Horrockses Fashions: Fun, Feminine, Fifties

Vogue UK February 1949. Image courtesy of lancashirebusinessreview.co.uk

If the thought of summer dressing makes you think of cotton floral frocks with full swingy skirts you may have Horrockses to thank for that image.  One of the most popular dress lines in Britain and in America in the late 40s and 50s, Horrockses Fashions was known for its cotton prints manufactured in their own mill in Preston, Lancashire.   The mill dated back to 1791 and by the early 20th century was established as a trusted manufacturer of cotton goods, mostly household linens.  To expand their sales of manufactured goods into the lucrative fashion market, the parent company Horrockses, Crewdson & Co. Limited launched the Horrockses Fashions ready-to-wear line in 1946.  Horrockses had the goal of increasing desirability for their fabrics and then satisfying the demand with their own products.  Their vertically integrated business model ensured commerce at multiple points in the market.

Horrockses dress, 1957, V&A

Horrockses dress with bows, 1951-58, Bowes Museum

Horrockses Fashions were best known for their day dresses though they also produced housecoats, beachwear, and evening dresses.  As these examples show, there came to be a distinctive Horrockses silhouette for the dresses consisting of full skirts, tailored bodices, and defined waists which shows the influence of Christian Dior’s New Look that debuted in 1947.  Floral patterns, particularly roses, bows, and bands of print or bayadere, were signature motifs repeated every season which also borrowed heavily from Dior’s aesthetic.

Horrockses dress with bayadere design, 1953, V&A

To mitigate against the low-end connotations of mass-produced clothing, Horrockses carefully followed the lines, silhouettes and trends of the couture collections shown in Paris and London.  Cottons were accessible fabrics that had the weight and drape to create the New Look silhouette but with a softer, more casual result.  The dresses were made of high-quality cottons which were washable much like synthetics on the market.  Horrockses thus combined the easy-care of sportswear with tailored, sophisticated cuts associated with couture to bring the consumer “the best of both worlds.”

Horrockses evening dress featured in Vogue, January 1956

Horrockses Fashions differed from Dior and other couture houses in their frequent use of bright, playful prints which were generally highly stylized and abstract.  The company avoided unsophisticated connotations with their prints by aligning them with art, using exclusive designs by leading British artists including Eduardo Paolozzi, Graham Sutherland, and Alastair Morton.

pp. 96-7 of Horrockses Fashions: Off-the Peg Style in the 40s and 50s showing a design by Eduardo Paolozzi

At the symbolic level, voluminous skirts signalled plenty while the summery florals bring associations of vacations, resort, and weekend leisure which put the dresses at a clear remove from workwear.  Instead, Horrockses dresses correlated escape, fun, and exuberance with style, elegance, and femininity.  In the British post-war context, with rationing still in place into the early 1950s, Horrockses dresses were viewed as a splurge for an occasion such as a honeymoon.  In the American import context, however, Horrockses Fashions fit in perfectly with the broader cultural landscape of social change in the 1950s when the country prospered economically and disposable income increased across class strata.  The economic boom brought increased choices in manufactured goods which in turn increased consumerism.  An accompanying urban out-migration led to the rapid development of suburbs and the American dream of home-ownership became a reality for many.  Suburban houses came with front lawns and backyards where barbeques, pool parties, and gardening took place, providing a lifestyle scenario complementary to the look of Horrockses dresses.

Horrockses advertisement, Vogue, June 1950. Image from Christine Boydell, Horrockses Fashions: : Off-the-Peg Style in the 40s and 50s

The colourful aesthetic of Horrockses Fashions reflects the circulation of intensely saturated color images in print and film due to Kodachrome and Technicolor processes.  The wide scale of the skirts, too, abundant with fabric, seem to reflect the various widescreen film formats that enticed audiences into movie theatres and drive-ins to see historical epics, westerns, and melodramas.  Full-skirted, brightly-colored, patterned dresses such as those of Horrockses are like costumes for living life as it was depicted on screen: monumental, colourful, dramatic.

