5 Minutes with…Jessica Akerman

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The £1 Dress!

We caught up with Jessica Akerman – artist and research forum events co-ordinator – to discuss her wardrobe. In her spare time, Jessica has been dressing for London Fashion Week (Mary Katranzou last year, Paul Smith and Topshop this year), helping the models with the quick turnaround in between shows. She obviously has an avid interest in dress and fashion, whether she realises it or not, and follows the style instagrams @vonsono and @susiebubble, in between sourcing interesting pieces from carboots, charity shops, sample sales and vintage stores.

On the sunny Thursday lunchtime that we met, Jessica was wearing a fabulous corduroy pinafore from the shop Mint in Stoke Newington, bright blue sandals from Miista in Shacklewell Lane, and a collection of jewellery that included gold bird earrings bought in Westcliff-on-Sea (in a ‘fantastic second-hand shop’); a fun Swatch watch (‘I love Swatch, I love the designs, the colours’); plastic chunky rings; and a beautiful art-deco style pendant that contained strands of hair belonging to her two children. She was obviously suspicious about the prospect of being interviewed, and had brought along a change of clothes – her 1980s ‘jazzy shirt’ – but settled on the pinafore, which had its own interesting story to tell:

‘We were having our kitchen done up, and we didn’t have a washing machine, so I was spending most of my weekends in the laundrette – waiting for the washing to finish, wearing a tracksuit and a Friends of the Earth man’s anorak. I went and found this couple of really nice Cord pinafores in the sale space of Mint, put them aside, and went back to get some money out and check on the washing. When I went back to the shop, someone had put them back on the rack, and I nearly started crying. But the man who was working there took me around all of the rails, looking for the dress and looking on the arms of all the women in the shop. And then he found it, and sort of gently wrestled it off this girl, who gave it up begrudgingly… but he told her he would give her some money off her own purchases at the till. The thing is that I never buy clothes for myself, and I can never find anything that suits me, and I was feeling like a right trugger because I was in a tracksuit, and I’d been at the launderette… but it was a happy story in the end’.

Jessica has also had her hair recently re-dyed to its natural colour, and had painted her nails gold. We felt that this was important to mention, since she pointed these details out to us, and obviously has a keen awareness (as we dress historians do) of fashion not solely in terms of items of clothing, but all of the additional modifications that we attach to or adapt our bodies with. She was also enthusiastic to tell us about her Urban Outfitters brown leather bag, which was the product of some extensive (online) research, and brought over from the U.S. by her partner, taxes in addition. Unfortunately, she was somewhat disappointed by the quality, since the lining had already begun to tear. [If you are reading this, @urbanoutfitters, then please do get in touch and we can organise getting a replacement to Jessica]

When quizzed as to how she might describe her style, Jessica responded with the usual ‘hmmmm… I don’t know really’, ultimately settling on ‘eclectic’. I asked her how she negotiates ‘off-duty’ and ‘on-duty’ clothing – combining outfits for the Courtauld, doing the school run and being creative in her Ridley Road studio in Dalston. ‘I look for practicality mostly… I suppose it doesn’t differ too much between home and work, although I wear less make-up at home, and definitely dress up less’.

One of the favourite pieces that Jessica has ever owned is a 1980s dress with ruffled sleeves in green and black that she bought for £1 at a car boot sale in Somerset. ‘I was 8 months pregnant at the time, so I didn’t actually know if it would fit. But when Kit was about 4-months old I was able to go out, and that was very exciting… it was like I’d won a prize, especially because it was so inexpensive’.

Thank you very much Jessica, it was great to hear some stories from your wardrobe. If you’d like to find out more about Jessica’s creative work please go to: jessicaakerman.com

H.R Haweis, The Art of Beauty (1878)

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Summary

In The Art of Beauty (1878), English writer H.R Haweis synthesises a series of previously published articles centred on the importance of beauty, dress and physical appearance. The work can be characterised as an ardent apology for the significance of dress and, simultaneously, an advice manual targeted exclusively at women that both encourages and teaches them to take pride and care in their appearance.

