Domestic Affairs: Designing Hollywood


Between the ages of about three and five my absolute favorite film was Singin’ In The Rain. To this day I will still watch the ‘Moses Supposes’ segment to cheer myself up at the end of a bad day. I have sometimes wondered if this is not the subconscious origin of my adoration for all things art deco. So, needless to say when I saw the original costume sketches for Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In The Rain amongst the hundreds of sketches at FIDM Museum’s Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection, it elevated an already astounding exhibition to one of my personal, all-time favorites.

Christian Esquevin

Christian Esquevin (exhibition guest curator) at the opening of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

Featuring rare Hollywood costume sketches from the collection of author Christian Esquevin (Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label), FIDM Museum supplemented the beautiful sketches with pieces from their own collection including costumes, Photoplay magazines, and a rare, unfinished pattern for an unknown Katherine Hepburn film. These additions elegantly contextualized the sketches by showing the costumes from conception through fitting to finished garment, but also by placing the stars and what they wore in the surrounding social context of Hollywood’s golden age.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Unknown Film (1950s) Designer: Unknown Actor: Debbie Reynolds (b. 1932) Wool broadcloth, plaid silk twill & silk faille Hollywood Costume Collection, Recreation & Parks, City of Los Angeles FIDM Museum L88.1.11AB


Historical Epic Diane (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956) Designer: Walter Plunkett (1902-1982) Actor: Marisa Pavan (b. 1932) as “Catherine de Medici” Silk velvet, silk satin, silk chiffon, ermine, faux pearls & rhinestones Gift of Maria Cole FIDM Museum Collection 2005.845.6AB/C


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


Cotton muslin pattern pieces created for a costume worn by Katharine Hepburn, RKO Radio Pictures, 1930s.

However, the real star of the exhibition remained the sketches from Mr. Esquevin’s collection. FIDM masterfully integrated these pieces from their own collection without overwhelming or upstaging the actual sketches. They instead emphasized the various sketches: period costumes across from a collection of period film costume sketches, etc.

Mr. Esquevin’s collection is nothing short of exquisite. I confess to being very surprised at the detail and beauty of many of the sketches. I have always loved fashion illustration — but this exhibition fully revealed the difference between fashion and costuming illustration. Fashion illustration is quick, simple, capturing shape and colour more than detail. The sketches in this exhibition were amazingly detailed, and yet each sketch is uniquely the designers’ own. Without having any prior knowledge of the subject, by the end I could identify an Edith Head sketch purely by her drawing style, before looking at the film name or the tombstone.


Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925) Designer: Harold Grieve (1901-1993) Actor: Ramon Navarro (1899-1968) as “Ben-Hur” Pencil, watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.7

Easter Parade

Easter Parade (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , 1948) Designer: Irene [Irene Lentz Gibbons] (1900-1962) Actor: Unknown Watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.33

The exhibition space is small, and yet the exhibition itself is not. FIDM masterfully used the space to flow well and to display so many sketches without overwhelming the visitors. Sketches are grouped to emphasize different aspects of costume design throughout Hollywood, whether it is an emphasis on the period or genre film throughout the history of film, or to examine the studios, or particular designers. This breaks up the collection into segments that are easier to take in, while also giving a more complete picture of what costuming for Hollywood is and entails.


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

The other great point of this exhibition is that each of these sketches — whatever it became, whoever drew it, wore it, or commissioned it – is a work of art in and of itself. I attended the exhibition with only a mild curiosity, and left with a new admiration of costuming for the art it is. And with a new perspective on at least one film I have loved all my life.

Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection will be on display at the FIDM Museum main campus until December 20, 2014. It is definitely worth the visit.

Have you been to Designing Hollywood? What did you think? Do you have anything to share on the subject of costuming, or sketches? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. As always, if you have an event or exhibition you would like covered, feel free to share it in the comments or to email me.

