In Which My Grandmother Tells Me About Japan

As the year winds down, I thought I would let my grandmother do the writing in one of my final blog posts, as I continue to decompress after a charged summer term (read: dissertation season).


Ann was teaching at a Department of Defence school in Okinawa—her first teaching job overseas—in the 1960s when met my grandfather. My mother was born in 1970, and they lived in Japan for another couple of years before moving to Hawaii and, eventually, Bakersfield, California.

My favourite picture* of my grandparents together: Ann and Bill at a teahouse.

I never knew my grandfather, so I grew up with photographs—both of him and by him. I also grew up with inherited memories and borrowed relics from my family’s time in Japan: a cloud-soft white kimono I wore for one of my first Halloween nights; a doll in a glass case with a cup of water; my mom’s tiny tabi socks that I remember once fitting me; the creaking snick of kimono closet doors opening and closing…

These dress-centric recollections are selected from a series of emails my grandmother sent me in early 2016, when I requested: ‘Tell me about Japan.’ The photos come from the albums upon albums stored in bookshelves and a great wooden chest at my grandma’s house in Bakersfield.


I believe my first official date with Bill was to a tea house; don’t remember details but we talked for hours. Funny what the brain chooses to remember. I remember wearing a red lightweight wool outfit. It was a pleated skirt with an attached camisole and over it a loose, long sleeved matching top that buttoned down the back. Wish I had it now!

We were there for a year. While there, I had some clothes made. I had grown up with homemade clothes, so store-bought ones were a treat. And there I was, wanting handmade clothes again. I recall a coral dress (wool again) with a fitted matching jacket and a brownish one with silvery-looking embroidery. Low waisted and slightly gathered. I would still like that one. I loved sending Mother stuff. I had a brown coat with a fur collar made for her, among other things.
I have one of the fur hats she sent her mother, as well as a wool coat that I wear in the winter. 

Two times our little convertible Datsun Fair Lady was stolen. Police found it both times. First time, somewhere outside Yokohama, abandoned in a rice paddy; and the second time, on a side street in Yokohama. Guess they ran out of gas after joy riding. It WAS cute!

We frequented Motomachi (name of a short street) often. There was a sushi bar that was a favourite and at the other end was a German restaurant that served the tastiest borscht; and when it went out of business, we were disappointed. Also on that street was a clothing store. I remember buying two long wraparound quilted skirts that were warm and I liked them.

I loved shopping in Japan. Not just for the items but the manner of wrapping so beautifully in a furoshiki (fabric wrapping). In the large department stores, there would be a greeter (I recall only women) at the foot of the escalator to welcome you as you were about to ascend. Mind you, this was in the sixties. I don’t know how things are now. 

My friend Sally and I modelled together. Crazy time. She was bisexual and wanted to find a lesbian bar.  Keep in mind that I spoke hardly any Japanese at that time and she spoke even less. So I am not sure we even had the right word for lesbian. Anyway, winter time after we had had a modelling assignment was dark.  Set off in a taxi to find this bar. Probably we were in Shinjuku (large area of Tokyo) in the Golden Gai District (known for its architecture, little bars crammed together upstairs and down—favourite hangout for artists). We felt very adventurous and very nervous. We would go into one and ask where we might find a lesbian bar, and we’d get a response that they either didn’t know or didn’t understand us—or they’d direct us to another place. Finally we went into one and inquired and we were pointed to upstairs. Now upstairs might have been a fine place to go; but not knowing what was really upstairs, we left, and caught the train to Yokohama. (I never drove to Tokyo. Always took the train.)  

‘And it was there that Michie had put beside each plate a rose petal with a pearl on it.’

Speaking of Sally—we both worked for the Patricia Charm Modelling Agency, the only foreign modelling agency in Tokyo at that time. She took a percentage of whatever we were paid, don’t remember what.   Sally felt she took too much and suggested we freelance. When we told Patricia our plans, she said she would blacklist us. Well, it wasn’t that I was gorgeous; but the Japanese photographers liked me because I was friendly and attempted to learn their language. So I received several job offers right away.  Then they would start canceling on me. Indeed Patricia did what she said. Really okay because not too long after that I became pregnant and became all wrapped up in that.


