Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

The conference Reading Fashion Magazines may be over, but our display of 9 items from the collection is still available to be viewed outside the Courtauld Library vitrines. Please come and visit, before it closes in August. In order to tempt you, you can read the introduction to the display, and our conference, below, available for you to download in a pdf.

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

Some of the earliest fashion magazines in the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive are on show in the exhibition. Here, Gazette du Bon Ton, Für die Dame and Pinpoints are displayed.

A view of the 1940s section of the exhibition featuring Harper’s Bazaar and Femina.

Elizabeth and three MA Documenting Fashion students after the completion of the exhibition instal.

Dissertation Discussion: Sophie

Photographs of Parkinson’s Wife, Wanda Rogerson in Robin Muir, ‘Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion’ (London, National Portrait Gallery 2004)

What is your title?

The title of my dissertation will probably still change. However at the moment I am going with How very British: National Identity in Norman Parkinson’s fashion photography for Vogue, 1950-1952. Parkinson produced some stunning images for different spreads, many of which lend themselves really well to a study of British national identity. Delving a little deeper into these specific images, Parkinson’s biography and the history of 1950s Britain has been great fun.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The topic stemmed from a mixture of previous interests and pure chance. I had no pre-conceived idea of what I wanted to look at for this dissertation. However, I always studied World War II and the Cold War when I had the chance as an undergraduate, so I knew I wanted to stick within that time frame. Couple this with my love of 1950s fashion and elegance, and the random selection of a beautiful book on Norman Parkinson whilst browsing the stacks at the Courtauld and – ta dah! – the dissertation title was born. I had also wanted to be practical about my choice and choose a topic that would enable me to make the most of London based archives. Norman Parkinson has his own in south London (big shout out to the lovely and wonderful people that work there!), so it all came together beautifully.

Norman Parkinson Archive

Most interesting research find thus far?

I believe I read in Parkinson’s book that Irving Penn babysat Parkinson’s son. As you do. No big deal. On a more serious note, I am still continually blown away by how clever his images are. They seem so simple at first glance, and then, the more you look, the more you realise just how good he was in expressing a certain image, feel or identity to a wide range of readers. This was especially interesting with regards to the way in which his photographs for a 1951 South Africa spread differed, or were used in a different way, from the May edition in British Vogue to the July edition in American Vogue. On a side note I have become obsessed with an image that I’m not even using in my essay. It is just too stunning. Everyone- google “Carmen’s Armpit” and you will understand! Or not, in which case it is just my inner dress history nerd coming to the fore…

Favourite place to work?

I would love to say that it is The National Arts Library in the V&A. It surely wins the award for most aesthetically pleasing place to study- but I tend to be freezing cold in there, so sadly it loses out. I rather fluctuate between the Courtauld Book Library and my home. This arrangement provides the perfect balance between the comfort of home (sneaking a couple of biscuits and copious amounts of tea) and the beautiful comradeship between all Courtauld students during dissertation time in the library. We all really share the stress and joys of the process and that is unbelievably valuable as you are working. *Insert cheesy violin music here!*

Courtauld Library

Dissertation Discussion: Harriet

Spot the illicit San Pellegrino

What is your title?

Something along the lines of  ‘Capturing Fashion at Work: Mark Shaw’s behind-the-scenes images of the Paris collections for LIFE magazine in the 1950s’

What prompted you to choose this subject?

Our tutor Dr Rebecca Arnold’s fondness for the work of American designer Claire McCardell (you may thank her for ballet flats, spaghetti straps, separates…) led me to a fine art and textile collaboration she worked on (Picasso prints!) which was photographed for LIFE in the mid-Fifties by Mark Shaw. The Mark Shaw Archive recently popped up on Instagram (@markshawofficial / @markshawlondonsydney), and scrolling through his work – snapshots of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy amongst the images – I discovered and became mildly obsessed with his images of models prepping for fashion shows. Amazingly few people have studied backstage images – these days they’re a mainstay of Instagram and Vogue Runway reports during fashion week.

