Remembering Peter H. Beard (1938-2020)

“The last thing left in nature is the beauty of women” – Peter Beard

Peter Beard pic

Source: screenshot from @clovis_sangrail on instagram

Peter Hill Beard rose to fame in the 60s when his infamous diaries were first published; combining his photographs with insects, leaves, feathers, transcribed telephone messages, quotes, bref – anything and everything that would inspire him – his unique documentation of African wildlife and landscapes transgressed regular travel journaling.

Beard’s chronicling of events in diaries started from a young age, as his favourable background enabled him to  grow up surrounded by artwork. This shaped his liking for art and aesthetic beauty, and would later come to influence his work and career path. Indeed, he explored this passion as an Art History student at Yale University under the tutelage of famed artists such as Josef Alberts before making his way to Kenya, where he would create his renowned journals and publish his first book “The End of the Game” (1963).

 

Peter Beard diaries

Source: screenshot from @peterbeardart on Instagram

Beard’s artistic abilities are reflected in his note-taking, as his notorious use of paint (and his own blood) to render footprints and handprints on his images highlight the rawness and violence of African wildlife and the human relation to it. The use of sepia-toned film further add a vintage and authentic feel to his images, conveying a sense of nostalgia for the past which he would further explore through themes of life and death. Indeed, as an environmental activist, Beard tried to spread awareness by displaying the effects of growing industrialisation on the African continent.

Peter Beard art

Source: screenshot from @maias.hgrd on Instagram

Alongside his love for African wildlife was his love for women. Beard was particularly attracted to female beauty, and would often assimilate the two in his diaries and photographs. By placing a partially-clad or nude female bodies in the midst of the African wilderness, he played with the idea of primitivism and appealed to women’s animalistic sexuality to display his version of femininity. Posing next to powerful and wild creatures such as elephants, lions and rhinoceros, his portrayals of women were empowering and beautiful and he would regularly shoot and feature in fashion reviews such as Elle, Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar.

Peter Beard fashion

Source: screenshot from @mllachapelle, @maias.hgrd and @geenarocero on Instagram

Nicknamed ‘the reckless playboy’ or yet ‘Tarzan’, the photographer was indeed known as a regular Casanova, with his views on monogamy and marriage sometimes deemed controversial. Nevertheless, his brilliant ability to capture beauty is undeniable, and his pioneering will to raise awareness of environmental issues truly placed him ahead of his time. Having worked alongside personalities such as Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Karen Blixen to shape and spread his unique vision of the world, he will truly be remembered as one-of-a-kind.

To sum it up, Beard, you seemed like an incredible man, who lived an incredible life.

Watching Time(s) Go By

Like many others quarantined at home, I find myself with an abundance of time to spend in front of the television. Passing from streaming service to streaming service, docu-series to foreign drama, digitized film to YouTube short, the days of the Coronavirus have increasingly been defined by what we’re watching. While a few choice programs, like Tiger King, are able to sweep the nation (the Nation of Netflix, for which we all stand), the decision of what to watch is left to one’s personal desires. So what does it mean if all I can watch are period pieces, set decades or even centuries before I was even born? 

It all started with a recommendation from Rebecca to watch Babylon Berlin, a German neo-noir TV-show set in 1929 Berlin. Needless to say, I was tantalized by the glittery fashions, clever plot twists, and mysterious, shadowy figures of the city’s criminal, political, and even medical underworld. For perhaps the entirety of the first season, I recommended the show to anyone who would listen, and waxed poetic about the incredible costumes, precise set decoration, and absolutely breathtaking world creation achieve by the production team.

Bailey

For the next few weeks, I craved the same sort of exhilaration I felt while watching that show and seeing a masterfully crafted work unfold before my eyes. After a lot of watching and even more scrolling, it has become clear that while the world creation I so adored was driven on its face by a need for beautiful visuals, it’s hiding a desire for escape in a moment characterized by a constant state of unpredictability and worry.

gatsy

To be sure, my list of “Have Watched” and “Want to Watch” reads like a cinematic traipse through some of the most lavish and visually compelling periods in modern history. In the former column: Netflix’s Freud, another German mystery set in the early 20th century; Hulu’s A French Village, a drama about a small French town during German occupation; The Tudors, a royal drama from Showtime; the ever-enchanting Gilda, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; Gosford Park; The Aviator…The latter column is populated with more of the same: The upcoming Mrs. America on Hulu, a show about the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s; Planetarium, a film starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as a pair 1930’s psychics; Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York; Elizabeth and Elizabeth the Golden Age; Netflix’s Alias Grace; Howard’s End; A Single Man … the list goes on.

I was able to convince myself for quite some time that what was attractive was the idea of visually exploring these different fashion eras without the pressure of a time constraint. That was until a friend recommended a show on HBO, High Maintenance. Set in contemporary New York (or as contemporary as 2012 can feel right now), it’s a comedy about a bicycle-riding marijuana dealer who ventures to different clients’ apartments in Brooklyn and the peculiar people and situations he encounters along the way. It’s one of those shows that puts a specific facet of New York life on screen for everyone to see and enjoy, and warms the hearts of those lucky enough to live there.

