Recently released from Rizzoli, is a new gigantic visual reference for fashion history from expert Caroline Rennolds Milbank titled Fashion: A Timeline in Photographs: 1850 to Today (October 27, 2015). The forward from Harold Koda is overshadowed by the wealth of images: 1400 images on 320 pages. While the text is minimal, it is informative and interesting. Not your typical fashion history book, it explores a number of trends, types of clothing, and designers in not often seen images (those well versed in fashion history will present the ‘newness’ of this approach).
For example, the spread on page 32 includes 10 photographs of fashions from 1867 with the text noting:
Two views of a Mrs. Bates show her seated in a black silk dress with jet embroidery and also standing dressed for an outing in a short paletot jacked and flat hat worn low on her forehead. A white cotton or linen waist with ribbon and other trimming, worn with a solid or plaid skirt makes an appearance. Christine Nilsson, the blonde and blue-eyed Swedish singing sensation, wears what is being called a suit, a fitted paletot and matching skirt in striped silk.”
The uncluttered design presents beautifully on the page, though historians may find it frustrating to have to flip back and forth to the end notes for citation information for all the photographs. Admittedly, however, the endnotes DO provide a wealth of fascinating information.
I think it would make a wonderful coffee table book – and it makes me wish I had a coffee table!
Daniel James Cole and Nancy Deihl are the authors of the new book, The History of Modern Fashion (September 2015), and they were gracious enough to answer a few questions about their new publication from Laurence King, the publishing process, and their vision for the book. Nancy Deihl was my advisor in graduate school at NYU’s program in Visual Culture Costume Studies and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share her work. This new book covers the history of fashion from 1850-2010 and is lavishly illustrated. It’s a must have for fashion historians, students, and enthusiasts (and with the holiday’s approaching would make a great gift!)
How did the book, as a project begin, and develop? How long did it take to research, write and publish?
The publisher, Laurence King, based in London, approached the fashion design department at FIT about the possibility of a fashion history book. Daniel teaches in that department and was definitely interested in the opportunity and asked me to join him. It took us over six years to research and write and have it brought to print.”
My assumption is that you intend it to be used as a fashion history textbook with some cross over appeal to the general market. How do you see it’s ‘place’ in the world? Especially in comparison to other fashion history survey’s out there (such as Tortora or Mendes/de la Haye)?
The History of Modern Fashion works well for textbook use. We organized the book using a decades approach, knowing that that’s how many (if not most) instructors organize the material for a course on modern fashion. And we start with 1850 because that’s also a typical marker for a class. The 1850s and 60s were notable in terms of developments of the designer system and also technologies, both important for laying the groundwork for 20th century fashion.
We also made sure to include subheadings, a glossary, and really explicit captions so every word is an opportunity to inform! We feel – and the feedback we’ve gotten so far backs this up – that it fills a niche for lots of different levels of instruction. The general public seems to be enthusiastic as well. I spoke at an NYU alumni event last week – and as you know Steinhardt alums range from musicians to physical therapists – and there was a fantastic response to the book!”
Six hundred images is a LOT! How did the image selection/research/publication process go?
Yes, 600 images is a lot. Images are crucial to this project so we are grateful that everyone at LK understood that. We were very lucky that the picture editor, Heather Vickers, who has done a number of books for LK, was extremely imaginative and just wonderful to work with. We did lots of sleuthing and had a wish list and although not every picture we wanted was traceable (or affordable) the results are extremely satisfying! And the Special Collections department at FIT was instrumental in helping with images – making many, many available to us.”
Anything in particular you’d like your fellow historians to know about this book, the process, or the research?
This was a big project. We learned so much along the way – not just about fashion history but about research and collaboration and communication. We certainly got to know each other very well through this collaborative process. At the beginning we were colleagues who were only slightly acquainted; by the end of the process we could finish each others’ sentences!!
One of our favorite aspects of the writing is the ‘sidebars’ that are part of each chapter – self-contained, fun (we hope!) profiles of memorable characters and fashion ‘stories.’”
Today, the FIDM Museum launches the #4for400 project, a fundraising campaign for the acquisition of the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection. If successful, this remarkable collection will be kept in tact and available for research, exhibition, and inspiration.
The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection ranges from gowns worn by Queen Victoria (along with the clothing of 3 Empresses and 10 Princesses) to stunning couture creations of the twentieth century. It includes 22 haute couture designers including Paquin, Doucet, Chanel, Callot Soeurs, House of Worth, Fortuny, Lucile, Felix, Beer, and Lanvin.