I will be at home in Los Angeles for a few weeks later this summer, and amongst the few things I have planned—a bal des victimes dinner party, driving lessons, days at the beach—a trip to Bakersfield definitely figures, when these photos will be unearthed and put into motion once more.

*All photographs belong to the author and her family.

Dissertation Discussion: Marielle

Screenshot from Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

What is the working title of your dissertation?

I haven’t decided on a snappy title yet, but right now it could be called ‘Bodies and Borders in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Carnival Space’.

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve been interested in looking at Peter Greenaway’s 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, for which Gaultier designed the costumes. During an early tutorial, Rebecca suggested that I consider it in terms of Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, which has proven to be a perfect lens through which to view Gaultier’s work, and really captures its spirit. I’m now treating the film as a culmination of his work until that point, so I can look closely at the early years of his career, just before his fame really soared to another level when he did Madonna’s costumes for the 1990 Blond Ambition tour.

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

Initially, I loved Nita Rollins’ ‘Old Masters, Fashion Slaves’ essay because I love how she writes about the baroque sensibilities of Greenaway’s film and how Gaultier’s costumes operate within that. This is part of what sparked my excitement for the film. Since diving into Gaultier, I’ve really loved Colin McDowell’s book called Jean Paul Gaultier. It describes his work really nicely, but also integrates quotes from the designer which I’ve found to be amazing insights into his ethos and thought process.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

Greenaway’s film has been an amazing visual resource to spend time on. The colors are super saturated and it has this really dark, vile underbelly contrasted with the over-the-top interiors and costumes. I like that it can be so beautiful and appealing, and so grotesque at the same time. That feeling of discomfort is what appealed to me in the first place, and has been very useful for setting up discussions about Gaultier and Bakhtin. Plus, Helen Mirren stars in it and looks fabulous in all of her costumes.

Favourite place to work?

Senate House Library! I like to find a corner near a window in a section of a totally unrelated discipline to minimize any kind of distraction.

Dissertation Discussion: Daisy

What is the working title of your dissertation?

‘A Class of Football … Well Worth Watching’: Women’s Football Clothing, 1915-1921

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been a huge sports fan, although growing up in Devon I would choose to watch rugby over football every time! But I started playing football with a team in London a year and a half ago and absolutely fell in love with playing the sport. My Dad and I have discussed women’s sport a lot since I started playing as I feel this is a real moment in history for women in sport; many individuals and teams are finally getting recognition for their talents while there is funding coming in at a grassroots level that just wasn’t there previously. My Dad mentioned a documentary he’d watched on women’s football during World War One; how popular it was, gathering crowds of up to 53,000, and how it was subsequently banned in 1921. Unbelievably, the ban wasn’t lifted until 1971. As someone who has benefited so much from playing sport, I found the idea of so many women being banned from playing football really shocking and sad. I also feel that so many people don’t understand this important moment in the history of women’s sport and why, in consequence, women’s football is significantly underdeveloped compared to the men’s game. I was already planning on focusing my dissertation on the period of the 1910s, because I think it is such a sudden period of change from the old Victorian values to the modernity of the 1920s, so to focus on women’s football in this period seemed an absolutely perfect topic!

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

A match report of a women’s football match in Preston from 1918. The journalist seems so enthused by the sport and so in support of the female players, it’s really heart-warming. My favourite quote is: ‘The attendance at Deepdale on Saturday shows there is distinctly a public for Ladies Football in Preston and … the girls play a class of football that … make[s] the game well worth watching’.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

An image of the Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr Ladies in front of the large crowds at Deepdale stadium.

Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr’s Ladies, 1921, postcard, Alice Kell Collection, National Football Museum Archives, Preston (Photo: National Football Museum).

Favourite place to work?

I’ve really enjoyed working in the Library Study Room at Vernon Square; it’s got big mullion windows which let in the sun and frame the view of the trees next to the building. I also love working in the Periodicals Room at Senate House Library which has comfy Chesterfield sofas where you can curl up with your laptop. Although sometimes it’s slightly too comfortable to be conducive to work …

Dissertation Discussion: Ellen

What is the working title of your dissertation?

