Performing the Kimono in the 19th Century

Gustave Leonard de Jonghe (Belgian, 1829 – 1893), (L’admiratrice du Japon), The Japanese Fan, c. 1865, oil on canvas, 44 ¼ x 34 1/16 in., Gift of the Francis & Miranda Childress Foundation, AG.1988.3.1. Cummer Museum. 

With the Americans’ forceful opening of Japanese markets in 1853, waves of ‘Japonisme’ washed over the West until well into the 20th century. One of Japan’s key exports during this period was the kimono, which was not produced in the West until around the fin de siècle. In an attempt to maintain and increase demand for the kimono, Japan did not export part of its own kimono stock, but rather created kimonos with what the Japanese considered to be a Western cut and textile patterns. Nonetheless, the exoticism of these garments became immensely popular in the West, whilst simultaneously the kimono was considered Oriental indecorum. Therefore, for most of the 19th century, wearing a kimono became a performance. Through the performance, an ‘othering’ took place that allowed a ‘respectable Western woman’ to wear a kimono without it being considered inappropriate.

Alfred Stevens (Belgian 1823-1906), La Parisienne japonaise, c. 1872, oil on canvas, 105 × 150 cm (41.3 × 59.1 in), AM 526/183. © Liège, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Boverie.

This performance was not only presented in 19th century Western paintings, but also perfectly expressed by a reader’s letter published by Good Housekeeping in May 1904. The publication, founded in 1885 by Clark W. Bryan, was as one of the first women’s magazines “conducted in the interests of the higher life of the household.” As such, rather than expressing the fashions and ideas of the wealthy, it focussed on general information for the influential new middle class. The reader’s letter describes a Japanese tea party that was hosted the year before and sets out an approach to giving your own:

“Write the invitations on a Japanese napkin, then tuck each one into a tiny Japanese lantern on which the guest’s name has been printed with India ink. […] The reception rooms may be adorned by lanterns, fans, parasols, screens, all of Japanesy style. Scatter cherry blossoms in great snowy masses to light up shadowy corners. […] The hostess may quite properly receive her guests – who of course are all ladies – in a graceful, gorgeous, silky kimono. Her hair should be dressed Japanese style, adorned with half a dozen tiny bright fans, and she should wear pointed, embroidered slippers.”

John Atkinson Grimshaw (British 1836-1893), Spring, c. 1875, oil on canvas. Private Collection.

As the reader’s description makes clear, rather than just dressing up in a kimono, the hostess needs to imitate Japanese style as thoroughly as possible, including in her hair and shoes. Her home, too, should be decorated with as many Japanese objects as possible and even the invitations should look decidedly Japanese. Through recreating this little Japanese scene, rather than just hosting a party, she is clad in a costume and her home becomes a kind of set design. In that way, the performance allows a Western woman enough distance from her normal self to wear an ‘oriental’ garment without it affecting her status. Many Western painters were interested in the theme or ‘Orientalism’ and painted women in kimonos surrounded by Japanese art objects and furniture.

Frans Verhas (Belgian 1827 – 1897), Le Kimono Japonais, painting on panel, 75 x 47.5 cm. (29.5 x 18.7 in.). Private Collection.

William Merritt Chase (American 1849-1916), A Comfortable Corner (At Her Ease; The Blue Kimona [sic}; The Blue Kimono), c. 1888, oil on canvas, 57 x 44 1/2 inches, Littlejohn Collection, 1961.5.21. Parrish Art Museum.

Alfred Wordsworth Thompson (American 1840-1896), (La Japonaise), The Japanese Lady, oil on canvas, 114.2 x 76.1 cm (44.96″ x 29.96″). Private collection.

Sources:

Good Housekeeping c. 1904. Discoveries by Our Observers and Experimenters. Good Housekeeping, 38(5), p. 527.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Online]. 2016. Dressing Gown. [Accessed 14 February 2017]. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/155954.

Wood, J. P. 1949. Magazines in the United States. 2nd ed. New York: The Ronald Press Company.

All the Fun of the Fan

Fan painted by Ronot-Tutin, 1890-1900, France. Painted silk gauze and bobbin lace leaf, with mother of pearl sticks and guards. Lady Cory Bequest. V&A.