At the outset, Haweis announces her central argument and writes, “[t]he culture of beauty is everywhere a legitimate art.” She attempts to remedy dress and beauty’s maligned reputation as frivolous by claiming its exalted status as a dignified art form. To defend her declaration, she classifies dress as akin to other established varieties of art, such as sculpture, painting and architecture, all of which, she believes, ought to be governed by principles of form, colour, shade and proportion. She takes an evaluative approach to beauty and adheres to the Ruskinian tradition that praises truth to materials and nature. She favours clothing and accessories that accentuate, rather than falsify, the natural self. For example, she expresses vehement disdain for overly high heels that strain the spine and for stays that distort the natural lines and proportions of the figure, preventing internal organs from functioning properly.

The work is divided into four books. ‘Beauty and Dress’ focuses on proper and ideal forms of clothing, ‘Beauty and Headdress’, outlines principles governing head accessories, ‘Beauty and Surroundings’ explains the role interior décor plays in enhancing one’s appearance and, finally, ‘A Garden of Girls’, catalogues a variety of women who may appear hopeless, but whom she assures the reader can achieve beauty so long as they heed her advice.

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Response

The Art of Beauty occupies an important position within the history of dress, as it constitutes one of the first literary attempts to apply aesthetic principles to modes of self-presentation. Haweis transcends the conventional women’s magazine mandate to promote the latest fashions in Victorian England and, instead, praises clothing for its artistic truth. Her serious tone and scrupulous attention to historical detail justify her authoritative statements and render her text cogent and sophisticated.

Although Haweis’ work was published in 1878, her concerted effort to reform the way people thought about beauty and ameliorate its status remains relevant to the contemporary discourse of fashion. A plethora of publications have contributed to a rich corpus of scholarship on dress, however, the area of research is oftentimes undeservedly perceived as trivial and unworthy of scholarly inquiry. Haweis’ text, while comprehensive and argumentative, is not officially scholarly insofar as she assumes an expressly evaluative approach to dress, claiming outright that it must be classified either as good or bad depending on its adherence to certain artistic principles. Her assertion that dress and beauty is tantamount to art rests on the assessment of formal qualities alone. Despite its limitations, The Art of Beauty can be seen as paving the way for future writers to explore the importance of dress and modes of appearance. Current scholars diverge from Haweis insofar as they favour analysing the socio-political and cultural dimensions of dress, rather than solely formal qualities, yet connect with her in their endeavor to assert the value of beauty and dress.

Luke Limner, Madre Natura versus the Moloch of Fashion (1847)

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Summary

This ‘social essay’, published in 1874, documents the author’s views about the dangers of following fashion. The author, Luke Limner, starts by condemning the luxury and excess of fashion, and criticizing the wealthy classes’ taste when choosing to wear the latest styles.

Limner’s main concern is fashion’s utter disregard of, and attempt to better, nature. He comments that modern dress is becoming increasingly independent of climate or season, stating that ‘the English lady suffers in her corset and tight bottines in the tropical heat of Calcutta.’

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The bulk of the essay charts his disapproval of modifications of the body. He comments that clothing, instead of fitting itself to the human form, demands that the body adapt itself to fit the garments. He feels that this ‘authority of fashion is a gross imposition on mankind,’ and specifically focuses on the corset. He believes that fashion is deforming natural bodies, with great health risks, that he outlines in detail. He is very knowledgeable about human anatomy, commenting on the impact of the corset on the lungs and liver, which serves to provide epistemological evidence and support to his claims, which may otherwise seem somewhat empty. He urges modern women to ‘aid Mother Nature to abolish that type of body bondage and cursed contrivance.’

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Response

Limner’s concerns about the dangers of the excess of fashion, as well as attempts to modify the natural forms of the body are common themes in fashion writing. Particularly during this period, but even as late as the twentieth century, there is a concern about the frivolity of fashion and the impact, both physical and moral, that it has on women.  As is the case with a lot of fashion writing, there is a somewhat sexist tone to Limner’s essay. He expresses a concern that women’s heads are filled with ‘flounces and furbelows, ribbons and gauze’ and that female vanity is ultimately leading to the downfall of society. However, there also seems to be a genuine concern about the risks to women’s health as a result of following fashion too strictly, and he appears to blame the fashion industry more than the women themselves. He sympathises that fashion’s ever-changing demands make it increasingly difficult for women to adhere to trends. That is the main contradiction of this essay: Limner accepts that the fashion industry makes unrealistic demands of women’s bodies, but then also seems to blame female vanity for accepting these demands.