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite: The Significance of Anachronism in Period Dress – felt cute but might delete later.

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been really interested in costume in film. I was originally going to do a comparison between Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) and The Favourite (2018), but realised that would be far too much and actually I found that The Favourite was … my favourite (bad pun, I know). Also, I love that this film is so different to conventional period dramas, and it interested me that anachronism is usually seen as a bad thing or a mistake, whereas here it is purposefully done. I also love Yorgos Lanthimos, and that this film could have followed the path of many a period film, but it is completely altered by his involvement.

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

I’ve read a lot of great texts while researching, but I would have to say it’s been the films I’ve watched that have been my favourites. I think the most significant one is The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), as I’m focusing a lot on the monochrome colour palette used, and this film is such a clear influence. It’s also absolutely baffling, which I enjoy.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

It’s got to be Hatfield House. I don’t know if that counts as an object, but it’s the main location for the film, and it’s the basis of one of my chapters. I visited the other week and it’s a Jacobean house with dark wood interiors (makes for a creaky floor) and really rich tapestries, so being there was literally like stepping into a different world. It’s also such a key aspect of the film, and I think the house plays such an important role in the genre of period drama in general, so it was really important for me to go and visit it. I also love its black and white marble floor, and the fact that the Jonas Brothers’ latest video was filmed there.

Favourite place to work?

Probably the British Library as other people working shames me into working, but at the same time I like working from home as I find playing music sometimes helps if I’m in a writing rut.

Dissertation Discussion: Lacey

Figure 1. Dissertation moodboard: 1. Chema Madoz, Untitled 2. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride 3. John Everett Millais, Ophelia 4. Miss Havisham (Gillian Anderson) in Great Expectations mini-series 5. John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus 6. Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee portrait 7. Edward Gorey’s ‘peachable
widow with consolate eyes’ 8. Charles Allan Gilbert, All is Vanity 9. Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí’s skeleton dress 10. Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia 11. James Whistler, Whistler, Symphony in White, No. III 12. Caravaggio, Narcissus 13. Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides

What is the working title of your dissertation?

‘Buried Brides’ (+ some subtitular arrangement of ‘dysfunction, surface, bodies, femininity, et cetera, et cetera’)

What led you to choose this subject?

I don’t want to say a lot yet, since I think sharing too much about projects before they’re fully actualised jinxes them. But essentially, I developed this idea of the white dress doubling as wedding dress-Baptism/ Communion gown and burial shroud-ghost sheet in my first formal essay of the year. I really love doing alchemy – taking one thing and transforming it through theory and juxtaposition. Bride becomes corpse, black becomes white, surface becomes depth and back again.

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

Caroline Evans’ Fashion at the Edge has been my constant this year, and I finally read Ulrich Lehmann’s Tigersprung.

Kirsten Dunst in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011)

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

This still of Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia is everything I’m talking about. The film opens with a kind of avant-garde, apocalyptic montage, and at one point, Dunst’s character Justine runs in slow motion in her wedding gown as tree branches and roots wrap around her limbs and claw at her. It’s just the perfect visual metaphor: the fashionable, fertile woman in white struggling against time and nature. Melancholia isn’t one of my case studies, but I need to find a way to work this image in anyway. I’ve been thinking of pulling a Lehmann and including thematically insightful pictures alongside my direct illustrations, just to get this in.

Favourite place to work?

I’ve been quite boring this year. In the past I’ve habitually claimed tables at the Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York and the Finnish Institute in Paris, but as of now I’ve exclusively written my dissertation at my desk at Duchy House. I will be better.

Dissertation Discussion: Fran

What led you to choose this subject?

