Dissertation Discussion: Destinee

What is the working title of your dissertation? 

Readdressing Passivity in 1960’s Civil Rights Photographs through Dress

What led you to choose this subject?

I was inspired to write about the idea of protest wear in relation to the black body after seeing the King in New York exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. I became quite fascinated by the idea of protest buttons after seeing Benedict J. Fernandez’s Photograph from a Memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Central Park from April 5, 1968 on view. There is exhaustive scholarship on the Civil Rights Movement and for that reason my main objective in my dissertation was to find a new angle of viewing civil rights photographs that was not reductive or contrived. Reading civil rights photographs through dress and both individual and collective dress practice in moments of protest proved to be an interesting way of critiquing the reading of the black body as being passive or docile in the face of white-aggressive as reading it as an active embodiment of resistance.

Ivan Massar, Doris Wilson on the Selma to Montgomery March, Alabama, 1965, Gelatin silver print, Image/plat: 13 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2 inches, copyright Ivan Massar, Access: https://prod.high.org/collections/doris-wilson-on-the-selma-to- montgomery-march-alabama/

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

My favorite book that I have read for my dissertation has been bell hook’s Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992). The way in which hooks deconstructs and provides alternative ways of viewing blackness really helped push me to look at the images used in my dissertation in different ways. My second favorite read would have to be Sharon Sliwinki’s Dreaming in Dark Times: Six Exercises in Political Thought (2017) because I thought it was so interesting how she aligned dreaming and more specifically dream-work as a radical political action that could be situated within the context of the social sphere.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favorite image I wrote about is a photograph of the Washington Monument and part of the United States flag reflected in sunglasses of a young boy called Austin Clinton Brown from the March on Washington in August of 1963. I think the image is quite powerful in that it addresses the idea that the American dream is an illusion in the way that these symbols of American freedom are distorted and warped on the reflective surface of the young boy’s sunglasses.

Washington Monument and part of the U.S. flag reflected in sunglasses of Austin Clinton Brown, 9, of Gainesville, GA, March on Washington, August 28th 1963
Access: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/NATL-The-1963-March-on-Washington-in- Photos-219401841.htm

Favorite place to work?

Hands down, my favorite place to work is the Gallery Café in Bethnal Green. It is a vegetarian and vegan café with both indoor and outdoor seating with lots of natural light and great music. I have spent many days work there and they have the most delicious “loaded” vegan chili fries.

Dissertation Discussion: Abby

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

I’m trying to come up with something more creative but right now it is: “More Than a Backdrop: Fine Art in the Fashion Magazine 1930s-1950s”

What led you to choose this subject?

Well literally all of my academic research has investigated the intersection between art and fashion in some way so continuing to look at this relationship was a given. I wrote one of my previous MA essays on the fashion magazine as a designed object so I also wanted to build on that research. I love the way image, text and layout work together in fashion magazines to construct ideas of femininity as well as national identity for readers. I found art historians who had dismissed the use of art in fashion magazines, saying fashion simply used art as a backdrop to sell clothing. So, I wanted to assert that actually art and fashion work together to create significant aesthetics and messages.

I had always planned to write about classicism and couture in the 1930s because I have a low-key obsession with all things Greco-Roman and I’m fascinated by modern classicism. But about a month before we had to choose our topics I kept thinking about photographs by Cecil Beaton of models in eveningwear in front of Jackson Pollock paintings, and earlier this year I also came across photographs by Genevieve Naylor of models in Alexander Calder’s studio and then I was interested in modern art and fashion. I thought I had to choose between classicism or modern art but Rebecca (shout-out to Rebecca Arnold!!) helped me realize I was essentially looking at the same thing: art and fashion in magazine editorials. So, I didn’t have to choose and I really think it is the perfect topic for me.

 

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

In my quest to tie together art, fashion, and mid-century American politics I found a fantastic article by Alex Taylor about how Calder’s sculptures were used for both U.S. cultural propaganda and Latin American dissent during the Cold War.

Also, I got to re-visit the catalog from my favorite Met Costume Institute exhibition, 2003’s Goddess: The Classical Mode which spotlighted fashion designer’s affinity for the classical.

