Work in Progress Archive

Runaway Brides: Tartan Wedding Dresses and Scottish Rebellion

Tartan is a fabric of rebellion, and it has long held appeal with those who consider themselves to be outsiders.

In 1745, the Scottish House of Stuart led the Jacobite Army in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the British throne from King George II. Following the uprising, a series of laws were enacted to subdue the fiercely independent Jacobites. The Dress Act of 1746, one of these laws, made tartan dress illegal in the United Kingdom. Anyone who wore tartan or other signifiers of traditional Scottish dress could face fines, imprisonment or exile.

However, The Dress Act of 1746 seemed only to strengthen the power of tartan. People across the United Kingdom began wearing full tartan outfits in defiance of the British government. Artists painted influential figures dressed in tartan but left their paintings unsigned, fearing that they would be punished for these public displays of dissent. Tartan became a signifier of anti-establishment attitudes, a very punk choice in the 18th century.

In 1974, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened their boutique SEX to cater to the burgeoning Punk rock scene in London. Westwood stocked the shop with every type of plaid imaginable, and soon the Sex Pistols were singing out against the British government in full tartan suits, just like the Jacobites nearly two hundred years before them.

Vivienne Westwood, Wedding Ensemble, Anglomania, Autumn/Winter 1993, National Gallery of Australia, NGA 94.278.1-4.A-B.

This 1993 wedding dress by Vivienne Westwood is a vision of tartan excess, crafted from yards of plaid silk that cascade over a bloom of tulle in coordinating colours. Though the concept of a tartan wedding dress is unorthodox, it is not purely a whim of Westwood’s wild imagination and is rooted deeply in the history of Scottish fashion. The Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown provides an example – a rare one, albeit – of a tartan wedding gown dating back to 1785. Though many details about the spectacular Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown remain shrouded in mystery, the tartan of the dress can be identified as one woven between 1775 and 1784. This means that it was likely created while The Dress Act of 1746 was still in place, making this wedding dress an illegal creation.

Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown, 1785, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

The headpiece that accompanies Westwood’s dress makes reference to a traditional piece of women’s Highland dress known as the earasaid. The earasaid is a length of pleated fabric that would be wrapped around the head like a veil and affixed at the waist. Although there is little information available on women’s dress in the Highlands before the turn of the 18th century, some historical evidence suggests that the wearing of the earasaid could date back to Pictish times. By the 1800s, written accounts and sketches of working-class women in earasaids were circulated across the United Kingdom, solidifying the trend as a hallmark of Scottish brides, even though the accuracy of these accounts remains contestable. Westwood recalls the earasaid with her veil’s gentle pleats and billowing volume but elevates its humble origins by pairing it with a regal gown of matching plaid.

A Victorian interpretation of how the earasaid may have looked. Robert Ronald McIan, plate from The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, 1845.

In a thoroughly contemporary interpretation of bridal traditions, Kate Moss first wore this gown down the runway at Westwood’s Autumn/Winter 1993 show with the bodice lowered to reveal one of her breasts. Preserving her modesty was a handful of flowers that once again harken back to tartan’s origins. Moss’s bouquet is studded with white roses, the symbol of the Jacobite army. Women participants in the Jacobite rebellion would often have their portraits painted with white roses tucked into the bodices of their dresses and their hair to signify their allegiance to the cause.

Vivienne Westwood, Wedding Ensemble, Anglomania, Autumn/Winter 1993. Runway photograph courtesy of Vogue Runway.

The bride who selects this dress to wear on her wedding day, likely one of the most publicly visible events of her life, chooses consciously not to perform the societal role expected of her. This wedding gown eschews the notion of brides dressing in virginal white, and it recalls a raucous national identity far more than a standard wifely one. With its earasaid and Jacobite references, this dress pays homage to the oft-overlooked women participants in the radical movements of Scottish history.