I was uniquely led to my chosen subject through Instagram (yup.). In the first week of March (2019), I uploaded a multiple-image post to my personal Instagram feed (@francesrcrossley) containing two comparable fashion images (Fig.1). The first was taken by fashion photographer Jason Lloyd-Evans at @edwardcrutchley’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show during London Fashion Week Men’s (2019). It features a collection of models, but one acts as the point of interest, her attention held away from the camera’s gaze. Atop her head is a tall, wide-brimmed hat (@stephenjonesmillinery), its structure implied through a meshed, translucent nylon that allows for the bones of its unique construction to be perpetually on show. It is fixed onto the model’s head with a long ream of ribbon that fastens in a delicate bow across the centre of her neck. 

Fig. 1 The first-half of the multi-image post I uploaded on my IG feed, featuring Edward Crutchley / Stephen Jones designs…

I placed this image in conversation with an archival photograph of American sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin, in which she models a similarly structured, cylindrical hat. Dr Stephanie Lake (@cashincopy , @bonniecashinarchive ), author of Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It (2016), later informed me that Cashin purchased this hat during her travels for the Ford Foundation throughout Asia during the 1950s (Fig. 2). 

Fig. 2 …and the second half.

This post was intended as a personal exercise, visually demonstrating the cyclical movement of twentieth and twenty-first century fashion systems, in which styles and motifs are recurrently recycled and given new meaning for a contemporary audience. After posting, I swiftly received word from Crutchley (also via IG), and the designer disclosed that his AW19 hats were based on the traditional male Korean bridal gat (a form of Joseon-era headgear). In this instructive experience, the trend of reproduction in fashion played out to confirm a well-discussed concept: fashion is a powerful cultural phenomenon that cannot be reduced to a singular, ‘present-day’ understanding. Through this three-way interaction, I formed a fascination with concept of ‘copying’ or ‘knocking-off’ another designer’s work vs. find inspiration in the silhouettes, modes of production or craft appropriated in past histories. I wanted to explore the difference between repackaging historical borrowings and ‘copycatting—which I believe to be an inherent exercise operating within the fashion system. And so, voilà: a dissertation subject was born! 💥

Mr Edward Crutchley setting me straight on gat-gate via Instagram’s private messaging feature.

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

Pfftttt that’s hard—I have discovered so many new (to me), fiercely innovative authors during this research period. I therefore have to choose two: Véronique Pouillard and Agnès Rocamora, who between them have produced some of the most fascinating texts I’ve read over the course of my undergrad and postgrad experiences. Pouillard’s extensive work on the formalisation of design piracy in the fashion industry during the interwar period and her exploration of intellectual property rights in relation to the preservation of originality European property laws vs. U.S. patents and trademarks)—-beyond helpful; and Rocamora’s comprehensive dissection of Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptual arguments surrounding the sociology of cultural production—theoretical life–saver. 

Also, Sara Beth Marcketti’s 2005 PhD thesis, ‘Design piracy in the United States women’s ready- to-wear apparel industry: 1910-1941’ (Iowa State University)—gold dust. 

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

A memoir-like interview I found through FIT’s Oral Histories Project (@fitspecialcollections), in which American entrepreneur Andrew Goodman [son of Edwin Goodman and former president (1951) and owner of department store, Bergdorf Goodman (1953-1972)] discusses his life and career in the New York fashion industry (recorded in 1977). Goodman tells all manner of awe-inspiring anecdotes, but my favourite is one in which he goes undercover for a sting operation in Paris (while working for Patou in 1926) in order to apprehend a group of French copyists: just the right blend of theatricality and fun! 

Dissertation Discussion: Jeordy

What is the working title of your dissertation?

For my dissertation I have chosen to write on a very niche and largely unexplored topic: the female Jewish experience in England, as understood through clothing. My working title is ‘How did Jewish women in England negotiate dual identities through dress, 1939-1955?’

What led you to choose this subject?

I have long been interested in diaspora and immigrant experiences, especially in London, where so many different immigrant groups have passed through or settled. My own Ashkenazi Jewish heritage lead to my interest in the Jewish experience, which has not been written on extensively. The opportunity to contribute to the historiography of Jewish life in England was irresistible, especially considering that Jewish women as wearers and consumers of fashion has been almost entirely neglected to date. Furthermore, the Second World War was a catalyst for change in so many ways, but especially in altering and challenging conventions of femininity. This makes the war years, as well as the decade after, the perfect time period to explore.

