A Visit to the V&A

For viewing fashion from 1920-1960, there is no better place in London than the Fashion Galleries, Room 40, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. So, off I went to South Kensington to see the displays which cover the highlights of fashion from 1750 to the present. The display cases are lined along the perimeter of a large circular gallery which allows one to choose whether to follow a chronological path or to travel against time as one wishes. These are some of the highlights of the exhibition.

The 1920s and 1930s are emphasised as a time of increased bodily ease and comfort in fashion as designs became more fluid and less ornate than before World War I. No longer defined by the waist, fashions of the 20s were tubular in shape and hemlines were raised to below the knee, allowing for a wider range of motion benefitting popular dances such as the Charleston. In the 1930s, attire for sporting activities became important and influenced fashion which is represented in a display of a tennis dress, two bathing costumes, and a beach walking suit. The active body and increased independence for women were key aspects of modernity reflected in the fashions of the time. Fashionable sportswear presents such activities as tennis, bathing, and dancing as appropriate and even desirable for women.

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Wartime austerity in Britain is represented by a Utility Suit from 1943 with a gas-mask bag worn cross-body as many handbags are today. Restrictions on clothing circumscribed that skirts should be knee-length without pleats and folds that would require an excess of fabric and jackets could not have more than three buttons.

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The close tailoring of the 1940s, imposed upon women, lasted until 1947 when Christian Dior famously showed his collection featuring longer, voluminous skirts and nipped-in defined waists dubbed the ‘New Look.’ To help women embrace what was a sea-change in dressing, magazines such as Vogue promoted the new silhouette heavily, which eventually became an icon of the 1950s. A display devoted to Dior’s ‘Zemire’ dress from 1954, made for Lady Sekers, showcases the elements of the ensemble. The undergarments reveal how the silhouette of a sculpted bodice and full, circular skirt are achieved. The close narrow shoulders and wasp-waist jacket contrast with the skirt’s volume to create the extreme hour-glass figure reminiscent of the mid-nineteenth century, a source underscored by the mirror and fan in the display. The Dior case is a clear highlight of the gallery, at once deconstructing and celebrating the designer’s signature look.

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German Traditional Dress 2.0: Gregor Hohenberg’s Trachten

Cover of Gregor Hohenberg's Trachten

Cover of Gregor Hohenberg’s Trachten. Photo by blog post author.

Trachten (which will here be loosely translated as a term describing German traditional dress) today seemingly only move into the fashion spotlight once a year during the month of October. During this time, two events draw the world’s attention to them: the Oktoberfest (Wiesn) in Munich, where Dirndl and Lederhosen make an appearance all over the city, and Halloween, during which “German Beer Maid” costumes are suddenly advertised widely on the internet, readily available for purchase.

However, both events only highlight very limited facets of the rich variety of Trachten in Germany today- and at that only in a mediated form. The Halloween costumes remove any serious aspects of German traditional heritage, replacing it rather with an overt sexualisation of form by shortening of the skirt and addition of thigh high stockings. Similarly, Lederhosen and Dirndl, mostly associated with Bavaria, are not the only version of traditional dress and are also not as full of the age-old tradition as is widely assumed. Rather, this particular Tracht stemmed from the 19th Century, and is in fact linked to the savviness of Wittelsbacher noble family who used it as a type of branding or marketing strategy to further the feeling of a Bavarian identity.

Pages from Trachten. Photo by author.

Pages from Trachten. Photo by blog post author.

German fashion photographer Gregor Hohenberg has helped to change this rather one-sided representation of traditional dress by producing a marvellous photographic work. It is entitled simply Trachten in German and Traditional Couture in English. Indeed, the English title seems nearly more apt for the role the book takes on: it presents Trachten as high fashion or haute couture. Printed in a large coffee-table-book format, the photographs of the garments shown within the book are made to be coveted and admired; the visual effect of each dress stands in the foreground. Many shots are taken in front of a black background, highlighting the details of stitching, material and fabric. Were the clothes not contextualised in the book with descriptive texts, detailing the history and make-up of each Tracht, the photographs might as well be, to give just one example, of John Galliano’s 2004 Ready-to-Wear collection. The glossy pages and accessibility of the layout, which divides the books into regional chapters, make this book an aesthetically pleasing page-turner.