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It is very telling of attitudes of the period that, despite the fact that women were generally accepted as the main consumers of fashion, it is men who are trusted to write about fashion in a critical way. There is much debate in dress history, about whether fashion is a liberating or enslaving force. When reading essays such as Limner’s, it is hard to imagine that it can be anything other than a subjugating, oppressive industry.  However, in the twentieth century, when women started to be respected as designers and later writers and curators, the tables turned and fashion became a means of female emancipation and expression of creativity.

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Fanny Bury Palliser, History of Lace (1869)

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Summary 

Fanny Bury Palliser’s History of Lace traces the development of needlework from its earliest references in the Old Testament to those in the late nineteenth century. The author documents the inception of lace as primarily an extension of needlework and embroidery, before noting how lace was differentiated according to country and region, as well as placed in a hierarchy, in order of preference by the Monarch in power at the time.

At the time of print, 1869, little information could be gathered from secondary sources, because earlier research scarcely existed. As a result, Palliser argued that ‘wardrobe accounts, household bills, and public Acts were the most truthful guides,’ to use in order to trace the history of lace. In light of this, the book is filled with public documents that Palliser had been granted access to in the Imperial and Records archives. Accompanying the text are black-and-white and coloured engravings, which highlight the existing variations of lace, and demonstrate how lace was incorporated within the composition of a person’s clothing. Therefore, dress is attended to within the content of the text through the featured engravings.

The front cover – a gold-coloured engraving of a woman in a heavily embroidered gown from 1676, indicates how the book relates lace to dress and femininity. Palliser clarified that, although needlework was not solely confined to females, ‘every woman, had to make one shirt in her lifetime.’ As demonstrated by the engraving, the woman created her own embroidery as well. This engraving reinforces how lace has been considered in the past, as well as the present, as a favourite embellishment and decorative trimming to add to clothing.

Response 

Palliser’s History of Lace can still be considered relevant to dress history now, because it is the first to provide the reader with such a rich and varied historiography of embroidery, and therefore demonstrates how far needlework had evolved over earlier centuries. For example, Palliser explained in the text how past laces had derived from the name and function of passament. As the workmanship was improved and the passament became enriched with various designs, the resulting development became what we now refer to as lace.

Examples of this evolution are depicted within the beautifully clear engravings used throughout the book. These designs not only afford the reader an encounter with visual samples, but ultimately serve to present a comparison between the different variations of needlework that exist, and how these can be identified and considered, based upon the distinctions between region or country of manufacture.

Although the book only follows the chronology of the design up until its year of publication in 1869, the in-depth account is still hugely relevant for research purposes today, because of the vast historical period it covers. Palliser’s research identifies the Industrial Revolution as the main turning point for lace manufacturing. This period saw profound change, most notably, the introduction of ‘machinery lace’ in Nottingham. This brought lace within the reach of a wider range of classes and, remains the main method of its production today. Therefore, The History of Lace is still an important text for dress historians, because it charts the production of lace up to the point when it switched from a handcraft to one powered by machinery.

5 Minutes with… Harrison Goldman

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Harrison hard at work in the Courtauld Slide Library.

Detail of Harrison's jacket.

Detail of Harrison’s jacket.

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Detail of Harrison’s sleeve.

Harrison is a second year undergraduate at The Courtauld, currently specialising in 20th Century Modernism and Renaissance Mannerism. When he is not studying, he can often be found hard at work in the Gallery, the Research Forum, Public Programmes or the Slide Library. Harrison was the BA1 Representative for the Students Union last year, in addition to playing the role of Malvolio in the Courtauld’s first play, Twelfth Night. Beyond the Courtauld, he works as an Antiques, Collectables and Vintage Consultant, advising clients on buying and selling objects of all genres.

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing a navy double-breasted boating blazer, an Austin Reed pinstripe shirt, pale blue chinos and Barker shoes.

How would you describe your style?

Eclectic, vintage, traditional, sartorial.

Have you always dressed like this?

Would you believe it, no! My style emerged and developed when I discovered a love of all things old-fashioned and traditional about 5-6 years ago.

Where do you look for inspiration in how you dress?

