Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive: Elle UK

Our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive is this Saturday! Book your ticket here for a day of amazing speakers and beautiful objects, including those from the exhibition we have previewed the last few weeks, ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines.’ We look forward to seeing you there!


‘French Fashions’ photographed by Chris Dawes. Elle UK, March 1986. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

The 1980s were turbulent years in Britain. From extreme hardships and upheaval to pop culture and newfound affluence, the decade had a lasting influence on modern-day life. In this explosive climate, some relief came with the birth of iconic magazines such as i-D, The Face, Arena and, in November 1985, the British version of Elle Magazine, the originally French style bible. Aimed at young career women, Elle combined carefree fashion with serious articles, or ‘style with content,’ as Dylan Jones, the Editor-in-Chief of GQ put it. Today, Elle holds the title of the largest fashion magazine, boasting 43 international editions published in 60 countries worldwide.

With Sally Brampton as its first Editor-in-Chief, Elle became the to-go magazine for the well off, modern 18-30 year old, who was uninterested in the world of luxuries, haute couture and pampering offered by Vogue. Instead, the magazine published frank and provocative features about love, sex, dating and health alongside interviews with the likes of Harrison Ford, Mickey Rourke, Jasper Conran or Paula Yates. The glossy fashion pages, graced by Naomi Campbell, Claudia Shiffer, Linda Evangelista, Carla Bruni and Yasmin Le Bon, were daring, powerful and unrestrained, full of spirit and joy. The articles were relatable and fascinating while the fashion photographs by Mario Testino, Eamonn J. McCabe or Neil Kirk shot in exotic locations provided a much-needed element of fantasy and aspiration. With such ingredients, Elle was set to become the cult publication of a generation.

This spread here, entitled ‘French Fashion’ and photographed by Chris Dawes for the March 1986 issue of Elle, showcases why the magazine was so groundbreaking in its first few years. Tapping into a younger, yet still style-conscious audience, guides on how to achieve a look which appears to be taken straight from the catwalk were a common fixture in the magazine. Chanel, a favourite of the modern working woman, plays a main role on this double page. The classic skirt suit of Coco, trimmed in black with gold details, complete white gloves and a black quilted bag with a chain strap, could be yours for a mere fraction of the original price. In style, however, it packs the same punch. French-chic without the price tag!

The sleek, glossy page hints at the opulence one experiences when wearing such an outfit. Framed as a Kodak contact sheet, the idea of a luxurious lifestyle is further alluded to by positioning the wearer of this ‘Chanel’ look as someone worth photographing. Yet, the girl is not simply a society lady going between luncheons and afternoon teas. She is in movement, her bag flying behind her. Perhaps she is on her way to a business meeting, or rushing to work in the morning. She appeals to the career woman of the 80s and inspires younger readers to embrace a working life – you can still look incredibly à la mode in office attire. Magazines should create a fantasy, but they should also be rooted in reality – Elle masters it!

Exhibition Review: Tino Casal, Art by Excess at the Madrid Museum of Costume

Photo: Dana Moreno

From November 15, 2016 to February 19, 2017, the Museo del Traje de Madrid (Madrid Museum of Costume) has one of its most ambitious projects on show, the exhibition Tino Casal, El Arte por Exces (Tino Casal, Art by Excess). It is a tribute to Spanish pop music artist Tino Casal, whose career in the 80s and early 90s was cut short in a fatal 1991 car accident. Tino Casal, El Arte por Exceso shows a small part of his legacy as a singer, musical producer, costume designer, set designer, painter, and sculptor that encouraged other artists to shake off the influence of the previous 35-year dictatorship in Spain.

The exhibition consists of 200 pieces, composed of about 50 outfits, album covers, photographs and works of art by Tino Casal on loan from his family, along with objects from the Museum’s collection and the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library). Also included are collaborations and pieces by associated artists including designers like Julián Ruiz, Paco Clavel, Francis Montesinos, Antonio Alvarado, and Fortu Sánchez.