Page from Trachten. Photo by author.

Page from Trachten. Photo by blog post author.

Yet, vitally, it manages to strike the balance between that often contested dichotomy of traditional versus modern. For example, Hohenberg chose not to use professional models for the shoot. Rather, the actual owners of each dress wear it in the photographs. Some, are further shown in front of houses, farms or walking up mountain paths. This helps to situate the clothes on a more personal level and raises questions of (regional) identity and representation of the individual. Similarly, the inside of the front and the back cover is formed by a landscape shot. The dresses are therefore framed by nature and land itself, and associations with the rural and local still given. Hohenberg thus achieves a remarkable feat; he manages to present the Tracht as current and fashionable, while still maintaining its cultural values and meanings.

Further Reading

Hohenberg, Gregor, and Annett Hohenberg, Gestalten (eds.). Trachten. Berlin: Gestalten, 2015.

From English Fashion Plate to Japanese Print

After a period of limited trade, Japan opened select cities in 1859 as part of a commercial treaty with France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States. As traders flooded into the port of Yokohama, native artists capitalized on Japanese print tradition to spread information about the country’s new inhabitants. For centuries, widely accessible paper prints depicting beautiful women, actors, and mythological scenes entertained the masses. The new print genre, called Yokohama pictures, educated consumers through descriptive poetry and colorful images that emphasized the foreignness of Westerners.

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, A Frenchwoman from the series The People of the Barbarian Nations (Bankoku jinbutsu zu: Furansu fujin), 1861. Polychrome woodblock print. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number 1968-165-119). http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/249307.html

Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, A Frenchwoman from the series The People of the Barbarian Nations (Bankoku jinbutsu zu: Furansu fujin), 1861. Polychrome woodblock print. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number 1968-165-119).

Native Japanese dress differed greatly from dress styles popular in Europe. As such, clothing became an essential tool to identify foreigners. In A Frenchwoman by Yoshitsuya Ichieisai, the inscription reads, “Wearing her foreign garb of spring brocade, a young woman strolls along the streets of Yokohama.” The background of the print is blank and the woman’s skin tone is similarly neutral: The real subject of the print is not the figure herself, but her brightly colored clothes. To Western eyes, the mantle, skirt, and bonnet may look oddly drawn. The familiar exaggerated hourglass silhouette of 1860s European womenswear is shrouded by a too-long mantle, the skirt has an unusual two-tone teardrop pattern, and the headdress only suggests a bonnet.

Dismissing this print as crude is a misstep, however. A Frenchwoman actually displays an impressive amount of invention in the face of artistic difficulties. Though there were some Western women in Japan, most traders were single men. With a shortage of real-life subjects, artists turned to foreign newspapers to complete their visual vocabulary.

‘The Paris Fashions for October.’ Illustrated London News (September 29, 1860). Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

‘The Paris Fashions for October.’ Illustrated London News (September 29, 1860). Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection.

A Frenchwoman directly supports this notion. Printed in the first months of 1861, it bears a striking resemblance to a fashion plate entitled ‘The Paris Fashions for October,’ which was published September 29, 1860 in the Illustrated London News, a paper widely available in Yokohama. The leftmost woman in the plate wears a multi-tiered mantle with crimped edging that unmistakably inspired the mantle of the Frenchwoman.

Recognizing that Yoshitsuya used fashion plates to create foreign figures helps explain his artistic choices. To avoid replicating the corseted waist, whose shape defied Japanese artistic training, Yoshitsuya added a long blue tier to the bottom of the mantle. The blue teardrop shading on the skirt resembles dark etching used in fashion plates to create depth in folds. And the figure’s open cloth head covering suggests that Yoshitsuya moved the bonnet’s close-to-the-chin bow, seen on the other two figures in ‘Paris Fashions,’ onto the collar of the mantle, a possible interpretation of the two-dimensional plate. Despite some difficulty translating the European costume into a Japanese print, the inscription still rings true to the context of the Frenchwoman’s clothing: The mantle was an outdoor covering that any foreign woman “stroll[ing] along the streets of Yokohama” would have worn. Using English fashion plates and reasonable estimation, Yoshitsuya created an imaginative representation of European women viewed through a Japanese lens.

