Shoemaker Chris Francis and the Body as Agent Symposium

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It was my extreme honor to be a speaker at the Body as Agent Symposium on October 10. The sold out crowd was rife with artists, historians and fashion history/art to wear enthusiasts and I couldn’t have been among a more receptive crowd. Presenters, hand-picked by curator Inez Brooks-Myers, included Melissa Leventon (historian), Ana Lisa Hedstrom (Shibori Master), and other artists such as Carol Lee Shanks, Chris Francis, emiko oye, Dolores R. Gray, and Suzanne Lacke. Of these, several stood out as ‘crowd favorites’ (as well as my own).

Hands down, the favorite and most impressive of the group was the well spoken (though quiet) Chris Francis. His amazing (and fast) trajectory as a wearable shoe artist are impressive. His private clients include many musicians such as members of Prince’s band, Journey, and others. Self-taught, his (completely wearable) shoes are entirely handmade and reference major artists, art movements, literature, music and others.

These included Dali, Picasso, The Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, Cubism, Dadaism, Tramp Art, Punk Music, Devo, Salvatore Ferragamo, You Can’t Win by Jack Black, and other contemporary and historical culture issues. His materials (and inspirations) are often ‘found’ objects, or inspired by his current city of Los Angeles, as well as his steel working hometown in Indiana. His background includes carpentry and “building” as he put it, with a love of mechanics. He is also a sometime painter, and has sometimes used that medium as a ‘jumping off’ point for his creations.

Opium den shoes inspired by “You Can’t Win’ by Jack Black, by Chris Francis. At the symposium, he noted that these shoes could have been worn while others ‘smoked’ the opium pipe ‘and looked up’.

These included Dali, Picasso, The Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, Cubism, Dadaism, Tramp Art, Punk Music, Devo, Salvatore Ferragamo, You Can’t Win by Jack Black, and other contemporary and historical culture issues. His materials (and inspirations) are often ‘found’ objects, or inspired by his current city of Los Angeles, as well as his steel working hometown in Indiana. His background includes carpentry and “building” as he put it, with a love of mechanics. He is also a sometime painter, and has sometimes used that medium as a ‘jumping off’ point for his creations.

Some of his shoes have architectural references, and he has toyed with including mechanical elements to the shoes (though this makes them slightly less wearable, and a little more dangerous). He is a self-identified former ‘punk’ who taught himself design and pattern making by reading and buying textbooks from a design schools curriculum (he didn’t name which school). His punk shoes included a stiff mohawk made from old broom, and actual material (flyers?) from the walls of the old CBGBs in New York.

Chris Francis, 2015. Photo by Noel Bass, courtesy of Craft & Folk Art Museum. CF: ” I’m actually trying to mimic the motions of machines rather than making shoes that just resemble a machine; I want to actually get to the motion because I love industrial design.” This pair of shoes also references his own painting, which strongly referenced cubism.

Of his Devo boots (the main image used to promote the current exhibition, the opening image here), he explained that he often sees colors and/or shapes while he’s listening to music (I believe, this is called synesthesia) and had been listening to “lots and lots” of Devo, and appreciating its mechanized sound, correlated the design to the music. I can’t wait to watch as is career and the world continues to inspire his work. His work has humor, thoughtfulness, and interesting references. All of which makes his work entertaining and aesthetically pleasing. It reminds me of the work of Gaza Bowen (especially her sculptural shoes), though I can’t quite put my finger on the ‘how’ of that feeling.

The exhibition, Body as Agent, is on view through in Richmond, CA through November 15. Chris Francis had a solo show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles that closed September 6, but additional information and images are still available online. You can hear an audio review of that show via KCRW’s design show DNA.

 

 

Salvatore Ferragamo’s 1939 wedge, the inspiration for Chris Francis’ version.
Inspired by asking himself the question “What if Ferragamo were in the studio and collaborated with me on a shoe?” by Chris Francis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Chris Francis’ boots, inspired by Devo on view at Body as Agent in Richmond, CA

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Guest Exhibition Review: Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait

5 Amy Winehouse 540px*

I’m very pleased to present a review by my friend and fellow Costume Society of America Western Region Board Member, Brenna Barks.