Illustration for blog

Or that would be true if New York weren’t the global epicenter for an era-defining pandemic. I found myself unable to make it through a single episode of the show, and when my friend pressed me on why, I realized I couldn’t stand to watch normal 21st century people going about their normal 21st century lives. Not because the thought of anyone within 6 feet of each other suddenly made me squirm, but because it somehow felt as foreign and bygone as those other period pieces I’d been watching henceforth. Captive in my parents’ home and an ocean away from the city where I thought I would be spending this year, a return to normal—if even through a TV screen—seems as far-off a dream as wandering into the court of Louis XIV, manteau and all.

American television makes squaring the now with the very recent-past even more difficult due to the constancy of news, updates, and presidential pontificating. The crisis is inescapable from newspaper to news channel, and suffocates the mind, sending it spiraling in directions economic, political, medicinal, familial, and on and on and on. It seems the only respite from one’s own mind would be to erase the present altogether, and settle into a bygone era. An era either free from the complications of the present, or familiar enough that the mind can relish in the comfort of knowing exactly how it all plays out, and release the anxiety of uncertainty.

For us fashion lovers, film and television have always been an enjoyable part of our research. Allowing myself to escape into a period where beaded dresses were de rigeur at a nightclub or a corset was a social necessity or one was never to leave the house without at least a swipe of lipstick was always the best way to engage with the stories and societies that surround clothing—and it becomes especially enticing when I have no reason to wear anything but sweatpants for the foreseeable future. But in a moment where the fashion industry is faced with a reckoning the likes of which it has never encountered in its modern iteration, I fear to neglect an examination of the contemporary would be doing a disservice to the possibilities of the future. When every aspect of fashion production and its international scope is affected by changing buying habits and the global threat of infection; When multi-national luxury conglomerates have transformed their perfume manufacturers to hand sanitizer suppliers; When home-sewing has seen a resurgence to provide necessary equipment for our doctors and nurses; When all this and more is true at this very moment, it seems to me that the fashion of the near future and beyond will be forever changed. Decisions about what that change looks like relies on those of us who spend our days contemplating fashion’s constant importance through history and beyond.

Screenshot of two COVID19

Of course, I will never not recommend Babylon Berlin, as it’s certainly a masterpiece of the genre (CGI train notwithstanding). But in these next weeks of isolation, I think a valuable exercise may be one of actually allowing myself to come to terms with this moment and what’s to come: what’s to come for my studies and, more importantly, what’s to come for fashion.

Museums and the Music Video

A museum is a charged space. They hold objects, tell histories and stories and generally function as a public service. How does the public respond to that service? For decades musicians have been exploring this concept. By both taking over well-known museums, or in some cases making their own, performers question how we should respond to these institutional spaces.

Stills of Barbra Streisand performing “One Kiss” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Stills of Barbra Streisand performing “One Kiss” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

One of the most significant examples of this comes from Barbra Streisand’s video in the Philadelphia Museum of Art for her 1966 television special, Color Me Barbra. In the film, Streisand belts out tracks (from the album of the same name) while moving from gallery to gallery surrounded by sculptures, tapestries and paintings. In the second number “Yesterdays” she appears as a curious visitor wandering around the space and touching works of art until she finds a piece that inspires her. In another memorable sequence for the song “Gotta Move”, Streisand struts and dances her way through one of the PMoA’s modern art galleries in a bright, geometric print dress that echoes the cubist art on the walls.

Still of Barbra Streisand performing “Gotta Move” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Still of Barbra Streisand performing “Gotta Move” on her 1966 TV special Color Me Barbra.

Streisand chose to shoot at the PMoA because the found the art to be “so extraordinary and so inspirational” that it made her “want to climb into the paintings,” and “play in the period rooms.” Given the title of the album, album artwork, and this playful approach, Streisand makes the museum space her own, upholding the idea of museums as a place where people can integrate themselves into the space and become living works of art.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Almost twenty years later, Run-D.M.C. used a different approach to museums for their 1985 King of Rock music video. In a fictional Rock n Roll museum (the video predates the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Museum by ten years), Rev-Run and D.M.C are told by a white security guard that they don’t belong there because, “This is a rock museum.” Dressed in black leather suits, black fedoras, and crisp white adidas, the presence of black militancy, jazz fashion, and street style conveys a powerful mood of recognition and resistance inside an institution that has denied them the right to exist. As they walk around the museum, the pair engage with a variety of “cultural artifacts” including guitars and four white busts wearing Beatles wigs.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Watching videos of musical greats, they mock a Buddy Holly performance, respectfully turn their heads to the camera at Little Richard and later, shake their heads at a Jerry Lee Lewis performance. They even step on Michael Jackson’s famous white glove as a way of rejecting the universally lauded artist who was on the more respectable and conservative end of black popular music at the time. By the end of the video, the duo begin to break artifacts, knock over the black velvet ropes that exclude them from the ‘Rock culture’ section and spray paint “Run DMC King of Rock” on the gallery walls.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Still from Run-D.M.C.’s “King of Rock” 1985 music video.