Further Reading

Ann Yonemura, Yokohama: Prints from Nineteenth-century Japan (Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1990), 82.

Judith Clark: Fashion Redefined – The Vulgar and The Proust Questionnaire

 

Judith Clark, photograph by Hyea W Kang, 2016

Judith Clark, photograph by Hyea W Kang, 2016

How do you rethink an idea, or a word, or a dress? Or question what a fashion exhibition is, while at the same time creating an exhibition about fashion?

Visit Judith Clark’s show The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined at the Barbican Art Gallery and you will find out.

Bold, ambitious, yet subtle and witty, the exhibition is a tour de force, and makes you engage and reconsider your own attitudes to this very slippery term from the start. Adam Phillips definitions of ‘vulgar’ tease out its meanings, and the range of objects, as well as the exhibition’s design suggest ways to redefine …

To give some insight into Judith Clark’s way of thinking, I asked her to fill in a Proust Questionnaire – a 19th century parlour game popularised by Marcel Proust, which is designed to reveal the respondent’s personality.

 

Proust Questionnaire

__1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being with my family.

__2.__What is your greatest fear? Snakes on a plane.

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Wanting to be liked. It means drowning out other more interesting thoughts about people and situations.

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others? False allegiance.

__5.__Which living person do you most admire? Mr Rob Crossley, Mr Matt Jones

__6.__What is your greatest extravagance?  Other than clothes?

__7.__What is your current state of mind?

__8.__What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Academic intelligence.

__9.__On what occasion do you lie? To make others feel better about themselves.

__10.__What do you most dislike about your appearance? Different parts at different times.

__11.__Which living person do you most despise? Today, anyone voting for the far right.

__12.__What is the quality you most like in a man? It is something to do with how the difference is negotiated rather than denied.

__13.__What is the quality you most like in a woman? Loyalty

__14.__Which words or phrases do you most overuse? No (to my children); Props and Attributes (to my students).

__15.__What or who is the greatest love of your life? The father of my children.

__16.__When and where were you happiest? Walking from Carbis Bay to St Ives, 2013.

__17.__Which talent would you most like to have?   Anything and everything to do with craftsmanship.

__18.__If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would be much more courageous.

__19.__What do you consider your greatest achievement? Having had the courage to have a family.

__20.__If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Someone born in the countryside and not a major city.

__21.__Where would you most like to live? My current home in London only with more room, or Rome.

__22.__What is your most treasured possession?  My sketchbook at any given time.

__23.__What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Stubborn loneliness.

__24.__What is your favorite occupation? Exactly my occupation, making exhibitions of dress with the people I build them with.

__25.__What is your most marked characteristic? I don’t know, you would have to ask other people.

__26.__What do you most value in your friends? Their memory.

__27.__Who are your favorite writers? Those who have made dress sound interesting, valuable, serious. Those who have resisted the temptation to be snide, or apologise for their interest in it. Many years ago Elizabeth Wilson made it more possible for me to become interested in fashion. And Adam Phillips.

__28.__Who is your hero of fiction? Mrs Moore, in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Like her, I don’t like muddles, and I don’t like racism.

__29.__Which historical figure do you most identify with? I would always like to identify with a female artist who had a studio. If she had a studio it meant that she was taking her work seriously and maybe was herself taken seriously.

