A Bonnie Wee Peep into the World of Ms. Cashin

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you.

Bonnie Cashin wearing a traditional Korean gat that she purchased during her travels for the Ford Foundation in East Asia during the 1950s. Additions to image made by the author.

Before this trip to New York, I had never seen any of Bonnie Cashin’s Coach-era sketches. Cashin designed for the luxury accessories brand for a little over a decade whilst maintaining her own sportswear company (1952-1985). She was hired by Coach’s wife & husband duo Miles and Lillian Cahn in 1962 to work collaboratively on the brand’s range of leatherwear accessories. From bucket-scooped ‘carriables’ to practical leather-trimmed ponchos, Cashin became well-known for her unusual combinations of texturally diverse fabrics. Cashin was Coach’s first designer, and I believe her veracious, playful nature as a creative can be most resolutely understood through her quirky sketches. 

As previously mentioned, I had never seen Cashin’s sketches before, and yet during this four-day study trip, I was able to closely examine two collections of her work, from different archives: the Special Collections & College Archives at the Fashion Institute of Technology and at the Brooklyn Museum Fashion and Costume Archive. It was not singularly the drawings that provided me with such entertainment—though bold and thoroughly fun—but also the captions Cashin had devised to sit alongside them. Her words inject the drawings with a splash of campy humour.

Sketch by Bonnie Cashin for Coach, Special Collections & College Archives collection at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Photo by author.

Take, for example, this waifish figure laden with piles of precariously stacked Cashin-Coach handbags, which are seemingly ready to topple from her outstretched arms. In the right top-hand corner of this sketch is the accompanying caption: ‘I just want to steal every Cashin-carry I can put my hands on’.

‘I’d rather wear body bags than body stockings’, sketch by Bonnie Cashin for Coach, Special Collections & College Archives collection at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Photo by author.

In this sketch, like the others I studied, Cashin employs a provocative statement and counterbalances its weight with her own special brand of humour. The term ‘body bag’ holds two meanings—at least to me (!): a bag in which you place a cadaver… or a cross-body bag in which you hold your phone, keys, lip-salve, whatever. The drawing of an in-motion model paired with a quirky caption makes Cashin’s work that much more unique. She has also incorporated her own surname to further instate the mark of her hand within the image. 

I am reminded of the wit that contemporary illustrators, such as Julie Hout, use to poke fun at the commercial fashion industry’s superficial nature. Even though the girls that decorate Hout’s Instagram feed are clumsy, brash and all together horribly scatty, I want to be them, and their parodied inadequacies make them all the more relatable. 

Julie Hout vs. Bonnie Cashin – additions to image made by the author.

This is also true of Cashin’s cluttered mannequin, weighed down by her bags, her indecision and her shopaholic tendencies. I like to think of her illustrative style as a precursor to the current trend of satirical fashion illustrations swarming our Instagram feeds. 

Once again, we defer to you, Bonnie!  

Find amazing images of Cashin’s sketches on FIT’s digital image library: fitdil.fitnyc.edu 

OR through the Brooklyn Museum’s Costume and Textiles Archive Collection:  www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/archives 

An ode to the talents of Julie Hout (@jooleeloren), seriously, follow her! – additions to image made by the author

Our Visit to Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

China Chic: East Meets West

One of my favourite parts of our study trip to New York was spending the day at FIT, where we explored their collections, met with their amazing staff and visited two temporary exhibitions: Fabric in Fashion, which looked at how textiles affect the silhouette of 250 years of Western fashion, and Exhibitionism: 50 Years of the Museum at FIT. Exhibitionism was a fabulous and fascinating show that reflected upon some of the museum’s most groundbreaking exhibitions over the last fifty years. Not only did it spotlight some incredible pieces in their collection, both historical and contemporary, but also gave insight into the curatorial thought process. I loved the self-reflexive nature of the exhibition, where objects were grouped by how they were used in past shows. The text panels accompanying various exhibits explained the nature of each show and what curators were attempting to explore. This framing was particularly helpful, as we’re currently working on our Virtual Exhibitions for our MA course, and Exhibitionism essentially mapped out the thought process and approach taken by curatorial and academic all-stars like Valerie Steele. It also introduced me to the work of curators with whom I wasn’t familiar, including Emma McClendon, who we then had the pleasure of meeting as she shared some of FIT’s couture collection with us! Furthermore, it taught me a lot about the goals of the institution to maintain an academic approach in their focused and thoughtful exhibitions, and its role as a teaching museum.