Westwood is one of the foundational contributors to tartan’s punk reputation, but she has also worked to ensure the medium’s longevity beyond the punk rock movement and, almost certainly conscious of her status as an Englishwoman, to emphasise its unique Scottish heritage. This dress is cut from MacAndreas tartan, a sett of tartan created by Westwood as a romantic tribute to her husband and collaborator Andreas Kronthaler. MacAndreas tartan is now officially listed in the Scottish Register of Tartans. Westwood has also created many of her tartan garments in accordance with the Harris Tweed Act, a 1993 Act of Parliament which seeks to protect and promote the traditional methods of woollen fabric weaving in Scotland.

From the Dress act of 1746 to the Harris Tweed Act of 1993, the lawmaking that surrounds tartan begs the question: why is tartan something institutions feel the need to control? Is it a dangerously influential pattern that incites revolt across centuries? Is it a precious national resource that must be protected at all costs? For the bride who dons a tartan wedding dress, one thing is certain. Tartan is a testament to fierce individuality and national history, suitable to dress herself in for one of the most sacred days of her life.

By Ruby Redstone

Sources:

Faiers, Jonathan. Tartan. London: Bloomsbury, 2008

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery online. ‘The Isabella Project’. Published February 2020.https://www.highlifehighland.com/inverness-museum-and-art-gallery/the-isabella-project/

MacDonald, Peter Eslea. ‘Musing on the Arisaid and Other Female Dress.’ Scottish Tartans online. Published 2016.https://www.scottishtartans.co.uk/Musings_on_the_arisaid_and_other_female_dress.pdf

Maspero, Ida. ‘Tartan Romance,’ National Museums Scotland online. Published 26 May 2019. https://blog.nms.ac.uk/2019/05/26/tartan-romance/

Scottish Tartans Authority. ‘Tartan and the Dress Act of 1746.’ Accessed 28 February 2021. http://www.tartansauthority.com/resources/archives/the-archives/scobie/tartan-and-the-dress-act-of-1746/

The Scottish Register of Tartans. ‘Westwood MacAndreas.’ Published 1 January 1993. https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/tartanDetails?ref=5530

V&A online. ‘Vivienne Westwood: A taste for the past’. Last accessed 15 February 2021. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/vivienne-westwood-a-taste-for-the-past

Watt, Patrick and Rosie Waine. Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, 2019

Copy Culture and Creativity

As long as there has been fashion, there have been fakes. Couture was copied from its earliest days: sketchers or buyers working for counterfeiters were sent to shows to bring back new designs for replication as soon as they were available. Garment labels were developed, in part, as a measure to combat the copyists – Madeleine Vionnet even went as far as to mark her labels with her own thumbprint. Others frequently altered their label designs to stay one step ahead of the thousands of counterfeit labels being produced. In France, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was set up so that designers could register their original works in an attempt to protect themselves against counterfeiting. In the United States, however, the legality of copying remained murky. In a video created for the 2014-15 exhibition Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits at The Museum at FIT, US experts on fashion law note the legal differences between counterfeit items – “made in exact imitation … with intention to deceive” – and knockoffs, which are similar but not identical to the original item, as well as the lack of copyright protections for fashion design in the US.

Madeleine Vionnet labels with thumbprint via Susan Scafidi [http://www.counterfeitchic.com/2006/02/marking_territory.php]

It is standard practice for artists to copy masterpieces as part of the process of developing their own style and, in the same way, fashion designers are able to hone their skills by observing and replicating the work of master couturiers. But just as commercial forgery is widespread in the art world, so in fashion, the most popular high-end designs inspire corporate copycats. These range from terrorist groups and drug cartels, who exploit the high profit margins that can be achieved by selling counterfeit ‘It bags’ produced using cheap materials and labour, to highly creative designers like Dapper Dan, who began riffing on designer logos as part of his own fashion line in the 1980s. In the grey area between these ethical extremes lie brands like Fashion Nova, who reinterpret – as quickly and as minimally as possible – the work of more expensive and often emerging designers, to sell to the masses at a fraction of the cost.

