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Fashion Interpretations, a Symposium

We are pleased to announce that next week The Courtauld and London College of Fashion will host Fashion Interpretations, a five-part symposium series hosted every evening from 30 November to 4 December. Documenting Fashion’s own Dr. Rebecca Arnold will lead this series alongside London College of Fashion’s Judith Clark, as both are co-founders of Fashion Interpretations: Dress, Medium, and Meaning, a Fashion AHRC-funded networking project. Each night Fashion Interpretations’s leaders will be joined by a selection of brilliant guests and speakers, and the series will culminate in a roundtable discussion to celebrate the launch of Archivist Addendum. Please book tickets to the week’s events here: https://courtauld.ac.uk/research/research-forum/events/fashioninterpretations. If you’ve missed out on tickets for any of the nights, not to worry–the Documenting Fashion blog will be updated daily with our recaps, new knowledge, and perhaps even a few of our own fashion illustrations from Thursday night’s master class with Richard Haines.

 

The Then and Now of Second-Hand Shopping

It is now a well-circulated fact that the fashion industry is the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. Unsurprisingly, this has shocked many consumers into the pursuit of a more sustainable way of dressing. As a result, the second-hand clothing trade has embraced – for better or for worse – a surge in popularity.

Second-hand shopping in charity and vintage shops, and on eBay and apps like Depop, has become not only a sustainable way to dress but also a way to express individuality against the mainstream current of mass-produced fast fashion. Second-hand clothing is often conceptualised as something both antique and unique. It is easy to imagine, then, that second-hand clothing shops are a modern invention, a response to modern anxieties about sustainability and individuality.

The second-hand clothing trade, however, has existed quietly for centuries.

Nineteenth-century second-hand clothing stalls, accessed via Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2013).

In 1700, second-hand clothing stalls were scattered across London, in both the East and West End. They existed mainly to clothe the poor but also benefitted the emerging middle classes.

Second-hand clothing dealers in this period were usually skilled tailors, and the business was considered both respectable and profitable. Merchandise was often sourced from servants who transported their wealthy employers’ discarded clothing to the markets to sell. For them, there was more merit in making a profit from a gifted item of clothing than wearing what would be considered socially inappropriate. These upper-class fashions would be repurchased and worn by the urban merchant class, much to the dismay of contemporary commentators.

While the second-hand trade flourished throughout the eighteenth century, industrialisation in the nineteenth century made new clothes more affordable and thus caused a relative decline in the second-hand clothing trade. However, second-hand trade remained a central way for the poor to buy clothing, and it was at this point that it became associated solely with poverty.

The stigma surrounding the second-hand has been memorialised in the writings of Charles Dickens. In 1836, he reflected with horror on the second-hand clothing market in Monmouth Street:

… To walk among these extensive groves of the illustrious dead, and to indulge in the speculations to which they give rise; now fitting a deceased coat, then a dead pair of trousers, and anon the mortal remains of a gaudy waistcoat …

The second-hand clothing trade became a ‘burial place of fashions.’

The rich history of the second-hand clothing trade has largely been forgotten by scholars and curators. Indeed, as Madeleine Ginsburg pointed out: ‘the staples of the nineteenth-century second-hand clothing trade are most of the items missing from most museum collections.’ By the time the ‘history from below’ approach to museum curation became popular in the 1970s, the second-hand clothes for the poor sold on market stalls had long disintegrated.

Dickens’ contemplation of the deathliness that surrounds second-hand clothing remains something Western society still negotiates with today. Second-hand clothes are perceived as dirty, and in them is the lingering sense of another unknown body – indeed, we must give our purchases from charity shops a good wash before we wear them.

Some second-hand business owners still choose to accentuate the fact they are ‘pre-owned’ (many businesses prefer to use this term to second-hand). In an interview with i-D Magazine, Hokkiee, the owner of the cult vintage shop Zen Source Clothing in Tokyo, expressed his effort to make the interior ‘really feel like somebody’s personal closet’.

A photograph of a ghostly display inside Hokkiee’s Tokyo-based vintage shop, Zen Source Clothing, accessed via https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/8898dx/zsc-best-cult-vintage-stores-zen-source-clothing-japan-tokyo

Similarly, The Grotesque Archive, a Berlin-based vintage shop on Depop, collects grotesque and uncanny second-hand designer pieces, capitalising on a strange, deathly aura only second-hand clothing can capture.

LA, wearing items from The Grotesque Archive, photographed by Timothy Schaumburg, accessed via https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12953/the-grotesque-archive-is-the-vintage-shop-harnessing-the-power-of-depop

Much like its eighteenth century counterpart, second-hand clothing today is a profitable business. Twenty-first century vintage shops are fashionable and innovative, and often marketed towards a trendy, environmentally conscious, and affluent consumer. It goes without saying that those who are able and can afford to shop sustainably should. However, as increasing popularity in second-hand clothes drives up the prices in charity shops, perhaps we should keep in mind the second-hand stalls of past-centuries: primarily an affordable (and sustainable) way of clothes-shopping for those who could not afford the alternative.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe, Second-Hand Cultures (London, 2003).

Vivienne Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2013).

Madeleine Ginsburg, ‘Rags to Riches: The Second-Hand Clothes Trade 1700–1978’, Costume 14 1 (1980), pp. 121-135.

Eilidh Duffy, ‘The Grotesque Archive Is the Vintage Shop Harnessing the Power of Depop’, Another Magazine, https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/12953/the-grotesque-archive-is-the-vintage-shop-harnessing-the-power-of-depop

Eilidh Duffy, ‘Inside the best cult vintage stores: Zen Source Clothing’, i-D, https://id.vice.com/en_uk/article/jgxvvk/inside-artifact-new-york-fashions-most-exclusive-designer-archive

Anti-surveillance wearables

Those who use facial recognition technology to unlock their smartphones may have found themselves recently unable to do so, the phone’s technology rendered useless when the cameras are no longer able to ‘see’ the faces of their owners behind now-ubiquitous face masks. Ever since facial recognition technology came into use in public spaces, privacy activists have been formulating tactics to avert its gaze. However, their methods have spanned far beyond the use of simple socially (or legally) mandatory face masks, ranging from t-shirts printed with celebrities’ faces (the delightfully named ‘Glamouflage’ by Simone C. Niquille) to a crowd-funded prosthetic mask reproducing the face of Leo Selvaggio, who has, in an unusual but noble gesture, sacrificed his own facial identity to offer privacy to others. A ‘wearable projector’ by Jing Cai Liu is also available, which casts shifting and ghostly images of strangers’ faces onto the wearer’s own.

 

A ‘wearable projector’ by Jing Cai Liu (Photo: Jing Cai Liu) via https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

Not all designs are so uncanny. Isao Echizen’s scientific goggles studded with LEDs would look at home on the shelves of neon-spattered ravewear emporium Cyberdog. The CHBL Jammer Coat, designed by Coop Himmelb(l)au, is embedded with ‘metallized fabrics’ to ‘block radio waves’. It is architecturally beautiful with undulating quilted segments covered in a swelling sea of black dots “reminiscent of Yayoi Kusama”, ostensibly to confuse cameras. Some techniques, including ‘CV Dazzle’, are so appealing that the possibility of avoiding detection could be demoted to a secondary part of their appeal. Artist Adam Harvey designed ‘CV Dazzle’ a decade ago, using a combination of colourful hair extensions, graphic makeup, accessories and gems to ‘dazzle’ the (now largely defunct) Viola-Jones face detection algorithm.

 

The CHBL Jammer Coat (Photo: Markus Pillhofer / Coop Himmelb(l)au) via https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

The reasons to obscure one’s face are many and ever-increasing as facial recognition technology is harnessed by powers unknown. According to Larry Anderson, editor of SourceSecurity.com, “algorithms can […] identify traits such as ‘calm’ or ‘kind’”, as well as demographics, and use this information for marketing purposes – he’s not clear to what extent these practices are in use. Away from the private sector, governments around the world use facial recognition for law enforcement. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hong Kong’s government banned face masks after protestors wore them in an attempt to avoid identification and persecution. Following the death of George Floyd, encrypted messaging service Signal distributed ‘anti-facial recognition masks’ to protestors for the same reasons. In addition to government surveillance, individuals are able to harness facial recognition software for their own means. In March, a writer for The New Yorker met with Kate Bertash of the Digital Defense Fund who reported that anti-abortion activists were photographing those who entered clinics in a possible attempt to track down their home addresses.

