In case you missed the latest episode of Portlandia (on IFC), be warned that it is a marvelous example of history and popular culture repeating itself, and repeating itself again. Apparently, the 1890s are a growing trend in Portland and this episode satirizes the mutton-chop wearing, meat-grinding, modern pre-industrial men and women of Portland. I’ll admit, these things are all pretty hip here in the SF Bay Area too – I know a good deal of canners, knitters, beard-growers and straight-razor-users.
Cheers to costume designer Amanda Needham, who won an Emmy for her work on the show last year, for creatively capturing this unique and comedic version of the steam-punk(ish) trend (though it’s admittedly more utilitarian and less glamorous)! Enjoy the clip if you haven’t had a chance to see it:
For those who are enthusiastic about the field of costume design (whether you are an aspiring or working costume designer or you just love movie costumes), there’s a key publication you should be aware of: The Costume Designer. Published by the Costume Designers Guild (local 892), it is the professional union for working costume designers in Hollywood. The current issue celebrates the 25th issue published by the organization and includes a number of articles of interest.
Of course January is Oscar prep season, so many of the ads are promoting designers such as Sandy Powell, Sharen Davis, Deborah Hopper, and Jany Temime (among many others) – asking those voting in the Academy to consider them for the Best Costume Design Oscar. Two special articles include an excerpt from a book on footwear, and a short piece called Beauty in the Details that highlights Drive, The Playboy Club and W.E. (about Wallace Simpson). The best thing about this magazine? It’s free and you can download it as a pdf here:
The Paley Center for Media will host the next iteration of this substantial auction, and if you’re in the neighborhood you can go see some of the remaining collection before it is forever divided up amount collectors and enthusiasts (ends today!)
Earlier this week, a Boston Globe article reviewed the book, noting in part: “Mears has produced a fascinating study. . . . She knits together her revealing interviews and draws on the work of sociologist C. Wright Mills, feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon, and other social critics. Yet the greatest strength of “Pricing Beauty’’ is Mears’s own story, one that she artfully threads throughout the book.”
Last week, on Slate.com, writer Libby Copeland took a longer look at the book and the trend of academics writing on the beauty ‘industry’. Copeland notes, Pricing Beauty “offers a mostly grim picture of what’s endured by those trying to make a living off their looks. Models are utterly dispensable, in Mears’ telling: They labor at the mercy of inscrutable bosses, lousy pay, and punishing physical requirements. And for most of them, that’s how the job will remain until they retire at the ripe old age of, say, 26.”
A third article, in the Boston University Arts & Sciences website titled “Defining Beauty” looks specifically at Mears discussion of race in the fashion industry – and interestingly, how it can determine editorial vs. catalog modeling opportunities.
Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful by Daniel S. Hamermesh does not look at modeling specifically, but rather examines how physical appearance affects earning power across a broad spectrum of occupations. And it seems to be getting equal attention from the media at large – though not always positively. Hamermesh is the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, and professor of labor economics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. More importantly, he’s a labor economist who is well-known for his research on “pulchronomics” – which Entertainment Weekly is now calling a ‘buzzword”. Pulchronomics means, essential, the economics of beauty.
Hamermesh’s work, comes from a very different place than that of Mears (he studies the numbers, she studies people) and a recent Forbes Magazine article by Susan Adams called “Does Beauty Really Pay?” seems to find fault with his methods – saying in part “Hamermesh’s reasoning puzzled me, and I scratched my head at how he could pull precise percentages out of old data and what seemed like rough calculations.” She calls his work rambling, quirky and confounding. But also acquiesces that she found the book thought-provoking and illuminating. I’m rather curious to know how his fellow economists are receiving his work – and if anyone is checking up on his numbers. For those who might want to read an excerpt, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a short one in August.
Some of Hamermesh’s other papers on beauty and economics include:
“Changing Looks and Changing Discrimination: The Beauty of Economists,” Economics Letters, December 2006
“Beauty in the Classroom: Instructors’ Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity,” Economics of Education Review, August 2005 (with A. Parker).
“Dress for Success: Does Primping Pay?” Labour Economics, October 2002 (with M. Xin and J. Zhang).
“Business Success and Businesses’ Beauty Capital,” Economics Letters, April 2000, (with G. Pfann, J. Biddle and C. Bosman).
“Beauty, Productivity and Discrimination: Lawyers’ Looks and Lucre,” Journal of Labor Economics, January 1998 (with J. Biddle).
I’ll be very curious to see how scholarly fashion studies publications – such as Fashion Theory – respond to this new work.
