Talking to Lucy Moore of Claire de Rouen

On London’s Charing Cross Road, an inconspicuous little black door at number 125 transports you into a world of the best art, photography and fashion books. Tucked away on the first floor of the building, the charming space of Claire de Rouen, a bookshop with an impeccably curated selection, instantly becomes everyone’s favourite place in the city. I visited the shop on one sunny afternoon to chat to its amazing director, Lucy Kumara Moore about the space, inspirations, culture and what the future holds for CdR.

Barbora Kozusnikova: Tell me about how the Claire de Rouen bookshop came about and how you started working here.

Lucy Moore: The shop was opened in 2005, by Claire de Rouen – a deeply-knowledgeable, beautiful and slightly mysterious woman born in Alexandria, Egypt, to Italian parents. She moved to London in her twenties to study art. She worked at the ICA bookshop, then at the Photographer’s Gallery and quickly established a reputation for being able to source books before anyone else, and for being so attuned to her clients taste that she knew how to put together the most incredible collections of books for them. After the Photographer’s Gallery, Claire got a job heading up the photo and fashion department at Zwemmer’s bookshop, which doesn’t exist anymore, but used to be just down the road from where my bookshop is now, on Charing Cross Road. She was friends with everyone – Bruce Weber would come and say hi when he was in town and David Bailey gave her a print of one of his portraits of Catherine Deneuve.

Soho used to be much more creatively-exciting… Central Saint Martins used to be on this street, and there were many more art and photo galleries and artist studios that have since closed or moved. The Astoria was an incredible music venue that was demolished to make way for Crossrail. Things have changed so much! Claire was a figurehead in that high-spirited world. Around 2005, Zwemmer’s was bought by another book dealer called Shipley – and Claire didn’t like the way things changed. At the suggestion of Bob Carlos Clarke (known for his sexy high gloss pictures that feel so of the 90s when you look at them now), Claire set up her own shop (and Bruce had connected her with the landlord of the beautiful little space that was to be its home). The opening of Claire de Rouen Books as it was known then (I’ve since dropped the ‘books’ part) was a party for Bruce Weber’s Blood, Sweat and Tears, on Bonfire Night – think of all the fireworks!

I met Claire through my boyfriend at the time, Ned Wilson, in 2009. I was just finishing art school then and loved coming to the shop for signings and launches. We always talked about me working with her but there wasn’t really a job available – she worked there every day except Saturday and had someone to do weekends already. In late 2010 I moved to Australia. I remember going in to the shop to tell Claire and she handed me a book called Bondi Style! After a few months of living in Sydney, we had a very sad phone call to say that Claire had been diagnosed with cancer. She was hoping I could go back to London to help her at the bookshop now that she was less able to work every day. But I didn’t make it back in time, tragically. After she died in 2012, it seemed as if the shop might close and so I decided to move back to London and buy it with some friends.

BK: Why do you think people are still publishing quite a lot of books and the shop continues to be so successful in the digital age?

LM: Well, publishing is much easier and much cheaper. I think if you’re a photographer or a fashion journalist or a stylist, if you publish something then it demonstrates a level of involvement with what you’re doing that goes way beyond putting images online. People understand the different qualities of printed matter and digital space – and select the best platform for saying what they want to say. The two are just different platforms for the exploration of ideas. It’s not one or the other.

People love looking at actual books! It’s so important to me that Claire de Rouen is public not appointment-only. It’s open 5 days a week and is there to welcome you into its paper arms when you have half an hour to kill before you go and meet your Tinder date or if you suddenly decide to do some research into the House of Beauty and Culture.

It’s also a place of idea exchange – lots of my clients make their own books – which I sell – as well as buying them from me, so it’s a two-way space in that sense. It’s part of the constellation of London’s culture. That’s what this shop is about.

BK: How do you select the books that you stock here? Is it really personal or driven by what customers are asking for?