Gothic: Dark Glamour

It was also fun to walk through and catch glimpses of past exhibitions which I hadn’t seen, including Gothic: Dark Glamour from 2009 and China Chic: East Meets West (1999). The labels accompanying each object also listed other shows that they had been used in, highlighting the various ways one garment can be interpreted. The exhibition as a whole was spectacular, visually appealing and cohesive, despite the vast range of objects included. The introductory wall text mentioned how this exhibition helps look towards the museum’s future by reflecting on the past: a sentiment that I think is so vital to considering how fashion collections operate, and to thoughtfully growing and changing as an institution.

Gowns from Madame Grès: Sphinx of Fashion and American Beauty: Aesthetics and Innovation in Fashion

Lily’s New York Highlights

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

This was my first trip outside Europe, which was exciting in itself. I enjoyed taking long walks and exploring the city on foot; the walk from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village was especially interesting for the variety of architecture that we saw. I also liked seeing the embroidery samplers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as such pieces are not often displayed in museums, and it was interesting to read about the historic role of embroidery in girls’ schooling.

Open knit evening dress, circa 1810, The Museum at FIT

At The Museum at FIT, my favourite exhibit was an open knit evening dress from England, ca. 1810, featured in the Fabric in Fashion exhibition. Its cut was typical of the period, but the open knit rendered it a striking take on the Regency trend for sheer fabrics. Upstairs, in the FIT Special Collections, I liked leafing through copies of Rags magazine from 1970. They featured some clever fashion advertisements aimed at counterculture youth, and I found the coded classifieds for New York tattooing services (illegal in the city from 1961-1997) particularly interesting.

Countercultural fashion advertisement in Rags, 1970, FIT Special Collections

Another memorable feature of the New York trip – albeit for different reasons – was the sub-zero temperatures and biting winds. In fact, when I returned to London, my first thought upon alighting the plane was that the temperature here felt practically tropical in comparison.

Athleisure in NY

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

I have been living in London since September, but I am from Canada. So when our class travelled to New York for our study trip last week, for me, it was sort of like going home. I was excited to once again see familiar stores and restaurant chains, as they are part of my native landscape of home comforts. However, now that I think back on our trip, it turns out, surprisingly, that it wasn’t these North American landmarks that made me feel right at home: it was how people dressed. (Maybe not that surprising, come to think of it, for a student of fashion history.) Seeing the way people in New York dress – head-to-toe black athleisure – meant I was back!

 For those of you who are not familiar with the term, athleisure is a style of dress characterised by body-con, athletic-inspired clothing. It became increasingly popular beginning around 2000 as advancements in athletic-wear fabrics stimulated the creation of new light-weight, flexible, high performance and fashion-forward sports garments. Brands like Lululemon are credited for having sparked the trend that has been considered the most important fashion trend of the twentieth century. According to Forbes, the American athleisure industry is worth $44 billion.[1]

All images taken from the official Instagram account of Michi New York (a women’s athletic wear brand)

The question that begs to be asked is: is athleisure really is just a trend? Did the American appeal for versatility and practicality really spawn from athletic-wear brands that launched in the late 90s?