Opening image caption: Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


CFP: BIAS Journal of Dress Practice

BIAS Journal of Dress Practice is a yearly publication edited by The Dress Practice Collective, a student-run organization at Parsons the New School for Design. The DPC aims to join elements of visual culture, fashion theory, design studies and personal practice through academic and creative inquiry across various media. BIAS is seeking academic and journalistic writing, interviews, non-fiction narratives, artwork, photography and projects based on design practice for the third issue of BIAS to be published in Spring 2015. Submissions are open to students, recent graduates and practitioners affiliated (or not) with any institution.

BIAS Journal of Dress Practice Issue 3: Fashion + Surveillance

In a time of Net Neutrality, WikiLeaks and reality television, surveillance has become part of our daily lives on an unprecedented level. Issue three is dedicated to broadly exploring the connections between fashion and surveillance in this unique present, as well as the past and future. The following questions are possible starting points and not meant to limit interpretation of the theme:

  • How does a culture of looks and looking affect our daily dress practices?
  • How is technology being used in fashion to deter surveillance?
  • How is fashion used to discipline the body?
  • What are the connections between surveillance and fashion spectacle?

Written submissions must be 1,200 words or less and photography should be sent at 300-600 dpi.

Deadline: Please send submissions by January 12th, 2015 via e-mail to

Notice of acceptance/request for revisions: End of January

For any questions, please contact



You Should Be Watching: Fashion and the First Ladies

Michelle Obama’s time as First Lady of the United States has been characterized by several worthy initiatives, such as Let’s Move! which strives to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation, and encouraging students to continue their education past high school through Reach Higher. In addition to her important work, there is one topic that never fails to get Mrs. Obama media coverage: her fashion choices. Mrs. Obama is not unique in this way, as First Lady fashion has been a subject of public interest since Lady Washington. This week’s YSBW presents several videos including news segments and lectures focusing on America’s First Ladies and Fashion.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 4.31.16 PM

Our first video is part of an MSNBC segment that discusses the late Oscar de la Renta’s connection to First Lady fashion. This clip focuses on Michelle Obama under the public gaze, and how her clothing choices are interpreted into ideas about femininity and standards of sartorial appropriateness for the role of First Lady.

On September 30, the National Archives and White House Historical Association hosted a panel that discussed the fashions of America’s First Ladies beginning with Dolly Madison. The panel features distinguished speakers Tim Gunn, Museum at FIT curator Valerie Steele, Chief Curator of the First Ladies Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and Fashion Designer Tracy Reese. (The panel discussion begins at about the 10 minute mark.)

Sandy McLendon, design historian and editor of speaks at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the fashions of Jacqueline Kennedy, and her strategic use of clothing to create an image of herself and John F. Kennedy through his election and Presidency.

Bonus Video: As part of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, 150 students and high-profile members of the fashion industry were brought together at the White House on October 8 for a luncheon and Fashion Education Workshop. The video contains Mrs. Obama’s address followed by a panel of advice on succeeding in fashion, featuring Jenna Lyons, Diane von Furstenberg, Prabal Gurung, Jason Wu, Tracy Reese, and Edward Wilkerson.


Domestic Affairs: Art Deco Textiles at LACMA


I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for pretty much all things art deco. I endured Baz Luhrman’s ‘interesting’ interpretation of The Great Gatsby largely because of the design aesthetic (okay it wasn’t that bad). So, when I found out that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was doing a small exhibition just on art deco textiles, I made sure to go there even before the Kimono for a Modern Age or Treasures of Korea exhibitions I had originally headed south to see. Art Deco Textiles unexpectedly was a great precursor for Kimono because both exhibitions tapped the same inspiration sources in many ways.

The exhibition is small, and tucked away amidst the rest of the museum’s modern art collection of the same time period. Using one of the smaller galleries to showcase several lengths of fabric, placing the exhibition where they did masterfully put the textiles within the greater art and design context in a way that no amount of wall text could. With so many museums dedicating space in their museums to, and thus isolating, their textile and dress collections it does feel like we are losing some of the context. LACMA’s integrating multiple textile and dress displays within other aspects of the museum collection, as well as utilizing special exhibition and specialty display spaces is one of the many ways in which LACMA continues to raise the bar.