LM: It’s both, because my customers mostly share my taste, so sometimes I buy things that they have suggested. But I never stock anything just because I know it will sell well. There is no Terry Richardson in the house! I have two buying rules that are totally antithetical to each other…! I like very serious, committed explorations of ideas through photography or writing or design – publications which contribute to a discourse. But I also love books that are just fun and pop and beautiful and sexy – I think pleasure and beauty are quite important in our dark political times.

BK: Are there any books that you’d like to see published that haven’t been yet?

LM: So many. I’m setting up a publishing house this year to start filling all the gaps. It will be called Claire de Rouen too, and will trace the history of the interplay between art, fashion and commerce from the ‘70s to now. News to follow!

BK: People can find fashion books next to art books on the shelves at Claire de Rouen. How do you think art and fashion relate?

LM: Unfortunately, because the art market grew so much in the early 2000s, many (although by no means all) of the commercial galleries adjusted themselves to cater for the super rich, with the consequence that they aren’t very welcoming spaces for a broad spectrum of people, necessarily. In contrast, the visual output of the fashion world is distributed in a very democratic way. A billboard on a street is going to be seen by everyone. And digital space doesn’t discriminate according to wealth or class – digital ‘societies’ are totally different to geographically-based ones. Ideas from high fashion filter into the high street, making fashion a very powerful medium to explore ideas relating to beauty, gender, identity, narrative, fantasy etc., because what you see in a Celine show you’ll see in Topshop in a slightly different form, very often before the Celine is even out. That’s very powerful. I find that really interesting. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, necessarily. It’s bad for Celine, but it’s very interesting that these ideas are expressed very quickly in a very mainstream way. And that doesn’t happen in art right now – not in London anyway.

BK: Do you collect anything? Or are the books your collection?

LM: Yes, in many ways, yes, totally – I stock Claire de Rouen like it’s my own library. But I also collect a few things, like Werk magazine, POP and Arena Homme+ – magazines are super important right now. Every time I do a signing, I ask the photographer or artist to sign a copy for me. I also collect books on Mark Steinmetz and Marc Camille Chaimowicz – all the Marks! Only joking. I love the Yohji catalogues from the 80s that Nick Knight, Peter Saville and Marc Ascoli did. I also really love functional printed matter, like annual reports and diaries.

Apart from books, I collect the little crystal Disney Swarovski sculptures, which are my total guilty pleasure. And shoes.

BK: Do you want to stay really small, and only here, in Charing Cross?

LM: No, the bookshop will move this year. I would like more space to show more artworks and prints and selected clothing and accessories. In theory, I would like more than one space, but I don’t know how I’d make it work because, really, the bookshop is about my presence there and my taste. So maybe if I had other bookshops, I would invite people who I really respect to set up their own, new, Claire de Rouen worlds, in the same way I do here.

BK: You stock books that inspire people and also the people that made the books were inspired by something. What inspires you?

LM: I am always beguiled by Araki’s approach to life – his voracious curiosity and obsession with sensual pleasure. Marc Camille Chaimowicz (who is a friend) has a carefully defined and beautiful approach to living. Wolfgang Tillmans’ work has a very lucid relationship to society that I find inspiring. There is also a constellation of women in my life who I adore working with – Lou Stoppard, Rei Nadal, Daisy Hoppen, Alice Neale, Lily Cole. I’m very interested in strong, successful, creative women!

Performing the Kimono in the 19th Century

Gustave Leonard de Jonghe (Belgian, 1829 – 1893), (L’admiratrice du Japon), The Japanese Fan, c. 1865, oil on canvas, 44 ¼ x 34 1/16 in., Gift of the Francis & Miranda Childress Foundation, AG.1988.3.1. Cummer Museum. 

With the Americans’ forceful opening of Japanese markets in 1853, waves of ‘Japonisme’ washed over the West until well into the 20th century. One of Japan’s key exports during this period was the kimono, which was not produced in the West until around the fin de siècle. In an attempt to maintain and increase demand for the kimono, Japan did not export part of its own kimono stock, but rather created kimonos with what the Japanese considered to be a Western cut and textile patterns. Nonetheless, the exoticism of these garments became immensely popular in the West, whilst simultaneously the kimono was considered Oriental indecorum. Therefore, for most of the 19th century, wearing a kimono became a performance. Through the performance, an ‘othering’ took place that allowed a ‘respectable Western woman’ to wear a kimono without it being considered inappropriate.