‘The fan is back’ declared the Financial Times this month. Meanwhile, British Vogue devoted two thirds of a page to the accessory in its February issue. Fashion writer Susie Lau admitted that it was the ‘one accessory that I’ve not had the opportunity to touch upon in all of Style Bubble’s ten year history’ in spite of the many modern day instances where one was required – namely fashion shows, on the underground, and wherever there is a lack of air conditioning in the summer months.

British Vogue, February 2017

What prompted such headlines? The highly symbolic accessory appeared on the Gucci catwalk for Spring/Summer 2017 – a flat, rigid Japanese éventail style. All three articles referenced a just-launched brand called Fern Fans established by London-based PR Daisy Hoppen and Danish textile designer Amanda Borberg, who have revised the traditional pleated concertina style in birchwood and textured cottons for the contemporary consumer.

Fan, 1820-30, France. Pierced Ivory. Given by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt and Lady Wyatt. V&A.

The fan is an accessory with a rich and whimsical history, with pictorial history suggesting their use as far back as 3000BC. Their purpose is not just keeping oneself cool – fans have long had a ceremonial role, with the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans using them in this way. European folding fans came much later – introduced by merchant traders and religious orders from China and Japan – and regarded as status symbols, reserved for Royalty and nobility. They were often highly ornamental, using materials such as mother of pearl, ivory and tortoiseshell for their sticks and guards, decorated with precious metals and gems, and hand-painted; craftsmen dedicated to producing fans gradually formed guilds such as The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers (established during the reign of Charles II in London and incorporated by a royal charter in 1709).

Fan, 1750-60, France. Painted paper and mother of pearl. Given by Emily Beauclerk. V&A.

Fan, 1820-30, England or France. Horn sticks, gouache and metal. Given by Admiral Sir Robert and Lady Prendergast. V&A.

After the swift rise of the accessory in the late 16th and 17th century – often pictured in the hands of ladies in portraits from this time, including Elizabeth I (see the ‘Darnley Portrait’, c. 1575) – increased imports together with new methods developed by manufacturers to print fans meant that they became cheaper to purchase and available to a wider audience. The Fan Museum in Greenwich documents the fan’s continued history and craft and a significant number of examples on show in the Fashion and Textile rooms in the V&A. These include an 18th and several 19th century fans; the former is French, made of hand-painted paper featuring leisure scenes, the latter range from pierced ivory to horn, and painted flowers on silk gauze. There’s even a peacock-printed plastic and paper fan for sale in the shop.

Fan in the V&A shop

Beyond ornament and temperature-regulation, the fan developed an altogether more intriguing role in concealing and revealing the wearer’s emotions in delicate social situations. It holds the potential to do much more than hide a blush, illicit smile or veil boredom. Behold: a guide to speaking the language of one of fashion’s most enduring accessories.

To hold the fan with the right hand in front of the face: follow me
To move the fan with the left hand: they are watching us
To throw the fan: I hate you
To hold the fan closed: do you love me?
To move the fan with the right hand: I love another
To open and close the fan: you are cruel
To hold the fan open, covering the mouth: I am single
To fan slowly: I am married
To fan quickly: I am engaged
To hold the fan on the lips: kiss me
To open the fan slowly: wait for me
To open the fan with the left hand: come and talk to me
To strike it closed on the left hand: write to me

References

Farrell, Aimee, ‘The fan is back – and it’s cooler than ever’, Financial Times (1st February, 2017)

Fern Fans

Lau, Susanna, ‘The Fanfare of Fern’, Style Bubble (12th January, 2017)

Pithers, Ellie, ‘Do you speak fan?’, British Vogue (February, 2017), p. 57

The Fan Museum

The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers

5 Minutes with… Courtauld MA Student Aristea Rellou

‘Documenting Fashion’ not only aims to analyse fashion imagery, contexts and theoretical approaches. No, the course’s influence is much more far-reaching. It subtly trains the eye towards using a fashion gaze to view the world around us. The Courtauld itself, being a small institution with a specialised subject and student body, provides a fertile ground to practice it. So, in order to expand on my own perception of someone’s style I decided to ask Courtauld MA student Aristea Rellou about her clothes in order to get the inside scoop. Aristea’s fabulous way of dressing had always caught my eye through its slightly edgy, yet classic look. She kindly agreed to share her thoughts with me on what inspires her to dress the way she does.

