A Personal Collection of Vivienne Westwood Shoes Exhibition Review

A Personal Collection of Vivienne Westwood Shoes juxtaposes Westwood’s outlandish designs with York Castle Museum’s diverse shoe collection, ranging from the 18th century to the present day. An intriguing aspect is that the Westwood shoes come from a private collector, amassed over 30 years, while Westwood selected shoes from the museum’s collection. The exhibition focuses on the craftsmanship involved in making a shoe, as well as allowing the viewer to revel in the style and beauty of footwear.

The exhibition display.

The layout of the main room is particularly eye-catching, with a catwalk display of Westwood’s designs interspersed with the museum’s collection. This means that the viewer can see the wide range of influences in Westwood’s work, as she combines historical knowledge of the shoe with a love of exaggeration. This is exemplified by the Super Elevated Gillie Heel, from the Anglomania collection, 1993, which appears to take a inspiration from ribbon-lace style shoes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Westwood renders her innovation with vibrant colours and the heel extended to lofty (and dangerous) heights. The model, Naomi Campbell, famously wore a version of these platform shoes as she took a tumble on the runway due to the 30.5 cm heels.

Super Elevated Gillie Heel.

Some favourites from the Castle Museum’s collection, which illustrate the range of style and dates on show, are a pair of ivory white satin shoes with a Louis heel from around 1730, and a pair of men’s Derby boots with a stacked leather heel, from the early 20th century. These shoes are both beautiful and elegant, illustrating the high level of craftsmanship, equally as striking as they are unique. They also demonstrate the evolution of footwear fashion for both genders throughout history.

A pair of ivory white satin shoes with an upturned toe and a Louis heel, circa 1730.

A bespoke pair of men’s derby boots with a stacked heel. Made by A.E Marlow for the Saxonia in Northampton. Early 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The influence of fashion on the development of footwear is further explored through the final room in the exhibition, with historical information about how shoes were made, and a display showing how shoes changed through different decades. By educating the viewer on the history of the shoe, the exhibition shows how Vivienne Westwood bases her designs on tradition and then subverts them through material or features to create something new. I also felt that this exhibition communicates how the function of the shoe was originally pure practicality, and how it has developed through time into an extension of our identity.

For me, shoes are the language of personality. Every shoe represents a different mood, translated through the height, material and colour. Different to clothes, which have to change as we fluctuate shape, shoes are a longer-term investment, and fit no matter what. This exhibition interprets the shoe as more than merely an accessory; instead the viewer is presented with the shoe as the main focus. As an avid lover of shoes, and faced with the continual struggles of storage and display, it is gratifying to see an exhibition where the shoe is given pride of place.

My shoes on display in my York room.

A Personal Collection of Vivienne Westwood Shoes is at the York Castle Museum until 28 April 2019.

Ellen Bhamra

Images 1-4 courtesy of York Castle Museum.

Rose, c’est la vie: Pink at the Museum at FIT

Although my aunt coincidentally just spoke of ‘edible colour’ in terms of bento lunches and not the Fashion Institute of Technology, that would be taking The Museum at FIT’s current special exhibit, a survey of pink fashion spanning three centuries, to its (il)logical conclusion.

I used to rip handfuls of petals off my grandmother’s roses, because I didn’t know what else to do with the colour and, in batik class, drenched a handkerchief in what looked like pink blood well beyond the purpose of saturation. More recently, Elle Beauty’s lipstick smash videos and their muted clacks, scrapes and smears have satisfied… something, with form and purpose seemingly destroyed to become pure, shapeless colour. And so, Maison Schiaparelli’s fall 2015-16 silk chiffon gown, a pillar of ‘Shocking Pink’, inspires a familiar urge: visual obsession manifested as base, physical desire – ‘I want to eat it,’ I texted my aunt. ‘I want to rip it.’

Schiaparelli Paris Silk chiffon gown, fall 2015-16.

This Schiaparelli figures amongst approximately 80 ensembles recounting ‘Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color’, from dresses that look like Ladurée pastries to suits that look like rag doll fetish-wear. ‘Pink’ spotlights one of the most auratic of features, literally – the clothing glows under the effects of lighting and black background – and figuratively. With its history of elevation, commodification, codification and reclamation, the colour evokes seemingly endless ideas: youth, gender, queerness, class, modernity, imagination and fashionability.

The anteroom presents a brief overview of pink that one might expect: a chronological display of a stereotypically feminine colour beginning with an 1857 taffeta dress in watermelon and ending with the business suit of the 1980s and ’90s. If the main gallery doesn’t subvert this initial presentation, it certainly nuances and elasticises it, grouping ensembles thematically to tell a different story: a story of an elegant, ungendered colour that emerged from nameless indifference in the 18th century to paint the French royal court – despite pink dyes being used in China, Japan and India for much longer – before its 19th century feminisation; a colour to be reclaimed in excessive/transgressive displays of fantastic (sarcastic?) femininity.