Ultimately, the video is a form of resistance: the group actively comment on the long-standing fight of black artists to be recognized in ‘Rock n’ Roll’.  A challenge to the genre’s lack of access, dominance of white artists and white-centric narratives, this was an issue that the group faced throughout their career. This is especially apparent with the constant presence of the security guard in every shot who acts like a gate keeper to culture and monitors the group’s activity in the museum.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Taking cues from Streisand and Run-D.M.C., The Carters (Jay Z and Beyoncé) deliver the best balance between critiquing and celebrating museums in their 2018  music video, Apeshit. Like Streisand, The Carters engaged with the museum as their own place to play and be inspired: female dancers lift and rise on the steps of Winged Victory of Samothrace whilst two more recreate their own version of  David’s Madame Récamier. The sculptured texture  of Beyoncé’s Stephane Rolland gown echoes the carefully carved drapery of the Winged Victory. At one point, the video captures an all-out dance-out in front of The Great Sphinx of Tanis.

 

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video.

Like Run-D.M.C. however, the film further critiques the dominance of white and lack of black narratives in museums. It’s well documented that this video is significant for putting black bodies into the historically white space of museums. They call out the whiteness of the Louvre by having black dancers dance in flesh colored tights in front of Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon. More importantly towards the end of the video they prominently feature Portrait D’Une Négresse, which scholar James Smalls calls an “anomaly because it presents a black person as the sole aestheticized subject and object of a work of art.” Perhaps most poignantly though, black subjects are also featured ‘behind the scene’. Shooting a group of almost totally obscured black men in front of metal drawers, the black subject is reintegrated into both the public and private spaces of the museum.

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video

Still from The Carters “Apeshit” 2018 music video

Overall these musicians provide a complex understanding about how people should respond to art historical institutions but nevertheless encourage all visitors to be active participants instead of passive spectators in the museum space.

Dress in Film: Emma’s frills and macarons

Watching Emma (2020) is like spending 125 minutes in a Ladurée shop set in the 1800s. A real life Fragonard painting, the film’s soft-hued colour palette submerges the viewer in a modern vision of Georgian romance and the world of the Jane Austen is re-imagined with frills, pastels and macarons.

Photo for Emma

‘Scene from Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

Ostentatious bonnets and colourful spencers brighten each scene whilst splashes of mint, pink, yellow and blue are reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” and Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel”. With every season being given a specific colour palette, the aristocratic aesthetic of Austen’s England is communicated through everything from extravagant floral wallapaper to delicate bone china.

Georgian background

‘Scene from Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne modernises the character of Emma by  re-interpreting her as a fashionable woman from the 21st century. Emma (played by Ana Taylor-Joy) becomes a symbol of Victorian vanity as her outfits bedazzle the viewer every time she enters a room. The focus on empirical hemlines is reminiscent of the Parisian fashion journals of the early 19th century which repeatedly showed dresses gathered under the bust and fashioned out of delicate white muslin.

Pictures for Emma

‘Emma for Vogue US, February 2020’ source: Instagram

Despite these direct references, Byrne revived the costumes by rendering the designs in  unusually modern fabrics and colours. Dismantling the common assumption that clothing was particularly demure during the 1800s, Byrne notes that new dying techniques colour had actually become common practice. On top of the layers of white muslin (the typical costume of choice for wealthy females at the time), Byrne further updates this style with bright accessories. Whilst the students’ bright red hoods seem to come straight out of the Handmaiden’s Tale, Emma’s deep blue pelisse and green checked coat makes her the focal point of every scene. It is worth noting that the milinary shop is featured repeatedly throughout the film: Emma’s world is one of fashion, manipulation and self-image, all of which are essential to her role as style-icon and matchmaker.Colour was a symbol of wealth during the 1810s and Byrne manipulates this to spectacular effect. The colour of each costume is used to vividly express the personality of each character; be it witm irony or ridicule, the viewer mocks Mrs Elton’s outrageous attire, her orange day dress and the comedically  large black ribbon atop of her head.

Pictures for Emma

‘Emma for Vogue US, February 2020’ source: Instagram

Men’s fashion is granted equal importance in Emma. Raised collars add an almost claustrophobic allure to each outfit, symbolising the rigid definition of masculinity at the time. With sharp cuts and tailoring being more predominant than embroidery for men’s fashion, the natural form of the body was enhanced in order to match with Neoclassical ideals. Indeed, the costumes of Mr. Woodhouse (played by Bill Nighy) and Mr. Knightly (Johnny Flynn) play on traditionally rich colours and materials to communicate wealth and superiority.