Aristea is a student of the Print Culture and the Early Modern Arts of Italy, France and Spain MA special option. Before attending the Courtauld she studied Law at the University of Athens and Art History at the New School in New York. It was the latter where she felt her own style coming together and her interest in fashion growing. The student body there was fashionable and sported distinctive looks. Her inspiration was furthered by working in commercial art galleries, where a strong statement look oftentimes comes with the profession. Aristea is inspired by people with an innate sense of style, as they present themselves through their clothing. ‘Being very comfortable with the way you dress comes with knowing yourself too,’ she muses.

Aristea has noticed about her own approach that she chooses items which deconstruct the body. She grins: ‘It’s very Cubist, now that I think about it.’ Large shapes which do not necessarily conform to her body’s silhouette allow her to play around with juxtapositions. On the day I met her she wore a white, cropped top, tied at the front, high-waisted, wide dark trousers and a pale, blue/grey, long coat that reached to her lower calves. She topped everything off by choosing sturdy red shoes. Yet for all the deconstruction, a classic element to her clothes is also intrinsic to her look. When going shopping with her sister, they joke with each other: ‘Well, would Kate Middleton buy this?’ It is a smart move, as it also allows Aristea to be dressed appropriately all day long. Her daywear functions and shifts easily into evening wear.

Lastly, we talk about make-up. Winged eyeliner completes Aristea’s style. Even more so than clothing she thinks make-up reflects on where we currently are in our lives and how we feel. This discussion also brings me back full circle to ‘Documenting Fashion,’ where we have discussed Joanne B. Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins’ definition of dress ‘… as an assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements displayed by a person in communicating with other human beings.’ Thank you for communicating with me, Aristea!

 

Sources:

Eicher, Joanne B. and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins, ‘Definition and Classification of Dress,’ in Ruth Barnes and Joanne B. Eicher, Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts (Oxford: Berg, 1993), pp. 8-28. (P.15)

 

 

Looking North

Open Eye Gallery withVirgil Abloh and Ben Kelly’s installation

For the past few years, London’s galleries have been hosts to some incredible fashion exhibitions, luring visitors from every corner of the world to pore over their sartorial treasures. With the dawn of a new year, however, a new city is emerging as the latest fashion destination. From January 6 until March 19 2017, Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery is showcasing North: Identity, Photography, Fashion, an exhibition curated by SHOWstudio’s editor Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. Prompted by the impact the North of England has had on fashion, music, design and art the world over, as well as the clichés associated with the area, the exhibition explores and challenges these dominant themes, asking the visitors to come to their own conclusions. The heritage of the North is unpicked through photography, historical films, interviews with its artists and designers, garments, fashion magazines and music, highlighting the impressively far-reaching influence of the region, one which is seldom acknowledged, ignored even, in the capital city oriented fashion world.

“Liverpool is tiny, but it has a lot of impact.” – Christopher Shannon, designer | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

With Stoppard and Murray not being full-time curators, the organisation of the space is free of restrictions and preconceptions of seasoned professionals, allowing for a fresh take on the potential of exhibitions. The rooms have a relaxed vibe, a coolness about them, which one can already sense getting off the train at one of Liverpool’s stations and walking through its streets to reach the gallery. It feels very authentic, honest and respectful in its representation of England’s North, a much welcome relief from the sometimes derogatory mentions the area gets in the media. Walking through the exhibition, admiring the prints by fashion’s favourites Jamie Hawkesworth, Alasdair McLellan and David Sims while being slightly amused by Alice Hawkins’ genius portraits of Northern teen girls or perusing the editorials in i-D, Arena Homme+, Vogue and The Face, all inspired by the visuals of the region and displayed in custom-made Sheffield steel vitrines (not a single detail escaped the curators), one starts to question the lack of credit given to cultural centres outside of London. Even musical legends such as Morrissey, The Stone Roses, New Order and Oasis, who have conquered the world with their sounds, (and who rightfully have their own pride of place within the exhibition) grew up and formed within the North’s energetic environments. No one can dispute that the talent which hails from and is inevitably profoundly influenced by the North of England enjoys great stature worldwide, yet their origins are often forgotten. Fortunately, North brings the talent home again.