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

Eric Silverman’s A Cultural History of Jewish Dress. It has been very insightful and his writing style is relatable and easy to read. It was the most interesting read because, while irrelevant for this dissertation, it taught me why the Hasidic/Haredi Jewish communities dress the way they do, which is something I always wondered about as a child growing up in a largely Hasidic neighbourhood.

Image courtesy of the Jewish Museum London.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

It’s challenging to pick just one! If I really had to choose, it would be this family portrait taken by Boris Bennett in 1948. Mr. Keiner had just obtained English citizenship, and the portrait was taken to commemorate the moment, as well as to memorialise the feeling of safety the family finally felt. The hardship of the war is visible on the parents’ relieved faces, while the children (who look exactly like their parents and it’s adorable) seem innocent and happy. Finally, I love little Judy Keiner’s tartan pinafore, and I think it is too precious that she is hugging a ball.

Favourite place to work?

I usually work from home, seated at the kitchen table. It’s not the most inspiring spot, but having easy access to snacks and not having to get dressed compensates for that. When I do go out to write, it’s usually to the Humanities 1 Reader Room at the British Library. I don’t necessarily enjoy being there (if they’d just let me bring water in!) but the formal atmosphere and the impressive architecture means I always get lots of work done.

 

Dissertation Discussion: Imogene

What is the working title of your dissertation?

The working title of my dissertation is ‘The 1980s Body Ideal: A Case Study of Azzedine Alaïa’.

What led you to choose this subject?

I have always been interested in the relationship between clothing and the body. Unsurprisingly, I was particularly fascinated by a class we had at the beginning of this term, in which we discussed the fashionable female ‘sports body’ of the 1930s and 1940s. At that time new ideas about health and exercise had begun to emerge, which had a direct influence on attitudes towards gender, sexuality and dress. Since I am personally more interested in contemporary dress, I wanted to apply the 1930s-40s analysis of the body as presented in class to the 1980s hyper-idealized female sports body. I was curious to see what lay behind our modern-day notions about dress, gender, and sexuality that had their beginning in the 80s. 

I thought that using the designer Azzedine Alaïa as a case study for my analysis of the 1980s body ideal would be fitting, not only because his clothes were instrumental in defining the decade’s feminine silhouette, but also because of how central the body was to his design philosophy. 

A couple of years ago, I discovered that there had been an exhibition of Alaïa’s designs at the Galliera Borghese in Rome called ‘Azzedine Alaïa: Couture/Sculpture’. I remember being instantly amazed by the photographs of the exhibition. As a student of art history with a particular interest in Classical and Renaissance art and an affinity for fashion, I was thrilled to see that this exhibition represented an ideal amalgamation of both worlds into one. Although I had known since high school that I want to study fashion and eventually work in the industry, seeing those photographs was a confirmation that I had made the right decision in choosing to major in art history in my undergrad. It made me realise that what I was learning about aesthetic analysis could be applied to fashion. Moreover, it validated my conviction that art and dress are inextricably linked. I am therefore delighted that my dissertation has taken me full circle and has given me the opportunity to research this exhibition, which is now the subject of my first chapter!

Azzedine Alaïa Couture/Sculpture at the Villa Borghese, 2015

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

My favourite book is a book that our tutor, Rebecca, let me borrow. L’Esprit Vionnet, by Jéromine Sauvignon, is about the early twentieth century couturier Madeleine Vionnet and the designers she influenced, including Alaïa himself. I love the parallels Sauvignon draws between Vionnet and Alaïa. She forges fascinating links between their design techniques and the ways in which they both conceptualised the body of the modern woman of their respective times. 