Alfred Stevens (Belgian 1823-1906), La Parisienne japonaise, c. 1872, oil on canvas, 105 × 150 cm (41.3 × 59.1 in), AM 526/183. © Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Boverie.

This performance was not only presented in 19th century Western paintings, but also perfectly expressed by a reader’s letter published by Good Housekeeping in May 1904. The publication, founded in 1885 by Clark W. Bryan, was as one of the first women’s magazines “conducted in the interests of the higher life of the household.” As such, rather than expressing the fashions and ideas of the wealthy, it focussed on general information for the influential new middle class. The reader’s letter describes a Japanese tea party that was hosted the year before and sets out an approach to giving your own:

“Write the invitations on a Japanese napkin, then tuck each one into a tiny Japanese lantern on which the guest’s name has been printed with India ink. […] The reception rooms may be adorned by lanterns, fans, parasols, screens, all of Japanesy style. Scatter cherry blossoms in great snowy masses to light up shadowy corners. […] The hostess may quite properly receive her guests – who of course are all ladies – in a graceful, gorgeous, silky kimono. Her hair should be dressed Japanese style, adorned with half a dozen tiny bright fans, and she should wear pointed, embroidered slippers.”

John Atkinson Grimshaw (British 1836-1893), Spring, c. 1875, oil on canvas. Private Collection.

As the reader’s description makes clear, rather than just dressing up in a kimono, the hostess needs to imitate Japanese style as thoroughly as possible, including in her hair and shoes. Her home, too, should be decorated with as many Japanese objects as possible and even the invitations should look decidedly Japanese. Through recreating this little Japanese scene, rather than just hosting a party, she is clad in a costume and her home becomes a kind of set design. In that way, the performance allows a Western woman enough distance from her normal self to wear an ‘oriental’ garment without it affecting her status. Many Western painters were interested in the theme or ‘Orientalism’ and painted women in kimonos surrounded by Japanese art objects and furniture.

Frans Verhas (Belgian 1827 – 1897), Le Kimono Japonais, painting on panel, 75 x 47.5 cm. (29.5 x 18.7 in.). Private Collection.

William Merritt Chase (American 1849-1916), A Comfortable Corner (At Her Ease; The Blue Kimona [sic}; The Blue Kimono), c. 1888, oil on canvas, 57 x 44 1/2 inches, Littlejohn Collection, 1961.5.21. Parrish Art Museum.

Alfred Wordsworth Thompson (American 1840-1896), (La Japonaise), The Japanese Lady, oil on canvas, 114.2 x 76.1 cm (44.96″ x 29.96″). Private collection.

Sources:

Good Housekeeping c. 1904. Discoveries by Our Observers and Experimenters. Good Housekeeping, 38(5), p. 527.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Online]. 2016. Dressing Gown. [Accessed 14 February 2017]. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/155954.

Wood, J. P. 1949. Magazines in the United States. 2nd ed. New York: The Ronald Press Company.

Somerset House Welcomes a New Addition

In Somerset House’s long history, many artists have walked through its courtyard and created their works in the endless nooks and crannies of its maze-like interiors. The long legacy of vision, beginning in 1779 when the Royal Academy of Arts became the first resident in the newly refurbished Somerset House, through its many Royal Academy Exhibitions, the move of The Courtauld Institute of Art into the North Wing of the building, becoming the home of British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week, to hosting blockbuster fashion and art exhibitions as well as multiple annual festivals such as Pick Me Up and Photo London, now continues with a new venture.

From October 2016, the New Wing of the former sixteenth century palace has been transformed into a home of Somerset House Studios, a new experimental workspace for a wide spectrum of creatives. Musicians, filmmakers, performance artists, designers, writers, architects, visual and internet artists are among the first residents in the repurposed, 36,000 sq ft space, soon to be joined by 25 new arrivals. Eventually, the space will house 300 creators, inventors and originators, making Somerset House a vibrant hub for London’s visionaries.

