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.
When Redskin Was the New Black
By Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell
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 coiffure à 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; coiffures à 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).
Her new book, Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, (Yale University Press) is available as of this week.
The Western Region of the Costume Society of America held their symposium this year at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, on October 11. I was fortunately enough to attend and was treated to seven lovely papers (some works in progress), and two lively discussions with attendees on the papers presented, as well as on the state of the western region and what members want more (and less) of. Attendees were very engaged in the discussions, more than I’d seen at a regional level.
The papers topics were based loosely on the topic “From the Street to the Catwalk, Cultural Influences on Contemporary Fashion” and the Museum of Contemporary Craft made for a wonderful setting (especially because of their exhibit, Fashioning Cascadia, which ended that day.
After opening remarks, the Annual Business meeting, and a short talk by CSA National President, Kathy Mullet (who is a Western Region member), the papers were presented. Given by Brenna Barks, Clara Berg, Meghan Hanson, Jennifer M. Mower, Linda Florence Matheson, Ilana Winter and JoAnn Stabb, the papers were varied – both in their topics, as well as in the progress of research. Topics included
- Issey Miyake’s use of Japanese revival style,
- GLBTQ style clothing in a regional museum,
- a preview of the Michel Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive at FIDM,
- pre-WWII WPA sewing rooms,
- Street to runway fashion from the 40s-80s,
- A history of Rockmount Ranch Wear, and
- Romaine Brooks’ Amazon/Tuxedo fashions and their influence through history
It was also a good mix of emerging professionals and well –seasoned presenters. Regional diversity was good too – presenters were from Fresno, Los Angeles, Davis, Seattle, and Corvalis, covering three states (California, Oregon, and Washington).
Happily, attendees were also given packets of information with abstracts for all the papers presented, and much discussion was generated by the topics in the symposium wrap-up. I was glad to get to spend such good time, considering these interesting topics. It makes me glad that there is still so much research left to do! Below are some photos I took from the Fashioning Cascadia Exhibition:
Fall is always a busy time for books, and this month a number of publishers have provided some unique offerings. Of particular note is a new book on Cartier – a tie-in with an exhibition at the Denver Art Museum (opens November 16). Strange Material: Storytelling through Textiles, was recently reviewed at TheLongThread.com, in an overview of her trip to Portland (I’ll have my own wrap up of my recent trip to Portland for the CSA Western Region Symposium soon!) In the meantime, please enjoy these new books!
by Leanne Prain (Arsenal Pulp Press, October 7, 2014)
From the publisher:
Through text, the act of weaving a tale or dropping a thread takes on new meaning for those who previously have seen textiles—quilts, blankets, articles of clothing, and more—only as functional objects. This book showcases crafters who take storytelling off the page and into the mediums of batik, stitching, dyeing, fabric painting, knitting, crochet, and weaving, creating objects that bear their messages proudly, from personal memoir and cultural fables to pictorial histories and wearable fictions.”
by Conner Gorry and Gabriel Solomons (Intellect Books, October 15, 2014)
From the Publisher:
When it comes to fashion, few metropolitan areas are more synonymous with style than New York, London, Paris, and Milan. But the couture capitals of tomorrow may be located in less likely locales. Addressing the interplay between the development of fashion centers across the world and their relationship to consumption and street style in both local and global contexts, the books in the Street Style series aim to record emerging fashion capitals and their relationship to the physical landscapes of the street. By examining how particular ecologies of fashion are connected to the formation of gender, class, and generational identities, this series establishes a new methodology for recording and understanding identity and its connection to style. Havana Street Style is the first book that explores and reveals the relationship between culture, city, and street fashion in Cuba’s capital. Matching visual ethnography with critical analysis, the book documents a unique street style few in the United States have yet experienced.”