__30.__Who are your heroes in real life? People who really manage to be kind to other people.

__31.__What are your favorite names? Marianne and Seth, and Jacob.

__32.__What is it that you most dislike? I’m not sure.

__33.__What is your greatest regret? That my mother did not live long enough to know my children better.

__34.__How would you like to die? In a way that would not make my children feel guilty.

__35.__What is your motto?    ‘All experiments are good’.

 

The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is at Barbican Art Gallery until 5 February 2017

The Winter Palace, run by the Belvedere Museum - where the exhibition travels to in 2017

The Winter Palace, run by the Belvedere Museum – where the exhibition travels to in 2017

Installing the Gucci Ad in the exhibition

Installing the Gucci Ad in the exhibition

Maison Doucet

During the Belle Epoque period, at 21 Rue de la Paix in Paris, stood Maison Doucet, one of the most fashionable couture houses of the day. Under the tutelage of Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret got his start there, as did Madeleine Vionnet, before they went on to their own success as couturiers. The clients at Doucet, as with most top couture houses, ranged from social elites and nobles to courtesans and celebrity actresses such as Rejane and Sarah Bernhardt (Figs. 1 and 2). Notably, Doucet was also patronized by younger American socialites such as Carrie Schermerhorn Astor, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Edith Wharton.

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Fig. 1: Actress Rejane wearing a Doucet at-home gown, cover of Les Modes, August 1902.

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Fig. 2: P. Nadar. Actress Rosa Bruck in Doucet, Les Modes, November, 1901.

To dispel the expenses of a trip to Paris, Doucet dresses were sold in New York at Arnold, Constable & Co. and Lord & Taylor’s and models were available at the exclusive dressmaking establishments of Madame Barnes and Madame Donovan. More than one woman who did return from Paris with a Doucet in her trunk reportedly tried to evade customs because of the excessive duties.

Turn-of-the-century fashions were characterized by exuberant surface decoration, where the materials, techniques, and styling of different decorative elements showed off one’s prosperity, indeed Doucet indulged heavily in such excess of beautification. One of the characteristic traits of the Doucet aesthetic is the use of fluid, unstructured fabrics such as lace, tulle, silk, fur, and satin (Figs. 3 and 4). From the turn of the century, with the body-skimming Directoire style and the taste for tea gowns, Maison Doucet’s expertise with fabrics put the couture house at the height of fashion. Doucet dresses were just a bit softer in their drape, delicate in their surfaces and the vision of beauty fit in with the more sensitive side of the time. That Doucet’s clients were daughters of great society matrons, wives of executives in the fashion retail industry, and popular actresses, confirms that the ultra-femininity of the Maison’s designs were fashion-forward and distinct from the stiffer prestige image of the House of Worth. Is it any wonder then that both Edith Wharton and Marcel Proust conjured up characters that answered to the siren call of Doucet frocks?

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Fig. 3: Doucet. Reception or ball gown. 1910. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Fig. 4: Doucet. Afternoon or tea gown. 1900-1903. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

High society dressing was very much a public consideration, a performance of wealth, class belonging and taste in the age of crass overnight millionaires and dollar princesses. In the highly codified world of social elites, elaborate surface decoration gave expression to the complexity and power of social wealth, presenting ornate femininity as an index of masculine financial prowess in the new business order.

The Maison Doucet sensibilities dovetail with the eighteenth-century revival fashion trend to which he contributed and executed at the highest level, informed by his own art collecting and connoisseurship. The sinuous lines of a peach embroidered ball gown in the art nouveau style have their clear precedent and inspiration in the eighteenth-century meandering lines of Rococo design, found particularly in textiles (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5: Doucet. Ball gown, 1898-1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Nouveau tiger lily design reminiscent of the Rococo period. Worn by Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson.

Of all the dress styles in a lady’s wardrobe, it was the tea gown, or at-home gown, that most embodied and fulfilled the sensual femininity of the Doucet aesthetic. Due to its light and clingy materials that skimmed a woman’s uncorseted body, it had a naturally suggestive quality to it. The abundance of airy lace over fluid, unstructured silk of a 1907 tea gown conveys the romantic and delicate aesthetic of the early century under the lofty eye of Doucet (Fig. 6). The tea gown’s softness underscores the traditional relationship between femininity and the private sphere while also promoting modern modes of dressing for comfort. The secret to the successful Doucet aesthetic seems to lie in the unabashed sensuality of the clothes no matter what the occasion.