The visits we made to the Parsons, Fashion Institute of Technology and Brooklyn Museum archives would lead me to argue that, in fact, a preference for practical clothing attests to a distinctive American pragmatic attitude to dress that goes back to the first half of the twentieth century. We got to see sketches from various American designers, and it was interesting to see that underpinning their aesthetic were definite links to this established American taste for understated practical clothing. In fact, during the 1930s, Claire McCardell – one of the most influential American designers of the time – was already designing functional sportswear for women.

When I moved to London, it hit me that my ‘go-to’ North American uniform of Lululemon leggings and hoodies, which at home made me blend in with every other college student on my campus, actually made me look extremely underdressed and out of place on the chic streets of London. I was on an entirely different register from the sophisticated, tailored, colourful London look.

Therefore, interestingly, New York made me realize that while personal style may be specific to each person, it is definitely influenced to a certain extent by the surrounding fashion culture.

References: Wilson, Chip. ‘Why the Word “Athleisure” is Completely Misunderstood.” Forbes. April 18, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chipwilson/2018/04/18/why-the-word-athleisure-is-completely-misunderstood/#1c5aa6564697.

New York, New York

At the end of February, Documenting Fashion’s MA class took a study trip to New York. Homecoming for some and the first time in America for others, these few days were outstanding, and we are excited to share our highlights with you. 

This trip was my first visit to New York and sneakily coincided with my birthday (nobody was allowed to forget this). We celebrated by walking in Central Park, visiting a rooftop bar with plastic igloos, as well as another bar with live music, including questionable renditions of Oasis.  

A highlight was seeing sketches by Bergdorf Goodman staff artists of couture designs, which represented clothing available to order at their custom salon. These sketches were made between 1950-69 and are from the FIT archives. I was in awe of the Dior sketches, particularly a beige ballgown with sparkling embellishment.  

SPARKLE

Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge was another highlight, as that day was clear, bright and just a tad freezing. It also gave me a different view of Manhattan, with the skyscrapers in front of me rather than surrounding me. My flatmates had given me a pink, felty bucket hat not just because it averaged –1 degrees in New York, and but also to take pictures with at appropriate New York landmarks. I took full advantage of this. 

Bucket hat bonanza on the Brooklyn Bridge

XOXO

On our last afternoon, we rushed over to the Met to overload ourselves with a last dose of some of art’s greatest hits. We also gleefully overfilled some frozen yoghurt pots with allllll the toppings before realising the price was calculated by weight. With half an hour to go before we needed to leave, I saw a postcard of John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X and decided I had to see her. I rushed off to the second floor and ended up on the opposite side of the building, and when I got to the connecting room, it was closed. Eventually I managed to go a different way, running through the Temple of Dendur. With its floor-to-ceiling windows and fountain, the calm space contrasted with my frantic run-walking. I eventually found Madame X, just as I realised I had two minutes to get back to the others. Even though I nearly jeopardised our airport timings, it was a great end to the trip. 

The Temple of Dendur room

The scandalous Madame X

Dissertation Discussion: Arielle

 

What is the working title of your dissertation?

My title is very working (I change my mind about it daily), but it is currently “Underground Intimacy: Self-Fashioning in Bruce Davidson’s Subway, 1980”.

What led you to choose this subject?

I first saw a few photographs from the Subway series around one year ago on our amazing tutor Rebecca Arnold’s Instagram. I did not know at the time this series would become the topic of my dissertation until I kept coming back to them, enchanted by this closeness I felt to the people within the photographs and Davidson’s use of color and light. I was interested in documentary photography and dress, and I thought the subway created an interesting platform to discuss groups of bodies and self-fashioning.

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

Anthropologist Marc Augé’s Non-places has been the most challenging but most helpful book I have read; I use his theory about transitory spaces like the subway to contextualize my argument. But I’ve also really enjoyed researching the subcultures of New York City in 1980. I don’t directly include it in my dissertation, but I now know a surprising amount about gang culture/customs and the evolution of graffiti in the subway.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?