From the Publisher:
Haute Couture Ateliers takes the reader on a tour of fashion’s backstage, inhabited not only by exceptional designers but also by lace makers, weavers, textile finishers, pleaters, jewelers, feather workers, leather makers, embroiderers, and many other specialized craftspeople. With painstaking attention to detail and exceptional workmanship, they can create anything and everything a designer can imagine. Exquisite photography captures this unchanged world of small workshops where artisans practice ancient trades—though a number have evolved with the times: while some weavers still use looms, others use high-speed precision machines, guided by proprietary software. Hélène Farnault, France’s leading authority on haute couture crafts, explains the rarefied hierarchies and mysteries of these extraordinary artisans, bringing talented milliners and trimming experts into the spotlight.”
By Pierre Painero (Vendome Press, October 14, 2014)
From the Publisher:
Created with the expertise of Cartier Heritage, this exquisite book showcases the rich holdings of the Cartier Collection and archive. It features not only a sumptuous array of rings, bracelets, necklaces, and tiaras, but also cocktail and smoking accessories, mystery clocks, and lavish objects created by Cartier’s ateliers in Paris, London, and New York. Organized thematically, the book features magnificent jewels and accessories owned by such arbiters of taste as Daisy Fellowes, the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace, Barbara Hutton, and Elizabeth Taylor. Throughout, specially commissioned photographs of Cartier’s legendary jewels are accompanied by vintage photographs—drawn from the Condé Nast and Cartier archives—of these royals, socialites, and Hollywood stars in their Cartier finery, including work by Steichen, Horst, Beaton, and Charbonneau.”
Right now two major museums, on opposite coasts of the United States, both have exhibitions on the Kimono. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has Kimono for a Modern Age (through October 19, 2014) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has Kimono: A Modern History (through January 4, 2015). This unique situation requires a unique review. And so, I’m happy to present two simultaneous reviews of the two exhibitions by two experts in the field: Brenna Barks agreed to review the LACMA exhibition, and Nadine Stewart reviewed the Met’s exhibition. Below are their reviews. Happy Reading!
Kimono for a Modern Age
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (through October 19, 2014)
Guest Review by Brenna Barks
Little attention is paid to what can be called the decline of the kimono in Japanese fashion. Most museum-goers, and thus most museum exhibitions, concentrate on the “expected”: what is seen as the traditional, soft, delicately patterned kimono that so inspired the Impressionists and the patrons of Japonisme. Indeed, this is the majority of kimono. However, kimono – like all clothing – followed fashion. And the fashion during the last “heyday” of the kimono is the subject of the Kimono for a Modern Age exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Leading up to and immediately after the second World War, while the traditional patterning remained popular, a new style of kimono emerged: the meisen. The fabric for meisen is unusual in that the warp and weft threads were stencil dyed individually before being woven, creating a marvellous faux-ikat pattern. These patterns were typically large and boldly coloured, contrary to the expected tradition.
Much has been made of the influence that the West had on the patterning of meisen – and LACMA does point out the references to Art Deco motifs or motifs taken from famous Western painters, such as Matisse, in the exhibition. But what LACMA does with their exhibition of over 30 meisen is to properly place them back into context within the Japanese tradition. Yes, there are Western art influences, but predominantly meisen were reinterpretations of Japanese art: landscape paintings, calligraphic motifs, and more often new, bold re-imaginings of traditional Japanese kimono patterns such as arrows or dewdrops.
Some of these re-interpretations can even be seen as forms of protest against American occupation after World War II. At least two meisen in the exhibition feature the Japanese war flag of the rising sun being not-so-subtly worked into the pattern. One in blue as a vague “star” pattern, another into what would otherwise be an image of dawn over a village. Or perhaps instead of open protest, these patterns were a silent message of surviving patriotism and a hope that they would rise again after re-inventing themselves as well as their traditions? LACMA masterfully and tactfully addresses the subject of war and occupation, tradition and fashion head-on through the display of such kimono and their thoughtful, well-written tombstones about each piece.