That is not to say the wall text was inadequate. It was phenomenal in explaining the Bauhaus school, its influence, and the evolution, début, and proliferation of the art deco style from 1926 throughout the 1930s succinctly and in the context of each of the pieces displayed. No mean feat.


The pieces and the wall texts not only placed the pieces within the artistic Zeitgeist of the time period, caught as it was between the two world wars and aimed to appeal to the “lost generation,” but also showed how art deco textiles were unique and original in their own right. The wall text in particular discussed the design process of each textile, and even gave the names to the now-lost designers.



Art Deco Textiles is both a fantastic introduction to the art deco movement and the textiles it produced, and a great exhibition for those who are familiar with the period. Small, but excellent, Art Deco Textiles is definitely worth the detour if you’re at LACMA.


Have you seen Art Deco Textiles? What did you think? Do you have an opinion on integration versus isolation? Art deco? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Feel free to share any upcoming local exhibitions or events in your area there as well, or to email me the details.


Parisian Insights: Dries Van Noten – Inspirations

Let’s set the record straight right now: I’m a huge fan of Dries Van Noten’s work. He’s the designer that makes me proclaim how much I wish I was very rich to be able to buy all his collections, you thus imagine how impartial such a groupie may be when it comes to consider the exhibition celebrating the designer at Paris’ Arts Décoratifs. Yet no fear I intend to be entirely unbiased but let me tell you, this is probably the most beautiful display I have seen for years…

The title of the exhibition is to be taken literally. It is no traditional retrospective but a journey within the fertile grounds of Dries Van Noten’s imagination and how he assimilates diverse materials to fuel his creativity. The display is arranged in various themes, not genuinely in a chronological order even though it does begin with a few pieces from his Antwerp graduation show, in 1981 and ends on his Spring-Smmer 2014 collection.  We enter the exhibition through a dark room entirely covered by diverse names and titles such as ‘Grease’, ‘Iggy Pop’, ‘Superman’, ‘Diana Ross’ or ‘Like a Virgin’ that all evoke how versatile the designers’ inspirations are.  The different ensembles are arranged as inspirational boards with an eclectic juxtaposition that sometimes clearly justify the design of a garment but also raise inquisitive questions.

Gold Display

Gold Display


The first alcove mingles his early designs with that of his fellow Antwerp comrades such as Raf Simon and Ann Demeulemeester alongside 1980s glamorous pieces imagines by Gianni Versace and Yohji Yamamoto’s minimalist outfits, the whole beside posters and magazine covers of the trendy celebrities of the decade.

The following themes look at Gold, Butterflies, Graphic, Bollywood or Foppish and establish conversations between Dries Van Noten’s creations, historical garments selected within the museum’s archives and art works. Thus an Elsa Schiaparelli butterfly dress meets a Damien Hirst majestic collage, lamé Chanel and Thierry Mugler ensembles are assembled alongside a 1909 embroidered costume from the Balkans while a New Look silhouette contrasts with an Yves Klein sculpture and a Vasarely painting merges with a photography of Serge Gainsbourg.  Such diverse personalities as Cecil Beaton, David Bowie and Jean Cocteau are united as the dandy-like inspirations of the Belgian designer’s androgynous and edgy masculine wear – the combination of counterculture and chic gives birth to Dries Van Noten’s recognizable silhouettes made of layering, prints, flamboyant Baroque and bohemian cool. 