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Fig. 6: Doucet. Tea gown, 1907. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Further Reading

Cole, Daniel James and Nancy Diehl. The History of Modern Fashion. London:Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

Coleman, Elizabeth Ann. The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat. New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1989.

Joslin, Katherine. Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion. Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1998.

Review of Inside Vogue: A Diary of my 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman

Alexandra Shulman, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016)

Cover of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016). Photograph courtesy of publisher.

The centenary year of British Vogue saw numerous celebratory events, from a bumper June issue covered by the Duchess of Cambridge to a retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a BBC2 documentary punnily titled Absolutely Fashion and a Vogue Festival featuring Grace Coddington, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Kim Kardashian and Charlotte Tilbury as speakers. Inside Vogue – the final treat of this momentous year for the magazine established in 1916 – is a personal account of the hard work that went into these events, the pressure, frustrations, and challenges faced in doing justice to Vogue’s legacy.

A rich picture is painted by Inside Vogue’s author, editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. What could have easily have hit shelves as a puffed-up piece of marketing is in fact peppered by nuanced criticisms. Absolutely Fashion’s narrator is rightly a cause for concern, as is rogue photographer David Bailey, though real indignation is reserved for the hypocritical jabs at Vogue’s portrayal of women made by The Daily Mail’s Liz Jones and Sarah Vine. Beauty confessions (‘I can only stick so far to “Il faut souffrir pour être belle”. The less souffrir going on the better, I feel.’) and reminiscences about growing up as the daughter of features writer Drusilla Beyfus and theatre critic Milton Shulman are interrupted – as even the most fabulous working lives are – by domestic chaos, spontaneously combusting bins and failing boilers.

Cover of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Cover of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Interior of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Interior of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Preview of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year

Page preview of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year

Structured as a diary, Inside Vogue also provides a valuable first-hand account of what is takes to produce a contemporary record such as Vogue magazine. How best to showcase Vogue’s contribution to readers’ awareness of contemporary conversations, culture and styles, and determine which faces from the worlds of fashion, art and music most deserve places in Tim Walker’s ‘hall of fame’ shoot? How to do this in the face of a digital revolution, with new challenges for print publishing; how to fight for a gold foil-embossed logo on instinct alone? Shulman’s accounts of her meetings with the Duchess of Cambridge will likely prove an essential source for our understanding of (and indeed future studies on) the representation and role of the royal family in these times. That the palace is easier to deal with than Naomi Campbell and David Beckham is just one takeaway.

Although Shulman makes clear the account is somewhat polished, not unlike Instagram – ‘everything we put out about ourselves is edited’ – there is plenty here to delight, intrigue, and learn about what life is like at the helm of Vogue, that powerful force in documenting fashion.

Alexandra Shulman, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016). Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

Somerset House Welcomes a New Addition

In Somerset House’s long history, many artists have walked through its courtyard and created their works in the endless nooks and crannies of its maze-like interiors. The long legacy of vision, beginning in 1779 when the Royal Academy of Arts became the first resident in the newly refurbished Somerset House, through its many Royal Academy Exhibitions, the move of The Courtauld Institute of Art into the North Wing of the building, becoming the home of British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week, to hosting blockbuster fashion and art exhibitions as well as multiple annual festivals such as Pick Me Up and Photo London, now continues with a new venture.

From October 2016, the New Wing of the former sixteenth century palace has been transformed into a home of Somerset House Studios, a new experimental workspace for a wide spectrum of creatives. Musicians, filmmakers, performance artists, designers, writers, architects, visual and internet artists are among the first residents in the repurposed, 36,000 sq ft space, soon to be joined by 25 new arrivals. Eventually, the space will house 300 creators, inventors and originators, making Somerset House a vibrant hub for London’s visionaries.