With the increasing popularity of Western clothing due to ease of wear and maintenance, the kimono declined rather sharply in popularity after the war. The meisen, while largely ignored in the West until now, was in many ways the last hurrah of this beautiful garment. The Kyoto kimono industry closed for good in the early 2000s; so few Japanese people today know how to wear it that schools exist to teach the proper wearing of the kimono, or simply to dress clients when occasion calls for traditional clothing. The LACMA exhibition not only fills this gap in the history of the “symbol of Japan”, but inspires visitors to question what the term “fashion” really means: it does not necessarily mean a shift in shapes and hemlines, but can mean the re-adaptation of tradition and the extended survival of an ancient garment into the modern age.”
Kimono: A Modern History
Metropolitan Museum of Art (through January 4, 2015)
Guest Review by Nadine Stewart
Kimono: A Modern History is a stunning exhibit, not to be missed. The fifty kimonos on display span the period from the eighteenth century to the present day, a time when the kimono evolved from a garment worn by the nobility and the peasantry. Though “kimono” literally means a “thing to wear,” this exhibit shows how much more this garment has meant to Japanese culture over the centuries and how it has influenced fashion in the rest of the world.
The first things on display are swatch samples from the Edo Period (1615-1868), exquisite examples of tapestry weaving in silk and silver thread. In one piece the fighting dragons are made entirely of tiny French knots. In another, we see Western ships with their flags, a reminder that Japan opened up to the West in this period, which would mean a new set of influences and textiles techniques would come flooding into the country. The kimonos in this section are the elegant silk padded kimonos for ladies of the nobility. The fabric of each one is an example of the highest level of craftsmanship–damask grounds overlaid with couched gold thread and silk embroidery.
Elegant as they are, the kimonos are not the only items featured here. A beautiful inlaid cosmetic box with brushes and combs, a large screen showing dancers whose fluid sleeves accentuate their movement, and an etiquette book on how to dress give a sense of the special place the kimono had in this society. The entire exhibit is full of objects that amplify the kimono story from elegant prints that show members of the Japanese court mingling with Western men and women suits and bustles to a “Basket Derby” from 1880-97, a city style made from simple reeds to be worn by the Japanese dandy with his walking stick.
Working class kimonos are just as beautiful as the kimonos for the nobility. Firemen in Japan wore heavy cotton kimonos with figures painted inside for protection as they fought the many fires in a nation of wooden buildings. The kimonos were soaked with water as the men fought fires. The designs inside were only seen during festivals when they were turned inside out. Even rarer, is a farmer’s kimono of recycled rags and a coverlet kimono worn over a person in bed, painted with image of a lobster, the symbol of longevity.
A significant section of the exhibit shows how Japan and the West influenced each other from 1868 to 1912. The Japanese adopted Western chemical dyes and weaving techniques, while the Western fashion was swept up in beautiful images from Japan as these pieces from the collection of the Costume Institute show. A lush pink silk velvet opera cloak by Jean-Charles Worth is displayed next to a kimono robe made by Tashimaya Department Store for the foreign trade. It features short kimono-like sleeves and a simpler printed fabric with Japanese-style motifs. Finally, a light green wool Western-style robe with frog closures features embroidered flowers, which are a fine example of Japanoism.
As Japan moved into the twentieth century, the influences changed, the artistry did not. Modern inventions like cameras, express train tickets, and sheet music appear. Tow kimonos show sobering signs of the nation’s increasing militarism—one shows the siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War and another, antiaircraft guns, tanks and planes backing Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Kimonos for the masses appear sold in department stores with design influenced by Art Deco and the De Stijl movement. There is even a child’s kimono treasured by Frank Lloyd Wright with a pattern of wisterias climbing over abstract trellises.
After World War II, Japan began an effort to preserve its cultural heritage, preserving and honoring the craft of the kimono makers, weavers, and dyers through the Living Treasure Movement. Three kimonos created by these artists give testament to the beauty of their work. At the end of the exhibit are garments from prominent Japanese designers, who have brought the nation to the forefront of fashion while honoring their unique traditions—Hanae Mori, Issey Miyake, and Yojhi Yamamoto, and one more designer, Bonnie Cashin. Her simple black wool kimono-style coat shows her love of the Japanese kimono. It was a design she repeated often though her career.