Graphic Display

Graphic Display

The second floor diffuses a more dramatic feel, with a highly visual and colorful mise-en-scène: flowered wall paper from ceiling to floor that ultimately brings us into an enchanted garden and an exotic environment. Here, it’s all about flowers – he who loves gardening -Indian luxuriance and Mexican gothic, something of an Alice in Wonderland travels the world…

Flowers Display

Flowers Display

Despite being a wonderful occasion of discovering such diverse art works and garments, the display is also a fabulous way of understanding the creative process of the designer. And here, it’s no caricatural nor explicit inspiration in the idea of ‘I saw flowers so I put flowers on the skirt’, it’s more about how Dries Van Noten’s garments are based on subtle references and how the flourishing inspirations he surrounds himself with can lead to a cut, a print or simply a purpose as the designer clearly states on the walls of the exhibition: ‘The starting point of a collection can either be very literal or abstract. A painting, a certain colour, a thought, a gesture, a smell, a flower, anything really. What matters to me is the journey from the first flash of inspiration to the final destination, the individual garments, the collection.’

Foppish Display

Foppish Display

When we observe Dries Van Noten’s garments on catwalks or within boutique displays, one thing clearly comes to mind: these clothes are wearable and lack the sense of spectacle that would have suited more the grounds of a museum exhibition. Yet that’s how the scenography is such a success as it nonetheless proposes a dramatic atmosphere with its spectacular alcoves that resonate with Renaissance ‘cabinets de curiosités’.

There is a strong form of modesty in Dries Van Noten’s choice to not only attract the attention on his work but also on the many creations of the artists and designers he admires. Although the display doesn’t focus on the sole work of the designer, it invites us within his very intimacy, his mind. When we leave the exhibition, we can’t help but think that more than an exposition about Dries Van Noten the designer, we have just discovered Dries Van Noten, the man.


Further Resources:

More information: here



CFP: Conference on Historical Analysis and Research in Marketing

CHARM 2015 Conference on Historical Analysis and Research in Marketing

May 28 – 31, 2015 (Doctoral Workshop May 27 – 28)

RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California, USA

We invite business, marketing, social science, and humanities scholars from all backgrounds to join us aboard RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California for a friendly, collegial, and interdisciplinary research conference. We call on scholars from around the globe to cast a critical look on the history of marketing and how these outputs might be taken to reflect on past epochs to enhance our understanding. Both individual papers and entire panels on all aspects of marketing history, historic marketing, and the history of marketing thought in all geographic areas and all time frames are welcome.  Topics may include but are not exclusively restricted to the following:

  • Marketing pioneers, the development and evolution of the marketing discipline
  • Varieties of marketing cultures and histories
  • Writing the past: constructing histories in/for marketing
  • The role of relationships and networks in marketing
  • Marketing history “from below” – how consumers and citizens respond to and interact with firms and brands
  • Advertising
  • Distribution and packaging
  • Sector case studies, for example beauty and fashion marketing, transportation, leisure, etc.
  • Marketing in the projection of national and regional identities

Doctoral students with a particular interest in research methods in marketing history and marketing theory are invited to attend a full-day workshop that immediately precedes the conference. To be considered for this workshop, please submit to Maria Kalamas by December 5, 2014, a statement of interest, a CV, a preliminary or final dissertation prospectus of no more than 10 pages, and a letter of support from your dissertation supervisor (or prospective supervisor). Limited financial support will be available to the strongest proposals. Applicants will be notified by January 15, 2015, whether they will be included in the program. There will also be a special track for the presentation of doctoral projects at the conference itself.

All paper submissions will be double-blind reviewed and a proceedings volume will be published.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Sunday, December 14, 2014. 

Direct submissions to David Clampin, Program

Please see the conference website for more information.


Guest Book Review: Women In Clothes

Whitney Bauck is an artist and writer whose work engages questions of gender and embodiment. She blogs regularly at, where she endeavors to consider fashion from an intellectually and theologically grounded perspective.


“Books are by their nature private and public — a book is a public thing, but it’s read privately — but writing-as-dialogue is open to the community in another way: not everyone can write but everyone talks.” This statement by journalist Michael Ventura aptly encapsulates the spirit of Women in Clothes.