For those with an appetite for high-end fashion but without the means to purchase it, fakes that mimic the style (without necessarily replicating the standards of production) offer an affordable alternative. Excepting those that are produced in a moral vacuum, counterfeit designer goods are a democratising power for consumers. However, the cost to the designers – and to emerging designers, in particular – is self-evident. Furthermore, the barefaced copying arguably contributes to the homogenisation of style by negating the need for self-styling through innovation. An alternative to this can be found in the ‘Versage’ style noted by Allyn Gaestel in Lagos: she writes that the self-styling is just as important to the overall look as the ‘knock-off Versace’, and that, often, the garments themselves don’t feature a logo, but rather an aesthetic nod to the designer brand that has been reinterpreted for the Lagosian consumer.

Photography Bénédicte Kurzen / Noor [https://nataal.com/versage]

With the widespread access to visual culture that the internet affords comes a partial exposure of the processes of creativity, which almost always involve references to existing creations. The growing acceptance of this fact can open up conversations around copying and inspiration, thereby facilitating respectful homages rather than theft. This same access to images means that those who do copy without crediting or sincerely reinterpreting their inspirations are likely to be targeted by watchdogs like Diet Prada. The increased awareness of references means that – regardless of the law – those who do reuse logos, whether for prestige by association or the complex forms of expression associated with ‘post-parodies’ (as described by Charles Colman), are encouraged to use them innovatively, creating designs that are evidently not direct copies of ‘originals’.

This form of homage, which is so important in hip-hop, brings us back to the work of Dapper Dan. When Gucci largely copied a Dapper Dan jacket in 2017, they initially rejected the idea that the design had been stolen. After much furore online, Gucci partnered with Dapper Dan, eventually opening a store in Harlem. This reclamation of the prestige of copying can be seen elsewhere in Diesel’s ‘DEISEL’ pop-up on Canal Street in 2018. With the explosion of visual culture for all online, attitudes towards copying in fashion are being forced to evolve and adapt to an acceptance of creative reinterpretation.

By Lucy Corkish

Sources:

Allyn Gaestel, ‘Versage’ in Nataal, issue 1 (2018)

Charles E. Colman, ‘Trademark Law and the Prickly Ambivalence of Post-Parodies’, NYU School of Law Public Law Research Paper No. 14-45 (2014)

Ellie Pithers, ‘Why Diesel Is Selling Knock-Offs To Unsuspecting Customers’ (2018) [https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/diesel-fake-store-new-york-february-2018]

Farah X and Lisa Cortes, ‘The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion’, Netflix (2019)

Nancy J. Troy, Couture Culture (2002)

TED, ‘How fake handbags fund terrorism and organized crime | Alastair Gray’ (2018) [https://youtu.be/5UH7uTpTa44]

The Museum at FIT, Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits (2014-15) [https://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/faking-it.php]

The Museum at FIT, ‘An Insider’s Perspective on the Counterfeit Industry’ (2014) [https://youtu.be/Is9Hxn7Wr5w]

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: Sophie

Photographs of Parkinson’s Wife, Wanda Rogerson in Robin Muir, ‘Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion’ (London, National Portrait Gallery 2004)

What is your title?

The title of my dissertation will probably still change. However at the moment I am going with How very British: National Identity in Norman Parkinson’s fashion photography for Vogue, 1950-1952. Parkinson produced some stunning images for different spreads, many of which lend themselves really well to a study of British national identity. Delving a little deeper into these specific images, Parkinson’s biography and the history of 1950s Britain has been great fun.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The topic stemmed from a mixture of previous interests and pure chance. I had no pre-conceived idea of what I wanted to look at for this dissertation. However, I always studied World War II and the Cold War when I had the chance as an undergraduate, so I knew I wanted to stick within that time frame. Couple this with my love of 1950s fashion and elegance, and the random selection of a beautiful book on Norman Parkinson whilst browsing the stacks at the Courtauld and – ta dah! – the dissertation title was born. I had also wanted to be practical about my choice and choose a topic that would enable me to make the most of London based archives. Norman Parkinson has his own in south London (big shout out to the lovely and wonderful people that work there!), so it all came together beautifully.

