Exhibition Review: Bruce Davidson Retrospective at Sala Rekalde, Bilbao

Unobtrusively nestled into the Sala Rekalde’s building in the city center of Bilbao, Spain, the largest career spanning retrospective of American photographer Bruce Davidson left its mark on this artistically rich gem of a city. Comprised of over 200 prints shot primarily in black and white, Davidson’s work was exhibited in various rooms with 16 themes, each accompanied by display cases in the center of each room with magazine and newspaper printings with photographs from Davidson’s career.

 

The experience of witnessing Davidson’s photographs in person was truly enchanting. The prints are poignant and evocative, and convey a stronger sense of Davidson’s vision that cannot simply be replicated on a screen. The way the light in the building reflected off each glossy surface of the photograph, and the details and movement captured in each shot left the viewer with a visceral and emotional reaction to Davidson’s work.

 

Spanning the duration of his career, the retrospective highlighted some of Davidson’s most famous series from the 1960s, including Brooklyn Gang, East 100th Street, and photographs from the Civil Rights Movement.

Brooklyn Gang, New York City, 1959. Coney Island, Kathy fixing her hair in a cigarette machine mirror Magnum Photos

Montgomery, Alabama, 1961. National Guardsmen protect the Freedom Riders during their ride from Montgomery to Jackson, Mississippi Magnum Photos

The retrospective also included images from Davidson’s travels to the U.K. during the 1960s, with photographs from London, Scotland, Wales, and Yorkshire. Currently residing in London, these images were particularly exciting to see, as Davidson captured an experience of what it was like to live in these cities 60 years ago.

London, U.K. 1960 Magnum Photos

The reason behind my trip to Bilbao to see the retrospective was specifically for Davidson’s Subway photographs from 1980, the topic of my dissertation. The exhibition displayed early photographs of the series which were taken in black and white, as opposed to the majority color images I explored in my dissertation. Seeing the photographs first hand in conversation with and situated within Davidson’s career was an invaluable experience, and extremely beneficial towards my research.

Subway, 1980. New York City Magnum Photos

The exhibition concluded with photographs Davidson took in Southern California between 2008-2013, which were particularly evocative personally, having grown up in Los Angeles. He captured the essence of Los Angeles through his depiction of beaches, high-rise buildings, palm trees, and traffic, which evoked a sense of home and nostalgia that concluded the retrospective on a perfect note.

Los Angeles, 2008 Magnum Photos

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: 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

Tom Brigance Beachwear Sketch at Parsons Archive

 

On February 27, the MA class journeyed to Greenwich Village in New York City to visit the Parsons School of Design Archive. Upon arrival, we were left to explore boxes and folders overflowing with sketches of women’s wear between the 1920s and 1960s. Some of the sketches were rather minimal, a few fleeting lines drawn with pastel on tracing paper, while others were more detailed pencil on paper drawings. Our favorites as a class were Parsons’ extensive collection of Claire McCardell sketches, and one specific sketch with corresponding advertisement of Tom Brigance swimwear.

Tom Brigance, an American designer specializing in women’s sportswear, was a house designer for Lord & Taylor. Illustrated by Dorothy Hood, this particular sketch from 1968 advertised his In The Beach Scene line, and features a bikini and backless swim tunic. Hood gracefully captures the nylon fabric and gingham-like colorful print of Brigance’s swimsuits, and creates a whimsical beachfront scene. Our class was fascinated by this illustration board, because it included the handwritten notes of the copywriters or printers for this campaign. “Drop all blue guides,” and “see overlay for type position and handling,” along with notes on how to print Hood’s name within the illustration, can be seen written onto the advertising board.

Our class then all audibly gasped when we found that Parsons also had the corresponding final printed product. This was particularly interesting and exciting, because we were able to see the entire thought process—from the fashion illustration and notes to the final advertisement. The print advertises the two swim pieces, their prices, and an opportunity to meet the designer Tom Brigance at Lord & Taylor the following day.

By Arielle Murphy

1965’s Doctor Zhivago’s Impact on Fashion

 

In December 1965 David Lean’s epic adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago was released. Doctor Zhivago is the story of Yuri Zhivago, a physician in Russia, and the personal and political upheaval he experiences during the Russian Revolution. Phyllis Dalton’s lush costumes not only won her an academy award, but also spurred a host of new fashion trends. The looks of Julie Christie, who played Zhivago’s mistress Lara, and Geraldine Chaplin, who played Zhivago’s wife Tonya, in particular inspired fashion trends of the time.

