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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Researching ‘Hollywood Sketchbook’: An Interview with Natasha Rubin (Part 1)

Deborah Nadoolman Landis recently released the fantastic resource, Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration (Nov. 2012) as a follow-up to her Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design (2007). My dear friend Natasha Rubin has a marvelous essay in the book that provides depth as well as some unique insights into the research process of the book. After reading it, I wanted to know more. Natasha was kind enough to grant me an interview, which I’m pleased to share with you here:

Heather Vaughan: In your essay you note that you researched costume illustrations that had no signature or movie title: how often did that happen, and were any ‘mysteries’ solved in the book?

A Star is Born, 1954 (Costume Designers: Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg, and Irene Sharaff; Illustrator: Mary Ann Nyberg; sketch courtesy of Catena Passalacqua

Natasha Rubin: “Many mysteries were solved while researching the book. The author, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, and I began to recognize designers’/illustrators’ styles and this helped us match illustrators with designers as well as identify some of the movie titles. Deborah and I had always wondered if Jean Louis drew the sketches he signed for A Star is Born (1954). Due to issues with the production, this film had three credited designers (Jean Louis, Mary Ann Nyberg and Irene Sharaff). One day, while searching the Cinémathèque Française’s digital archive, I came across costume illustrations for additional films that Mary Ann Nyberg designed and the drawings were a perfect stylistic match.

Another huge surprise was learning that John Truscott did not draw all his own sketches. Truscott only designed two films, Camelot (1967) and Paint Your Wagon (1969). The sketches from both of these films are immediately recognizable because of their distinct style, so I was quite surprised when I came across an interview on Galactica.TV’s website with costume illustrator Haleen Holt, which credits her as an illustrator for Truscott on Camelot.

Camelot, 1967 (Costume Designer: John Truscott, Illustrator: Haleen Holt, sketch courtesy of Tom Culver)

I immediately contacted her and she came over to our offices at UCLA and identified—to the best of her memory—which drawings were hers and which were Truscott’s. Ms. Holt has spent over 35 years working in the entertainment industry as a costume illustrator and assistant designer, yet no collector knew her name and no museum or archive identified her in their records. In addition, Ms. Holt noted that Judy Evans (who went on to become an Emmy-winning costume designer) painted many of the aged, speckled backgrounds of the Camelot sketches. Really, if there was one illustrator I thought could not be copied, it would have been John Truscott. In the interview, Haleen recounts the difficult task she had in mimicking his style. This experience was eye-opening in terms of research and what is still unknown. Whether the lack of information was intentional on the part of the designers or the studios or deemed unimportant at the time varied from production to production and sometimes sketch to sketch.”

HV: The bibliography and resources sections of this book are extensive, though mostly primary resources. You also make note that this field has “little academic research, we are establishing the foundation of a field of study.” Who else would you say is at the forefront of historic film costume illustration research?

Paint Your Wagon (1969) via icollector

NR: “First, I must acknowledge the extensive research of Susan Perez Prichard, who wrote Film Costume: An Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 1981). Ms. Prichard’s book provided the cornerstone of cinema costume history, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her. Sketch collectors and Golden Age fans have also been helpful.

While there are extensive collections of costume illustrations at archives and museums such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the British Film Institute (BFI), the Cinémathèque Française, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Deutsche-Kinemathek and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), there has been very little scholarship on their holdings. At the Cinémathèque Française Deborah was told she was the only non-museum employee who had ever come to look at the collection.

Additionally, these sketches are rarely, if ever, exhibited. Scholarship takes time and requires financial support, which has become more and more scarce. As the internet continues to compile information, more and more is available online. It would have been virtually impossible to publish this book even ten years ago, just tracking down the sketch collections would have been prohibitive, much less the text research. Though too late for our research on Hollywood Sketchbook, the Theater Library Association published Documenting: Costume Design (2010), edited by Nancy Friedland, which will provide guidance to future scholars in the field.