Norman Parkinson Archive

Most interesting research find thus far?

I believe I read in Parkinson’s book that Irving Penn babysat Parkinson’s son. As you do. No big deal. On a more serious note, I am still continually blown away by how clever his images are. They seem so simple at first glance, and then, the more you look, the more you realise just how good he was in expressing a certain image, feel or identity to a wide range of readers. This was especially interesting with regards to the way in which his photographs for a 1951 South Africa spread differed, or were used in a different way, from the May edition in British Vogue to the July edition in American Vogue. On a side note I have become obsessed with an image that I’m not even using in my essay. It is just too stunning. Everyone- google “Carmen’s Armpit” and you will understand! Or not, in which case it is just my inner dress history nerd coming to the fore…

Favourite place to work?

I would love to say that it is The National Arts Library in the V&A. It surely wins the award for most aesthetically pleasing place to study- but I tend to be freezing cold in there, so sadly it loses out. I rather fluctuate between the Courtauld Book Library and my home. This arrangement provides the perfect balance between the comfort of home (sneaking a couple of biscuits and copious amounts of tea) and the beautiful comradeship between all Courtauld students during dissertation time in the library. We all really share the stress and joys of the process and that is unbelievably valuable as you are working. *Insert cheesy violin music here!*

Courtauld Library

Dissertation Discussion: Yona

The finale of ‘Billy Rose’s Aquacade’, 1939. Romano Archives.

What is your title?

Billy Rose’s Aquacade & The Search for American Identity

The ‘Aquagals’ dressed as the Statue of Liberty, 1939. Romano Archives.

What prompted you to choose this topic?

For my dissertation, I am looking at American identity in the costumes of ‘Billy Rose’s Aquacade’, which performed during the 1939 and 1940 New York World’s Fair. Not being aware of the Aquacade’s existence until recently, I came across this topic by chance. During the past year, I have spent considerable time researching American fashion and identity and knew I wanted to continue exploring the subject. When looking for an American film clip archive, I came across the Prelinger Archive, which was founded by Rick Prelinger in 1982 in New York City and consists of around 60,000 ephemeral films. The archive contained amazing amateur films of the New York World’s Fair, which also showed the Aquacade. The Aquacade was the most extraordinary show that I had come across for a long time. Its vast array of different acts included synchronised swimming, diving, dance, skating, fashion, clowns, and performances by important athletes of the time, including Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller. Due to its extravagant declarations of Americanness, the Aquacade provides invaluable insight into American identity around the start of World War II.

A birds-eye view of the Aquacade, 1 September 1939. Vogue Archive.

Most interesting research find so far?

One of the most exciting parts of my research has been analysing the use of the American flag and American symbols as an expression of American identity in the Aquacade. During the first New York World’s Fair season, World War II broke out in Europe. Even though the United States did not enter the war until 1941, the American government realised that the US needed a defined identity to be able to unite its people in patriotism. As the US did not have strongly embedded traditions and copied European ideas and design styles until well into the 20th century, identity had to be based on something other than traditions that could be considered unequivocally American. Therefore, American identity focussed on history and symbols, including the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. The Aquacade incorporated the colours, stripes and stars of the American flag in its costumes and props, and even showed 48 dancers dressed as the Statue of Liberty – one for each state (Alaska and Hawaii only became states in 1959).

Four of Billy Rose’s ‘Aquabelles’ stage a fashion show of the past, present and future bathing suit styles at the New York World’s Fair, July 4, 1939. Getty Images.

Favorite place to work?

Even though I am writing on an active performance with important athletes, I have barely moved myself since starting my dissertation work. I have always preferred writing at home as I like the comfort and endless supply of tea and prefer not to have any distractions. As such, I have been living like a hermit, only leaving my room for food and tea.

Dissertation Discussion: Harriet

Spot the illicit San Pellegrino

What is your title?

Something along the lines of  ‘Capturing Fashion at Work: Mark Shaw’s behind-the-scenes images of the Paris collections for LIFE magazine in the 1950s’

What prompted you to choose this subject?

