Guest Exhibit Review: Bill Cunningham’s Facades at New York Historical Society

 

Currently on view at the New York Historical Society (through June 15, 2014), “Bill Cunningham: Facades” is a photography show from the now iconic photographer and the results of an eight-year project to document the architectural riches and fashion history of New York City which pairs models in period costumes with historic settings. Nadine Stewart, Fashion Historian, has graciously provided a review here for those not able to see the exhibit in person, or for those looking for some analysis of the show. Thanks again to Nadine!

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you should do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.”

— Bill Cunningham

Today Bill Cunningham is an icon. Readers of the New York Times can follow his analysis of street styles and social life every week. He was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary. He’s followed fashion tirelessly both in New York and abroad for 35 years. When he began, it was a lonely quest. Now bloggers copy his work every day. None of them have the knowledge or wit to equal him.

“Facades” covers an early period in Cunningham’s career. It’s a smaller, quieter exhibit across the park from the glory of the Charles James exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yet its images resonate just as strongly. The pictures were taken in the late 1960s when he was transitioning to his special brand of fashion photography from earlier work as a milliner and fashion journalist.

Grand Central Terminal, New York City, ca. 1968-1976 By Bill Cunningham, Gelatin silver photograph, New-York Historical Society, Gift of Bill Cunningham

Beginning in 1968, Cunningham shot a series of 88 gelatin silver prints that matched iconic New York architecture with historic fashions–a range that stretches from the eighteenth century to the 1950s. His model for this eight year project was his neighbor in the Carnegie Hall Artist Studios, Editta Sherman, a fellow photographer who became his partner and muse. Together they scoured thrift shops, flea markets and auctions for vintage clothing. One find, later photographed in front of St Paul’s Chapel, was an eighteenth century man’s coat and vest scrounged for a secondhand shop on Ninth Avenue. In the end, they used 500 outfits at 1800 locations.

In 1968, New York was considered a decaying hulk. Historic buildings like Penn Station were being torn down to make way for an uncertain new future. Preserving the past was still being debated. Some city planners felt that the only way for the city to develop was to cut its link with the past and tear down older buildings. Cunningham clearly disagreed with this approach, a feeling that comes through in the loving way he photographs each building, finding angles a less informed observer would have missed. Editta was the perfect muse for this project. A striking image of Editta in a graffiti-covered subway car dressed in Edwardian splendor, sums up the grittiness of the time, but Editta sits proudly, no giving in to the squalor around her. Her presence is powerful as it is in every picture. She modeled with flair and style—a 56 year old muse who threw herself into each pose whether she was portraying a Victorian grande dame, a flapper from the 1920s, or a swinging mini-skirted girl from the 1960s. Cunningham used his background as a milliner to provide her with hats that punctuate the picture and echo the architecture in the background—like the towering fur toque Editta wears in a close-up in front of the Guggenheim.

Though the pictures were taken 37 years ago, they show a clear relationship between architecture and fashion that informs us today. They are not simply historical dress-up. Each shot shows an understanding and a love of the city. They have a freshness that contemporary fashion photography with its Photoshopped perfection often lacks.

Editta Sherman died in 2013 after she and Cunningham were evicted from Carnegie Hall, their home of 60 years. This exhibit gives us a vision broader than fashion history or iconic New York architecture. It gives us a sense of what type of spirit it takes to survive in a dystopian time.

–Nadine L. Stewart

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Punk Style: An Interview with Monica Sklar

My colleague Monica Sklar, has just published a new book, Punk Style (available as of January 16, 2014; Bloomsbury) and I’m happy to say she agreed to an in-depth interview for Fashion Historia.* Sklar obtained her PhD in Design-Apparel Studies from the University of Minnesota. She has taught several college-level courses in dress and retailing, worked in art and design museums/galleries in multiple capacities, and has published widely on the subject of subcultural style.

The following are her answers to a few key questions to help understand the history and evolution of Punk style.

FashionHistoria: How do you define Punk style? What do you think are the key elements of Punk fashion?

Monica Sklar: Punk remains an esoteric and amorphous concept. So it is difficult to define and to categorize its components as punk or not punk. In Punk Style, I deliberately allowed interviewees and all sources to self-identify as punk, rather than coming into the project with preconceived parameters.

In the beginning, punk-styled apparel was self-made or pieced together through bricolage. It was available for purchase only through specific channels, like small boutiques and fetish retailers, ads in fanzines, or punk events. From its 1970s origins through its various present-day incarnations, punk is commonly rooted in those who are in some way disenfranchised from society. Self-identified punks may be critical of mainstream art, politics, popular culture, consumerism, lifestyles, or sexual and social mores. Punk dress was rooted in a desire to be ironic and anti-hegemonic; it reinvented mainstream styles to critique society via bricolage and appropriation.

Many elements of punk dress, such as combat boots, studded belts, and vibrantly dyed hair, have become iconic and stable in popular culture, yet symbolism and meanings have changed throughout time. Not all of those who self-identify as punk share the same perspective on sub cultural dress.

The Bromley Contingent: (Sex Pistols fans), Anti-clockwise. Debbie Juvenile, Siouxsie, Phillip Salon, Spunker Severin, Simon Barker, Soo Catwoman, Linda Ashby, Sharon Hayman (?) (via punk77.co.uk)

The stereotypical image is of a sneering youth wearing something akin to a leather motorcycle jacket, tattered black band logo T-shirt skinny-fitting bondage pants or ripped jeans, combat boots, studded or safety pin metal accessories, and vibrant body modifications such as heavy cosmetics and/or a colored Mohawk. These signifiers are rooted in fashion designs, sub cultural trends, and popular street styles that have been incorporated into punk dress since the 1970s. However, they may not tell a complete story of punk style. It would go on to include the items from hardcore and Goth and skaters and hip hop too.

