Travelling on the Ocean Liner in the 1920s

During my Christmas break at home in the Netherlands, I visited the TextielMuseum, located in a former textile factory in the city of Tilburg, in order to view their recently opened exhibition, JAZZ AGE | Fashion & Photographs. Organised by the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, this exhibition aims to show the variety of dress available to the modern woman and the completely new way of dressing that symbolised her new-found freedom and active lifestyle in the period after the First World War. The exhibition showcases more than 150 haute couture and ready-to-wear garments dating from 1919 to 1929 in different settings such as ‘In the Boudoir,’ ‘Tennis Match,’ and ‘Chinatown After Dark.’ As might be expected from a dress and textiles enthusiast, I was swooning in front of the quintessential fringed and beaded drop-waist flapper dresses and sumptuously embroidered velvet evening capes one would have worn for a night out.

The current exhibition at the TextielMuseum seems to have a slightly different design than the exhibition that was staged in London (see the excellent review written last year by former MA student Sophie Assouad). Instead of writing another review, I have chosen to focus on a specific display in this exhibition that sparked my interest because it gave me a fresh perspective on this particular period in fashion history.

Conjuring the scene of a steamboat’s deck, ‘On the Ocean Liner’ takes the visitor beyond the notion of the 1920s as a decade of glamourous nightlife and the familiar flapper dress. It does so by showcasing daytime and leisurewear suitable for the journey aboard an ocean liner on its way to a sunny destination.

Lounging in a rotan chair to the left is a mannequin wearing a simple, cream-coloured tunic dress with a jacket in the same colour, both dating from c. 1924–25. While the dress has been made from silk, the jacket’s material, interestingly, is ‘rayon’, a man-made fibre made from chemically treated cellulose. Generally known as ‘artificial silk,’ this material was first developed in the late nineteenth century but only became widely available from the 1920s onwards. The fibre was officially renamed rayon in 1924 through an industry-sponsored contest with the aim to counter the frequent associations with artificiality or inferiority to natural silk. Rayon grew in popularity as it provided women from all backgrounds the ability to wear certain garments that were previously reserved only for those who could afford to buy silk.

My favourite ensemble in this arrangement is a simple, but chic, striped dress with pockets and pleats made from silk that dates from c. 1922–23. This dress combines comfort and freedom of movement with elegance and is reminiscent of the silhouette and style of clothing designed by Coco Chanel.

Detail of the display showing my favourite dress to the left. To the right, a cotton swimsuit in herringbone pattern. Photo: Nelleke Honcoop

Moving to the right, the eye meets a group of mannequins wearing boldly-coloured, Art Deco-patterned beach pyjamas and loose, kimono-inspired dresses worn over cotton swimsuits. This group hints at a day spent swimming – or perhaps lounging and sunbathing at the pool, cultivating the tanned skin that was promoted by Chanel and became popular during this decade.

Top and trousers, c.1925, cotton. A pyjama inspired two-piece reflecting the contemporary vogue for wearing pyjamas as lounge wear in, as well as outside, the confines of the boudoir. © Photo Tessa Hallman. Collection Cleo and Mark Butterfield

 ‘On the Ocean Liner’ addresses how swimming became popular among women in the second half of the decade when American competition swimmer Gertrude Ederle (1905 –2003) became the first woman to swim across the Channel in 1926. A cotton swimsuit in a herringbone pattern with a subtly integrated skirt is used to illustrate the active lifestyle and freedom of movement of modern women during the 1920s. I particularly enjoyed the attention given to materials and construction details, such as the contrasting cuffs of a cotton swimsuit that were not only a chic addition, but also helped to keep it in shape when immersed in water.

Finally, by focusing on 1920s women’s fashion from the angle of sports, leisure, and travel, ‘On the Ocean Liner’ felt like an inspiring warm up to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s upcoming exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed & Style, which will explore the golden age of ocean travel around the world.

By Nelleke Honcoop

JAZZ AGE | Fashion & Photographs is on display at the TextielMuseum, Tilburg, The Netherlands, until 27 May 2018. See: http://www.textielmuseum.nl/en/

Ocean Liners: Speed & Style will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 3 February – 10 June 2018. See: https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/ocean-liners-speed-style

 

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Style of Her Own at Fashion and Textile Museum

In our last MA Documenting Fashion class before the end of term we discussed ‘women imagining women’ and examined the photography of Toni Frissell and Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Fortunately for us, London’s Fashion and Textile Museum currently has an exhibition of Dahl-Wolfe’s photography. A couple of my fellow MA Documenting Fashion students and I excitedly visited the exhibition together. Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Style of Her Own appropriately began with an informative wall-text chronicling Dahl-Wolfe’s trajectory from art student to fashion photographer. A small hallway leading into the main exhibition space featured several of Dahl-Wolfe’s Harper’s Bazaar covers from the 1940s and 50s. These were not just prints of Bazaar covers, but the original magazines themselves held in simple white frames. The imperfect state of the worn magazines gave Dahl-Wolfe’s photographs a tangible materiality and reminded me that although her photographs were now presented in a museum context, most images in the exhibition were originally intended for the pages of a fashion magazine.