Violette Leduc’s article detailing her visit to the set of Doctor Zhivago was released in the September 1965 issue of Vogue. The article was complete with a full spread of photographs of the set and stars of the film. Geraldine Chaplin’s photograph, in full Tonya Zhivago costume, is particularly striking. Chaplin stands on a street set up to look like revolution-era Moscow. She is decked out with a huge, round fur hat, fur stole, and an enormous fur muff. Her face his hidden between the hat and stole, and thus only her eyes and nose peer seductively out at the viewer. She is standing between two imposing portraits of Lenin, Marx and Trotsky, thus setting the scene for the contrast between the lush costumes and world of the early film, and the revolution and hardship that comes later on. This article came out two months before the film was released, likely as part of the intense media blitz on the part of MGM to promote it, and thus generated early excitement and awe at the costumes.

Following the release of the film the ‘Zhivago look’ took full effect. Marc Bohan for Christian Dior drew inspiration for his autumn 1966 line from the film. He used soldier’s caps, long military greatcoats, boots, and fur trim, which all recalled Dalton’s looks for the women of Doctor Zhivago. The fur trimmed ‘Zhivago collar’ and fur hats, in particular became popular following the release of the film, and remain so today. If you search ‘Zhivago style’ on google there are entire sections of Etsy dedicated to the fur-trimmed coats and fur hats that were made popular by the film. Advertisements found as late as 1987 make allusions to Doctor Zhivago when trying to sell fur. The look of fur, silk braiding, military coats, and boots of Phyllis Dalton’s costumes remain a key reference point for top designers. It was not just the women of Doctor Zhivago that inspired trends, but the men as well. Omar Sharif, as Yuri Zhivago, sported a large, well-groomed moustache that spurred a renewed interest in facial hair. The impact of Doctor Zhivago’s costumes has extended beyond the year, or even decade, of its release and into the cultural lexicon.

By Olivia Chuba

Fashion is a technology of communication: The intimacy of accessory in Lygia Clark’s dialogue goggles

 

Brazilian artist Lygia Clark’s ‘Óculos’ (Goggles) and Dialogo: Óculos (Dialogue: Goggles) from 1968 draw attention to the performance of wearing, looking and seeing; and the fashion accessory as an object of communication.

Both artworks are performative and are a sensory experience for the participant as well as being an immersive sculpture and fashion accessory. The artwork is the participant wearing the object: a pair of glasses that alters the vision of the participant(s) with magnifying lenses.

In ‘Goggles’ (1968), the artwork exists when the participant wears the goggles. Even here, in this photograph, we are not experiencing the artwork, instead we are seeing a photographic documentation of how the artwork functions when brought to life. We can appreciate this photograph of the glasses on the participant, but we cannot understand what it feels like to experience the glasses; for instance, how they would alter the participant’s vision and the way the participant would feel and interact with others in the space not wearing goggles. ‘Goggles’ is the experience of the participant wearing the goggles in the context they are situated in – it is the interactions they have as a result of ‘being’, ‘seeing’ and therefore communicating as the artwork.

In Clark’s ‘Dialogue Goggles’ (1968), two participants are joined by the goggles they wear. The artwork is the communication between the two participants which is facilitated by the accessory.

There is something both menacing and tender about ‘Goggles’ and ‘Dialogue Goggles’. The goggles, as the object, remind me of WW1 gasmasks or military goggles – the metal arms are jarring and mechanical, and the rubber eye pads are like heavy black shells. The large shape of the goggles obscure the human face like a mask, so that some parts are completely hidden beneath the rubber frames and the eyes are only visible to the other participant. And then, the human aspect of the participants wearing the goggles together puts the objects to function as the artwork and a physical closeness is instigated between the two participants joined by their eyes. The artwork then facilitates an opportunity for intimacy through the participant and the accessory, which is suggested in both of these photos of participants in optic dialogue.