Our tutor Dr Rebecca Arnold’s fondness for the work of American designer Claire McCardell (you may thank her for ballet flats, spaghetti straps, separates…) led me to a fine art and textile collaboration she worked on (Picasso prints!) which was photographed for LIFE in the mid-Fifties by Mark Shaw. The Mark Shaw Archive recently popped up on Instagram (@markshawofficial / @markshawlondonsydney), and scrolling through his work – snapshots of Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy amongst the images – I discovered and became mildly obsessed with his images of models prepping for fashion shows. Amazingly few people have studied backstage images – these days they’re a mainstay of Instagram and Vogue Runway reports during fashion week.

Looking up at the lilac tree

Most interesting research find thus far?

Speaking to Mark Shaw’s daughter in law Juliet across the pond in Vermont and meeting his grandson Hunter in London. Juliet kindly sent me scanned film and contact sheets to pore over – a game changer. Coming across a key quote by Baudelaire (who famously coined the slippery term ‘modernity’) one grey day in the British Library got me pretty excited (#nerdalert).

Favourite place to work?

The National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum for its sheer opulence, or at home in my south London garden in the dappled light beneath the lilac tree. Most libraries don’t allow food or drink, and some days the need for constant cups of tea (and a visiting fellow art historian with a pair of puppies) wins out.

Puppy stress therapy

Dissertation Discussion: Jamie

Aubrey Beardsley, cover for The Yellow Book, Volume III, 1894. British Library. Photo by Jamie Vaught.

What is your title?

Decadence, Defiance, Death: The Last Years of Aesthetic Dress

What prompted you to choose this topic?

While studying dress reform as an undergraduate, I became enamored with Aesthetic dress, an alternative style of clothing adopted by followers of British Aestheticism primarily during the late-1870s and early-1880s. Female Aesthetes channeled medieval, Greek, and pastoral styles in muted-color dresses outfitted with puffed sleeves, straight, trained skirts, and unconstricted waists. As I researched, I was surprised to discover that very little scholarly work had been done on Aesthetic dress in the 1890s. This dissertation allowed me to explore that last decade of this style and the impact Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trial had on its reception. More specifically, I examined how three groups interpreted Aesthetic dress through extremely different ideals of womanhood, as elucidated in their respective writing and illustrations: Decadents (The Yellow Book, The Savoy, and the works of Wilde), artistic reformers (Aglaia and The Queen), and department stores (The Queen and Liberty catalogues).

Liberty gowns drew heavily from historical dress. In this ad, the cut of the coat resembles the Empire period, while the tea gown is very medieval. Detail from a Liberty & Co. ad in The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper, 3 June 1899, Vol 106. Courtesy of the British Library.

Most interesting research find so far?

I have found some absolutely odd gems during my exploration of Queen, including an embroidery pattern of a duck wearing a robe à la polonaise, yearly coverage of the Crystal Palace cat show, and a story on the flammability of dresses in the home. My all-time favorite line of text was from the 22 May 1897 installment of ‘Vista of Fashion’ in which author Mrs. Aria begins the article, ‘“GIVE ME FROCKS,” I cried, as I rushed up the stairs.’ I aspire to enter every clothing store this way from now until my last day.

Of all my research, Max Beerbohm’s satirical essay ‘1880,’ published in the fourth issue of the The Yellow Book (1895), left the greatest impression on me. Its tone when discussing the Aesthetic Craze is simultaneously mocking and maudlin; Beerbohm’s observations are truths with a bite to them. This sentimentality affected me considerably. After working on Aesthetic dress for two years, I have grown very attached to that elite coterie’s eccentric cast of characters and do sometimes wish I could experience what it was like to live among them. One passage in the essay stuck out to me the most:

‘All Fashion came to marvel and so did all the Aesthetes…Fairer than the mummers, it may be, were the ladies who sat and watched them from the lawn. All of them wore jerseys and tied-back skirts. Zulu hats shaded their eyes from the sun. Bangles shimmered upon their wrists. And the gentlemen wore light frock-coats and light top-hats with black bands. And the aesthetes were in velveteen, carrying lilies.’

