Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating the Courtauld’s History of Dress journals archive

Fashion magazines provide a space for escapism and fantasy, but this imaginative realm of image and text is centred on the very real interactions that viewers have with these material objects. How does it feel to read a fashion magazine? Do you read it dutifully, from cover to cover? Or do you flip through more sporadically, waiting for something exciting to halt you in your tracks? Of equal importance is where we read fashion magazines. Is it in the silence of the library, inhaling the smell of the archive? Or at home, from the comfort of the sofa? Perhaps it’s on the tube, amongst the rush of commuters and the jolt of a train braking? These multisensory encounters all play a part in our interpretation of what we see – and read – within the fashion magazine.

These are some of the questions we are going to be thinking about on Saturday 6th May, at our conference ‘Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating the Courtauld’s History of Dress journals archive’. In celebration of the Courtauld’s recently catalogued History of Dress journals archive, our one-day symposium will examine how the fashion magazine has constructed and circulated social, cultural and political ideas concerning dress, body and identity.  In opening up the collection, we will examine fashion magazines more broadly as documents of the time in which they were produced, reflecting changing tastes and attitudes as well as social and technological developments. We will explore how the fashion magazine has been consumed by readers, whether glanced through or thoroughly read from cover to cover, and consider the sensory connections to be made between looking, seeing, being, feeling and wearing.

Speakers include Paul Jobling, Alice Beard, Rebecca Arnold, Lucy Moyse, Marta Francheschini and Maria Angela Jansen, will consider these overlapping themes from the interdisciplinary perspectives of design history, fashion studies, visual culture, sociology, and those working professionally within the field. The day will include a viewing session of some earlier examples from our collection as well as an opportunity to see a fashion magazine display curated in collaboration with History of Dress MA students. This symposium will provide the opportunity to question changes in the way that dress has been documented, worn and consumed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as to study the fashion magazine as image, object, text, idea and experience intertwined.

Booking is now open at the link below, so hurry!

http://courtauld.ac.uk/event/reading-fashion-magazines

Making a Scene at the Fashion and Textile Museum: Thoughts on the exhibition 1920’s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs

Mannequins welcome visitors to the film-inspired exhibition space. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

The not so inconspicuously pink and yellow/orange painted Fashion and Textile Museum on London’s Bermondsey Street is just about to wrap up its current exhibition 1920’s Jazz Age- Fashion and Photographs. So, on a cold, rainy Saturday two of us Documenting Fashion MA students (that’s you Jamie!) set out to catch it before it was too late – as did many other Londoners, it seems. It was great to see the exhibition so busy, interest in fashion history bubbling about the place.

A collection of Gordon Conway illustrations begins the exhibition. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

Film room from 1920’s Jazz Age. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

Presented over two floors, the show, which was curated by the Fashion and Textile Museum’s Dennis Nothdruft and guest curated by Cleo and Mark Butterfield and Terence Pepper, covers a variety of aspects of 1920’s fashion, including fashion for different occasions, its representation in cinema, magazines and photography and as illustration. Furthermore, accessories are included on the second floor including make-up, stockings, and jewellery. In addition, an entire room dedicated to the photography of James Abbe, who photographed show-girls and film stars, also formed part of the exhibit. Every bit of space in the museum has been utilised for 1920’s material, films and wall decals, providing a range of objects to be discovered and lusted over.

Window display of accessories in 1920’s Jazz Age. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

Magazines featured in 1920’s Jazz Age. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

The predominant layout chosen for the presentation of fashion in the main exhibition hall are “scenes” reminiscent of movie sets. These consist of a collection of mannequins in different poses situated on set-like areas corresponding to a theme. In “In the Boudoir” for example, mannequins wear corresponding clothing and the set’s back wall depicts an elaborate bed with curtains, as well as candlesticks and ornate pillars. To reinforce this notion of a quasi-movie set, artefacts such as stage lighting, a typewriter and a director’s chair are placed in between the first two “scenes.” As an idea, the scenes work well as an exhibition display, not only grouping clothing with a particular purpose together, but also, letting the viewer imagine how a room full of women might have looked in the 1920’s. Seen from the angle of our MA, the chosen layout raised some questions: How do the colours, patterns and designs compare and contrast and how would the women have perceived each other? What sense of identity did they take on depending on the cut, style and purpose of their clothing? How was fashion presented and disseminated through the media, show-girls and celebrities? How much did this influence the wearer in their own perception of fashion and lifestyles? The exhibition supports such questions, justifying the inclusion of photographs and illustrators in the show as highlighting “…the role of photographs and magazines in promoting the 1920s look”.

