering this. Customer demand is also highly significant, as consumers have greater access to information and the ability to have their opinions heard, directly and immediately.

So, rather than seeing this as an end, maybe it’s a transition, at times difficult, towards a fashion industry that fits the future.


Teri Agins, The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, (William Morrrow Paperbacks, 2000)

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5 Minutes with… Harrison Goldman

March 6, 2015 by Liz

Harrison 01

Harrison hard at work in the Courtauld Slide Library.

Detail of Harrison's jacket.

Detail of Harrison’s jacket.

Detail of Harrison's sleeve.

Detail of Harrison’s sleeve.

Harrison is a second year undergraduate at The Courtauld, currently specialising in 20th Century Modernism and Renaissance Mannerism. When he is not studying, he can often be found hard at work in the Gallery, the Research Forum, Public Programmes or the Slide Library. Harrison was the BA1 Representative for the Students Union last year, in addition to playing the role of Malvolio in the Courtauld’s first play, Twelfth Night. Beyond the Courtauld, he works as an Antiques, Collectables and Vintage Consultant, advising clients on buying and selling objects of all genres.

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing a navy double-breasted boating blazer, an Austin Reed pinstripe shirt, pale blue chinos and Barker shoes.

How would you describe your style?

Eclectic, vintage, traditional, sartorial.

Have you always dressed like this?

Would you believe it, no! My style emerged and developed when I discovered a love of all things old-fashioned and traditional about 5-6 years ago.

Where do you look for inspiration in how you dress?

I’m quite active in the London ‘vintage’ scene, and have met some amazing people who put real passion into their outfits. But if I see something that I like I’ll try and source one, rather than emulate an entire look.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

How does your interest in antiques inform your style?

When handling wonderful items, in stunning settings (not to mention dealing with customers) it would be rude to wear a tee-shirt and tracksuit bottoms.

Do you have a particular dress code for the Courtauld and how does this translate when you are ‘off duty’?

We are so privileged to study in such an amazing location, steeped in history. But as I work both in and outside the Courtauld, I often need to be smartly dressed. I did however turn up in a jeans and tee-shirt for a lecture the other day, which a friend was somewhat disturbed by!

What does your look say about you?

Well that is probably in the eye of the beholder! But I hope it would suggest I take pride in my appearance.

Where do you like to shop?

Vintage shops, eBay, and the family wardrobe. I’m sometimes given things, but when buying new I try and stick to long established quality outfitters such as Cordings, Hackett, Wolsey, Jaeger etc.

Any other comments or clothing secrets?

‘Why dress down when you can dress up?’

A small part of Harrison's Gladstone bag collection.

A small part of Harrison’s Gladstone bag collection.

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‘Honour, Valour and Truth.’

March 3, 2015 by Nicole


Last month saw London Collections: Men (LCM) open the doors to its biggest and most impressive event to date. Unveiling the AW15 Menswear collection signalled the organisation’s sixth consecutive year, as well as an exciting start to 2015 for London Fashion. This four-day event included a host of returning global brands such as Alexander McQueen, Burburry Prorsum, Moschino, Paul Smith, and Tom Ford, as well as some new additions: Barbour, Coach and Todd Lynn.

Many of these brands demonstrate innovative takes on various iconic British styles, assuring that particular looks have become mainstays within international menswear collections. An element of this recycling was especially prevalent throughout the Alexander McQueen show.

The opening outfits had more of a punk feel than the later influence of military styling. Edgy models donned pinstriped suits labelled with the bold slogans– ‘honour,’ ‘valour,’ and ‘truth’, delivering the narrative, as well as the historical theme for the show.

Designed by creative director Sarah Burton, the collection this year was inspired by the theme of military uniforms:

‘It is sometimes forgotten that the uniform is a testament to equality. At work and at war, the dress uniform has long stood as a symbol that all men are equal in the face of duty – sharing equal honour, valour, and truth.’

Uniform is defined as a prescribed set of clothes identifying members of an organisation. Therefore, it is a testament to equality because all persons within a party are united in their purpose, demonstrated by what they are wearing. Subsequently, they merge together as one unit, serving a combined goal in the face of duty and sharing, as well as exhibiting, equal amounts of honour, valour and truth, as a result. Yet, uniform can also be conceived as a testament to differentiating between organisations. For example, in military terms, on the battlefield the German army would have been wearing a different uniform to the British. As a result, the armies were identified and distinguished from one another through their clothing.