The second installment in The Burning Man Series: Nevada’s Desert Dress comes to us from Christine Kristen (aka Lady Bee), who provides here an overview of the various costumes that have appeared at Burning Man between 1993 and the present – giving us a much needed history of how festival dress has changed and grown over the years.
LadyBee was the art curator for Burning Man from 1999 -2008, lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man, as well as managing the theme art and the Archives, among other duties. After earning an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago, Christine spent four years in Africa and Jamaica as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching art and working with woodcarvers.
I first attended Burning Man in 1995, when the population was relatively small, at 4000 attendees. Costumes were shown off in the Sunday fashion show, which is a tradition that continues to this day. In the early years of the event, virtually all the costumes were handmade and quite original – these were the days before fairy wings and fake fur.
Hence the costumes were quirky and sometimes included performance, like Kimric Smythe’s Java Cow. (image 1) On Sunday morning at dawn, a chariot driven by a cow-skull headed human drove up to the man and black coffee was offered to those up and about that early. In 1996, the year of Helco, devil outfits and all their variations were popular. The annual theme often inspires fantastic costumes; the Fertility theme of 1997 produced Gaia and her court of fruits and vegetables. (image 2)
As the event has grown, handmade costumes have been outnumbered by store-bought fashions, which have now coalesced into several distinct looks including fake fur bikinis, leggings and cat-eared hats; floor length fake fur evening coats, and Steampunk-inspired leather outfits with vests, leggings, corsets, gauntlets, goggles and top hats. (image 3) On the extremely mundane side, we see the shirtcockers – men wearing only a t-shirt, and the guys in Dr. Seuss hats, jeans and t-shirts. Nevertheless, you’d be hard pressed to find an event with more fabulous, original and diverse costumes. The “burner” look has spawned a cottage industry of costumers who create these looks and sell them at trunk and special pre-event sales. There is some criticism of this trend as its seems to go against Burning Man’s D.I.Y. aesthetic – why not create one’s own costume? But, in all fairness, not everyone has the time, skills or inclination to do so, and wearing these off-the-rack costumes might be a radical step for some. In addition, the makers of playa costumes and clothing are able to make or supplement their living via community support.
Still, you’ll see hundreds of amazing handmade outfits at the event; as the technology has evolved, so has its incorporation into fantastic programmed EL-wire costumes, which contain moving images like birds flying, figures dancing, and repetitive patterns. (image 4) Group costumes are popular, like the herd of giraffes from South Africa, and the Salvador Dali painting that formed when a group of men stood together, sections of the painting displayed on the backs of their tuxedos. (image 5-see above) Stilt-walking is popular at the event, and has inspired wonderfully whimsical elongated costumes. (image 6)
The fire performers have a particular look, dark and apocalyptic. Standard materials that are prolific at the event, including zip-ties, caution tape, plastic spoons and forks, and duct tape get incorporated into costumes in extremely clever ways. Political views are expressed, individuals made fun of, and social trends played with in costumes. I can’t think of a better place to debut a costume than at Burning Man, where you’re guaranteed an appreciative audience of thousands – currently upwards of 50,000 – who will likely want to know more about you – and your outfit.
Currently, Christine is the Global Arts Curator for www.newZonia.com. For the past two years she has been building a global creative community that will participate in the philanthropic economy being set up in newZonia, where artists can sell work while generating income for nonprofits, promote their causes, and collaborate with others to promote art and philanthropy.
I’m pleased to present the first in a new series for the month of August, that will focus on the Burning Man festival (which begins August 29). Each Friday, a different guest writer will present their point of view on this annual festival in the desert.
Jan Loverin, Curator of Clothing & Textiles, Nevada State Museum's, Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center
First, I’m happy to present Jan Loverin, Curator of Clothing and Textiles Nevada State Museum’s Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center who happily provides some context for the festival, for those who are unfamiliar. Loverin has a B.A. in Biology from Whittier College and a M.S. in Home Economics from the University of Nevada-Reno. She has worked (part time) at the Museum since 1985. She has written numerous articles and presented papers nationally and internationally. She is also a long-time member of the Costume Society of America.
Nevada once again becomes a mecca for art and community with the 25th year of the Burning Man Festival. For the past 21 years this event has been held on the Black Rock desert, north of Reno and has become one of the largest social gatherings in the northern hemisphere.
Nevada has historically been recognized as the home to massive gold and silver mining, legalized gaming, prostitution and world class entertainment. Now we are known for the spectacular, awe inspiring, Burning Man Festival and the community of Black Rock City. This temporary community of over 40,000 people inhabits the playa for seven days, creating a unique society based on a gifting economy, radical self expression and self reliance. This phenomenon has dramatically changed the look of our state.