I can’t choose a favorite! I love the photographs as a series. But the first photograph I knew I wanted to include, and the first visual analysis I wrote, is this photograph of a woman dressed in an all yellow tube top and running short pairing. Her body is turned away from the viewer, but the way Davidson captures the color of her garments and the light reflecting off her skin is so beautiful.

Favorite place to work? 

I do the majority of my research at the V&A National Art Library, but I do my best writing at Timberyard, which is a coffee shop in Seven Dials. (I do also need to give a shout out to the employees at the Pret next to the Courtauld who are so kind to me—they are always asking about my dissertation as I go to them daily for sustenance and caffeine).

Fashion Illustrator Richard Haines to Visit the Courtauld

Join us next week for two events with renowned fashion illustrator and visiting artist Richard Haines! After years as a fashion designer, Richard uses his eye for detail of fabric and form to produce striking images of fashion for clients like Prada, J.Crew, Pennyblack, Il Palacio del Hierro, Calvin Klein, Coach, Georg Jensen, Bobbi Brown, Unionmade Goods, Barneys, Mr. Porter, Grazia, The New York Times Style Magazine, Man of the World, GQ and GQ Italy. Richard also runs the fantastic blog “What I Saw Today,” where he records the style of trendsetters on the streets of New York City.

On Tuesday 21 February, Richard will be in conversation with London-based writer and editor Dal Chodha to discuss how he found his way to illustration from fashion design. This event will be held in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre at the Courtauld Institute of Art. The event is free to all, but make sure to come early to secure a seat!

We will be holding another event with Richard later in the week on Thursday 23 February. At this smaller lecture, Richard answers the question, “What does it mean to be a fashion illustrator in 2017?” through discussions of social media and collaboration. The event is open to Courtauld staff and students, though non-affiliated visitors may book a place at the lecture by emailing researchforum@courtauld.ac.uk. Seating is limited, so reserve your place soon.

If you can’t wait to learn more about Richard, check out his illustrations on Instagram. We hope to see you there!

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of Russian Avant Garde at the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Logo for MOMA’s A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of Russian Avant-Garde (Photo: Dana Moreno)

On Tuesday 6th of December, the second day of our trip, we spent a full day at MoMA on our own. The aim was to soak in MoMA’s art and design galleries related to the period 1920-1960, as well as two temporary displays: One and One is Four: The Bauhaus Photocollages of Josef Albers and A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of Russian Avant-Garde. Visiting these displays brought about the opportunity to see the different artistic movements and ideas from the European and Russian Avant-Garde that were translated into design and fashion during the early twentieth century.

Organized by Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Curator of Drawings and Prints, and Hillary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, the latter exhibition brings together the development of one art movement, the Russian avant-garde from 1912-1935, for the first time at The Museum of Modern Art, and features 260 works from different disciplines including paintings, sculptures, posters, illustrated books, magazines, film, theatre set and costume design, drawings, prints, and objects. All pulled from the Museum’s Russian avant-garde art collection, the most extensive outside Russia, the exhibit provides a brief but intense analysis of the movement’s range of styles, media and social functions.

Wall display with works of Kazimir Malevich, 1916-1918. (Photo: Dana Moreno)

The exhibition, open a few months prior the hundred year anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, depicts the developments of early Suprematism and Constructivism, as well as avant-garde photography, design and film, by Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lyubov Popova, Alexandr Rodchenko, Olga Rozanova and Dziga Vertov, among others.

The first part of this exhibition illustrates the absorption of French modernism in works by Kandinsky and especially Rozanova and Lyubov Popova. With the birth of the artistic movement in 1919, Parisian styles were carefully studied (like works by Picasso and Matisse), which, along with the ideal of a total re-organisation of life and a new form of artistic expression available to the masses, gave life to a number of abstract paintings, design and fashion by making use of fundamental geometric shapes like squares, rectangles, circles, crosses and triangles in a limited range of colours.

