Every term we have a meeting of the Addressing Images Discussion Group. Actually, that makes it sound far too official and formal, what really happens is that anyone who feels like spending their lunch hour talking about fashion can drop in and join my students and me. It started as a way to share ideas and has become a regular venue to think about what fashion representation means. Past sessions have included looking at Bill Cunningham’s entrancing photographs of Editta Sherman dressed in vintage, out and about in 1970s New York, amateur film footage of a late 1930s family holiday to Europe, and Paul Iribe’s images for Les Robes de Paul Poiret – this last one was extra special, as we had the original 1908 book on display from our collections.
Deciding what to discuss is always fun. We need to choose something that will spark discussion, and interest the wide and wonderful range of people who attend – everyone from fellow Courtauld academics and administrative staff to textile designers, photographers, Instagram friends, vintage collectors – anyone who likes to talk about dress. Ideas are just as diverse as the backgrounds of the people and that’s the point – sharing what we do at The Courtauld with others, and in turn being inspired by the people that attend.
Out most recent session focused on Christian Berard’s illustrations for Elsa Schiaparelli’s famed 1938 Circus Collection. With the original double page spread as our focus we considered the way Berard’s technique drew viewers in to a tumbling series of glimpsed images of couture-clad women, clowns, acrobats and animals. We compared his illustrations to Eric’s more earthbound, but no less seductive style, and to Marcel Vertes’ fantastical dreamlike drawings. Discussion ranged from brushstroke to colour, from character to iconography and from fashion to funfair.
It was, as always, a wonderful, enlightening way to spend an hour … so do put the date for next term’s Addressing Images on 9 February in your diaries.