Rose, c’est la vie: Pink at the Museum at FIT

Although my aunt coincidentally just spoke of ‘edible colour’ in terms of bento lunches and not the Fashion Institute of Technology, that would be taking The Museum at FIT’s current special exhibit, a survey of pink fashion spanning three centuries, to its (il)logical conclusion.

I used to rip handfuls of petals off my grandmother’s roses, because I didn’t know what else to do with the colour and, in batik class, drenched a handkerchief in what looked like pink blood well beyond the purpose of saturation. More recently, Elle Beauty’s lipstick smash videos and their muted clacks, scrapes and smears have satisfied… something, with form and purpose seemingly destroyed to become pure, shapeless colour. And so, Maison Schiaparelli’s fall 2015-16 silk chiffon gown, a pillar of ‘Shocking Pink’, inspires a familiar urge: visual obsession manifested as base, physical desire – ‘I want to eat it,’ I texted my aunt. ‘I want to rip it.’

Schiaparelli Paris Silk chiffon gown, fall 2015-16.

This Schiaparelli figures amongst approximately 80 ensembles recounting ‘Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color’, from dresses that look like Ladurée pastries to suits that look like rag doll fetish-wear. ‘Pink’ spotlights one of the most auratic of features, literally – the clothing glows under the effects of lighting and black background – and figuratively. With its history of elevation, commodification, codification and reclamation, the colour evokes seemingly endless ideas: youth, gender, queerness, class, modernity, imagination and fashionability.

The anteroom presents a brief overview of pink that one might expect: a chronological display of a stereotypically feminine colour beginning with an 1857 taffeta dress in watermelon and ending with the business suit of the 1980s and ’90s. If the main gallery doesn’t subvert this initial presentation, it certainly nuances and elasticises it, grouping ensembles thematically to tell a different story: a story of an elegant, ungendered colour that emerged from nameless indifference in the 18th century to paint the French royal court – despite pink dyes being used in China, Japan and India for much longer – before its 19th century feminisation; a colour to be reclaimed in excessive/transgressive displays of fantastic (sarcastic?) femininity.

Paquin Silk chiffon evening cape, 1897.

‘Pink’ cites colour historian Michel Pastoureau to clarify that, despite overwhelming associations, ‘there is no transnational truth to colour perception.’ It’s strange that reflections of light with no inherent truth or physical body can drive trends, enchant or repulse generations, and make me feel so viscerally. The clothing’s object-ness, reinforced by how invitingly tactile some of the ensembles are – the silk ruffles of Paquin’s 1897 chiffon evening cape, or the bubblegum pleather ones of Comme des Garçons’ 2016 ‘18th-Century Punk’ – combines with the intensity of the colour to suggest you can hold the pink, know and consume and be consumed by it.

Comme des Garçon Pleather, faux fur, rubber, and synthetic ensemble, fall 2016.

Pink is on point as colour and exhibition subject, all-inclusively staining book jackets, home décor, and men’s wellness campaigns as of late. Its prevalence, and the increasingly broken gender codes thereof, means today’s pink both continues to attract and loses its bite.

Though I still want to bite it.

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color‘ is on view at The Museum of FIT until January 5, 2019.

All photos taken by the author.

The intricacies of Instagram

How can dress and fashion historical imagery be consumed thoughtfully through a platform designed to deliver “Insta” visual-gratification?

The name of the game is self-explanatory. Instagram is a digital landscape through which the inescapable consumption of countless images is organised into a curated virtual reality. A flurry of images is uploaded onto our personal, tailor-made feed daily, hourly—in fact, any time the app is refreshed on our device of choice. And this instantaneous cycle of viewing and sharing has become snuggly situated in our collective day-to-day narrative. 

It is fair to say that fashion imagery, more specifically fashion photography, has become a firm feature on many an Instagram feed. Snapshots of contemporary collections are shared by Influencers from Fashion Week’s runway-adjacent front rows; models post Instagram Stories when on set, on location; and makeup artists upload videos of themselves mixing palettes when designing sponsored campaign looks. The content is constant and it is diverse, meaning that a fashion-centric aesthetic is now marketable to a wider portion of the Instagram community. But what does this mean for the tradition of fashion imagery—its dissection, discussion and the themes that underpin its discourse—and how are we now to consume said images in a way that preserves meaning and evokes critical analysis? If the volume of fashion and dress historical imagery being uploaded onto Instagram’s constantly shifting consciousness continues at such a rate, will it ultimately damage how it is read? 