When asked to describe punk dress in general, many self-identified punks interviewed for Punk Style responded with the phrase “I guess” and other qualifiers and pauses, suggesting they were trying to put themselves in the shoes of someone else looking in on the punk scene; they were trying to describe what an outsider might see. While their answers did support the idea that punk has an iconic look, they also reflected the understanding that this look is often merely a caricature, presenting only a narrow viewpoint. In contrast, they answered with confidence to the question “describe punk dress as you personally have worn it” and other related inquiries into their own punk styling.

Today, punk style has a forty-year history, with a host of influences and a myriad of characteristic pieces that make up the look, as well as flexibility to include new components. Origins of the key aspects of punk style—which include the color black; heavy accessories; boots; clothing that is tattered and manipulated; piercings; tattoos; unnatural hair colors; facial hair; band logos; and jeans, T-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts—have become fragmented and fractured through various subgenres under the punk umbrella.

The most important thing is that it’s punk by the wearers definition

FH: In terms of the history of fashion, what do you feel are the most important origins or touchstones for punk style; it’s influencers, icons, and predecessors?

Vivienne Westwood dressed as Margaret Thatcher for Tatler Magazine

Sklar: As I describe in Punk Style, New York and London in the 1970s were areas of great impact on what would become the aesthetic aspects of punk style, however it was developing in many places at the same time and has continued to evolve. In London Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were innovators, introducing looks that would come to epitomize punk, through their boutique. Social groups, such as the Bromley Contingent, explored a host of exciting clothing styles as well. In New York, musicians like Richard Hell and the Ramones were crucial and derived their look from street styles. Tish and Snooky of Manic Panic had the first punk clothing store in the US and would go on to start their widespread line of cosmetics/hair dye. Scene leaders within geographic regions or new related movements such as hardcore, riot grrrl, and cyberpunk, for example, would change the visuals to suit new motivations and their dress would be widely copied. An increase in subcultures interrelating with punk, such as skinhead and rockabilly, brought more styles into the fold.

Punks styles’ predecessors were social, art, design and political waves including the Situationists, Lettrists, hippies, beatniks, greasers, mods, Dadaists, surrealists, and even mid century modernists, and the arts and crafts movements. Tech progressions have strongly impacted its current incarnations. Basically whoever incorporated DIY and “status quo challenging” ideas into their style could be said to have helped shape punk style.

FH: How do see Punk style manifesting now and in the future?

Sklar: Maturation and accessibility are two major benefits and complications of punk style today. Original punks of the 70s and 80s are now parents/grandparents, homeowners, leaders in their professions, though many are burned out or deceased. Yet new adolescents declare themselves punk daily, and those two groups have limited experiences in common. But, punk can be related to both of them in different ways. The style reacts over time to have new cultural relevance and individuals have changing budgets, bodies and lifestyle.

As technology has increased access to one another and to products, more people can partake in acquiring punk style. Yet, some would argue it then lacks the intimacy and commitment that once was a key factor in developing the “look.” I think the future will see more normalization of iconic punk styles such as colored hair, tartan plaids, body modifications, and new ideas coming into the fold to continue to differentiate that in-the-know punk person from the rest. Some would say that the normalization means it is watered down if it lacks shock and commentary. Others would argue that mainstream acceptance of more diverse appearances is a “win” for a battle punk was fighting against repression and conformity.

Many thanks to Monica for taking the time to answer these questions – please feel free to leave yours in the comments section below!

*Some may remember that I am a former contributor to Monica’s blog, Worn Through.

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Weekend Reading: Smithsonian’s 101 Objects that Made America

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Just a few days ago the new issue of Smithsonian Magazine landed in my mailbox. The entire issue is dedicated to the 101 objects (out of the 137 million in the Smithsonian’s collection) that are the ‘most important’ in American history and culture (arguably, of course). More than a few objects of clothing and textiles made the cut.

Each is accompanied by a small contextual essay and an illustration (usually a photograph of the actual object, but occasionally illustrations are included).

Neil Armstrong's Space Suit (1969)

Some of the essays are written by surprising people. For example, Martha Stewart penned the essay on the Singer Sewing Machine and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wrote the essay on her own judges robe.

The essays are available in part or in full online, and grouped by theme: Wild America, Discovery, Voice, Power, Invention, Community, Happiness, America in the World, and Freedom. It’s a good issue and a unique look at the history of the U.S. The weekend’s approach is a good excuse to seek out the issue, sit down and read it (especially those for those with historical leanings).

What articles of clothing would you have included that they left out?

Neil Armstrong’s Space Suit (1969)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Cesar Chavez’s Jacket (c. 1990)

Justice O’Connor’s Robe (1981)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Singer Sewing Machine (1851)

Levi’s Jeans (1873)

Aids Quilt (1987)

Ruby Slippers (1938)

Michael Jordan’s Jersey (1996-97)

Muhammad Ali’s Gloves and Robe (1974)

World War I Gas Mask (1917)

U.S. Olympic Hockey Jersey (1980)

Star Spangled Banner (1814)

 

 

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

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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

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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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