Kimono: A Modern History is tucked into the Arts of Japan Galleries in the Met’s Asian Arts Wing. The galleries surround the lovely basalt Water Stone (1986) by Isamu Noguchi, whose soothing sound pervades the galleries. It underlines the timelessness of the fashions displayed here and their lasting beauty. This is a fashion exhibit from another perspective, a valuable reminder that Western fashion is not the only fashion.”
A very special thanks to Brenna and Nadine for cooperating on these reviews for Fashion Historia. Can’t make it to New York to see their exhibition? You can buy the exhibition catalog, but the Met has all 170 objects from the show available online for you to look at (sans curatorial insights/labels/wall text) . While there isn’t an exhibition catalog to accompany LACMA’s show, they have created this beautiful video:
**Image: Woman’s Kimono (kosode) with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern, Japan, late Taisho+ (1912-1926) – early Sho+wa (1926–1989) period, Silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyo+-kasuri meisen), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund, M.2012.130.9.
**Image: Woman’s Kimono (kosode) with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern, Japan, late Taisho+ (1912-1926) – early Sho+wa (1926–1989) period, Silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyo+-kasuri meisen), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund, M.2012.130.9.
The books just keep coming! And not surprisingly, there were many released in time for the new school year. The vast majority of these are museum publications, however, reflecting the ever-increasing popularity of fashion exhibitions in museums.
The Biba Years, 1963-1975 By Barbara Hulanicki and Martin Pel
(September 23, 2014, V &A Publishing)
A revealing look at the fashion revolution of the 1960s and ’70s through the groundbreaking, hip, and now-legendary London emporium Biba, this book looks at “the most beautiful store in the world.” Biba, founded in 1963 by designer Barbara Hulanicki, quickly gained cult status and outgrew several locations before the five-story “Big Biba” opened in 1973. More than a store, it was a haven of cool for artists, movie stars, and rock musicians. This book tells the story of the Biba decade, and how the label revolutionized retail and fashion culture. With a wealth of previously unpublished material, including full-color facsimiles of the six luxurious Biba catalogs and archival photographs, The Biba Years, 1963-1975 looks at the first retailer to bring affordable fashion to young consumers. Stunning new photography documents the unique Biba look, and the designer and her contemporaries offer their personal insights.”
Art Noveau Fashion By Clare Rose (September 16, 2014, V & A Publishing)
The stunning designs of Worth, Paquin, Poiret, Fortuny, and more are showcased in this look at the glamorous world of Art Nouveau fashion. Providing an introduction to the style, which overlaps with late Arts and Crafts in the 1890s and early Modernism in the 1910s, the book focuses on these important designers before discussing Art Nouveau jewelry and accessories, advertising, the influence of exotic Eastern cultures, and artists, among them Beardsley, Klimt, and Mackintosh. New color photographs of garments from the V&A’s collection are accompanied by period images of such style icons as Lily Langtry, Loïe Fuller, and Consuelo Vanderbilt, many previously unpublished. Striking and seductive, Art Nouveau styles were revived by the counterculture in the late 1960s and continue to resonate today.”
Fashioning the 19th Century: Habits of Being 3 By Cristina Giorcelli and Paula Rabinowitz (August 7, 2014, Univ of Minnesota Press)
In nineteenth-century Europe and the United States, fashion—once the province of the well-to-do—began to make its way across class lines. At once a democratizing influence and a means of maintaining distinctions, gaps in time remained between what the upper classes wore and what the lower classes later copied. And toward the end of the century, style also moved from the streets to the parlor. The third in a four-part series charting the social, cultural, and political expression of clothing, dress, and accessories, Fashioning the Nineteenth Century focuses on this transformative period in an effort to show how certain items of apparel acquired the status of fashion and how fashion shifted from the realm of the elites into the emerging middle and working classes—and back.
The contributors to this volume are leading scholars from France, Italy, and the United States, as well as a practicing psychoanalyst and artists working in fashion and with textiles. Whether considering girls’ school uniforms in provincial Italy, widows’ mourning caps in Victorian novels, Charlie’s varying dress in Kate Chopin’s eponymous story, or the language of clothing in Henry James, the essays reveal how changes in ideals of the body and its adornment, in classes and nations, created what we now understand to be the imperatives of fashion.