Take for example the trend for ‘fast-art’ on Instagram. You take a painting—either in its entirety or a key compositional detail—and post it with accompanying text. You devise a caption summarising the work’s basic details: its dimensions, medium, the date of execution and title, maybe even a brief yet spiffy artist’s bio, if you will. Then you post. Established accounts such as @paintings.daily or @historiadelart are good examples, and @painters.paintings neatly describe their account as ‘An Art History Tour in a Virtual Gallery.’ 

A snap taken of @painters.paintings Instagram account, featuring their profile bio. Photo by author.

This exhibition-like design of posting is not exclusive to art historical accounts: it is also trending in the representation of art-historical dress and fashion. @the_corsetedbeauty, a well-followed dress account, claims to document “historical finery from days gone by. From the 18th century through the 1950s.” From the fashions flaunted in English Victoriana society portraits to the costumes designed by Michael O’Connor for Cary Joji Fukunaga’s 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, the account covers all manner of fashion foray, sweetly packaged into an aesthetically pleasing feed adorned with concise captions and analytically prevalent hashtags. 

Figure 2: An example of the content posted by accounts such as @the_corsetedbeauty. Photo by author.

Its output, in accordance with that of accounts such as @redthreaded, @artgarments or @thiswasfashion, is undeniably a step in the right direction. However, in the majority of cases, we are given the essential information on the image without being asked to question it. What is this painting’s unique place in the art historical cannon? What does the dress being worn signify about its wearer? Can we discern the subject’s social status and which domestic interior is being depicted here? How are we to read the space in relation to the protagonist’s interaction with her friend, sister or even trusted domestic servant? There are many questions to raise in the reading of any image, but is Instagram the right space in which to begin this line of questioning?

Maria Aceituno of @historicalgarments thinks that, in the context of fashion history (which she believes has a different goal than that of modern fashion imagery, as it does not affect current designer purchases) ‘the use of social media for sharing fashion history images is affecting fashion consciousness. With more access to images, a wider audience is learning about the use, construction, and purpose of clothing in a more user-friendly manner. Searching with a hashtag yields a wealth of information. Captions that go along with these images can also help give new insights, correct misinformation, or even perpetuate myths **cough: corsets and missing ribs: cough**.’  

Maria’s account, @historicalgarments—‘Inspiration, humor, and sewing for lovers of fashion before the 1950s.’ Photo by author.

I am inclined to agree with Maria, to an extent. It is encouraging to see accounts such as her own act as a dress/fashion history catalogue, potentially exposing a greater, more diverse audience to the discipline. But am I asking too much in my desire to be challenged by the content to which I am exposed? I dream of a time when I will reread captions with motive, when my interest is pushed enough to strike up a debate in the comments, when I am moved to ask for more insight over DM. I look forward to when I can interrogate and probe, as opposed to continually swiping the state of passivity in which I find myself, adequately educated, yet to be enthralled. 

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, recently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exposes a not-so-obvious though imminently pertinent relationship between fashion and Catholicism. Sponsored by Condé Nast and Versace, it is the Costume Institute’s largest and most visited exhibit to date.

The exhibit was divided between the Met Fifth Avenue and the Met Cloisters. Though I was unable to make the pilgrimage uptown to the Cloisters, I followed the Met Fifth Avenue exhibition through the Byzantine galleries, the Medieval Europe galleries, the Medieval Sculptural Hall and into the Medieval Treasury. It then continued into a part of the Robert Lehman Wing and, of course, into the Anna Wintour Costume Center, where mantles, chasubles, and papal tiaras were on loan from the Vatican. 

Left: series of outfits, Met Fifth Avenue. Right: Giovanna Fontana “Il Pretino” dress, 1956-57, Met Fifth Avenue. Photo by author.