Northern Nevada, particularly Reno, becomes a haven for the thousands of visitors who pass through on their way to the Black Rock Desert, seven miles past the small town of Gerlach. When the event begins we watch as the highways become crowded with fully packed and loaded vehicles heading toward this desert community and when it is over, we again watch the exodus of very dirty and dusty vehicles as people leave and go back to their daily lives.
While there have been many articles written about the concept of Burning Man, I am here to tell you that it is wonderful, freeing, transformative, dirty, fun, entertaining, richly rewarding and a place to shed your current persona and adorn yourself HOWEVER YOU WANT…… as long as it’s not current normative dress.
That’s right, costumes are an essential part of being a “Burner.” While theoretically, it is a place for total freedom of expression, it is not without some elements of conformity. Feathers are in(See note 1 below), boots are in; wings, stilts, crinolines, and ballet tutus are in; nudity and body paint are in; utili kilts are popular, as is wearing underwear as outerwear. Headgear and various forms of artistically created hairstyles (usually created to reduce the effects of wind and dirt) are essential and costuming for night is illuminated with elaborately constructed ensembles of el wire, glow sticks, fiber optic fabric, and accessories of fire.
Burning Man has once again put Nevada on the worldwide map. Burners are a part of our culture…with pre and post decompression events throughout the year, and exhibitions of art at local museums, and it has created a sizeable impact on our economy. Burners are as much a part of Nevada as showgirls, strippers, and Las Vegas night life. Burning Man has also has created a profound effect on us Nevadans. For a state that has been known for its conservatism, it has opened our eyes. Yes, you can create a society and tear it down 7 days later, leaving no trace. Yes, you can create a community of bartering(see note 2 below) and exchange and have it work. Yes, you can create magnificent art and have the sky as a backdrop. Yes, you can dress up and put on a new and different outfit to become new and different person. Yes, Burning Man works for Nevada.
As the curator of clothing and textiles at the Nevada State Museum, I am fascinated by the creative genius of Burning Man and in my opinion, this festival has embraced the natural beauty of Nevada’s desert landscape as a place of freedom, survival and community.
Thanks so much to Jan for giving us this brief introduction to the festival (and the Burning Ban Series). Tune in next Friday for another installment with a different point of view.
Clarke, Rachel. “Radical Conformity: Fashion Trends at Burning Man.” Popular Culture Association National Conference, San Francisco, CA, 2008.
Nelson, Geoffrey. A Tribe of Artists: Costumes and Culture at Burning Man. Exhibit Catalog Nevada Museum of Art, 2007.
*Image via LibreInk Blog Photo by Frederic Larson of the San Francisco Chronicle.
1. $teven Ra$pa. Arts Advocate & Special Events Producer for Burning Man wrote me this afternoon to make sure people understand that “Feathers–especially feather boas– are not “in” on the playa. They are on our list of things NOT to bring to Burning Man because they create MOOP (matter out of place) as they shed. In fact, feather boas can be confiscated by our Gate crew to avoid littering the playa with possible loose feathers, so it isn’t good to encourage people to show up with feathers.”
2. $teven Ra$pa. Arts Advocate & Special Events Producer for Burning Man also wants to make sure everyone understands clearly the culture of giving at Burning man: “Jan mentions “bartering” and the emphasis of Burner culture is gifting–giving something without the expectation of return. It is that spirit of giving that permeates everything at Burning Man: from self expression to the generosity of theme camps to the massive works of art.”
Thanks so much to $teven for pointing these subtleties out!
Jennifer Heath, a UC Press author (The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics and Land of the Unconquerable) recently turned my attention to contemporary artist Mary Tuma. Having only seen a photograph of her ‘tall fashions,’ and knowing that her work stemmed from in interest in liberating women, I became intrigued and wanted to know more.
A native of Oakland, CA she earned a BS in Costume and Textile Design from University of California – Davis.
Her artists statement notes:
“My work addresses the issues of the transformation of the body and the spirit through the use of clothing forms applied to found objects or placed within a contextual environment. The use of old fabrics and found objects is important in creating a work or environment that evokes a feeling of loss, or distant memory.”