 

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

A Vogue 1931 editorial “Bas Relief” featuring George Hoyningen-Huene’s photographs of Madeleine Vionnet evening pyjamas where the model is actually lying down against a dark background but it looks like she floats while her dress swirls around her. The meeting of timeless classical imagery and modern photography is breathtaking and Hoyningen-Huene is my favorite photographer AND Vionnet is the best – it just doesn’t get any better.

 

Favorite place to work?

I can only focus in my room or in the Courtauld library

 

Dissertation Discussion: Arielle

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

My title is very working (I change my mind about it daily), but it is currently “Underground Intimacy: Self-Fashioning in Bruce Davidson’s Subway, 1980”.

What led you to choose this subject?

I first saw a few photographs from the Subway series around one year ago on our amazing tutor Rebecca Arnold’s Instagram. I did not know at the time this series would become the topic of my dissertation until I kept coming back to them, enchanted by this closeness I felt to the people within the photographs and Davidson’s use of color and light. I was interested in documentary photography and dress, and I thought the subway created an interesting platform to discuss groups of bodies and self-fashioning.

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

Anthropologist Marc Augé’s Non-places has been the most challenging but most helpful book I have read; I use his theory about transitory spaces like the subway to contextualize my argument. But I’ve also really enjoyed researching the subcultures of New York City in 1980. I don’t directly include it in my dissertation, but I now know a surprising amount about gang culture/customs and the evolution of graffiti in the subway.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

I can’t choose a favorite! I love the photographs as a series. But the first photograph I knew I wanted to include, and the first visual analysis I wrote, is this photograph of a woman dressed in an all yellow tube top and running short pairing. Her body is turned away from the viewer, but the way Davidson captures the color of her garments and the light reflecting off her skin is so beautiful.

Favorite place to work? 

I do the majority of my research at the V&A National Art Library, but I do my best writing at Timberyard, which is a coffee shop in Seven Dials. (I do also need to give a shout out to the employees at the Pret next to the Courtauld who are so kind to me—they are always asking about my dissertation as I go to them daily for sustenance and caffeine).

Dissertation Discussion: Evie

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

A Biography of Tapestry: Moki Cherry: Home, Stage, Museum

What led you to choose this subject?

I was led to writing about Moki Cherry’s tapestries and their relationship to different environments because of the eerie absence of critical writing about her artwork (despite being exhibited internationally and being such an important part of jazz musician, Don Cherry’s aesthetic).

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

The best thing I’ve read is an issue of the feminist arts journal Heresies called Women’s Traditional Arts, The Politics of Aesthetics, from 1978. I found the writing and photography in here to be provocative and relevant. Lucy Lippard’s article ‘Making Something from Nothing (Towards a Definition of Women’s Hobby Art)’ provided a feminist approach to my research into Cherry’s tapestries and the social conditions they were made in.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favourite image is a poster that Moki Cherry made for a concert in Stockholm 1967. It was the first concert that she collaborated on with Don Cherry as Movement Incorporated. It was really rewarding to discover this poster among other archived papers, and to see the symbols of hands, lips, birds and stars that are recurring motifs throughout her later tapestries.

 

Favorite place to work?

Anywhere quiet with natural light…

Dissertation Discussion: Olivia

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

 

My current working title is ‘Hats, Jackets, and Two Bloody Shirts: Costumes, Masculinity, and Genre Subversion in Brokeback Mountain’ but that will probably change by the time I’m finished.

What led you to choose this subject?

 

I’ve really always been fascinated by film and costumes, and as the course progressed I found myself gravitating more and more towards that topic. For my second essay and my virtual exhibition I focused on costume design in Hollywood’s Golden Age. In my research for those projects I became more interested in costumes that you don’t particularly notice, but definitely have an impact on your understanding of the characters, their emotions, and their situations.  Brokeback Mountain is one of those films to me where you may not necessarily notice the costumes (and that’s a good thing!), but you feel them and they contribute enormously to our understanding of the characters. From there I began to think about it in terms of other Western films and how it compares and contrasts, and my topic really developed from that comparison.