Somerset House Studios comes at a time when London’s uncompromisingly high rent has driven out artists such as Gareth Pugh, a world-renowned British designer, from their previous spaces. Pugh laments, “there is so much about creativity and how London is this place people go to and look to, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to actually make ends meet and make things work. Responding to this very serious problem, the Studios are offering up to two and a half years of residency at a capped rental price equivalent to 2014 rates for workspaces, allowing creativity to flourish, while offering much needed security to vulnerable artists and at the same time preventing the flocking of precious British talent elsewhere. The community Somerset House Studios will create is also crucial, as musician, artist and writer Brian Eno highlights: “People sometimes think that everything artists need is in their own minds. But it isn’t: as well as talent and enthusiasm, they need good places to work, and they need people to talk to and share ideas with…it represents a lot of possibilities for creative cross-pollination.”

This artistic exchange will not be exclusive to the residents, however. Instead, performance spaces, event and exhibition rooms will showcase the talent to over 3.2 million guests which come to Somerset House each year. The first round of exhibitions, called Somerset House Studios 01 has already been a great success. Newcomer but already one of the most exciting London designers, Charles Jeffrey, hosted one of his famous LOVERBOY raves in his space during the opening night. Inés Cámara Leret conceived an out-of-the-world cube which catches the spectators’ breaths and imprints them, creating a tangible object out of our DNA, while design practice Superflux set up a fictional court case, leading the visitor from their lab through sheets of plastic hanging off walls to the crime scene itself, posing questions about the world of gene-fixing and genetic profiling. What makes this work really compelling is its interaction with the audience, a new area which art is just beginning to tap into, but is already very much at the forefront at the Studios. Exciting things are happening at Somerset House and we cannot wait to see the incredible, inspiring and invigorating work which will once again announce London and one of its iconic buildings as the leader in artistic innovation.

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                                     Gareth Pugh | Sycorax | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

charles-jeffrey-somerset-house-studios-image-by-dan-wilton

                                     Charles Jeffrey | Somerset House Studios | Image by Dan Wilton

Applications for Somerset House Studios are open until 7 January 2016.

 

References:

Somerset House Studios Press Release (https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/press/somerset-house-studios accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

R. Dex, ‘Gareth Pugh gets a studio at Somerset House after being priced out of Dalston’ in Evening Standard (Wednesday, 19 October 2016) (http://www.standard.co.uk/fashion/news/gareth-pugh-gets-a-studio-at-somerset-house-after-being-priced-out-of-dalston-a3373406.html accessed on Monday, 14 November 2016)

Smelling La Serenissima: The Essence of Venice

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“It was a windy night and before my retina registered anything, I was smitten by a feeling of utter happiness: my nostrils were hit by what to me has always been its synonym, the smell of freezing seaweed.” -Watermark, Joseph Brodsky.

 Over the Summer I was fortunate enough to visit Venice with recent History of Dress alumna, Lisa Osborne. The trip involved a plethora of visits to art exhibitions, including the mammoth Biennale. One contemporary art installation that truly struck a chord with me was Andrea Morucchio’s show at Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo, titled ‘The Rape of Venice’. Palazzo Mocenigo is a unique museum within the city that houses antique Venetian textiles and dress. It also tells the story of how a strong and thriving perfume industry was established within the region, recounted through an immersive multi-sensory display, in which visitors are encouraged to smell raw materials, essences, oils, soaps and perfumes. Morucchio’s installation complimented the display of the permanent collection by also incorporating olfaction.

Comprising of four cohesive, immersive and multi-sensory elements, including scent and soundscapes, the installation explored how Venice’s rare cultural heritage and environment is being destroyed as the city’s declining population means that it has transformed from a home for many, into what Morucchio calls: ‘a tourist theme park.’ Inside the one room show monochrome projections replay against the walls. Strong statements in bold typography, reading: ‘Population decline set to turn Venice into Italy’s Disney Land’, and ‘Venice is sinking under a tidalwave of corruption’, are headlines from the international press. Created from fragments of a deconstructed mosaic taken from St Mark’s Basilica, the kaleidoscopic stone floor is intended to emulate a ‘frozen sea’; pertinent as underwater sound recordings of traffic in the Venetian Lagoon and the evocative scent of ‘frozen seaweed’ were pumped through the gallery space.