Photo for Emma

‘Film cover for Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

The naked body becomes just as important as the clothed body in Emma. Whilst the male form is shown completely (see Knightly’s dressing scene at the beginning of the film), the female nude is treated with irreverence. A stark contrast to typical presentations of the female nude at the time, Emma is shown warming her backside and Knightly’s declaration of love is comedially ruined by a nosebleed.

Photo for Emma

‘Scene from Emma (2020)’ source: Instagram

Using the treatment of the body to subvert the Georgian gender hierarchies, the manipulation of the body is central to Byrne’s reworking of ‘Emma’ and a modern twist is given to a timeless novel which clearly shows that sometimes, less is not more.

 

References:

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/feb/14/emma-review-jane-austen-anya-taylor-joy

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13823/evening-dress-unknown/

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/feb/16/emma-review-autumn-de-wilde-anya-taylor-joy-bill-nighy-johnny-flynn

https://variety.com/2020/artisans/production/costumes-production-design-emma-1203502490/

Laura Dern in All Her Feminine Beauty

Winner of best supporting actress at the BAFTAs, Academy Awards, Oscars and Golden Globes, Laura Dern has certainly turned heads this awards season – and rightly so. Her performance in Noah Baumbach’s emotional divorce drama Marriage Story is powerful and nuanced and this is underpinned by her character’s striking wardrobe.

In Marriage Story Dern plays a powerful, savvy lawyer – Nora – who acts on behalf of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as she seeks a divorce from her husband Charlie (Adam Driver) and tries to obtain custody of her son. Throughout the film, Nora’s outfits work to emphasise her experience and her power as a highly sought-after solicitor. However, in his choice of dress for Dern, costume designer Mark Bridges (who also designed the costumes for another 2020 hit, The Joker) highlights the particular potency of Nora’s feminine power in the largely male-dominated field of law. Nora’s character capitalises on her femininity through her clothing, projecting an image of herself that is unapologetic and confident, asserting her authority and, most importantly, bringing focus to her client.

‘Laura Dern wears a floral blazer, jeans and red heels at the beginning of the film’, source: still from Film

‘Laura Dern wears a floral blazer, jeans and red heels at the beginning of the film’, source: still from film

At the beginning of the film, Nora and Nicole meet in her office. In this scene, Nicole is clearly nervous – worried that she’s done the wrong thing by hiring a lawyer – even though she agreed with Charlie that they would proceed without them. Nicole turns up in a blue shirt and jeans – a staple look of hers. By contrast, Nora wears an overtly feminine pink floral blazer with skin-tight jeans and high, bright red heels. This establishes an obvious contrast between the two women, we sense that they are not going to get along and have completely different priorities. But as the meeting progresses, she positions herself as a likeable but capable lawyer. As Nicole begins to get emotional, opening up to Nora about the difficulties in her marriage, Dern removes her floral blazer, revealing a plain white top. This tones down her outfit to match the simplicity of her potential client, her exposed arms being suggestive of both vulnerability and strength.

 

for argument

‘Nora removes her blazer for a simpler look’, still from film.

Later on, in the courtroom scene, Nora’s dress again resonates with Nicole’s and is suggestive of the solidarity between the two. In one shot, the pair are sat on a bench in a hallway in an almost identical pose – legs crossed and hands in their lap, although Nora seems more relaxed. Here, Nora wears a light pink dress, a dark grey blazer with rolled-up sleeves and Louboutin shoes, whilst Nicole appears in a purple dress spotted with flecks of pink and white and a blue blazer. They enter the courtroom together: their visual similarity unites them as a team but their dark blazers also echo the dress of Charlie and his team of lawyers. This resonance indicates a certain harmony and civility amongst the group – they all share a common goal. That is, until Nora removes her blazer.

 

‘Laura Dern wears a floral blazer, jeans and red heels at the beginning of the film’

‘Nora and Nicole wait together in the hallway’, source: still from film

As things begin to get heated, Laura Dern’s character removes her outwear to reveal the dress underneath. This garment is closely fitted and silky in texture – a light pink dress over what looks like a black slip. By removing her blazer Nora differentiates herself from the other lawyers by highlighting her femininity: the dress almost resembles lingerie, attracting attention and representing her as the bolder, more confident lawyer. Embracing her sexuality, the colour of her dress also highlights the ‘men versus women dynamic’ previously hidden by professional niceties.

Still from film

‘Nora removes her blazer for a simpler look’, still from film

However, by removing her blazer Nora also distances herself from Nicole. Nicole does not speak in this scene and Nora takes charge of the situation, removing the pretence that the power is shared between them: her experience and knowledge means that she knows best. Indeed, this foreshadows the ending of the film in which Dern’s character negotiates a custody agreement that privileges Nicole’s access to her son over Charlie’s, despite Nicole insisting against it.

In Marriage Story, Laura Dern’s costumes play an important part in emphasising the three-dimensionality of her supporting character. This, paired with her outstanding, subtle acting makes the character of Nora especially memorable.