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

 

I love Deborah Nadoolman Landis’s catalogue from the Hollywood Costume exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was such a fantastic exhibition and the catalogue is beautiful. I always end up getting sidetracked from what I’m meant to be reading when I use it because it’s all so fun to look at! I’ve also really enjoyed reading David Greven’s book Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush, just a fascinating read with a great discussion of evolving ideas of masculinity in film in the late 20th and early 21st century.

 

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

 

I love them all, but I think my favorite has to be one of the most iconic/memorable images from Brokeback Mountain of our two heroes Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar on the titular Brokeback Mountain, where Jack is standing up and he playfully lassoes Ennis. It’s a beautiful shot in the film that really contrasts the grandeur of their setting with the intimacy of their relationship. It encapsulates a lot of what I’m trying to say in my dissertation about the contrast between iconic images of cowboy mythology and a more modern, emotional ideal of masculinity.

 

 

Favorite place to work?

 

My favorite place to work is probably the Reuben Library at the British Film Institute, it has a lot of the books I need and is a really nice, quiet, small work environment. I also love working at the café at Foyle’s bookstore.

Dissertation Discussion: Nelleke

What is the working title of your dissertation?

Currently my working title is ‘“Embroidered in Dyes”: Fabrics and Fashions by the Footprints Textile Printing Workshop in London 1925–1939’.

What led you to choose this subject?

Our amazing tutor Rebecca Arnold informed me about the Joyce Clissold and Footprints archive at the Central Saint Martins because she knew I am particularly interested in textiles and the making of dress. I visited this archive in February and immediately fell in love with the Footprints designs and Joyce Clissold’s work as a designer-craftswoman. I especially appreciate the broad perspective on fashion that the archive gave me, as it contains a wide range of objects that illustrate the diverse processes of designing, making, advertising and retailing of fabrics as well as garments. In the course of the research process, I became more and more intrigued by the creative activity of the many individuals and loosely knit groups of craftsmen and -women in London in the 1920s and 1930s. It would be a dream to continue my research in this exciting field.

Figure 2: Footprints blouse from the Joyce Clissold / Footprints collection at Central Saint Martins

Favorited book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

I could spend hours at the British Library reading the beautifully-designed journal The Town Crier. Issued by the Merchant Adventurers in London from 1921, this journal was full of interesting crafts-related articles and advertisements, as well as for instance job requests and vacancies by or aimed at established or aspiring craftspeople. The journal was printed on this nice, thick paper. I enjoy just leafing through it, read all the fun ads, and explore interwar London in my mind.

Figure 3: Two pages from the January 1926 edition of The Town Crier.

Favorited image/object in your dissertation and why?

I think I already gave my favourite images away in my last blog, as I love both the cover of the Footprints leaflet and the photograph of Joyce Clissold wearing a scarf of her own design.

But perhaps I can share my favourite ‘object’ with you. It is a reference in British Vogue’s 17 May 1933 issue to the Footprints shop that was located in New Bond Street. After spending almost two days at the British Library, leafing page-by-page through 1930s issues without any previous indication or even guarantee that I would find anything relating to Footprints, I could hardly suppress my euphoria when I actually found a short reference in the magazine’s regular shopping column. I felt like a kind of dress historian-detective…

Favorited place to work?

The most beautiful place to work is the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is my dream library. It reminds me of that library in Disney’s animated film Beauty and the Beast. But I also enjoy drinking coffee whilst working, for which I often go to Bloomsbury Coffee House at Tavistock Place.

By Nelleke Honcoop

The Yukata, Happi, and Obon Festival: A Slice of Japanese Summertime

 

In Japan, warmer weather marks the switch from the traditional silk kimono to the cotton yukata. Both with similar silhouettes, the kimono’s fabric is a heavier silk worn typically with an underlining for more formal gatherings or occasions, while the yukata is a casual and unlined garment worn as daily wear or at summer festivals.

Kimono (Furisode)

The yukata is slipped on like a wrap dress or bath robe, and folded right under left. The obi, or the sash used to hold up the yukata, is then wrapped around the waist 3 to 4 times and tied in a distinct bow worn on the back. The yukata is accompanied by geta, or wooden flip-flop sandals raised on two wooden platforms.

