Guest Book Review: Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion

Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America

Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors, eds.

294 pp., illustrated, Bloomsbury, $29.95

Guest book reviewer, Jennifer Heath

There are moments I think we’re beating this horse to death. I worry that we are still far too fixated on the hijab (veil) and on Muslim women’s dress, though we should be turning our gaze toward other, more pressing issues that profoundly affect women: e.g., poverty, war, and environmental degradation. Will we ever be content to let women dress as they choose without judgment or comment?

Islamic Fashion and Anti-Fashion: New Perspectives from Europe and North America is an essential collection that fulfills a great deal of scholarship. It features sixteen essays covering history, anthropology, sociology, and fashion studies.  Editors Emma Tarlo and Annelies Moors have written an excellent introduction, particularly in its discussion of how dress affects religiosity and piety, how fashion relates to assimilation and creativity, and the politics of so-called Muslim dress or “the performative power of the headscarf to make identity claims and political demands,” as Rustem Ertug Altinay puts it in his chapter “Sule Yüksel Senler: An Early Style Icon of Urban Islamic Fashion in Turkey.” Tarlo and Moors remind us that Muslim women are habitually perceived as shrouded and silenced and that their coverings often seem to prove they are merely “agents of barbarism,” as Canadians A. Brenda Anderson and F. Volker Greifenhagen write in “Covering up in the Prairies.” Yet within the bounds of “proper” Muslim dress, there is vast, sophisticated sartorial ingenuity and, as Tarlo calls it, “the agency of the hijab.” (Unfortunately, too much sensational focus on the hijab also robs women of their agency.) The editors write that the “book grows out of awareness of the discrepancy between public discourses…and actual developments…pointing to the need for greater understanding and more nuanced interpretation.” Indeed.

Altinay’s chapter about Turkey pushes the book’s self-ascribed Europe boundaries, but Banu Gökanksel and Anna Secor bridge the gap with “Transnational Networks of Veiling Fashion Between Turkey and Western Europe.” Many Europeans are ethnic Turks, many whose families arrived generations ago as guest workers. Maria Curtis addresses Turks in the United States with “Closet Tales from a Turkish Cultural Center in the ‘Petro Metro’, Houston Texas.” Altinay offers essential historic ballast (with kudos to Audrey Hepburn), for one thing, helping to explain how the headscarf was enthusiastically re-inaugurated into a society that was mandated by its leadership to be secular.

Most interesting are those essays about unfamiliar, rarely noticed practices and challenges, like  Daniela Stoica’s “The Clothing Dilemmas of Transylvanian Muslim Converts” or Katarzyna Górak-Sosnowska and Michael Lyszcarz’s “Perspectives on Muslim Dress in Poland: A Tatar View,” a study of the Tatars’ distinctive, traditional uses of the headscarf as they encounter a new (and often insistent) interpretation of Islam.

Annelies Moors’ “Fashion and its Discontents: The Aesthetics of Covering in the Netherlands,” Synnøve Bendixsen’s  “‘I Love My Prophet’: Religious Taste, Consumption and Distinction in Berlin,” and Connie Carøc Christiansen’s “Miss Headscarf: Islamic Fashion and the Danish Media” look to the entanglements of belonging, social conflict, politics, gender, and sexuality (among other things).

I once asked Reina Lewis – who, like Leila Karin Österlind with “Made in France: Islamic Fashion Companies on Display,” examines merchandising in “Hijab on the Shop Floor: Muslims in Fashion Retail in Britain” — whether the trend among Euro-American women combining trousers with dresses was related to the beautiful salwar kameez, a customary costume in South and Central Asia. She thought it more likely to be a retro-hippie craze. I’m not so sure, because, as we see in various chapters of this book, and in Tarlo’s previous work, contemporary Islamic fashions, increasingly distanced from indigenous clothing, are so modish, attractive, elegant, fun, and streetwise that even young non-Muslim women could find them irresistible. But would they also wear hijab?  Well, that might, at the very least ─ at last ─ render all this who-wears-what fuss moot.