‘In the Boudoir’ scene from 1920’s Jazz Age. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

Props in 1920’s Jazz Age. Photo: Sophie Assouad.

1920’s Jazz Age was, to be frank, really great fun and seemingly lovingly created. It is an excellent show for an introductory glance at the changing fashions, photographs, illustrations and magazines of the period. It could be faulted for trying to incorporate too many items and mediums at once or for being too busy with various films, magazine cases, wall decals and hangings. However, this is precisely what makes it accessible. The viewer can dip in and out of any area as they please. They can take as much or as little information from it as they like. Essentially, the show reflects how the 1920’s themselves are often perceived; it is busy, hectic, full and enjoyable to the brim due to its light and playful presentation.

Further Reading

https://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/1920s-jazz-age-fashion-photographs

http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/fashion/the-fashion-and-textile-museum-jazz-age-fashion-photographs-exhibition-3779

http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/1920s-jazz-age-fashion-and-photographs

Fashion, Desire and Anxiety

Welcome back from summer holidays!

We thought we would start Autumn off with some reading for you.  As our Instagram followers will know, my book Fashion, Desire & Anxiety: Image & Morality (I B Tauris) in the 20th Century was recently published in Russian. To celebrate, we are giving away this PDF from the English edition.

The book explores the ways fashion challenges contemporary morality – through its design, representation and the way it is worn, covering examples from subculture to haute couture.

So we hope you enjoy reading the book’s Introduction – explaining the ways fashion simultaneously provokes desire and anxiety, plus a section from chapter one titled ‘Simplicity’ – which considers the tensions between luxury and restraint in fashion.

We hope you enjoy the extract, and look forward to resuming our regular Tuesday and Friday blog posts for you.

ARNOLD_COVER

The front cover of the Russian edition of Fashion, Desire and Anxiety

Roger Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917

Roger Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917

Fashion is Spinach

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 21.12.04I have been thinking a lot about Elizabeth Hawes recently – about her ability to combine politics and fashion and her varied career that encompassed multiple books, as well as her couture and readymade fashion designs. Working in Paris in the 1920s as a sketcher – copying couture design, but also sending information on trends back to America from resorts such as Biarritz, gave her unique insight when she returned to New York the following decade and began designing. Vassar-educated, she brought a sharp eye to all she saw, and developed a keen wit to cope with some of her travails – especially when working within the constraints of department store readymade ranges. What is so compelling about her is the tensions her interests brought to her work – combining socialist ideals with a dress business was not always easy and her writing reflects her exasperation, as well as her inspiration, derived from the fashion industry.

Working, as she did, within a number of fields, she was able to reflect on these experiences in ways that are fascinating to examine now. At the moment, I’m looking at her 1938 book Fashion Is Spinach. If you haven’t read it –then do! It is lively and entertaining, but also a sharp, opinionated critique of the ways women are sold fashion, rather than encouraged to develop longevity through personal style. Throughout, her fascination with fashion and its potential to shape identities remains constant. I’ll write more once I’ve started to develop my research on her, as I want to think further about fashion and politics as themes within her work. For now though, here are a few choice quotations to whet your appetite:

‘I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day. For thousands of years people got along with something called style and maybe, in another thousand, we’ll go back to it.’

‘Some people seem to like it [fashion]. There are a good many people who don’t, but just accept it as inevitable, throwing away perfectly good old clothes and buying new ones every year.’

‘The only useful purpose that changes in fashion can possibly have is to give a little additional gaiety to life.’

‘Chic is a combination of style and fashion. To be really chic, a woman must have a positive style, a positive way of living and acting and looking which is her own.’