El Lissitzky, The New and Globetrotter. Figurines for the opera Victory Over the Sun by A. Kruchenykh, 1920-1921. (Photo: Dana Moreno)

This provides us with a powerful visual introduction to next term’s special option, Documenting Fashion 1920 – 1960; from the social context of Europe and its relationships with Russia to reciprocal influences in art, film, design and fashion. On the latter, constructivists preferred simple geometric shapes and complementing basic colours in their avant-garde designs. Some of the artists worked in textile factories,  later on becoming actively involved in other processes of textile and fashion production and design. With their way of working with materials in such an abstract manner, their aim was to design garments that could be a reflection of practicality and their vision of art.

Vladimir & Georgii Stenberg, Chelovek s Kinoapparatom (The Man with the Movie Camera), 1929, Lithograph. (Photo: Dana Moreno)

Russian constructivism had an immense influence on fashion, a point not only clear in collections of the 1920s and 1930s, but also in later decades. The work of Russian constructivists, along with other international artists, helped establish ideas central to ready-to-wear fashion and mass production, as well as characterizing the previous idea of modern sportswear. Constructivism would also be influential in pieces like the Pierre Cardin’s space-age paper dresses from 1960, which were inspired by art of the early 1920s and were seen as progressive clothing indicative of a utopian society of the future.

A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of Russian Avant-Garde is on at the Museum of Modern Art in New York until March 12.

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty

Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty. Photo: Barbora Kozusnikova.

Marilyn Minter began her long and fruitful career in the explosive art scene of 1980s New York City.  Since the beginning of her practice, Minter has been exploring sexuality, feminism and her subjects’ deepest fantasies and impulses. Such intriguing, unapologetic and often seductive subject matter resulted in a great number of solo exhibitions all over the world and her ‘Green Pink Caviar’ video welcomed MoMA visitors for over a year, appeared on billboards in Los Angeles and at Times Square. In 2011, her work was exhibited at the Venice Biennale and in 2013 she was a part of a group exhibition show at Guggenheim Bilbao. Considering her output and influence on the art world, her first retrospective, currently at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, seems a little overdue. But it was worth the wait.

The Brooklyn Museum galleries of Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty are mesmerising. Tracking the development of her style, spanning the years 1969 to 2014, the visitor is encouraged to form a relationship with Minter and understand her intentions. Beginning with early black and white photography of the artist’s mother, her infamous undergraduate work, the exploration of the female body with which the artist occupies herself commences. Depicting Minter’s mother in front of a mirror, putting on make-up or just simply posing, the photographs set the scene for the fascination with the beauty industry and its deceptive nature. Here, the sexualisation of Minter’s work also begins, spilling into the following four galleries of the exhibition. Stepping deeper into Minter’s world, one is confronted with the oddly beautiful she is so fascinated by. Incredible paintings of mundane sights, such as a spill on a laminate kitchen floor or a cracked egg and a block of frozen peas in a kitchen sink, are made strangely desirable.

This desire associated with the kitchen and food becomes yet more explicit in her ‘100 Food Porn’ series. Conceived between 1989 and 1990, a few decades before the #foodporn hashtag took over Instagram, Minter explored the sensual imagery of peeling, splashing, dripping and shucking, harking back to the desire food can create as well as provoking the viewers’ sexual minds. No wonder a sign warning visitors of uncensored imagery and the show’s unsuitability for younger audiences is plastered over the entrance to the show space, stressing visitor discretion.

Marilyn Minter – Drizzle (Wangechi Mutu) (2010) Enamel on Metal. Photo: Barbora Kozusnikova.