Yukata’s are traditionally worn both in and outside of Japan each summer during Japanese-Buddhist gatherings called Obon or ‘Bon’ festivals. A celebration to honor one’s ancestors, Obon festivals are held during June, July, and August around the world. Japanese people gather with their local communities adorned in yukatas or happi coats (a ‘half’ kimono consisting of straight sleeves, and imprinted with a distinctive monogram of one’s Buddhist temple or family crest.)

Yukata

These festivals are a form of celebrating the ancestral spirits through traditional Japanese dance called Bon-Odori. Yukatas and happi coats are accessorized for the dances with flowers, towels, fans, or kachi-kachi, small wooden hand instruments. The Bon-Odori is the focal point of the Obon festivals—each song, or ondo, accompanied by taiko drums. The songs range an extensive scope of sentiments: from upbeat and carefree like Mottainai, Shiawase Samba, and Sakura Ondo, to slower and more contemplative dances like Tanko Bushi.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do7XbGFOZiE

Obon festivals bring people of Japanese heritage together—whether they take place in Japan or someplace else in the world. The yukata and the happi coat are the garments that link people to their Japanese roots, and allow its wearers a beautiful means of expression of their culture through their clothing.

Although I won’t have a yukata or happi this year, and cannot attend my usual Pasadena Buddhist Temple and Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Obon Festivals, I am looking forward to finding an Obon this summer in London. Let’s dance!

 

By Arielle Murphy

All photographs are with permission from the author, Michelle Han, and Jennifer Gee.

Dissertation Discussion: Grace

What is the working title of your dissertation?

 

So far, it is ‘Movement in Metal: The Representation of Paco Rabanne’s 1960s Fashion Designs’

What led you to choose this subject?

 

My virtual exhibition was about late 1960s minimalist sculpture in relation to fashion. One of my exhibits was a metal ‘sound sculpture’ robe made by the Baschet Brothers for the 1966 film Who are You, Polly Maggoo? I became interested in how the models moved in this uncomfortable metal dress, which eventually drew me to Paco Rabanne and his metal dress creations from the late 1960s. In 1966, Rabanne presented a collection titled ‘Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials’ at the Georges V Hotel in Paris, which I will discuss further in my dissertation.

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

 

I enjoyed reading Jane Pavitt’s Fear and Fashion In The Cold War (V&A, 2008). Pavitt discusses late 1960s avant-garde and space-age fashions, stating the reasons why designers and wearers chose to make such statements in what was a politically turbulent time. The book also features many entertaining photographs of strange space-age costumes.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

 

I found an advertisement in the January 1967 issue of British Vogue for Goddard’s ‘Long Term Silver Polish’. In the photograph, a model wears a Rabanne style metal disc dress, and the advert explains the polish’s use for the dress. It is interesting to see the connection between ‘traditional’ metal surfaces and Rabanne’s style of dresses, and also imagine the mixed attitudes towards them during this period.

Favorite place to work?

 

The National Art Library at the V&A is beautiful, and I like that it isn’t too overwhelmingly big.

 

By Grace Lee

The Red Coat and Remembrance in Leon Bridges’ music video for Bad Bad News

The scene begins with a panorama shot of a dimly lit train station at night. A woman with long dark brown hair in a red coat walks away in the background. The camera slowly advances toward her until it abruptly changes positions so that it is no more than a few feet behind her– acting as a looming shadow. The woman hears a fain whistle and turns her head in surprise, a second wolf whistle follows not too long after. The second whistle causes her to turn to face the camera. Her red coat hangs off of one of her shoulders exposing her bare skin. Understated gold hoop earrings and a gold chain frame her face.

The woman in red decides to walk in the direction of the where the whistle came from. She walks with conviction, courage and also caution. The sound of her shoes creates a pulsing beat that slowly transitions into the percussive introduction of Leon Bridges’ song, Bad Bad News.

The music becomes layered as the woman runs down the train station stairway into a dimly green tinted tunnel. The green of the tunnel contrasts and compliments the red she wears. The video (directed by Natalie Rae) then changes scenes to one of Bridges entering a rehearsal space where his band is playing his new song and he begins to let the rhythm move him. The scene switches to the one of the woman in red (played by model, Paloma Elsesser) who stands framed by a series of archways as she begins to slowly move to the music.