The paradoxical effect of many wearable anti-identification systems is that they draw much more human attention to the wearer. Chloe Malle experimented with ‘CV Dazzle’ in a piece for Garage magazine and found that passers-by “swivelled en masse to look and chuckle,” and one woman, horrified, ushered her daughter away from the writer. Now that face masks are omnipresent, the movement for facial concealment may be given the space to flourish and become mainstream. It appears, however, that new designs will continue to be necessitated, as technologies like ‘thermal facial recognition’ are already beginning to be rolled out—and those in opposition to it will be pushed towards yet more creative and technological innovation.

 

Model Hye Xun photographed by Cho Gi Seok via https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover

 

Model Hye Xun photographed by Cho Gi Seok via https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover 

By Lucy Corkish

 

Sources

https://www.businessinsider.com/clothes-accessories-that-outsmart-facial-recognition-tech-2019-10?r=US&IR=T

https://www.sourcesecurity.com/insights/anti-surveillance-clothing-facial-detection-adam-harvey-sb.22164.html

Dressing for the Surveillance Age by John Seabrook, in The New Yorker, March 16, 2020 Issue

https://yr.media/tech/guide-to-anti-surveillance-fashion/

https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/bvgdzv/under-cover

https://cvdazzle.com

The Right to Hide? Anti-Surveillance Camouflage and the Aestheticization of Resistance by Torin Monahan, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies Vol. 12, No. 2, June 2015, pp. 159–178

The rise and regulation of thermal facial recognition technology during the COVID-19 pandemic by Meredith Van Natta, Paul Chen, Savannah Herbek, Rishabh Jain, Nicole Kastelic, Evan Katz, Micalyn Struble, Vineel Vanam, Niharika Vattikonda in Journal of Law and the Biosciences, Volume 7, Issue 1, January-June 2020, lsaa038, https://doi.org/10.1093/jlb/lsaa038

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the semiotic power of the collar

2020 has been the year of the collar. Seen on the Fall/Winter catwalks of Gucci, Celine and JW Anderson, what was once perceived as a playful accessory during fashion week has taken on a whole new significance since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Uprooted from our everyday lives and thrust into the digital realm of Zoom where our appearance is confined to one small square from the shoulders up, the collar, whether it be an oversized-Peter Pan number or ruffled Victorian style neckline, provides a channel of self-expression amidst the monotony of working-from-home dress. As Natalie Kingham, the buying director at MatchesFashion.com, states: “Ornate Peter Pan collars are definitely having a moment, as they are perfect to wear working from home for Zoom meetings.”

Gucci FW 2020 (Source: @gucci on Instagram), JW Anderson FW 2020 (Source: @jwanderson on Instagram), FW 2020 Celine (Source: @celine on Instagram)

No one knew better the power of the collar as a means of self-expression than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As the United States’s second female Supreme Court Justice who fought for gender equality throughout her career, Bader Ginsburg broke through the patriarchal barriers of American law. She embodied the same feminist sentiment in her penchant for collars taking the judge’s robe, a uniform designed for men, and feminising it. As she recalled in an interview in 2009, “You know, the standard robe is made for a man because it has a place for the shirt to show, and the tie”. Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female US Justice, “thought it would be appropriate if we included as part of our robe something typical of a woman.” Bader Ginsburg and O’Connor wore lace jabots for the Supreme Court group photo in 2003, a controversial choice made by these two women to embrace their femininity in the male dominated workplace.

Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing her first jabot by Everett Raymond Kinstler 1996. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute
TIME magazine Ruth Bader Ginsburg Cover (Source: @time on Instagram)

As Bader Ginsburg’s career progressed, she harnessed the semiotic power of accessorising, wearing different collars to give her opinions on rulings. As a Justice, she was required to remain neutral on most matters. The sartorial channel of the collar allowed her a small but significant means of expression. She had her “dissenting collar”, a bejewelled Banana Republic necklace on a black base with an armour-like appearance, worn to express disapproval. As she said to Katie Couric in 2014, eyeing up the collar’s metal spike-like beads, “it looks fitting for dissent”. She famously sported this collar the day after Donald Trump was elected President in 2016.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her Dissent Collar (Source: @queenscityvintage on Instagram)

Then there was her collar of approval, the “majority opinion collar”, which she wore to announce rulings for the court. A crocheted yellow and pink collar with gold appliqué detailing and flowers, it seemed an appropriate sartorial choice to express agreement. Perhaps her most famous collar was white crochet jabot she brought back from a trip to South Africa. It was simple in design, with no embellishment or colour, but was worn on the most important of occasions—namely Barack Obama’s speech to congress at the 2012 State of the Union and on her 20th anniversary as a member of the bench in 2013. It was this collar that was printed on the cover of the New Yorker to pay tribute to Bader Ginsburg when she passed away in September. On the cover, the crochet detailing was manipulated into the form of the female gender symbol.

Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her favourite collar (Source: @bazaaruk on Instagram)
The New Yorker cover in tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Source: @newyorkermag)

Bader Ginsburg’s use of the collar as a tool for self-expression shows how a small sartorial detail can go a long way in asserting one’s own personal style, but may also hold the power to communicate cultural and political ideas. As we remain (for the moment at least) confined to the world of Zoom, we can take inspiration from her use of the collar, and fashion ourselves an identity from the neck up.

 

By Violet Caldecott

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/sep/25/ruth-bader-ginsburgs-trademark-collar-dominates-week-of-tributes

https://www.ft.com/content/1a8a270d-7a4d-41d2-9f5d-b0265296aa17

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-09-23/life-lessons-ruth-bader-ginsburg-collars

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/g34097013/ruth-bader-ginsburg-collars-meaning/#:~:text=Though%20she%20had%20many%20collars,her%2020th%20anniversary%20on%20the

Oswald Birley’s “Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown”: dress in focus

Oswald Birley, Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny gown, 1919, oil on canvas, 101.5 x 76 cm. Private collection. Image taken from Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley. London: Philip Mould Ltd, 2017.

Oswald Birley was a prolific British portrait artist active between 1919 and 1951. He was one of the most beloved portraitists of the British monarchy, political leaders and other powerful men. He completed the portrait of the young British debutante Miss Muriel Gore in 1919, however the information available on this work and its subject is extremely scarce. Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown was completed at a time of significant social change for women, started in the final years of the nineteenth century and becoming more prominent with the end of the First World War. This change was translated in fashion and was echoed in the success the designs of Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo found in this historical time.

The scarcity of information available on Miss Gore’s life allows only for a partial understanding of her figure. It is likely that she was Scottish and belonged to the aristocratic upper class, as she was related in some way to Lady Mabell Gore, Countess of Airlie, wife to the 11th Earl of Airlie. It is plausible to say that, at the time the portrait was completed, Miss Gore was still nubile and probably making her debut in society. A few elements of this portrait, such as her title (Miss rather than Mrs.), the absence of a wedding ring, and her youthful appearance support this idea. After careful analysis, the only element revealing her social status remains the expensive Fortuny gown. Known as the Delphos gown, and existing in a variety of versions, this design stands out as the most typical of the Fortuny style.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Pale grey Delphos gown. 1920. Palazzo Fortuny, Venezia. http://www.archiviodellacomunicazione.it/Sicap/OpereArte/338940/?WEB=MuseiVE

A pleated tunic inspired by a robe seen on male and female Greek statues from the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, as well as figures painted on vases, the Delphos was named after the antique sculpture known as ‘Charioteer of Delphi,’ adorned with a long chiton held in place at the shoulders by simple bronze clasps. Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), a Venice-based Spanish artist and designer, patented the dress in 1909. The creation of a single sleeveless Delphos was a highly intricate production that reportedly took eight hours in total. The fabric was a luxurious silk imported from Japan, and the characteristic pleating, usually consisting of between 430 and 450 pleats per fabric width, was achieved by a process of evaporation. The wet and folded silk was laid on heated porcelain tubes, also patented in 1909, which permanently fixed such tight pleats in the material so that the dress looked carved or pressed. This time-consuming and complicated manufacturing process, along with the precious fabric used, made the price of this gown stratospheric, and it was only affordable for women of conspicuous means, such as Muriel Gore. The Fortuny pleat, which did not wrinkle nor lose its shape, expanded slightly over the natural feminine curves, remaining compact in other areas, thus creating alluring zones of light and shadow. Fortuny was particularly interested in enhancing the brilliance of the silk, and he found in albumin, an extract of egg whites, the perfect substance to do so. With the help of a brush, albumin was applied on the humified fabric, functioning on the pleats as a fixing agent, increasing the brilliance, and adding flexibility and softness to the fabric. Birley masterfully translated the characteristic traits of the Delphos gown on his canvas, in particular the malleable quality of the fabric when touched by light and the resulting effects of chiaroscuro, which was also highly important for the designer.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Pale grey Delphos gown completed with belt (detail). From the catalogue of the exhibition “Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise” (2017).