Model Barbara Gaolen in a Horrockses evening gown, Vogue October 1952

Horrockses dresses typically were produced in runs of 1,000-1,500.  Despite being mass-produced, the Horrockses ready-to-wear line had an air of exclusivity established through use of select retailers, exclusive prints, quality fabric, and well-cut and designed garments.  The image of quality always tied back to their own cotton manufacturing.  Horrockses Fashions advertisements regularly featured the sub-heading, “in fine cotton” under the brand name, underscoring excellence in their product.  The eminence reserved for couture was also accorded to Horrockses dresses in some measure by its royal selection.  Images of Queen Mary at the Horrockses showroom in Hanover Square and of Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret wearing the dresses cemented the company’s image as respectable, feminine, and desirable.  Editorial features in top fashion magazines also buoyed up Horrockses reputation as fashionable.

Though the name Horrockses might not be familiar to many today, their legacy is alive and well in contemporary fashion.  In a Telegraph article by Katherine Rushton on April 20, 2013, the impending sale of the Horrockses company was discussed.  The article states, “Horrockses vintage dresses had tapped into a growing demand for prom outfits, and that there was strong demand for newer versions…’These dresses are going on eBay for £250 each, they are part of Britain’s heritage.’” Hit television show Mad Men also likely whetted consumer appetites for mid-century style.  It is not surprising then that in the past year, ready-to-wear line Maje featured lace dresses with “puff-ball” skirts in a bayadere style and Ines de la Fressange’s S/S 2017 line for Uniqlo featured full-skirted dresses in floral and gingham patterns, similar to what it has done in recent seasons.  The Horrocks label was briefly resuscitated as a housewares line that sold at House of Fraser.  Exhibitions of Horrockses Fashions have been mounted at the Harris Museum, Preston (2011) and the Fashion and Textile Museum, London (2010).

Maje’s Rayela dress from the A/W 2016-17 season featuring a full skirt and bayadere design, image from uk.maje.com

Further reading:

Boydell, Christine.  Horrockses Fashions: Off-the-Peg Style in the 40s and 50s. London:  V&A Publishing, 2010.

Burden, Rosemary and Jo Turney. Floral Frocks: The Floral Printed Dress From 1900 to Today. London: AAC Art Books, 2007.

Arnold, Rebecca, ‘Wifedressing: Designing Femininity in 1950s American Fashion,’ in Glenn Adamson and Victoria Kelley, eds., Surface Tensions: Surface, Finish and the Meaning of Objects, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), pp.123-33.

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

Review of Inside Vogue: A Diary of my 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman

Alexandra Shulman, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016)

Cover of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016). Photograph courtesy of publisher.

The centenary year of British Vogue saw numerous celebratory events, from a bumper June issue covered by the Duchess of Cambridge to a retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, a BBC2 documentary punnily titled Absolutely Fashion and a Vogue Festival featuring Grace Coddington, Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, Kim Kardashian and Charlotte Tilbury as speakers. Inside Vogue – the final treat of this momentous year for the magazine established in 1916 – is a personal account of the hard work that went into these events, the pressure, frustrations, and challenges faced in doing justice to Vogue’s legacy.

A rich picture is painted by Inside Vogue’s author, editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman. What could have easily have hit shelves as a puffed-up piece of marketing is in fact peppered by nuanced criticisms. Absolutely Fashion’s narrator is rightly a cause for concern, as is rogue photographer David Bailey, though real indignation is reserved for the hypocritical jabs at Vogue’s portrayal of women made by The Daily Mail’s Liz Jones and Sarah Vine. Beauty confessions (‘I can only stick so far to “Il faut souffrir pour être belle”. The less souffrir going on the better, I feel.’) and reminiscences about growing up as the daughter of features writer Drusilla Beyfus and theatre critic Milton Shulman are interrupted – as even the most fabulous working lives are – by domestic chaos, spontaneously combusting bins and failing boilers.