I’m quite active in the London ‘vintage’ scene, and have met some amazing people who put real passion into their outfits. But if I see something that I like I’ll try and source one, rather than emulate an entire look.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

How does your interest in antiques inform your style?

When handling wonderful items, in stunning settings (not to mention dealing with customers) it would be rude to wear a tee-shirt and tracksuit bottoms.

Do you have a particular dress code for the Courtauld and how does this translate when you are ‘off duty’?

We are so privileged to study in such an amazing location, steeped in history. But as I work both in and outside the Courtauld, I often need to be smartly dressed. I did however turn up in a jeans and tee-shirt for a lecture the other day, which a friend was somewhat disturbed by!

What does your look say about you?

Well that is probably in the eye of the beholder! But I hope it would suggest I take pride in my appearance.

Where do you like to shop?

Vintage shops, eBay, and the family wardrobe. I’m sometimes given things, but when buying new I try and stick to long established quality outfitters such as Cordings, Hackett, Wolsey, Jaeger etc.

Any other comments or clothing secrets?

‘Why dress down when you can dress up?’

A small part of Harrison's Gladstone bag collection.

A small part of Harrison’s Gladstone bag collection.

How Ginger Got the Job!

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When researching American fashion advertising in the interwar period, I came across a J.C. Penney advertisement located in a 1939 edition of McCall’s Style News. The ad employs a comic book format, synthesising text and image to relay a narrative promoting the department store’s affordable, yet stylish fabrics. Readers are introduced to Ginger, a young woman who is initially portrayed as a pathetic character, a conventional trope of the tremendously popular comic book genre. After failing at her job interview, a defeated Ginger sorrowfully cries to her friend: ‘Oh Peg… What’s the matter with me?’ Peg proceeds to denounce Ginger’s dowdy dress and introduces her to the materials at J.C. Penney’s which Ginger uses to fabricate a stylish outfit for a second interview that she managed to get. Ginger is later pictured wearing her new patterned dress paired with a hat and bag, having successfully secured a job. The narrative ends with a neat resolution in which a newly confident and employed Ginger expresses her joyful realisation of the potential for fashion to elicit happiness and bolster confidence.

This advertisement sheds light on women’s shifting roles during the period and underscores the importance for women from all ranks of society to make sound fashionable choices. On the one hand, the advertisement affords women with power in that it situates women as viable and active participants in the working world, a realm previously associated exclusively with masculinity. The context of the Great Depression, along with the increasing visibility of women’s rights movements are two of several factors that resulted in more women needing to work. On the other hand, the advertisement problematically associates women’s success and happiness with outward appearance as opposed to ability and intellect. According to the advert’s narrative, Ginger failed to succeed in landing a job because of the dowdy nature of her clothing rather than a poor interview performance. Once she remedied her unfashionable appearance, she secured a job. Moreover, Ginger derives her newfound confidence not from the accomplishment of employment, but rather from her fashionable clothes, she expresses: ‘I never realized before how much confidence a smart outfit gives a girl!’ Additionally, she revels in the idea that she can be the ‘best dressed girl in the office’, as opposed to performing the best.

While fashion advertisements and comics are often deemed trivial, they play a hand at engendering, cementing and disseminating societal norms. Adverts such as the J.C Penney comic associate female success and happiness with appearance and, as a corollary, nourish the essentialist conception that women are merely ornamental. Although this advertisement dates back to the late 30s, the immense pressure for women to resemble beauty and fashionable ideals has persisted to the present day.

Fashion Week Reactions Part 4. Redressing Feminism: Chanel’s Fashion Riot

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Under the glass roof of Paris’s Grand Palais, a protest is taking place, a procession of women, signs held aloft, calling for female empowerment, as they stride confidently past the large crowds they have attracted. Its setting is a monumental screen print of a typical Parisian rue dubbed the ‘Boulevard Chanel’; its demonstrators, eighty models centered around such high-profile names as Cara Delevingne and Gisele Bündchen; the props, quilted megaphones and handbags dripping in Chanel iconography.