Conceived and edited by New York-based authors Sheila Heti and Heidi Julavits and artist Leanne Shapton, Women in Clothes consists of a compilation of interviews, journal entries, photo essays, conversation snippets and more collected from over 600 women. The book uses the voices and experiences of women from a broad array of backgrounds to examine the basic questions that drive Woman as she stands in front of her closet each morning.

Much of the book grew from a survey sent out by the editors, which includes questions about everything from cultural heritage to daily habits. Responders ranged from a hijab-defending Muslim to a transgender women in London, from an Egyptian TV personality to a sparkly-shoe-wearing American five-year-old. The result of this diversity is a pleasant cacophony of stories that combine to create a volume that feels like a truly immersive exploration of what it means to be a woman in clothing—regardless of age, class, race, occupation, religion or geography.

Moreover, Women in Clothes is peppered with unconventional imagery that enhances the overall thrust of the volume without appearing overly illustrative or flashy. While many books dealing with contemporary fashion rely heavily on glossy images that render them almost magazine-like—an approach that may garner instant appeal but also makes the content feel quickly dated—the visual aspect of Women in Clothes appropriately mirrors the current but somehow timeless nature of the interviews. The collections of images included stand as entries in their own right, rather than accompanying specific texts. Both recurring visual motifs and one-off artworks exist in the volume. Examples of the former include photographic records of items people collect in multiple, from denim jackets to vintage three-inch heels, while the latter describes anything from india ink paintings of clothing stains to a line drawing of clothes discarded on the floor while getting dressed for a special event.


Notably, the only photographic depictions of actual women in clothing are vintage ones, in which women discuss either outfits that were important to them as young children, or clothing their mothers are wearing in photos taken before their daughters were born. Though the book could have leaned on the star power of easily recognizable celebrity contributors like Lena Dunham, Tavi Gevinson or Miranda July, the absence of these famous faces has the effect of leveling the playing field for all contributors. Flying in the face of the world of fashion magazines, blogs and celebrity Instagrams, which generally operate by the unspoken rule that “those who look best have the most authority,” Women in Clothes implicitly declares, “The fact that you are a woman and that you wear clothes is enough to make you an authority. You do not have to be the most on-trend or the closest adherent to what’s considered culturally beautiful to have worthwhile thoughts on, and experiences of, apparel.”


While the opinions of important public figures like celebrities or artists are included in Women in Clothes, the organization of the book gives equal weight to the teenage Israeli soldier talking about her uniform as it does to the designer talking about her boutique. The resulting democracy of opinion makes for a surprisingly well-balanced view of what clothing actually is and does.

This supports the overarching message of this non-linear tome, which is that the act of clothing oneself is a much richer and deeper aspect of human existence than is often recognized—and one common to all of us. By asking questions that have little to do with being on top of what’s “in” or having a vast knowledge of fashion histories, the editors access the truly universal aspects of having a relationship with one’s attire. Keeping in mind that everyone wears clothing and thus has some opinions about it, the editors formatted interviews and surveys in such a way that those who feel outside the traditional boundaries of the fashion industry and history are not estranged. Yet the freshness and depth with which the editors engage questions of dress result in a book that will, I suspect, be as refreshing and worthwhile to the seasoned fashion critic or historian as it is readable to the fashion virgin.

One of the biggest possible objections to the book is its gender exclusivity. While there is nothing wrong per se with making a volume specifically geared towards women, it does seem a pity that most men will likely miss out on the riches enclosed between these two covers based on the title alone. After all, one of the implicit tenets of the book is that clothing is important for everyone, regardless of who they are, and the nuggets of truth contained in Women in Clothes often have more to do with being a human than they do with being a woman specifically.


