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/

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and the Myth of 20s Fashion

When considering sartorially rich moments in American history, the mind easily jumps to the 1920s. There exists a glamorous image of 1920s fashion in the popular imagination that is centered around the “flapper”—one of feathers, beads, and cloche hats. Elements of this may ring true, but as amateur film and photo from the 1920s (or your grandmother’s old clothing) can attest to, much of what was actually worn in the 1920s was far more boyish and less decadent, with a sophisticated and muted color palette. The style of the 1920s has been some of the most incorrectly reproduced and imitated in film and popular culture through the contemporary moment, and the myth of 1920s fashion can largely be attributed to Hollywood, beginning in the 1950s when “Hollywood began mining the 1920s…in order to make it work, they adapted the costuming of the period to look more like what people were actually wearing in the ‘50s,” (Jeanine Basinger). The obsession and interest still seen today with the aesthetic of the 1920s appears to have begun its emergence in the 1950s, when the 1920s was already being viewed as a “theme”—for parties and costume.

Set in the roaring ‘20s and filmed in the ‘50s, the iconic movie Singin’ in the Rain is highly regarded for its glamorous and bold fashion, with detailed and elaborate technicolor garments worn by each character from the film’s leads to its hundreds of chorus dancers. The costumes are far from period-correct, but the film provides an excellent case study for the way the 1920s has been reimagined in subsequent decades, and a lens through which to examine the ways we attempt to portray (and inevitably muddy) the past. During one particularly compelling number entitled Beautiful Girl—a pastiche of Ziegfeld Follies-style tableaux vivants—we are treated to a series of vignettes of different women dressed extravagantly for particular occasions, while the male singer describes each one in poem.

Singing in the rain

Image from vintagehandbook.wordpress.com

There is an obvious element of satire here and throughout the entirety of the film that pokes fun at the aesthetic of the 20s, and the number is barely connected to the plot, but nevertheless functions as a testament to the significance of fashion in the film, and the impact it had on the picture of the 1920s in the 1950s imagination.

It seems only appropriate that Hollywood in the 1950s looked towards the 20s for mass appeal, given correlations in society and culture. Both decades experienced the boom of productivity and rapid economic growth of a postwar economy, a relaxation of sexual mores, and the emergence of new styles of popular music that challenged previous tastes–jazz and rock n’ roll. Perhaps these parallels provided contemporary viewers in the 1950s with something that resonated with them—distant enough to be romanticized, but similar enough to understand.

Subsequent films, including Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 rendition of The Great Gatsby, have continued to betray the 20s in their costuming, with dresses cut far too close to the body. When attempting to reproduce the past, we are never able to fully eviscerate the modern lens. Regardless, Singin’ in the Rain, with its bright color palette, rich satins and furs, and glittering sequins and fringes is a feast for the eyes.

 

Sources: https://www.racked.com/2017/5/19/15612000/flappers-fringe-myth

Stop and Smell the Roses: A fresh take on the Alexander McQueen archives.

Through songs, films, and books it sometimes feels like Alexander McQueen never left. In both life and death (February 11th marks the tenth anniversary of McQueen’s passing), Alexander McQueen holds a mythical status in the fashion world: Despite not being able to afford his tuition fashion illustrator and educator Bobby Hillson allowed McQueen entry into Central Saint Martins because she saw that he had obvious talent; Isabella Blow famously bought his entire graduation collection; and his designs took inspiration from personal interests in scuba diving, his Scottish heritage, and club culture during the 90s’.

Imani's pic

The famous Rose Dress from the Spring/ Summer 2007 collection on display in the exhibition.

These stories are repeatedly told, but in the countless retellings of McQueen’s life, the public rarely gets to fully understand the details that lured so many people to his talent. Organized by Alexander McQueen’s creative director, designer Sarah Burton Roses is a new exhibition at the Alexander McQueen store on Old Bond Street, that offers a retrospective look at McQueen’s long-standing employment of flowers in his work.

Before the exhibition opened Burton and members of the McQueen design team hosted a walkthrough of the exhibit for university students in fashion studies. The exhibit and walkthrough were a refreshing take on the legacy and artistry of Alexander McQueen. There was no mythologizing McQueen as one of the all-time great designers, instead what is on display is how a whole team of embroiders, designers, and interns come together to maintain McQueen’s vision.

Burton and long-time collaborators talked about how shows and designs came together like group projects that were due the next day, and how McQueen would simply say, “try and see what happens” whenever they had doubts about if a design could be executed.