Indeed, the finale of Chanel’s Spring-Summer 2015 ready-to-wear show possessed all the ingredients for a potent collision of fashion and feminism, yet it left many a critic cold and confused as to its underlying intentions. A prevailing mood of discomfort regarding Lagerfeld’s seemingly hollow hijacking of the feminist cause for publicity purposes immediately permeated the international press, giving rise to concerns as varied as they are, perhaps, unfounded. While some dwelled on the apparent hypocrisy of this multi-billion dollar luxury brand’s attempt to promote a liberated individualism by way of exorbitantly expensive garments, others bristled at the narrow spectrum of ‘ideal’ female beauty represented by the designer’s casting of professional fashion models in the role of feminist activists. Protest signs carrying such slogans as, ‘Tweed not Tweet’, ‘Ladies First’ and ‘History is Her Story’ were widely derided as empty and naïve attempts to exploit the gravity of a highly topical social issue. Journalist Alexander Fury even went as far as to suggest that the show had been the very ‘artifice of anarchy’, a noisy, fussy publicity stunt lacking in any real, honest political statement.

But as debates raged over potential misinterpretations of that significantly weighted word – feminism – and accusations of trivialization poured forth, the very point of the show itself appeared to have been not just overlooked, but also largely, and sadly, missed. The true stars of the show were, in fact, the clothes themselves, which formed, in the words of Vogue’s Suzy Menkes, a ‘back-to-Coco parade’, one which confirmed that the dynamic spirit of the label’s fiercely independent female founder still endures, nearly a century after its sartorial debut. Gabrielle Chanel herself was fashion’s greatest inadvertent feminist. She bestowed a freedom of movement and gender blurring right to comfort and function upon women, whose experiences of dress had, thereto, been characterised by restriction, adornment and submission. This specific collection’s layering of menswear-inspired elements (boxy tweed jackets, wide-leg trousers and sailor stripe knits) atop feminine basenotes of florals, unusually vibrant prints and classic Chanel monochrome palettes travelled to the very heart of the brand’s unique heritage, while, simultaneously, allowing the image of the modern, active woman to be effectively reimagined and updated for a post-Coco society.

It is important that such a presentation is not taken out of context as, after all, it seems illogical to dismiss the theatrical spectacle of the show’s format as mere ‘publicity stunt,’ when the very function of a fashion show is that of self-promotion and commercial endorsement. Unlike the design philosophies at the root of the Chanel brand, gender equality debates can arguably never truly be timeless, as constantly shifting social mores require them to move and morph with their times, never standing still. Therefore, to accuse Chanel of presenting a reductive view of diluted feminism seems a step too far, and the very fact that it is engaging in the discussion at all should be applauded. Fashion, viewed through the lens of feminism is likely to remain a problematic concept on many levels, but it should be recognized that attempts to exclude it from the conversation would only be counter-productive. The most negative aspect of feminism’s fraught relationship with fashion does not lie in the sartorial embrace of what it means to be a modern woman, in any era, but in the fact that the two spheres are being forced to uncomfortably co-exist as conflicting and contradictory ideologies. Lagerfeld’s riot of a show may not have brought about longed-for permanent change, but it has taken us one step closer to breaking down the seemingly obligatory boundaries between the two by, at last, allowing them to assume a much-needed dialogue that is imperative to the future success of both.

 

Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/04/are-fashion-and-feminism-compatible-lagerfeld-chanel

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/chanel-springsummer-2015-show-review-a-fashion-riot-to-the-feminist-cause-9765074.html

http://www.vogue.co.uk/news/2014/09/30/suzy-menkes-at-paris-fashion-week-day-seven

http://www.irishexaminer.com/examviral/real-life/feminism-or-pure-publicity-chanel-ss15-catwalk-sparks-new-debate-289436.html

http://chanel-news.chanel.com/en/home.tag.spring-summer-2015-ready-to-wear.html?WT.srch=1&WT.mc_id=FA_en_GB_201410_15SShow&WT.mc_t=sea

Fashion Week Reactions Part 3: JPG retires from RTW

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l’Année de la Mode (1989)

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l’Année de la Mode (1989)

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l’Année de la Mode (1989)

The expression ‘enfant terrible’ seems to crop up frequently when Jean Paul Gaultier is mentioned. Since the founding of his fashion house in 1976, the designer has become known for collections characterised by a canny, yet humorous take on current affairs, and a high degree of craftsmanship. As of September this year, Gaultier will exclusively focus on his haute couture line, which he launched in 1997. The designer cited increasing commercial pressures and the rapid pace of the ready-to-wear industry as contributing factors in his decision. He also expressed the need to satisfy his desire for creative experimentation and innovation through his continued work in couture. Gaultier’s brand, backed by Spanish perfume company Puig, will be kept afloat financially by the sale of the designer’s popular line of fragrances, and a soon-to-be developed beauty range. It has also been suggested that the designer may venture into the world of interior design and pursue creative collaborations.