Also, Lynn Pektal wrote an excellent book called Costume Design:Techniques of Modern Masters (Back Stage Books, 1999), but it focuses primarily on theater designers. Many of today’s working illustrators are much more savvy about getting their work seen, whether through their own websites or book publishing; it’s fantastic that there will be a record of their contribution.”

Come back next week for a continuation of my interview with Natasha Rubin, and be sure to check out the preview of Hollywood Sketchbook from HarperCollins.

Natasha Rubin (L) with Deborah Nadoolman Landis (R)


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W: The First 40 Years

Edited by Stefano Tonchi, W: The First 40 Years* is an oversize tribute to the magazine’s history of documenting the fashion world.

Organized into three main chapters, “Who,” “Where,” and “Wow, ” It packs in as many photographs as is possible-sometimes as many as eight images to a page. The design of the book includes a few neat bells and whistles, including a inserts at the front of each chapter: a fold-out insert of every magazine cover reproduced in a very small thumbnail, an insert on W gossips and a third on parties.

The “Who” chapter contains photo-essays of the best-known celebrities of fashion from the last 40 years beginning with multipage spreads of  Jackie O, and Madonna. As the chapter continues the categories and individuals seem more arbitrary:  Society Queens, Big Spenders, The Art Crowd, The Artists, Covergirls, Summercampers. Basically, this chapter covers designers, models, and trend setters (like Diana Vreeland and Anna Wintour): Sometimes with multi-page spreads, and sometimes sharing page-space with other groups/individuals.

These do no appear to be organized in any particular order, which I found problematic. That said, don’t miss the three pages devoted sole-ly to a half-naked Brad Pitt or the single image of a pre-fame Lady Gaga circa 2007, when W interviewed her during her ‘starving-artist’ phase.

The “Where” is of less interest to me, as it highlights the fashionable vacations, travels, and locations featured in W. But the “Wow” has some of the real meat. This is where some of W’s most groundbreaking, provocative and controversial fashion photography is featured (including the famous shoot of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, on a publicity tour for The Smiths, are shot ‘family style’ – just as their relationship was starting). Photographers included are Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Steven Klein, Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Tim Walkter, Nick Night, Juergen Teller and more.

Despite my qualms with the organization and layout – this is recent fashion photography history at it’s best, and fills in some of the gaps left after Nancy Hall Duncan published History of Fashion Photography in 1979.

*I realize my images in this post aren’t great. For better quality images, check out Amazon’s “look inside” feature.


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Lee Alexander McQueen: Love Looks Not With The Eyes

For thirteen years, Anne Deniau was the only photographer allowed full and complete access to the backstage antics of Alexander McQueen’s haute couture shows.  She has just published a HUGE book documenting twenty-six of couture collections – from 1997 to 2010, Love Looks Not with the Eyes: Thirteen Years with Lee Alexander McQueen.

Portrait of Lee Alexander McQueen from Deniu's introduction

Now iconic dresses are shown moments before hitting the runway’s for the first time including those in McQueen’s last show, presented shortly after his tragic suicide. This book is a unbelievably gorgeous tribute to his genius: a documentation of his work, his process, and his ephemeral and theatrical fashion shows.

McQueen and Shalom Harlow for "#13" (September 1998, London), before she was spray-painted by robots onstage.

Including 400 color and black-and-white photographs in large format (10 X 13) in seeming high-definition, Love Looks Not with the Eyes presents his growth and development as a designer. It includes portraits of McQueen (formal and informal), as well as an introduction by the photographer, with quotes and comments from Sarah Burton, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss, Philip Treacy and others.

Before Bjork famously wore this dress it was presented by McQueen in "Voss", Semptember 2000 in London.

The photographs themselves vary from intense “High Fashion” photographs, to commercial looking images, to more personal moments almost accidentally captured on film. It’s a remarkable way to see McQueen’s clothes – details, full shots, back shots. Things one doesn’t normally see in the fashion press. It’s a hugely helpful resource to anyone doing research on McQueen. With Love Looks Not with the Eyes, you can easily  fall in love with McQueen all over again or for the first time.*

The cuddle shell dress, by McQueen as captured by Deniau for "Voss" in 2000 (London)

For more on McQueen see my post from 2010 at Worn Through.