Contributors: Dagni Bredesen, Eastern Illinois U; Carmela Covato, U of Rome Three; Agnès Derail-Imbert, École Normale Supérieure/VALE U of Paris, Sorbonne; Clair Hughes, International Christian University of Tokyo; Bianca Iaccarino Idelson; Beryl Korot; Anna Masotti; Bruno Monfort, Université of Paris, Ouest Nanterre La Défense; Giuseppe Nori, U of Macerata, Italy; Marta Savini, U of Rome Three; Anna Scacchi, U of Padua; Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, U of Michigan.
EXPOSED: THE HISTORY OF LINGERIE
MUSEUM @ FIT
JUNE 3-NOVEMBER 15, 2014
Guest Exhibition Review By Nadine L. Stewart
Exposed: The History of Lingerie explores a fashion story that often takes a secondary place in the fashion history—what’s been worn underneath our clothes. These are the pieces that give our bodies the current fashionable silhouette or the clothes we wear for our most intimate moments in bed or lounging at home. Curator Colleen Hill has been fascinated with lingerie since 2008 when she curated Seduction, an exhibition that focused on the erotic nature of fashion. Through the intervening years she kept track of the Museum’s lingerie collection, which occupies the back of its huge clothing storage area. Her interest intensified when the Museum acquired several beautiful collections of custom lingerie, with pieces that were marvels of beautiful details and exquisite craftsmanship. The result is a fascinating exhibit of intimate wear from the eighteenth century to the present.
The first thing one sees in the Museum’s vast lobby is a platform with five underwear ensembles designed by the 2014 BFA students of FIT. Hill told me she decided these garments should provide the prologue to the exhibit because the students’ work was so professional. In the outside entry case stands a mannequin in a witty 1994 Moschino evening dress with a pouf skirt made entirely of 20 black underwire bras complete with their dangling shoulders straps.
But it inside that the real spell of the exhibit takes hold. Mounted on the first platform is a raspberry colored satin corset from around 1889 that glows like a jewel in the low light. Hill told me this corset surprised her for several reasons. One, it was an early example of colored lingerie, which was just becoming acceptable. Even more important, the corset’s bones were made of coraline, a plant based material that was probably more comfortable to wear than the steel bones common at the time. That meant it was probably marketed by Warner Brothers as a “healthy” garment for the stylish woman. The corset shares the platform with a Peter Sorensen evening dress from 2007 with a corset bodice and another jewel-colored corset from the 1850s, this time in blue satin.
Throughout the exhibit garments are often paired, making it possible to see how the intimate “under” garment was morphed into an “outer” garment. For example, an Empire line nightgown from the 1950s is paired with a Claire McCardell evening gown from the same decade, both in the new wonder fiber—nylon. A princess line slip from 1910 replete with eyelet trim stands next to the lingerie dress—a glorious confection of white eyelet and sheer muslin.
The panorama continues. In the next room is an eighteenth century corset with tie-on sleeves. Such a garment could be worn as outerwear. Next to it is quilted petticoat, which would have been visible too. A lady would pull her overskirt and tied it up, so she could show off the petticoat’s elegant stitch patterns To remind us of that an eighteenth century lady was expected to stand straight, whalebone busk from the 1780s lies in a case in front. This piece would have been inserted into the corset in a place provided between the breasts to keep the wearer erect and stately.
Amid all the elegance and couture work are two companies from the present day that show us how lingerie still fascinates women today. Both Victoria’s Secret and Hanky Panky give the consumer fashionable linger at an affordable price. Hill was also impressed by Hanky Panky’s ethical standards of production in these days of concern over sustainability. But how can one forget that Hanky Panky claims to produce the “worlds most comfortable thong” for a wide range of sizes? There it is–in a colorful three pack!