“There’s tons of beautiful girls in Liverpool that aren’t WAGs with caked on make up.” – Thom Murphy, stylist | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion

The magnitude and the wealth of visuals the North provides the world with becomes even more apparent upon entering the fashion gallery. Garments from the Belgian Raf Simons, German adidas and American/Milanese/Ghanaian Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh all clearly show signs of the North, emphasising its crucial and international role. On display are various versions of the adidas Samba and ZX trainers dedicated to Northern cities. Elsewhere, an Off-White knit pays tribute to the Gallagher brothers, while a Raf Simons Autumn/Winter 03 parka with a print of New Order’s ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ album cover designed by Peter Saville hangs nearby. The parka can still be bought online, though it does fetch $20,000. Who said the North wasn’t fashionable? Add the giant steel columns created by Abloh and Ben Kelly, the designer of Manchester’s iconic Hacienda nightclub, interior of which was a starting point for this installation, which, complete with Abloh’s signature chevron, dominate the facade of Open Eye Gallery, and the North of England is firmly secured on fashion’s radar.

“The most Northern part of me is my sense of humour. That more than anything is the thing that has endured and what I use in my way of dealing with people. But I’m not a professional Northerner.” – Simon Foxton, stylist | Raf Simons parka from ‘Control’ Autumn/Winter 2003

“Some things I explore in my collections relate to my life in the North-East. There’s a sense of real life, because things aren’t so aspirational.” – Claire Barrow, designer | Mark Szaszy, Corrine Day – Diary (Extract) (2012)

There are many other gems scattered around the exhibition space. A small Panasonic TV from decades past screens an extract from Corrine Day’s diary, where the late photographer reminisces about her shoot for Dutch magazine in 2001 titled ‘A British Summer: Blackpool 2001’ featuring Kate Moss, George Clements and Rosemary Ferguson. A 1939 short film named ‘Spare Time’ documents the people of Sheffield, Manchester, Bolton and Pontypridd in the in-between times when they are not working in the towns’ famous industries. Watching the movie sat on a park bench, headphones on, you get sucked in, almost feeling as though you are in the film yourself, observing the goings on, being a part of the daily Northern life. Yet the biggest surprise is upstairs. The room is transformed into an old, seventies maisonette, complete with lace curtains, a floral print armchair, a bed with an embroidered throw, a giant wooden cross, shaggy carpet and old rotary dial telephones prompting the visitors to pick them up, revealing sound bites by Northern creatives such as Stephen Jones, Christopher Shannon, Claire Barrow and Gareth Pugh in which they look back at their upbringing and the importance of the North of England in their life and work. It is a charming corner to relax in, take a trip down memory lane, meet the locals and ponder on the importance the North of England has on the country’s image. Perhaps just this little refuge in a twenty-first century city is a reason enough to return for another visit. As Gary Aspden remarks in his interview upstairs, “all roads lead back to the North.” This exhibition is a testament to that. So do yourself a favour, brave the almost five hour long round trip from London and visit the Open Eye Gallery. Believe me, it is worth it!

“I still think that people from down South don’t understand people from up North. And it is this huge cultural, class and every-which-way divide.” – Stephen Jones, milliner | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion)

“I feel still very much connected to where I grew up… it’s a huge part of who I am. And I think in that it’s the Northern work ethic, that’s also something that is quite important.” – Gareth Pugh, designer | A view of North: Identity, Photography, Fashion 

Sources:

‘North’ on SHOWstudio.com

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Musings on ‘Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe’

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Following an incredible visit to the archives on Monday, we returned to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York on Tuesday for the exhibitions – we simply could not miss out on the opportunity of seeing more of FIT’s work. One of these was Proust’s Muse- The Countess Greffulhe which is based on a show previously held in Paris entitled La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe. The exhibition focuses on Countess Greffulhe’s style and fashion and aims to highlight her role in inspiring the character of Oriane in Marcel Proust’s In Search of a Lost Time.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT

