Last month I was lucky enough to attend the Fashion, Dress and Society in Europe during World War One conference, co-hosted by Dominique Veillon, Lou Taylor, Adelheid Rasche and Patrick Fridenson, and held at l’Institut Français de la Mode in Paris on December 12th and 13th, 2014.
A packed program featuring 60 speakers, the conference brought together academics, curators, journalists and independent researchers from across Europe and North America. Dominique Veillon, director of research at l’Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent, opened the conference on Friday with an overview of the massive social, political and cultural upheaval which took place during the four years of World War One. The rest of the morning’s speakers included Mary Lynn Stewart on marketing haute couture in America, Catherine Join-Dieterle on the fashion magazine l’Art et la Mode, Adelheid Rasche on fashion images in Paris, Berlin and Vienna, Amy de la Haye on British Women’s Land Army uniforms, Alexandra Palmer on war and fashion in Canada, and Lourdes Font on American buyers, designer and journalists in Paris. I especially enjoyed Rasche’s presentation on her exhibition ‘Wardrobes in Wartime 1914-1918,’ which used graphic works from the Lipperheid Costume Library at the National Museum in Berlin.
In the afternoon, attendees heard from Victoria Rovine on French fashion and colonial influence, Margaret Vining and Barton C. Hacker on American female military uniforms, Guillaume de Syon on French aviation uniforms, Patricia Tilburg on the patriotic cockade-making French garment workers, and Marguerite Coppens on French and Belgian lacemaking. Lou Taylor from the University of Brighton concluded the first day of the conference with a paper discussing British nurses’ uniforms and their appropriation by upper-class women volunteers, raising issues of class tension, control and authority through the use of clothing.
On the second day, papers were grouped by subject and presented simultaneously in three different rooms. I had been deliberating my choices since the Eurostar train ride over on Thursday and was now faced with a few difficult decisions. For the morning’s first session, I chose the ‘Images of War’ panel of speakers, featuring Muriel Berthou-Cresty on Adolf de Meyer’s photography for Vogue, Cally Blackman on fashion in the autochromes of Albert Kahn’s Archives de la Planète, Änne Söll on Viennese men’s fashion magazine Die Herrenwelt, and Enrica Morini on Italian fashion magazine Margherita. Four presentations accompanied by beautiful, vivid imagery, I was particularly struck by Blackman’s study of autochromes, early colour photographs which have been under-used by fashion historians to date.
‘Haute Couture & Couturiers’ was the theme of the second session I chose, with papers presented by Ana Balda on haute couture consumption in Spain, Emmanuelle Polle and Johanna Zanon on the early years of Jean Patou, Sophie Kurkdjian on the wartime fashion publications of Lucien Vogel, and Katy Conover on haute couture in England. The highlight from this session for me was Polle and Zanon’s presentation, as I am thoroughly enjoying my copy of Polle’s recent book on Patou and could not help but envy the author’s unprecedented access to the Patou family archives.
In the afternoon, I must confess that I skipped out on the third session to visit the Sonia Delaunay: Les Couleurs de l’Abstraction exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Although I would have liked to attend one of the three sessions (‘War in the Archives,’ ‘Women & Identity,’ ‘Women during the War’), the exhibition certainly did not disappoint – stay tuned for Hayley-Jane’s review of the exhibition for Worn Through in the coming weeks.
Returning for the final session of the conference, I just barely managed to get a seat for the ‘Production & Consumption’ session upstairs in a smaller classroom. Papers presented by Suzanne Rowland on ready-made blouses in Britain, Marta Kargol on dress production and homemade clothing in the Netherlands, Marie McLoughlin on the evolution of the trench coat, and Laura Casal-Valls on fashion production and consumption in Barcelona provided an excellent conclusion to the conference, albeit with a slightly dramatic trench coat controversy. Final comments by Lou Taylor and conference organizers Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjian, along with an excellent bistro dinner that evening, rounded out a weekend very well spent in Paris.
Overall, Fashion, Dress and Society in Europe during World War One brought together a very interesting and diverse group of presenters. My only suggestion for improvement would have been the addition of simultaneous translation, as nearly half of the papers were delivered in French but not all attendees were French speakers. However, many of the presenters were prepared with translated copies of their papers to distribute or bilingual presentation slides, and all were willing to answer questions following their talks in either language.
Image Credits: http://histoiredemode.hypotheses.org/1498 (first image, second and third author’s own)
Museums, universities, and the Costume Society of America are ringing in the new year with new events, and exhibitions new and old.
The Costume Society’s Western Region has just opened registration for its first program of the year: a guided tour of Hollywood Costume led by CSA-WR-member Dr. Deborah Nadoolman-Landis. The event will take place at the Academy of Motion Pictures museum on February 7, 2015. Registration is open until February 2. For more information and to register follow this link.
Also in Los Angeles, the FIDM Museum is preparing to open the 23rd Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. Open from February 10 through April 25, 2015 and the main FIDM campus, I understand they have costumes from Maleficent among many others.
At the Phoenix Art Museum, well-known fashion and textile scholar Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell will be giving a lecture today, January 14th, on her new book, Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The lecture begins at 12:30 and will be preceded by a luncheon at 11:30. While there you should see the museum’s current fashion exhibition: Fashioned in America which opened in October and is up until March 15.
In New York, the Bard Graduate Center has announced that they will be featuring Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette, opening April 3 and up until July 26. At the Museum at FIT, their latest exhibition, Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits is on display until April 25.