Jennifer Heath is an independent scholar, award-winning cultural journalist, critic, curator, and activist, the author or editor of eleven books of fiction and non-fiction, including On the Edge of Dream: The Women of Celtic Myth and Legend and The Echoing Green: The Garden in Myth and Memory (both from Penguin/Plume, 1998, 2000), A House White With Sorrow: A Ballad for Afghanistan (Roden Press, 1996),  The Scimitar and the Veil: Extraordinary Women of Islam (Paulist Press, 2004), The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Lore, and Politics (University of California Press, 2008), Land of the Unconquerable: The Lives of Contemporary Afghan Women (University of California Press, 2011), co-edited with Ashraf Zahedi, and also with Zahedi, Children of Afghanistan: The Path to Peace (University of Texas Press, 2014), as well as The Jewel and the Ember: Love Stories of the Ancient Middle East (Smashwords E-Book Publications). She came of age in Afghanistan, founded Seeds for Afghanistan in 2001 and in 2003, the Afghanistan Relief Organization Midwife Training and Infant Care Program, later International Midwife Assistance. Her many touring exhibitions include Water, Water Everywhere: Paean to a Vanishing Resource, The Veil: Visible & Invisible Spaces, Black Velvet: The Art We Love to Hate and The Map is Not the Territory: Parallel Paths-Palestinians, Native Americans, Irish.

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Holiday Book tease: “Hollywood Costume”


Already called out for being “Gift-Worthy” by the Huffington Post and the Associated Press, today’s review is just a teaser for Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Hollywood Costume is the lavishly illustrated coffee-table book and exhibition catalog from the Victoria & Albert exhibition of the same name. It frequently juxtaposes film stills with the physical costumes. The above costume was designed by Travis Banton for  Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra, 1934. The image below shows Colbert wearing the dress (and showing off much cleavage) For more on the costumes in this film, see my article at Worn Through from 2010.

Another spectacular costume featured in Hollywood Costume (along with installation shots and an essay by Sam Gatley on dressing the mannequin) is this costume for Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) in My Man Godfrey, 1936 by Travis Banton (Page 214-5, Gown and duster jacket designed by Travis Banton. The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum).

My Man Godfrey happens to be one of my favorite movies (hello, William Powell!). The image of this dress is gorgeous in this two-page spread, but seeing all those glass bugle beads in motion in the film is just absolutely stunning. The scene below features the dress, but is also a fairly important point of the plot: (pardon the ad at the beginning of the clip):

For more wonderful insights, be sure to check out the book, Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

*Page 137  The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

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North State opportunities for Fashion History

My new diggs, in Redding, CA are providing me with a great opportunity to explore and learn new elements of fashion and its history in a part of California that isn’t well documented. This past weekend, I went to French Gulch Old West Days (about half an hour North of where I live). A few of the activities sounded intriguing – “Mountain Men Exhibits” and “Craft Booths” as well as re-enactors in costume. Many of the historical and educational institutions here were closed for the day, because they planned to be in attendance there – including the Shasta Historical Society and Shasta County Library.

I’m eager to explore the resources of both places, along with the costume collection at Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Below, are a few of the images I dug up from the Shasta Historical Society’s website. Can’t wait to dig in and learn more!

Bland, Carrie Tuggle sitting in her wedding dress (no date given, though she was born in 1877) Shasta Historical Society
Full length photo of woman in wedding dress holding bridal bouquet. Reverse: "Virginia M. Wood Redding - married William A. Banigan - Anderson July 14, 1923" Shasta Historical Society.
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Victorian Fashion History (including Embroidery) on Sept. 15

The Costume Society of America, Western Region has an exciting and unique opportunity for members and guests alike: Costumes, Campfires, and Candlelight on Saturday, September 14 at Ft. Vancouver, WA (just a few minutes from Portland, OR).

Seamstress Brigid Nelson lets down the hem of a dress. The dye that produced the color -- chrome orange -- was formulated in the early 1800s.

This full-day event will include a private tour of the Costume Center, a visit to historical Oregon City, (“the end of the Oregon Trail”), a demonstration of Victorian Fish Scale Embroidery, and much more. The registration deadline is August 30, 2013. CSA members cost is $35.00,non-members $40.00, students receive discounts.

I’ve just registered – and hope to see you there!