Fortuny’s vision of fashion stemmed from his travels to Greece in 1906, where he found antique printed textiles and admired the beauty of the archaic Korai and Delphi’s Charioteer. His intention was never that of becoming a couturier like Worth; he did not present an annual collection, nor show separate summer and winter designs. His aim was to find his own version of a timeless ideal form, detached from the fleeting trends of fashion, and with his Delphos gown he successfully transformed the past into an eternal present.

The Delphos gown quickly became a must-have garment for the most cultured and liberated women of the time. Eccentrics, divas, intellectuals and aristocrats flocked to buy Fortuny’s dress, which spoke of refined extravagance while exalting the personality of the wearer. The association with such timeless beauty attracted those women who could perceive the uniqueness of the dress, and Miss Gore may be seen as one of them, as she decided to be portrayed wearing a Delphos. With this gesture, she also implicitly showed her support to the movement that had started in the years just before World War I, freeing women from corsets and rigidly constructed gowns. Dancers like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Loïe Fuller made the liberation of women’s dress a cause, and they did so by performing their pioneering choreographies enveloped in mermaid-like Delphos. Their choreography sought to express a mix of asceticism and sensuality associated with the Minoan women who had inspired Fortuny’s creations.

The controversial nature of the Delphos stemmed precisely from the sensuality presented by the gown, in particular the ‘clinging fashion’ with which it enveloped the female body to reveal its shape and rendered lingerie impossible to wear. In a society that had not totally abandoned the use of tight bustiers and stays, this feature understandably caused quite a scandal, and the gown was initially considered more suited to be worn in the privacy of one’s home, or complemented by a shawl, coat or robe when in public, often designed by Fortuny himself. Likely aware of such tensions, Miss Gore chose to be portrayed wearing an embroidered shawl over her Delphos, which she gently falls down to her elbows to uncover another beautiful detail of Fortuny’s design: the drawstrings used to tighten and change the height of the short arum-lily sleeves.

Roger Viollet. Isadora Duncan and her husband Sergei Essenin with one of her adoptive daughters, Irma Duncan, wearing Delphos gowns. Photograph. Harlingue-Viollet collection, Paris. From the catalogue of the exhibition “Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise” (2017).

During his life, Birley was considered one of the most gifted portraitists both in Britain and overseas for his ability to combine physical likeness with psychological realism. The portrait of Miss Muriel Gore, dated 1919, shows the image of a wealthy debutant, nonetheless controversial for her clothing choice. The expensive Fortuny gown Miss Gore decided to be depicted with carries meaning reflecting not only her social status but also her character and personality Ultimately, Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown emblematically illustrates how eloquent the depiction of a dress can be in the context of a portrait, as it becomes the only key to unlock the mystery surrounding the sitter’s identity.

 

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources:

Black, Jonathan. ‘The Life and Portraiture of Sir Oswald Birley MC’. In Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley. London: Philip Mould Ltd, 2017.

Deschodt, Anne-Marie and Davanzo Poli, Doretta. Fortuny. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Desveaux, Delphine. Fortuny. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Mariano Fortuny. Edited by Maurizio Barberis, Claudio Franzini, Silvio Fuso, Marco Tosa. Venezia: Marsilio, 1999.

Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise. Edited by Sophie Grossiord. Paris: Palais Galliera, Paris Musées, 2017.

Alumni Spotlight: Frances Crossley

Having completed her undergraduate degree at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Frances Crossley returned to study on the ‘Documenting Fashion’ MA course with Dr Rebecca Arnold in 2018. Frances currently works at Richard Green Gallery and is also the AHRC Networking Project Administrator for the Fashion Interpretations project. In this interview we discuss how the global crises of today’s climate has affected the way we interpret and approach fashion, as well as how Frances’ MA dissertation about the reproduction of fashion and its cyclical nature is especially relevant today. 

MB: Hi Frances! Could you please expand upon how you came to work at Richard Green gallery, and what led you into becoming the project administrator for Fashion Interpretations (AHRC networking project)? I am interested in your experience working with traditional paintings and modern British art, as well as working with fashion. Do you find any interesting correlations between the two?   

FC: Of course, so I began working at the gallery back in 2015. I had applied to do my undergraduate degree at the Courtauld and I knew that I would like to gain a little experience in the industry before committing to a degree, so I started at the gallery in a work experience capacity. I was older than most going into my undergraduate course and after working for a few years after finishing sixth form, I knew it was important to gain qualifications in a field I was interested in working in, long term.  

I thought I would be at the gallery for just a couple of weeks, but I slowly began to take on more responsibilities and then before entering into my first term at the Courtauld (so I had been at the gallery roughly nine months), I was asked to join the research department and cover a colleague’s maternity leave – so throughout both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I was incorporating what I was learning every day at university into my research practice at the gallery, the two spaces continually informing one another. It was hugely instructional for me and though incredibly challenging at times, it genuinely taught me how to manage my time effectively.  

In the years I spent as a researcher at the gallery, yes, fashion would occasionally creep into my work. In 2017, the gallery held an exhibition entitled “A Flair for Fashion” which celebrated the art of dress in British portraiture from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. This project was informative for me, highlighting how dress could be incorporated within the commercial art industry, but in a way that is educational and fun. It’s hard when you’re studying, to envision how our fashion-history obsessions can be tangibly woven into settings such as these; but this project proved it was possible.  

Each portrait from the exhibition was impeccably researched – I was obsessed with the catalogue, it was really beautiful, and something I was so proud to have worked on and contributed to – each painting had its own accompanying essay and Aileen Ribiero, formerly Head of the History of Dress at The Courtauld, wrote an introductory essay for the catalogue and smaller essays on each portrait’s dress. As I had only been part of the research department for a year, I contributed to the essays and research where I could, but I predominantly helped with sourcing comparative images from museums, galleries, institutes from around the world to enrich catalogue essays – I really learnt a lot! This is one of my favourites that I helped source, (interesting as I later wrote on Poiret in my MA dissertation!):  

Paul Poiret, LE JARDIN DE L’INFANTE: Robe du soir, de Paul Poiret, September 1920, Gazette du Bon Ton, No. 7, Plate 52, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

I also helped to conduct several Instagram takeovers for the gallery, including one by Peter Copping [https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/peter-copping] which was a lot of fun. I think I find the most enjoyment in working collaboratively with people.  

Collage by FC, words and image selection made by Peter Copping

I have to admit, fashion theory, actually art theory in general; very rarely came into my practice at the galleries; however, it has of course been present throughout my role with Fashion Interpretations, so that has given me my much-needed dose of post-MA reading material! And my path to the role was really simple: Rebecca sent out a DM to our MA group (*The Glitter Gang*) last September, letting us know about the vacancy. I applied – with haste, finishing my application on my birthday! – interviewed with Rebecca and Judith (and Oliver, the Courtauld Insitute’s Research Manager) and was lucky enough to be offered the position. It has been ridiculously dreamy, ever since! 

MB: Could you discuss your role within the Fashion Interpretations project? 