By Evie Ward

 

Jackie O. and The Glamour of Privacy

With the new film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman in the title role, about to open in London there seems to be Jackie fever sweeping the media and culture in anticipation. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis is admired all over the world for her style which expressed a very American elegance that seemed effortlessly simple, feminine, and glamourous. Her style, however, is almost always represented by the “Camelot” years in the White House and the few years before and after. As much as her style then was impeccable and lovely there was also another Jackie, whose way of dressing was softer, more romantic, creative, and practical, emitting a different kind of glamour – Jackie O. Her new moniker refers to her marriage to Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis from 1968 until his death in 1975 and marks a time when she took a deliberate turn away from the public eye and in so doing glamorized the tension between privacy and fame. It is widely considered that she married not for money but for things much more precious – privacy and, by extension, safety. After the assassination of her brother-in-law Robert F. Kennedy, Jackie’s fears for her children’s security grew and she determined to leave the country. That same year she married Onassis and embarked on a life in Europe, living in Greece, Capri, Paris and on Onassis’ yacht.

Jackie in Capri, 1970s ©Getty Images

As First Lady in the early 1960s, Jackie had the styles of the time on her side. Given the more challenging fashion silhouettes of the 70s such as wide lapels, flared pant legs, busy prints, and clinging, shiny jersey, it is a decade that isn’t usually cited for classic, enduring looks. Yet, within this moment of fashion, Jackie O. forged a new look for herself through her taste and lifestyle that managed to be both timely and, once again, iconic. Big sunglasses, which she began wearing as early as 1966, were her staple, becoming so much a part of her image that they seem to be part of her face, and indeed she is perhaps even more recognizable with them on than off. It is rare to find a picture of her outdoors during this time with her eyes visible. In an effort to avoid being noticed, she paired her oversize sunglasses with large scarves, often from Hermes, worn kerchief style over her head. Add to this a trench coat with the collar turned up and her incognito uniform is completed.

Jackie O’s signature look of privacy.  Arriving at JFK Airport, NYC April 3, 1976 ©Getty Images

These aspects of her dress are the most obvious ways in which she cultivated an aesthetics of privacy through her clothes, demeanor, and lifestyle. While both Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar cited her regularly in articles and editorials on style, inevitably the images they used were photographs of Jackie at public social events or on the streets. It is clear that Jackie O. was not willing to sit for editorial fashion spreads or cooperate with any publicity endeavors. She was photographed more than once going barefoot through the streets of Capri, sandals in hand, in order to outrun the paparazzi. A famous shot of her walking hurriedly down a New York city street as a photographer behind her snaps her picture captured the essence of Jackie O. – remote, dignified, casual, private.

Jackie sighted on Madison Avenue, October 7, 1971 ©Getty Images

She had two looks, one a sporty look of white jeans and a black top, either a crew neck t-shirt, button-down shirt, or black turtleneck sweater, often ribbed. The repetitive look was another uniform that created a public façade for protection.

Jackie outside Claridge’s in London, September 1970. Jackie O’s signature look of privacy ©Getty Images

West Palm Beach, 1973 ©Getty Images

Her look the rest of the time veered towards gypsy skirts, flip-flops or sandals, belts, peasant-style dresses, and increasingly, prints. She always carried a Gucci hobo bag later named for her. Instead of Givenchy and Dior dresses, Chanel suits, and Oleg Cassini gowns she was wearing lots of Valentino. Instead of dressing prim and proper for public consumption by representing the nation, Jackie was dressing for herself and she did so with a jet-set resort sensibility with a dash of au courant bohemianism. This new style was not only softer, more sensual, and more fluid, it screamed out exclusivity and rarefied living. It was neither the wardrobe of a First Lady nor one of a working woman of the day. These were off-duty, romantic, resort clothes that spoke of a leisured lifestyle based in a cosseted existence.

Jackie in Capri August 24, 1970 in a gypsy skirt and sunglasses ©Getty Images

Ironically, just as the oversize sunglasses obscuring her face ultimately came to identify her, Jackie’s extreme avoidance of photographers and publicity of any kind during these years had the effect of making her even more alluring to the public. Photographs of her became the paparazzi’s holy grail. Remoteness makes the desired object all the more alluring and the image of Jackie O. in the 1970s epitomized this paradoxical aspect of glamour.

After the death of Onassis, Jackie took up a career as a book editor and turned to a typical Upper East side of New York look of lady-like suits and slacks with trim sweaters. She returned to a social life in the city though she remained low-key about publicity. Her days of being a recluse were over but their impact on the image of glamour endures.