Another notable company is Cadolle of Paris, a family-owned firm still producing beautiful ready-to-wear and custom lingerie after 5 generations. Founded in 1889 it pioneered innovative brassiere designs and is one of the few companies to produce custom lingerie today. On view is a baby doll nightgown and corset in pink lace.
One of the loveliest lingerie styles was the tea gown, a robe that women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries wore to relax and entertain in the privacy of their homes. Hill chose several to display. There’s an early white cotton and lace dressing gown from the 1850s that hides the body under its generous cut. By 1900 the robe was an alluring confection of chiffon, silk and lace. The Fernende Burel gown on display is accented with silk roses placed strategically on each breast! Next to it is an elegant brown silk hostess gown hand printed with gold by Suzanne Bertillon from the 1920s and a Delphos dress which, we are reminded, was originally designed to be worn as tea gown without a corset.
It’s a stunning array that continues with choice examples that bring the exhibit to the present day with the Wonderbra from 1994 and the overtly sexual style of Agent Provocateur. One of the joys of this exhibit is the simplicity of the exhibit layout. It has been well edited, so that the garments are clearly visible without excess clutter. After following the styles of fashionable dishabille, we know that lingerie and the urge for special underwear is something that has continued through the centuries. What’s next?”– Nadine L Stewart
Exposed will be on display till November 15th. On Thursday, November 6, Curator Colleen Hill will host Poupie and Patricia Cadolle in a conversation about their unique family-run business. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Register online.
The accompanying exhibition catalog, written by Colleen Hill and Valerie Steele, is also available now:
*Corset (stay), silk, silk ribbon, whalebone, c. 1770, possibly Europe, Museum purchase, P82.1.16
This summer saw a number of fashion-related titles published from both University and traditional Trade publishing houses. Here’s a quick round-up of some of those titles you might want to add to your fall reading list:
The Sky Blue Stone: The Turquoise Trade in World History by Arash Khazeni (UC Press, May 2014)
This book traces the journeys of a stone across the world. From its remote point of origin in the city of Nishapur in eastern Iran, turquoise was traded through India, Central Asia, and the Near East, becoming an object of imperial exchange between the Safavid, Mughal, and Ottoman empires. Along this trail unfolds the story of turquoise–a phosphate of aluminum and copper formed in rocks below the surface of the earth–and its discovery and export as a global commodity.
In the material culture and imperial regalia of early modern Islamic tributary empires moving from the steppe to the sown, turquoise was a sacred stone and a potent symbol of power projected in vivid color displays. From the empires of Islamic Eurasia, the turquoise trade reached Europe, where the stone was collected as an exotic object from the East. The Eurasian trade lasted into the nineteenth century, when the oldest mines in Iran collapsed and lost Aztec mines in the Americas reopened, unearthing more accessible sources of the stone to rival the Persian blue.
Sky Blue Stone recounts the origins, trade, and circulation of a natural object in the context of the history of Islamic Eurasia and global encounters between empire and nature.”
History of the Paper Pattern Industry by Joy Emery (Bloomsbury, June 2014)
Sewing patterns have been the principle blueprint for making garments in the home for centuries. From their origins in the tailoring manuals of the 16th century to the widely produced pamphlets of the 18th and 19th centuries, through to the full size packet patterns of today, their history and development has reflected major changes in technology (such as the advent of the sewing machine), retailing and marketing practices (the fashion periodical), and shifts in social and cultural influences.
This accessible book explores this history, outlining innovations in patternmaking by the companies who produced patterns and how these reflected the fashions and demands of the market.
Showcasing beautiful illustrations from original pattern pamphlets, packets and ads, as well as 9 complete patterns from which readers can reproduce vintage garments of different eras, the book provides a unique visual guide to homemade fashions as well as essential exploration of the industry that produced them.”
Luxury: Fashion Lifestyle and Excess by Patrizia Calefato and Lisa Adams (Bloomsbury, June 2014)
Luxury has been both celebrated and condemned throughout history right up to the present day. This groundbreaking text examines luxury and its relationship with desire, status, consumption and economic value, exploring why luxury remains prominent even in the context of a global recession.