Cover of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Cover of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Interior of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Interior of Vogue Centenary Issue, June 2016

Preview of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year

Page preview of Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year

Structured as a diary, Inside Vogue also provides a valuable first-hand account of what is takes to produce a contemporary record such as Vogue magazine. How best to showcase Vogue’s contribution to readers’ awareness of contemporary conversations, culture and styles, and determine which faces from the worlds of fashion, art and music most deserve places in Tim Walker’s ‘hall of fame’ shoot? How to do this in the face of a digital revolution, with new challenges for print publishing; how to fight for a gold foil-embossed logo on instinct alone? Shulman’s accounts of her meetings with the Duchess of Cambridge will likely prove an essential source for our understanding of (and indeed future studies on) the representation and role of the royal family in these times. That the palace is easier to deal with than Naomi Campbell and David Beckham is just one takeaway.

Although Shulman makes clear the account is somewhat polished, not unlike Instagram – ‘everything we put out about ourselves is edited’ – there is plenty here to delight, intrigue, and learn about what life is like at the helm of Vogue, that powerful force in documenting fashion.

Alexandra Shulman, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year (London: Fig Tree Penguin, 2016). Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

From Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year. Photograph courtesy of publisher.

An Auto-Ethnographic Text: Cara Delevigne for Vogue Brasil, February 2014

Cara Delevigne dominated the front cover of the February 2014 edition of Vogue Brasil, which was shot by the internationally-acclaimed Brazilian fashion photographer Jacques Dequeker. Dressed in a sparkly blue minidress by the Brazilian brand Bo.Bo., and accessorised with heavy gold jewellery designed by Lanvin and Dior, she is framed, hands on her hips, against the colourful backdrop of the Santa Marta favela. The Santa Marta favela (commonly referred to in Brazil using the more politically correct term ‘morro’, which translates literally as hill) occupies the Botafogo and Laranjeiras region of the Dona Marta hill in Rio de Janeiro. It received global media attention in 2010, when Dutch artists Jeroean Koolhas and Dre Urhahn (known as Hass & Hahn) collaborated with local residents to paint 7,000 square metres of the morro’s façade in contrasting shades of the rainbow. A symbol of pride for the local community, the Santa Marta art project featured throughout the 12-page Vogue Brasil editorial, which was entitled ‘Face to Face with the Favela: the Santa Marta hill serves as the scenario for Cara Delevigne to wear statement pieces of the season, showing that streetwear couture is the trend of the moment’.

It is not difficult to point out the strikingly asymmetrical dynamics of power in operation between the British supermodel – posing in a combination of mid to high-end Western and Brazilian fashion labels that include Prada, Chanel, Adidas Originals, Bo.Bo., Starter, Valention and John John – and the socioeconomic realities of local residents, whose own creative sartorial expressions were noticeably absent from the frame. Furthermore, it is certainly not uncommon, within ‘Western’ fashion magazines, to come face to face with similar stereotypically ‘exotic’ fashion shoots, which replace the immaculate studio for various ‘non-Western’ backdrops and cityscapes that provide an edgy and endlessly intriguing locale to display Western fashion for the curious Western viewer. Sarah Cheang discusses this at length in her fantastic article, entitled ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’, wherein she comments that Western fashion frequently constructs its ‘other and self-defining conceptual opposite’ through shoots in, for example, ‘dusty Palestine, rural India, or mountainous Peru’.

But what are we to think when Vogue Brasil, with forward thinking Editor-in-Chief Daniela Falcão at the helm, turns that curious Western gaze upon itself, using the morro Santa Marta as an exotic and colourful backdrop to spice up the pages of the magazine? Certainly, there is a considerable distance between the Brazilian viewer (predominantly white European-descended women with cultural and economic capital), whose social and material reality is far divorced from that of inhabitants of the colourful morro Santa Marta, a setting which is sure to have had a cheerful aesthetic appeal for a Vogue Brasil readership. Nevertheless, it is important to situate the magazine within the cross-cultural context from which it emerged in 1975 and has since developed. Brazil is a country that sits intriguingly in between the West and the so-called non-West. In geographical terms Brazil is certainly a Western nation. Moreover, it is affiliated with the West in terms of its developing free-market economy, its large export supplies of raw materials and manufactured goods, its transition to a democratic constitution following the end of the authoritarian military regime in 1985, its high cultural institutions, and its adoption of Christianity and the Portuguese language. Yet Brazil might still be considered a non-Western nation with regard to its incomplete infrastructure, socioeconomic disparities, unequal distribution of wealth and land, poor standards of public health, and its popular and material culture which constitutes, as David Hess and Robert DaMatta have succinctly articulated, a unique site in which ‘Western culture has mixed and mingled with non-Western cultures for centuries’.

