Dr Sarah Cheang to Speak at the Courtauld

Join us Monday 19 June in the Research Forum from 12:30 pm-1:30 pm for ‘Transnational Fashion History: Some Problems in Twentieth-Century Chineseness,’ a lecture by Dr Sarah Cheang! It will also be available on a live stream at this link.

‘Cloquelle et Cloky ou le Voyage en Chine,’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Fashion is an emphatically transnational form of modernity and yet it is continually made to serve national agendas and uses pervasive ethnic stereotypes to create cultural value. Fashion thus creates embodied and material engagements between national and cosmopolitan subjectivities. This paper explores the vexed topic of fashion, nation and diaspora, foregrounding histories of imperialism, East Asian and European identities. New narratives of national identity are investigated by engaging directly with the transnational as a flexible state of in-between during which fashion produces multiple modernities and multiple subjectivities from within colonialism’s complex webs of global exchange and unequal power relations. Posing new questions about twentieth-century Chinese identity by placing iconic forms such as the qipao and the Chinese shawl within a transnational context, the nature of the exotic, constructions of western and non-western fashion, and the field of fashion itself are reconsidered. The paradox of fashion is that it demonstrates through flows of objects and ideas, commerce, people and politics that fashion objects are not reducible to a single culture, but at the same time fashion constantly plays with symbols of national identity in order to create personal and public meaning. This paper takes up that paradox as a key site for a deeper understanding of the East Asian within fashion history.

Sarah Cheang is Senior Tutor in the History of Design at the Royal College of Art, London. Her research centres on transnational fashion, material culture and the body from the nineteenth century to the present day, on which she has published widely. Her work is characterized by a concern with the experience and expression of ethnicity through fashion and body adornment. She co-edited the collection Hair: Styling, Culture and Fashion (2008), writing on hair and race, as well as reflecting more generally on the meanings of hair within a wide range of cultures. Fascinated by states of in-between and the creative potential of metamorphosis and misunderstanding, she recently led the research project Fashion and Translation: Britain, Japan, China, Korea (2014-15), exploring East Asian identities through the ways that fashion travels between cultures. She is currently embarking on a new photographic project on hair, humanity and cycles of life and death.

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.

Welcome Spring! A Look at Lanvin’s Floral Frocks

Pierre Brissaud, “Dansons la capucine” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

With April fast approaching, so too come the beautiful blooms of spring! In celebration of warmer weather and brighter days, here are some fun floral designs from the early-twentieth century couturier Jeanne Lanvin.

Jeanne Lanvin for the House of Lanvin, “Roseraie” dress, Spring/Summer 1923. Silk. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Anonymous gift, 1964). Available at this link.

Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) started a millinery business in the 1890s and later expanded into couture as the clothes she designed for her daughter became popular among friends and fashionistas. By the 1920s the House of Lanvin was well established and wide-reaching, producing fragrances and clothes for men, women, and children. A guiding principle in her creation of female couture, as Lanvin put it in 1929, was that “modern clothes need some sort of romantic quality.” As such, her designs reveled in femininity through the use of ruffles, lace, ribbon, and, most notably, flowers. Many wonderful examples of Lanvin’s floral dresses survive in collections around the world, including a striking red and cream dress embellished with roses from 1923. This gown demonstrates how Lanvin’s preference for embroidery and appliqué (instead of patterned fabric) resulted in sumptuous, highly detailed creations. Ombré ribbons are arranged in a geometric pattern and punctuated with folded-ribbon roses, as well as a rose collar, sleeves, and belt. The marriage of a sleek pattern and soft roses evinces Lanvin’s eye for romanticizing trends to fit her house’s characteristic charm.

Jeanne Lanvin for the House of Lanvin, Dress, 1927. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Credit line: Gift of Varney Thompson Elliott and Rosemary Thompson Franciscus in memory of their mother, Margaret Whitney Thompson, 1985). Available at this link.

Pierre Brissaud, “Il n’a pas pleuré” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Lanvin excelled at the robe de style, a gown that favored full skirts instead of the straighter silhouette popular at the time. While her robe de style were occasionally embroidered with flowers, it was more common for a large flower pin with copious ribbons to be pinned to the dress. Nearly identical pins can be seen in a dress from 1927 and a fashion plate from seven years earlier in the Gazette du Bon Ton. Pinned at the bust instead of the waist, this pin speaks to the continuity of style in the House of Lanvin, as well as a prevailing trend for florals.

Pierre Brissaud, “On t’attend” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1920. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Nearly every issue of the Gazette du Bon Ton features illustrated gowns by Lanvin, many of them with floral embellishments. Gazette du Bon Ton, which ran from 1912 to 1915 and 1920 to 1925, was an elite fashion magazine with intricate pochoir illustrations. The sweet scenes displaying Lanvin’s couture for women and children embody in turns a maternal ideal and feminine elegance. In both instances, florals lend a graceful naturalness to the looks on show.

Pierre Brissaud, “Venez danser” in Gazette du Bon Ton, 1921. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Further Reading

Cole, Daniel James and Nancy Deihl. The History of Modern Fashion from 1850. London:
Laurence King Publishing, 2015.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Fashion Designers. London: Thames and Hudson, 1985.

Pel, Martin. 1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs. London: Unicorn in association with
Fashion and Textile Museum, London, 2016.