Approaching the staircase from the Great Hall, you could catch a glimpse of mannequins on either side perched above eye-level. As you followed the sparkle emanating from the dresses, you would then find yourself in the Byzantine galleries. Here, the mannequins were positioned in single-file, deliberately recalling the order of a liturgical procession—or of a fashion show—or both?— withVersace down one corridor, Dolce & Gabbana down the other. The dresses emulated the Byzantine church art surrounding them in the gallery. For instance, the sequins individually placed on the Dolce & Gabbana dresses intentionally evoked the traditional distinctive pattern of tiles or tesserae of Byzantine mosaics. 

Left: five dresses, Dolce & Gabbana, 2013–14, Met Fifth Avenue. Right: five dresses, Gianni Versace, 1997–98, Met Fifth Avenue. Photo by author.

The Medieval Sculpture Hall held the central and most theatrical section of the exhibit. The space, modeled after the floor plan of a Cathedral, complete with a nave and two side aisles, was particularly resonant. Mannequins again lined up in procession formation in the centre of each of these areas. As you entered this sanctuary, you would find yourself immediately attuned to the eerie echo of chanting that resonated throughout what could be imagined as an ancient stone chapel. The mannequins’ closed eyes gave them a meditative, almost trance-like look, which contributed to the austere yet seemingly enchanted ambiance of the space. The theme of ecclesiastical and celestial hierarchies was explored through the relationships between the Medieval paintings and sculptures and the designs by the likes of Valentino and Christian Lacroix. 

To a certain extent, by temporarily placing the outfits and accessories in the middle of galleries that house permanent collections of art, such as the mosaic depicting the personification of Ktisis (c. 500-550) in the Byzantine gallery, the exhibit emphasised the ephemerality of fashion. The fact that, at the end of Heavenly Bodies, the ensembles were removed from within these galleries gives credence to the argument that fashion in short-lived and therefore should not belong in an art museum among works of art that transcend time.

Left: John Galliano for House of Dior. Evening ensemble, 2000–2001 haute couture, Met Fifth Avenue. Right: Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, evening dress, 2017-18, Met Fifth Avenue. Photo by author.

Given the growing popularity of fashion exhibits, especially amongst a younger crowd that does not usually flood the halls of staid museums, Heavenly Bodies has not just contributed to making fashion relevant to contemporary times: it has also contributed to a broader, established and more sophisticated discourse—going so far as to bring Catholic imagery and fashion together in the same dialogue.

Mamma Mia! and the Enduring Appeal of 1970s Fashions

Split between 1979 and the mid-2000s, the dual-focus narrative of the recent Mamma Mia! sequel allows for some lovely period costumes. However, I was struck by how modern the 1970s costumes appear and, in turn, by the number of 1970s styles featured in the 21st century costumes.

Contemporary and period costumes together, highlighting their influence on each other. Poster by Universal Pictures, 2018.

In part, this is likely due to the fact that period costumes are never entirely historically accurate. Character development tends to take precedence over historical accuracy, and factors such as time and budget constraints and performance and aesthetic requirements mean that total accuracy is also difficult to achieve on a practical level. Furthermore, historical costumes have long reflected contemporary fashions, whether for commercial purposes or to ease comprehension for modern viewers. The 1970s costumes in Mamma Mia! are therefore infused with contemporary touches, such as Donna’s loose perm or her helix piercing. It is then fitting to reference the 1970s costumes in the modern ones because a desire to connect to the past is central to the film’s plot.

Of course, the mid-2000s setting is now period itself, but an exact year is not made explicit. Ergo, narratively essential but potentially anachronistic vintage styles can be incorporated into the modern costumes with particular ease. However, the filmmakers could probably have specified a year and still avoided anachronisms, as it is also possible that the 1970s costumes appear modern, and the modern costumes appear retro, because 1970s styles are so frequently in fashion.

Season after season, 1970s influences appear on the catwalks. Over the past year, there have been flared jumpsuits at Gucci, shearling coats at Louis Vuitton and patchwork pieces at Dior. Longchamp’s SS19 collection is nothing but 1970s styles. On the high street, too, 1970s fashions have remained popular for decades. The late 1990s saw a 1970s revival, for example, followed by a ‘boho’ trend in the early-mid 2000s. Most recently, disco-inspired festival fashions have gone mainstream.