Located in the basement of FIT, the exhibition was separated into two rooms. One of these was a long entry hallway. Here, the show was introduced through photographs of the Countess and some of her contemporaries as well as by means of a video. This was extremely useful in setting the tone of the exhibition. Narrated by Valerie Steele, FIT’s Director and chief curator, it highlights the thinking behind the exhibition and outlines some of the key dresses on display. The exhibition itself was located in a large hall, which allowed for the clothes to be spread out generously. The black wall colour, high ceilings and dim lighting helped to highlight each garment, although some of the colours of the fabrics were a little lost as an effect. The exhibition showcases a selection of Countess Greffulhe’s clothes and accessories over the course of her lifetime, enabling the viewer to gain an overview of her personal style. House of Worth, Fortuny and Babani are just three examples of her choice of designers. Particularly insightful into the Countess as a style icon is the “Byzantine” House of Worth dress from 1904, which she chose to wore for her daughter’s wedding. The viewer is told that in it, she outshone the bridal dress of her daughter, having arrived at the wedding venue with enough time to spare to showcase her dress to any guests and bystanders.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Countess Greffulhe, as an exhibition and as a person, seemed a perfect fit for our course as it reflects the breadth of the role that fashion can take. It sums up the personal element of style, reflecting questions of identity and representations as well as using dress as a mediator to express these. This is applicable to both, the Countess’ clothes as well as her staging of dress in photographs. As Steele sums up, ‘the Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion. And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant.’

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe Installation View | Installation view of the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe at The Museum at FIT. An exhibition developed by the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Photograph © 2016 The Museum at FIT.

Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe will be on display at FIT New York until January 7, 2017.

 

Sources:

Proust’s Muse – The Countess Greffulhe Exhibition Handout

http://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/prousts-muse.php

https://flic.kr/s/aHskJYFyX2 

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Anna Wintour Costume Center

The current exhibition on show at the Anna Wintour Costume Center at the MET has been given the title Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion. Rather than exploring a theme, as Judith Clark has so brilliantly done with Vulgar at the Barbican Centre, the MET’s assistant curator Jessica Regan presents viewers with a mix of fashion with no unifying theme or trend or feature other that the 50 pieces were acquired over the last decade, and that each may be termed a ‘masterwork’.

HOUSE OF WORTH (French, 1858-1956) Jean-Philippe Worth (French, 1856-1926) BALL GOWN, 1898, haute couture | Light blue silk satin brocaded à la disposition with yellow and ivory silk; embroidered with silver sequins, clear rhinestones, and clear and silver seed beads; trimmed with ivory cotton lace, black silk velvet, and light blue silk mousseline | Brooklyn, Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Paul Pennoyer, 1965 (2009.306. 1324a, b)

A decade since the MET’s last acquisitions show, blog.mode: addressing fashion, in 2007, Masterworks marks a shift in the collecting strategy of the museum when it comes to fashion. The phrase ‘Unpacking Fashion’ speaks to this. The set of the exhibition is formed from crates, suggestive of the archives in which the garments are stored to best preserve them, from which they are then unpacked for display. But the term also refers to the academic practice of unpacking an idea, a point, a proposition in order to understand its significance. Why is a sculptural, slashed tulle gown by Viktor and Rolf worthy of being exhibited in a museum? What makes it seminal, important, a masterwork?

The dress in question is not part of everyday dress trends seen on women walking down the street; it was not mass produced, indeed it was worn by only a handful of people. It may not warrant a significant space in an encyclopaedia of Western fashion, but the challenging design and painstaking skill of its construction make it worthy of celebration. No one else, quite simply, has made anything like it.

VIKTOR & ROLF (Dutch, founded 1993) Viktor Hosting (Dutch, born 1969) Rolf Snoren (Dutch, born 1969) BALL GOWN, spring/summer 2010 | Blue polyester tulle, and black silk-synthetic moiré embroidered with white plastic sequins | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2011 (2011.8)

The main Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery is organised chronologically, with each garment accompanied by an in-depth explanation, or rationalisation, of its presence in the exhibition. Designers represented range from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood. The design advances of new names – Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga – and less widely known – Noritaka Tatehana, maker of the extraordinary heel-less shoes favoured by Daphne Guinness – are acknowledged.