More Information: Costumes, Campfires, and Candlelight



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“Punk:Chaos to Couture” A crowd-sourced review

McQueen Bubble-wrap ensemble (2009-2010)

During my very busy trip to New York last week, I was able to squeeze in visits to two fashion exhibitions. FIT’s RetroSpective (briefly reviewed here), and the Met’s Punk: Chaos to Couture.

Much has already been said about the Met’s show – what it has, and what it doesn’t have, what it should be, and what it is not. But many of those reviewers were allowed access to the show in a special media-only preview, without the ‘common man/woman’ present. One of my favorite parts of seeing a fashion exhibition is hearing the reactions of lay-people to shocking designs. Punk: Chaos to Couture, is nothing if not a showcase of extreme styles.

The introductory text reminds viewers of the key elements of punk that have been adopted by couturiers, notably the “sexual and political energy” and the “do it yourself legacy.” Curator Andrew Bolton also acknowledges that “the ethos of punk is at odds with couture” and that “punk caused a breaking of barriers between production and consumption.” This introductory text was read by only a handful of people while I was there – a Wednesday early afternoon. The exhibition drew people from many different walks of life: young, old, men, women, New Yorkers and visitors. It wasn’t overly packed, but it wasn’t empty either.

Facsimile of CBGB bathroom, New York, 1975 Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

As I came upon the first major ‘wow’ of the show, the recreation of the infamous CBGBs bathroom (with toilet seats up and cigarettes on the floor), two twenty or thirty-something blonde girls snarked, “Really?” and wandered off towards the first gallery of couture. Sure, at first glance, one might not immediately see the connection to fashion. But later rooms reveal that the distressed, deconstructed, graffiti-ed bathroom is easily referenced in the organization of the show – and seems to provide the guiding outline for the rest of the show.

As I walked past the requisite Westwood t-shirts (the 1%ers), saw the quote from journalist Caroline Coon that called Malcolm McLaren the Diaghilev of punk, and the recreation of the Seditionaires shop, I came to the Rodarte knitwear in the “Clothes for Heroes section. I am a sucker for couture knit and crochet, and this 2008 red and black dress over tights (in synthetic, itchy-looking yarn), caught my eye. An adult woman supervising some pre-teens  said to her charges, “I could see you in something like that” – perhaps as a way to engage them. But I wondered about the seemingly innocuous comment.

I was engrossed in the DIY hardware section – Zandra Rhodes, Versace, and Givenchy, with the always-clever Moschino (but secretly I wondered where the Donna Karan hardware dresses were). Focused on my own thoughts in this long hall, I didn’t overhear much (especially given the loud disruptive beeping that was surprisingly audible over the equally loud music and video-loops).

D.I.Y.: Bricolage Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I immediately liked the D.I.Y. Bricolage featured in the next room, with the softer textured pink walls, and equally softened clothes. As I was noticing the differences from the last room,  I heard an older man say “I like this room, I like this lighting.” I noticed others nodding and relaxing here – though the clothes had volume, there was less volume in the music, videos, and lighting – as the gentleman pointed out. In particular, I liked the fluffy Pugh trash bag dresses (2013-2014), and the Margiela jackets. As I noticed the Moschino plastic shopping bag dress, I wondered if that might be a historic piece now that plastic shopping bags were being banned in California (and perhaps elsewhere soon). I crushed hard on the McQueen Bubble-wrap dress (2009-2010) as I left the room.

Designs by Ann Demeulemeester

The graffiti room held more famous McQueen’s, and beautiful painted Dolce and Gabbana ball-gowns (2008) but I was intrigued by the Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester. As I was checking those out, an older woman in a wheelchair said “these are fantastic” and had her assistant push her closer so that she could see more detail in the dark room with dark walls.

Karl Lagerfeld for House of Chanel, 2011

The next room (D.I.Y. Destroy) somehow reminded of the Vivienne Westwood show at the V & A, and of the Gaultier show at the de Young. As I walked down the lines of static mannequins, I came upon what turned out to be the signature piece of the show.

Some young girls guffawed out loud at the sight of the distressed Chanel suit from 2011. I had mixed feelings that I couldn’t nail down. I could see the humor and irony of finely-made couture being torn to shreds, but there was also something very wrong about such fine craftsmanship being distressed to meet a passing trend. It seemed desperate and didn’t match the well-established Chanel tradition.