Constructing Images of Kylie Jenner and Marie Antoinette

In their March cover shoot and interview, Harper’s Bazaar photographed Kylie Jenner and recreated Marie Antoinette portraits from the 1770s and 1780s. Jenner is photographed wearing extravagant gowns that directly reference paintings by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun. These paintings depict a notorious celebrity known for setting fashion trends at a time of political and financial turmoil. Kylie Jenner, an equally notorious celebrity known for setting fashion and makeup trends, remakes these connections between fame and sartorial extravagance. In a portrait of the Queen from 1778, Vigée-Lebrun painted Marie Antoinette in a white grand habit de cour with gold tassels, the most formal style of dress from this period. In Jenner’s version, she wears a white Thom Brown dress with the same trompe l’oeil gold tassel detail. The wide shape of her skirt resembles the shape of the pannier undergarment worn in the 18thcentury. For Marie Antoinette, this portrait constructed an image of her as a powerful monarch through luxurious and expensive gowns and jewelry. The same could be said of Jenner’s image. Jenner’s constructed identity in this photograph is of the youngest “self-made billionaire” who is a powerful monarch over her own beauty company.

Comparisons of the two

Left: Kylie Jenner in Harper’s Bazaar, photographed by the Morelli Brothers
Right: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and her Children, 1787, Château de Versailles

Another direct comparison can be made with the cover photo and Marie Antoinette with a Rose from 1783. Marie Antoinette wore a blue satin dress in this portrait which was the traditional and queenly attire the public was accustomed to. (This painting was the second iteration of a similar portrait in which Marie Antoinette wore the scandalous, white muslin chemise and looked like she was wearing undergarments.) Jenner, dressed similarly to the blue satin gown, wears a Dolce and Gabbana dress with light blue stripes. Both images show the women holding a pink rose with a white ribbon. Once again, Bazaar styles Jenner like Marie Antoinette who wears formal, stately outfits instead of the casual, white chemise dress most woman could afford. This comparison cements Jenner’s status as powerful fashion plate and businesswoman who controls her own empire.

Comparison for Kylie Jenn er article

Left: Kylie Jenner in Harper’s Bazaar, photographed by the Morelli Brothers
Right: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette, 1778, Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Unfortunately, these images miss an opportunity for Jenner to use Marie Antoinette’s constructed identity in her portraits to illicit a sympathetic response from readers that isn’t the obvious out-of-touch-celebrity comparison to Marie Antoinette.

In another photograph, Jenner is shown wearing a white dress with an exaggerated sleeve while holding her daughter. Her hair is topped with large pink feathers and she is surrounded by pastel pastries and cakes. This imagery is reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette. Through this reference, Bazaar links the film’s themes of youth, fashion, and hedonism to Jenner through the saccharine color palette and sugary macarons. It reminds the viewer of Coppola’s fun, champagne filled, shopping montages. It is unfortunate that this was the image that included Jenner’s daughter because there is another Vigée-Lebrun painting that would have been more appropriate. In Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Her Children from 1787, the subject is surrounded by her children in a pyramidal composition suggestive of a serious, renaissance painting. A jewelry box stands behind the group in the shadows. This jewelry box could be alluding to a Roman story of Cornelia, a virtuous woman who valued her children over worldly possessions like jewelry. Unlike the other portraits referenced in the Bazaar editorial, this portrait with her children attempted to situate Marie Antoinette as a virtuous, loving mother who values her children above everything else. Referencing this piece of monarchy propaganda would have been a perfect and interesting way to create an image of Jenner that focused on her supposed virtues as a person and a mother. Instead, the images render Jenner as a pseudo-Coppola pastiche, an image of hyper-femininity and excess.

Comparison for harpers Bazaar

Left: Kylie Jenner in Harper’s Bazaar, photographed by the Morelli Brothers
Right: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, 1783, Château de Versailles

These portraits and photographs both construct female identities through makeup and clothing to demonstrate both women as rich, powerful and fashionable at a time of great political turmoil or change. Yet, the photographs of Jenner feel thematically unimaginative by comparing yet another rich celebrity in ‘pretty dresses’ to Marie Antoinette. When it comes to constructing images of Jenner, however, maybe the goal isn’t to create new images that illuminate interesting parts of her identity. The only goal is to get viewers to look at beautiful, superficial images. In this case, we can’t always have our cake and eat it too.

 

References:

Kylie Jenner’s Interview in Harper’s Bazaar

A Rumination about Tattoos and Fashion

The new designs that came out of Paris Fashion Week were all fabulous and exciting, but one collection in particular made me think deeply about clothing, the body, and how we present ourselves to the world. Viktor and Rolf’s spring 2020 collection featured a collection of slender, doll-faced models who marched down the runway in patchwork gowns pieced together with contrasting fabrics. Their ensembles were avant-garde, prairie-style dresses; childish and playful, some were even reminiscent of my Grandma’s housedresses.

