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

Sensory Experience in a Virtual World: Three Young Designers in Focus

As our stay-indoors-dystopia trudges into its eleventh month, an early symptom of a wandering fashion sense may present itself in the form of recent searches on eBay like ‘vintage velvet loungewear’, ‘green knitted balaclava’ and ‘faux fur bonnet’. With nowhere to go where people might look at us, the sense of sight in fashion has been reduced to looking at shoulders on Zoom and the top halves of faces at supermarkets. We finally have chance to experiment with the strange and probably ugly. Even the most fashionable of the work-from-home brigade have relinquished their visually appealing outfits in favour of something that feels comfortable. When looking and being looked at disappears, fashion must search for a more all-encompassing sensory experience.

Of course, fashion and the senses have long been connected. In 1972, Diana Vreeland’s pioneering Balenciaga exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art played traditional Spanish music, and the galleries were misted with the scent of Le Dix. While Vreeland was revolutionary in constructing a playful, multi-sensory experience of fashion, the exhibition retained a disjunct between seeing, smelling and hearing.  Innovative young designers Chet Lo, Monirath and Helena Thulin, on the other hand, are pushing the boundaries of bodily experience by creating and thinking through the senses. Without ignoring the aesthetic importance of design, they invite us to imagine, too, how things could taste, smell and feel.

Chet Lo’s ‘durian’ designs, accessed via https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela

A recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, Chet Lo makes vivid, tight-fitting knitwear that stretches over and hugs its wearer. The fluorescent colours and spiky textures of skirts, leg-warmers, and puff-sleeved jumpers are shamelessly striking. But the arresting visuals take us on a further sensory journey – Lo’s trademark puckered, pointed knitting technique (which was a ‘happy accident’ in his final year of study) mimics the appearance of the durian fruit, an Asian fruit known for its potent smell and formidable spikes. We are taken aback not only optically, but also by imagining a powerful smell and taste. Described by i-D magazine as ‘push[ing] the boundaries of wearability’, the softness of these garments’ feminine silhouette is contrasted with the abstract prick of sharp thorns. The 24-year-old designer’s mantra is to let things happen naturally, so it seems fitting that his happy knitting accident twists ideas of wearability by combining the body’s ordinary outline with an otherworldly-but-natural fruit that conjures up an abundance of sensations.

Departing from the fun and fruity, Brisbane-based designer Monirath creates jarring jewellery and hats that wholly challenge the way we consider accessories and their visual appeal. Her most recent ambitious project includes the ‘Water Hat’, a clear, rippled, ambiguously plastic hat that fastens under the chin with a white or black satin ribbon. The reflections of the wrinkles in the hat create ‘wave refractions’ on the wearers face when beneath a source of light, evoking the sensation of skin submerged in water. Made to order, each ‘Water Hat’ has a different arrangement of waves, creating a unique sensory experience that alters both the feel and appearance of the face (Monirath, with a playful nod to Instagram, describes her work as ‘a real life filter’). Such ground-breaking design gives birth to an entirely distinctive accessory that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but interacts with the body and its surroundings, activating both real and imagined senses.

Helena Thulin, an alumni of Studio Berçot in Paris, similarly experiments with the connection between accessories, nature, and the senses. Through delicate beading, the French designer portrays the simplicity and prettiness of a flower, freshly picked from a grassy meadow. Her earrings, either an asymmetrical pair or a single earring, imitate the individuality of wildflowers. Indeed, her designs are intended to be cherished like a flower, and her beading techniques are intentionally reminiscent of the childhood pleasure of making daisy chains.

‘ASTER CHINENSIS – Pair’, Helena Thulin, accessed via https://helenathulin.com/collections/earrings/products/aster-chinensis-pair

The dainty floral jewels are often photographed on a bed of grass that you can virtually smell and feel, reminding us to associate Thulin’s jewellery with senses evoked by nature’s flora. Toying with the senses even further, a recent promotional shot by Ignacio Barrios for London concept store 50-m shows her beautiful crystal flowers sandwiched jarringly between two slices of white bread.  In creating naturally charming jewellery that is intentionally photographed to arouse the senses, Thulin’s designs are almost good enough to eat.

When considering the work of these young artists, an argument put forward by fashion scholar Marco Pecorari feels pertinent: ‘the materiality of dress is not its sole defining element but rather is part of a network of affects and sensorial activities’. In an increasingly digital universe, feeling connected to our bodies through dress is crucial, and a new generation of designers are helping to activate all of our senses with their innovative and striking designs.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Zoë Kendall, ‘Screwing with silhouettes: these designers are reimagining shape and form’, i-D, published 7 January 2021, https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/bvxy54/young-designers-reimagining-fashion-silhouettes (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Jade Wickes, ‘Chet Lo: a designer set on switching up the knitwear narrative’, The Face, published 3 December 2020, https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Marco Pecorari, ‘Beyond Garments: Reorienting the Practice and Discourse of Fashion Curating’ in Annamari Vänskä and Hazel Clark (eds) Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond (London, 2017), pp. 183-198.

Chet Lo, personal website, https://www.chetlo.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Monirath, personal website, https://monirath.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Helena Thulin, personal website, https://helenathulin.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)