These pieces were collected by Helen Larson, a successful Southern California collector and entrepreneur who understood the importance of fashion history. It is the only collection of this caliber in the world. The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection encompasses more than 1,400 pieces and represents 400 years of history (A man’s red velvet jerkin is the earliest piece, dating to 1600)– but this critically important collection could be broken up and lost forever. The Museum has until the end of 2015 to raise the remaining $2 million needed to purchase the collection for our institution. Without these funds, the collection will be dispersed or absorbed into another private collection, inaccessible to students, researchers, and the general public.
First published in 1989, Survey of Historic Costume by Phyllis G. Tortora would become a best-selling Fashion history textbook. For the 25th Anniversary edition, Tortora is joined by a new co-author, Sara B. Marcketti, an Associate Professor at Iowa State University.
But, after 25 years, what could really be that different? It seems the publisher has been listening to professors feedback about the volume, and now authors have “decreased the length of part openers and made chapters a more manageable length.” In addition to adding a new Chapter 20, “The New Millennium,” which “places greater emphasis on major fashion events of this century, making this book as current as possible and more relevant to the study of fashion today.”
Additionally, the book comes with a new online student resource, “Survey of Historic Costume STUDIO.” It includes chapter videos, self-quizzes, flashcards, maps, a Fashion Designer index, and links to fashion museums, costume collections, and online resources. For the professor, STUIDO includes an image library, PowerPoint slides for each chapter, a test bank, and an instructors guide (including sample Syllabi).
More information on this resource (available to students in July 2015) is provided in this video :
Discussions and depictions of fashion in France on the eve of the Revolution have long focused on the visible extremes of the era and have often heaped blame for the extravagances directly on the ill-fated head of the Queen. In folklore and many traditional histories, the fashions, particularly those of the court, are dismissed as excessive frivolities, the Queen as vain, and the Revolution is justified as the inevitable means of righting these wrongs amongst others. Only in recent decades has an academic approach been applied to better understand the extraordinary complexities of the relationships between fashion, politics, economics, industry, media, celebrity and the makers, wearers, and observers of la mode Ancien and le mode Révolutionnaire. In her new book, Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Anoinette, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell masterfully discusses and explains these complexities with the familiarity of an eyewitness and the hindsight of the best of historians.
In Fashion Victims, Chrisman-Campbell seamlessly reconstructs the most complete depiction of the glitter before the gore, but she is not blinded by it. Fashion, both the manufacture and the consumption of it, is proven to be a powerful political machine. La mode was simultaneously reflective of and influential upon the shifting morals, philosophies, and alliances that resulted in the great social and governmental changes of the Revolution. The changes in French fashion- sartorial, ideological, and political- resonated globally. Chrisman-Campbell does not rely on her own words to convince the reader of the scale and importance of fashion, but draws from an impressive array of period authors, including many original manuscripts, as well as works unpublished since the eighteenth century. Her depth of understanding adds new insight to more familiar sources. Chrisman-Campbell skillfully translates old French, maintaining the nuance of the original commentators, and adds to these a compelling narrative and analysis of her own. The result is unrivaled.
The depth and quality of Chrisman-Campbell’s research and the intelligence of her interpretation is exemplified by her sustained discussions of particular phenomena and influences within fashion. The chapters on à l’Américaine and Anglomania, prove these trends to not be quaint mimicry but reflections of France’s international dialogue. Chrisman-Campbell teases-out the origins and importance of the coiffeur confections known as poufs, and the overt fashion victims who were les petite-mâitresses, and shows them not as mere fancies and faddist but as three-dimensional commentaries on the age, as timely, ephemeral, yet influential as the modern magazine cover and celebrity. The chapter on Figaro brilliantly demonstrates the circular relationship between fashion in media and fashion in reality.
Fashion Victims is as elegantly illustrated as it is written. The author tirelessly sought out every garment and scattered fragment purported to have association with Marie Antoinette; the best documented pieces are shown. The cast of the Court and the Revolution are introduced in countless portraits, some familiar and many not. The careful pairing of period prints with images of related extant objects and contemporaneous descriptions adds greatly to the reader’s ability to visualize the detailed styles…and the personalities, discussed. It is Chrisman-Campbell’s intimacy with these personalities, politics, and fashions that enables her to make them again understandable, and perhaps even desirable.” — Mark Hutter,
When I became the Archivist for CSA Western Region, I inherited seven boxes of files on our region’s 39 years of history and activities. These boxes have been added to and passed along to each successive Past President/Archivist for many years, and I thought it was high time we digitized them. The board agreed, and I have begun the long scanning process. I’ve just started on “Book 1” (a large three-ring binder), and I’m learning so much.
Here are five fun facts from the Archives:
The Western Region was established as the first region of CSA in 1976.