1970s-inspired fashions advertised at Temple tube station, September 2018. Photograph by the author.

This longevity can be partially attributed to the cyclical nature of fashion. Another possibility is that 1970s fashions have endured because the popular cuts—flared, high-waisted, A-line—are comfortable and flattering. Or perhaps it is the great variety of styles which is appealing. The 1970s was the first decade in which expressing individuality through dress became widely popular, and this, coupled with a new demand for vintage clothes, led to an unprecedented bricolage of trends on the high street. This tendency towards individuality has also led many 1970s fashions to become inextricably associated with youth and countercultures, with freedom and fun, and it is surely this quality which remains especially attractive—however commercialised certain trends might have become.

At the end of Mamma Mia!, the cast performs Super Trouper dressed in comically exaggerated disco styles. The costumes play to a common perception of 1970s fashions as excessive and garish, but it is unsurprising that the most extreme styles are the best remembered. The rest of the film is a reminder that the decade’s everyday fashions are just as significant.

Soft? Tactile Dialogues : MoMu and the Maurice Verbaet Center, Antwerp

In the Maurice Verbaet Center in Antwerp there currently hangs Sven’t Jolle’s ‘Yves Saint-Lazare’ (2014): a large piece of brown cloth draped over a metal clothes hanger. It could be a shift dress, but it is tattered and dirty, and there are three large holes ripped in the fabric. It is actually an old rag from the artist’s studio, repurposed for display as an art object itself and originally created for exhibition in a Parisian gallery, located on the Rue du Grenier-Saint-Lazare, during fashion week. Textile art takes on the guise of fashion and fashion, sculpture and textiles come together in a piece that comments on art as a luxury good. 

Sven’t Jolle’s ‘Yves Saint-Lazare’ (2014). Photo by author.

Jolle’s work appears as part of Soft? Tactile Dialogues, the first exhibition by Antwerp’s ModeMuseum to shift its focus from fashion to textile art. The show is inspired by a collection of textile works by Belgian artists that had, until now, remained hidden in the museum’s archives. To celebrate the work of their creators, curator and Courtauld alumna Elisa de Wyngaert has sought to unearth these pieces and give them the attention that they certainly deserve.

Photo by author.

The first half of the show contains a selection of these archival pieces, produced by female artists from the ‘Textielgroep’ movement in the 1960s and 1970s. A number of large-scale works dominate, including Tapta’s twisted woven lengths and Liberta Ferket’s ‘Treurend vangnet’, its long knots of plaited rope falling heavily from the ceiling. Behind these hangs Veerle Dupoint’s ‘Alruin’, its earthy tones matched by the extraordinary musty odour that emanates from it. Historically associated with female artists, textile was embraced by these women to explore and advance the creative potential of the medium. These works are not delicate or pretty. Their appeal comes from their strength, their weighty materiality, rough textures, nubby woven surfaces, and frayed tufts. It is their tactility that seduces.

Veerle Dupoint’s ‘Alruin’ (1976). Photo by author.

The second half of the show takes place in the adjacent stairwell and is dedicated to works by contemporary female and male Belgian artists. This unusual space is used to its advantage by de Wyngaert in an exploration of the various ways in which textile art has developed. Works include Klaas Rommelaere’s tapestries, made in collaboration with a group of local ‘grandmothers’ and Wiesi Will’s colourful installation of fine knit hangings. These artists embrace vibrant colours and a range of different media, from fabric to plastic and glass.

Klaas Rommelaere’s ‘Future’ (2018). Photo by author.

In both halves of the exhibition, the works come into their own when they interact with one another. When you stand at the entrance of the first room and catch a glimpse of the coarse surface of Dupoint’s work through the gaps in Tapta’s sculptural forms, the tactile qualities of the different materials and techniques communicate across the space. Similarly, the staircase provides a unique location in which the works frame and refract off one another, inviting the viewer to engage with the exciting possibilities offered by textile art.

Photo by author.