Looking up at the lilac tree

Most interesting research find thus far?

Speaking to Mark Shaw’s daughter in law Juliet across the pond in Vermont and meeting his grandson Hunter in London. Juliet kindly sent me scanned film and contact sheets to pore over – a game changer. Coming across a key quote by Baudelaire (who famously coined the slippery term ‘modernity’) one grey day in the British Library got me pretty excited (#nerdalert).

Favourite place to work?

The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum for its sheer opulence, or at home in my south London garden in the dappled light beneath the lilac tree. Most libraries don’t allow food or drink, and some days the need for constant cups of tea (and a visiting fellow art historian with a pair of puppies) wins out.

Puppy stress therapy

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Harper’s Bazaar

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


Harper’s Bazaar, October 1940. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

This magazine is an October edition of Harper’s Bazaar published nationwide in the year 1940, during the London Blitz. Despite the hardships of wartime, the magazine targeted the female upper classes, which were the only ones with enough purchasing power to afford it. With the costly price of 2 shillings 6 pence, it was a considerable expense that could feed an average family for one day. In contrast to DIY publications, Harper’s Bazaar relies on the desire to emulate the rich and powerful to disseminate latest fashions. With the upcoming winter, the issue centers around the season’s new fashions coming from the capital, presenting a wide array of greatcoats both furless and completely fur-lined, made mostly out of warm wools or commonly available types of fur like squirrel, mole, and rabbit. The effects of rationing clearly influence the choice of images which are plain in their style with scarcely any accessories and minimal display of jewelry, painting a picture of a simple, although fashionable, woman. The practicality of the inside contrasts sharply with the flamboyant cover which is aimed at defying the grim realities of wartime and giving people back the feeling of normality.

Looking closer at the front cover, we can examine it as a historical source from the era, a social history document that tells the historian part of the story of Britain in the 1940s, and more particularly its dress history. A closer inspection may reveal that the colours chosen in such a specific moment in history are not random. The predominant purple tones, which are one of the first elements that catch the viewer’s attention, are historically associated with opulence, richness, royalty and empire. The crispness and silky texture of the sleeve contrast with the other colours of the dress that look as if they are polluted with randomly distributed red dots. The grainy and wooly texture of the material creates an off-focus effect that contrasts with the smooth and well-shaded arm and the sharp colours of the jewellery that richly decorates it. Our gaze is naturally led towards the hand that holds the cigarette, a luxury item that was rationed and reserved mostly for the servicemen at the front. Smoking, at the time, was an activity reserved for the feminine elite, symbolic of the defiance and rebellion against the male culture and male-centred workplace. The model positions herself in a relaxed and mindful manner looking down upon the viewer in an almost spiteful way, suggesting her higher status. This projects an image of power and confidence, a new Britannia clothed in all the riches of the Empire, watchful and confident of her power to withstand the dangers that befell her.

Women Photographers: Spring Term Starts for MA Documenting Fashion

It’s the first class of my MA Documenting Fashion: Modernity, Films and Image in Europe & America, 1920-60 for the spring term on Friday – and we will discuss one of my favourite subjects – midcentury women photographers. Focusing on Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Toni Frissell we will look at the ways their work shaped ideals of femininity, and, importantly, how it connected to shifts within American design – of clothes and magazines.

Both photographers worked in a number of genres, which included documentary, portrait and fashion and it’s interesting to think about their approach to each. For Frissell, her love of natural gesture, and connections between bodies can be seen both in her photographs of college girls leaping with joy in their chic readymade fashions, and her intimate images of soldiers being briefed during the Second World War. For Dahl-Wolfe, a more painterly conception of the textures and space of a composition is always apparent, as well as a love of light and colour that permeates her oeuvre.

