5 Minutes with… Lucy Corkish

As the dissertation deadline looms, we’re spending some time getting to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Lucy, the co-editor of this blog, discusses Tamara de Lempicka, lidos and self-styling via eBay.

 

What is your dissertation about? 

I’m writing my dissertation on the artist Tamara de Lempicka, looking at her life as a process of self-fashioning. She’s most famous for the portraits (and self-portraits) she painted while living in Paris in the 1920s and 30s, but lots of people were/are aware of her because of her persona and her distinctive look. The details of her life are sketchy in lots of places – some biographers believe that she lied about her age right up until her death in 1980 – and she seems to have actively cultivated this image of herself as a kind of glamourous, film star-esque aristocrat. She would commission photographers to capture her in designer clothes, always with painted red lips and nails. She wore a lot of accessories and had a particular penchant for hats, in her later years matching her hat to her outfit. For most of her life, she seemed to crave independence, marrying her second husband on the promise that she could enjoy his money and his title but continue her own, largely separate life. Once, when she failed to return home to spend Christmas with her young daughter, leaving her in the care of her grandmother, the two of them burned her collection of designer hats in retaliation.

Tamara de Lempicka photographed by Willy Maywald, 1948-1949 (via Stained Jabot)

One of her most famous paintings, a self-portrait commissioned as the cover of Die Dame, shows her in the driver’s seat of a green Bugatti – in reality, she drove a yellow Renault. The image has been hailed as a symbol of the modern woman, and for me, it says a lot about how she saw herself. It can be tricky to unpick all the anecdotes surrounding her, which she often reworked and retold to portray herself in a flattering light, but researching her life has taught me that her moulding of the truth was an extension of her self-styling. It’s been fascinating getting to know the many overlapping sides of her.

Tamara de Lempicka, Autoportrait, 1929, oil on panel, private collection

What is your favourite thing that you’ve written/worked on/researched this year? 

I enjoyed writing my first essay on Margiela and memory, for which I watched the documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words. It was clear that his childhood memories played an essential role in his work and that his ideas around creating memories influenced his creativity. For example, at one show, the models – who walked among the audience – were perfumed with patchouli, playing on sensory memory. For my second essay, I looked at hundreds of images from ‘the golden age of the lido’ in 1930s Britain, which was, for me, great fun.

Bradford Lido, 1939 (via The Mirror)

What is something you’ve read this year that you would recommend to anyone?

Early in the year, we read the first chapter from Daniel Miller’s Stuff, titled ‘Why Clothing is not Superficial’. His discussion of Trinidadian ideas of the self as constantly evolving, existing on the surface (rather than somewhere buried within, built up incrementally over time) so that it must be sustained day by day in actions and choices – including in wardrobe choices – deepened my understanding of why clothes feel so important.

Where do you get your clothes from? 

I’m relatively serious about eBay. Closely monitoring saved search alerts and frantically trying to outbid any rivals in the final seconds of an auction has brought me lots of joy and frustration over the years, as well as a wardrobe full of things that I love to look at but that don’t necessarily fit me well. I keep a collection of screenshots of the wildest photos that people use to sell their clothes. Also, charity shops in fancy areas and anything that my friends are getting rid of.

Screenshot (eBay app), 2020

How would you describe your style? 

It was described to me today as ‘very last season Arket’, which I think is fairly accurate. I like to look at extravagant, sparkly clothes, but I want to feel as comfy as I can get away with, so cosy jumpers in the winter, cotton dresses in the summer and when in doubt, jeans. Anything that could be pyjamas but could also be worn out is the goal.

 

Bibliography

Claridge, Laura. Tamara de Lempicka: A Life of Deco and Decadence (London, 2001)

De Lempicka-Foxhall, Kizette and Charles Phillips. Passion by Design: The Art and Times of Tamara de Lempicka (New York, 1987)

Holzemer, Reiner. Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, cinematographer Toon Illegems (2020; London: Dogwoof)

Miller, Daniel. ‘Why Clothing is not Superficial’ in Stuff (Cambridge, 2010), pp. 12-41

5 Minutes with… Harrison Goldman

Harrison 01

Harrison hard at work in the Courtauld Slide Library.

Detail of Harrison's jacket.

Detail of Harrison’s jacket.

Detail of Harrison's sleeve.

Detail of Harrison’s sleeve.

Harrison is a second year undergraduate at The Courtauld, currently specialising in 20th Century Modernism and Renaissance Mannerism. When he is not studying, he can often be found hard at work in the Gallery, the Research Forum, Public Programmes or the Slide Library. Harrison was the BA1 Representative for the Students Union last year, in addition to playing the role of Malvolio in the Courtauld’s first play, Twelfth Night. Beyond the Courtauld, he works as an Antiques, Collectables and Vintage Consultant, advising clients on buying and selling objects of all genres.