Nonetheless, Women in Clothes provides a refreshing lens through which to view the activity of dressing. It successfully offers a golden mean for those looking to walk the line between the extremes of over-examination of clothing by the fashion establishment, or complete dismissal by those who see fashion as a superficial waste of energy. Neither a fashion academic’s resource nor a newbie’s introduction to clothing theory, Women in Clothes attains exactly the status it attempts: that of a thoughtful, democratic look at the purpose, function and meaning of clothing at it is embedded in and contextualized by real life today. By relying on diverse voices and diverse avenues for considering attire, Women in Clothes facilitates deep thinking about the real significance of what we put on our bodies.

Have you read Women in Clothes? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

All images courtesy of Whitney Bauck.


Jasleen Kandhari: Exploring Asian Textiles Study Day

This summer I had the lovely opportunity to meet NADFAS accredited lecturer Jasleen Kandhari, an art historian specialising in Asian art and design. Her breadth of interest in Asian collections is both broad and diverse. In covering subjects from Tibetan Buddhist sculpture and Korean ritual art to Sikh miniature painting and South Asian textiles, Jasleen has enjoyed interesting curatorial positions both here in London and abroad, as well as lecturing in universities and museums around the world. A prolific writer, Jasleen has published frequently on her subjects and is contributing editor (Indian Textiles) for Textiles Asia Journal. Currently, Jasleen is lecturing and teaching the Indian Textiles Course at the University of Oxford Department of Continuing Education as well as delivering study days on Asian art and textiles at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, which is what brought me to one of her Exploring Asian Textiles study days at Morley College earlier this year.

Looking at Jasleen's selection of textiles (author's own)

Looking at Jasleen’s selection of textiles (author’s own image)

The study programme was fast paced, packed with different mediums and filled with Jasleen’s enthusiasm for her subject. In just one day, we travelled across the geographical expanse of Asia, stopping off in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan and Tibet. Jasleen took us on a grand tour of textile design, production and consumption while still allowing us to focus in on a specific example at each place. These ranged from the obvious to the obscure. We embraced the Japanese kimono and the Malaysian songket while being encouraged to take a closer look at the phulkaris of the Punjab and the tiger rugs of Tibet.


Snippet of Jasleen’s textile collection (author’s own image)

Within each location, Jasleen provided the class with lots of visual examples to include handouts, film clips and illustrative slides. In addition, there was an extensive display of textile examples at the front of the room and we were warmly invited to handle these half way through the day, accompanied by Jasleen’s informative commentary about their origins and significance. A personable and confident tutor, matched by a welcoming disposition. Jasleen asked all the students to introduce themselves and was able to respond to every individual interest in Asian textiles with further information. The breadth of motivation was wide for those present. Some were makers, others were thinkers but all shared a common fascination with textiles and were keen to broaden their haptic experience.  

Phulkari from Punjabi, Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada

Jasleen’s own interest in Asian textiles emerges from her expertise in South Asian art and design, which began with a BA in Asian Art History with Music at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London and then an MA at Sotheby’s. This was followed by various curatorial and educational positions at the British Library and the British Museum before Jasleen took on the position of Curator of Asia at the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. It was there that Jasleen became more interested in Asian textiles, drawn to their large collection of uncatalogued phulkari, a style of embroidery specific to the Punjab.  Jasleen also loves contemporary textiles and suggests that her passion was always there, having grown up in Kenya in a family with close ties to India where her aunt is a fashion designer in Mumbai. This was also nicely mirrored in her use of current examples from popular fashion magazines as well as the catwalk to highlight the continued significance of Asian textile design in today’s clothing styles.

Jasleen immersed in the research process; wearing kimono in Japan

When not writing for various cultural publications, Jasleen can be found visiting textile factories, filming production techniques or trying on regional costumes, in an effort to immerse herself in the subject for the benefit of her students.  I asked her to share some highlights of teaching a subject she loves. These included inspiring students to want to learn more about the subject; and the fact that it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ but an integral facet of her own passion for the subject. I wondered if Jasleen had any good advice to share with regards to teaching her subject. ‘Always put yourself in the lecture’, she replied. Whether it be wearing a particular costume or including photographs that show you participating in your research, Jasleen suggested this was a vital way to connect with students.