 

White Dresses, Summer Heat & Fashion Illustration

Georges Lepape, "Les Cerises", 1913, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Georges Lepape, “Les Cerises”, 1913, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Summer is at least attempting to begin here in London – we have intermittent, weak sunshine – so let’s be encouraged by the potential for warmth and look to the new season’s wardrobe.  Scanning editions of the wonderful Gazette du Bon Ton in the History of Dress collection at The Courtauld, I have noticed the continued fascination for white dresses, sometimes trimmed with primary colours, often left blank for maximum impact.  Of course, this makes perfect sense, white reflects the light, giving a cooling effect, but also has an emotional resonance – it looks nonchalant, we can imagine the feel of delicate fabrics against our skin and perceive white clothes to be fresh and airy.  Even though this impression may be difficult to maintain if you do not inhabit the luxurious realm of Gazette’s fashion plates.

A.E. Marty, "Les Jeux de plein air", 1913, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

A.E. Marty, “Les Jeux de plein air”, 1913, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Georges Barbier, "Un peu...", 1913, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Georges Barbier, “Un peu…”, 1913, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Charles Martin, "Et oui voici mon coeur", 1920, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Charles Martin, “Et oui voici mon coeur”, 1920, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Editor Lucien Vogel employed an elite cadre of artists to populate his publication’s pages.  These illustrators understood how to convey dress in detail, while simultaneously conjuring the mood and environment in which it might be worn. The pochoir technique that the journal used for its plates added luxurious depth to the images – as stencils were used to apply form and washes of colour that were applied by hand, allowing gradation in tone and brush strokes (you can see a more current version of the technique here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkXu21_fSGU ).

Pierre Brissaud, "Rentrons", 1920, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Pierre Brissaud, “Rentrons”, 1920, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Georges Lepape, "La Belle Journee", 1920, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Georges Lepape, “La Belle Journee”, 1920, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

7 A.E. Marty

A.E. Marty, “Au Loup”, 1921, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

In its summer editions, Gazette featured illustrations that showed the ways weather, movement, activity and emotion could all be encapsulated in a rectangle of well-designed print on heavy, textured paper.  Here are a few examples for you to enjoy – and perhaps consider as summer fashion inspiration. From Georges Lepape’s 1913 cherry picker, dressed in Paul Poiret, to the minimal lines of tennis dress shown in bleached out heat in Chastel’s 1924/25 image.  This selection shows fashion illustration’s importance as a medium, and conveys the enduring appeal of the white summer dress …

Benito, "A Las Baleares", 1921, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Benito, “A Las Baleares”, 1921, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Chastel, "Sur La Terrasse", 1924, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Chastel, “Sur La Terrasse”, 1924, All images History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art

Skating

Fashion on the Ice and Snow (1940), Prelinger Archive 

 

As this promotional film for Sacony, ‘America’s Number One Name in Sportswear’ attests, winter fashions have long been a preoccupation. And as those of us who are lucky enough to work at Somerset House know, the ice rink makes a dynamic addition to our everyday landscape, its shining surface and the perpetual movement of its visitors, a stark contrast to the regimented architecture and grey skies above.  While most of us probably reach for jeans when we go skating, the 1940s fashions shown in the film suggest a more self-conscious approach to dressing, in terms of both style and practicality. I thought it would be interesting to watch the film as part of our series of ‘Winter Mode’ posts, which reflect on the research and ideas generated from our display for Fashioning Winter.

The film glides – literally and figuratively – from black and white scenes of skiers shooting down snow-clad mountains, to a full-colour show of skating and related fashions. The breathless commentary reflects the speed of the winter sports, and gives a sense of urgency to the images. Movement and landscape are used to entice consumers to associate Sacony – a brand that developed in the 1920s – with garments that work with the body, enhancing skill, while remaining stylish.

The narrator conflates wearer, activity and dress, stating that the clothes are ‘just as strong as the American girl.’ And the outfits shown celebrate adaptability and attention to detail – they are designed and manufactured to fit closely, protecting wearers from the cold and wet, ensuring they stay in place, even during a fall in the snow.

The first section mimics documentary film, its stark black and white footage mirroring sports coverage of the time and adding to the sense of professionalism. Whereas the later section focuses on fashion expertise, with models presenting Sacony’s range outside, against a backdrop of chalets and other après ski scenes. This colour section leans on spectacle – first a skating display of women in identical, ultra feminine outfits that speak of the ballet dancer, rather than the workwear inspirations that dominate the styles shown next.  These comprise neat bomber jackets and trousers, tucked into sturdy boots. Tops are reversible, pockets edged with colours, as primaries and darker shades are combined to provide a sense of dynamic layers. Practicality is paramount – we are told that ‘no snow sneaks inside’ the special inner cuffs used to keep the wearer completely warm and dry. There is a continual sense of optimism – the film is edited to give viewers the sense of move seamlessly from rink or ski slope to ‘Winter Wonderland’ resort. We are encouraged to imagine the feel of the clothes, as models slide gauntlet gloves off and on, squeeze them into pockets and the rich colours allow us to think of the experience of wearing soft wool sweaters under fitted jackets.

The mix of masculine/unisex separates is again quite different from the skating ensembles shown. These retain the limited but striking colour range, while bringing focus to the women’s legs, with full, knee-length skirts that have bright linings. These would spool out from the body while skating, adding vivid reds to the monochrome of the ice rink.

The film’s final shot reinforces Sacony’s message. A line up of models wear the full spectrum of its range – from the skiwear shown, to swimsuits and ‘spectator’ sportswear, the casual, but smart separates for everyday wear that would become a defining feature of American fashion. We are also reminded of ready-to-wear’s promise: Sacony boasts that its garments are both good quality and reasonably priced, and, the final sleight of hand of mass-manufactured fashion, ‘Very Exclusively Yours.’