Left: MADELEINE VIONNET (French, 1876-1975) EVENING DRESS, 1929, haute couture | Dress: pink silk tulle, embroidered with pink rayon floss; slip: pink silk gauze and crepe de chine | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2009 (2009.248a, b)  Right: JOHN GALLIANO (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) EVENING DRESS, spring/summer 1999 | Peach nylon lace | Gift of John Galliano, 2000 (2000.168)

HOUSE OF BALENCIAGA (French, founded 1937) Cristóbal Balenciaga (Spanish, 1895-1972) DRESS, 1967, haute couture | Green silk gazar | Gift of Judith Straeten, 2015 (2015.711)

The Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery at the end of the exhibition features ensembles donated by designers on the occasion of the retirement of long-serving curator Harold Koda in January this year. These represent specific masterworks long and especially admired by Koda and include a design, re-made for the occasion, from Karl Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel. This stands alongside an intricately embroidered frock coat by Raf Simons for Dior, across from a screen featuring tributes from the great and good of today’s industry.

Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) DRESS, 2015; original design: spring/summer 1983, haute couture | Black silk crepe embroidered with pearls, clear rhinestones, and red, green, gold and orange beads | Gift of CHANEL, in honour of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.632)

HOUSE OF CHANEL (French, founded 1913) Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) SUIT, spring/summer 2011 Jacket and skirt: navy and cream cotton-acrylic nylon-polyester tweed with ivory nylon net; blouse: ivory rayon twill | Gift of CHANEL, 2013 (2013.157.1a-e, h)

Left: HOUSE OF DIOR (French, founded 1947) Raf Simons (Belgian, born 1968) ENSEMBLE, autumn/winter 2014-15, haute couture | Coat and waistcoat: black silk faille embroidered with polychrome silk and metal thread, silver plastic sequins, and clear and iridescent glass beads; blouse: black brushed-wool twill; trousers: black wool flannel | Gift of Christian Dior Couture in honour of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.256a-d)  Right: HOUSE OF DIOR (French, founded 1947) Christian Dior (French,1905-1957) “MYSTÈRE” COAT, autumn/winter 1947-48 | Black wool melton and dark green silk taffeta | Gift of Irene Stone, in memory of her daughter Mrs. Ethel S. Greene, 1959 (C.I.59.26.2)

The lingering question posited by Masterworks is that age old debate: is fashion art? It is clear what the MET believes. The first work you see as you come down the stairs into the exhibition is an expertly crafted Viktor and Rolf dress which resembles a painting smashed over the head of a mannequin – an attempt, surely, to reinforce the point that each garment should be viewed with the same attitude as that afforded by a Van Gogh upstairs. Andrew Bolton, curator-in-charge, has commented on the Costume Institute’s renewed mission ‘to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art.’ It is a vow restated by this thoughtful exhibition, with extraordinary skill and innovation displayed and emphasised by curious pairings and dramatic exchanges – no more so than in the vivid red of a John Galliano for Martin Margiela coat in conversation with its 18th century inspiration.

Left: MAISON MARGIELA (French, founded 1988) John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) ENSEMBLE, spring/summer 2015, artisanal | Coat: red brushed wool needle-felted with red silk chiffon trimmed with red rayon velvet; bra top: black nylon net embroidered with gold metallic thread and gold plastic sequins; briefs: black polyester rib-knit embroidered with gold metallic thread, gold plastic sequins, and gold glass bugle beads; shorts: black cotton denim | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Insititute Gifts, 2015 (2015.541a-f)  Right: French COAT, 1787-92 Red wool broadcloth Purchase | Irene Lewisohn Trust Gift, 1992 (1992.65)

ISSEY MIYAKE (Japanese, born 1938) BUSTIER, autumn/winter 1980-81 | Red moulded polyester resin and cellulose nitrate  | Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2015 (2015.61)

Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until 5 February, 2017.

A Visit to the V&A

For viewing fashion from 1920-1960, there is no better place in London than the Fashion Galleries, Room 40, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. So, off I went to South Kensington to see the displays which cover the highlights of fashion from 1750 to the present. The display cases are lined along the perimeter of a large circular gallery which allows one to choose whether to follow a chronological path or to travel against time as one wishes. These are some of the highlights of the exhibition.

The 1920s and 1930s are emphasised as a time of increased bodily ease and comfort in fashion as designs became more fluid and less ornate than before World War I. No longer defined by the waist, fashions of the 20s were tubular in shape and hemlines were raised to below the knee, allowing for a wider range of motion benefitting popular dances such as the Charleston. In the 1930s, attire for sporting activities became important and influenced fashion which is represented in a display of a tennis dress, two bathing costumes, and a beach walking suit. The active body and increased independence for women were key aspects of modernity reflected in the fashions of the time. Fashionable sportswear presents such activities as tennis, bathing, and dancing as appropriate and even desirable for women.