Alexander McQueen’s AW15 menswear collection can be understood as a uniform symbolic of British history and heritage. Burton’s concoction of double-breasted jackets and saddlebag pockets mixed with earthy palettes of Khaki greens recalls the British military uniform. Moreover, the inclusion of the vibrant red floral printed velour suits create connections with the one hundred year anniversary of the First World War, which was commemorated last November. Further to this, the Savile row style tailoring, pinstriped suits and shiny brogues pay homage to traditional British styles and conceptions by serving as evidence for how certain looks have become mainstays within Menswear fashions over the years.


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50 YEARS OF HISTORY OF DRESS AT THE COURTAULD Alumni Interviews Part Two: Harriet Hall, Courtauld Institute of Art, MA (2011)

February 27, 2015 by Emma

Each month in 2015, we will post an interview with one of our alumni, as part of our celebrations of this year’s auspicious anniversary. The Courtauld’s History of Dress students have gone on to forge careers in a diverse and exciting range of areas.  We hope you enjoy reading about their work, and their memories of studying here.


Alumni Interview Part Two:  Harriet Hall,  Courtauld Institute of Art MA (2011).

Harriet Hall is a freelance journalist specialising in Art, Fashion and Entertainment. She has published work online and in print, as is currently working on a book about the history of Sportswear. Harriet also works for the BBC, producing segments for live radio and television, and has interviewed celebrities, designers, artists and industry experts.

Could you tell us a little bit about what you are up to now?

 I am a journalist. I work three days a week at the BBC News Channel as a producer, and three days freelance, writing Fashion and Art pieces. I am currently writing a fashion book for Bloomsbury on the history of Sportswear. I give myself Sundays off!

 Did the MA course help you to progress to where you are today?

Absolutely. The course provided me with knowledge of how to analyse and write about dress, and a historical grounding that I apply to everything I write. It made me realise I was allowed to take fashion seriously. It also introduced me to many people across the world of fashion and dress, most of whom I am still in touch with. It’s important to have a network of close friends and colleagues you can turn to for advice and vice versa. 

You graduated from the Courtauld in 2011. Could you describe the structure of the course back then?

 It was the first year that Rebecca Arnold taught the course (although I’d stupidly spent the pre-application time reading Aileen Ribeiro’s work, which was a century earlier!) so it was great, because we were all new; we were all starting a journey together. The course focused on the inter-war period in Paris, London and New York. It was all very liberating and chic. I wrote mostly about feminism- Virginia Woolf and then for my thesis, the Japanese Lolita – I missed the memo about keeping a tight focus!

Would you say that the History of Dress Department, with such small numbers (alongside fashion’s undeserved association with ‘triviality’), was seen as inferior in any way?

I never found at the Courtauld that anyone looked down on anyone’s subject – academic importance was afforded to everything, because the word Art is so all encompassing. They wouldn’t include it at the university if it wasn’t considered important. We were, as a class, a little separate from the other students, but that just made us all a lovely tight-knit group.

Are there any memorable highs and lows of the course that you’d like to share with us?

 The high point was definitely going to New York on a study trip. We went behind the scenes at some of the most prestigious museums and met all the curators, and did lots of shopping! Low point – returning from New York to revise for our exam a week later. Jet lag and libraries aren’t a great combination.

Did you come from a fashion background or was it something new to you?

I studied History of Art for my BA, so it wasn’t entirely removed. I had always considered studying straight fashion design or art, but I wanted to know about everything that had come before, how it was received and how it was built upon. I was always obsessive about fashion, reading about it at every moment, collecting Vogue and spending all my money on clothes, so I felt perfectly at home studying it – it never felt like something new to me.

Did the Courtauld succeed in paving the path to a career in fashion? How important do you think a fashion-specific degree is to a job in the industry?

For curator roles, the History of Dress MA is virtually a requirement, but for my career it has been more of an invaluable addition. In journalism, many people expect you to have done a more vocational degree but for me, I think the historical and analytical knowledge is far more important, you learn the rest on the job.

 Could you talk a little bit about your career path since leaving the Courtauld? Any mistakes, any triumphs?

I started by interning at the Victoria & Albert museum, where I worked in the fashion department as a cataloguer and, separately, alongside a curator on a display of Japanese Lolita dresses. It was great timing with my thesis, and I was able to speak alongside him at the museum and at Hyper Japan events. Afterwards, I interned at Marie Claire, and later secured a job as Features Assistant at InStyle the January after I graduated. I worked at InStyle for a year. After I left InStyle, I began working at the BBC, whilst writing freelance Art and Fashion reviews for various publications. Soon the BBC promoted me to become a Broadcast Assistant on the news, and someone asked me to write a fashion book at the same time!

There have been some difficult moments, working in the media isn’t an easy path, and you’ve got to be prepared to stay at home a little longer. I’ve had to hold myself up with part time work – at a hairdresser and a beauty salon, and write a lot for people for free, but it’s important to prioritise building up a portfolio, first and foremost.