So taking this cross-cultural context into account, is it possible to discern any critical engagement in Vogue Brasil with Western and non-Western academic debates that have used the term ‘auto-ethnographic’ text or ‘auto-exotic’ gaze to refer to the way that non-Western cultures often look at themselves with Western eyes, turning their culture into an exotic product that they then offer back to the West? Mary Louise Pratt coined the term ‘auto-ethnography’ or ‘auto-ethnographic’ and used it to describe ‘text[s] in which people undertake to represent themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them’. These auto-ethnographic texts involve ‘a selective collaboration with and appropriation of idioms of the metropolis and conqueror. These are merged or infiltrated to various degrees with indigenous idioms to create self-representations intended to intervene in metropolitan modes of understanding’. There are numerous tropes to draw upon to demonstrate how the West has produced an exoticised image of Brazil as a site of cultural difference, usually centered on Rio de Janeiro, and on the themes of sun, sea, Caipirinhas, Copacabana beach, skimpy bikinis, and the drugs and violence associated with the favelas. So in placing this fashion shoot within the morro Santa Marta, Vogue Brasil was engaging with a well-established stereotype of Brazil that is frequently seen in the Western media; the only difference is that the violence and gun crime has been eclipsed by the dazzling beauty of the rainbow coloured buildings. Pratt writes that ‘auto-ethnographic works are often addressed to both metropolitan audiences and the speaker’s own community’ and deduces that ‘their reception is thus highly indeterminate. In using Cara Delevigne as the model, Vogue Brasil knew that this shoot would attract the attention of the Western media, which it did, appearing in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, to cite but one example, in an article by Louise Sanders entitled ‘Favela funk! Cara Delevingne rocks her signature edgy style in vivid neon brights as she works her magic in street shoot for Vogue Brazil’. Although the title suggests the Daily Mail struggled to pick up on the critical message of the shoot it nevertheless constituted, as Pratt has pointed out, ‘a marginalised groups point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture’.

Therefore, whilst it might be easy to either dismiss this fashion shoot as an instance of Vogue Brasil following in the footsteps of Western fashion magazines, which marginalises the everyday experiences of local residents of the morro Santa Marta or, conversely, to celebrate it for its eye-catching images that frame Cara Delevigne against an intriguing backdrop, I would argue that something altogether more complicated is taking place. If understood as an auto-ethnographic text, then this shoot mobilises a far more interesting dynamic of cross-cultural contact between Brazil and the West that warrants further examination, in which Brazil is perhaps no longer subordinate to the West, but instead uses its own cultural productions to subtly fight back.

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil

Cara Delevigne on the cover of the February 2014 issue of Vogue Brasil. Image: Liz Kutesko

 

The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko

The first page of the Cara photo spread Image: Liz Kutesko

photo 3

Image: Liz Kutesko

photo 2

Image: Liz Kutesko

References

[1] Anon., ‘De Cara com a Rua: o morro Dona Marta serve de Cenario para Cara Delevigne vestir peças statement da temporada que, usadas com outras de dna Atletico, imprimem o streetwear couture que e tendencia da vez’, Vogue Brasil, February 2014, pp. 140-151.

[2] S. Cheang, ‘’To the Ends of the Earth’: Fashion and Ethnicity in the Vogue Fashion Shoot’ in Fashion Media: Past and Present, ed. By D. Bartlett, S. Cole, and A. Rocamora (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 35-45 (p. 35).

