Addressing Images

Every term we have a meeting of the Addressing Images Discussion Group.  Actually, that makes it sound far too official and formal, what really happens is that anyone who feels like spending their lunch hour talking about fashion can drop in and join my students and me.  It started as a way to share ideas and has become a regular venue to think about what fashion representation means.  Past sessions have included looking at Bill Cunningham’s entrancing photographs of Editta Sherman dressed in vintage, out and about in 1970s New York, amateur film footage of a late 1930s family holiday to Europe, and Paul Iribe’s images for Les Robes de Paul Poiret – this last one was extra special, as we had the original 1908 book on display from our collections.

Deciding what to discuss is always fun.  We need to choose something that will spark discussion, and interest the wide and wonderful range of people who attend – everyone from fellow Courtauld academics and administrative staff to textile designers, photographers, Instagram friends, vintage collectors – anyone who likes to talk about dress.  Ideas are just as diverse as the backgrounds of the people and that’s the point – sharing what we do at The Courtauld with others, and in turn being inspired by the people that attend.

  Detail of illustration of Elsa Schiaparelli design by Marcel Vertes, 1938

Detail of illustration of Elsa Schiaparelli design by Eric, 1938

Out most recent session focused on Christian Berard’s illustrations for Elsa Schiaparelli’s famed 1938 Circus Collection.  With the original double page spread as our focus we considered the way Berard’s technique drew viewers in to a tumbling series of glimpsed images of couture-clad women, clowns, acrobats and animals.  We compared his illustrations to Eric’s more earthbound, but no less seductive style, and to Marcel Vertes’ fantastical dreamlike drawings.  Discussion ranged from brushstroke to colour, from character to iconography and from fashion to funfair.

It was, as always, a wonderful, enlightening way to spend an hour … so do put the date for next term’s Addressing Images on 9 February in your diaries.

Diary Dates: Documenting Fashion Events Autumn Term 2017

We have two fascinating events coming up this term – do join us if you can. We want to open up discussion of the many, varied themes within fashion and its history and these are a wonderful forum for meeting and talking about dress.

Both are held in:

Research Forum Seminar Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

Both are FREE & OPEN TO ALL – we look forward to seeing you there

Christian Berard, Elsa Schiaparelli, Circus Collection, 1938, detail

12.30-1.30 Friday 20 October

The first event is part of our Addressing Fashion Discussion Group seminars and opens up discussion of dress’ significance within imagery – whether paintings, prints, photographs, advertisements, film stills or drawings. It brings together dress and art historians, as well as those interested in exploring issues and meanings within representation. A single image will be shown in each session, giving participants the opportunity to re-examine familiar, and confront new representations of fashion and dress. We will rethink images through the lens of dress history, and consider what is shown from the perspective of participants’ own research. The aim is to provide a forum to debate, share reactions to images, and to consider ideas about fashion, dress and representation in an informal environment. This builds upon the innovative work being undertaken in this field at the Institute with the wider community, and beyond.

Pietro della Vecchia (1603-78), A fortune-teller reading the palm of a soldier

12.30-1.30 Monday 10 November

Our second event is an exciting part of our Dress Talks series titled: Crossing Boundaries: Dress and Exclusion in Italy, 1550-1650, Elizabeth Currie will discuss dress and deviancy in early modern Italy, from the perspectives of the fashionable elite to others at the social margins.

The typical black attire of the Italian nobleman represented an ideal of restraint and sobriety. Other styles that strayed from this model were often denounced, particularly the kind of flamboyance usually associated with soldiers: leather, feathers, and slashed, figure-hugging garments.  How did this impulse to regulate clothing change in the context of groups of ‘outsiders’, increasingly prominent in visual imagery from this period, such as fortune tellers or beggars?

Drawing on contemporary debates on morality, etiquette, and health, the talk will investigate why specific types of dress were vilified and considered to pose a threat. It will highlight clothing’s power to bind together communities as well as to disrupt gender identities and social hierarchies.

Elizabeth Currie is a lecturer and author specialising in the history of early modern dress, fashion and textiles.  She currently teaches at the Royal College of Art/V&A and Central St Martins. Her articles have appeared in Fashion Theory, Renaissance Studies, and the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Recent publications include Fashion and Masculinity in Renaissance Florence (2016) and (ed.) A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion, Vol. 3: Fashion in the Renaissance (1450-1650) (2017), as well as contributions to the Bloomsbury Visual Arts blog, Gucci Stories, and Apollo online.