Paquin Silk chiffon evening cape, 1897.

‘Pink’ cites colour historian Michel Pastoureau to clarify that, despite overwhelming associations, ‘there is no transnational truth to colour perception.’ It’s strange that reflections of light with no inherent truth or physical body can drive trends, enchant or repulse generations, and make me feel so viscerally. The clothing’s object-ness, reinforced by how invitingly tactile some of the ensembles are – the silk ruffles of Paquin’s 1897 chiffon evening cape, or the bubblegum pleather ones of Comme des Garçons’ 2016 ‘18th-Century Punk’ – combines with the intensity of the colour to suggest you can hold the pink, know and consume and be consumed by it.

Comme des Garçon Pleather, faux fur, rubber, and synthetic ensemble, fall 2016.

Pink is on point as colour and exhibition subject, all-inclusively staining book jackets, home décor, and men’s wellness campaigns as of late. Its prevalence, and the increasingly broken gender codes thereof, means today’s pink both continues to attract and loses its bite.

Though I still want to bite it.

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color‘ is on view at The Museum of FIT until January 5, 2019.

All photos taken by the author.

Three Coats in Museum Exhibitions

Clothes provide a protective layer between the body and the outside conditions. The following coats were seen recently in exhibitions in New York and respond to the notion of coats as a protective membrane between the human body and the outside weather conditions, as well as something the body lives in. The following ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’ (Norma Kamali, 1973/2017), ‘Self-Contained Housing’ (Daniel Durning, c.1982) and the ‘Security Blanket Coat’ (Bonnie Cashin, 1972) also comment on issues of housing and lifestyle through their self-conscious titles and the materials in which they are made from and the exhibitions they are shown in.

Photograph of ‘Self-Contained Housing’ Daniel Durning, designed c.1982

Daniel Durning’s ‘Self-Contained Housing’, a coat, hat and slippers ensemble, was exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art as part of their Club 57: Film, Performance, and
Art in the East Village, 1978–1983
exhibition (October 2017 – April 2018). By recycling found fiberglass insulation and plastic sheeting for this piece and titling it ‘self-contained housing’ Durning amusingly aligns the body with the home, and was made in 1982 to respond to the way artists were living in unheated loft spaces in New York in the eighties in scenes like ‘Club 57’. This piece reminded me of Final Home’s 1994 coat that was designed by Kosuke Tsumara after spending several nights sleeping rough in New York City which features up to 40 pockets that can be stuffed with material to insulate the wearer in the face of a natural or man-made disaster.

Photograph of ‘Security Blanket Coat’, Bonnie Cashin, designed 1972.

Photograph of newspaper clipping from WWD May 1972.

Going uptown and back in time, Bonnie Cashin’s ‘security blanket’ coat from 1972 was exhibited at Mod New York (November 2017 – April 2018) at the Museum of the City of New York. The mohair coat features a check plaid pattern that resembles the traditional material of a blanket, and the loose draping of the body, deep armholes and the fact it covers the whole body even further align it with the kind of warmth and protection one may use a blanket for when indoors keeping warm. This coat by Cashin, who was the first hired designer for Coach, takes an idea of comfort indoors to outside and onto the streets as outerwear. This design then follows the preoccupation with comfort and simplicity of design in American Sportswear that Cashin was known for and which is intrinsically linked with the post-war fashion design in New York in the 40s and 50s that challenged traditional design much like imaginative and diverse designs of the ‘Mod’ 1960s.

Photograph of ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’, Norma Kamali, designed 1973, manufactured 2017.

Norma Kamali’s ‘Sleeping Bag Coat’ (1973) was featured in The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?  (October 2017-Janurary 2018) and like Cashin’s ‘Security Blanket’ it features a wrap-around design and a material reference to comfort and sleep, as opposed to Durning’s ‘Self Contained Housing’ that uses the actual infrastructure of the home for a garment. The idea of the coat came to Kamali during a camping trip when she wrapped her sleeping bag around her body to run to the bathroom. This backstory contextualises the coat with the camping holiday trend of the 70s that continues today and considers how clothing can be transitory and practical like a sleeping bag. This interplay between fashion and the functional object – here, the sleeping bag, but also wall insulation in Durning’s case or a traditional mohair blanket in Cashin’s – shows how designers were taking inspiration from a concern with survival, protection, sleep and innovation of materials not necessarily associated with fashion design, and creating space for innovative runway designs like Maison Martin Margiela’s duvet coat in 1999 or Viktor and Rolf’s fantastical bed dress in 2005.