Image from the Sanskriti Museum of Indian Textiles, Delhi

I also wanted to know which museums had enhanced Jasleen’s interest in textiles. Special mentions included the Musee de Jacquard in Roubaix, Northern France, the National Textiles Museum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Sanskriti Museum of Indian Textiles in Delhi, India. According to Jasleen, their emphasis on actively displaying techniques and processes allows visitors to see how textiles are produced in a dynamic way. This is very reflective of Jasleen’s pedagogical approach to her subject. The study day was nicely peppered with opportunities to look at a range of material sources, watch films showing how particular types of textiles are made and a myriad of handouts identifying techniques and motifs.

Tiger pelt rug, date unknown

I was particularly struck by her research into Tibetan tiger rugs, of which there are apparently only 200 in existence that feature a tiger pelt motif. Interestingly, the tiger pelt design varies from the very abstract to the very literal. Made from sheep wool, these rugs are said to have come out of Tibet as a result of the uprisings in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originally made as gifts for lamas, the tiger skin design is reflective of Tibetan Buddhist iconography. Yogins are often depicted meditating on tiger pelts and the tiger is historically believed to have protective qualities amongst Tibetan kings and warriors. These are fascinating textile objects and it was great to be introduced to them by Jasleen in the study day.

When listening to her, I was swept away by the heady descriptions of projects, texts, workshops and tours that Jasleen has in the pipeline, all of which can now be discovered on her own website entitled the Travelling Art Historian. In terms of what the future might hold, Jasleen is enthusiastic about museum education, in particular expanding what is on offer in Asian textiles and arts online courses. Jasleen is also keen to develop her research into Sikh art and textiles, both past and contemporary. According to her, ‘it is very important to record Sikh cultural heritage, which includes the influence of crafts such as textile design and painting’.

Spending the day looking at Asian textiles reminded me how useful it is to put myself in the shoes of the student and the advantages of having material artifacts when teaching what you enjoy. I would also very much like to meet others whose teaching interests include textiles and fashion history/theory here in the UK so please feel free to get in touch by email


Museum Life: Curatorial skills


People often assume that as a costume curator I must be an amazing seamstress, make all my clothes, or can whip out a crinoline in about an hour’s time.  There is certainly a perception that to be interested in this area, one must have approached the field from the angle of a designer or a creator who makes things.  I often get asked by visitors, “how did you end up in this job?”.  They are often surprised to hear that, no, I do not make my own clothes (or clothes for anyone else), and that my interest stems from art history, museology and archival practice, collecting historical clothing, and the sheer joy and fascination of wearing clothes and studying how and why others wear what they do.  I explain that there are other ways to professionally engage with clothing besides creating or selling it.

As Emma mentioned in a recent post, there has been a steadily growing academic interest in the act of wearing, choosing, and assembling an outfit–a different approach from the designer’s point of view (or that of a wealthy collector of couture or high-end ready-to-wear, for that matter). That said, I do think that understanding how clothing is constructed is extremely important for the costume curator or collection manager.  Knowing how something is made and conforms to, deviates from, or changes with the body allows you to effectively present the garment as well as care for and interpret it.  But should all costume curators be able to create all the types of garments, textiles, and accessories in their care?  I would encourage all to revisit Rebecca’s thoughtful post  from a few years ago; as one commentor said, that’s a “pretty tall order”, but also the goal should be to strike a balance between the theoretical and the material knowledge of the garments themselves.