*Happily, Love Looks Not with the Eyes is on sale through amazon at 40% off the original $75 price tag.

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Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty (Volume 1) Brief Review

Edited by UC Davis professor Susan Kaiser (along with Efrat Tseëlon of the University of Leeds and and Ana Marta González of the University of Navarra); this publication – part book and part journal – seeks to further the Fashion Studies debate with both interdisciplinary and international slants. Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty is a well-illustrated journal that includes exhibition reviews, articles and editorials by a dozen different authors on such topics as “Revisioning the Kimono” (Sheila Cliffe); “Russian Immigrant Women and the Negotiation of Social Class and Feminine Identity through Fashion” (Alexandra Korotchenko and Laura Hurd Clarke); and “Auction Prices of Fashion Collectibles: What do the mean? (Diana Crane).

Crane’s piece on fashion as collectible object was a particularly interesting editorial, especially this:

Aesthetic criteria for evaluating fashionable collectibles and fashionable clothing in general are underdeveloped, as indicated in a recent review of scholarly works on fashion (Gonzalez 2010). Most scholarly discussions of fashion theorize the characteristics and effects of fashion that is in fashion, rather than the aesthetic criteria of fashion collectibles. in fact, most such discussions ignore the possibility and implications of fashion collectibles. Analysing fashion collectibles is different from recounting fashion history. The latter tends to be a description of a succession of creators and styles.” (145-146).

Her piece also discusses the role of ‘celebrity endorsement’ in the valuation of fashion collectibles; the roles museums play; as well as some brief background analysis. It will take me a while to get through the other articles here, but they are valuable and informative works. If you’ve read other articles here, I’d love to know your thoughts on them.



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That Medieval Bra Business…

Lengberg Castle, East-Tyrol: 15th century linen “bra” in comparison to a longline-bra from the 1950´s

I don’t know how many of you read the CSA “Communities for the Study of Dress and Fashion Forum” Listserve, but there was quite a lively discussion last week about the now well-known 15th century ‘lingerie’ found in an Austrian castle. The most commonly cited article being from the Daily Mail, By Dalya Alberge. Much of the discussion on the forum was about the vocabulary being used: “bra,” “lingerie,” and other phrases normally used to describe twentieth and twenty-first century undergarments (not to mention hyperbole and sensationalistic writing). Listserve writers complained about the loss of educational opportunity, as well as the lack of contextualization for these pieces.

This University of Innsbruk article on the find, provides a little more of the cut-and-dry information of what was found, but here again also only uses modern-day terms to describe the objects (aside from a passing reference to a “Mieder” (German for corselette).

A woman hits her husband and puts on his underpants while he winds yarn in an engraving by Israhel van Meckenem, late 15th century.

The most informative article however, published a few days ago in the BBC History magazine, goes into considerable depth and provides a lot more context. That might be because it is written by Beatrix Nutz, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology, University of Innsbruck (She is writing her thesis on the textiles from Lengberg). For example, Nutz explains:

There are some written medieval sources on possible female breast support, but they are rather vague on the topic. Henri de Mondeville, surgeon to Philip the Fair of France and his successor Louis X, wrote in his Cyrurgia in 1312–20: “Some women… insert two bags in their dresses, adjusted to the breasts, fitting tight, and they put them [the breasts] into them [the bags] every morning and fasten them when possible with a matching band.”

Nutz’s long, in-depth article is full of citations, quotes, and references – proving much more educational and satisfactory to this historian. She even provides the more accurate term, “breast bags” to describe the bra-like undergarments, and helps to fill in a lot of the gaps left by the more sensationalized articles. Hopefully, her work will seep into the general consciousness, despite its lack of sensationalism.

Feel free to leave your comments below.