The main exhibition space began with examples of Dahl-Wolfe’s early photography. Experimental nudes and still lifes reflected Dahl-Wolfe’s training as an artist at the San Francisco Art Institute. I enjoyed how these early works revealed her skill for manipulating light and shadow that would define her fashion photography. These skills are also highlighted in Dahl-Wolfe’s Depression-era documentary style photographs of the residents of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Influenced by Edward Weston and Dorthea Lange, Dahl-Wolfe began her professional career in 1930. Her photographs of the impoverished community in Gatlinburg were later included in a group photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe,
Halter dress by Brigance, 1954, Palm Beach

In 1936 Dahl-Wolfe became a staff photographer for Harper’s Bazaar where over the next 22 years she would produce 86 covers, 600 color pages, and thousands of black and white portraits.The exhibition featured numerous examples of Dahl-Wolfe’s fashion photography, making it impossible to choose a favorite. Among my favorites however, is the above photograph of a halter dress by Brigance taken in 1954 at Palm Beach. This image exemplifies Dahl-Wolfe expertise in light and shadow, capturing fashions in natural, outdoor settings, and rendering the subject as confident and at ease. As this image suggests, Dahl-Wolfe’s fashion photographs are shockingly modern and the influence of her dynamic images on contemporary fashion photography is astounding.

Arielle and Olivia looking at Dahl-Wolfe’s portraits

In addition to her success in fashion photography, Dahl-Wolfe continually produced portraits throughout her career. The exhibition showcased her portraits of Hollywood stars and cultural figures. Much like the subjects of her fashion images, Dahl-Wolfe’s portraits capture natural poses and the relaxed confidence of her sitters.

An unexpected yet delightful addition to the exhibition was a reproduced set of one of Dahl-Wolfe’s Harper’s Bazaar covers. Sitting on a stepped platform, a mannequin wears a bright yellow, striped 1950s play-suit and matching yellow accessories that stand out against an orange, blue, and green vinyl wall decal meant to replicate the original tiled backdrop of Dahl-Wolfe’s photograph. This scene brings the 1950s-magazine cover to life, once again adding to the materiality of the exhibition. Overall,   the Fashion and Textile Museum’s exhibition beautifully presented Dahl-Wolfe’s stunning photographs and successfully highlighted the photographer’s contribution to fashion photography.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe: A Style of Her Own is on at Fashion and Textile Museum until 21 January, 2018.

 

Abby Fogle

All photos author’s own

Liberty in Fashion

This year Liberty of London turns 140 years old; favourite purveyor of fine fabrics, the decorative arts and department store-based fantasies. In October the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London opened their exhibition ‘Liberty in Fashion’ to mark the occasion and celebrate Liberty’s most visible contribution to British design.

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On a blustery, rainy Saturday morning in November (when I probably should have been squirreled away in a library doing MA course work) I trekked south of the river for a day of unashamed textile ‘geekery’. I was at the F & T museum with the express purpose of undertaking an introductory course in textile weaving with the added incentive of a quick look around the Liberty exhibit once I had proved my worth as a weaver.

Master Weaver Caron Penney and her unwavering patience and enthusiasm, took the class of a dozen with varying skill-levels during a seven-hour crash course in the techniques of tapestry weaving. I got carried away with pink, black, white and silver glitter threads and powered through a 4 x 3” patch (tapestry is not a race). In a testament to Caron’s own skills, we all got quite ambitious with our techniques and I would urge anyone curious to keep an eye out for the many classes she runs throughout the country.

Work in progress

Work in progress

The finished product

The finished product

On a textile induced high, fingers buzzing with a new skill (“I could make a rug if I wanted!”) I breezed through the ‘Liberty in Fashion’ exhibition before the museum closed. There are over 150 examples of textiles and garments spanning Liberty’s lifetime, from the heritage of late 19th century Aesthetic dress and 20th century Art Nouveau designs, through to collaborations with Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. The beauty of the exhibition, and it really is hard not to call it beautiful, is the drawing of a concurrent thread through a century of British Fashion. Pattern is king at Liberty, but the emphasis on fabric production lends accessibility to the garments. Liberty doesn’t draw a distinction between the high and low, and while Manolo Blahnik may be covering his iconic shoes in the Hesketh print this November, your Grandmother could be using that same fabric to make her handkerchiefs.

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‘Liberty in Fashion’ is open at the Fashion & Textile Museum until February 28, 2016.

Opening times and tickets available here: http://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/liberty-in-fashion/

Caron Penney has worked with artists like Tracey Emin, and now runs her own Tapestry studio called Weftfaced. Dates for her workshops can be found there: http://www.weftfaced.com