Continuing along on Minter’s career path, the spectators are met with large-scale artworks which defy the preconceptions of photo-realism. By combining negatives in Photoshop, Minter creates compelling compositions, which are then painted by layering enamel paint on aluminium, ensuring the smooth finish and the illusory nature of her pieces. This idea of other-worldliness is further achieved by the zoomed-in and cropped viewpoints. Metallic liquid bubbles and spills out of mouths, make-up is smeared and made imperfect, graffiti obscures objects behind painted cracks and wet glass, blurred glitter, sequins and pearls create a hypnotic and visceral viewing experience, leaving the visitors guessing and perhaps slightly uncomfortable at times. The title Pretty/Dirty really hits home here – the works really tread the fine line between these two adjectives. But then, great art is always divisive. It challenges our preconceptions, makes us slightly uneasy and even alters our views considerably. Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty certainly does this very successfully and as such is a must-see exhibition for those who wish for their minds to be provoked and aroused.

Marilyn Minter – Blue Poles (2007), Enamel on Metal. Photo: Barbora Kozusnikova.

Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty is at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City until 2 April, 2017.

Documenting Fashion Visits NYC, Dec 2016: Sketches, Dresses, and Fashion Plates in the Archives

During our MA study trip to New York City we were fortunate to visit several excellent archives. Our very first stop on Monday, to the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections archive, kicked off the week with a look through fashion illustration’s past. Among the items shown that day were several lady journals dating back to the eighteenth century. An anthology of La Gazette Rose, a Parisian ladies’ magazine, displayed high quality coloured fashion plates from the early 1870s. The plates, interspersed throughout the volume, show women posing in various outdoor settings adorned in sumptuous costume, creating an intriguing contrast between their hyper-decorated dresses and the simplicity of nature.

Fashion plates from La Gazette Rose. Photo by Jamie Vaught.

Paul Poiret objects were also on display, including two early catalogues and a fan from his perfume shop Rosine. The albums, Les Robes de Paul Poiret of 1908 and Les Choses de Paul Poiret 1911, show Poiret’s fashions in the pochoir technique­–each limited edition album was laboriously hand stenciled and coloured. The fan, a souvenir from Rosine, featured multiple scents on the back in divided columns.

Yona sniffs the Rosine fan to see if any perfume scents remain. Photo: Jamie Vaught.

Finally, we looked through a wealth of mid-twentieth century designer sketches. When we were invited to browse them at the end of our visit, Harriet and Barbora took on that task. Their exploration of several large boxes found inventive sketches by designers like Balmain and Balenciaga.

Harriet and Barbora find a Balenciaga sketch in FIT Special Collections. Photo: Jamie Vaught.

Balmain sketch. Photo: Barbora Kozusnikova.

Later that day, we visited the storeroom of the Museum at FIT. While there, we saw clothing from the 1920s to the 1960s, including a brilliantly beaded dress from the roaring 20s, daringly cut dresses from the 30s, and a full Dior ‘look,’ complete with matching floral cocktail dress, heels, head wrap, and shawl.

Dior look in the FIT storeroom. Photo: Jamie Vaught.

Later in the week we stopped by the Parsons School of Design and were introduced to the sketches of former students well-known in the twentieth-century American market: Claire McCardell, Mildred Orrick, and Joset Walker. While at Parsons we also saw a luxurious red evening gown by McCardell and publicity albums from Orrick and Walker.

Group at the Parsons Archives flipping through McCardell, Orrick, and Walker sketches. Photo: Jamie Vaught.

Our last archive visit was to the Brooklyn Museum where we viewed their collection of playful sketches by Elizabeth Hawes, as well as her publicity albums. Though the museum gave most of their fashion collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009, they retain sketches like Hawes’ artfully rendered designs. Hawes’ sketches stand out for their attached fabric swatches and humorous names, like ‘Go Home and Tell Your Mother,’ ‘The Clinging Tina,’ and ‘Chicken Little.’

Sketches by Elizabeth Hawes. Photo: Jamie Vaught.

Group looks at sketches and books by Elizabeth Hawes at the Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Jamie Vaught.

We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to visit each archive. A special thanks to April Calahan at FIT Special Collections, Emma McClendon at the Museum at FIT storeroom, Wendy Scheir at the Parsons Archives, and Lisa Smalls and Deirdre Lawrence at the Brooklyn Museum.