Ultimately, that might be my feelings about the whole show – clever, but trying too hard. I don’t know – I’m still sorting it out. Interestingly, the people whose comments I heard were all positive – I like this, that’s beautiful, I could see wearing this. What I don’t know is what those people thought of the show overall. Did you see the show? What did you think?

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Fashion Exhibitions in NYC: RetroSpective at FIT

Yoshiki Hishinuma, evening dress, white and fuchsia polyester, cage crinoline with nylon, Fall 1996, Japan, gift of Yoshiki Hishinuma.

My trip to NYC this week is jam-packed with book related things, but I did manage to take in the RetroSpective exhibition currently on view at the Museum at FIT (May 22-November 16, 2013).

Curated by Jennifer Farley, with textiles organized by Lynn Weidner and accessories by Colleen Hill, RetroSpecitve is my favorite kind of fashion exhibition: It’s focus is on historical representations of fashion throughout history. Though small, it is well-informed and carefully selected to show how the history of fashion is a constant source of inspiration for designers, and has been for hundreds of years. This is not something new, as some would suggest. This small but significant exhibit covers 250 years of revivalism, “from the 18th century to grunge.”

Elsa Schiaparelli, evening dress, black and bronze shot silk taffeta, circa 1939, France, courtesy of Mrs. Michael Blankfort.

The culture of revival is presented here with beautiful examples from FIT’s collection of couture: ensembles, under-structures, dress-forms, textiles, and accessories.  It is supported by two video’s from British Pathe, highlighting revivals of the 1920s style in the 1950s, and also of monastic dress in the 1940s.

After an introductory image depicting the changing silhouette of fashions by Ruben Toledo, the exhibition is grouped by style or trend, and includes sections on hoops, bustles, panniers, and 1830s style puffed sleeves, pin-stripes, and more. One of my favorite aspects of this show, was the connections draw between designers of different time periods. Cat Chow  juxtaposed with Claire McCardell, Paco Rabanne paired with Yohji Yamamoto, a beautiful  1951 Balmain evening gown is paired with an 18th century robe a la Anglaise, and so on. Some of my favorites surprised me (as I don’t typically go for anything post 1980): a beautiful 1980 YSL evening gown of changeable purple taffeta with puffed sleeves (a la 1830s), a 1996 Yoshiki Hishinuma hooped gown (mixing eastern and western cultures, picture above), and not surprisingly, an Elsa Schiaparelli bustle gown from the 1930s (seen at right). Shoes, handbags, undergarments, upholstery, and other textile designs round out the exhibit and make for a rich experience.

If you happen to be in New York anytime soon, it’s well worth a visit.


P.S.: Did you know that there was a Fashion Archive at the British Pathe Website?

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Go behind the scenes at Pageant of the Masters with CSA Western Region

The Costume Society of America, Western region is adding a bonus event for 2013 (and this is your one place to find out about it!) The Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach is  “ninety minutes of ‘living pictures’ – incredibly faithful art re-creations of classical and contemporary works with real people posing to look exactly like their counterparts in the original pieces.”

Join us behind the scenes at Pageant of the Masters on August 18

Celebrating it’s 80th anniversary, Diane Challis Davy, director of the Pageant of the Masters, notes “We’ll have Vermeer, Gainsborough, Michelangelo, Gerome, Seurat, Rodin, Norman Rockwell. Designers for both stage and screen look to paintings and sculpture for historical information and inspiration. I thought it would be a new twist for the Pageant to take a look back at the work of the Masters that inspired great works of cinema.” And, of course, the show will once again conclude with its traditional finale, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

To be held on August 18, those who register for the CSA program will be treated to:

  • a talk by Pageant Costume and Headpiece Director and CSA Member, Mary LaVenture
  • a performance of The Big Picture (a salute to classic art that inspired legendary filmmakers)
  • a post-performance backstage tour
Download the REGISTRATION FLYER here, to sign-up.  Discount tickets are available to those who register by June 8 (final deadline is July 12).