‘Azzedine Alaïa Collector. Adrian and Alaïa. The art of tailoring’ at the Association Azzedine Alaïa, 2019, Paris

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

My favourite image that I analyse in my dissertation is from the ‘Couture/Sculpture’ exhibition. Seeing a timeless Alaïa gown next to a timeless work of art like Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne is quite ethereal. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Paris briefly to see the current exhibition ‘Azzedine Alaïa Collector. Adrian and Alaïa. The art of tailoring’ at the Association Azzedine Alaïa. Suits by Adrian, the Hollywood costume designer turned couturier, were displayed alongside suits by Alaïa. Alaïa was an admirer and avid collector of Adrian’s work. It was a wonderful experience to be able to look at physical garments after having spent so much time reading and writing.

‘Azzedine Alaïa Collector. Adrian and Alaïa. The art of tailoring’ at the Association Azzedine Alaïa, 2019, Paris, photo taken by the author.

Favourite place to work?

I do not really have one particular place I like to work. I am definitely someone who likes to change it up. I can stay in the same environment for a couple of days, but then I need to relocate and find somewhere new to write and glean inspiration. It keeps things fresh. I will switch between coffee shops and various libraries around London. I do prefer the library though; I feel that I accomplish the most in a quiet space. 

Dissertation Discussion: Lily

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat. Costume design by Bernard Newman. RKO Pictures, 1935.

What is the working title of your dissertation?

My dissertation is as yet untitled, but it’s on the subject of costume and dance in Top Hat (1935). The consensus in film studies is that musicals unfold in terms of oppositions, and I am exploring this theory as it plays out in the costuming of Top Hat‘s numbers. Through an analysis of the visual and tactile pleasures offered by costume in motion, I suggest that a costume plot exists in the film which represents a split between the film’s dominant ideology and what Robin Wood calls ‘certain fundamental drives and needs that are not ideological but universal’, such as delight in bodily movement. The tensions arising from this split are discussed in relation to gender, pleasure, and power at a specific historical moment but also more generally, with particular focus on the spectacle and spaces of costume within the numbers.

What led you to choose this subject?

My interest in the intricacies of costume plots stems from my own experience of devising them as a film student. Seminars on dress and movement at the Courtauld then led me to develop an interest in the similarities between dress, dance, and film as mediums. I wanted to further explore their interplay, and chose the Hollywood musical as a starting point because of the way in which it combines all three mediums. I then explored the Astaire-Rogers musicals as films especially well-known for their wedding of dance and costume, before choosing to focus on Top Hat as the quintessential Astaire-Rogers musical in this respect.

Ginger Rogers by Horst P. Horst, 1936.

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

A 1935 Women’s Wear Daily article on Top Hat which, very usefully, lists all of the fabrics and materials used to construct Ginger Rogers’ costumes.

Favourite object/image in your dissertation and why?

Horst P. Horst’s photographs of Ginger Rogers. Used in a 1936 advertisement for the Muriel King dress worn by Rogers, I like the images for the way in which they capture what the advertisement describes as ‘rhythm in chiffon’.

Favourite place to work?

The Courtauld common room.

Reference

Robin Wood. (1981 [1975]). Art and Ideology: Notes on Silk Stockings. In: Rick Altman, ed. Genre: The Musical. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul/British Film Institute, pp. 57-69.

The Henkin Brothers Archive: Rediscovered Treasure

In February, I submitted an assessed essay discussing the image of the Neue Frau as documented through various media formats in Weimar Germany (see previous blog post ‘In Her Image’). So when Rebecca introduced me to the Henkin Brothers Archive a couple of weeks ago, I was excited to see primary photographic material rendering 1930s Berlin with a warming, frank humility. 

Before discussing their photographs, I think it’s best to get to know the brothers and their posthumously formed foundation first. The photographs of brothers Evgeny (b.1900) and Yakov Henkin (b.1903) were freshly unearthed in 2012. For over 70 years, untouched boxed filled with rolls of film had sat in Yakov Henkin’s former home in Leningrad. The rediscovery of these photographic heirlooms set in motion the creation of a wonderful archival foundation, with Yakov’s descendants taking full advantage of new technologies and digitising the thousands of negatives they had uncovered. 