“Back to …” By Brenna Barks

There is an intimacy present in objects of material culture that is often lost in exhibitions and academic studies. This can be especially true of clothing. It is not only worn on the body, but reflects an extremely personal choice either to express or hide identity, to reveal or armor ones self against the rest of the world.

This feeling of intense, almost uncomfortable intimacy permeates Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait exhibition currently on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. While raw and somewhat intrusive, it is an extremely relevant intimacy as the exhibition is designed to delve behind the tabloids and the public persona of a world-famous musician, to reveal the girl her family knew, loved, and lost.

It gives the feeling of going through Amy’s belongings in the way that her family must have done after her death. In addition to various family items, it includes her clothing from childhood through the height of her career. Things that she most valued and kept, and which her brother, Alex Winehouse, and his wife, Riva (as co-curators with Liz Selby of the Jewish Museum in London) decided best represented Amy to include in this exhibition.

First among these items are her school sweater and tie worn in both grade school and the Sylvia Young Theatre School. They could be anyone’s jumper (sweater) and tie, but they are displayed so that you can see the name labels sewn into them. The objects are shown next to private photos from Amy Winehouse’s school days. These photos reveal for visitors that even a young Amy knew what her style was, and how to express it despite a school uniform.

Cynthia Winehouse (“Nan”), Amy Winehouses’ grandmother. Photo credit: Winehouse family

The exhibition suggests that much of Amy Winehouse’s unique style could be traced to her grandmother, Cynthia Winehouse. Alex and Amy Winehouse’s “Nan” was a strong, larger than life personality whom they both felt they could talk to (and smoke a sneaky cigarette with behind their parents’ backs). She married towards the end of World War II, and believed strongly in looking her best. Evident inspirations in Amy’s style are reflected in pictures of her Nan from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Clothing displayed from both Amy’s private and public life, the theme of intimacy remains. Several portraits from early in her career, taken in her home, were displayed along with a smattering of her wardrobe. The exhibition design aimed to display objects in the same way that Amy would have seen them every day on her clothes rail at home. Her brother Alex revealed that while she often wore stiletto heels and mini dresses in public, she was happiest in the tracksuit bottoms and cut off shorts she wore at home – albeit, as the home photos show, with her hair and make-up impeccably done.

The clothing is a delightful mix of this casual attire, exquisite designer scarves from Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent, Hermes and others mixed with fast-fashion and thrift shop scarves, comfortable bedroom slippers next to platform heels – including some by Christian Louboutin, all hanging alongside the thrift shop finds like a pink bowling jacket Amy had customized, or a pair of braces (suspenders) found in a charity shop. There seems to be a definite mix in Amy’s “closet” of her at-home clothes and some of the dresses she performed in, as though she didn’t have a true stage wardrobe. This revelation seems to reveal that despite her public persona she managed to remain true to her authentic self by wearing her own clothes on stage, not what a stylist or her fans wanted, but what she felt comfortable in. This variation of formal and casual helps present a more realistic picture of the woman, as any of our closets would do.

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Installation view from Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait, Jewish Museum London, July 3–September 15, 2013. Photo: Ian Lillicrapp. Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait. On view July 23–November 1, 2015. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
Amy Winehouse performing in a Luella dress at Glastonbury in 2008

A couple of her outfits are set apart. The black and white gingham, Arrogant Cat mini-dress that she wore not only in the “Tears Dry On Their Own” music video, but for several on stage performances is set apart to demonstrate just that she often wore her own clothing on stage or in videos. To quote the catalogue, this dress, combined with the bowling jacket and other casual pieces she was often seen wearing in public “reflect the grass roots nature of her style and her down-to-earth nature.” Then there is the Luella Bartley dress she sang in at Glastonbury, which was apparently too small even for Amy. This is set apart to discuss her stage persona and how even with her “down-to-earth” style, fame enabled her some designer collaborations and perks, though in the end, she preferred her own clothes, it seems.

The references to Amy’s Jewish heritage are very subtle, but that seems in keeping as it is meant to reveal the woman, rather than a perception of her. The exhibition opens with a family tree of the various Jewish, largely Eastern European emigres to London who make up the Winehouse siblings’ background, various name changes over the years as the family assimilated and became Jewish Londoners, rather than immigrants. The catalogue delves deeper not only into the family history but the history of Jewish London, a community that Amy was deeply connected to through cultural if not religious ties.