What are you wearing today?

Today I am wearing a navy double-breasted boating blazer, an Austin Reed pinstripe shirt, pale blue chinos and Barker shoes.

How would you describe your style?

Eclectic, vintage, traditional, sartorial.

Have you always dressed like this?

Would you believe it, no! My style emerged and developed when I discovered a love of all things old-fashioned and traditional about 5-6 years ago.

Where do you look for inspiration in how you dress?

I’m quite active in the London ‘vintage’ scene, and have met some amazing people who put real passion into their outfits. But if I see something that I like I’ll try and source one, rather than emulate an entire look.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

Harrison participated in the Tweed Run on 17th May 2014, photographed here at Somerset House.

How does your interest in antiques inform your style?

When handling wonderful items, in stunning settings (not to mention dealing with customers) it would be rude to wear a tee-shirt and tracksuit bottoms.

Do you have a particular dress code for the Courtauld and how does this translate when you are ‘off duty’?

We are so privileged to study in such an amazing location, steeped in history. But as I work both in and outside the Courtauld, I often need to be smartly dressed. I did however turn up in a jeans and tee-shirt for a lecture the other day, which a friend was somewhat disturbed by!

What does your look say about you?

Well that is probably in the eye of the beholder! But I hope it would suggest I take pride in my appearance.

Where do you like to shop?

Vintage shops, eBay, and the family wardrobe. I’m sometimes given things, but when buying new I try and stick to long established quality outfitters such as Cordings, Hackett, Wolsey, Jaeger etc.

Any other comments or clothing secrets?

‘Why dress down when you can dress up?’

A small part of Harrison's Gladstone bag collection.

A small part of Harrison’s Gladstone bag collection.

The It Doesn’t Matter Suit

Before I was aware of Sylvia Plath as the writer and poet, whose troubled life created some of the most startlingly brutal and emotional poetry of the twentieth century, I knew her as the children’s author of one of my favourite bedtime stories, ‘The It Doesn’t Matter Suit’, written in 1959 but only published in 1996.

It tells the story of a young boy named Max Nix and his family of seven brothers in the little Mountain town of Winkelburg. In this fictional Germanic town everybody has a suit to fit their occupation or passion. From skiwear to business wear, the whole town is decked out in a suit apart from Max: ‘More than anything else in the world Max Nix wanted a suit of his own…He wanted a suit for All-Year-Round. He wanted a suit for doing Everything.’ One day a mysterious package arrives at the family home containing a ‘wonderful, woolly, whiskery, brand-new, mustard-yellow’ suit. Each male member of family tries on the suit, with Mama Nix snipping, stitching and sewing the suit to tailor it for each son, but each one realises the impracticalities and inappropriateness of a mustard yellow suit for their job or occupation. According to Papa Nix and his sons the suit is far too bright for skiing, hunting or fishing, and far too formal for the paper round and milking the cows. So eventually it passes down to the youngest, Max. He is delighted to finally have his own suit and proceeds to wear it for all occasions performing all the activities his brothers thought could not be done in a suit, because to Max ‘it doesn’t matter’. He can wear it rain or shine, outdoors and indoors, and it is even helpful in the activities of skiing, hunting and fishing. Indeed, the suit makes him the most admired person in Winkelburg, with even the cats mewing in appreciation.

For Max Nix – his name itself a pun on the German ‘macht nicht’, translated as ‘it doesn’t matter’ – the suit is precisely what he always wanted. Despite the humour derived from the unusual desire of a little boy, the story is interesting in broaching the idea of anxiety in dress, an emotion that even affects a young boy in a small town. This anxiety is the realisation that his absence of a uniform or unique style of his own deprives him of an identity in a town where every inhabitant is recognisable through their suit and mode of dress. The story also presents the notion of propriety of dress in relation to occupation and identity. It shows how society and fashion dictates what is or is not suitable for different activities and occupations, and the inherent fear of criticism. A mustard yellow suit is perceived as unsuitable by all of the older members of the family, which inhibits their confidence to wear it. Max’s self-assurance and confidence in the suit enables him to carry out all of the activities that his brothers considered unacceptable in a mustard yellow suit, and is successful in them all. The pride that Max has in his appearance whilst wearing the brand new suit in turn attracts admiration from the rest of the town: ‘There goes Maximilian in his wonderful suit.’ Plath’s subject matter for a children’s story is a curious choice and has a complex moral for young children, but ultimately it teaches us that ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ how you dress as long as you please yourself. Admiration comes from confidence and happiness, perhaps a lesson that we should all remember from time to time.

Sources:

Sylvia Plath, The It Doesn’t Matter Suit, (Faber and Faber: London) 1996.