Wearing a printed dress to attend the Metropolitan Opera House Royal Ballet in NYC, May 7, 1974 ©Getty Images

Elle c’est Vous: Some Comments on French Fashion and Art in the 1960s

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In the first issue of Paris-based art journal Opus International, published in April 1967, editors declared they would not recognise boundaries between forms of creation, and instead encouraged exchanges of methods and materials between practitioners from varied fields. They took painting as an example, which they argued could no longer be conceived “without reference to cinema, to publicity, to novels, to photography, to language.” This fluid approach resonated with artistic production and theory of the period. One vociferous commentator was art critic Pierre Restany (1930-2003), who encouraged artistic engagement with quotidian life and consumer society when he founded Nouveau Réalisme in 1960. He proposed that this movement act as an extension of Dada, and more particularly, build on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. He theorised that the appropriation of everyday objects and visual culture could be the only valid means of artistic expression, in a society newly marked as it was by an urban, industrialised consumer landscape. “In the current context,” as Restany wrote in the group’s 1961 manifesto, “Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades […] take on new sense.” Through this appropriation or “artistic baptism of the everyday object,” the object or material would assume a second, symbolic meaning. Moreover, Restany argued that it would give voice to “an entire organic sector of modern activity, that of the city, the street, the factory, serial production.” As Jill Carrick has recently written, Nouveau Réaliste artists, such as Martial Raysse, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, and Arman, engaged with everyday imagery and often “restag[ed] commodity spectacle” in their direct presentations of commercial objects or representations of shop windows. Fashion production and consumption, with its ties to the “modern activity” described above, was thus directly implicated in these artistic inquiries.

These developments paralleled perceptible changes in French fashion, in terms of a continuously expanding ready-to-wear industry, following large-scale industry efforts to improve production and increase dissemination from the post-war period. In turn, there were many more opportunities for designers and brands in the 1960s, such as Daniel Hechter (b. 1938) and Pierre d’Alby, respectively, who were diffused into the public sphere in magazine editorials and retail spaces. From the late 1950s and increasingly into the 1960s, fashion consultants, including Maïmé Arnodin (1916-2003), established agencies, bureaux de style, and acted as intermediaries between different industrial players, such as manufacturers, designers and retailers, to implement design trends. They also played the role of design reformer, and their comments connected fashion to wider social currents. In 1967, for example, Arnodin claimed that good design “is a manner of being, living, thinking that translates into clothing.”

Elements of the visual culture of fashion are perceptible in Martial Raysse’ (b. 1936) painted photograph “Snack” from 1964. Here, Raysse applied paper flowers, plastic birds and a neon sign to a photographic image of three fashion mannequins or models. The addition of these elements into a traditional, bucolic landscape called to mind Restany’s vision of a symbolic urban, industrial environment. This “nature,” relied on artifice and, according to Restany, “deploy[ed] sumptuous riches, his pearls of neon, luxury of his cities, the radiance of his sun, the domesticated blue of his sky and sea.” Saturated and fluorescent colour, according to Restany, was part of Raysse’s construction of “an organised reality, created by men for their use and in their image.” Monumental, artificial women who inhabited space suggested that vision and experience were intertwined. And perhaps female viewers of the painting, thus, recognised prevalent imagery as well as a new means of viewing themselves in a boundary-less tableau.

Sources:

Opus International, no. 1, April 1967, 5.

“Maïmé Arnodin: Le style et l’industrie française,” Dépêche Mode, October 1967, 20.

Jill Carrick, Nouveau Réalisme, 1960s France, and the Neo-avant-garde: Topographies of Chance and Return. Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010, 68.

Pierre Restany, “A quarante degrés au-dessus de dada,” in Le nouveau réalisme. Paris: Transédition, 2007 [May 1961], 59-60, 172.

Image of painting also available here.

Ready-to-wear, rupture and continuity in the space of Elle magazine post 1968

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The student protests of May 1968 brought focus to Paris’ streets on national and global levels, and this was echoed in French fashion imagery. A ready-to-wear editorial in the 2 September 1968 issue of Elle by Claude Brouet and Marie-Thérèse des Cars set the tone for the straightforward representation of women and the city that would characterise those in magazines in the latter part of the decade and into the next. Here, Peter Knapp photographed women in the streets of Paris, walking or standing against city walls, sometimes looking beyond the camera or directly into its lens. In one image, a model traversed the picture plane in long, confident strides with one arm stretched upwards, as though to shield her face from the bright sunlight. This pose was repeated throughout the editorial; in some instances, the model’s smile was absent, turning the functional gesture into one of protest. In view of the student protests and strikes that engulfed the country three months earlier, contemporary readers might have interpreted the editorial in terms of solidarity.