Another aspect of their work that I want to discuss with my students is the ways their photographs were used in high fashion magazines – thinking about firstly, the practicalities of fashion photography and secondly, thinking about the readers’ experience of their images. To do this, we will consider their collaborators, including Dahl-Wolfe’s work with Diana Vreeland and Carmel Snow, the costs and difficulties of location shots, and their rivalry – the latter evidenced in letters from Toni Frissell’s archive at the Library of Congress.

By looking at magazine design, we can then situate the images within their original context – how they relate to the text and pictures around them, the size and feel of the magazine and how they ‘spoke’ to readers.

As I said, this is a favourite area of mine, I love learning about the ways women worked, created and collaborated in this period, and I hope my students will also enjoy our seminar, rethinking fashion photography from a number of perspectives.

German Traditional Dress 2.0: Gregor Hohenberg’s Trachten

Cover of Gregor Hohenberg's Trachten

Cover of Gregor Hohenberg’s Trachten. Photo by blog post author.

Trachten (which will here be loosely translated as a term describing German traditional dress) today seemingly only move into the fashion spotlight once a year during the month of October. During this time, two events draw the world’s attention to them: the Oktoberfest (Wiesn) in Munich, where Dirndl and Lederhosen make an appearance all over the city, and Halloween, during which “German Beer Maid” costumes are suddenly advertised widely on the internet, readily available for purchase.

However, both events only highlight very limited facets of the rich variety of Trachten in Germany today- and at that only in a mediated form. The Halloween costumes remove any serious aspects of German traditional heritage, replacing it rather with an overt sexualisation of form by shortening of the skirt and addition of thigh high stockings. Similarly, Lederhosen and Dirndl, mostly associated with Bavaria, are not the only version of traditional dress and are also not as full of the age-old tradition as is widely assumed. Rather, this particular Tracht stemmed from the 19th Century, and is in fact linked to the savviness of Wittelsbacher noble family who used it as a type of branding or marketing strategy to further the feeling of a Bavarian identity.

Pages from Trachten. Photo by author.

Pages from Trachten. Photo by blog post author.

German fashion photographer Gregor Hohenberg has helped to change this rather one-sided representation of traditional dress by producing a marvellous photographic work. It is entitled simply Trachten in German and Traditional Couture in English. Indeed, the English title seems nearly more apt for the role the book takes on: it presents Trachten as high fashion or haute couture. Printed in a large coffee-table-book format, the photographs of the garments shown within the book are made to be coveted and admired; the visual effect of each dress stands in the foreground. Many shots are taken in front of a black background, highlighting the details of stitching, material and fabric. Were the clothes not contextualised in the book with descriptive texts, detailing the history and make-up of each Tracht, the photographs might as well be, to give just one example, of John Galliano’s 2004 Ready-to-Wear collection. The glossy pages and accessibility of the layout, which divides the books into regional chapters, make this book an aesthetically pleasing page-turner.

Page from Trachten. Photo by author.

Page from Trachten. Photo by blog post author.

Yet, vitally, it manages to strike the balance between that often contested dichotomy of traditional versus modern. For example, Hohenberg chose not to use professional models for the shoot. Rather, the actual owners of each dress wear it in the photographs. Some, are further shown in front of houses, farms or walking up mountain paths. This helps to situate the clothes on a more personal level and raises questions of (regional) identity and representation of the individual. Similarly, the inside of the front and the back cover is formed by a landscape shot. The dresses are therefore framed by nature and land itself, and associations with the rural and local still given. Hohenberg thus achieves a remarkable feat; he manages to present the Tracht as current and fashionable, while still maintaining its cultural values and meanings.

Further Reading

Hohenberg, Gregor, and Annett Hohenberg, Gestalten (eds.). Trachten. Berlin: Gestalten, 2015.

Dissertation Discussion: Aric

What is your title?

Madame Yevonde’s Goddess Protraits: Subverting the Surrealist Gaze

What prompted you to choose this subject?