[3] D. J. Hess and R. A. DaMatta, ‘Introduction’ in Brazilian Puzzle: Culture on the Borderlands of the Western World, ed. By Hess and DaMatta (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 2.

[4] M. L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 8.

[5] Pratt, Imperial Eyes, p. 8.

[6] Ibid.

Dissertation Discussion: Aude

What is your title?

Spectacular bodies: Paul Poiret and the display of Haute Couture (still working on it).

What prompted you to choose this subject?

I was struck by the ‘grand narratives’ that seemed to be applied to Paul Poiret’s work and life – his rise to stardom in the 1910s as the ‘king of fashion’, or as he was characterized at times Poiret ‘The Modernist,’ and his downfall in the postwar years as the couturier who would (ironically) ‘reject’ modernism. My work is an attempt at nuancing some of the assumptions that surround the couturier, notably in the years following the First World War, by looking at his involvement in the costuming of music-halls, his use of actresses in advertisements, and the relationships of power between these performers, their audience, the couture clientele and the (bourgeois) couturier.

Most inspiring research find so far?

Poiret’s acting role in Colette’s La Vagabonde (alongside Colette herself) shown at the Théâtre de l’Avenue in 1927. The fact that La Vagabonde has a sort of redemptive tone in its attempt to legitimize the hard-working actresses of the music-halls is particularly interesting in light of Poiret’s own difficulties in combining the sort of excess his persona and clothing were seen to produce and the bourgeois values of the Third Republic.

Favourite place to work?

I spent three days in Paris in the various buildings of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France for research on Poiret. The Richelieu site was a highlight, and I have to admit that consulting microfilms there made me feel that bit more professional.

The 1923 February cover of Les Modes with Mistinguett as its cover star. The gown is misattributed to Paul Poiret (the magazine apologizes in the next issue)

The 1923 February cover of Les Modes with Mistinguett as its cover star. The gown is misattributed to Paul Poiret (the magazine apologizes in the next issue)

 

A Conversation With: Photographer & Artist Julian Marshall

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

On how he got started…

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

On his photographic Achilles heel…

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

On what he’s searching for in his images…

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

On his relationship to his subjects…

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

On why photography is a form of performance art…

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

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

Albanie 1, 2002

Albanie 1, 2002

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

Cheryl 2, 1998

Cheryl 2, 1998

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

Tessa 7, 2014_

Tessa 7, 2014

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

Avedon: Ancestor of Photoshop

“All photographs are accurate, none of them is the truth.”

– Richard Avedon

Audrey Hepburn, shot by Richard Avedon NYC 1967, collage of gelatin silver prints with applied media overlay

Audrey Hepburn, shot by Richard Avedon NYC 1967, collage of gelatin silver prints with applied media overlay (and a few tweaks from the author!)

In our very first MA class the inevitable conversation about fashion, its imagery and manipulation of the real body turned to Photoshop. Scourge of contemporary fashion media that it is, a quick trawl through the history of fashion photography will tell you that it is not a new phenomenon. While the technology may not be the same, fashion photographers have been manipulating their images since the earliest years of the genre.

Richard Avedon was an American photographer with a prolific career in fashion. He held positions as lead photographer at Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, shot campaigns for Dior, Versace, Revlon and Calvin Klein among many others and is responsible for some of the most iconic fashion images of the 20th century. He worked relentlessly and consistently from the mid 1940’s until his death in 2004.

Avedon was keenly aware that fashion photography had presumptions toward the ideal. Clothes and models starred, and the image should inspire, appeal and oftentimes—sell. The medium of photography allowed for both a ‘realistic’ and highly adjustable way of making images.

“The minute you pick up the camera you begin to lie—or to tell your own truth. You make subjective judgements every step of the way—in how you light the subject, in choosing the moment of exposure, in cropping the print. It’s just a matter of how far you choose to go.” Avedon

Avedon worked with ‘retoucher’ Bob Bishop for over forty years, manually adjusting photo-negatives. Lengthening necks and legs, making eyes larger and even swapping heads and torsos from different images to create an idealized picture, half a century before Photoshop.