Not surprisingly, given her interest in crochet and sewing, her work reminds me of Ruth Asawa’s basket-like sculpture. Heath filled me in a little bit more on her recent work, Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice: “[It’s] huge. . . but based on the fashions of Marino Fortuny, the kind of Greek revival dresses that helped liberate women from corsets. To Mary, these are meaningful in terms of the Arab Spring (she is half Palestinian). The Three Pillars just went to a show in Kuwait. . . . Mary teaches fibre arts and fashion at UNCC.” Mariano Fortuny’s designs (worn by the likes of Lillian Gish and Isadora Duncan) and their influence on Tuma’s work seemed a unique connection. Happily I had a chance to ask Tuma about her work directly:
Fashion Historia: What is the significance of fashion history in your current piece, Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice?
Mary Tuma: “Fashion is a human rights issue. One can see this clearly in the current debate over the right or requirement of women of Islamic faith to wear head scarves. Mariano Fortuny’s work has always stood out in my mind as a great example of the fashionable un-corseted natural body of woman— a celebration of unaltered human form. For me, his work speaks volumes about woman’s right to exist in her natural form apart from cultural shackles. Of course Fortuny’s Delphos dresses (on which I based formal aspects of my piece Three Pillars) were inspired by ancient Greek statuary, which serves as a reference to a culture involved in early experiments in democracy. So, for that reason, the Fortuny model seemed very appropriate for a piece about the current “Arab Spring,” which is what Three Pillars addresses. For me, democracy is also a feminist issue, and is meaningless if it’s not. As the Arab World changes, it is my hope that women will step up and take an increasingly integral role in forming new governments and creating policy. So Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice (which also spells LUV by the way!) is my way of hoping to inspire feminism in the face of changes and to inspire women to stay in the dialogue.”
Fashion Historia: How did your education at UC Davis help prepare you for your work as an artist ?
Mary Tuma: “My education at UCD Design prepared me in many ways to function as an artist working in fiber materials and methods. Apart from learning to work with dyes, garment forms, etc., I took some very important classes that directed my thinking. History of Costume (with JoAnn Stabb) was one of these and it was where I first learned about Fortuny and his amazing work.
I have been fascinated since then with the mystery of the permanently pleated silk. Three Pillars was my first experiment in playing with permanently pleating silk after a student brought me an article from the web on how to “fake” it! The other two very influential classes were Textiles of the World 1 & 2…. These three courses have influenced my direction with my work in a sort of constant way. I did go on after earning my BS in Textile and Costume Design from UCD to study Women’s Fashion area at FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] and Costume Design for Theater at Humboldt State University. Of course all of these experiences contributed to my knowledge base and have given me a unique perspective from which to work. My MFA is in Fine Art from the University of Arizona, where I studied Fibers with Gayle Wimmer. It was at the University of Arizona where I began to feel the difference between Art, Craft and Design and where I was able to negotiate between these areas to develop my practice.”
I’m thrilled to be able to share this unique use of fashion history in contemporary art. I think Mary Tuma’s work a new iteration of the 1980s ‘art to wear’ movement (which holds strong ties to California). I’d love to have your thoughts and comments on her work.
For more on Classicism in fashion see the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s online exhibition Goddess (2003).
*Image above is of a Mariano Fortuny Delphose dress (1930) via the MET, CI (2009.300.2606, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the estate of Mary Boocock Leavitt, 1974)
One sometimes finds art and fashion in strange places. A few days ago, I discovered this unique collaboration between a scientist and a silk batik artist. It plays into my personal interest in both hand-crafted objects and the environment. The exhibit opens tomorrow with a special reception, remarks by the artists and a book signing:
“Our Expanding Oceans: The Blending of Art and Science”
This unique exhibit features more than 50 hand-dyed silk batiks, each inspired by aerial and satellite imagery as well as conceptual perspectives of our environment, and permeated with color to produce stunning visual effects. Developed as a comprehensive exhibit by artist Mary Edna Fraser and scientist Orrin Pilkey,* the collection explores major elements of global climate change, from melting ice sheets to rising seas.
Newly open at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco is Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now ( from June 17-October 23, 2011) featuring 65 re-interpretations of the the traditional Korean textile Bojagi (Bo-Jah-ki), or ‘wrapping cloths’ by both Korean and international artists. It’s similarity to the western craft of quilting and patchwork, I was immediately drawn to the idea of this exhibition. According to the museum’s press materials:
“Traditional Bojagi was made from leftover pieces of cloths or papers, which were elaborately embroidered together and was a primarily non- professional activity, engaged in by women in a folk art tradition. Function determined the form and the result often created beautiful abstract patterns. Bojagi were made to protect and to decorate items and gifts wrapped inside them as alternatives to boxes and chests. Bojagi stored precious objects, clothing, bedding and covered food in the home. Although this folkloric custom continues in the country, today, the craft of Bojagi has had a great influence on contemporary artists from Korea and around the world. Wrapping Traditions: Korean Textiles Now brings together contemporary artists from Korea, and ten other countries that are inspired by this Korean folk art.”