Somerset House Studios comes at a time when London’s uncompromisingly high rent has driven out artists such as Gareth Pugh, a world-renowned British designer, from their previous spaces. Pugh laments, “there is so much about creativity and how London is this place people go to and look to, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to actually make ends meet and make things work. Responding to this very serious problem, the Studios are offering up to two and a half years of residency at a capped rental price equivalent to 2014 rates for workspaces, allowing creativity to flourish, while offering much needed security to vulnerable artists and at the same time preventing the flocking of precious British talent elsewhere. The community Somerset House Studios will create is also crucial, as musician, artist and writer Brian Eno highlights: “People sometimes think that everything artists need is in their own minds. But it isn’t: as well as talent and enthusiasm, they need good places to work, and they need people to talk to and share ideas with…it represents a lot of possibilities for creative cross-pollination.”

This artistic exchange will not be exclusive to the residents, however. Instead, performance spaces, event and exhibition rooms will showcase the talent to over 3.2 million guests which come to Somerset House each year. The first round of exhibitions, called Somerset House Studios 01 has already been a great success. Newcomer but already one of the most exciting London designers, Charles Jeffrey, hosted one of his famous LOVERBOY raves in his space during the opening night. Inés Cámara Leret conceived an out-of-the-world cube which catches the spectators’ breaths and imprints them, creating a tangible object out of our DNA, while design practice Superflux set up a fictional court case, leading the visitor from their lab through sheets of plastic hanging off walls to the crime scene itself, posing questions about the world of gene-fixing and genetic profiling. What makes this work really compelling is its interaction with the audience, a new area which art is just beginning to tap into, but is already very much at the forefront at the Studios. Exciting things are happening at Somerset House and we cannot wait to see the incredible, inspiring and invigorating work which will once again announce London and one of its iconic buildings as the leader in artistic innovation.

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                                     Gareth Pugh | Sycorax | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

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                                     Charles Jeffrey | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

Applications for Somerset House Studios are open until 7 January 2016.

 

References:

Somerset House Studios Press Release (https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/press/somerset-house-studios accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

R. Dex, ‘Gareth Pugh gets a studio at Somerset House after being priced out of Dalston’ in Evening Standard (Wednesday, 19 October 2016) (http://www.standard.co.uk/fashion/news/gareth-pugh-gets-a-studio-at-somerset-house-after-being-priced-out-of-dalston-a3373406.html accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

Childhood Unveiled at the Museo Nacional del Prado: Spanish children’s fashion from the reign of Isabel II

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Childhood Unveiled display. In the middle, the canvas of Antonio Maria Esquivel. © Museo Nacional del Prado

Whilst in Madrid I had the opportunity to visit the recently opened special display La Infancia Descubierta (Childhood Unveiled) at Museo Nacional del Prado. With this exquisite display, el Prado recalls the importance of the children portrait genre in the nineteenth century by focusing on two key locations during Romanticism: Madrid and Seville.

The recent purchase by the Prado Museum of an almost unknown canvas by Antonio Maria Esquivel and Suárez de Urbina (1806-1857) that portrays a pair of brothers might be one of the reasons for the organisation of this exhibition. This would be the first time the piece is presented to the public. Javier Baron, Chief Curator of 19th-century painting at the museum, has used the painting as a centrepiece to articulate a small sample of eight works dated 1842 to 1855. Collected from Madrid and Seville and dated to the reign of Isabel II, each child portrait is now part of the museum’s collection. From the eight pieces exhibited, only one, the portrait of Federico Florez and Márquez by Federico de Madrazo and Kuntz (1815-1894) – a great representative of the court’s painters – is part of the permanent display; the other seven canvases are usually kept in storage, so this exhibition is the perfect opportunity to see them in person.

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Luis Ferrant y Llausás, Isabel Aragón Rey, 1854. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 65.8 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

These portraits, commissioned by middle-class, aristocrat and bourgeois clients, reveal different interpretations of childhood, a theme that became particularly popular among Romantic painters as a reflection of their clients’ new interests.