FC: My role has a pretty snazzy title, if I do say so myself – I am the project’s AHRC Networking Project Administrator (yup.). This effectively means that I am responsible for the project’s upkeep, making sure all the behind-the-scenes, administrative stuff gets done. I have been involved with a number of different parts of the project, organising our Networking Project meetings, helping to draft and, actually, redraft our budget – COVID has meant a project extension, project members unable to travel, our symposium being translated into a virtual event, etc. – which is completely new for me, preparing for our symposium (details coming very soon!), setting up and curating both our blog and Instagram account, coordinating Instagram takeovers by our members, and soon, helping with the production of Archivist Addendum – the publication by Dal Chodha and Jane Howard that will house all our project members’ work and essays, I will be helping with proof-reading our members’ submissions.  

Events such as our Networking meeting in May have really stood out to me as an opportunity to be grateful for, grateful to be a part of; getting to listen to this fabulous group of people discuss their work. How they have interpreted the project’s theme, their individual translations on the ways in which modern and contemporary fashion is reinterpreted through various mediums. If you want to read more about what we discussed, I wrote a comprehensive account of our meeting for the project’s blog: https://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/fashioninterpretations/2020/05/12/a-change-in-meeting/  

MB: Fashion Interpretations considers the way fashion is transformed through different mediums. Has this become even more prominent in discussion, now that the global pandemic has forced us all online in order to share and connect? 

FC: Medium truly informs everything, it is the lens through which we filter every facet of the everyday. Therefore fashion, as an expression of the self, through dress, modification, as a material interpretation, is unimaginably affected by the COVID-19 crisis.  

Fashion can be articulated through various media and though I am constantly viewing and cataloguing fashion imagery, as a personal practice and as part of my role for the project, the medium that I feel most readily in contact with is both the fashion I dress myself in and the fashion that defines the relationships closest to me. How each of my friends represents a unique interpretation of fashion, my sneakerhead brother’s endearing DMs about footwear drops he’s stalking online, the comforting smell of my mum’s bluey-green scarf that she wraps herself in when cold, the decorative hair accessories my best friends daughter removes throughout the day, punctuating the hours we’ve spent together – as we navigate through this crisis, it’s strange how I can identify the loss of these intimacies, small fragments of their personhood. That has been very meaningful to me, watching them resurface as lockdown has eased.  

In order to continue sharing and connecting, we have to make a more definite move into a virtual space. Within fashion, taking an intrinsically material form of expression, a subject designed to be shared and interpreted as a collective, and channelling it through a medium – the digital – which could potentially isolate those taking part, it is a tricky transition. I think what is most important during the current climate is the establishment of communities and I feel very fortunate to be part of one through the Fashion Interpretations project. Our digital communications have been important to me, in these past months. 

MB: Your MA dissertation examined what the act of ‘copying’ means in the fashion industry, specifically focusing on Parisian haute couture being copied by American ready-to-wear in the interwar periods. This ‘copying and recycling of trends is interesting to consider now, as fashion often looks to the past following moments of crisis (e.g Dior’s New Look). Do you think there will be a need for nostalgia in dress following the current global pandemic? Or will the increasing awareness in supporting local, small businesses, and buying vintage break the cycle? 

FC: Yes, so in my dissertation I discussed how reproduction, or “copying”, is a valid mode of fashion production and a trend perpetually readdressed throughout fashion history. I had originally wanted to place my exploration in the present, or recent-present, due to a conversation I entered into with Edward Crutchley over Instagram, before starting my dissertation. It was a weird but very 2019 entrance into a dissertation subject and the conversation actually formed the basis of my introduction too – though the process felt quite informal, it simultaneously felt as though it had developed with me and my experiences, which made it special.   

After the MA trip to New York, I formed a small obsession with American sportswear designer Bonnie Cashin and was regularly stalking the feed of the Instagram account @cashincopy [https://www.instagram.com/cashincopy], on which Dr Stephanie Lake (its owner) often posts comparative collages / images, placing designs of Cashin’s in conversation with similar contemporary fashions, “copies” – she has taken the matter of policing the reproduction of Cashin’s designs into her own hands. It encouraged a similar personal practice, wherein I began a sartorial version of snap with myself, banking images in my memory and “Saved” folder on Instagram, making connections to try and track this continuously looping pattern within modern fashion that kept resurfacing. Long story short – I found this image of Cashin wearing a tall, wide-brimmed hat online. As opposed to Dr Lake’s side-by-side layouts, I created and posted a two-image slide post. The cover image was from Edward Crutchley’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show during London Fashion Week Men’s in January 2019. The image features a collection of models backstage, two looking directly into the camera’s lens and a third – the point of interest in this comparison piece – whose attention is being held away from the camera’s gaze. Atop this third model’s head is a tall, wide-brimmed hat (designed by Crutchley, in collaboration with Stephen Jones), its structure is implied through a meshed, translucent nylon that allows the bones of the hat’s unique construction to be perpetually on show. It is fixed to the model’s head with a ribbon that fastens across the centre of her neck. Behind this image was an archival photograph of Cashin, modelling a cylindrical hat of similar design. 

The first half of the post I uploaded on my IG feed, featuring Edward Crutchley / Stephen Jones designs, and the second half

 

Dr Stephanie Lake later informed me that Cashin purchased the hat worn in this photograph during her travels for the Ford Foundation throughout Asia during the 1950s. I meant this post to act purely as a personal exercise, to visually demonstrate the cyclical movement of late-twentieth and twenty-first centuries fashion design and how fragments of the past are resurrected in contemporary modes, giving historicised motifs new meaning. But it inspired a response – as result, I assume, of a post-Diet Prada virtual fashion landscape – and Crutchley messaged me to correct my comparison, his AW19 hats were actually based on the traditional male, Korean bridal gat (a form of Joseon-era headwear): “My hat was based on a traditional Korean gat … the originals are horse hair but [Crutchley and Stephen Jones] used a nylon crin.” Another cycle, and we are shown how each articulation of this accessory is interconnected. 

Gat-gate, messages received from Edward Crutchley, detailing his reference

 

So maybe not so long story short, sorry (!), but these moments of reinterpretation, I find, are constant and so fascinating. And we crave them, look how many nostalgic, vintage-aesthetic Instagram accounts / influencers exist. I genuinely follow about 20-or-so fashion throwback accounts that feature the word “nostalgia” in their IG bio (now you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it). It is accounts such as these that push our eternal yearning to revisit the past in order to find new forms of inspiration – a gat for example, revisited for decades, taking on new meanings. I would love to think that the current climate will push us to support local businesses, to find creative, kinder new ways in which to reinvent our wardrobes and shopping practices but it’s so hard to not become disheartened by fast-fashion’s hold over so many of us. I feel – maybe it’s my age / who I follow on social media / the media or entertainment that I am constantly surrounded by – that our collective complacency has been recognised but it’s not being rectified ferociously enough. 

 

MB: This recalls a post you wrote for the Documenting Fashion blog in 2018, ‘A Portrait of Jeremy Scott’, in which you discuss his self-awareness in presenting as a “King of kitsch”. An artist I worked with, Ben Frost, had his artwork (which addresses pop-culture and consumerism) used in Moschino’s 2018 fall/winter collection. The models wore Jackie Kennedy style pillbox hats, referencing the 1960’s, while also painted head to toe in varying colours, to appear ‘alien-like’. Is this “kitschy” nostalgia, but also desire for the future/other-worldly, a theme that you think will keep developing now in fashion? 