As we rage against photo-manipulation in today’s print media, a moment of reflection on its rootedness in the world of fashion photography may yield new perspectives. Would understanding the subjective role of the photographer make us less desperate to believe the final image is the ‘truth’? Or perhaps it is the influence of celebrity in fashion media, with tightly controlled images and a desire to appear perfectly ‘real’. How many today would surrender their image to the photographer as Audrey Hepburn did in 1967? If we continue to view fashion photography through Avedon’s lens of aspiration and fantasy do we really want to restrict his tools? Perhaps understanding the artifice would simply ruin the magic.

 

Sources

Avedon, Richard. In the American West, 1979-1984 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1985), foreword. Print.

Avedon, Richard, Carol Squiers, and Vince Aletti. Avedon Fashion. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 2009. Print.

Fineman, Mia. “Pictures in Print.” Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. 157. Print.

Chaos Magic: In Search of Identity in the (Post-) Internet Age

the cover of K-Hole's report #5

the cover of K-Hole’s report #5

Chaos Magic

Chaos Magic

A small white logo in the middle of a jarring green page. A series of letters form a crooked ring around a shaky K. This is the cover of Report #5: A Report on Doubt, the latest offering from K-HOLE, artist-collective-cum-trend-forecasting-group. The PDF report is 36 pages of brightly coloured WordArt-like text, set on clashing backgrounds alongside internet-sourced photographs and stock imagery. The text, in a tone somewhere between conversational, mockingly humorous and gravely academic, is uncompromising, challenging, even deliberately obtuse.

Through analysis of consumerism and branding, intended as conceptual propositions, K-HOLE’s reports express anxious efforts to situate and understand identity in the uncertain (post-) internet age. Significantly, ‘k-hole’ refers to the dislocated state that may be experienced after taking the drug ketamine.

Although not everyone will have heard of K-HOLE, many will have come across ‘Normcore’, the term the group employed in their 2013 report to describe the idea of embracing unoriginality in order to achieve freedom. After being confused by the press with another of the group’s terms, ‘Acting Basic’, an over-night trend for fleece and Birkenstocks was born. Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the Normcore mix-up, the group seems to be attempting to distance itself from fashion – a subject it already had a complicated relationship with.

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A Report on Doubt proposes ‘Chaos Magic’ as the successor to Normcore.  Chaos Magic is not a new concept – according to Wikipedia, it emerged in the 1970s. Although the original meaning relates to a practical application of magic – involving magicians and rites – K-HOLE borrows not only the name but, crucially, the idea of belief as magic, suggesting a new approach to experiencing reality. The report proposes Chaos Magic as the idea that, ‘Belief becomes a technology that creates change’. Chaos Magic is about embracing the uncertainty of why things happen: you don’t have to know how; you just have to believe that they will. As K-HOLE member, Emily Segal, explains in a recent interview for Vogue.com. ‘What’s important is how people are experiencing the world, experiencing their spirituality, experiencing anxiety, so there is a motion back toward the emotional landscape of consumers.’

Once again, the fashion press has seized upon this new concept in a literal way, seemingly ignoring K-HOLE’s conceptual intentions. There have been no fewer than three separate fashion related Guardian/Observer articles on the topic in two weeks. One is entitled ‘10 ways to get the Chaos Magic look’ and presents the reader with a shopping list consisting of glittery shoe-boots, sequin-festooned boyfriend jeans and an evil-eye bracelet.

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However, beyond suggestions that people don galaxy-print jackets and crystal-ball inspired brogues, there perhaps lies a more nuanced way for fashion to engage with Chaos Magic. Fashion, after all, is no stranger to exploring issues of contemporary identity. As Joanne Entwhistle comments in her book, The Fashioned Body, ‘Fashion, dress and consumption provide ways of dealing with the problems of the modern world, characterised by increasing fragmentation and sense of chaos. Fashion opens up possibilities for framing the self, however temporarily’ (p.139). Fashion has a historical precedent of acting as a tool with which to come to terms with the changing technological world: consider post-war modernity and fashion’s role in refiguring the subject. Fashion is an important device which people use to grapple with experiential issues of contemporary identity through materiality.