What took me by surprise was the highly visible tattoos that covered the models faces, necks, legs, and arms. Every model was covered in traditional, American-style tattoos with slogans like “keep calm and get tattooed” and “success is not final; failure is not fatal.” At first, somewhat naively, I assumed that Viktor and Rolf hired only models with gothic-typeface facial tattoos for this show until I realized that almost every model had “DREAM,” “LOVE,” or “SKY” tattooed across their foreheads. These matching tattoos were clearly crucial accessories for this show and essential to Viktor and Rolf’s ‘tough but innocent’ vision for the collection. The mixture of pastel floral fabrics, ruffle dresses and jelly sandals (an icon of early 2000s childhood) were combined with bold, almost macho tattoos.

 

Instagram v and told

Victor and Rolf, Spring/Summer 2020 Couture, Instagram: @viktorandrolf

Tattoo design made its first major appearance into haute couture in 1971 when Issey Miyake presented his seminal “Tattoo” collection. His now-famous ‘tattoo dresses’ and body suits were flesh-toned garments covered in a tattoo illustrative style that featured portraits of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. This dresses and bodysuits blurred the line between skin and clothes, suggesting that this full-body tattoo could be slipped on and off with ease. As tattooing was usually used to identify prostitutes and criminals in Japan, this ‘taboo’ technique shocked his audience but has come to inspire many younger generations of designers.

Miyake Issey installation

The Work of Miyake Issey installation view at The National Art Center Tokyo, Photography by Masaya Yoshimura; printed in AnOther magazine.

In 1994, Jean Paul Gaultier incorporated a similar method and used mesh clothing covered with tattoo designs to evoke real tattoos in his show entitled “Les Tatouges.” Using models both with and without actual tattoos, Gaultier extended the work of Miyake to create tattoo-inspired sleeves and tops. Again, the clothing suggested that tattoo designs could be put on and taken off, but it seemed that all kinds of body modification were integral to this collection. Models sported realtattoos, face jewelry and long nails, proving that any form of self-presentation could be fashion. Gaultier’s models were not simply blank canvases in which he could showcase his designs, but real people with the agency to alter their bodies who lived outside of the world of Gaultier.

Tatoo artile

Jean Paul Gaultier, Autumn/Winter 1994.

Thinking again about Viktor and Rolf’s 2020 spring show, the tattoos brought a dark and intense atmosphere when used to accessorize jelly sandals and quilted dresses. In comparison to the colorful designs, the tattoos seemed dire, serious, and intense and presumably permanent. This integration of tattoos brings a sense of endurance and devotion to the fast-changing world of fashion. Even though the models could easily wash off the temporary tattoos after the show, tattoos make you think about what is important, consistent, and lifelong. The use of Vocabulary like “dream” and “love” put a hopeful and sentimental spin on the often masculinized art of tatouage. The messages are sweet, if not cheesy, perhaps pointing out the revealing, intimate nature of body art. After all, getting a meaningful, visible tattoo permanently embellished onto your body is like wearing your heart on your sleeves (or on your skin). It’s like constructing a second skin of your own that is unchanging and everlasting.

Tattoos are essentially a permanent form of fashion. They alter the appearance of our body as clothing does, but tattoos even more profoundly construct our style and identity because they are permanent. They are certainly not going anywhere without a large amount of pain and money anyway. Constructing one’s identity through fashion is a small endeavor compared to doing so through tattoos. Clothing can be changed, taken off and bought new. But what makes something so important that one should get it embedded into one’s skin? These designers’ attempt to incorporate tattoo design into their fashions is admirable and fresh, but ultimately, clothing will never match the power and devotion of a tattoo. Unlike the constant barrage of change and flux that comes with each fashion season, tattoos last a lifetime.

 

References:

https://www.grailed.com/drycleanonly/tattoo-fashion-history

FKA Twigs at The Wallace Collection

Cello strings are heard vibrating through the Wallace Collection, as the camera descends into the golden billiard room. Singer, FKA Twigs, is partially revealed behind the grand piano in which she plays gentle chord progressions. She begins to perform her song ‘Cellophane’ as the camera glides around her, revealing her full outfit, carefully chosen for the occasion. Twigs is reclaiming the space of the Wallace Collection for herself, both complimenting and transforming the artwork into her own vision through the entirety of her dress.

FKA twigs inta

Image from Instagram @FKATwigs

The clothing worn by Twigs, her tights, corset, jacket, jewelry and headscarf are all from her own archive pieces of Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Portrait’ collection (fall 1990), which ultimately took direct influence from the artworks at the Wallace Collection. This cycle of influence from art to fashion to music is perfectly presented in this one performance, reflecting on the past while also re-situating it within the present. Westwood took François Boucher’s Shepherd Watching a Sleeping Shepherdess (1743) painting which hangs in the Wallace Collection, and printed it directly onto the corset bodices for her ‘Portrait’ collection. By doing this, Westwood takes the past and its existing artworks to be ‘plundered’ and reinterpreted, thus creating something entirely new and original.