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 21.11.52

Sources & Images: Elizabeth Hawes, Fashion Is Spinach, New York, 1938

An Auto-Ethnographic Text: Cara Delevigne for Vogue Brasil, February 2014

Cara Delevigne dominated the front cover of the February 2014 edition of Vogue Brasil, which was shot by the internationally-acclaimed Brazilian fashion photographer Jacques Dequeker. Dressed in a sparkly blue minidress by the Brazilian brand Bo.Bo., and accessorised with heavy gold jewellery designed by Lanvin and Dior, she is framed, hands on her hips, against the colourful backdrop of the Santa Marta favela. The Santa Marta favela (commonly referred to in Brazil using the more politically correct term ‘morro’, which translates literally as hill) occupies the Botafogo and Laranjeiras region of the Dona Marta hill in Rio de Janeiro. It received global media attention in 2010, when Dutch artists Jeroean Koolhas and Dre Urhahn (known as Hass & Hahn) collaborated with local residents to paint 7,000 square metres of the morro’s façade in contrasting shades of the rainbow. A symbol of pride for the local community, the Santa Marta art project featured throughout the 12-page Vogue Brasil editorial, which was entitled ‘Face to Face with the Favela: the Santa Marta hill serves as the scenario for Cara Delevigne to wear statement pieces of the season, showing that streetwear couture is the trend of the moment’.

It is not difficult to point out the strikingly asymmetrical dynamics of power in operation between the British supermodel – posing in a combination of mid to high-end Western and Brazilian fashion labels that include Prada, Chanel, Adidas Originals, Bo.Bo., Starter, Valention and John John – and the socioeconomic realities of local residents, whose own creative sartorial expressions were noticeably absent from the frame. Furthermore, it is certainly not uncommon, within ‘Western’ fashion magazines, to come face to face with similar stereotypically ‘exotic’ fashion shoots, which replace the immaculate studio for various ‘non-Western’ backdrops and cityscapes that provide an edgy and endlessly intriguing locale to display Western fashion for the curious Western viewer. Sarah Cheang discusses this at length in her fantastic article, entitled ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’, wherein she comments that Western fashion frequently constructs its ‘other and self-defining conceptual opposite’ through shoots in, for example, ‘dusty Palestine, rural India, or mountainous Peru’.

But what are we to think when Vogue Brasil, with forward thinking Editor-in-Chief Daniela Falcão at the helm, turns that curious Western gaze upon itself, using the morro Santa Marta as an exotic and colourful backdrop to spice up the pages of the magazine? Certainly, there is a considerable distance between the Brazilian viewer (predominantly white European-descended women with cultural and economic capital), whose social and material reality is far divorced from that of inhabitants of the colourful morro Santa Marta, a setting which is sure to have had a cheerful aesthetic appeal for a Vogue Brasil readership. Nevertheless, it is important to situate the magazine within the cross-cultural context from which it emerged in 1975 and has since developed. Brazil is a country that sits intriguingly in between the West and the so-called non-West. In geographical terms Brazil is certainly a Western nation. Moreover, it is affiliated with the West in terms of its developing free-market economy, its large export supplies of raw materials and manufactured goods, its transition to a democratic constitution following the end of the authoritarian military regime in 1985, its high cultural institutions, and its adoption of Christianity and the Portuguese language. Yet Brazil might still be considered a non-Western nation with regard to its incomplete infrastructure, socioeconomic disparities, unequal distribution of wealth and land, poor standards of public health, and its popular and material culture which constitutes, as David Hess and Robert DaMatta have succinctly articulated, a unique site in which ‘Western culture has mixed and mingled with non-Western cultures for centuries’.

So taking this cross-cultural context into account, is it possible to discern any critical engagement in Vogue Brasil with Western and non-Western academic debates that have used the term ‘auto-ethnographic’ text or ‘auto-exotic’ gaze to refer to the way that non-Western cultures often look at themselves with Western eyes, turning their culture into an exotic product that they then offer back to the West? Mary Louise Pratt coined the term ‘auto-ethnography’ or ‘auto-ethnographic’ and used it to describe ‘text[s] in which people undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’. These auto-ethnographic texts involve ‘a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis and conqueror. These are merged or infiltrated to various degrees with indigenous idioms to create self-representations intended to intervene in metropolitan modes of understanding’. There are numerous tropes to draw upon to demonstrate how the West has produced an exoticised image of Brazil as a site of cultural difference, usually centered on Rio de Janeiro, and on the themes of sun, sea, Caipirinhas, Copacabana beach, skimpy bikinis, and the drugs and violence associated with the favelas. So in placing this fashion shoot within the morro Santa Marta, Vogue Brasil was engaging with a well-established stereotype of Brazil that is frequently seen in the Western media; the only difference is that the violence and gun crime has been eclipsed by the dazzling beauty of the rainbow coloured buildings. Pratt writes that ‘auto-ethnographic works are often addressed to both metropolitan audiences and the speaker’s own community’ and deduces that ‘their reception is thus highly indeterminate. In using Cara Delevigne as the model, Vogue Brasil knew that this shoot would attract the attention of the Western media, which it did, appearing in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, to cite but one example, in an article by Louise Sanders entitled ‘Favela funk! Cara Delevingne rocks her signature edgy style in vivid neon brights as she works her magic in street shoot for Vogue Brazil’. Although the title suggests the Daily Mail struggled to pick up on the critical message of the shoot it nevertheless constituted, as Pratt has pointed out, ‘a marginalised groups point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture’.