 Did extra curricular activities and networking with peers and alumni have an impact on your academic life?

 I didn’t really have time for much else other than researching for the course, but I would say that developing friendships and bonds with the other students was invaluable. We helped each other through everything – from advice on topics, to essay stress-outs and even sharing our photocopier money! It’s important to realise you’re all a team, not individual competitors. I made friends for life.

Could you talk a little bit about the sportswear book you are working on?

 It charts the history of sportswear from the 1900s to present day, focusing on specific designers as milestones. I am writing it alongside sportswear designer, Christian Blanken, who is going to illustrate it. It’s a brilliant time, because sportswear is more popular now than ever, and it’s such a versatile, liberating style of dress. It’s going to be a coffee table book- big and glossy with lots of great pictures. It should be ready for publication at the end of 2016- so that’s what everyone’s getting for Christmas next year.

Do you keep up to date with the Courtauld’s events, exhibitions and publications?

 I keep my eye out to see how the new classes are going and have attended a few lectures – you feel somewhat connected to the people on a similar journey to you. And of course I keep in touch with my peers and Rebecca. I think the History of Dress blog is great.

If you could own one exquisite piece by any designer (dead or alive) what would it be?

I love the black feather dress from Alexander McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2009-10 ‘Horn of Plenty’ collection – it looks impossible to wear but it’s magnificent – although I don’t know if the birds were killed or not, so maybe the red cape and white gown from the Autumn/Winter 2008-9 ‘The Girl Who Lived in the Tree’ collection – it’s so regal. Of course, I don’t think I’d get away with them down the local…

What is your dream project/achievement/job?

 To author a book (nearly there), to produce and present my own fashion programme and to be editor of Vogue one day. (aim high, I say.)

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

 Comparison is the thief of joy. I try to hold onto that because in every walk of life there will be someone younger, more intelligent and more successful than you, and you just gotta get over it. Also, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

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Fashion Food: Designer Bread Bags

February 24, 2015 by Lauren

Bagel bag

Chloe Wise, Bagel No. 5, oil paint, urethane, sesame seeds and found hardware, 2014.

Challah backpack

Chloe Wise, Ain’t No Challah Back(pack) Girl oil paint, urethane, sesame seeds, solicited Prada hardware 2014.

The internet went into hysterics after pictures surfaced of actress India Menuez sporting a cream-cheese bagel as a purse at the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s Chanel No.5-inspired film, The One That I Want.  It was not the carb couture itself that elicited intrigue, but the Chanel medallion dangling from the strange bag. Several magazines and blogs heralded the item as the newest of Karl Lagerfeld’s genius creations including Racked, who published an article with the headline, ‘How Can we Buy This Chanel Bagel Clutch Right Now?’ Bloggers and Chanel enthusiasts would be disappointed to learn that this bagel bag they have come to admire and covet is not in fact a bag, but a sculpture by Canadian artist Chloe Wise.

Entitled, Bagel No.5, a satirical reference to the iconic perfume Chanel No.5, the cream-cheese bagel exists as part of Wise’s sculptural series that integrate various forms of bread with different designer hardware. Included in the series is a challah with two large straps on either side, stamped with a triangular Prada label called, Ain’t No Challah Back(pack) Girl. Wise’s intriguing sculptures tackle the themes of banality and frivolity often ascribed to designer items. The concept of a food item as an accessory turns from outright absurd to utterly magnificent with the mere addition of a notable logo. Wise’s duping the Internet demonstrates the way the credulous masses will flock towards anything because it is branded – a literal stamp signifying high fashion’s metaphorical stamp of approval.

Wise’s work further comments on the commodification of identity. Her choice of synthetic bread as an artistic material underscores her commentary on high-end fashion products operating as status symbols. Upon contemplating the medium, one thinks of the concept ‘breadwinner’, the money-earner, as well as ‘dough’, a slang term for cash. In a similar way that her bread bags highlight the commodification of women’s status and identity, her ‘Irregular Tampon’ series speaks to the commodification of female individuality. A satirical spin off of tampon adverts that tout a variety of tampons catering to different types of girls, Wise creates non-functional tampons out of various materials. Wise presents the quinoa tampon for healthy girls, along with a slew of other inane varieties.

While commodification is a ubiquitous phenomenon, Wise’s oeuvre is distinctly focused on conventionally female products, such as purses and tampons. This is hardly surprising given the fact that fashion, consumerism and frivolity have been gendered female. While both females and males have been guilty of falling into consumerist traps, as well as participating within the field of fashion, the vain woman shopaholic stereotype persists, while men remain virtually free from such derogatory depictions.



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