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.
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.
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.
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.*
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.
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).
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.
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 Pradawas 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.”
Schiaparelli and Pradais 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:
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:
Federico Chavez Sosa, Master Weaver in the Zapotec tradition
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:
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:
“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?
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:
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.”
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.”
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.”
I try to keep my personal life out off of FashionHistoria as much as possible. Today, that is simply not possible and I need to use this space to honor a lost friend and fellow dreamer, Ethaan R.A. Boyer.
He was a friend who has become an inspiration, a dream, and a legend. Though not directly related to fashion history, his work often appeared on his screen-printed t-shirts and fabric. I shared his love for design, art, and craft. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and the Santa Fe art community at large.
Update: A Memorial Fund has just been established in Ethaan’s memory to help support both his wife, and to create a lasting memory of his character, spirit and talents. More information here.
I recently received a note from a reader, describing her trouble finding information on upcoming fashion and textile exhibitions on view in California. So, I thought I’d share what I know with readers. Quite a variety of exhibits are available across the western states: exhibitions of film costumes, exhibits using old techniques in new ways (embroidery and knitting), historical design aesthetics (including ‘California’ design and the Aesthetic movement), as well as contemporary body art (tattoos!). Quite the range to choose from. Please feel free to comment if you’ve been to any of these or others you think readers should know about:
The FIDM Museum is proud to present the twentieth anniversary Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. Celebrating the art and industry of costume designers, this exhibition will present more than 100 costumes from twenty films released in 2011. The exhibition includes selected costumes from all five 2011 Academy Award® Nominees for Costume Design: W/E, Hugo, Jane Eyre, The Artist, and Anonymous. The exhibition also showcases classic film costumes from the FIDM Museum collection and the Department of Recreation and Parks, City of Los Angeles, Historic Hollywood Collection. Some of these same costumes were featured during the first Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition in 1993.
Common Places features three objects from LACMA’s permanent collection which transform printed works on paper into one-of-a-kind embroideries: a seventeenth-century valance, a cigarette silks quilt, and Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa. The resulting textiles articulate contemporary aspects of global phenomena and suggest that far from being a recent development, globalization has deep historical roots that extended into the home and everyday life.
This exhibition is the first major study of California midcentury modern design. With more than 300 objects—furniture, ceramics, metalwork, fashion and textiles, and industrial and graphic design—the exhibition examines the state’s role in shaping the material culture of the entire country. Organized into four thematic areas, the exhibition aims to elucidate the 1951 quote from émigré Greta Magnusson Grossman that is incorporated into the exhibition’s title: California design “is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions…It has developed out of our own preferences for living in a modern way.”
A world-class collection of Anatolian kilims given to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by H. McCoy Jones and his wife, Caroline, is showcased in a choice exhibition of two dozen of the finest examples. Presented in the textile arts gallery at the de Young, the Anatolian flat-woven kilims on view, dating from the 15th to the 19th century, include a variety of design types and regional styles, as well as superb examples of artistic and visual prowess. The kilims in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s permanent collection are considered the most important group of Anatolian kilims outside Turkey.
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 thread, Hu has blazed a trail as both artist and innovator, exploring the nexus between metalsmithing and textile techniques. Keen to metal’s ability to bend and manipulate light within a textured surface, Hu’s work is a testament to her sophisticated eye for weightless and rhythmic lines, translated into body adornment. Featuring more than 90 exquisite earrings, rings, brooches and neckpieces drawn from public and private collections internationally, this retrospective traces Hu’s evolution from her experimental designs of the 1960s to today’s creations full of light and movement.
The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 is the first major exhibition to explore the unconventional creativity of the British Aesthetic Movement, tracing the evolution of this movement from a small circle of progressive artists and poets, through the achievements of innovative painters and architects, to its broad impact on fashion and the middle-class home. The superb artworks on view encompass the manifold forms of Victorian material culture: the traditional high art of painting, fashionable trends in architecture and interior decoration, handmade and manufactured furnishings for the “artistic” home, art photography and the new modes of dress.
Stripes are a fundamental visual element, appearing naturally in vertical lines as trees and in manmade products of all kinds, from street dividers to ornate fabrics. The stripe is so basic it is rarely given isolated attention. This installation examines how stripes decorate and structure objects, bodies and spaces. It follows the many ways that stripes are formulated—swirling, rigid, ragged, skinny or bold—and shows how they appear in a wide range of media from a multitude of cultures. These objects help us recognize the range of meanings that a stripe holds, from a minor design feature to the sign of a significant mythic journey.