When we visited the National Portrait Gallery in December and the archivist brought out a few of the original prints from the Goddess Series, I knew because of their stunning beauty they would be the topic of my dissertation.

Most inspiring research find so far?

I am really inspired by the depth of care Madame Yevonde took in her creative process. This ultimately resulted in her use of a cutting edge photographic techniques and color printing that created the powerful luminescence of the Goddess Series.

Favourite place to work?

I am not really a library or archive person at heart, so I spend a lot of time working coffee shops and on occasion in my flat.

Madame Yevonde, Self Portrait, 1925.

Madame Yevonde, Self Portrait, 1925.

Documenting MA Students

We’re almost at the halfway point of our MA (shocking how quickly the time goes!) and wanted to share a little bit about ourselves now that we’re here. It’s been a pleasure for us all to contribute to this blog, one of the firsts of its kind!

Below are some photographs of us, and we’re each holding a photo of one of our favourite ladies from history (although it should be said that we all had a hard time narrowing it down). Don’t forget to read the captions closely – each one describes some of our History of Dress related interests.

Giovanna

Giovanna’s interests – Art fashion collaborations, Surrealist fashion, surface tensions, history of hair, and cats in fashion imagery

Giovanna’s interests – Art fashion collaborations, Surrealist fashion, surface tensions, history of hair, and cats in fashion imagery

Leah

Leah's interests

Leah’s interests – Time and temporality, Paris, early twentieth century, photography and film

Carolina

Carolina’s interests – Costume in film, Latin American dress, History of Couture, Consumerism, Gender & Body

Carolina’s interests – Costume in film, Latin American dress, History of Couture, Consumerism, Gender & Body

Eleanor

Eleanor's interests – Dress History in the Museum, Gender, Uniform, Dress and Emancipation

Eleanor’s interests – Dress History in the Museum, Gender, Uniform, Dress and Emancipation

Aric

Aric's interests – Androgyny, the Black Body, and all things chic

Aric’s interests – Androgyny, the Black Body, and all things chic

Aude

Aude’s interests - history of photography; feminism; fashion and modernism; and when it comes to fashion fantasies, Martin Margiela!

Aude’s interests – history of photography; feminism; fashion and modernism; and when it comes to fashion fantasies, Martin Margiela!

Documenting Fashion MA Course – Our leading ladies

From left to right: Elsa Schiaparelli, Germaine Krull, Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Katherine Hepburn and Josephine Baker

From left to right, then top to bottom: Elsa Schiaparelli, Germaine Krull, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Katherine Hepburn and Josephine Baker

A Conversation With: Photographer & Artist Julian Marshall

The fashion images produced by British photographer and artist Julian Marshall are quiet, contemplative and multi-layered. They halt you in your tracks and encourage you to look a little closer, to dig a little deeper, to uncover the emotion that lies beneath their beautiful glossy surface. They reveal the photographer’s fascination with the exquisite qualities of light, and how it can be used creatively in order to fashion the dressed body. His work probes various boundaries; between the real and the artificial, the active and the passive, the feminine and the masculine, the subject and the viewer. I caught up with Julian to find out a bit more about his work, and to examine some of his images in closer detail.

On how he got started…

‘I was working as an assistant for Eammon McCabe . He was a real genius with light, and I learnt everything about light from him. Then one day I woke up and decided – today, I’m going to be a photographer. So I didn’t assist for one second longer! I phoned up all the magazines, I went all around London with my book, showing people my work. I only had about 5 photographs because I was very reluctant to take pictures…I am still very resistant in fact. And then PR agent for Ghost phoned me back and they wanted a lookbook. But I really enjoyed that experience of showing my book…meeting people, speaking to people, getting feedback on my work. Making a connection with people – it’s so much easier than trying to communicate through email.’