Therefore, whilst it might be easy to either dismiss this fashion shoot as an instance of Vogue Brasil following in the footsteps of Western fashion magazines, which marginalises the everyday experiences of local residents of the morro Santa Marta or, conversely, to celebrate it for its eye-catching images that frame Cara Delevigne against an intriguing backdrop, I would argue that something altogether more complicated is taking place. If understood as an auto-ethnographic text, then this shoot mobilises a far more interesting dynamic of cross-cultural contact between Brazil and the West that warrants further examination, in which Brazil is perhaps no longer subordinate to the West, but instead uses its own cultural productions to subtly fight back.

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil. Image: Liz Kutesko

 

The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko

The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko

photo 3

Image: Liz Kutesko

photo 2

Image: Liz Kutesko

References

[1] Anon., ‘De Cara com a Rua: o morro Dona Marta serve de Cenario para Cara Delevigne vestir peças statement da temporada que, usadas com outras de dna Atletico, imprimem o streetwear couture que e tendencia da vez’, Vogue Brasil, February 2014, pp. 140-151.

[2] S. Cheang, ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’ in Fashion Media: Past and Present, ed. By D. Bartlett, S. Cole, and A. Rocamora (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 35-45 (p. 35).

[3] D. J. Hess and R. A. DaMatta, ‘Introduction’ in Brazilian Puzzle: Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World, ed. By Hess and DaMatta (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 2.

[4] M. L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 8.

[5] Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 8.

[6] Ibid.

Documenting Fashion: History of Dress MA Dissertations since 2010

As the summer term starts, all thoughts turn to dissertations. While this year’s students focus on their writing, let’s take a look at the wonderful array of subjects covered so far.

All dissertations are available on request at The Courtauld Book Library – click here for details: http://courtauld.ac.uk/study/resources/book-library/collections-services/dissertations-theses

Processed with MOLDIV

2010/11

Rachel Boddington – ‘Feminine identity and the consumption of synthetic fabrics: the projection of social judgment onto synthetic fabrics, and its ramifications for female identity in the 1930s’

Harriet Hall – ‘Nostalgia, innocence and subversion: Kawaii and the Lolita fashion subculture in Japan’

Hannah Jackson – ‘Representing femininity: Madame Yevonde’s Goddess series, 1935’

Jemima Klenk – ‘A process of reorganisation: the construction of modern classicism as a social, fashionable and political response to modernity 1930-1939’

Lily Le Brun – ‘”Life lived on a plane of poetry”: images of Siegfried Sassoon in the Lady Otteline Morrell album collection’

Uthra Rajgopal – ‘The release of fancy dress in interwar Britain: a closer look’

Emma McClendon – ‘”First Paris fashions out of the sky”: an examination into the effect of the 1962 Telstar satellite on the dynamic of the transatlantic fashion industry’

Katy Wan – ‘Photographic and bodily exposures in Garry Winogrand’s “Women Are Beautiful”’

2011/12

Alexandra Dives – ‘Swimwear in aspirations of modernity and identity: the healthy ’mindful body’ in politics, class and gender in 1930s Britain’

Elizabeth Kutesko – ‘Representation of Moroccan women’s dress in National Geographic, 1912-2012’

Lucy Moyse – ‘”A seductive weapon… a necessary luxury”: the fragrance ventures of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli during the interwar period’

Amanda Pajak – ‘Low: a psychogeographic analysis of the American and German influences on David Bowie’s image during the 1970s’