Mary Hunt Kalenberg, curator of Costumes and Textiles at LACMA was along with Jack Handford were co-chairmen of the board set in place prior to the first Western Region election. Kalenberg, “was instrumental in the organization of CSA and one of its 15 charter members. She served on the original National Board of Directors.” (CSA-WR Archives, Folder one, “Founding of CSA and the Early Years of Region V—Phylis Specht”). LACMA was generously supportive of the region during this period.
During the first 10 years (1976-86), the region hosted a whopping 66 programs. Subjects included:
Folk/Ethnic (18); Art & Fashion (13); Western History (17), Theatre & Film (10); Conservation (1); Academic (4); and Miscellaneous (3).
The region operated solely as a Los Angeles chapter, with programs held bi-monthly, until 1981 when Inez Brooks-Myers was elected to the board and membership expanded to all the western states.
The first Symposium was Fashion and the Doll, held in November of 1985 at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach. A ‘mini-symposium’ on costume for work and travel was held in February of the following year at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. An impressive number of these kinds of events were held over the next several years.
As I go through more of the material, I plan to share more information about the impressive history of
the Western Region.
This article was first published in the Newsletter of the Costume Society of America Western Region, Spring 2015 issue. Click here to read the full issue: Spring+2015+CSA-WR.
For some research I’m doing, it has become incredibly helpful to have access to the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France). They have a vast online collection, including searchable Les Modes (where the above image came from). It’s a marvelous resource for anyone doing research on Haute Couture. Happy Hunting!
“Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power”(at the Jewish Museum in NYC until March 22, 2015)
By Nadine Stewart
It can be argued that Helena Rubinstein was a force of nature—a self-made magnate whose empire, originally based on her skin cream formula, of spanned four continents. But she was much more than the head of a cosmetics firm, she was a tastemaker whose unerring eye for cutting edge art informed her work and in the process changed the image of the modern woman. The Jewish Museum has presented an exhibit that showcases all aspects of this powerful personality who used her Jewish name at a time when it was considered a handicap.
We get the full force of Rubinstein’s personality in the first gallery where eight portraits by artists as varied as Christian Bérard, Roberto Montenegro, and Graham Sutherland are hung salon style. Rubinstein herself hung her portraits this way as an article from Life magazine in the one of the side cases shows. While the portraits are fascinating, the items on either side of the flanking walls are worth a careful look. They show the beginning of Rubinstein’s career with a rare picture of her family in Poland taken in 1888 to a 1964 article in Life, which described her as the “Tiny, Tireless Tycoon of Beauty.” Advertisements with her image show how she used her image to brand her products. An evening suit of red silk brocade by Balenciaga and a large sunburst necklace of Mexican silver that appear in her portraits give a taste of her sense of the dramatic.
Rubinstein’s passion for art was central to her drive for beauty in all things. The next two galleries display her copious art collection. Rubinstein was not a timid collector. She responded to the sculpture of Elie Nadelman with its mannered classicism, but even more significantly, she loved the art of Africa and Oceania viewing it as fine art, not ethnographic. Nadelman’s work is shown with works from Gabon, Ivory Coast, and Mexico much as she would have displayed them. Nadelman’s work was prominently featured in her salons since Rubinstein believed that her salons should be places where women absorbed beauty and culture along with beauty treatments. “Women who visit the salons on a regular basis develop a sense of discrimination and appreciation. …It will teach her much and give her knowledge about herself.”
The third gallery titled “The Changing Face of Beauty” is the core of the exhibit for it is here one sees the extent of her collection and her vision of beauty. “African art appealed to me greatly. Few of my friends cared for it. ‘How strange,’ they would say, ‘to think of someone who has dedicated her life to beauty buying such ugly things.” Her collection is breathtaking. Rubinstein cared little for conventional opinions of the day. Amid the works by Frida Kahlo, Joan Miró, George Braque, and a legion of African figures are twelve Picasso sketches of Rubinstein. Madame pressured the artist for a portrait for decades. Undeterred by Picasso’s refusal, she showed up at his home on the French Rivera in 1955 unannounced. The resulting sketches show Rubinstein’s many moods and are not all flattering. Picasso never did the long-sought portrait, but his sketches show the many facets of this remarkable personality.