The closure of Gaultier’s ready-to-wear line has come at a time when the growing pressure on designers is frequently discussed in the fashion media. Following a series of unexpected deaths and public meltdowns, some journalists have identified the increasing rate of global fashion consumption as the root of the problem. Additional shows, including, pre- and cruise collections, aimed at keeping buyers interested all year round, have considerably increased designers’ workload. There are those, such as Azzedeine Alaia, who have refused to participate in this gruelling system, although up until now his was a rare example. Will Gaultier’s decision, which goes a step further, to focus on one aspect of his clothing design, inspire others to follow his lead? Although this is not a likely possibility, the move does indicate a changed state of affairs in the fashion industry. While in recent years many feared the death of haute couture, now the consensus seems to be that it has instead become the last vestige of Fashion with a capital F. Haute couture is exempt from a direct commercial pressure, because it has become the essence of a fashion house and an artisanal heritage to be preserved. Lavish shows and rarefied craftsmanship are cultivated in order to produce a brand DNA that consumers can vicariously buy into when purchasing cheaper products.  It is not surprising therefore, that a designer with a high fashion education, such as Gaultier – he began his career working at Cardin and Patou – should choose to shift his creative focus and brand strategy.

Despite the difficult issues that contextualise Gaultier’s departure from prêt-à-porter, his final spring/summer 2015 collection was anything but a solemn affair. Instead, we saw a theatrical farewell in the form of the ‘Miss Jean Paul Gaultier Pageant’, which showcased the most iconic designs of the brand’s history. The ten-part extravaganza featured Gaultier’s signature nautical, striped shirts, asymmetrically cut, sharply tailored gender-bending suits, and a tamed version of the cone bra, in the shape of a corselet dress modelled by Coco Rocha. A lively assortment of characters, from Lucha Libre superhero wrestlers, footballers’ wives sporting paisley, sequins and denim, to boxers-cum-cyclists confirmed the designer’s love for all things related to popular culture. Gaultier has a history for challenging norms of taste, beauty and gender, therefore it was a shame that references to some of his more controversial collections were missing. It would have been good to spot a few men in skirts, for example – perhaps his most daring contribution to fashion history. Although models of all ages graced the runway, a greater diversity of gender, ethnicity and body shapes would have also spoken more clearly of Gaultier’s fashion legacy. Nevertheless, this final collection was an apt celebration of the end of a chapter in ready-to-wear’s history.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29215971

http://www.businessoffashion.com/2007/07/haute-couture-a-premature-death.html

http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/21711/1/jean-paul-gaultier-quits-ready-to-wear-to-focus-on-couture

http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG11098865/Jean-Paul-Gaultier-to-close-his-ready-to-wear-line.html

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/27/chanel-haute-couture-fashion-show

http://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/read/think-pieces/2227/how-jean-paul-gaultier-changed-fashion

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/news/fashion-fin-de-couture-haute-couture-may-be-in-its-death-throes-but-at-the-paris-collections-designers-led-by-yves-saint-laurent-fought-back-with-zest-and-originality-marion-hume-reports-1481352.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/30/fashion/paris-fashion-week-jean-paul-gaultier-celine-phoebe-philo-comme-des-garcons-rei-kawakubo.html?_r=0

http://online.wsj.com/articles/designer-jean-paul-gaultier-to-exit-ready-to-wear-fashion-1410815394

http://showstudio.com/collection/jean_paul_gaultier_paris_womenswear_s_s_2015

http://showstudio.com/collection/jean_paul_gaultier_paris_womenswear_s_s_2015/harriet_walker_reports_on_the_jean_paul_gaultier_show

Fashion Week Reactions Part 2

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Shifting attention from the catwalk to the street.
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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

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Shrimps Spring/Summer 2015.
Photograph: Oliver Hadlee Pearch.