 

FC: I think so, for certain brands, I think it’s connected to that desire to return to past styles. A craving for nostalgia, which, for me, is inherently linked to kitsch and this playful interpretation of “fashion” as something fun or borderline silly. To most, Jeremy Scott included, this could be translated through a childhood understanding of “dress up”, becoming a character and embodying their form through dress, makeup, exaggerated affectations. I remember this season that you’ve mentioned, Moschino AW18, the conspiracy theorist-esque backstory, the Jackie O uniforms absurdly blended with outer space undertones – I think Scott quoted his inspiration was sourced from this anecdotal urban-myth wherein JFK told Marilyn Monroe that aliens were real, Monroe freaked and threatened she was going to leak the story to the press and then she was killed as a consequence, total conspiracy vibes, messy, messy, messy. This is such a childlike reaction, you learn about a wildly fanciful story (be it fairytale or a political-sexual-extraterrestrial scandal), you pick at its most fascinating elements, then you haphazardly splice them together to create this wonderful hybrid. We’ve all been there…  

Even last week, when Scott rebuilt the runway in miniature for the Moschino SS21 presentation, as a gloriously fantastical puppet show, all I could think of was the magic that puppets, small ornate wooden bodies held up by string and painted with little, delicate faces, held for me as a child (think Jim Henson or John Wright of the Little Angel Theatre). Though in that blog post you mention, I gave Scott a bit of a hard time, I was stunned by the thoughtfulness he displayed throughout the SS21 presentation, the show already feels like a piece of fashion history that remarkably documents our current circumstances, and the need for boldness.  

A post from Fashion Interpretations’ Instagram feed, discussing the Moschino SS21 runway presentation

“Kitsch” could easily define the throughline that weaves Scott’s collections together or his overwhelmingly potent aesthetic. However, “kitsch” to me, is not too far away from the ironic, ironic fashion, which is interpreted far more subjectively. I also wrote a post on “fashion gimmickry” for the Fashion Interpretations blog, which takes a little more of an in depth look at this idea: https://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/fashioninterpretations/2020/02/03/fashion-gimmickry-interpretation-imitation/  

MB: You are interested in how repetition manifests within fashion, have you noticed any repetition of trends happening right now? Or have you had any personal desire to dress differently as the lockdown is slowly lifting? 

FC: Again, to me, to my eye, repetition manifests constantly, it is embedded into the fashion industry’s foundations. Fashion is a powerful cultural phenomenon that shouldn’t be reduced to a singular, “present-day” understanding. In her essay ‘So Last Season: The Production of the Fashion Present in the Politics of Time’, Aurélie Van Der Peer notes how we (academics / industry professionals / the fashion world-adjacent) tend to regard fashion as rooted in the present, that we discount how contemporary fashions are deceivingly characterised by the absence of fashion history. References such as the aforementioned: @cashincopy, promote the necessity of originality in fashion design but referencing of past fashion histories is essential to the way our current fashion system functions. 

“Trends”, whether knowingly or not, possess elements of past fashions, maybe scrambled or purist. I have formed a minor obsession with sweater vests for example recently, knitted and in a variety of different colours, prints, perfect for a mid-season shift in temperature. This is a garment I associate with the nineties, but it also hangs in my memory as a distinctly seventies garment, and it’s present again in imagery from the decade previous, it pops up throughout the century, being repeatedly revived. See here a pic of sweater vest I would love to own, money no object. 

 

From my favourite @persephonevint, find them on Etsy

I wouldn’t say how I am dressing is drastically different post-lockdown, I would say however that I am having to regain some confidence. In my early twenties, I had unshakable faith in my ability to covet and coordinate unique pieces, I always felt very strong in harnessing them into very *me* outfits but that strength had been slowly whittled away in the past couple of years and I think lockdown has exacerbated that feeling. Now, as I am venturing out into social settings a little more often, there’s time to prepare and put more care into the process, hopefully that will give me the space to rebuild the confidence that was lost. 

MB: I was interested in your blog post from 2019 about the ‘Neue Frau’ in German Weimar-era lesbian magazines. I examined the sexual and social liberations of Weimar-era cinema in my dissertation; how gender fluidity and drag was accessed in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, 1959, by using the disguise of the more risqué 1920s, and the film’s original roots in Weimar-era cinema. Your idea that gender subversion was accessed through the multi-faceted identity of the Neue Frau demonstrates how self-image reflects the climate of a country (i.e. Germany’s fear of masculine women). How relevant do you think these themes of disguise, and re-fashioning the body in times of crisis are, in fashion right now?    

FC: In lockdown we remained indoors for our own safety, for the safety of our family members and loved ones, those who were vulnerable and in need of protection – it served as a period of isolation, in order to preserve life. It felt like a hibernation, after which we would re-enter the outside world, though cautiously, in order to regain a sense of normality.  

Whenever I considered the figure of the ‘Neue Frau’ (this was also the subject of my second assessed essay during the MA) I imagined her building this impenetrable layer of sartorial armour around herself and in the case of the women documented in the pages of publications such as Liebende Frauen, her queer identity – the heteronormative ‘masculinity’ that underlined her new age interpretation of femininity acting as a protective shield, to ward away those who ridiculed or refused to understand her. I came across these queer, Weimar-age magazines by chance, I was researching for my assessed essay and reading different event pages for the 2016 LACMA exhibition “New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933”. In an article post by LACMA surrounding this exhibition entitled “Homosexuality Is a German Invention”, curator Nana Bahlmann noted several of these magazines, I then went on to contact SpinnbodenLesbenarchiv und Bibliothek in Berlin and trawled through lots and lots of issues! It was such a fun process of exploration.  

I think refashioning is conceived through conflict or trauma. In this tumultuous, interwar period an overwhelming number of men were removed from the urban workforce, throughout Europe and in Germany, through conscription. As in all combatant countries, women were therefore expected to fill vacant positions in order to maintain industrial productivity. Women occupied the spaces their male counterparts left behind. And in a post-war Germany, they visibly gained greater movement through previously inaccessible social and political spaces. However, this progression was compounded by economic and political insecurities that Conservative forces viewed as symptomatic of the newly formed Weimar Republic. A nationwide anxiety could work to actively stifle our self-fashioning freedoms, as this example demonstrates, but we have alternative spaces through which to channel such expressions. Though the virtual realm can be ugly and outright dangerous in many circumstances, it provides a much-needed environment to experiment with all manner of fashioning.  

Here is the link to the article we’ve mentioned: http://blog.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2019/02/26/in-her-image-the-documentation-of-the-neue-frau-in-german-weimar-era-lesbian-magazines/  

MB: At the start of May, the Fashion Interpretations group met as a full group for the first time via a zoom meeting. Will Fashion Interpretations continue to change and adapt to our current climate (regarding the black lives matter movement and covid-19 especially), in correlation with the way the fashion world is changing and adapting also? 

FC: The horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the shooting of Jacob Blake have irrevocably altered the fabric of our global consciousness. The viral video of George Floyd’s death became a catalyst for a civil uprising, spurring the largest-scale protests in American history. These are unavoidable tragedies that force us all to reexamine our own social and political practices, our own educations on black histories, stories, experiences. I cannot speak for the Fashion Interpretations project as a whole, it is a group of academics and creatives who work independently, but the Black Lives Matter movement has and will forever continue to influence my own research and writing.  

And yes, the COVID crisis has affected how Fashion Interpretations functions logistically and certain events in our project’s calendar have had to be seriously adapted. As previously mentioned, later this year, we will be holding our symposium virtually, it will be a week-long event and our members will be discussing their contributions to the project and showing us they work – we can’t wait to share the details with everyone! A definite change in my working world that has been totally undone by the global pandemic is the constant influx of emails. 

MB: Finally, do you have any words of wisdom you can share for the Documenting Fashion students who have just graduated. There is certainly an air of uncertainty when you graduate, which seems especially amplified now! 

FC: To remember that if the future you had envisioned seems fragile or even unfathomable right now, that many others feel the terrifying weight of this crisis too. Also, none of us have encountered anything of this magnitude before, so to feel clueless in the face of its effects is not weak; we have to support one another through it, however we can. If you can’t find work relevant to your degree or the field in which you are interested, continue reading and educating yourself. Fill out as many applications in a week as you can stomach, write where you can, check in regularly with your *thing* – so for me, the patterns, if I can find a new link (it’s been fashion month, which has brought with it levity and some much-needed joy!) between the old and new, I am reminded of why I love fashion history and why I worked so hard for my degree – make lists (dream jobs, companies / institutions you would be proud to work for, different professional spaces you would be keen to occupy) – basically, keep busy. Don’t necessarily mount pressure on yourself but keep yourself agile. So, when your opportunity arrives, you are beyond prepared for it. Nobody ever suffered from being over prepared.  