Baron explains that child portraiture emerged in Spanish painting at the end of the 18th-century and further developed in the 19th. It did so in relation to the ideals that emerged with the Enlightenment, particularly childhood purity espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This idea stated that children had their own interests and autonomy, rather than childhood being simply a stage that led to adulthood. The virtues associated with childhood – spontaneity, grace, innocence, purity versus the negative aspects of civilization – were highly valued. We can see them reflected in details such as the outdoor settings of the paintings.

Through this display, we have a glimpse at children’s fashions in Spain during the reign of Isabel II. During this period, Spanish children’s fashion followed the canons of the French style. Mothers copied models  from figurines seen in Paris, and girls wore miniature versions of their mothers’ attire: long dresses on top of several layers of petticoats, to give the desired shape to their skirts. It was very common that mothers ordered small crinolines for their daughters so they would lighten the weight of so many petticoats.

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

French fashion illustration, 1849. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Carlos Luis de Ribera y Fieve, Portrait of a girl in a landscape, 1847. Oil on canvas, 116 x 95 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Younger girls wore shorter skirts, revealing their white cotton undergarments that were trimmed with delicate lace or English embroidery. At the age of six girls would begin to wear small corsets similar to adult models.

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Joaquín Espalter y Rull, Manuel y Matilde Álvarez Amorós. Oil on canvas, 159 x 126 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Kid leather ankle boots were the most common everyday footwear. For more formal occasions, boots usually had decorative satin embroidery to match the dress. In wintertime, outerwear included gloves and coats made of woven fabric for everyday fashion. Cotton velvet and fur were used to make ensembles for special occasions, accompanied by lined hoods for girls and hats and caps for boys. As we can appreciate from the selection of paintings, boys and girls wore the same fashions regardless of gender until approximately the age of five. As for the fabrics used, the most popular were velvet, taffeta, organdy and tarlatan.

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Federico Madrazo y Kuntz, Portrait of Federico Florez, 1842. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 110 cm. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Fashion for boys was more comfortable and functional than girl’s fashions. From the age of 6 – 7, boys would start to wear long trousers, and their outfits were very often jacket and trouser sets made of woven fabric in one colour; the addition of hats, badges and military inspired golden buttons created a more formal look.

Source
Video commentary of exhibition by Javier Barón, Chief Curator of 19th-century Painting (Spanish with English subtitles)

The Life of a Young Fashion Designer: Yordan Mihalev

Born in Bulgaria, Yordan Mihalev is a 26-year-old fashion designer who studied at Varna Free University in Bulgaria, with a semester abroad at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp that also educated designers such as Dries van Noten. With a first prize for “Young Designer”, television interviews and an Italian shop interested in buying his latest collection, he is on his way to establishing his brand.

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Juanistyle Photography | First Model: Aïsha Bénédicte Mibenge |  Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels, 2013

What have you been working on since completing your study?

My first fashion show took place about a month before my graduation at Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels. The idea of the event was to gather a lot of designers from different countries to create a collection that was inspired by their own culture, so my entire collection was inspired by Bulgaria and presented by models of African origin.

Afterwards, I moved to Paris where I had a normal, paid job for an American brand, which I wasn’t really interested in. In addition to the job, I did a lot of side projects with different stylists, designers and artists which was really nice, but not spectacular. One of the projects, perhaps the most interesting one, was for Palais de Tokyo. I worked with a stylist and designer who is mainly famous for working with Lady Gaga. He’s a big name and a very interesting guy and I was lucky to have the chance to work for him as an illustrator.

I returned to Bulgaria about nine months ago, because I discovered that it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do in Paris. I was first thinking about going to Germany, but Bulgaria was a more obvious choice because I would have much more space to create my collection. Since February, I have constantly been working on my new collection, which I presented at the beginning of October at the Salone della Moda, a yearly event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

What is your favourite part of designing fashion?

The beginning and the end. The beginning and end are the most interesting because the beginning is when you have ideas; a vision of what you want to do. You’re only drawing and sketching and it feels free and you can experiment. The end is when you finally see everything three-dimensionally; everything is done. I don’t know about other designers, but I am always surprised at the end at what it finally became.

Are you now working on setting up your own brand in Bulgaria?