As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…

Rebecca:

One of the most striking aspects of the current fashion weeks’ coverage is the shift of focus away from the catwalk and onto the streets surrounding the venues. Many posts from style.com, for example, headlined with street style, rather than designers’ latest showings. The dynamic between clothes, settings and photographers has gradually shifted emphasis, from professional models, in designer clothes, carefully shown to convey the latest season, to celebrities on the front row and, in the last few years, to a carnival of self-styled visitors, who perform for the cameras and each other. So, what and who are fashion shows really for nowadays? And who is watching whom?

Fashion editors – who move between the various players in this scenario – act as a conduit to the wider public through print and digital media, and bridge this move from centre to periphery.  Whereas most editors used to be fairly anonymous, their every outfit is now commented upon, as they mirror bloggers use of self-presentation to build a distinctive identity. In each case, the way they dress has become a focus – a way to ‘democratize’ fashion, with the editors adopting street style tactics, as a means to assert their authority, and compete with the mass of ‘amateur’ fashion commentators.

As bloggers renegotiated the ways fashion was communicated at the start of the century, access to new styles via the Internet, and a closer, more direct style of writing and, importantly, photographing new styles impinged on traditional media. Using your own body as a way to display emerging trends appears more direct and linked to how the wider public uses fashion.

Ironically, couturiers originally tried to keep the press out of their shows – wishing to control access to their designs and the timing of their release. Now, changes brought about by the Internet, combined with recession-led conservative styles on the catwalk, have shifted the gaze again, and blurred lines between professional and amateur, design and performance.

Liz:

Hot Fuzz: Shrimps

The newly launched girly and kitsch faux fur label Shrimps, the brainchild of 23-year-old LCF graduate, Hannah Weiland, made its debut on 12th September at London Fashion Week for Spring/Summer 2015. Rainbow-coloured beautifully-crafted fluffy pieces inspired by the Flintstones, Muppets and Popeye the Sailor provided a humorous and invitingly tactile contrast to the more austere creations seen in other collections. Enthused by the pop-art witticisms of Eduardo Paolozzi, sixties style and British humour, Weiland showcased furry mid-length coats with horizontal contrasting stripes, oversized clutches adorned with pearls, luxurious collars in hot pink or orange, and fur-trimmed biker jackets, all of which were made from the synthetic fibre modacryclic. ‘Why wear real fur when the potential for luxe faux fur is so rich and unexploited?’ quizzed the designer. The label makes faux fur, which, while not cheap, costs considerably less than the real thing – the ‘Wilma’ striped faux fur coat is currently £595 on Net-a-Porter and is made more desirable with its bright colours, pastel hues and overall silly charm. ‘Perhaps my obsession with fluffy animals is the reason why Shrimps came about — I’m imitating the animals I grew up with’. But with stockists Net-a-Porter, Avenue 32 and Opening Ceremony all queuing up to place orders for spring, the names of items, which include Pluto, Mabel and Dulcie, don’t seem quite so silly…

Check out Shrimps’ quirky fashion film ‘Shrimps World’ featuring Laura Bailey, complete with langoustines, chewing gum, gherkins, and a caravan, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYYDUbv7vcY.

Lucy:

Dark Naturalism: Beauty at New York Fashion Week, Spring 2015

Many of the beauty looks featured at New York Fashion Week displayed takes on the city’s impeccably groomed, understated trademark style, and Derek Lam and Vera Wang’s respective shows were no exception. Shiny curls softly bounced, though with a subtle irregularity and loosened nature that prevented them being uniform and kempt. Faces were left fresh and dewy, lips glossy but in natural hues, and eyebrows full and merely brushed. The fine plaits that peeked out within models’ hair as they moved down the Vera Wang catwalk, quietly conjured an air of refined rebellion, encapsulating this insouciant individualism.

This was furthered by the shades of violet that were washed over the eyes in each show. At Derek Lam, brown eyeliner, and mauve lipstick smudged onto the lids avoided a classic, explicit finish, and merged the product with the skin. The purplish tones were emphasised with mascara of the same shade. At Vera Wang, similar tones were apparent in a heavier manner, here without the definition of mascara. Colour surrounded the eye and was extended below the lower eyelid, creating a sunken effect.

