Our Silhouettes and Our Shadows

I walk over Waterloo Bridge most days, and most days I am carrying a heavy bag full of the things I need for my day: books, planner, laptop, wallet, bottle of water, etc.

One time while walking I caught sight of my shadow. It was a softened-outline and vague: I was swaddled in a long winter coat that ties with a belt at the waist (and reveals the waist that signs ‘this is a woman’s silhouette’ rather than ‘this is a murky walking blob’). My body’s shadow was tilted. I had curved my back to the left side in order to rebalance myself with the weight of the bag I carried on my right shoulder. The weight of the bag pulled this shoulder downward and it’s bulge protruded out of the side of my body… a massive lump… a drooping rotund side stomach… my mutation of human form from what I had adorned and weighed down my body with.

I’m thinking about how lifestyle, environment, need alters the silhouette.

My bag (it’s weight, size, the way I was carrying it) and coat (it’s length, thickness, style, the way I chose to wear it) altered the form and movements of my body, my posture, my walk, my silhouette.

I chose this bag for it’s functionality and autonomy. The same dark hues as my clothes, it looks like it could be a part of my coat like a bulging pocket, or a growth my coated body has produced for survival (carrying the things I need to navigate my way through that day). The bag is made of a light canvas material, so that it has little of its own weight, instead it is more the contents of the bag that make up its weight and bulky form.

In 1994, Kosuke Tsmura launched Final Home with a transparent nylon coat that consisted of 40 pockets to be filled with what one needs to survive. This version of a survivalist way of thinking about dress, and how the filled pockets of the coat could simultaneously function as a form of insulation for the wearer reflects Tsumara’s concern with what a designer can do for people in desperate situations. Each individual wearer of this coat has their own idiosyncratic silhouette and form due to their needs, for depending on what they fill the coat with and in which pockets a different outline of the body would be created.

In 1997 Rei Kawakubo created a collection for Comme des Garçons called ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’, which is more often referred to as the ‘lumps and bumps’ collection. The collection used padding to alter the silhouette of the models bodies. Stuffed protuberances seemed like swellings of the body that exaggerated the shape of hunched backs, warped monobosoms or sloping shoulders and grew from the models bodies through the clothing design. This is what I was reminded of when I noticed my lumpy shadow on Waterloo Bridge.

MoMA’s current exhibition ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’ had a display of bulging mannequins in a row that were either of bulging bodies in which the clothes adhere to such growths (for instance the pleated Modular Dress 2.0 designed by Wei Hung Chen in which the pleats can adjust and loosen alongside the growth of a pregnancy bump, or open completely so that the wearer can breastfeed) or accessories such as bum bags and baby carriers that add the protrusion to the body’s form for purposes of functionality.

The Bernard Rudofsky’s 1944 sculpture series of what a woman’s body would be like if the clothing she wore actually fitted her body was also exhibited in ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’. These comic sculptures (we cannot ignore the flapper figure’s lack of arms and drooping bottom or how the bustle of the Victorian woman reveals the body of a centauress) display the changing silhouette of woman through her dress, and how fashion alters the way one might regard the human body.

Here are some of the visual notes I made while writing this article that were inspired by Rudofsky’s sculptures, the line-up of bulgy bodies at MoMA and my deformed shadow on Waterloo Bridge…

 

 

By Evie Ward

Reflections on History of Dress Essay Writing

I’m currently supervising five of my second-year students through the research, writing and editing stages of their 4,000 word dissertations. They are writing on a variety of interesting topics, which include:

The complexity of dress reflecting complicated relationships in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954);

The representation of Japanese street-style in noughties American print media;

Dress as a traveller through time, space and place in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996);

A Freudian examination of British Punk fashion from 1975-85;

And, An analysis of Cecil Beaton’s dual identity in the American Vogue (March, 1951) fashion shoot, ‘The New Soft Look’.

It’s great to be helping my students tackle many of the problems I remember struggling with – structure, focus, linking the thread of the argument, avoiding colloquialisms, analysing quotations rather than simply dropping them into the text, pushing the analysis further still – and hopefully, emerging triumphant at the other end. I remember my own third-year assessed essay that I wrote in 2011, which addressed the representation of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto’s designs by the American and British fashion press in the early 1980s. I struggled with lots of aspects but thankfully had the help, not just of my supervisor Dr Rebecca Arnold, but also of the author and editor Virginia Rounding, the then Royal Literary Fellow, which is part of an amazing service the Courtauld provides for its students to help them improve their writing. For nostalgia’s sake, and because it’s fun to look back as well as ahead, I’ve included a pdf of my essay here, entitled ‘The American and British Reception and Representation of Japanese Fashion Designers in the Early 1980s’.

The American and British reception and representation of Japanese fashion designers in the early 1980s

The books of Liz's dissertation

The books of Liz’s dissertation!

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus’ recent show explored masculinities – through fabric, cut and adornment. The collection played with recurrent elements in Kawakubo’s work – ways to reconfigure familiar garments – trench coat, tailored suit, motorbike jacket – and by so doing make us look again at what we thought we knew, what has become invisible because of its continual presence. Textiles are equally mutable for Comme des Garçons – shirt fabrics and lining materials crept onto the exterior of the body, forming jackets that, while traditionally tailored, broke boundaries between inside and out. Waistcoats fused to the outside of jackets, and, most notably, garments were articulated like armour – asserting the two sides of the collection’s heart – soft and hard, war and peace – masculinity queered and remade.

1 Comme des Garcone Homme Plus, A:W 2016, photograph Yannis Vlamos

Comme des Garcone Homme Plus, A:W 2016, photograph Yannis Vlamos

At first this was done quietly – a tiny sprig of bright flowers on the first jacket – a hint of colourful nature on inky black. Quickly this spread and grew – elaborate headdresses blossomed and caressed the models’ heads, framing their faces, seemingly entangled with their hair. Some outfits were all black – armoured with eyelets and buckles that split bodies into parts like machines. These divisions were echoed in more traditional suiting fabrics that incorporated flowered fabrics – a nod to 18th century elite dress and masculine ideals, which revelled in lush embroideries and colours and praised sentiment and emotion.

 

Comme des Garçons brought together multiple images of men with flowers – Oscar Wilde’s green carnation, Vietnam soldiers with blooms tucked into their helmets, hippies’ floral crowns, Morrisey’s gladioli. Art historical references also abound – perhaps most notably Caravaggio’s Bacchus of 1595, with his decadent vine leaf headdress. In each case foliage and flowers disrupt stable masculine ideals and suggest complexity – slippage between masculine and feminine, sexual ambiguity.

2 Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1595 : Comme des Garcones Homme Plus, A:W 2016, photograph Yannis Vlamos

Caravaggio, Bacchus, 1595 / Comme des Garcones Homme Plus, A/

The show’s finale saw models carrying huge bouquets of vibrant flowers, dressed in their black warrior suits – but these were melancholy heroes – trapped in a small space, continually trying to avoid crashing into each other. Clothes, accessories, styling and performance were all carefully calibrated to unsettle. The designs were beautiful, as were Julien D’ys’s hair and headdress combinations, but they were made to question not to appease.

3 Oscar Wilde : Morrissey

Oscar Wilde : Morrissey