If anyone needed persuading that a fashion museum should widen its scope to include textile art, this exhibition provides more than enough reason. It is notable that a number of the contemporary artists that are included have worked in or studied fashion.  Christoph Hefti studied at Central Saint Martins and was a print developer at Dries Van Noten, Klaas Rommelaere interned at Henrik Vibsov and Raf Simons, and Laure Van Brempt and Vera Roggli, of Weisi Will, worked as designers at Christian Wijnants. Both fashion and textile art activate and explore the expressive capacity of fabric and, as the work of these artists demonstrates, there is much to be gained from recognising the dynamic that exists between the two.

Photo by author.

Catch the exhibition from 28-09-18 to 24-02-19 at the Maurice Verbaet Center in Antwerp. There are also a number of associated events taking place around the city. Visit https://www.momu.be/en/exhibitions/soft-tactiele-dialogen for more information.

MA Documenting Fashion 2017-18 Farewell

Just like that our MA has flown by and the Documenting Fashion group of 2017-18 graduates with our Masters in the History of Art on Monday! Documenting Fashion blog co-runners Olivia and I wanted to say goodbye and thank you for following along! As we reflect on this wonderful year, we’re sharing some behind-the-scenes photos and our favorite memories. Below are some lists I’ve compiled from the group reminiscing about moments from our time in class, our trips, and of course, our best food moments.

Niall and Arielle admire Rebecca’s Kim Kardashian Selfie book

In class:

  • Viewing the Courtauld’s collection of fashion magazines such as the Gazette du Bon Ton
  •  Rebecca’s seminar on Vionnet and the big reveal of her favorite Vionnet dress
  •  Book time! – For each seminar Rebecca would collect books from her impressive collection which pertained to that weeks topic. It was endlessly exciting and I think we all have book wish-lists a mile long now
  • Dr. Adrian Garvey’s guest lecture on film and World War II
  • Our seminar on Gordon Parks
  • last but certainly not least, when we were fortunate to have been visited by our favorite dachshund, Koda

The group with Beatrice Behlen at The Museum of London

Nelleke at the Posturing exhibit

Field trips:

  • Our first visit to the Courtauld’s own prints and drawing collection
  • V&A Blythe house where we got to see some show-stoppers
  • Our multiple visits to the Museum of London – especially when we considered dress and biography
  • Visiting Autograph APB
  • The Mod New York exhibition in NYC where we collectively marveled at the beautiful exhibition design and danced to the groovy playlist

Spotted: Destinee, Olivia, Niall, and Grace on the steps of the Met in NYC – xoxo Documenting Fashion

Food:

  • Our weekly after seminar lunches in the Coutauld cafe
  • Tutorials at Federation Coffee in Brixton
  • When Evie brought us to Fish n Chips in Camberwell
  • Our lunch at by Chloe during dissertation work

 

For me, the best part of this year has been the friendship I’ve found in my Documenting Fashion classmates. As you can tell from our posts, we all approach dress differently but we are also extremely supportive and encouraging of each other’s thoughts and work. Our personalities meshed together so well since day one and we have had such fun together while also pushing each other to think differently, and ultimately, be better art historians. I am truly thankful to have gone through this experience with such a lovely group of people.

Thank you for reading. We are so looking forward to what the next MA Documenting Fashion group creates for you starting in September.

Abby Fogle

Wilde Child: an homage to a key figure in defining queer aesthetics

 

The trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895 led to, as historians have argued, a conceptualisation and increased awareness of homosexuality. Within previous centuries the biblical notion of ‘sodomy’ fuelled the belief that all sexuality was fluid and that every man was capable of committing the heinous crime of same-sex relations. As a result of the Wilde trials however, the newly defined legal and medical idea of the ‘homosexual’ allowed for sexual orientation to become a marker of identity. It is no surprise, therefore, that this new label of social categorisation infiltrated ways of dressing and enabled the notion of homosexual style to emerge.

Within the exhibition catalogue, Queer Style, Valerie Steele locates the inception of homosexual dress within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in her discussion of Oscar Wilde. Wilde is often associated with two differing styles of masculine dress that are oft associated with the figure of the homosexual male: the ‘aesthete’ and the ‘dandy’. Steele defines the ‘aesthete’ as a flamboyantly dressed male whose outlandish sense of style became a marker of sexual deviance. For Wilde, his signature green carnation was adopted as a fashionable statement of such deviance amongst aesthetes.