Yes. It’s interesting because for a lot of years I thought that I would have to be outside of Bulgaria, in France, Italy or the US, somewhere where fashion is huge. But this collection, for example, I made in Bulgaria, showed in the Netherlands and now I am going to sell it in Italy. Fashion is very international and the world is such an open place that it doesn’t really matter where you are physically based. I really want to establish my collections in Bulgaria, so that one day I can create spaces and jobs for people in my own country, but after that I want it to be everywhere.

Since the interview, a shop from Dubai has also shown interest in selling Mihalev’s latest collection.

 

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Make-Up: Maico Kemper | Models from left to right: Jalisa Minnaar, Aissa Sow, Julia Zendman, Liora Schoew, Djerra Zwaan, Sensemielja Letitia Sumter and Lauren Parmentier.

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Designer/Illustrator: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Denitsa Diyanova

http://www.mihalevcouture.com/

Unmasking Rococo Masquerade Costume

From the 1720s until the end of the eighteenth century, large masquerades epitomized vice and excess in European cities. In spite of this, people from almost all walks of life frequented masquerades, including nobles, clergy, townsfolk, and prostitutes. There were only two requirements for admission: first, a purchased party ticket, and second, a costume. With the blurring of class boundaries, excess food and alcohol consumption, and libertinage came the necessity to hide one’s identity. Thus, revelers donned fantastical costumes and masks to disguise themselves as they met in assembly rooms and pleasure gardens. At the height of masquerade madness, artists depicted how these partygoers adapted fashionable dress to create costumes that complemented the topsy-turvy atmosphere.

Henry Moreland, The Fair Nun Unmasked, c. 1769. Oil on canvas. Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries (LEEAG.1948.0009.0001). Available here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/pages/object.aspx?oid=43215.

Henry Moreland, The Fair Nun Unmasked, c. 1769. Oil on canvas. Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries (LEEAG.1948.0009.0001). Available at this link.

Concealment was the chief aim of masquerade costume. An issue of London’s Universal Spectator in 1729 declared that “Everyone…wears a Habit which speaks him the Reverse of what he is.” As such, costume contrasted with the everyday personality of its wearer. For example, in Henry Morland’s The Fair Nun Unmasked, though the woman’s cross and veil indicate that she is dressed as a nun, the low cut of her dress hardly conveys the piety required for the role. Further, the beauty patches on her mask indicate flirtation, both drawing attention to details on the face (or, in this case, the mask) and communicating secret meanings through patch position. A nun costume blatantly sexualized the wearer in eighteenth-century Protestant England: to be called a ‘nun’ meant one was a whore.

Detail of Charles Nicolas Cochin II (design) and Charles Nicolas Cochin I (engraving), Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, on the Occasion of the Marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, c. 1860 reprint of 1764 plate. Etching with engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930). Available here: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/359942.

Detail of Charles Nicolas Cochin II (design) and Charles Nicolas Cochin I (engraving), Decoration for a Masked Ball at Versailles, on the Occasion of the Marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France, and Maria Theresa, Infanta of Spain, c. 1860 reprint of 1764 plate. Etching with engraving. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1930). Available at this link.

Costumes designs varied widely, as seen in Cochin’s print of the Yew Tree Ball of 1745. The most popular styles included fancy dress (toned-down costume dresses), pastoral (particularly shepherdesses), Oriental (Turkish or Chinese dress), seventeenth century (dress inspired by Rubens’ 1638 portrait of Hélène Fourment), and harlequin. People were hardly confined to these styles, however. Just as the masquerade encouraged bodily excess, so too were revelers encouraged to play with extremes when designing their costumes. Cochin etched one extreme into posterity by depicting the namesake of the Yew Tree Ball: at this masquerade, celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin, King Louis XV and his male courtiers dressed as topiary yew trees. In a world ordinarily controlled by pomp and carefully honed manners, this and other costumes embodied the magical escapism of the Rococo masquerade.

Further Reading

Ribeiro, Aileen. The Dress Worn at Masquerades in England, 1730-1790, and its relation to Fancy Dress in Portraiture. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.