 

Imani's pic for MxQueen

Dresses and mood boards from the Spring/ Summer 2013 on display at the exhibition.

What is great about this exhibit is how we see Burton’s reading of the archive come alive through her designs. For the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, Burton incorporated McQueen’s use of corsets with bees as a way to focus on the life that floats around the roses. For me, this was also reminiscent of the time McQueen used winged moths for his Spring/Summer 2001 finale.

Imani's pic of McQueen

Up-close details from the Spring/ Summer 2013 on display at the exhibition.

Burton also forged her vision of the rose in a matter that continued the rose-shaped dress that McQueen featured in his Autumn/Winter 2006 collection and the rose-shaped sleeves that McQueen featured in his Autumn/Winter 2008 collection. Burton’s vision of the rose in her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection was largely inspired by the Rose Queen ceremonies that she saw as a child in Northern England.

Imani's pic of roses

Rose shaped dress from the Autumn/Winter 2006, sleeves from the Autumn/Winter 2008, and a later iteration of the rose shaped dress from Autumn/Winter 2019 collection.

McQueen is currently a massive global fashion brand. You see this on your way up to the gallery when you climb up the winding wooden staircase at the centre of the store and witness the array of clothing, accessories, and shoes from recent collections on bare mannequins, hangers, rocks, and carefully carved wooden display tables. The garments, mood boards, photographs, and films featured in this exhibit remind you that regardless of whose name is on the store, no designer is greater than the sum of their parts. But more importantly, a great designer is someone who is a good co-worker, collaborator, and hard-working person.

Sources:

https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/bobby-hillson

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8511160.stm

Dress in Film: Little Women on the Big Screen

As Academy Award season approaches, there comes a time to reflect over the films that strike us and I believe that many will agree with me in saying that Little Women’s spectacularly intricate and artistic costumes are worth discussing.

The most notable thing about Jacqueline Durran’s costumes for Little Women is that they reflect the personalities of the characters. As each character evolves, so does their dress, illustrating not only the passing of time but clear moments of narrative development. This, along with a wealth of artistic references, means that the movie is likely to bring joy to any art historian watching it. From Impressionism to the Pre-Raphaelites, the movie becomes an Easter egg hunt for artistic references.

Firstly, each March sister is given a colour palette that repeatedly resonates with their character throughout: Meg’s was green and lavender, Beth’s was brown and pink, Amy’s was light blue, and Jo’s was red and indigo. Whilst Durran tried to remain period-accurate, the costumes became a tool to convey mood, season and temperature. Never straying from the dress conventions of the period, Durran still used dress to show each character’s personality and each actor had the freedom to choose and combine outfits.

screenshot for argument

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

Set in Concord, Massachusetts during the American Civil War, the girls’ initial outfits clearly reflect that time. Although women were expected to wear bloomers, chemises and corsets, Durran tweaked this framework to reveal the individual personality of each sister. For example, Meg’s conventional attitude towards life and marriage is reflected in outfits that feature corsets and bloomers, whilst Jo’s rebellious and feminist side is clear in her masculine, corset-free wardrobe of vests, blazers and collared shirts. This masculinity is reinstated in the interchanging clothes between her and Laurie. From the buttercup-coloured paisley vest or Jo’s straw hat at the beach, these swaps further instate Jo’s need to transcend social rules placed on her gender. The androgenicity of their outfits also emphasises them as equals and partners.

androgene article

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

One of the most memorable scenes in Little Women (2019) would be their trip to the seaside which clearly hints at Winslow Homer’s seascapes. Their use of checks, stripes and paisleys as well as straw hats makes reference to traditional Victorian style and American Impressionism. Each girls’ persona is again emphasised in their combinations of attire. Winslow Homer also often depicted strong-working women in his work which perhaps further resonates with the March girls’ persona.

supportive forar ticle

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

Further into the movie, the girls put on a play for Christmas. The set-up is a clear reference to Julia Margaret Cameron’s theatrical photography of her daughters: the paper-cut stars, branches, leaves, fairytale-esque costumes all serve to set up a world where the women are equal to men. The flower crowns also become symbols of innocence. The allusion to strong feminine figures in art history clearly parallels the girls’ ambition to be recognised in the art world.