I will admit to shedding a tear in the middle of a British Library Reading Room when I read that final sentence.

These four figures are examples of Greek-inspired dress designs in Aglaia, the journal of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union. Straight, flowing skirts epitomize the loose styles advocated by artistic reformers, and the sleeves are a less exaggerated version of the gigot sleeve fashionable in the mid-1890s. ‘The Empire Dress’ from Aglaia No. 1, July 1893, page 35. Courtesy of Senate House Library.

Favorite place to work?

I only really work in three places: the Book Library, the British Library (most often in the Newsroom), and a café near the Courtauld. I am most productive in the last, since jazz standards and the customers’ soft conversations give me writing tunnel vision. And the baristas are great­–they start preparing my usual breakfast, black tea and a blueberry muffin, as soon as I walk through the door!

My cafe workspace, complete with laptop, notebook, draft, and tea.

Dissertation Discussion: Barbora

My three bibles for the past few months: D.V. by Diana Vreeland, Allure by Diana Vreeland and Memos: The Vogue Years edited by Alexander Vreeland

What is your title?

“Fake It!” Examining the myths and realities in the life and work of Diana Vreeland.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

Ever since I’ve watched The Eye Has To Travel for the first time, I was fascinated by Diana Vreeland and the way she shaped the industry almost singlehandedly. Her stories, too, are quite something: Vreeland, her sister and nanny were the last people to see the Mona Lisa before it was stolen in 1911; Charles Lindbergh flew over her garden on his first trans-Atlantic flight; she almost took down the British monarchy when Wallis Simpson came to her lingerie store to order some special garments for her first weekend away with the Duke of Windsor, Prince Edward; and she attended Hitler’s birthday party in the early ’30s, sending a postcard to her son afterwards with the note “Watch this man.” Apparently so, anyway. I wanted to find out more about what prompted her to create such an extreme background for herself, the reason behind all the myth and fantasy which surrounded her, the obsession with “faking it” and everything else about her, really. Actually, I think I fancied the role of a detective for a few months, attempting to untangle what really went on in her head and her life.

‘Vogue’ December 1, 1965 Cover | Wilhelmina Cooper by Irving Penn | Diamond cage deisgned by Harry Winston (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

‘Vogue’ July 1, 1969 | Veruschka by Irving Penn (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

Most interesting research find thus far?

I was lucky enough to go to New York to visit the Diana Vreeland Papers Archive at the New York Public Library. Flicking through the original pages of her teenage diary, handling her passport and birth certificate (the date of her birth is no longer a mystery!) and finding out what she was up to on a day-to-day basis through the Smythson leather diaries she kept between 1950 and 1985 was quite amazing. There are some peculiar entries where Vreeland notes when she is due to start her pills – once green, then yellow, then pink. Very intriguing. Sadly, I only had two days in New York and so could only go through four boxes out of the sixty-something the library has. Might have to go on another trip soon! I think about a month should do it, mainly because Vreeland’s handwriting makes it quite a challenge to decode what she was actually trying to write down. Oh, and one more thing: the Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue online archives are very dangerous if you don’t have much time – they suck you in!

‘Vogue’ April 15, 1969 | Bert Stern (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

Favourite place to work?

I got into a very bad habit of working from my bed. So most of the time I can be found there, surrounded by mounds of paper, pastel-coloured highlighters and books. If I manage to persuade myself to face the outside world, I head to Starbucks (but only one that has comfortable armchairs or sofas!), and have a huge mug of soy matcha latte. I fear to look at my bank statement and find out how much I spent at Starbucks in the past couple of months. And there’s still time to go… Strangely, I find libraries quite distracting, but in Starbucks I get the work done.

Starbucks should probably have its mention in my acknowledgements as the place which provided constant fuel for all the writing.

What my bed looks like most of the time now. Also, pastel-coloured highlighters are a must, as is colour-coding!