For those of us who are neither natural nor trained Madeleine Vionnets, there are things you can do to improve your fabrication skills, or at least heighten the understanding of those abilities. After all, the absence of a fine arts, design, or fabrication background is little excuse to completely ignore building up or honing those skills. The suggestions below will not immediately transform you into a cutter/fitter wizard, but here are a few things I have found useful:

  • Study up on anatomy and muscle groups of the human body, or how the body behaves or looks in different stances. I’ve been encouraged to do this by conservators and designers over the years, and it’s great advice. Getting to know the human body better (and how different undergarments affect it, of course) means you’ll know how to better represent it beneath clothing.  Take a life drawing class if you’re up  for it.
  • Keep looking.  This may seem obvious, but it has been another great piece of advice given to me.  Being able to recognize construction techniques, fabric, or embellishments from different eras relies on examining historical clothing over and over again.  Of course this isn’t always possible–it may be difficult to get access to a collection or to particular types of garments, and interior details aren’t usually visible or pictured when looking at clothing in an exhibition gallery. If the opportunity to examine real garments is far and few between, of course print publications are the next best thing.

One great resource recently brought to my attention is Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer. It includes excellent interior photographs, diagrams and definitions of hand sewing techniques and types of stitches, and explains through text and images how certain visual effects can be materially realized. Even if you can’t execute this type of dress by yourself, you can better understand a garment through such descriptions and excellent photos . Also, fashion collection databases can include an impressive amount of detail and interior images, many with good resolution.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Drexel University Digital Museum Project are a few examples.

If you’re like me, you’ve amassed and held onto vintage clothing over the years.  Really take a look at something and see how it’s put together or how the fabric falls or behaves when it moves.  Of course you can handle your own clothes or vintage pieces with more, well, vigor than you can collection material.  You can take apart linings or seams to see how something is constructed beneath.

  • Take a sewing class to brush up your skills or refresh on the basics.  Last fall I took a local sewing class over several weekends and made a simple tunic.  Learning how to set sleeves had the side benefit of making better “sleeves” or arms for a mannequin.  This forces those of us without fabrication or design background to think from two dimensions to three dimensions. You can also practice making simple undergarments for exhibition display. Lara Flecker’s book, A Practical Guide to Costume Mounting (which I’ve mentioned before), includes straightforward descriptions and diagrams for creating undergarments or reproduction pieces that may be missing from an ensemble, like a sash.  It assumes quite a bit of skill or previous knowledge (I don’t feel particularly confident creating a tissue or muslin toile of a fragile slashed 17th century bodice, for example), but overall it is a great resource for raising your confidence in making simple, vital pieces for the display of clothing.



CFP: Fashion Research Now — Archives

The inaugural issue of Fashion Research Now reflects the aims of the Fashion Research Network: presenting critical, innovative and interdisciplinary research on fashion and dress. It will provide a space for early career researchers and PhD students to publish current and innovative research. Submissions are welcomed from both written and practice-based researchers and can take the form of text or image.

The first publication theme is fashion and archives; we encourage the broadest definition of archives and the archival, including personal collections, physical institutions, digital databases or oral histories.

You may wish to consider the following questions:

  • How has your experience of using archives shaped your research question and methodology?
  • How has your research or practice experience changed your definition of an archive?
  • How have atypical or inaccessible archives influenced your practice?
  • To what extent has technological developments in archival processes (i.e. digital archives) changed your research or practice output?
  • What role has chance played in your archival experience?
  • How have the emotional and sensory aspects of the archive experience influenced your work?
  • How do you archive your own research or practice?

Submission Criteria Eligibility:

  • Fashion Research Now publishes the work of current MPhil/PhD Candidates and Early Careers Researchers (i.e., within 6 years of receiving your doctorate)
  • Submissions should not have been previously published either in physical or digital form.
  • Authors are responsible for securing full copyright permission for all images pertaining to their submission.

How to Submit:

Word Length: Text-based essays should be a maximum of 5000 words. Footnotes are permitted, but should be kept to a minimum. A full bibliography must also be included.

Please send full papers in Microsoft Word or a PDF of images and text to by Friday 7th November 2014.

Please see the website for more information.

All submissions will be peer-reviewed and the editorial committee will notify all candidates of its decision by January 2015.page2image12000 page2image12160