While praised by media coverage for injecting colour, the shadows’ considered placement and thorough blending create not so much a colour pop, as a suggestion that they are part of the skin, and therefore represent bruising: in-keeping with the rest of the looks’ naturalism, but focusing on an unconventional and controversial condition of the skin. They recall the haunted, hollow eyes that prevailed within the ‘heroin chic’ look of the late 1990s, when fashion images depicted models styled as drug abusers, their rake-thin bodies and lack of vitality enhanced by a haze of smoky shadow. Just as at the end of the last millennium, the suggestion of violence is never far beneath fashion’s seemingly impenetrable surface.

Fashion Week Reactions Part 1

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As part of a special series this week, we give our reactions to the recent fashion weeks…

Alexis:

“I love New York, I’m a New Yorker, I can’t imagine living anywhere else” – video, DKNY S/S 2015

The city of New York has played a role in the shaping of American fashion since industrial professionals such as Eleanor Lambert and Dorothy Shaver worked to promote original American design in the 1930s and 40s. As the site of the country’s garment industry as well as, in advertisements, a prime space of imagined consumption of clothing, New York became synonymous with fashion over the course of the twentieth century. Since its creation in 1988, DKNY, the less expensive extension of Donna Karan New York, has utilised the city as a tool of branding. DKNY even defines itself, according to its current website, as “the energy and spirit of New York. International, eclectic, fun, fast and real.” And the presentation of DKNY’s S/S 2015 collection on 7 September in Lincoln Center began with a video that visualised these ideals. A rapid patchwork of faces, clothed bodies and minute details of New York spaces – from the subway to wire fences and graffiti-covered brick walls – the video set the tone for the show, which presented models of various ethnicities in sporty and colourful garments. Styled by Jay Massacret, the models conveyed a quirky femininity in their A-line skirts and boldly patterned garments. They painted a portrait of style found, according to the video, as “you walk down the streets…different energies, different styles…a lotta noise, colours.” The show thus extended the definition of New York to its outer, less affluent spaces. And the models, dressed in sweaters and neoprene bomber jackets, recalled 1990s B-girls. With their sunglasses, foam stacked trainers, and gelled baby hair and braids (conceived by Eugene Souleiman), they commemorated inner city street style – today a part of American fashion heritage – and the specificity of this image to New York.

Katerina:

Audrey Hepburn’s Granddaughter Emma Ferrer Makes Her Modelling Debut

Fashion has made no secret of its fascination with Audrey Hepburn. From the mid-1950s films Sabrina (1955) and Funny Face (1957), which dramatised the gamine actress’s transformations through Hubert de Givenchy’s couture, to subsequent pronouncements that a new model has something of her eyebrows or quality of movement, fashion has remained entranced with Hepburn’s delicate, extraordinary face and waif-like, ballerina body. The latest model to be cast in Hepburn’s mould is her twenty-one-year-old grand-daughter Emma Ferrer. Ferrer, who to date has been an art student in Florence, is moving to Manhattan and embarking upon a modelling career. Her debut into fashion was the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, where she was photographed by Michael Avedon, the grandson of the famous Richard, who worked with her grand-mother. Although Ferrer, has been ballet-trained like her grandmother and shares her deportment, she is not Hepburn’s doppelganger in either appearance or life experience. Nevertheless, in the photo-shoot, she has been made to adopt Hepburn’s characteristic poses, for example: her face in profile and tilted up to exaggerate her neck-length; or in a Funny Face style frieze-frame of quirky spontaneous movement. There is something sad and forced about asking a young woman to literally take her grandmother’s position, and in my opinion, the photo shoot is too derivative to be inspiring.

Still, the fashion industry’s interest in Hepburn’s granddaughter indicates that it values a model’s symbolic value in addition to her physical attributes. One speculates that when Lanvin asked Ferrer to make her catwalk debut at their Spring Summer 2015 show on September 25, they wanted to exhibit not only her beauty in their clothes, but the aura that manifests in her blood-relation to Hepburn. It’s too early to tell whether Ferrer will follow the successful path of Georgia May Jagger and other descendants of fashion royalty, but first, her collaborators have to allow her to emerge from Hepburn’s shadow.