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Schiaparelli and Prada: The book


While the Met’s big gala for Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations has come and gone, the curatorial work and content of the show is the real treat for fashion historians, clothing and costume academics, and enthusiasts alike. 

For the past two weeks I’ve been thumbing through the beautifully produced book that accompanies the exhibition. Curators Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda have paired with New Yorker writer Judith Thurman to provide some incredibly well-honed thinking on the two designers, explaining the process for the show; the structural construct behind it; and providing new analysis of the two vastly different and yet remarkably similar designers.

Schiaparelli and Prada was developed, in part, to take advantage of the recent addition of a significant number of Schiaparelli pieces acquired from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. Curators and staff had long wanted to put together a ‘conversation’ exhibition between two designers, and modeled the show on Miguel Covarrubias’s “Impossible Interviews” fictional series done for Vanity Fair in the 1930s. The ‘book within a book’ design concept provides space for the two designers statements on similar subject matter to create what the curators deem (appropriately enough) “a faintly surreal conversational tone.”

From "The Surreal Body" (Schiaparelli -right; Prada - left)

Schiaparelli and Prada is divided into seven sections examining varying types of ‘chic,’ (hard, ugly, naif) and ‘the body’ (classic, exotic, surreal) explored by the two designers, as well as a section called ‘waist up/waist down.’ The premise reminds me of a comparative literature class I once took in undergrad that focused on William Faulkner and Toni Morrison where the final project was to enact a fictional debate between the two authors. The result was a deeper and more nuanced understanding – and the same results are achieved with Schiaparelli and Prada.

Through this we learn how dis-similar the two views are on fashion as art (Schiaparelli: Pro; Parda: Con); yet how similar their interests were/are in narrative prints, the artistic avant garde, tromp l’oil, as well as both good and bad taste (perhaps the ‘bad taste’ element inspired the Mark Jacobs fiasco). I’ve yet to finish it, but I’m intrigued but what I’ve encountered so far.

For more of the visual comparisons made by the book, I’ve included some sample page-spreads below:





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The Future of Tradition: Weavers of Oaxaca, Mexico Connect Their Future with Their Past


On Thursday, May 10 at 12pm, The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco will play host to the Chavez Santiago family of the “famed weaving village of Teotitlan de Valle presents its story of this ancient art form, a family, a culture and preserving a way of life across generations.” The New York Times travel writer Freda Moon included them in her article “36 Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico” in January (they also have a wonderful slideshow that includes some great images of weaving).

Panelists for the Commonwealth Club talk include:

Caracol pattern rug dyed with pecan shells by Federico Chavez Sosa, Master Weaver, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico (Via Facebook)

The Chavez Santiago family uses a “combination of traditional patterns and weaving techniques with modern colors and sensibilities.” The family also works to support their local community and the traditional Zapotec culture.  I’m particularly interested in their commitment to using only 100% natural dyes in their work, which seems both forward-thinking and historically accurate.

Doors open at 11:30am, with the program beginning at noon. Tickets are free for Commonwealth Club members and cost $20 for non-members and $7 for students (with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased online here. Hope to see you there!

For a quick taste of the talk, here is a short film featuring Federico Chavez Sosa:

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Fashion & Sustainability by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose

After attending a CSA Western region event back in 2008 (see my review of “Fashion Conscious” at UC Davis), I became interested in the ethics of producing the fashions that eventually become fashion history. The conversation about the impact the fashion industry is having on our environment continues to grow and change, and this is being reflected in the cannon of literature covering the topic. Fashion & Sustainability by Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose, smartly uses the second half of their book to discuss “ideas that are transforming the fashion system at root into something more sustainable.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear the words “fashion system,” I immediately think of Roland Bathes. However, here are what Fletcher and Grose have to say on the subject when considering sustainability:

Betabrand's commuter cycling pants with reflective pockets and hems (a San Francisco Company)

“However much we innovate and act to improve the sustainability credentials of a piece of clothing, the benefits brought by these changes are always restricted by the behaviour of the person who buys it. Producing a garment with lower-impact fibre or better labour conditions, while important, changes the overall system very little, for these ‘better’ fibres and pieces are made into the same sorts of garments, sold by the same retailers and then worn and washed in the same way as before. Part Two of this book explores new ways of engaging with the process of sustainability in fashion, starting at a point that acknowledges the profound and multiple challenges inherent in bringing together sustainability, the fashion industry and our economic system based on growth.”