Also, be kind. We all need a little kindness.  

Interview by Mollie Beese 

Nostalgia and Womanhood in the Victorian fin-de-siècle

In 1892, the British periodical Young Woman acknowledged that “‘There is no scarcity of women’s journals’” (Mendes). Britain in the nineteenth century saw a significant rise in women’s periodicals, increasing in volume towards the end of the century to address a changing social landscape and growing female readership. As the end of the century loomed near, women had begun to transcend the domestic realm and gender roles were increasingly challenged. Society saw the emergence of the ‘New Woman’—strong and educated, striving towards greater political agency—sensationalized frequently in the press. With visual and verbal representations of women each periodical put forth its own ideas about the female role, disseminating to women of all ages and social statuses their concepts of the ideal woman and home, fashion, arts, literature, and other female-oriented content. The ‘woman question’ of the female’s place in society was on everyone’s mind, male and female alike, as traditionally delineated spheres—he in the public, she in the domestic and private—were challenged.

Clare Mendes writes in her exploration of fin-de-siècle New Womanhood that “1896 became a watershed year in which ideas were being recalibrated, following the Wilde trials and the public burning of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. New magazines for women after this date had an important role to play in the reinvention of womanhood: would she retain her outspokenness or return to submissiveness?” She references a binary that is characteristic of the way late Victorian femininity is often depicted in the contemporary imagination, focusing on two oppositional gender ideologies for women—one of conservative ideals—the domestic and confined female lacking agency—and the other of progressive alternatives—the feminist ideal of the New Woman. This duality reveals itself further in discussions of Victorian dress, where the feminine and conservative has “often been examined in terms of its regulation and control of the female body”(Wahl), and the progressive characterized as an attempt to ape men.

Even in recent decades scholars have argued that through most of the Victorian era in Britain “periodical readers were offered a model of femininity as undifferentiated and uncontested, focused on the private and domestic as distinct from the masculine world of politics, law and ‘work’” (Ballaster). But this statement is in fact an oversimplification—in reality domestic ideology was neither uniform nor static, but rather full of tension and contradiction—a textual and cultural analysis of women’s magazines reveals numerous discrepancies within representations of femininity. Specifically, through a brief case study of an instance of late nineteenth century portraiture and its preoccupation with the past, we can see that the stable visual binary of domestic femininity or an aggressive new womanhood is a further instance of oversimplification that begins to collapse and reveal itself as reductionist. Victorian feminisms and Victorian women were not one neatly packaged thing or another. In reality, the female body at this historical moment acted as a stage on which disparate gender norms and ideas were played out and at times compounded, bringing to light the “conflicting, unstable characteristics of nineteenth century domestic ideology and femininity” (Ledbetter).

Edward Hughes, Georgina, Countess of Dudley, late 19th century, oil on canvas, in Lady’s Realm 1 (1896), 250-257. Photo author’s own.

Edward Hughes, Georgina, Countess of Dudley, late 19th century, oil on canvas, in Lady’s Realm 1 (1896), 250-257. Photo author’s own.

As we often turn towards the past in times of societal and cultural difficulty, nineteenth century Britain was in many ways obsessed with the previous century. In 1894, an exhibition was held at London’s Grafton Gallery devoted entirely to representations of feminine beauty and loveliness. Titled the “Exhibition of Fair Women,” over two hundred historical portraits of ideals of female beauty were put on display alongside miniatures, female accessories, and objets d’beaute, many lent to the exhibition by prominent social ladies of the time. Of the many masters displayed on the gallery walls—Holbein and Van Dyck, Goya, Velazquez—the exhibition’s viewers and the press seemed to agree that it was the English masters of the 18th century, notably Romney, Lawrence, Gainsborough, and Reynolds, whose images held the utmost power in capturing female beauty, and “gave such brilliancy to English portraiture….given canvases breathing the essence of femininity” (Fowler). This exhibition was just one example of this societal obsession with the previous century at the cultural moment, gathering momentum as the century drew to a close. The interest was demonstrated most particularly in the commissions by aristocrats and the newly rich for portraits of their wives, in which evocations of eighteenth-century dress, props and poses were paramount (Maynard). The fascination with revivalist portraiture was extended to a wider readership through the pages of numerous female periodicals.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1775-1776, oil on canvas, 237 x 125 cm. The Huntington Library, San Marino. (Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens)


Sir Joshua Reynolds, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, 1775-1776, oil on canvas, 237 x 125 cm. The Huntington Library, San Marino. (Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens)

Women’s magazines in the fin-de-siècle frequently discussed portraiture and the arts, publishing portraits of society women done by the Reynoldses and Romneys of their day—Ellis Roberts and Edward Hughes. In the very first volume of the women’s periodical Lady’s Realm, the author Mrs. F. Harcourt Williamson visits the studio of Mr. Roberts, recounting the experience in her article, aptly named “A Dream of Fair Women.” She is taken aback by the beauty of the painted women in their sumptuous garments, and her article is heavily adorned with reproductions of some of the Roberts and Hughes portraits she has admired, affording a wide audience of readers the opportunity to view paintings they would likely never experience in person.

Printed across from her descriptions of the studio is Georgina, Countess of Dudley by Edward Hughes (late 19th century). The Countess stands tall and statuesque, leaning against a flat-topped rock reminiscent of a neoclassical column. Set in a pastoral background with strong diagonal lines and painterly foliage, she wears a gathered white gown that floats down to her ankles, with satin bodice and crossed and knotted front. Her sleeves billow around her hitting just beneath her elbow, and she drapes a mantle over the rock to rest against, holding excess fabric loosely by her side. She gazes out to the periphery, hair gathered fashionably up on her head. There are obvious parallels in dress, pose, and setting to eighteenth century portraits like Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1775-1776), which would likely have been seen by Hughes and seen or read about by many readers of women’s magazines in exhibitions. Both women lean, dark sky and trees behind them, as their left hands grasp at delicate fabric folds, and white gowns pool at their feet. Their sleeves are gathered almost identically just beneath the elbow, though those on the Countess of Dudley extend out more at the shoulder—a modern intrusion into the vaguely historicized gown. But the Countess of Dudley’s crossover gown with long flowing skirt is still closer in style to a modernized version of the gown painted by Reynolds, an amalgam of fancy dress and the existing mode, than the structured and severe garments of the late nineteenth century, crafting an image of the female that is softer—more stereotypically feminine and pure—and playing on the societal interest in the previous century and its ideology. While the garments bring with them desirable characteristics of the eighteenth century, they are not pure representations of their predecessors, “as in most revivals of dress, wishful thinking often clouds the original reality, and current tastes modify those of other eras or places” (Baines). The modern inevitably creeps in, but implications are clear, and these images are imbued with hegemonic forms of feminine beauty, attaching them to aspirational women.

The revivalist aesthetic sought to depict women with greater simplicity,a kind of untroubled loveliness that seemed to prove that beauty could be perennially preserved” (Maynard); this feminine representation could be viewed largely as a conservative reaction to female advancement. And yet these were prominent society women with increased power outside of the domestic realm and in the British social sphere. They are depicted largely outside and in fancy dress, not caged within the confines of the home, and such portraits convey the social power of the hostess, displaying their wealth and material grandiosity. As subjects they are not entirely passive, conforming to the rigid confines of years past, and beauty and dress emphasize their celebrity, endowing these women with greater agency and influence rather than simply rendering them objects for male viewing pleasure. The frequent inclusion of these society portraits and their use of revivalist dress in woman’s magazines perpetuates an image of women that is in actuality full of contradiction—modern yet traditional, powerful yet sweet.

Similar competing ideologies can be seen in the photography and illustrations of female periodicals. Their images of women never adhered to one ideological camp or another, containing elements of femininity that were at times limiting, and simultaneously looked towards social advancement. Clothing was depicted as a means of this advancement rather than confinement, and yet maintained their idea of a proper feminine aesthetic. Images of late Victorian femininity were wildly unstable because the entire meaning of femininity at this cultural moment was unstable—to view them as static tropes is a great mischaracterization. These portraits and their use of dress in the context of the women’s magazine captured and crystallized this interstitial moment between letting go of a deeply separated past and forging a clear path forward—the press was merely attempting to navigate its complexities like everyone else.