There are various objects throughout the exhibition that quietly reinforce this identity. A few pieces from her beloved Nan; photographs at her brother’s bar mitzvah, or other family gatherings at the synagogue; and a cookbook, The Book of Jewish Food by Cynthia Roden, which was a present from her brother with a message from him directing her to the recipe for chicken soup if she ever suffered “a loss of faith.” You get the impression that music was the central passion of Amy Winehouse’s life, with the large record collection, the guitars, the music school performances, but that her Jewish identity was strong and so much a part of her it didn’t need mentioning or overt displays.

The exhibition ends with a quote from Amy’s application essay to Sylvia Young Theatre School:

I want to be remembered for being an actress, a singer, for sell out concerts, and sell out West End and Broadway shows. For being … just me.”

Respectful, intimate, and engaging, Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait gives viewers a fuller picture of the iconic singer as a real person, so that you leave knowing that she accomplished just that.

The exhibition will be on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco through November 1, 2015.

Thanks so much to Brenna for this review! For anyone not able to make it to the exhibit, the Associated Press provides this glimpse of the London version of the show in 2013:

 

*Image credit: Mark Okoh, Camera Press London. Amy at her home in Camden town, 2004.

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Save the date (October 10): I’m Speaking at “Body as Agent” In Richmond, CA

I am so excited to have been invited to speak at the Richmond Art Center’s symposium, accompanying the exhibition, “Body as Agent: Changing Fashion Art.” The exhibition opens on September 12, and the symposium will be on October 10, from 10am-4:30pm.

This symposium is held in conjunction with the exhibition Body as Agent: Changing Fashion Art. The exhibition shows wearable art, still featuring chic clothing and accessories, but has added the vibrations of upcycling which enhances the visual vocabulary of artists. In addition, this exhibition of California artists further expands notions of clothing to include works of art with garment forms serving as metaphors for social, political and social issues as found in painting, photography, print making and sculpture.”

I’ll be speaking right after lunch, and space is limited, so register now by following this link:

Symposium Registration

($35 registration fee includes a box lunch.)

 Full Program

10:00 Welcome, Inez Brooks-Myers, Richmond Art Center Board Vice President
10:10 20th Century Artwear: Heritage and Inspiration, Melissa Leventon, Principle, Curatrix
11:10 Creating the Obiko Digital Archives: Documenting the Bay Area ArtWear Movement of the 1970s
and 1980s, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Artist/Shibori Master
11:40 Q&A
11:55 Lunch and time to view exhibition
1:30 Reconvene
1:35 Elizabeth Ginno’s Costume Etchings at the 1940 Exposition on Treasure Island, Heather Vaughan
Lee, Fashion Historian
2:05 Carol Lee Shanks, Artist
2:25 Chris Francis, Artist
2:45 Break
3:00 emiko oye, Artist
3:20 Dolores R. Gray, Artist
3:40 Suzanne Lacke, Artist
4:00 Q&A
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Help save the Helen Larson Costume Collection @FIDMMuseum with #4for400

4for400-corset

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.

Here is how you can help:

  • Follow the FIDM Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for details.
  • On 8/4 (TODAY!), donate $4, $40, $400, or $4,000 (or more!) by texting “MUSEUM” to 243-725.
  • Share, Like, Re-Gram, and Re-Tweet #4for400 posts from the FIDM Museum.
  • Forward this post to friends who are also interested in preserving fashion history.
  • Ask your favorite celebrities/politicians/persons of interest to support #4for400 on social media.
  • Join the #4for400 Open House (Today!) at the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles from 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. (with refreshments, raffles, music, and gallery tours).

All donations to the FIDM Museum are tax-deductible. If you would like to donate by check, make it out to “FIDM Museum and Library, Inc.” and mail it to

FIDM Museum #4for400

919 S. Grand Ave, Suite 250

Los Angeles, CA 90015

 

P.S. Follow the Twitter action here.

PSS: To the folks at FIDM Museum, I say “May the 4th be with you” 🙂

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“Alamo a la Mode: Defending the Importance of Dress” in #SanAntonio

The Costume Society of America’s 41st Annual National Conference “Alamo a la Mode: Defending the Importance of Dress” is being held in San Antonio, Texas this year, May 27-30 and I’m happy to count myself among the presenters !