Using approaches from cultural studies, semiotic research and aesthetics, Luxury presents a wide range of case studies including urban space and new technologies, travel, interior design, cars, fashion ads and jewellery to explore what luxury represents, and why, in the contemporary world.”
Global Fashion Brands: Style, Luxury & History by Joseph H. Hancock II, Gjoko Muratovski, Veronica Manlow and Anne Pierson-Smith (Intellect, Aug 15, 2014)
Fashion branding is more than just advertising. It helps to encourage the purchase and repurchase of consumer goods from the same company. While historically fashion branding has primarily focused on consumption and purchasing decisions, recent scholarship suggests that branding is a process that needs to be analyzed from a style, luxury, and historical pop cultural view using critical, ethnographic, individualistic, or interpretive methods.
In this collection, the contributors explore the meaning behind fashion branding in the context of the contested power relations underpinning the production, marketing, and consumption of style and fashion as part of our global culture. “
Kimono: A Modern History by Terry Satsuki Milhaupt (Reaktion Books, Aug 15, 2014)
What is the kimono? Everyday garment? Art object? Symbol of Japan? As this book shows, the kimono has served all of these roles, its meaning changing across time and with the perspective of the wearer or viewer.
Kimono: A Modern History begins by exposing the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century foundations of the modern kimono fashion industry. It explores the crossover between ‘art’ and ‘fashion’ in this period at the hands of famous Japanese painters who worked with clothing pattern books and painted directly onto garments. With Japan’s exposure to Western fashion in the nineteenth century, and Westerners’ exposure to Japanese modes of dress and design, the kimono took on new associations and came to symbolize an exotic culture and an alluring female form. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the kimono industry was sustained through government support. The line between fashion and art became blurred as kimonos produced by famous designers were collected for their beauty and displayed in museums, rather than being worn as clothing. Today, the kimono has once again taken on new dimensions, as the Internet and social media proliferate images of the kimono as a versatile garment to be integrated into a range of individual styles.
Kimono: A Modern History, the inspiration for a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, not only tells the story of a distinctive garment’s ever-changing functions and image, but provides a novel perspective on Japan’s modernization and encounter with the West.”
I’ve had the same book resting on my nightstand for months now: Fashion and War in Popular Culture by Denise N. Rall (Intellect, (March 15, 2014). It’s there for those now increasingly rare moments when I have a little free brain space (and time) to pick it up. My main interest has been Chapter 4 “In the service of clothes: Elsa Schiaparelli and the war experience” by Griffith University Professor, Annita Boyd.
This chapter focuses on how war, and the military, influenced Schiaparelli’s design – but it also offers some valuable information on what she was up to during the war (and how those experiences later influenced her work). I’ve not read much about her career during and after the war, so I was immediately drawn to this particular essay.
As explained in Boyd’s essay, Schiaparelli’s career was viewed as a failure after the war and her work was seen as ‘out of step with post-war sensibility.’ – Boyd examines this notion, but also offers information on what Schiaparelli was doing during these years (1945-1954 and 1955-1973). This in itself makes the book worth it’s (quite affordable) price.
Very little has been written on Schiaparelli during this time. It is fascinating stuff: she was accused of being anti-French (for promoting French couture in America); of being a fascist for wearing a hat; but smuggled American money to friends in Europe in a hat, toured America lecture about French couture in 1940; and volunteered (along with her daughter) for the American Red Cross in New York. The all too brief chapter goes on to discuss how Schiaparelli’s military and surrealist influenced designs failed to take hold in the post war years, and also to discuss the recent Schiaparelli revival.
Other essays in this book include historical and more recent military and fashion interactions, including: “Fashionable fascism: Cinematic images of the Nazi before and after 9/11” by Kylee M. Harman-Warren; “The discipline of appearance: military style and Australian flight hostesss uniforms 1930-1964” by Prudence Black; and “Battle dressed – clothing the criminal or ‘the hoddie’ in Britain” by Joanne Turney.
PS: You can follow author Annita Boyd on Twitter at @AnnitaBoyd