In this overlapping concern with identity, there is potential for a truly interesting dialogue between K-HOLE and fashion. However, in order to allow this to emerge, a different approach is required. Rather than settling for a literal aesthetic of the magical through a set of style commandments (star-spangled footwear…), perhaps we should be mobilising the concept of Chaos Magic to think about new ways of approaching and experiencing dress. The real magic of K-HOLE’s concept comes from the myriad of possibilities which open themselves up to you, if only first you can let go and believe.

Sources

Find all of K-HOLE’s reports on their website – http://khole.net

http://artreview.com/opinion/summer_2014_opinion_mark_sladen/
http://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/mar/26/mission-creep/
http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/sep/27/chaos-magic-normcore-fashion-trends-eva-wiseman
http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/06/from-normcore-to-chaos-magic-the-people-behind-fashions-biggest-buzzwords
Joanne Entwhistle, The Fashioned Body (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000)

Fashion In Ruins: Luxury and Dereliction in Photographs of 1940s London

Today, Rebecca is giving a paper at the Museum of London’s The Look of Austerity conference.  This is a short extract of her discussion of 1940s fashion photography that used bombsites as backdrops: 

Lee Miller, October 1940 and Cecil Beaton, September 1941

Lee Miller, October 1940 and Cecil Beaton, September 1941, both for Vogue

During the Blitz people’s ability to survive became paramount, and their tenacity was linked to the city.  Cecil Beaton wrote about London for Vogue, where he discussed the city’s fabric as though another family member to be cherished, a community comprising people and buildings held together by collective memories and experience,  ‘In spite of the degradation of bomb havoc, the cold fury and the tedium caused by the raids on private houses, hospitals, Wren churches and children’s playgrounds alike; in spite of the general horrors of war, those who, loving London are not able to be here at such an epic time, are to be pitied.  The menace of danger gives a perspective to life, and in the face of what is happening in world history today, Londoners have reason to be proud of one another.  Despite the methodical ruination, the great Capital City remains.’ His photograph of a model in Digby Morton suit turned to see better the horrid remains of Temple encapsulates this mood.

While the destruction of such a meaningful, historic site dealt a further blow to London, the model’s stance suggests movement and action, and her suit is a defiant marker of traditional Britishness, designed to endure. It is as though the model herself is unable to stay facing the camera from the shock of realising that the ruins behind her are not some fashion studio or film set, but London’s current reality. Vogue’s belief in fashion’s symbolic value, as a manifestation of tenacious spirit in the face of adversity is underscored in the title, ‘Fashion is Indestructible’.  The model is a stand in for all the women looking at the image in the magazine, and, by extension, regarding similar scenes as they walk in their own neighbourhood.  The ruined buildings’ drama draws the eye to its textural excess and dissonance, but focus remains on the staunch tweed suit, and the model, turned from the camera to convey our collective shock at the bomb’s impact.

Like many others, Beaton was only able to comprehend and describe such scenes through art historical references.  At one point he used the phrase ‘Breughelesque’ to convey the twisted horror of the streets. Vogue, however, maintained its focus on fashion’s power throughout, and asserted its strength, even as buildings were falling.

Written as the Board of Trade allotted 66 coupons for clothing in summer 1941, an editorial states that, yes, fashions may have to pause under austerity, in as much as changing trends and the extravagance attached to such constant shifts are not possible: ‘But fashion, or elegance, is indestructible, and will survive even margarine coupons, for it is that intangible quality of taste, that sense of discrimination and invention which has lived on through all the clangour and chaos of the world’s history … It is also the most positive photographic record of the tempo and aspirations of each epoch; a record or indictment, according to the times.’  Fashion as an idea therefore supersedes the crisis, and endures as a temporal and personal record and expression of wartime life.  The magazine also recognises its emotional significance, and the contrary impulses that government dictates concerning rationing and austerity measures might trigger.  The article further asserts that such sumptuary legislation has created ‘a violent psychological stimulus’ by making fashion forbidden fruit, and therefore, will, perversely, encourage further innovation as women search for ways to maintain fashion and beauty.