On his photographic Achilles heel…

‘When I started taking photographs I had a good connection with how I wanted the image to feel, but no idea about composition. Though both my parents were artists, I had studied for a Law Degree and I hadn’t considered composition at all.  I couldn’t connect with composition on an emotional level. So I was shooting on 35mm film and I would think to myself, oh I should put the model to the side of the frame at some point. Just because that’s what people do. But I didn’t know why I should do it at all. And for a long time, I felt that composition had been my Achilles heel. I think it’s because I didn’t relate to it emotionally, so a lot of my early pictures were shot against a wall, which I found far less traumatic. I decided I couldn’t go on like this, so I hired a 10 x 8 plate camera and shot exclusively on it for 2 years. You cannot hide behind this camera, you have to make your choices and it forces you to address any issues you might have with composition.

On what he’s searching for in his images…

‘I want to move people through my images. Photography is a great way to connect to peopleI was quite shy at school. Often people don’t realise how incredibly shy I am I hide it well. So being a photographer is quite funny for me. It’s a bit like being a tightrope walker who is afraid of heights. 

On his relationship to his subjects…

I have to go in front of people and connect with them. This connection with my subjects is one of the things that drives and informs my work. I feel a great duty of care to the people I photograph. They are allowing to me into their lives to photograph them. So to me that’s very special, and feel like have a responsibility towards them. I know other people don’t shoot like that – maybe they look for a conflict, I don’t know, but for me this relationship with the subject and the responsibility I have towards them is central. I want the experience to be positive and I think why not. My images are driven by love. I always remember that when I like photographs in magazines, it’s because they are so moving that you want to touch the image… so I’m directing the model towards a way of being that expresses what I want to say. Sometimes if a model has done a lot of commercial work I have to deconstruct that, to make it more real, in order to express a feeling that is key to the photograph.’

On why photography is a form of performance art…

I have come to feel like photography is in itself like a performance art. The moment I walk through the door I can feel how everyone in the room is feeling. And all that energy needs to go towards making a great picture. I can feel how the assistant’s assistant feels, and how the assistant’s assistant feels may affect how the makeup artist feels. So I can throw something over to one side of the room to make a reaction on the other side of the room. And all of this comes together to have an effect on how the subject feels and appears before the camera. It’s in this sense that the fashion photograph is very much the result of a live event’.

Some highlights of Julian’s work include a series originally shot for Spanish Vogue in 2002It was inspired by the 1998 photobook Albanie: Visage des Balkans, ecrits de lumiere [Albanie: Face of the Balkans, writing in light] – a collection of images taken in Albania by the Marubi photographic dynasty, between 1858-1956. One of Julian’s images, succinctly captioned Albanie 1, depicts a model dressed entirely in black and standing confidently in the centre of the frame. The monochromatic palette highlights the clean, sharp lines of her streamlined, tailored clothing, which is punctuated only by a teasing glimpse of bare midriff. With a self-possessed stare she gazes directly at the viewer, observing him or her with an equivalent level of curiosity to the gaze that is placed upon her. Her gaze thus subverts the asymmetrical balance of power frequently attributed to ethnographic-style portraits, such as those presented in Albanie: Visage des Balkansby displaying the subject, rather than passive and powerless, as determined, active, and in charge of her own representation.

Albanie 1, 2002

Albanie 1, 2002

Another series, and my personal favourite, was first shot for the Financial Times in 1998. Cheryl 2 is a contemporary deconstruction of classical ballet and captures an ungainly figure against a bare concrete wall. She arrives in motion from the left-hand side of the frame; barefoot, with arms extended to display her muscular physique, and gaze focused straight ahead, she is a contemporary re-presentation of the classical ballerina. The muted tones of her cream and peach satin dress swirl around her limbs as she moves, whilst her painted white mask-like face adds an element of mystery and disguise. The visible line between the dark floor and bare wall encapsulates a tension, between the polished perfection of high fashion or classical ballet, and the vibrant realism of street style or contemporary dance.