Indeed, in this imagery, Knapp may have directly referenced the first day of the protest, in which many commentators later remarked on the still, sunny aspect of Paris’ streets before violence erupted. In the 17 June 1968 issue of Elle, for example, journalist Denise Dubois-Jallais contrasted what began as “a lovely Friday in May” with the image of “[…] enraged young people, cobblestones in hand, running towards a police car and, all of a sudden, the noise of shattered glass […].” And although those protests did not focus on women’s rights, they served as a symbolic call to arms, according to commentaries such as that by Michèle Perrein, in the 21 October 1968 issue of Elle. In an article on her personal experience of sexual inequality, Perrein wrote that: “the student revolt […] did me well, so much that I felt, deep down, it corresponded to my own.” Likewise, Knapp’s images represented the calm period that loomed before more vocalised feminist struggles in 1970, the year that saw the establishment of the Mouvement de Liberation des Femmes, as well as Elle’s Etat Généraux de la Femme debates.

Political concern was also held in tension within the text that accompanied Knapp’s images. It conceived of ready-made fashion in terms of action and choice. The author ranked the season’s clothing trends as secondary to the reader herself, who would deploy the clothing to feel comfortable and liberated in it: “But the essential, in all that, will be you. Your way of choosing clothing for its comfort and freedom […].” The text thus highlighted both continuity and rupture. Magazines had promoted ready-made clothing’s freeing attributes—achievable through the wearer’s skill and personality—since they began to feature ready-to-wear in the mid-1950s. However, given magazines’ constant representation of novelty, these attributes were repositioned in view of the May protests to signify the reader’s recognition of her control and capability.

The clothing produced in the mid to late-1960s also worked alongside Elle’s new discussion of wearer experience. From the mid 1960s, magazines characterised jersey and other knitted garments as second skins. And consumer testimonies were consistent, such as that of Monique Naudeix, who recounted how her prized knitted jackets by Sonia Rykiel from the late 1960s “hugged the body.” Peter Knapp’s photographs in the 8 September 1969 issue of Elle highlighted the ways in which fabric clung to and draped against models’ moving bodies. Several small images flanked central ones to depict subsequent steps in the act of walking. In one image, a model wore a knitted ensemble by Sonia Rykiel, a garment that allowed for her swiftness, evidenced by its blurred edges that also blurred the boundaries between body and fabric. These photographs showcased clothing for easy, confident feminine movement. Also central to the image, although secondary in importance to the monumental, active model, was the Paris street, which imbued it with urban capital. And after the events of May 1968, simple streets and pavements assumed an iconic status. As opposed to post-war imagery, in which models hesitatingly tested Paris’ new spaces, busy with street traffic, that symbolised modernity, in 1969 and 1970, magazines showcased women walking assertively on Paris’ pavements. In her June 1968 article, Denise Dubois-Jallais unknowingly set the stage for these visualisations in her description of the aftermath of the May barricades: “the people, curious, arrived with the sun. No cars. The streets [were] like pavements. No cars except for burned carcasses (what a symbol!).”

 

Sources

Denise Dubois-Jallais, “Sous le balcon d’Albertine, cinq mois, une révolution éclate,” Elle, nos. 1171, 1172, 1173, 17 June 1968.

Michèle Perrein, “Le droit de renaitre,” Elle, no. 1192, 21 October 1968, 35.

Elle, no. 1185, 2 September 1968.

Author, Interview with Monique Naudeix, Paris, 1 December 2014.

 

We will be posting a sneak peak of our Women Make Fashion/ Fashion Makes Women conference on the blog later today, for those who missed it. Watch this space for this special unscheduled post!