Below are some photos from past years of the show to entice you:

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Southeastern European Folk Dress: A CSA Event with Dr. Elizabeth Barber

Earlier this month I had the rare pleasure of taking a Costume Society of America (CSA) Western Region tour of  Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe: A History in Layers, the current exhibition on at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, with one of the world’s foremost historians on the earliest known clothing. Dr. Elizabeth Barber is an expert in archaeology and textiles who has been become well known for  her research on 20,000-year-old clothing, archaeological finds, and historical connections,  since earning her PhD from Yale in 1968.

Only twenty CSA Western Region members and guests would fit on this exclusive tour, and it was a pleasure not to be missed! We not only learned a tremendous amount about the early history of clothing in Southeastern Europe (everything from Albania to Croatia to Romania and all points in between) – but we learned how the forms and symbols connected through history.

The exhibition, tour and talk were not only informative but also beautiful. The garments on display were the best of the Fowler’s collection of folk wear from the 20th century, beautifully dressed, displayed, and organized. The detail in the handwork in each and every piece was breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and taken in all at once is mind-boggling. I could have stared at each piece for a lot longer just to look at the details. One of the best parts of the exhibition is the attention to detail: Many of the mannequins have complete ensemle -d own to the shoes and socks and up to the headdress.

The exhibition is up through July 14th and is breathtaking. For more on the CSA Western Region tour of the exhibition, watch for the September issue of the CSA Western Region newsletter. To be the first to know about upcoming events and tours through CSA Western Region, Join here.

Dr. Barber has also produced a wonderful book documenting her research and the exhibition (I bought my copy on the spot): Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe.

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Researching ‘Hollywood Sketchbook’: An Interview with Natasha Rubin (Part 2)


If you enjoyed the brief look into  Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration from last week, you’re going to love “Part II” of my interview with Natasha Rubin, who contributed a fascinating essay to this book:

Heather Vaughan: Who was your favorite person to interview for this project?

Natasha Rubin: “Deborah interviewed the vast majority of the living illustrators for the book; I contacted some of the new guard (e.g. Oksana Nedavniaya, Phillip Boutte, Jr, and Christian Cordella) for quotes. All of the interviews are pretty compelling. Julie Weiss is great to listen to because she has so many wonderful stories, I mean, she worked with Bette Davis!

Sketch from "Shampoo" by Pauline Annon on Page 95: "Courtesy of the Designer," (Via Los Angeles Times)

The interview with designer Anthea Sylbert about working with her illustrator, Pauline Annon, was fascinating in many respects. She had worked with her for several years, but knew so little about her personal life. Pauline is still alive, but didn’t want to be interviewed; she’s a fine artist and the Hirshhorn Museum in DC has collected some of her work.”

HV: Was there one sketch that you wish you could have included that you could not?

NR: “We were able to include almost every sketch we wanted, except a few due to various reasons. In addition to museums and archives, we were lucky to have so many generous lenders including collectors, designers, illustrators, and also the cooperation of auctions houses such as Christie’s, Profiles In History, and Heritage Auctions.”

HV: How has yours and Deborah Landis’ affiliation with UCLA changed the scope of the research you’ve been doing?

NR: “The support of David Copley has given us the resources to cope with the extensive research demands that all of these projects require. UCLA has provided us with a space to work, an academic community, and of course the UCLA name acknowledges the Center’s credibility and lends prestige. It has also increased our visibility in the costume design community, both nationally and internationally. The Center is now a clearinghouse for information and personal stories about costume design history. Every day I field more requests and calls of interest; it’s very exciting!”

Professor Deborah Landis, Founding Director of the David C. Copley Center, Teri Schwartz, dean, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, donor David C. Copley, and Nadja Swarovski, head of communications for the company founded by her grandfather.

HV: What can you tell me about how the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design at UCLA, and what it will be able to provide for interdisciplinary historians researching this subject? What sorts of materials and resources does it provide?

NR: “The David C. Copley Center for Costume Design is in the process of digital archiving, creating a visual database of film costume illustrations, first-person accounts, and scholarly research placing costume design in the center of a century of cinema storytelling. We also continue to offer opportunities to learn more about costume design for film through panels and lectures. We welcome questions from scholars and those interested in learning more about costume design history.”

Many many thanks to Natasha for being so generous with her time, and for providing many of the images in these two posts. To learn more about the history of  film costume illustration be sure to pick up a copy of Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration.


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