Rubinstein also wore what she liked. It might seem that a tiny woman who was only 4 feet 10 inches tall could not carry off couture laden with embroidery and huge jewels in profusion, but Rubinstein made her own style. She adored jewelry, especially large pieces with bright stones and endless strands of pearls. They are part of her “Glittering Armor” as the next gallery is titled. Among the items on view are: an enormous cuff bracelet with flowers of sapphires, emeralds, and yellow and white diamonds, strings of baroque pearls, and large ruby and tourmaline rings. She bought jewelry after quarrels with her husbands, “Buying ‘quarrel’ jewelry is one of my weaknesses,” she admitted. “”Some women buy hats, but I am more extravagant in anger, as I am in most things.” Even more extravagant was her system of jewelry storage. She used a large filing cabinet. Drawers labeled D contained her diamonds. “Under E could readily be found my emeralds, P was for pearls; R for rubies, S for sapphires and T for topaz.” Rubinstein also loved unconventional designers, Poiret, Schiaparelli, and Chanel. On view is a Schiaparelli bolero embroidered with elephants, and trapeze artists from 1938 and a 1923 Poiret tunic embroidered with symbols inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs. A photograph of Madame from 1924 shows she wore it well.
Rubinstein not only collected art, she lived with it, decorating her homes in Paris, London, and New York with a profusion of paintings, sculpture, and tapestries by artists from all parts of the world. Pictures in the next gallery show the dramatic spaces. Madame used these apartments in publicity and fashion shoots, which also promoted her image. Another collecting sidelight was miniature rooms. Six are on display from an eighteenth-century French salon to an artist’s studio based one in Montmartre.
Finally, we see the world of the salon, the source of all her wealth. Advertisements and a video of the many treatments offered give a sense of how Rubinstein marketed her won image to project her vision of beauty. She believed that “One’s identity is a matter of choice,” so women should be free to take control of their appearances and express themselves. Before Rubinstein, beauty was considered “inborn,” one could not be attractive unless one was gifted with perfect features at birth. Madame rejected that. This exhibit shows how this very unconventional, powerful woman paved the way for women to re-invent themselves, to become modern.
Whether it’s famously blonde Blake Lively wrapped in a Navajo blanket on the cover of Vogue or a Karlie Kloss walking the runway in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show wearing a feathered headdress and little else, high-fashion knockoffs of Native American clothing and textiles inevitably make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Of course, this kind of cultural appropriation is nothing new—a century ago, Paul Poiret and Sonia Delaunay drew modernist inspiration from ancient Native American textile patterns—but it’s been going on even longer than you might think.
The coiffureà l’insurgente was one of many French fashions of the late 1770s and 1780s inspired by the defining philosophical issue of the time: America’s battle for independence, in which France was a key political and military ally. Ship-shaped coiffures à la Belle Poule and gowns of “Franklin gray”—the color of Benjamin Franklin’s hair—adorned the court of Louis XVI; coiffuresà l’Americaine and chapeaux à la Pensilvanie appeared in French fashion magazines. At the time, “insurgente”—meaning “rebel”—was a synonym for “American” in French. A habit à l’insurgente appeared in the fashion magazine Gallerie des modes in 1779; it was described as being similar to gowns worn by Anglo-American women. But while its relation to American dress is obscure—and possibly invented to capitalize on the trend—the coiffure à l’insurgente clearly resembles a Native American feathered headdress, or war bonnet.Far from being perceived as offensive or exploitative, the coiffure à l’insurgente and other pro-American fashions advertised their female wearers’ patriotism and political acumen.
This image comes from a rare edition of the 1780 almanac Souvenir à la Hollandoise, enrichi de nouvelles Coëffures les plus galantes in the special collections of the Getty Research Institute (GRI), Los Angeles. The GRI is a research library adjacent to the J. Paul Getty Museum, with its own extensive holdings and exhibition program. Its special collections include rare books, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, correspondence, and archival material, much of it useful to fashion historians. A photo archive of two million images of artworks—housed in boxes sorted by genre and country—is a valuable resource for hard-to-find images, or just idle browsing. The GRI also has a good selection of fashion books, journals, and exhibition catalogues on open shelves, plus a wealth of reference material and extensive online resources like the BHA and ArtStor.
While its changing exhibitions gallery and Plaza Level (which includes Getty publications, recent periodicals, and general reference books) are open to the public, you need to apply for a reader’s card to visit the GRI’s stacks, photo archive, and special collections. It is worth getting one. Although the Getty has recently made its images available to the public free of charge under an open content policy, only a fraction of the GRI’s vast holdings have been photographed, and searching the Digital Collections can be frustrating. But helpful, knowledgeable librarians and an unusually user-friendly environment make the GRI’s embarrassment of research riches manageable.
Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an independent scholar and consultant with an impressive background in fashion and history. She received her B.A. from Stanford University, her M.A. from the Courtauld Institute of Art, and her Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen. Chrisman-Campbell has published numerous journal and magazine articles on 18th– and early 19th-century French fashion. She has also contributed to several books and museum catalogues, including Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915 (Los Angeles: Prestel and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2010) and Paris: Life & Luxury in the Eighteenth Century (Los Angeles: Getty Publishing, 2011).