Screenshot from FKA Twigs

(Screenshot from FKA Twigs performance of Cellophane, timestamp 0:17, from Youtube)

Twigs further ‘plunders’ these Westwood pieces to celebrate her own identity and style, one Westwood scarf decorated with 18th century artwork is wrapped around her hair to form a durag. She drapes another Westwood scarf, printed with Boucher’s Daphnis and Chloe (1743), around her left side, creating a cape-like garment while visually extending the look of the headwrap into something more elevated than a scarf or durag from the 1990’s. The golden flecked embroidery of her black velvet jacket glimmers against the gold fireplace as the camera continues to circle around her body, offering the viewer multiple angles of her Westwood ensemble. This jacket references the work of French cabinet maker, André Charles Boulle, who’s black and gold gilded furnishings can be found in the large drawing room of the Wallace Collection, just above where Twigs is performing and becoming almost a piece of the furniture herself.

FKTAwigs screenshot

(Screenshot from FKA Twigs performance of Cellophane, timestamp 2:50, from Youtube)

As her performance comes to an end, the camera closes in on her face, providing a closer look at her jewelry as she turns to gaze out at the viewer. In her ear she wears a Westwood pearl drop earring, symbolising the timelessness of this classic yet modern performance and location. The final frame of the video connotes to the imagery of Girl with a Pearl Earring(1665), by Johannes Vermeer, with the similar headscarf, pearl earrings and intense stares which will continue to permeate across time, fashion, music and art.

Twigs released this statement on her experience at the Wallace Collection: ‘This is my love letter to the artefacts and paintings held within its walls, and to one of my favourite designers Vivienne Westwood whose portrait collection was inspired by these pieces. It was an emotional experience to perform in that magical place, and to be wearing these beautiful clothes I’ve spent years collecting.’- FKA Twigs (May 2019, from Instagram @fkatwigs).

FKTAwigs screenshot

(Screenshot from FKA Twigs performance of Cellophane, timestamp 3:54, from Youtube)

Bibliography:

https://www.instagram.com/fkatwigs/?hl=en

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/style/durag-solange-met-gala.html

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/vivienne-westwood-a-taste-for-the-past?gclid=CjwKCAiA4Y7yBRB8EiwADV1haXq0xISVqFySuTddYEZBF6WsBKy9KzuXmHZZkVnr5EsIVFcVur7rVBoCHOMQAvD_BwE

https://www.vogue.com/vogueworld/article/fka-twigs-vivienne-westwood-corset-the-wallace-collection-cellophane-matthew-josephs-avant-garden-stylist

History of the Hairband: Feminism, Frivolity and Function

2019 was the year of the accessory. From statement hoops to slogan slides, every inch of the body can be decorated for full sartorial effect. My head turner of choice – the hairband. A hair-raising trend since striking reemergence at Prada’s Spring Summer 2019 show, the so-called padded ‘powerband’ transformed the practical accessory into a major feature. The secret behind the success of these seemingly juvenile accessories? Their combination of practicality, prettiness and power.

Far from a decorative accessory, headbands find their origins in ancient Greece. A popular feature of classical dress, wreaths were symbols of godly status, intellectual authority or sporting prowess. The accessory of choice for emperors, goddesses or poets alike, a walk in the sculpture gallery of the V&A shows a whole host of headwear on the heads of statues and busts from classical antiquity.

Antonio Canova, Apollo Crowning Himself, 1757, Getty Museum

Moving forward to the 20th century, designers like Paul Poiret and Gabrielle Chanel looked to the Orient and the exotic costumes of the Ballet Russes for head-turning inspiration. A means of channeling the glamour and mystery of the east, turbans, headwraps and silk scarves became the accessory of choice for stylish Hollywood starlets. Best worn over the sharply chopped ‘bob’ of the female ‘garcons’ or across the forehead of a fringed-clad ‘flapper’, the accessory served up serious style when worn on the court by tennis star Suzanne Lenglen in 1921. A symbol of increased female liberation, this simple hair accessory was part of a whole host of clothing and accessories that allowed women to engage in a more independent and active lifestyle. Thanks to the hairband, women could run, jump or dance their way into the twentieth century without hair in their eyes.

Suzanne Lenglen, 1921

In the 1940s, headwraps and hairbands were popularised by the Ministry of Information as a means of promoting ‘war-time’ chic. A utilitarian essential for women working in ammunition factories, the practical reworking of this Hollywood trend was a far cry from the spotless white turban sported by Lana Turner’s ‘femme fatale’ in the 1946 film, ‘The Postman always rings twice’.

Ammunition Factory Worker, 1942

 

Lana Turner, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’, 1946

 

Most recently termed the ‘powerband’ by Vogue’s Julia Hobbs, the headband has been connected to female empowerment throughout history. In the 1980s, headbands were often paired with the power suit: a quick google-search of Hilary Clinton proves the politician had quite the collection! With this in mind then, it’s hardly surprising that both Cher Horowitz (Clueless) and Blaire Waldorf (Gossip Girl) frequently accessorised their high school politics with a band in black velvet or heavy pink embellishments.