Photo: Dana Moreno

His collaborations with musicians, filmmakers, photographers, and designers made him an icon of the post-dictatorship, countercultural artistic renaissance La Movida in Madrileña (The Madrilean Scene). During the 1980s, in addition to an increase in the number of firms with prêt-à-porter designs (far stylistically behind countries like the United Kingdom, France, or America), the expansion of fashion in Spain influenced society, the arts, and other cultural and industrial production. The figure of Tino Casal exemplified this amplification of the importance of image during the 80s, where his work displayed an array of influences that illustrated the cultural flow of international postmodernity.

Photo: Dana Moreno

Two of his early ensembles, late 70s. Purchased from Boy in London: black jacket. Biba: tapestry jacket, mustard crepe ensemble. Photo: Dana Moreno

What makes this exhibition special is that the Museo del Traje de Madrid has examined a facet of the artist that hasn’t been appreciated in the past: his excessive attire. During the transition to Spanish democracy, many young people played with gender identity and Tino Casal took self-expression to new heights. Though he invited scandal, Casal introduced a different, more triumphally frivolous perspective in society. Designers like Pepe Rubio, Antonio Alvarado, Pedro Morgao, Gene Babaleiro, and Francis Montesinos helped Casal become an ambassador of their work, creating a unique image born of his imagination. This image conveyed his central message of embracing difference.

Leather jacket customised by Tino Casal. He often sprayed his leather jackets with bright or metallic colours. Photo: Dana Moreno

The exhibition dedicates a room to each of his albums, focusing on the costumes and stage design of each album cover, music video, tour, and performance. Each set shows how the evolution of his personal style encompassed his idea of the total show, one that made him a pioneer of constructing artistic image in Spain.

Suits made for his songs “Lágrimas de Cocodrilo” and “Eloise”, recorded in Abbey Road with Andrew Powell. Photo: Dana Moreno

Detail of suit made for “Eloise.” Photo: Dana Moreno

For the styling of his first album cover, he was inspired by overlapping garments, flared trousers and animal prints of the English New Romantic movement. He refined his style on his next album with a wardrobe of bright-coloured, wide-shoulder jackets, frilled shirts, a multitude of accessories, and extremely pointy shoes. In the style of his later years, after his convalescence due to a broken femur, he sported shorter hair and cultivated the image of mature dandy, almost an elegant Count Dracula.

This exhibition shows the inseparable union of Tino Casal’s costumes and his public artistic identity.

Photo: Dana Moreno

Photo: Dana Moreno

Further Information

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QffBKrl_Eo

http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/11/15/tentaciones/1479202737_391026.html

Reflections on History of Dress Essay Writing

I’m currently supervising five of my second-year students through the research, writing and editing stages of their 4,000 word dissertations. They are writing on a variety of interesting topics, which include:

The complexity of dress reflecting complicated relationships in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954);

The representation of Japanese street-style in noughties American print media;

Dress as a traveller through time, space and place in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996);

A Freudian examination of British Punk fashion from 1975-85;

And, An analysis of Cecil Beaton’s dual identity in the American Vogue (March, 1951) fashion shoot, ‘The New Soft Look’.

It’s great to be helping my students tackle many of the problems I remember struggling with – structure, focus, linking the thread of the argument, avoiding colloquialisms, analysing quotations rather than simply dropping them into the text, pushing the analysis further still – and hopefully, emerging triumphant at the other end. I remember my own third-year assessed essay that I wrote in 2011, which addressed the representation of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto’s designs by the American and British fashion press in the early 1980s. I struggled with lots of aspects but thankfully had the help, not just of my supervisor Dr Rebecca Arnold, but also of the author and editor Virginia Rounding, the then Royal Literary Fellow, which is part of an amazing service the Courtauld provides for its students to help them improve their writing. For nostalgia’s sake, and because it’s fun to look back as well as ahead, I’ve included a pdf of my essay here, entitled ‘The American and British Reception and Representation of Japanese Fashion Designers in the Early 1980s’.

The American and British reception and representation of Japanese fashion designers in the early 1980s

The books of Liz's dissertation

The books of Liz’s dissertation!