By Evie Ward

Balenciaga’s Legacy: Reinventions of the Modern Female Silhouette

The Victoria & Albert Museum puts on a major fashion-related exhibition every year. This year’s show, Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, celebrates the 100th anniversary opening of Balenciaga’s first dressmaking shop in San Sebastian, Spain and the 80th anniversary opening of his haute couture house in Paris, France. The exhibition showcases some 120 outfits and accessories, with the majority of the collection from Balenciaga’s 1950s and ‘60s-era.

The exhibition is housed in a cosy two level space within the V&A. On the ground floor, visitors are led in a counter-clockwise direction between themed window displays of exquisite Balenciaga designs. Each row of display focuses on Balenciaga’s innovations in the female silhouette, broken down into the fundamental elements of modern ‘dress’, including cut, fabric, form, and embellishments.

Balenciaga’s pioneering interpretation of the modern female silhouette was characterized by simplistic straight lines, bulky volume at the back, and obliteration of the waistlines which resulted in the abstraction of the body. For example, the trapeze-shaped volume in his ‘baby doll’ dress blurred the contours of the body. It was surprising to learn that this loose-fitted design was highly controversial at the time, considering how the ‘baby doll’ dress is now so widely adopted and replicated today. If I remember correctly, the baby doll is part of the basic-wear line of Zara and H&M.

Balenciaga’s later designs of the 1960s and ‘70s are characterized by the increasingly architectural shapes in his garments, such as the flared lantern sleeves. Balenciaga worked closely with fabric manufactures, like the Swiss company, Abraham, to produce innovative fabrics such as the lightweight ‘gazar’ silk which could hold the elaborate shapes without cumbersome supportive structures inside.

Semi-fit dress, 1957-58

Finally, the ground floor ends with some of Balenciaga’s most iconic designs such as the ‘unsexy sack’ which eradicated a pinched waist altogether, the ‘semi-fit dress’ which was only fitted in the front but loose in the back, and the three-quarter bracelet sleeve jacket with the stand-away collars which allowed for the display of jewellery at the neck and wrists. These designs contrasted sharply with the dominant, and conventional, waist-hugging, hourglass shape favoured by his contemporary competitors.

Heading upstairs, visitors are welcomed into a high-ceiling, well-lit room. Unlike the first half of the exhibition, which highlighted Balenciaga’s experiment in silhouette, his skills and ingenious designs, the second half focuses on Balenciaga’s legacy and the vast array of designers he has influenced.

We see from the displays that Balenciaga’s commitment to minimalism has been adopted by designers such as Emanuel Ungaro, Rick Owens, and J.W Anderson. Balenciaga’s emphasis on shape and volume that stood away from body has influenced the likes of Molly Goddard, and Rei Kawakubo. Balenciaga’s innovative pattern cutting and adoption of new materials has influenced designers like Issey Miyake, McQueen, Alaia, and a whole wave of designers who came after him. Like Christian Dior once said, ““Haute Couture is like an orchestra whose conductor is Balenciaga. We other couturiers are the musicians and we follow the direction he gives.”

Baby Doll dress by Molly Goddard

Today, Balenciaga is known more for its streetwear-inspired, knitted, high-top sneakers and oversized hoodies, than for its radically abstracted haute couture dress designs. The V&A exhibition serves as a worthy reminder that it was Balenciaga who laid the foundations for many of the basic dress designs in the western wardrobe that we may take for granted today.

All images author’s own

By Lily Mu

The Virtue of Spectacle and Fantasy in Fashion Exhibitions: Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

One of the consequences of studying fashion history is that I can no longer go to exhibitions and simply enjoy them in the straightforward way that I used to. The analytical, critical habit takes over and before I know it I’m unpicking everything I see before me. It is hard to remember that sometimes it can be good to just let oneself be carried away by the sheer joyful extravagance of it all.

The iconic Bar Suit, 1947

2017 marks 70 years since the founding of Dior, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is celebrating the anniversary with Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams. An expansive exhibition, it charts the history of the illustrious couture house. It’s a smorgasbord of luxury and dazzle, and a reminder of fashion’s power to create seductive spectacle.

No exhibition is perfect and this one has its flaws. The broad brush concept and comprehensive scope could have benefited from some streamlining, and a modified layout of the themed rooms might have constructed a stronger narrative. However, the exhibition’s virtue lies in the breathtaking drama in which Dior’s exquisite creations are displayed. It’s an exhibition that doesn’t seek so much to tell a story as to bombard the visitor with spectacular sight upon spectacular sight.