Instapic

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

The beauty of the March sisters is also clearly represented in their likeness to Pre-Raphaelites women. Visible in the loose but elegant clothing worn by characters like Jo and Meg, the characters are suggested to have timeless and elegant beauty. Like Rosetti’s muses, the girls engage in artistic activities such as writing, playing instruments or reciting poetry.

instapic little women

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

Finally, the influence of American Impressionism clearly dominates the ‘before’ portion of the film whilst French Impressionism dominates the later parts of the film. Particularly evident with Amy’s dress after she moves to Paris. Although she was always weary of her looks, older Amy becomes the most decorated out of all the sisters and frequently adorns herself with embroidered dresses, large skirts, embellished coats and hats. This ‘maximisation’ of dress shows the personal growth her character. Paralleling her loss of innocence, it further reflects her determination to become the main provider for her family.

Screenshot from Instagram for little

Screenshot from Instagram: littlewomenmovie

These are only a small number of artistic influences that can be found in Little Women (2019). The three balls also clearly mark the evolution of style from the mid-19th century to late 19th century. As the ideal female figure moves from an Empirical-styled dress to modern French fashion, the movie encompasses a wide range of costumes and dress. Jacqueline Durran’s dress research in 19th century photography and paintings, as well as books and fashion magazines of the time, brings out, for me, the joy of cinematography. Her modern twist on periodically accurate clothes illustrates that filmography is often embedded in dress. All that can be said is this: Go get that Oscar Jacqueline!

Teeth, Orthodontics and Fashion

‘You’re never fully dressed without a smile’, sang little orphan Annie back in 1976. Today, however, this seemingly glib aphorism rings truer than ever, as more and more people consider the perfect smile an essential aspect of their look.

My own experience with my smile has been mixed. I’m a small person with (according to my dentist) unusually large and slightly crooked teeth, and since my early teens I’ve been rather self-conscious of them. So in October 2018, I finally bit the bullet and had braces fitted. Being 23 at the time, I was conscious that I was significantly older than the typical orthodontist patient, but decided to accept 18 months or so of (even more) frequent ID’ing in exchange for long-term gain. With a heightened awareness of my own teeth, I caught myself paying extra attention to the smiles of others and the more I looked around, the more I noticed that braces on adults are far more common than I’d initially thought.

In 2012, the New York Times reported on the growing popularity of cosmetic orthodontic treatments amongst those aged 18 and over, noting that between 1994 and 2010 the number of American adults receiving such treatments rose from 680,00 per year to around 1.1 million. By contrast, the number of children visiting orthodontists increased by only 15%. Public interest in gaining the perfect smile has only increased since then, and at the end of last year Vogue published an article entitled ‘What Do Your Teeth Say About You?’. Here, Suzanne Scott commented on new trends and technology in cosmetic dentistry, informing readers about the most popular methods of teeth straightening and warned us about which whitening fads to avoid (note to self – throw away that charcoal toothpaste).

The growth in popularity of adult braces is undeniably bound up with the ideals of our social media culture – an obsession with perfection that, while unrealistic, we are actively encouraged to pursue. We’re all aware of the fakery involved in augmented reality filters that whiten our teeth, reshape our nose and define our jawlines, and we feel like frauds when we use this technology. The next step then, naturally, is to change those things for real. In such an image-obsessed age, appearance is everything and the rise in adult braces is symptomatic of an increasingly widespread anxiety about living up to our carefully crafted, ideal Instagram selves. We strive to make ourselves in this image.

The preoccupation of braces and orthodontics with reality can also be read in the appearance of these items, which tend to be valued either for their invisibility or their distinct visibility. For many adults, discretion is key when fixing their smiles: in order to give the finished result a veneer of reality, it’s important to make the process and devices by which it is achieved as inconspicuous as possible. Clear aligners such as Invisalign, hidden braces or white braces (like my own) have become common solutions to this problem. For others though, braces are a chance to make a statement, particularly through the use of bright colours and sparkling metal. In 2015, Kitty Hayes featured on the cover of CR Fashion Book, sporting a huge grin and bright blue ceramic braces. Indeed, the shape and colour of the braces was paralleled and exaggerated by the metal collar the model also wore around her neck. Although Hayes was only 17 at the time, the magazine’s target audience is significantly older than this, and the appearance of braces on the cover of such a well-known fashion magazine (which had, the previous month, featured Beyoncé) positions them as a quirky, eye-catching and stylish accessory.

Other accessories such as teeth grills and tooth gems have also emphasised the fashion potential of teeth and the latter have been worn by the likes of Kendal Jenner, Hailey Bieber and, most notably, by Adwoa Aboah, who showed off a Chanel tooth gem at the 2017 BRIT awards. Perhaps it’s time I jazzed up my own braces with something other than spinach, before they’re removed in April…