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Wartime austerity in Britain is represented by a Utility Suit from 1943 with a gas-mask bag worn cross-body as many handbags are today. Restrictions on clothing circumscribed that skirts should be knee-length without pleats and folds that would require an excess of fabric and jackets could not have more than three buttons.

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The close tailoring of the 1940s, imposed upon women, lasted until 1947 when Christian Dior famously showed his collection featuring longer, voluminous skirts and nipped-in defined waists dubbed the ‘New Look.’ To help women embrace what was a sea-change in dressing, magazines such as Vogue promoted the new silhouette heavily, which eventually became an icon of the 1950s. A display devoted to Dior’s ‘Zemire’ dress from 1954, made for Lady Sekers, showcases the elements of the ensemble. The undergarments reveal how the silhouette of a sculpted bodice and full, circular skirt are achieved. The close narrow shoulders and wasp-waist jacket contrast with the skirt’s volume to create the extreme hour-glass figure reminiscent of the mid-nineteenth century, a source underscored by the mirror and fan in the display. The Dior case is a clear highlight of the gallery, at once deconstructing and celebrating the designer’s signature look.

dior-va

Maison Doucet

During the Belle Epoque period, at 21 Rue de la Paix in Paris, stood Maison Doucet, one of the most fashionable couture houses of the day. Under the tutelage of Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret got his start there, as did Madeleine Vionnet, before they went on to their own success as couturiers. The clients at Doucet, as with most top couture houses, ranged from social elites and nobles to courtesans and celebrity actresses such as Rejane and Sarah Bernhardt (Figs. 1 and 2). Notably, Doucet was also patronized by younger American socialites such as Carrie Schermerhorn Astor, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Edith Wharton.

thumbnail_doucet-rejane-cover-3

Fig. 1: Actress Rejane wearing a Doucet at-home gown, cover of Les Modes, August 1902.

thumbnail_doucet-bruck-les-modes

Fig. 2: P. Nadar. Actress Rosa Bruck in Doucet, Les Modes, November, 1901.

To dispel the expenses of a trip to Paris, Doucet dresses were sold in New York at Arnold, Constable & Co. and Lord & Taylor’s and models were available at the exclusive dressmaking establishments of Madame Barnes and Madame Donovan. More than one woman who did return from Paris with a Doucet in her trunk reportedly tried to evade customs because of the excessive duties.

Turn-of-the-century fashions were characterized by exuberant surface decoration, where the materials, techniques, and styling of different decorative elements showed off one’s prosperity, indeed Doucet indulged heavily in such excess of beautification. One of the characteristic traits of the Doucet aesthetic is the use of fluid, unstructured fabrics such as lace, tulle, silk, fur, and satin (Figs. 3 and 4). From the turn of the century, with the body-skimming Directoire style and the taste for tea gowns, Maison Doucet’s expertise with fabrics put the couture house at the height of fashion. Doucet dresses were just a bit softer in their drape, delicate in their surfaces and the vision of beauty fit in with the more sensitive side of the time. That Doucet’s clients were daughters of great society matrons, wives of executives in the fashion retail industry, and popular actresses, confirms that the ultra-femininity of the Maison’s designs were fashion-forward and distinct from the stiffer prestige image of the House of Worth. Is it any wonder then that both Edith Wharton and Marcel Proust conjured up characters that answered to the siren call of Doucet frocks?

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Fig. 3: Doucet. Reception or ball gown. 1910. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Fig. 4: Doucet. Afternoon or tea gown. 1900-1903. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

High society dressing was very much a public consideration, a performance of wealth, class belonging and taste in the age of crass overnight millionaires and dollar princesses. In the highly codified world of social elites, elaborate surface decoration gave expression to the complexity and power of social wealth, presenting ornate femininity as an index of masculine financial prowess in the new business order.

The Maison Doucet sensibilities dovetail with the eighteenth-century revival fashion trend to which he contributed and executed at the highest level, informed by his own art collecting and connoisseurship. The sinuous lines of a peach embroidered ball gown in the art nouveau style have their clear precedent and inspiration in the eighteenth-century meandering lines of Rococo design, found particularly in textiles (Fig. 5).