Fletcher and Grose go on to explore nine different concepts: Adaptability, optimized lifetimes, low-impact use, service and sharing, local, biomimicry, speed, needs and engaged – all of which present creative ways that various designers and innovators are thinking about the design and use of clothing. Not exactly Roland Barthes – but perhaps a bit more practical?


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Top selling new Fashion History books

I was wandering around Amazon yesterday and discovered a handy list that tells you exactly which new or about-to-be-released books on fashion are already their top sellers. Not only does it indicate what’s about to be a hot topic, it also helps fashion book-horders like myself save money (pre-ordering through Amazon can save you as much as 40% off the regular price).  Anyway – here are just a few of the current top sellers:

Beaton in Vogue By Josephine Ross

Available: April 1, 2012

Book description: “Cecil Beaton was a man of dazzling charm and style, and his talents were many. At the age of twenty he sent Vogue an out-of focus snap of a college play, and for the next half-century and more he kept readers of the magazine up to date on all the various activities of his career. Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue, convinced Beaton to abandon his pocket Kodak, and his resulting photographic work earned him a place among the great chroniclers of fashion. Witty and inventive, he also designed settings for plays and films—and for himself—and as a writer he was an eloquent champion of stylish living. This book includes articles, drawings, and photographs by Beaton dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. Beaton loved Vogue, and his contributions testify to the wit, imagination, and professionalism that he and the magazine always had in common.”

Knitted, Knotted, Twisted, and Twined: The Jewelry of Mary Lee Hu

By Stefano Catalani, Jeannine Falino, and Janet Koplos

Available: March 1, 2012 (though Amazon seems to be out of stock)

Book description: “Over the past 40 years, Mary Lee Hu has affirmed her distinctive voice in the world of jewelry with her elegant, voluptuous creations. Using wire the way hand weavers use threads, Hu has blazed a trail as both artist and innovator, exploring the nexus between metalsmithing and textile techniques, often through the recovery of historical precedents from an ancient past, and inspired by her innate aspiration to perfection and her stubborn curiosity. Hu’s apparently effortless and graceful creations, resulting from twining, weaving, knotting, and braiding, investigate both the possibilities and limits of wire by melding fiber art and jewelry, structure and pattern, light and line. Knitted, Knotted, Twisted, and Twined features exquisite earrings, rings, brooches, and neckpieces drawn from public and private collections internationally. The book traces the evolution and refinement of Hu’s processes and skill from her earliest experimental pieces in the late 1960s–capturing the spirit of a time when craft and lifestyle were so passionately intertwined–to the confidence and movement of her contemporary creations.”

Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

by Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda

Available: May 29, 2012

Book Description: “Although separated by time, Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli—both Italian, both feminists—share striking affinities in terms of their design strategies and fashion manifestoes. Presented as an intimate “conversation,” Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations aims to tease out formal and conceptual similarities between the two designers. Striking photographs and insightful texts illustrate the parallels between the two, including their preferences for interesting textiles and prints, eccentric color palettes, and a bold and playful approach to styling and accessories. Schiaparelli, in the 1920s through 50s, and Prada, from the late 1980s to today, exploited the narrative possibilities of prints, sought out unconventional textiles, played with ideas of good and bad taste, and manipulated scale for surrealistic outcomes. Contemporary art plays a major role in the work of these inventive women—Schiaparelli in her famous collaborations with Dali and Cocteau, and Prada via her Fondazione Prada. Blending the historic with the contemporary, the catalogue brings the masterworks of both designers together into a grand conversation between the most important women fashion designers to ever emerge from Italy.”

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