 Inspired by the fragile lagoon environment, Morucchio collaborated with Venetian perfume company Mavive for months to create this salty unisex scent. Three hundred bottles possessing the limited-edition ‘Essence of Venice’ were produced and sold to visitors. The bold packaging of the small bottle, carrying this one-off scent, mimics the bold typography used for the graphic statements in the installation. Furthermore it also bares similarities to Jenny Holzer’s graphic series of perfume adverts, created in collaboration with Helmut Lang in 2000. Since the perfume could only be obtained from Palazzo Mocenigo, the scent recalls the memory of the installation, thus reminding the wearer of the deeper emotional journey through the city from which the smell was born. This is not the first time that the city sense-scape has inspired artists, for example the scent of London has also been explored by a recent collaboration between The Serpentine Gallery and Comme des Garçons (2014). The London-inspired scent, conceptually described as a mixture of grass, oxygen and a little bit of pollution, can still be purchased today and was produced and marketed to raise funds for the gallery program. This contrasts with Morucchio’s sensory adventure, which focused on the ephemeral nature of scent and the city.

Sources:

http://mocenigo.visitmuve.it/en/mostre-en/mostre-in-corso-en/morucchio-installation-mocenigo-venice/2015/04/8352/the-rape-of-venice-installation/

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.

The ‘neue frau’ and fashion in Otto Dix’s ‘Three Prostitutes’ (1925)

Otto Dix’s Three Prostitutes (1925) is a painting that draws attention to the ambiguous figure of the New Woman in Weimar Germany. The Neue Frau was a complex cultural construct whose independent habits – shopping, enjoying the city’s bustling night-life, working – were seen as a cause for both celebration and anxiety; as signs of progressive civil liberties, as well as of society’s moral degradation. Although a greater number of women engaged in public life than before during this period – in 1925 about a third of the country’s female population was in the workforce – their unprecedented visibility was far from unproblematic. The fashionable female body became a key topic of debates on sexuality, morality and politics, with the New Woman becoming more of an abstracted concept than a social reality as a result. In fact, it is important to point out that although the term was evoked repeatedly, there was not a definitive type of Neue Frau. Rather, the way in which women engaged with modernity was determined by a number of factors such as class, marital status and geography. Nevertheless, a preoccupation with modern typologies is evident in Dix’s painting, whose female protagonists simultaneously refer to the pervasive practice of prostitution while also serving as caricatures of consumerist culture.

The link between prostitution and fashion was frequently made during this period, perhaps most famously articulated by Thomas Wehrling, a Weimar cultural critic. His essay ‘Berlin is Becoming a Whore,’ first published in Das Tage-Buch in 1920, explicitly aligns women’s interest in fashion and entertainment with moral debasement:

‘A generation of females has grown up that has nothing but the merchandising of their physical charms in mind. They sit in the parlors, of which there are a dozen new ones every week; they go to the cinema in the evenings, wear skirts that end above the knees, buy Elegant World and the film magazines…The display windows in the delicatessens are filled for these females; they buy furs and shoes at the most-extravagant prices and stream in herds down the Kurfurstendamm on Sunday mornings’.

In many ways, Dix’s painting can be perceived as elaborating on this seemingly new kind of fashionable female behaviour, especially through its central figure, a woman wearing a red cloche hat and veil. Her fashionable appearance, signalled by details such as the cropped Bubikopf hairstyle, may confuse viewers at first, however the prostitute’s provocative stance as she hitches up her skirt explicitly signals her profession. This pose may have been derived from real life as well as from fashion magazines. Prostitutes were forbidden to solicit potential clients verbally therefore they employed gestures and dress codes to communicate their availability to customers. Sartorial details such as a specific colour of laced boots would signal a woman’s ‘specialty.’ This practice may be referenced by another figure in the painting, the heavily made up older woman wearing red leather gloves on the left. Were it not for this subtle, yet erotically charged accessory, her disapproving facial expression and elegant attire would qualify her as a ‘respectable’ bourgeois stroller.