Nostalgia retains a powerful presence throughout fashion and culture at large, as does the feeling that the golden age exists somewhere behind us—we make attempts to grasp at it with our sartorial reflections of decades and centuries past. But it is interesting to consider how these material reflections can never be pure. When we look towards styles of a previous decade or century, we are looking back on people who were also looking back (Cronberg). It seems we commonly think of this phenomenon in relation to the vintage aesthetic of more recent decades, but in actuality it has been occurring for centuries—perhaps a testament to some communal longing of the human spirit.

 

 

 

Sources:

Clare Mendes, Representations of the New Woman in the 1890s Woman’s Press

Kimberly Wahl, A Domesticated Exoticism: Fashioning Gender in Nineteenth-Century British Tea Gowns

https://warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/explorefurther/images/newwoman/rational/.

Rosalind Ballaster, Margaret Beetham, Elizabeth Frazer, and Sandra Hebron, Womens Worlds: Ideology, Femininity, and the Woman’s Magazine

Alexis Easley, Clare Gill, and Beth Rodgers, Women, Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s-1900s: the Victorian Period

Kathryn Ledbetter, British Victorian Women’s Periodicals: Beauty Civilization and Poetry

Frank Fowler, Portrait Painting and some Early English Painters

Margaret Maynard, A Dream of Fair Women’: Revival Dress and the Formation of Late Victorian Images of Femininity

Mrs. F. Harcourt Williamson, A Dream of Fair Women

Barbara Burman Baines, Fashion Revivals: From the Elizabethan Age to the Present Day

http://vestoj.com/postmodernism-and-fashion-in-the-late-twentieth-century/

Fashion’s Virtual Future: Notes from London’s Digital Fashion Week

We are still in the infancy of learning how to mimic and maintain something of the in-person experience online. In the early stages of lockdown, there seemed to be something promising in the ability to access renowned museum collections online, often in minute detail and with 360-degree tours. As our worlds began to narrow to our domestic spaces, how thrilling to be able to move from the Louvre to the Prado with the switch of a tab – how unprecedented (to borrow 2020’s favorite word)! While there is certainly something to be said for increased access and the democratization of art, virtual experiences and events across the board have proven to be lacking. If you cannot move seamlessly around a sculpture allowing its narrative to unfold, or be drawn to a new piece because you caught a glimpse of it in the next room over, or share in the experience with others in the room, there is undeniably a missing human emotional element, crucial to the arts.

This must be all the more true for fashion, whose materialism is essential, and whose location on the body increases the need to take into account this very materiality. With cancellations of couture week in July, and likely carrying over to the fall, the future of fashion presentations and fashion week lies online. Clearly in this transformation much must be lost. How can movement, transparency, intricacy and emotion be captured in the virtual world? What are the implications for such a material and corporeal industry?

How can clothing make itself felt virtually?

In short—it can’t, yet.

This past weekend London served as the first of the four major fashion capitals to take a week of shows and events into the digital realm (Shanghai became the first fashion week to pivot to an entirely virtual event this past March). Though scheduled to fall during London’s menswear slot the event was technically gender-neutral, the first time in its 40-year history that men and women’s collections “showed” side by side. Hosted exclusively on the “LFW Hub”, the event featured fashion films, capsule collections, playlists, poems, panels and live performances. Few designers actually showcased new collections given the economic fallout of the current global crisis, but they were presented with the opportunity and freedom to translate their creativity into the digital sphere in different mediums and formats, resulting in myriad new ways to convey a brand’s identity and values. While the weekend was certainly full of challenges, much can be gleaned about the place of the fashion industry in the current world climate, and fashion’s potential futures.

Entering the Netflix-like homepage of the event, it was not obvious that this was a site centered around fashion. The mix of media—videos, visual art, poetry, music—read like an interactive magazine; few images even involved clothing, focusing instead on the personalities behind brands. Many household names were notably absent (Burberry, Victoria Beckham, A-Cold-Wall), choosing instead to wait and show during women’s fashion week in the fall, perhaps dulling the excitement for many but leaving space for new talent to emerge. There were certainly some standouts among the current pool of young designers, who used the opportunity to make themselves and their ideologies known.

A view of the homepage - Screenshot of

A view of the homepage of LFW (source: Screenshot of website)

A few highlights included the LVMH Prize winning Nicholas Daley and his short film The Abstract Truth, presenting a new look at his most recent fall fashion show and highlighting the music of South London jazz musicians Kwake Bass, Wu-Lu, and Rago Foot. The film was grainy, conveying a sense of nostalgia—for the Black Abstraction Movement of the 1970s, the collection’s main inspiration, and perhaps for the pre-pandemic world. It seemed almost strange to see so many bodies crowded in one space, models moving to the music and lining up not six inches apart. Martine Rose—one of the more established names of the LFW Reset—partnered with London-based retailer LN-CC to release a “Late Night—Conscious Campaign” centered around waste, crafted entirely from deadstock. Charles Jeffrey canceled a virtual dance party in favor of a “talent showcase” highlighting Black creatives and urging viewers to donate to Black Pride UK. This decision echoed the sentiments of many designers who felt odd promoting new collections in the midst of protests and pandemic, several revoking their participation altogether.

Consistent throughout was the use of fashion to advocate for larger causes, many designers focusing on sustainability—arguably the industry’s most pressing issue—but several, like Jeffrey, responding to the Black Lives Matter movement and current global protests for social justice. This ability to be reactive and sensitive to current world issues demonstrates how nimble designers were able to be outside of the traditional confines of a physical presentation where looks, makeup, music, seating are decided well in advance—a particularly positive development for fashion, so often seen as being out of touch.

MC Miss Jason and Charles Jeffrey (screenshot from article)

MC Miss Jason and Charles Jeffrey (source: screenshot from article)

Several additional positives offered promise: The definition of fashion was questioned and broadened—how can fashion be conveyed through music, in a poem, without physical clothing? Sustainability was clearly at the forefront of thought, with many designers considering new ways of working, creating, producing, traveling, shooting. The democratization of fashion was furthered—the same experience was made available to a far broader audience—consumers, buyers, tastemakers alike.

But there are still many hurdles and unknowns to figure out. It is clear that whether you’re an established fashion house or an emerging brand, it will be a challenge to get people to pay attention without rows of photographers, celebrity appearances, posts and reposts across social media—commercial viability is called into question. The digital platform lacked the same excitement, the “sense of urgency or the anticipation that grows while you are sitting and waiting for catwalk theatrics or a hot debut,” be it from the audience or watching a livestream from home. There was a tangible absence of star power without some of the industry’s largest players and brands and their tantalizing new creations.

Ultimately, it is clear that as of now, the digital equivalent was not (yet) a successful replacement for the traditional week, lacking the human aspect of the physical show. Gone was the vibration of music through the crowd, the scramble of backstage beauty, the street style shots taken as the lucky few entered venues. Were artistry and emotion adequately translated online? Not in the traditional visceral sense, hearts stopping as otherworldly designs and beautiful fabrics passed by. But this was merely an experimental step and the beginnings of a road map for a future that is undoubtedly here to stay. As designer Iris Van Herpen stated: “It will take time before you can put your own language into that new tool, but I do feel we’ll be able to transmit that emotional aspect of the garment into the virtual reality.” Time will tell—Milan and Paris are up next in July—but it is clear that those who are hesitant or slow to adapt to the new ways of being will be at a severe disadvantage.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/style/london-fashion-week-digital.html

https://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/iris-van-herpen-virtual-reality-fashion-1203554662/

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jun/12/london-fashion-week-drops-elitist-traditions-as-event-goes-fully-digital

https://hypebeast.com/2020/6/london-virtual-fashion-week-roundup

https://www.10magazine.com/tv/nicholas-daleys-aw20-film-the-abstract-truth/

https://www.harpersbazaararabia.com/featured-news/what-you-need-to-know-about-london-fashion-week-mens-first-virtual-showcase

 

 

Images:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/style/london-fashion-week-digital.html

https://fashionunited.uk/news/fashion/charles-jeffrey-highlights-black-creatives-at-lfw-digital/2020061549377

 

 

 

Adorn, Reset, Recycle

Jewellery is as old as humankind. As totems of status and style or as beautiful design objects in their own right, the power of gems, and the relationships they have with the people that wear them, has provided fascination throughout history. More than any other article of dress, jewels are the ultimate ‘slow-fashion’ accessory. They can be worn daily. They can be polished, cut, shaped and reset. They have the power to transcend time.