Hilary Clinton, December 1995

Now, nearly 150 years after the hairband was worn by Alice as she stumbled ‘Through the Looking Glass’, (The 1871 illustrations of Lewis Caroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass’ are said to be one of the first appearances of the accessory in popular culture), headbands remain a pretty yet practical style solution. Just last month, Net-a-Porter announced a 19% increase in hairband sales. A far cry from juvenile frivolity though, these reworked accessories are anything but saccharine. Appearing alongside Miuccia Prada’s hyper-female silhouettes at her SS’19 show, these elevated padded styles in studs, neon and satin are a powerful accompaniment to Prada’s feminine, yet feminist, muse. Similarly, frequent reiterations of the baroque crown – see Dolce and Gabbana or Charlize Theron at the recent Costume Guild Awards – afford the wearer a modern, regal edge.

 

Prada SS/19

Charlize Theron wearing Louis Vuitton at the Costume Designer’s Guild Awards – Instagram @misstheron

The fact of the matter is this: the hairband has been a powerful accessory for centuries. Far from frivolous and exceptionally functional, the simple bands can elevate an outfit and evoke a variety of moods. Whether topped with studs, sequins or stones, they allow us to dress our bodies from head to toe.

 

References:

https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/accessories/is-the-headband-trend-2019s-answer-to-power-dressing/image-gallery/8586b651754ea2e084608da71bb6bb43

https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/headbands-barrettes-hair-accessories-street-style-photos-fashion-week-fashion-trend-1203076852/

https://www.ft.com/content/61e80a84-3142-11e9-8744-e7016697f225

Balenciaga’s return to couture

On the first day of Paris Couture Week, Balenciaga announced that they would be returning to couture fashion in July 2020. After a fifty-two-year hiatus, the artistic director Demna Gvasalia has chosen to restart the production of couture fashion for the first time since the closing of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s atelier in 1968. In a statement to the press, Gvasalia cited the return was an act of creative and visionary duty: ‘For me, couture is an unexplored mode of creative freedom and a platform for innovation. It not only offers another spectrum of possibilities in dressmaking, but also brings the modern vision of Balenciaga back to its sources of origin. Couture is above trends. It’s an expression of beauty on the highest aesthetic and qualitative levels.”

Balenciaga couture

Instagram @vogueparis

Cristóbal Balenciaga is often remembered as one of the greatest couturiers in the world. Revered by many of his contemporaries, Christian Dior described him as “the master of us all”. Balenciaga’s designs, of which the famous cocoon coat or bubble skirt are two, are characterized by spare and sculptural forms. His unique shapes and silhouettes revolutionized women’s fashion during the 1950s and 1960s and still continue to have influence on fashion design today.

In order to understand the significance of Balenciaga’s return to couture, a look back at the history of the fashion house is important. Founded in 1937, the brand opened in Paris on Avenue Georges V, after the Spanish Civil War causedBalenciaga to flee from his native country. The designer’s loose silhouettes, such as his ‘sack’ dress, offered an alternative to the intrinsically feminine, hour-glass shape of Dior’s ‘New Look’ and the designer quickly gained popularity amongst aristocrats and celebrities alike. With followers in both France and the United States, buyers thought nothing of risking their safety to return to the capital to buy his clothes.

However, the designer unexpectedly closed the fashion house in 1968 before passing away suddenly in 1972.

dress archive

Instagram @vintageklunseren

Over a decade after Balenciaga’s death, the label was resurrected in 1986 and began to focus on ready-to-wear collections. A variety of notable designers have served as creative director since then, (Nicolas Ghesquière is now the creative director of Louis Vuitton). After taking over from Alexander Wang in 2016, Gvasalia sought to modernize Cristóbal Balenciaga’s original sketches for the contemporary age. Stating that the designs should be remembered for their volume rather than their decoration, Another Magazine described Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer 2020 ready-to-wear show as a ‘viral’ social media moment: ‘Couture-like in their splendor, the dresses referenced some of Cristóbal’s original couture shapes’ with a series of ball gowns that formed the collection’s final looks. This offers us an exciting glimpse of what might come in July with the revival of Balenciaga’s haute couture.

dress balenciaga

Instagram @hiveblog

Ultimately the return of Balenciaga to couture demonstrates how the past, present and future are merged together by a fashion house universally recognized for their contribution to both street wear and couture.

 

References

AnOther Magazine, ‘Balenciaga Is Returning to Haute Couture’ https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12189/balenciaga-will-return-to-haute-couture-half-a-century-after-cristobal

Harper’s Bazaar, ‘Balenciaga is returning to couture after more than 50 years’, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/uk/fashion/fashion-news/a30596039/balenciaga-couture/

Victoria and Albert Museum, ‘Introducing Cristóbal Balenciaga’, https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-cristobal-balenciaga

WWD, ‘Balenciaga to Return to Couture in July’, https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/balenciaga-returning-couture-paris-1203442133/