Natalia Ramirez – ‘Blogging and the reinvention of the fashion industry in the early 21st century’

Rebecca Straub – ‘Man-made: gender performativity in the costume and practice of rehabilitation at Walter Reed General Hospital’

2012/13

Sarah Heather Brown – ‘The look of citizenship: subjecthood in Humphrey Spender’s ’Worktown’ photographs’

Emily Collyer – ‘Selling with sex: underwear advertising in women’s magazines, Britain 1946 – 1955’

Katherine Gruder – ‘Modernity, vitality and freedom : the factors behind the founding of the men’s dress reform party’

Michele Levbarg-Klein – ‘Styling identity: character construction and contemporary culture in the fashion editorial imagery of American, British, French and Italian Vogue 1990-1999’

Madeleine Piggot – ‘Alexander McQueen: a construction of Britishness in the media, 1994-2010’

Charlotte Smart – ‘Constructing identity through adornment: the jewellery of Wallis Simpson and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, 1919-1939’

Antonia Their – ‘Undressing Scorsese : theorising film costume as text and subtext’

Nadya Wang – ‘Fashioning multiracialism: (ad)dressing the modern Singapore woman in “her world” in the 1960s’

2013/14

Fruzsina Bekefi – ‘Fashioning the future: High treason (1929) and the wardrobe of tomorrow’

Elisa de Wyngaert – ‘Inhabiting art and fashion: the case of designer and artist Helmut Lang’

Jessica Draper – ‘The space between a uniform and a utopia: an exploration of how Sophie Hicks’s style wields power’

Jennifer Potter – ‘Consuming fashion and selling social dance: Irene Castle’s performances in early twentieth century consumer culture, 1912-1915’

Julia Rea – ‘Adorned in myth: the significance of mythology in Chanel jewellery, 1932-2012’

2014/15

Brianna Carr – ‘Motif as motive: representations of Helena Rubinstein’s brand of beauty in America, 1915-1930’

Lauren Dobrin – ‘Embodying the nation: dress, image and performativity in the Miss America pageant and protest of 1968’

Lisa Osborne – ‘Pleats and folds: modernity, technology and atemporality in the designs of Mariano Fortuny and Issey Miyake’

Emma Parnis England – ‘”Between two lives”: fashioning T. S. Eliot’s fragmented self in modernist portraiture, 1925-56’

Nicole Prattis – ‘Lee Miller’s war photography: the boundaries between civilisation and demise (as seen in Vogue)’

Rosily Roberts – ‘Performances of Mexicanidad: displaying nationalism in representations of Mexican dress after the Mexican Revolution’

Courtauld MA Application Tips

As the New Years countdown ends, the other big countdown of the year begins…MA Application deadline at The Courtauld!

Your application is due January 8th (as if you needed reminding) so as you’re doing the final polish we thought we’d help you out with some tips from the current batch of Documenting Fashion MA students. Twelve months ago we too were hovering anxiously over our keyboards trying to make the few hundred words of our personal statement capture every thought and feeling we have ever had about Art History and Fashion. Hopefully the following will help you realize you don’t quite have to do that, and we’ve even squeezed some thoughts from former Documenting Fashion MAs, now PhD students (they’re really good at applications).

Best of luck to you all!

Somerset House (picture yourself here, strolling and having deep art historical thoughts...)

Somerset House (picture yourself here, strolling and having deep art historical thoughts…)

If you’re considering applying to the MA at The Courtauld, think about what particularly excites you about the course, how it relates to your experiences so far, and read everything that interests you around it.

– Lucy, PhD


 

Be prepared for a whirlwind nine months of looking and thinking about dress and fashion – it will be hectic, but it will enable you to hone your analytical and research skills, and to find out what it is that particularly fascinates you.

– Liz, PhD


 

My advice to any one considering applying to the MA Documenting Fashion is to read and research as much as possible so you can to really understand what the course entails. There are many ways to do this; the Courtauld website, the Documenting Fashion Blog and Instagram accounts and by simply getting in touch with us. We are more than happy to chat to prospective applicants about our experience.

– Giovanna, MA


 

When writing your personal statement for the application try to think about how your previous work, for example from your undergraduate studies, may be applicable to the course themes – even if you have never directly studied fashion or film and photography before. Be concise and to the point.