My paper, “Hidden Treasures: The Importance of Dress at Turtle Bay Exploration Park” (3:20pm on Friday, May 29) will include a wide swath of history related to local, state, national, and even international fashion trends, as well as some Ethnographic and Archeological ‘clothing’  (and a good, but surprising, dose of honest-to-goodness Couture!) Also, Nadine Stewart who contributes exhibition reviews regularly to Fashion Historia is presenting “The World According to (the Men of) The Illustrated Milliner, 1900-1920” at 8:30am on Friday.

Though I’m only going to be there for one day, I’m still eager to see the presentations by my colleagues. Here is a run-down of those presenters headed out from my own ‘golden state’ of California. I hope to see you there (Seriously! please leave a note in the comments, I’d love to meet readers!)

Paper Presentations:

  • Shu-Hwa-Lin (with Li King) “Street Fashion styles influence by Chinese culture”
  • Shelly Foote “The Growth of the Ready-to-Wear Industry in California”
  • Meghan Grossman Hansen “The Michel Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive” (at FIDM)
  • Judi Diwanis “Men’s Nineteenth Century Period Patterns: Preserving the Craft”
  • Anne Bissonnette “Chemise Dresses and Embodiment Practices in France 1778-1799”
  • Sarah Woodyard “‘To her Ribbands and Lace, and Caps give a Grace’: Fashioning Gender in Eighteenth-Century Women’s Caps”
  • Kelly-Reddy “Best The Politicization of Fashion in Virtual Queer Spaces: A Case Study of Saint Harridan and Tomboy Tailors”
  • Heather Vaughan Lee Hidden “Treasures: The Importance of Dress at Turtle Bay Exploration Park”

Poster Presentations:

  • Beverly Chico “The Importance of Hats in Children’s Literature”
  • Shu-Hwa-Lin “Exploring Chinese Design theory from Dragon Robes”
  • Helen S. Koo (with Seoha Min) “Exploration of 3D Texture Design Technique with Organza Fabric”
  • Casey Stannard “Robe de Style Revisited”
  • Marie Bodtkin “The Feminine Gaze: Female Fashion Photographers from Midcentury America”

2015 Brochure Now Available
Register Here

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A True #ThrowbackThursday: CSA Western Region Archives

Costume Society of America. Go to home page.

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.

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Guest Post: “When Redskin Was the New Black” by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

When Redskin Was the New Black

By Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

Louis-Charles Desnos, “Coëffure à l’Insurgente.”Souvenir à la Hollandoise, enrichi de nouvelles Coëffures les plus galantes, 1780. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (92-B23531)
Louis-Charles Desnos, “Coëffure à l’Insurgente.”Souvenir à la Hollandoise, enrichi de nouvelles Coëffures les plus galantes, 1780. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (92-B23531)

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.

 

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Issey Miyake to Western Wear to Amazons at CSA Western Region Symposium

 

Issey Miyake’s Tattoo (1970)

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:

Photo Oct 11, 8 26 30 AMwtmkPhoto Oct 11, 8 25 40 AMwtmk  Photo Oct 11, 8 26 45 AMwtmkPhoto Oct 11, 8 26 34 AMwtmk

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The Kimono: Two Exhibits, Two Reviews

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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.

Woman’s Kimono with Large Dewdrops (mizutama), Japan, early Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1935, purchased with funds provided by Grace Tsao, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

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

Over Robe (Uchikake) with Long-Tailed Birds in a Landscape Period: Edo period (1615–1868) Date: second half of the 18th century Medium: Silk and metallic-thread embroidery and stencil paste-resist dyeing on silk satin damask Credit Line: Gift of Charles Zadok, 1959 Accession Number: 59.46

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.

Woman’s evening coat Date: 1910–20 Culture: France Medium: Silk velvet, silk satin collar, cuffs, and lining Credit Line: Lent by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mr. William B. Gannett

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.

The Exhibition Catalog (Click to purchase)

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:

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*Image: Utagawa Kokunimasa (Japanese, 1874–1944). Swimming at Ōiso, Distant Views of Mount Fuji, 1893. Meiji period (1868–1912). Japan. Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints; ink and color on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1960 (JP3382a–c)

**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.

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Fall Book Notes and Previews (Biba, Art Noveau, and the 19th Century)

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.

 

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