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Fig. 5: Doucet. Ball gown, 1898-1900. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art Nouveau tiger lily design reminiscent of the Rococo period. Worn by Caroline Schermerhorn Astor Wilson.

Of all the dress styles in a lady’s wardrobe, it was the tea gown, or at-home gown, that most embodied and fulfilled the sensual femininity of the Doucet aesthetic. Due to its light and clingy materials that skimmed a woman’s uncorseted body, it had a naturally suggestive quality to it. The abundance of airy lace over fluid, unstructured silk of a 1907 tea gown conveys the romantic and delicate aesthetic of the early century under the lofty eye of Doucet (Fig. 6). The tea gown’s softness underscores the traditional relationship between femininity and the private sphere while also promoting modern modes of dressing for comfort. The secret to the successful Doucet aesthetic seems to lie in the unabashed sensuality of the clothes no matter what the occasion.

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Fig. 6: Doucet. Tea gown, 1907. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Further Reading

Cole, Daniel James and Nancy Diehl. The History of Modern Fashion. London:Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

Coleman, Elizabeth Ann. The Opulent Era: Fashions of Worth, Doucet and Pingat. New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1989.

Joslin, Katherine. Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion. Durham, New Hampshire: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1998.

The Life of a Young Fashion Designer: Yordan Mihalev

Born in Bulgaria, Yordan Mihalev is a 26-year-old fashion designer who studied at Varna Free University in Bulgaria, with a semester abroad at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp that also educated designers such as Dries van Noten. With a first prize for “Young Designer”, television interviews and an Italian shop interested in buying his latest collection, he is on his way to establishing his brand.

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Juanistyle Photography | First Model: Aïsha Bénédicte Mibenge |  Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels, 2013

What have you been working on since completing your study?

My first fashion show took place about a month before my graduation at Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels. The idea of the event was to gather a lot of designers from different countries to create a collection that was inspired by their own culture, so my entire collection was inspired by Bulgaria and presented by models of African origin.

Afterwards, I moved to Paris where I had a normal, paid job for an American brand, which I wasn’t really interested in. In addition to the job, I did a lot of side projects with different stylists, designers and artists which was really nice, but not spectacular. One of the projects, perhaps the most interesting one, was for Palais de Tokyo. I worked with a stylist and designer who is mainly famous for working with Lady Gaga. He’s a big name and a very interesting guy and I was lucky to have the chance to work for him as an illustrator.

I returned to Bulgaria about nine months ago, because I discovered that it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do in Paris. I was first thinking about going to Germany, but Bulgaria was a more obvious choice because I would have much more space to create my collection. Since February, I have constantly been working on my new collection, which I presented at the beginning of October at the Salone della Moda, a yearly event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

What is your favourite part of designing fashion?

The beginning and the end. The beginning and end are the most interesting because the beginning is when you have ideas; a vision of what you want to do. You’re only drawing and sketching and it feels free and you can experiment. The end is when you finally see everything three-dimensionally; everything is done. I don’t know about other designers, but I am always surprised at the end at what it finally became.

Are you now working on setting up your own brand in Bulgaria?

Yes. It’s interesting because for a lot of years I thought that I would have to be outside of Bulgaria, in France, Italy or the US, somewhere where fashion is huge. But this collection, for example, I made in Bulgaria, showed in the Netherlands and now I am going to sell it in Italy. Fashion is very international and the world is such an open place that it doesn’t really matter where you are physically based. I really want to establish my collections in Bulgaria, so that one day I can create spaces and jobs for people in my own country, but after that I want it to be everywhere.

Since the interview, a shop from Dubai has also shown interest in selling Mihalev’s latest collection.

 

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Model: Alina Volkanova | Make-Up: Ivana Dimitrova

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Designer: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Tsanislav Hristov | Make-Up: Maico Kemper | Models from left to right: Jalisa Minnaar, Aissa Sow, Julia Zendman, Liora Schoew, Djerra Zwaan, Sensemielja Letitia Sumter and Lauren Parmentier.

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Designer/Illustrator: Yordan Mihalev | Photographer: Denitsa Diyanova

http://www.mihalevcouture.com/

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.

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

Roger Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917

Roger Fry, Nina Hamnett, 1917