Vogue, as an institution embodied this stubborn attitude. As seen in Lee Miller’s photographs of Vogue’s building which was itself later bombed, the seemingly handwritten script again refuses to accept the consequences implied by such devastation. Once again, fashion continues amongst the rubble.

Sources:

Cecil Beaton, ‘Time of War: Reflections on the Coming Months of Victory Vigil,’ Vogue, October 1940

Cecil Beaton, Cecil Beaton Diaries: 1939-44 The Years Between (Liverpool: C.Tinling & Co, 1965)

‘We Re-Affirm Our Faith in Fashion,’ Vogue, July 1941

Dress and Movement in the work of Sonia Delaunay

Cover SD

Somewhat embarrassingly, I only managed to make it to the Tate’s Sonia Delaunay exhibition in its last week, but I was so glad that I did. I went not knowing much about Delaunay prior to stepping through the door, and because it was held in the Tate Modern, I was expecting it to focus mainly on paintings. However, it was her textiles, fashion designs and illustrations that underpinned the whole exhibition. It was immediately apparent that textiles and dress were hugely important to her during her career.

The earliest example of her work in textiles appears in the second room – a cradle cover made in 1911 for her newborn son. Interestingly, the Tate labels it as her ‘first abstract work,’ highlighting the fact that they conflate her work in textile and paint. This is, to an extent, completely understandable as there are numerous similarities between the aesthetic she employs in both. The way blocks of colour are juxtaposed is identical in both mediums. However, to consider the cradle cover, and her later fashion and textile designs, purely as decorative art is to ignore the practical, and indeed emotional, role that these objects played.

Cradle SD

Movement is by far the most persistent theme underlying all the work in the exhibition. Delaunay was fascinated by dance, particularly tango, and many of her works reflect the rapid movement and blurring of shapes that one expects to see in a packed dance hall. In this way, her work bears some resemblance to that of the Italian futurists, who in their obsession with the speed of modern life, painted the rapid movement of cars and people through the city as swirling blocks of colour. In her scenes of dance, ‘light and movement are confounded, [and] the planes blurred’ (Delaunay, c 1913). However, there is also a sense that these colours represent the sound of music in the dances. Bodies, dress and music are all reduced to contrasting colours on the canvas.

Simultaneous Dresses (the Three Women), 1925

Simultaneous Dresses (the Three Women), 1925

As in her paintings, movement is a central theme of her fashion designs. In 1918 she opened Casa Sonia in Madrid, a shop selling accessories, furniture and fabrics that bore her signature swirling lines and blocks of colour. In 1925 she set up her own fashion house, as well as designing costumes for ballets and cover illustrations for Vogue. In these, as in her paintings, the body is abstracted, leaving the viewer with the representation of dress in motion. The straight, 1920s silhouette lent itself well to her geometric, graphic designs and bright colours. However, it was not just her clothing that bore this aesthetic, she also designed furniture, and the interior of her Parisian home became something of a manifesto of her style, and a hub for artists and writers.

Two fashion models in Delaunay's bathing suits

Two fashion models in Delaunay’s bathing suits

Movement was also at the heart of her textile designs, so much so that, when she displayed her textiles at the 1924 Salon d’Autumne, they were presented on a ‘Vitrine Simultane.’ This vitrine, created by her husband Robert Delaunay, presented eight swaths of fabric continuously moving upwards on large rollers. Movement was quite literally injected into these otherwise static objects.

It would be easy to look at Delaunay’s textile and fashion designs as a by-product of her painting; the same circular shapes and bold colours that feature in her canvases also appear in the textiles. However, I would argue that her paintings are just as influenced by work in dress – her paintings of dance, convey the movement of dresses swirling in different directions, abstracting the body and giving the canvases their characteristic dynamism.