Ready-made Fashion and France’s Urban Fabric in Elle Magazine in 1963

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Bodies, dress and city space intersected in new ways in the 3rd May 1963 issue of Elle in an editorial that presented ready-made garments in toile, a linen textile. One photograph by Fouli Elia depicted a cross-legged model standing against the grid of the metal beams of a nondescript Modernist building that composed and dominated the photograph’s backdrop. She stared fixedly at something located off the page, and her look suggested that it was an open expanse of scenery, or an extension of her imposing architectural surroundings. Behind her, the building took on the greenish sheen of her shirt and skirt ensemble by the ready-made brand Stanley. Structure embodied the dressed model, both cast in the same hue, constructed from the same fabric. Likewise, the article’s text described clothing in spatial terms, and figure one was identified as “a large green space for this two-piece ensemble, comfortable and sweater style. In what? In toile fibranne.” This material, a rayon fabric similar to linen, was pictured alongside natural fibres in this spread. Yet the characteristics of this synthetic cloth, soft yet grainy, unstructured yet weighty, reflected paradoxes held within the fabric of the photograph. In contrast to the text, the image suggested a lack of space, through the subject’s close crop and the seemingly nonexistent distance between figure and building.

The editorial, with its images of models with outlined bodies superimposed onto buildings, appeared during a period of rapid urbanisation in France. From the 1950s and increasingly into the 1960s and 1970s, low-income housing estates, or Habitations à Loyer Moderé (HLM) were erected in cities’ suburbs to accommodate factory workers, immigrants, and Paris’ growing population. By 1964, there were at least 1,000 of these buildings in the three departments of the Parisian region. In direct contrast to deteriorating and crowded housing in Paris, the government promoted these cités, usually comprised of towers and high-rise blocks (grands ensembles) with park space, schools and other facilities, as symbols of France’s economic modernism and ‘progress.’ This language resembled that used to describe the developing French ready-to-wear, pictured increasingly in the fashion press during the 1950s and early 1960s. Articles in Elle also regularly discussed the housing transition; in 1961 for example, editor Anne-Marie Raimond surveyed women who lived in suburbs and sought to depict the vastness of these spaces and the new way of life they offered:

It is the most formidable exodus of modern time, causing the upheaval of landscapes as well as man’s customs and spirit. […] A new style is born, that of ‘garden cities,’ ‘ensembles,’ ‘residences,’ where sun and greenery come with the deed or lease. Inhabitants (almost) remain Parisian, Lyonnais, Lillois, but have changed rhythm and character. They blossom like plants uprooted from undersized pots, put into the wide earth.

As in the 1950s, descriptions such as this instilled the modernity and progress of the vast, new spaces in their female inhabitants. Elle’s 1963 article likewise conflated clothing, bodies and wide spaces, portraying garments as “very sunny dream ensemble[s],” and “To live in right away.” Yet, the incongruity between idealising text and subtly dark imagery hinted at growing criticism of these estates, and a heightened awareness of their realities.

These outer spaces likewise became normalised in magazine imagery. Pages in Elia’s editorial that displayed a fashion photograph beneath a landscape illustrated how magazines’ new definition of fashion city and urban space stretched to Paris’ suburbs and airport. One such image was cited as “Modern Paris. View from the southern highway between Paris and Orly.” Similarly, in light of Paris’ expansion, Henri Lefebvre wrote in 1970: “The urban fabric proliferates, extends itself, corrodes the residues of agrarian life.” In contrast to photographs of old, iconic, and static Paris (which traditionally upheld the symbolic construction of haute couture), these images visualised modern Paris in perpetual construction and expansion. Below this image, which stressed the vastness of suburban space and sky, a photograph pictured a model in front of a building. Like her above counterpart, the model seemed superimposed, and the frame could not contain her body. The caption identified her location as boulevard Lannes in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, the appropriate well-to-do setting for her expensive suit, in raw silk with and jersey blouse designed by Chloé, which was sold for 700 francs at the fashionable boutique Henry à la Pensée. Financial access to ready-to-wear was a constant promotional factor, which did not always correspond to reality. In this instance, readers were offered, yet barred from purchase of toile, and the ambiguous all-encompassing urban fabric of Paris.

Sources

“Faites vos plans sur la toile,” Elle, no. 906, 3 May 1963, 96, 99, 100, 102. Author’s translations.

Anne-Marie Raimond, “Une enquête une revelation une revolution: le visage et la vie des nouvelles banlieusardes,” Elle, no. 826, 20 October 1961, 84. Author’s translations.

Paul Clerc, Grands ensembles banlieues nouvelles: enquête démographique et psycho-sociologique. Paris: PUF, 1967.

Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, trans. Robert Bononno, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota, 2003 [1970], 3.