– Leah, MA


 

I applied to the Courtauld MA after a year of working at a communications consultancy with an undergraduate degree in International Relations. While I tried my hardest to work on projects related to the arts whilst at my job, it certainly was not directly related to the MA History of Art course and the Documenting Fashion special option. Therefore, highlighting the skills gained whilst at the consultancy (e.g. writing to various audiences) were important for my application. Additionally I underscored why, given my work experience, I was interested in the special option by discussing relevant papers taken (e.g. film studies courses), personal projects and/or internships etc.

– Carolina, MA


 

It is ok to admit your obsession for all things fashion related; pin-down what exactly attracts you to fashion (whether dress history itself, cultural history at large, or issues of identity, feminism, and so on).

– Aude, MA


 

The personal statement is not the time to play down your interest in fashion and what it is about its history that really makes you tick. Be articulate, be concise but remember why you are putting all this effort in—you really want to study dress and fashion at The Courtauld! This year the MAs all have very different academic backgrounds and it really enriches discussion to have such varying points of view. Don’t assume you’re ‘not right’ for the course.

– Eleanor, MA

Documenting MA Documenting Fashion

At this point in the term we switch gear – you might think we’d be winding down for the holidays, but no, we like to keep the momentum going. So having spent the first eight weeks of the course looking at themes in dress and fashion history, we now focus in on our core period, 1920-60, and apply everything we’ve been talking about and thinking about thus far to this era.

But before we move on, I thought it would be good to reflect on what we’ve been up to these past months…

 

7          Themes discussed: definitions of dress, modernity, history & memory, dress as autobiography, vision and touch, empire & colonialism, portraiture

 

4          Storerooms & Archives visited: Fortnum & Mason, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of London, Courtauld Prints & Drawings

4 Storerooms & (Archives) visited. Pictured above: At the Museum of London storeroom.

4 Archives & (Storerooms) visited. Pictured above: At the National Portrait Gallery Archive.

22        Seminar readings read

 

1          Presentation given – in front of a painting at Tate Britain, on the theme of empire

 

1          Film review written – on a clip chosen from the BFI’s archives

 

1          Formal essay written on one of the 7 themes discussed

 

8          Objects and images discussed that evoke personal connections to dress during the history

& memory class

 

10        Fashion magazines and rare books, spanning 16th – 20th century from the History of Dress collections studied during our very first class

10 Fashion magazines and rare books studied

1          Hand-painted Victorian family photo album examined during our discussion of sight & touch

1 hand painted Victorian Family Photograph Album examined

3          Tutorials each – to talk through ideas and approaches to assignments

 

1          Addressing Images event attended

 

14        Blog posts written

 

224      Images posted on Instagram (follow us here!)

 

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something … But I think this gives you an idea of what we’ve been up to…

 

En Mode Sport

Tennis display, including garments worn by Lenglen and Lacoste

Tennis display, including garments worn by Lenglen and Lacoste

En Mode Sport, an exhibition currently at the Musée National du Sport, in Nice takes an expansive look at sportswear’s development since the late 19th century. When I visited, I was excited to see the range and diversity of material on display – from rare examples of early cycling ensembles, to recent couture collections inspired by sport.

Chanel Sportswear and Surfboard

Chanel Sportswear and Surfboard

I first became aware of the planned exhibition when I was asked to contribute a short essay on mid-century New York sportswear to its catalogue, and it was wonderful to be able to view En Mode Sport having got a sense of the depth of research that went into its making.

Bloomers, Spencer Jacket, 1895-1900, Palais Galliera

Bloomers, Spencer Jacket, 1895-1900, Palais Galliera

What struck me was the dynamic display techniques deployed to give a sense of movement and endeavour to the items on view. White walls, shiny glass and glossed surfaces added to this effect and enabled glimpses of things to come, as you wove your way through the chronological displays. It was fascinating to see so many early examples – and to see how dressmakers struggled to provide appropriate garments for the range of new activities emerging at the turn of the century. The cycling outfit I mentioned was one such case – the top half of the body would be clad in a beautiful, striped Spencer jacket – its mutton-leg sleeves and fitted bodice a marker of contemporary femininity. But for the bottom half of the body? Well, innovation and improvisation was needed to envision and create a garment that would free women’s legs to cycle successfully. The knitted culottes shown were an interesting admixture of bloomers and trousers – part underwear as outwear, part menswear as womenswear.