Fig 1. Evgeny Henkin, Self-portrait with a Leica camera, c.1936-1937, Leningrad (St. Petersburg, USSR/Russia). © Henkin Brothers Archive Association (HBAA)

Despite growing up together in Rostov-on-Dov (situated in the European South of the Russian Empire), the brothers’ paths diverged in the wake of the October Revolution (1917) in Russia, with Evgeny travelling to Berlin and Yakov moving to Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg). This disruptive parting between the two siblings is documented in their separate photographic collections: Evgeny capturing the cityscape of interwar Berlin (1926-1936) and Yakov the distinctive streets of 1930s Leningrad; until his voluntary enlistment in 1941 (his subsequent death on the Leningrad Front shortly thereafter). 

Fig 2. Yakov Henkin, Self-Portrait in a mirror, c. mid-1930s, Leningrad (St. Petersburg, USSR/Russia). © Henkin Brothers Archive Association (HBAA)

In accordance with this blog’s dress historical premise, I thought it would be on-theme to select two images—from Berlin and Leningrad respectively—to demonstrate the brothers’ natural photographic talents whilst simultaneously illustrating the contemporary fashions of their individual city-spaces (neither brother worked professionally as photographers: each chose to hone their natural talent as amateurs while undertaking alternative careers). The first (Fig.3) is the stuff of fashion-historian dreams. Evgeny provides us with the street-side setting of what I assume to be a hair-salon’s storefront. This is a remarkably kitschy-cool image: quaffed and glossed mannequin heads line the length of the windowpane, while two living models occupy the foreground, emulating the pose of their backdrop inspirations. The Bubikopf, modelled here in various incarnations, was a masculine-inspired haircut symbolic of the New Woman’s revolutionary personhood. Bubikopf translates directly to ‘boy’s head’, and this affluent grooming modification was reconfigured several times, such as the shortened and smoothed ‘Eton crop’, which featured defined, exaggerated waves (see central mannequin for main reference). I am desperate for this wool coat on the left also, truly desperate. 

Fig 3. Evgeny Henkin, Two women, c.1930s, Berlin (Germany). © Henkin Brothers Archive Association (HBAA)

The second image (Fig.4), taken by Yakov, is a more traditionally composed portrait that shows two women standing on one of Leningrad’s many riverfronts (c. late-1930s). In this image, we are treated to a fantastic display of jazzy pullovers that set the overall, fabulous fashion tone: matching ‘v’ neck-lines, each woman sporting a fun and unique woven motif (a dot pattern vs. a form of waved, rib knit) that is offset by equally distinguished collars (neat, petite bow vs. oversized Peter Pan collar). I could discuss at length the killer shoe-game on display here, but I am fully obsessed with the mirror-image diagonal poses each woman is striking (the soft, harmonious ‘v’ their bodies unintentionally create, repeating the motif of their corresponding necklines) and the headwear-cherries they have placed atop their ensemble-cakes: a structural cloche and the timeless beret (that always screams chic). Good show, ladies! 

Fig 4. Yakov Henkin, Two women, by the river, c. late-1930s, Leningrad (St. Petersburg, USSR/Russia). © Henkin Brothers Archive Association (HBAA)

These two corresponding images, from individual European cities, depicting two pairs of fashion-conscious female friends and the style aesthetic of two unique landscapes, perfectly demonstrate the important, historical and cultural reference the Henkin Brothers’ work represents. 

In recent years, the collection has been displayed at the @hermitage_museum (St. Petersburg) in the archive’s inaugural public exhibition, entitled: The Henkin Brothers: A Discovery. People of 1920s-30s Berlin and Leningrad (2017). And just this May (16-19 May), a selection of Henkin Brothers photography was shown at the 2019 @streetphotomilano festival. It’s safe to say that the Henkin Brothers are making a stellar, 21st century comeback! 

I would like to thank Denis Maslov, Yakov Henkin’s great-grandson for his assistance and helpful emails concerning the writing of this post. Denis works to preserve the archive and develop its social media presence with his mother Olga—the only living descendants of the Henkin Brothers. 

To learn more about the Henkin Brothers Archive Association, go to www.henkinbrothers.com  

And visit their Instagram ASAP—it’s full of photographic treasures: www.instagram.com/henkin.brothers