Cheryl 2, 1998

Cheryl 2, 1998

A final, more recent, series shot by Julian entitled ‘In the Service of the Mind’ featured the fashion model Tessa Kuragi. These images were inspired by Man Ray’s provocative fascination with the female form, and originally shot for Volt magazine in 2014. One example from this series, Tessa 7, captures the model in a uncompromising position: arms awkwardly flung behind her head, body bent forwards and face contorted. She wears a Fyodor Golan [http://fyodorgolan.co.uk/] futuristic dress, which has been designed using a variety of high-tech fabrics and neon plastic applique flowers.  There is a sense of a frenetic energy now lost in this image, a once active body reduced to a passive and inert form of exhaustion. With her equivocal facial expressions and distorted pose, a direct interconnection between subject and the viewer is refused. Instead, the viewer is left unsure of how to read this image, confused by the event that has been documented. Whilst the model’s exposed feminine form has a seductive, even erotic quality, the pieces of wood discarded in the background suggest something else….a violence or danger, perhaps, that is about to happen, or potentially, has already occurred.

Tessa 7, 2014_

Tessa 7, 2014

Julian’s work has featured in publications that include Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times, The Observer, The Financial Times, Volt, and Nylon, and brought him into contact with the likes of Kate Moss, Ines De La Fressange, Bella Freud, Emanuel Ungaro, Gemma Arterton, Daisy Lowe, Emma Watson and Alberta Ferretti. To find out more visit his website www.julianmarshall.com and www.julianmarshallprint.com, or follow him on Instagram @julian_marshall

A Day in the Life of a Courtauld Student – 18th November 2015

With a vast number of libraries to visit across London, and a variety of fascinating lectures to attend, no day as a student at the Courtauld is quite the same. On a Wednesday morning, I would usually attend the Foundations lecture series, however today I made my way to Brixton for a tutorial on our first marked essay. Rebecca and I had a productive discussion at the Ritzy café on my topic – how Alfred Hitchcock uses Dior’s New Look in his 1955 film Rear Window – then once everyone’s sessions wrapped up, the course gathered to discuss our quickly approaching field trip to New York (time does indeed fly on a nine month MA course!).

Brixton

However, we weren’t quite ready to head back to school and were keen to explore Brixton a bit more so Giovanna, Leah, Aric, Aude, Eleanor and I popped over to Brixton Village Market to energize ourselves with a quick coffee before heading back to Courtauld to resume work on our essays. We stopped at Federation, an Aussie-owned café, and treated ourselves to their famous Anzac biscuits and gluten-free brownies, which we enjoyed over quality flat whites and lattes.

Walking through Brixton Village Market. Christmas decorations are up already!

Federation

Enjoying some very needed coffee and treats.

Intense dress history discussion.

Flat White at Federation.

Afterwards, we took the tube back to the Courtauld and buried ourselves in the stacks! We settled in our cozy basement library for an afternoon of (hopefully) productive study. In search of 1950s contemporary commentary and images regarding femininity in America for my essay, I spent most of the afternoon immersed in the Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily archives at the Courtauld’s Book Library.

Everyone on the tube.

Secluded study spot in the Courtauld Library.

Some research materials.

In need of a bit of fresh air after an afternoon of study, I ventured up to the Somerset House courtyard, where the Fortnum and Mason’s SKATE rink, Christmas Arcade and Lodge have now been officially opened – indeed to much fan fair yesterday. Dodging enthusiastic skaters and passerby’s taking selfies, I walked over to the New Wing of Somerset House for the Law Society’s “Art Law” course in which I have enrolled. The certificate is essentially a crash course in copyright, intellectual property law and related themes, which will hopefully allow me to speak with a bit of confidence on the subject one day.

Somerset House and Christmas tree!

F&M Christmas tree decorations.

Tom’s Skate Lounge.

Skaters on the rink.

Tomorrow promises to be equally diverse and exciting with visits to the British Film Institute’s archive and the British Library planned. Perhaps I’ll wrap up the day with the yoga society’s weekly evening session. Namaste!