Guest curator Chunghie Lee, adjunct faculty in the textile department at the Rhode Island School of Design, graciously agreed to answer a few questions I had for her about the exhibit:
Fashion Historia: Do you have a favorite piece in the show?
Chunghie Lee: “There are three that stand out to me the most. One conventional piece exemplifies what bogaji is and the other two because of the artist’s vision to push the meaning of bogaji and interpreted it in a whole different light. Interestingly, all three artists have completely, different backgrounds – one textile, one architecture, and the other a painter. Being Korean, and having a textile background Sora Lee’s ‘Harmony 2010’ work encompasses the traditional Samsol technique with all hand stitching, bring the calmness and serendipity atmosphere in life – 79” by 79” off-white work (raw silk). The work silently speaks of the patience and endurance that the no-name women might have lived in the past.
The second piece is done by a recent RISD student of mine, Kuzina Cheng. Having just completed her sophomore year at RISD, she pushed and challenged herself, making a 60 inch by 12 feet piece with pocketed flaps. The pockets fluttered when they were filled with wind and her piece stretched across to “wrap” the canal in Providence. The canal was where she found peace in her hectic school year, to her it was her precious place. She challenged to wrap something, which essentially cannot be wrapped or kept – water and wind. Upon first glance, one may not recognize the piece as bojagi inspired, but she has stayed true to the meaning behind bojagi in an innovative way. I was impressed by her thought process and that at such a young age, she had accomplished something so big.
The third artist focused in more on the unique characteristics of bojagi. She was very interested in the use of transparent fabrics and the use of light. Catherine O’Leary transformed bojagi into something functional and fashionable. Having a painting background, she works intuitively and picked up on the bojagi characteristics immediately. Her pieces are light and look mysteriously dimensional, as if able to float away if you didn’t grasp onto it tightly. These dresses are unlike anything ordinary, they move with the body and have voluminous bottom making one feel like they are in a fairytale. She is a natural talent, does as she goes, and because of that none of her pieces are the same and all one of a kind.”
Fashion Historia: Is Bojagi something you have a close personal connection with? Was it something you grew up around?
Chunghie Lee: “Contrary to what one might think, I did not grow up around bojagi. Even having been a fiber artist for most of my life (my undergraduate B.F.A. was furniture design and much later year M.F.A. on fiber-weaving and dyeing), I was oblivious to this cultural tradition. I was first exposed to it by my mother-in-law when she handed me down her precious clothes. At such a young age of 20, I didn’t realize the importance of it. It wasn’t until I was invited to come to the US as part of the Korea Metal and Fiber Artist exhibition in 1991. The tour lasted for 3 years and went across the US and parts of Canada. During the tour, I was unexpectedly asked to give a presentation about something Korean related. I quickly did some homework and looked into bojagi. As I researched into this deep rooted Korean tradition, I learned about the nameless woman and the male dominated society that Korea use to be. I had heard stories about it before, but never paid much attention. After the presentation, I have been working closely with bojagi. In 1999, I was lucky enough to be presented with another amazing opportunity, RISD had asked to me teach at their school. Speaking about it was one thing, but teaching it uncovered my passion for this Korean cultural tradition. Soon enough, without realization, I found myself in the middle of it all – I was spreading awareness about bojagi not only in the US but all over the world including from Canada to Europe and of course, Asia. It took me by surprise when I came across an article of myself being described as the bojagi ambassador. I think that was when it all hit me. Since then, I have been invited to shows and have held my own exhibitions. One of my major curated shows was held in France, in conjunction with the European Patchwork Meeting in Alsace, France, where I showcased works of bojagi, joomchi (Korean traditional textured paper) and quilt. To my surprise, people from nearly 50 countries attended the show. I still have two more one person show in this year, one in London and the other in Utania in the UK. Bojagi keeps bringing me unexpected surprises and countless opportunities, I cannot imagine my life without it now.”
Thanks so much to Chunghie Lee and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art for their help with this post. I’d love to hear from those who attend the show (open through October 23, 2011), for reactions and commentary. Below, are a selection of the 65 pieces included in the exhibit (Click one for a slideshow):
Premiering tonight on PBS at 8pm is Craft in America, and from the trailer it looks like it will offer some inspiring stories on handcrafted objects and their role in culture. The companion book is available for sale : Craft in America: Celebrating Two Centuries of Artists and Objects