While aesthetic modes of dress acted as a more visible form of locating the homosexual, dandyism revealed the sexual non-conformity of the individual through the hyper-conformity to male fashions. Steele observes how the dandy adhered to the male sartorial code to such an extent that he distinguished himself from his peers. When Wilde later transitioned to a dandyist approach to dress, he was thus able to signal his ‘deviance’ through conventional fashions. The dandy could protect himself within a heteronormative and homophobic society while also using his hyper-conformity as a means to present his homosexuality to those keen enough to observe it.

Wilde was a key figure in not only raising awareness of homosexual identity, but also in showing how this newly defined identity could be explored through dress. The impact of Wilde’s trial can be felt even now, as you see queer and homosexual aesthetics continually evolving and being redefined. Ultimately, the tragic downfall of Oscar Wilde allowed for the figure of the homosexual to be made visible within a heteronormative society, and it is this visibility that enabled the very notion of queer style to emerge.

5 Minutes With… Niall

 

Niall is a Courtauld MA Student currently on Rebecca Arnold’s Documenting Fashion course, about to graduate in July. During our end-of-year class trip to Kew Gardens, I caught up with him about his style.

Describe what you are you wearing today?

I’m wearing a black turtleneck with black trousers, a black blazer, and a black umbrella to keep away the summer sun.

Does your style differ depending on where you are?

I literally wear a black turtleneck and high waisted black trousers everywhere, even at home.

How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style by saying, “I’m going to the opera at 7, and I’m meeting my Coven at 11.” That’s how I would describe it, especially because in the Winter I have this big, black faux-fur coat, and I tend to wear velvets a lot. I feel like my approach to style is very Minimalist because the basis of what I wear is very plain and I wear the same things everyday, but then I also have more extravagant items as well which add a little touch. Because I love texture, I like velvets, satins, lace and silk, so I’ll wear those fabrics sometimes. I actually was going to wear black lace gloves today, too.

Have you always dressed like this?

No, I haven’t. I used to wear colour but then I felt really self conscious and it made me feel like I stood out, and then I started to wear all black — just because I think it looks best on my skin tone and my hair.

Do you remember an early fashion memory?

When I was four of five I would wear every single day the same red Postman Pat t-shirt with black trousers and the same pair of white trainers. I wore them everyday, until the shoes fell apart and the t-shirt had holes in, which I think is interesting because now I wear the same thing everyday as well.

Are you associated with the word ‘uniform’?

Yes, I like to wear a uniform because it makes me feel like I always look put together. It takes so much time out of the morning… I never have to be self conscious about what I’m wearing. I found my uniform just by accident because I ended up just naturally gravitating towards things that I felt the most comfortable in and the things that I feel like I looked best in. Because I wear the same thing everyday, I never have to worry about whether it looks nice or not, and can just throw something on and have it always look put together.

Do you have any favourite accessories?

One item that I wear a lot is my black and purple velvet shawl. It’s more of a Wintery thing, but I like that its kind of witchy. I got it after I went to see Stevie Nicks in the Summer Hyde Park concert, so obviously have a fond memory of it.

Can you note any inspiration for your style?

A big inspiration for me was a picture of Audrey Hepburn. Its a studio portrait of her and she’s in a black top with high waisted black trousers which are basically the same ones that I wear, and she’s got black ballet flats on. Another inspiration, honestly…. in the first two Harry Potter films, Professor McGonagall always wears a black turtleneck dress with a green velvet cape and a brooch around her neck. That was a big inspiration to me as well because I like vampiric, witchy things. And obviously American Horror Story’s Coven is a big aesthetic inspiration too. Stevie Nicks is also a style inspiration to me because she doesn’t strictly wear a uniform, but she’s always in all black, and she wears similar things to me.

 

All photographs taken by Niall

 

Live Podcast Recording: What Do We Want From Fashion Writing And Imagery Now?