The ephemeral nature of jewellery has been manipulated by jewellers for centuries. A means of updating a piece to suit the changing fashion trends of the day, many of the world’s most famous jewels have been notoriously carved up. In 1911, Queen Mary was famously regaled in an August edition of the Washington Post for her ‘thrifty’ decision to reset several of her royal diamonds. In 2007, just under a century later, former Vogue Editor Anna Wintour was photographed wearing an amethyst necklace that had originally belonged to the monarch. Worn without the matching earrings (or Tiara!) the necklace was accompanied by a short floral dress and looked every inch the modern jewel.

Queen Mary wearing her Amethyst Parure. The same necklace is seen on Anna Wintour in September 2007

Queen Mary wearing her Amethyst Parure. The same necklace is seen on Anna Wintour in September 2007 (SOURCE:

This fashion for reworking royal jewels has not gone away. Last year, hawk-eyed fashion editors noticed that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, had updated her engagement ring. Removing the stones (two of which came from pieces previously owned by the Princess of Wales) from their original thick gold band, the setting had been replaced with a delicate and much more contemporary jewelled design.

You don’t have to be royal in order to enjoy reworked gems. In fact, as fashion itself has made a conscious effort to become more sustainable, the market for vintage jewels has grown alongside our love for vintage clothing. Now, many contemporary jewellery designers actively embrace ‘upcycling’ in their work.

Figure 2: A selection of Annina Vogel Jewels, April 2018 https://www.chicmi.com/event/meet-annina-vogel-april-2018/

Figure 2: A selection of Annina Vogel Jewels, April 2018 https://www.chicmi.com/event/meet-annina-vogel-april-2018/ (source:

For Annina Vogel, jewellery is all about recycling. Inspired by the way that jewellery is often considered to be inherently symbolic, as was especially true in the Victorian Era, all Vogel’s pieces use antique charms that she sources herself. Producing a range of highly imaginative designs, including a series of repurposed lockets that incorporate vintage scarves from Hermes, Chanel and Dior, all her pieces are one of a kind. Historic and sentimental, yet modern and unique.

SVNR (pronounced ‘Souvenir’) exclusively uses ‘found, re-used and natural’ materials in each handmaid piece. Rather than costly gemstones or pearls, remnants of ceramic tableware, shells and non-precious stones are used in their unusual designs. Using previously discarded materials the brand aims to ‘call to mind forgotten memories’ and present everyday objects in new ways. Being both sustainable and sentimental, SVNR literally constructs contemporary jewellery from the materials of the past.

Figure 3: SVNR Earring https://www.vogue.com/article/svnr-upcycled-bead-earrings-christina-tung

Figure 3: SVNR Earring https://www.vogue.com/article/svnr-upcycled-bead-earrings-christina-tung (source: )

Lastly, for ‘cool-girl’ pearl brand Alighieri, sustainability is central to their ethos. Using 100% recycled bronze and entirely traceable stones, all the pieces are locally produced by a small team of London craftsmen. Coined ‘Modern Heirlooms’ each design is deliberately ‘timeless’ and inspired by classic literary references. In light of Covid-19, the brand’s founder, Rosh Mahtani pledged that 20% of online sales would be donated to the Trussell Trust. Sustainable and socially conscious, these ‘insta-worthy’ pearls are designed to be passed on whilst still making a difference in the world today.

Figure 4: Alighieri Captured Protection Necklace, https://shop.alighieri.co.uk/products/the-captured-protection-necklace

Figure 4: Alighieri Captured Protection Necklace, https://shop.alighieri.co.uk/products/the-captured-protection-necklace (source: )

So, as we return to normality, perhaps we should consider a new mantra when looking at our overfilled and largely neglected wardrobes? Adorn. Reset. Recycle. Jewellery is the original antidote to fast fashion.

 

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A Short History of the Bikini

As the world experiences the tough times of isolation and social distancing in the current moment, I find myself dreaming of summer holidays. In particular, the beach, the sun and bikinis. The history of the bikini is a surprising one, filled with scandal, politics and issues of gender. Although the origins of the bikini are uncertain, it has been speculated to be as early as 5600 BC. Greek urns and Roman wall art have been found that display images of women in bikini-like garments. The women are depicted as participating in athletic events, such as running, weightlifting and discus throwing while wearing two-pieces.

Ancient Greece bikini

Source: @dbrfnc on Instagram

The acceptance of the bikini however was gradual. Women were finally permitted at the beginning of the twentieth century to enjoy public beaches, although there were strict requirements for their clothing to protect their modesty. Women would wear multiple layers and incorporate weights into their hems to prevent clothes from riding up and displaying their legs. Petticoats were eventually abandoned for more form fitting single-pieced costumes. The Australian performer and swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested in 1907 for wearing a tight-fitting one-piece. The outrage from this case influenced the acceptance of one-piece swimsuits, as well as the introduction of new synthetic materials such as rayon that allowed for more form-fitting suits to be produced. The 1940s saw an increased liberation of swimwear due to war-rationing. More flesh became widely accepted and women could now bare their stomachs as a result of the lack of materials during the war. ‘Le bikini’ was unveiled in 1946 by Louis Réard, who named the garment after nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll by the U.S military. His designs were deemed as increasingly scandalous, made of just 30 inches of fabric. Réard hoped that the garment would become as ‘explosive’ as the test itself as he believed that the effects of a woman wearing a bikini could be likened to the devastating effects of a bomb. Réard was inspired to create the garment after noticing women at St Tropez beaches rolling up the edges of their heavy fabric swimsuits to get better tan lines.

Picture of 1950s bikini

Source: @canalhistory on Instagram

However, Réard struggled to find a model willing to wear his minimalistic garment. Micheline Bernardini finally agreed to do the job and displayed the bikini for the first time at the Piscine Molitor, a popular public pool in Paris. The bikini was described as “so small it could fit into a matchbox”. Although the designer received nearly 50,000 thank you notes from various women for his design, the bikini did not receive uniform acceptance. The garment was banned from the first Miss World Contest in London in 1951 as well as prohibited in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Belgium. General acceptance for the bikini did not come about until the 1960s, when societal upheavals around the world began to encourage more liberal views of fashion. The bikini saw a huge comeback at this time thanks to the world of Hollywood. Powerful celebrities proved essential for the popularization of the bikini; Brigitte Bardot gained international fame for wearing a bikini while on a Cannes beach with Kirk Douglas. Similarly, Ursula Andress’ role as Honey Rider in the James Bond film Dr No, became one of the best-known scenes in cinema. In 1960, Brian Hyland released a song titled ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ that was inspired by the craze of bikini-buying at this time.

screenshot of James Bond Bikini Gal

Source: @a_fox_in_gloves_vintage on Instagram

The fascination with the two-piece will never stop and its design continues to be redeveloped, such as the higher cut G-strings from Brazil. The bikini’s history demonstrates the power of the garment in challenging the status-quo; once deemed as an item of scandal, bikinis are now regularly displayed on Paris runways. The garment has served many important functions throughout the past decades, such as a morale-booster during wartime America or as a triumph for early feminism. The bikini and its history have a deeper significance than from the outset.

References

Elle Magazine, ‘The History of the Bikini’, https://www.elle.com/fashion/g2906/the-history-of-the-bikini-654900/?slide=1

History, ‘Bikini introduced’, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bikini-introduced

The Sunday Post, ‘The first bikini could fir in a matchbox- a history of the world’s skimpiest swimming costume’, https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/the-first-bikini-could-fit-in-a-matchbox-a-history-of-the-worlds-skimpiest-swimming-costume/

Time Magazine, ‘The History of the Bikini’, http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1908353_1905442,00.html