The music video continues with the woman frantically moving through the streets of New York trying to find the man from the train station. In various parts of the video she beings dancing as she is overcome by the rhythm, however she holds tension in her body. Her dancing becomes a personal battle between enjoying herself and feeling ashamed or guilt of some sort.  The way in which she wears the coat echoes this duality, the coat protects her, or shields her, in her ability to decide how tightly it is cinched at the waist, but also reveals her vulnerability as it continues to fall off her shoulder.

The emphasis of the woman’s red coat throughout the music video evokes themes of remembrance and also acts of violence against women. Muldisciplinary Canadian artist, Jamie Black, explores similar themes in The REDress Project which collects red dresses and installs them in public spaces as a reminder of violent crimes committed against Aboriginal women. Black’s work hopes to make visible the gendered and racialized crimes committed against marginalized women that often go unnoticed.

The REDress Project, Jamie Black, 2014, www.redressproject.org

The red coat is a haunting presence in the music video. It is as if it possesses its own identity apart from that of the wearer. Perhaps it is to reflect the collective fear that women still face as they walk home alone.

By Destinee Forbes

For more info on the REDress project click here.

To watch Bad Bad News by Leon Bridges click here.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style Exhibition Review

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style, currently on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum, brings the luxury, modernity, and romance of traveling by sea during the 20th century. While the exhibition covers all aspects of ocean liner travel, including décor, promotion, and engineering, I was particularly struck by the room detailing Life on Board. Life on Board features a stunning array of cruise-wear ranging from the turn of the century to the late 1960s. The show gives room to show everything from high-end couture worn by first class passengers in the 1920s and 1930s to bikini’s worn by the deck pool in the 1960s. This broad range gives a comprehensive overview of golden age ocean liner fashion in the 20th century, and the changes to life on board as the century progressed.

As you enter the ‘Life on Board’ room a screen with an ocean scene creates a ship deck ambiance. The pool-side scene featuring bathing suit looks from different decades is set against this blue sky and sea backdrop. A mannequin languidly lounging behind the “pool” sports an Emilio Pucci bikini from 1968. The bikini has been styled with large, white sunglasses and a matching headscarf. The pattern, of different shades of blue and aqua, and accessories give the mannequin a distinct, almost psychedelic, youthful 1960s glamour. Sitting next to the Pucci-clad model is a more conservatively dressed mannequin dipping a toe into the pool. She is dressed in a Jantzen one-piece bathing suit from the 1950s. In between the two seated mannequins is a standing mannequin wearing a bathing top and shorts made by Viking in the mid-to-late 1920s. Finally, the mannequin in the very front is placed to look as if she is diving head-first into the pool. This athletic mannequin is clothed in a two-piece yellow bathing suit from 1937-39. The contrasts between the different colours, eras, and styles of bathing suits gives a broad sense of life on deck throughout the golden age of Ocean Liner travel. The reclining and active mannequins placed against the blue-sky background allowed me to feel as though I were truly witnessing a poolside scene on the deck of a grand ship.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, displayed directly opposite the pool-side scene, is a re-creation of the Grand Descente. The Grand Descente was an elaborate staircase that led into the dining room, from which fashionable first-class passengers could make a memorable entrance and show off the latest fashions. The staircase is recreated as a series of plain back platforms elevated one above the other. The austerity of the staircase in the exhibition allows attention to be drawn to the garments. Behind the mannequins is a screen, onto which, a procession of models in gowns is projected, thus giving the sense of movement associated with the Grand Descente to the still mannequins. The ceiling above the display is black with countless small, lights, giving the appearance of a glittering, glamourous night sky. The mannequins display three gowns worn by New York socialite Emilie Grigsby in the 1910s-1920s, and a men’s evening ensemble worn by US Diplomat Anthony J. Drexel Biddle Jr. The outfits all enhance the glamorous image of ocean liner travel in the early 20th century.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting clothing from different decades and different occasions. By placing elegant 1920s couture across from bikinis from the 1960s, the viewer gains a sense of how much ocean travel changed during the course of the 20th century, but how it remained a glamourous endeavor.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style is on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum until June 17th.

By Olivia Chuba

All photos taken by the author