The sense of ambiguity is heightened by an image of a woman’s leg in the background. It is unclear whether the high-heeled limb stepping on a globe appears on a poster or in a shop window. It is possible that the red initials “RM” reference the Reichs Mark, introduced in 1924 to stabilise the German economy. It may also allude to the visibility of women’s legs as a result of shorter hemlines, in revue performances, advertisements for silk stockings or all of the above. It also recalls Wehrling’s description of display windows filled with desirable consumer goods. However in the painting this appears in inverted form, as it is the prostitutes, clad in fashionable articles, who are displayed as merchandise in one of the shopping streets of Weimar Berlin. Furthermore, the conflation of woman as commodity in this case could also have quite a literal source, as it was not uncommon to have mannequins modelling store wares in the display window for a riveted audience. Dix’s painting therefore intentionally compounds aspects of femininity as seen at night, on the street and in media imagery in order to blur the boundaries between woman as consumer and commodity in Weimar Berlin.

For an image of Otto Dix’s Three Prostitutes please click here.

Sources:

von Ankum, K. (1997) ‘Gendered Urban Spaces in Das Kunstseidene Mädchen’, in von Ankum, K. (ed.) Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.

Buruma, I. (2006) ‘Faces of the Weimar Republic’, in Rewald, S. (ed.) Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Ganeva, M. (2008) Women in Weimar Fashion: discourses and displays in German culture, 1918-1933, Rochester, New York: Camden House.

Kaes, A., Jay, M., and Dimendberg, E. (1994) The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press.

Weitz, E. D. (2007) Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Edgar Degas, Woman Adjusting her Hair, c.1884

Edgar Degas, Woman Adjusting her Hair, c.1884 Charcoal, chalk and pastel. 63 x 59.9cm The Courtauld Gallery

Edgar Degas, Woman Adjusting her Hair, c.1884
Charcoal, chalk and pastel. 63 x 59.9cm
The Courtauld Gallery

A woman arches her back, twisting elegantly to the side, as she daintily raises her hands to her head, forming neat, careful, mirrored triangles. Her form is made up of frantic, expressive strokes of black charcoal, singed onto the buff paper with latent energy. This overspills into colour: zingy bursts of sunburnt orange, and rich, luscious green echo her movements. As do further sweeps of charcoal surrounding her figure: the ghost of a previous outline, abandoned by the artist, whose continued presence lends a sense of animation. In the foreground, an indistinguishable flurry takes place – the back of a leg, or the swish of a skirt – and the woman in question seemingly turns towards it, as another part within a precisely synchronised whole. Yet while the piece is by Edgar Degas, notorious for his effervescent depictions of the changing life of the ballet, this window reveals the careful orchestration that also took place within everyday life: in this case, as contained within a milliner’s shop. Amidst the movement of Degas’s piece, rest and relief lies in the bottom right-hand corner, where graceful folds of cloth lie sculpturally. They are seemingly set apart from the rest of the composition, reverently bathed in light, which highlights their soft luminosity. This focus on dress connected to a shift that was concurrently occurring: fashion was beginning to gain the momentum that would lead it to where it is today. The world’s first department stores had only recently been set up, in Paris, and began to offer, for the first time, garments that could be bought off the shelf, with little to no need for alteration. This set in motion the path to mass-produced clothing and the fast fashion available today, and such changes captured the attention of contemporary artists and intellectuals. They corresponded in particular with the Impressionist penchant for the pursuit of the new, the capturing of the contemporary. Édouard Manet once declared: ‘the latest fashion is absolutely necessary for a painter. It is what matters most!’ Degas was no exception, and the careful, loving attention he paid to the materiality of dress, in what is by far the most fully worked section of the study, advocated fashion, its importance, and nodded towards its serious social implications, during the 1880s and today alike. A quiet moment of appreciation towards female finery, within a rushing whirlwind towards modernity as we know it.

Source:

Darragon, É. (1924) Manet, Paris.