There’s a room dedicated to dresses inspired by the 18th century, the displays evoking the interiors of Versailles. Further on, paper blooms and trails of paper ivy carpet the ceiling, lit by soft pastel lights. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter that the room simply illustrates the frequency with which flowers feature in Dior’s designs. The pure pleasure in seeing the exquisite craftsmanship of the dresses in such splendid settings replaces the need for lengthy museum-speak explanations.

Some rooms have music playing in the background, or screens showing film clips and interactive touch panels that reveal images and quotes. Three iconic photographs of three iconic Dior dresses are printed on a glass wall. The lighting changes and the photographs disappear, revealing the original dresses behind. Far from overshadowing the clothes, the spectacular displays only enhance the experience of the exquisitely crafted garments.

After a while the visitor begins to feel dizzy with the drama, as the theatricality is amplified until the final room where the exhibition culminates in an explosion of hypnotic, unadulterated spectacle.  Gold glitter cascades from the ceiling and walls, which shimmer and morph into an Italianate fresco, before changing again into the façade of 30 Avenue Montaigne. Fantasy truly takes over in this room where sequinned dresses sparkle and glint under the shifting lights.

Emerging from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs onto the Rue du Rivoli one has that dazed feeling of having been woken slightly too early from the most fantastic reverie. If Christian Dior ‘Designed Dreams’, then this exhibition takes those dreams and works them into the display itself, creating a fashion fantasy-world.

Visit Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until 7 January 2018.

http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr/en/exhibitions/current-events-1322/musee-des-arts-decoratifs/christian-dior-couturier-du-reve/

 

Leah Gouget-Levy

(Non) Fashion exhibitions

Lists such as Dazed’s “Fashion exhibitions you don’t want to miss in 2016” are a familiar feature of the end-of-year frenzy. Yet as fashion exhibitions gain popularity (they are the blockbusters bringing big money into museums­­), offers have widened. Brands in fact now stage their own exhibitions: this year London saw Louis Vuitton and Chanel battling for social media presence through hashtag-inducing displays. Yet for those interested in the history of fashion, there is also a lot to gain from “non-fashion” exhibitions.

2015 fashion exhibitions: Series 3 by Louis Vuitton, Mademoiselle Privé by Chanel (Saatchi Gallery), Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (V&A), and the Jeanne Lanvin exhibition (Musée Galliera).

2015 fashion exhibitions: Series 3 by Louis Vuitton, Mademoiselle Privé by Chanel (Saatchi Gallery), Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (V&A), and the Jeanne Lanvin exhibition (Musée Galliera).

The Vivian Maier exhibition at the Forma fondazione in Milan is one of them. The exhibition showcases over 120 photographs by Chicago photographer and former nanny, Vivian Maier (1926-2009), whose work and story were unearthed by John Maloof in 2007. Maier has since been heralded as “one of the best US street photographers of the 20th century”. Her work however had never been intended for publication: her photographs are personal snapshots of city life in the late 1950s, mostly of Chicago and New York. For the fashion historian, they constitute valuable documents of the ways in which dress was worn and experienced in the 1950s and beyond. Maier had a sharp eye for the dissonances of modern life apparent on the surface of things: the clothing of her subjects often bears the marks of these incongruities.

Two photographs by Maier on display at the Forma Fondazione in Milan.

Two photographs by Maier on display at the Forma Fondazione in Milan.

Her photographs also powerfully articulate the issues that surround the role and representation of women in the postwar years. A photograph taken in the 1950s in a Chicago streetcar for instance highlights the tension between the pervasiveness of women as surface (we discern the fashionable silhouettes of three models on one of the newspapers), and the visibility or agency that is simultaneously denied to them (the image hints at the male-dominated workplace). Her numerous self-portraits however form an interesting counterpoint (also on view at Forma). In these images Maier asserts her presence and reclaims an existence for herself through her own self-fashioning.

The streetcar photograph (Chicago, 1950s) and a self-portrait (New York, 1953).

The streetcar photograph (Chicago, 1950s) and a self-portrait (New York, 1953).

 

This is all to say that there is more than the conventional fashion exhibition for the fashion “geek”, especially as seen through the lens of documentary photography. So to add to the list-mania of the coming weeks, here are some suggestions that go beyond the realm of the fashion exhibition: Germaine Krull exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin (ends January 31st), Qui a Peur des femmes photographes? 1839-1919 (ends January 24th) at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, Rosângela Rennó’s exhibition at the photographer’s gallery in London (opens January 22nd), Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at the Imperial War Museum (ends April 24th), and the Jacques Henri Lartigue exhibition at Foam (opens January 22th).

A selection of exhibitions for 2016.

References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/books/review/vivian-maier-a-photographer-found-and-more.html?_r=0

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/19/our-nanny-vivian-maier-photographer

http://www.vivianmaier.com