Elsewhere, knitted swimsuits showed another not-quite-there form of dress – the body-conscious shape that emerged by the 1920s was perfect for a dip in the sea, but the wool yarn used to create the costumes became heavy and drooped from the figure once wet.

Display on Sportswear in interwar Nice

Display on Sportswear in interwar Nice

Another interesting context that emerged was that of class – not only were more women playing sports professionally and for fun, but working class men were also expanding their activities – with a range of football strips and boots readied for matches. Alongside actual dress, film, posters, sketches and promotional material were also included. As you moved past the displays, it became clear how iconic sportswear is – as a marker of personal and team achievement, as souvenirs for spectators, and as a link between professional and amateur. Stars such as Suzanne Lenglen and René Lacoste forged new styles that entered mainstream fashion, and which still affect how we dress today.

Display on Contemporary Sportswear

Display on Contemporary Sportswear

The latter sections of the exhibition showed how technology has caught up with lifestyle, providing running shoes and kit that not only streamline the wearer, but also enhance the body’s performance, while streetwear and high fashion appropriate and redeploy such innovations for everyday and occasion wear.

Paul Poiret, En Habillant l’époque (1930)

1002nd Night photograph
Poiret photograph of marbling
Poiret photograph of mannequin

Summary 

Paul Poiret’s memoirs ‘En Habillant l’époque,’ which literally translates as ‘Dressing the Age,’ were written in 1930, almost two decades after the height of his fame. At the end of his manuscript, Poiret wrote that though he continually felt ideas for new dresses germinating ‘under his skin,’ his glory days had passed. Poiret traced his fascination with dress to his childhood family. He dedicated his memoirs to his mother, who he considered supremely elegant, and described how his sisters gave him a forty-centimetre wooden mannequin, which he lovingly draped in silks, in both Parisian and Oriental styles.

Poiret cast himself as an artist-designer, whose vision of femininity radically differed from that of the early 1900s fashion he encountered during his tenure at the couturiers Doucet and Worth. He claimed that he waged war on corsets, which had divided women’s bodies into two distinct peaks, comprising the neck and breasts on one side, and the hips and buttocks on the other. However, he recalled how his more holistic outfits, with their narrow hobble skirts, made women cry, gnash their teeth, and complain that they could not walk, or get in and out of a car easily. Overall, however, Poiret regarded his relationship with women as mutually beneficial. He likened the women he dressed to orbiting planets, who relied upon ‘his sun’ to shine; but simultaneously considered that his favourite mannequin Paulette, a ‘vaporous’ blonde, with the cylindrical shape of a cigarette, was a true collaborator, because she brought his designs to life.

Response 

Poiret considered that his primary innovation in fashion was relinquishing the etherealized palette of rose, lilac, powder-blue, maize-yellow and white that had dominated French women’s clothing from the eighteenth century, in favour of opaque, Fauvist tones, including royal blue, strong greens, reds and violets and acidic orange and lemon hues that made women’s silhouettes ‘sing.’ Poiret’s incorporation of these bold hues, alongside Orientalising components, such as the Minaret ensemble of 1911, which featured turbans and hip-skimming lampshade tunics, alongside harem pants, introduced an expressive, if still decorative, vision of womanhood. Rather than blending into the background in pastel tones, the women he dressed would stand out for their exoticism. A photo-plate from Poiret’s Arabian Nights-themed party, the 1002nd Night, of 1911, shows non-Western attitudes to the body, as guests of both sexes in turbans, belted kaftans and variations upon the Minaret outfit, crouch or sit cross-legged upon a Persian rug. Extravagant feathers, which emerge from the guests’ turbans, contribute a festive and frivolous air to proceedings.

Still, the photograph’s grainy, cinematic greyscale imbues the image with a nostalgic air. One gets the impression that the colour and vibrancy of the original party resonated with memories of a vanished world. Interestingly, Poiret wrote that after his experimentation in the early 1910s, colours in fashion became ‘anemic and neurasthenic’ once more. Poiret’s memoirs, with their slate-blue leather skin, blue-marbled inside cover, and black and white photographic inserts, did not only reflect the colouristic limitations of publishing in 1930, but express their distance from the Orientalism that made the author’s reputation.

poiret cover