Please join us Friday 29 June, 2018 at the Courtauld Institute of Art 10:30am-12:00pm for a live recording of The Conversations with Jason Campbell & Henrietta Gallina podcast, open to all free admission

Speakers include

  • Jason Campbell – journalist, personal stylist and forecaster
  • Henrietta Gallina – creative strategist

Organised by

  • Dr Rebecca Arnold – The Courtauld Institute of Art

Writers and critics represent a shrinking talent pool in the fashion industry, meanwhile fashion imagery has become a staple in our daily social media digest. With that, how we document fashion is shifting in an unprecedented way, so we will discuss how these changes are manifesting and put forward the question of what is needed and wanted today.  Join us for a live recording, with Q&A.

The Conversations With Jason Campbell & Henrietta Gallina is a weekly podcast hosted by two fashion professionals and enthusiasts. For years, Henrietta and Jason found that the conversations they were having about the fashion industry and culture were not ones being had in mainstream arenas, so in the summer of 2017, they decided document their ongoing discussions via their podcast which can be found on iTunes, Podbean and Stitcher.

Jason Campbell is a 25-year veteran of the fashion industry working as a journalist, personal stylist and forecaster. From 2002-2012, Jason published the seminal newsletter JC Report, covering trends, talents and movements from across the globe. In his role as consultant, brands such as the NFL, American Express Centurion, and Limited Brands depend on his fashion wisdom to inform their strategic marketing. Jason has also been a contributing writer to Style.com, New York Times Magazine and Surface Magazine.

Henrietta has over 12 years of experience working with a multitude of fashion, lifestyle and corporate companies across brand, creative and digital strategy and storytelling. Having worked with notable companies as Fred Perry, Topshop, Shinola, COS, Karla Otto, Nike, Parley For The Oceans, Universal Standard and many more, her focus is overall brand and cultural relevancy via bespoke strategic thinking, creative vision, content and special projects.

Book Review: The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th Century Women Designers, edited by Nancy Deihl. Bloomsbury 2018.

Nancy Deihl has edited a fascinating compilation of sixteen essays each of which examines an American fashion designer whose work has been all but forgotten. The chosen examples are women who were successful in their day, and their style encompasses everything from custom-made to ready-to-wear, as well as demonstrating interconnections with the entertainment industry and fashion media. As such, it is a book that relies on forensic research of fashion history, and exposes the rich narratives of individuals who helped to build the American industry.

I was thrilled to see Tina Leser included in the list of contents. I have long admired her work, having become fascinated by the beautiful hand-painted blouses and dresses I saw in museum collections when researching my book The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear & The Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s New York.  Written by FIT Special Collections Archivist April Calahan, the chapter reveals new details of Leser’s life and career that illuminate her progress and the significance of her work.

It is so interesting to read about her early married life in Hawaii in the mid-1930s, and how her glamorous, sportswear-inspired style developed when she opened a shop opposite a chic hotel, whose clients quickly became her key customers.  Here, she imported leading designers from the mainland, including Nettie Rosenstein, and gradually built her own signature look, before she switched to the East Coast herself.  She was prompted to move by a series of external events, from a shipping strike that cut off her wholesale supplies, to the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941.  Once in New York, she began to work with manufacturer Edwin H. Foreman, and continued to grow her business over the coming decades, to become a significant member of America’s fashion industry.

What Calahan’s essay eloquently shows is the way Leser’s career developed to include international influences in her use of fabrics and design elements, as well as her commitment to outsourcing production to other countries. She was, as such, a pioneer of globalisation, looking, for example, to Indian tailors to make up her designs, and seeking to create mutually-beneficial partnerships with her collaborators. Although not always as successful in execution, her dedication to overseas artisans is admirable, and adds a new layer of understanding to her well-known love of Asian references in her designs.  Dhoti-inspired evening dresses, for example, are the perfect encapsulation of her version of the American Look – simple, fluid jersey forms given emphasis through their Indian silhouette.

Calahan’s chapter demonstrates the book’s strength as a whole – it celebrates female creativity and business knowledge – and will surely, as Deihl states in her introduction to the compilation, inspire further work on America’s myriad fashion talents.