At Kent State, Geoffrey Beene: American Ingenuity will open on January 29 and be up until August 30. While there you can also check out American Jewelry Design Council: Variations on a Theme: 25 Years of Design, The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War (which I previously did a virtual review of here), Entangled: Fiber to Felt to Fashion (entering its last weeks), and Fashion Timeline.
I am most grateful to reader, Leesa, in Toronto for telling me about Politics of Fashion/Fashion of Politics at the Design Exchange museum, which will be closing on January 25.
Are there any events or exhibitions you would like to promote here on Worn Through? Have you been to any of these exhibitions or events? What did you think? Feel free to share your thoughts or event and exhibit recommendations in the comments below. Or to email me the information.
I had already talked about a fashion auction here when I had reviewed the Elsa Schiaparelli exposition at Christies. I had intended to post today an article about the Sonia Delaunay exhibition held at The Musée d’Art Moderne but my attention was caught last week by the announcement of a major vintage and contemporary fashion auction held until today at Millon & Associés and I thought I could share that first. As often with fashion auctions, not much is said about the history and origins of the items sold: when individuals decide to sell off intimate belongings, it rarely has something to do with very positive compromises. But the catalogue is definitely eye candy for fashion amateurs with a heterogeneous selection of fashion and accessories from the 1930s to the present time.
Christian Dior Ensemble, 1979-1980
Copyright: PB Fashion
The auction is not a celebrity sale but it does provide us with interesting pieces such as a Jeanne Lanvin 1939 wedding dress, a 1960 Chanel white tweed jacket, a 1971 Bill Gibb ensemble and of course the star object: an Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian 1965 dress….just to name a few. The 400 pieces on auction resemble the ideal wardrobe of an elegant Parisienne with its fancy furs, exquisite accessories and international garments.The Mondrian dress is a true piece of history of fashion and a major example of the combination of art and fashion – Yves Saint Laurent paying tribute to the constructivist lines of the artist, Piet Mondrian. The dress also brought an innovative comprehension of haute couture that was no longer only made of frills, flounces and strass but could also be strikingly minimalist.
Yves Saint Laurent, Mondrian dress, 1965
Copyright: PB Fashion
To whom do such auctions address themselves? I would say, everyone. The fashion lovers, institutions and private collectors…Some buy items they could not afford at full price (such as the contemporary pieces or the attractive Hermès and Chanel handbags), others invest in fashion as they would do in art pieces (I remember one of my childhood friend’s mother who possessed an exquisite black dress that had belonged to Marilyn Monroe and who displayed it with pride and passion) and finally the museums that enrich their fashion and costume collections with rarely seen objects.
Jeanne Lanvin Wedding Dress, 1939
Copyright: PB Fashion
Yet a fashion auction (and its exposition) has nothing to do with the solennel and formal atmosphere of a fashion museum display: the public is allowed to touch, even try on, speak loud…the whole while fighting upon prices and enjoying an enthralling ambience of heart-racing and fighting for one’s favorite item.
The iconic Mondrian dress is ultimately the big draw of the auction (I’ll update this post once the reached selling price is known and why not its buyer, by any chance!) while the accessories attract a younger crowd interested in fancy shoes and bags that add a ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ chic and nostalgic feel to their high street outfits.
Bill Gibb Ensemble, 1971
Copyright: PB Fashion
Before being a fashion professional, I am above all a fashion lover who enjoys nothing more than to see and touch clothing pieces I would never have the chance to put my hands on in another context although I have never bought anything at auction. Have any of you?
I would be curious to hear from museum professionals and what they think of fashion auctions and if they are useful to their work and collections?
You can browse the full catalogue of the action here.
Among the many things that I am preparing for with the approach of the holiday season is how I’m going to work various fashion exhibitions into my schedule.
Obviously, those exhibitions outside of California are impossible for me, but hopefully they will be possible for many of you.
Most exciting for next week is Fern Mallis’s conversation with Valentino at 92Y in New York City. Tickets are currently sold out, but there is a wait list available for Mallis’s November 18 program with the legendary designer. This is in addition to the Death Becomes Her having opened in the last couple weeks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Jill discussed her visit to the exhibition in her post, yesterday), and Killer Heels still open at the Brooklyn Museum.At the Museum at FIT, while Exposed: A History of Lingerie is closing, their special exhibition, Dance & Fashion will remain open until January 3.
As I was informed by Jon in a comment on my last exhibition round up, there is another exciting exhibition on the east coast examining Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Cartier collection at the Hillwood Estate. Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems has been open since June, but will not close until December 31.
In the Midwest, Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mileopens November 15 at the Chicago History Museum. It looks to be a truly fascinating exploration of the local fashion industry and the people who both worked in and utilized it, based upon the amazing blogposts that have led up to the exhibition’s opening.
In Des Moines, Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede will be open at the Des Moines Art Center until January 18.
Here in California, Hollywood Costumeopened a month ago and will be up until March just across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also in Los Angeles, the Fowler Museum at UCLA has three textile exhibitions on display: Bearing Witness: Embroidery as History in Post-Apartheid South Africaup through December 7; Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea up through January 4; and Yards of Style: African-Print Cloths of Ghanaopen through December 14.
In San Francisco, not directly related to fashion — but indirectly since his V magazine photo shoot — Ai Weiwei’s @Largeis currently on display on Alcatraz Island; at the de Young Museum, Keith Haring: The Political Line while not actually involving clothing or textiles offers visitors a chance to see some of the original drawings used by Vivienne Westwood in her 1983 collaboration with the artist. At the Legion of Honor, Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country Houseis open until January 18. I will be writing my review of it in early December.
Opening January 31 at the de Young is Embodiment: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpturewhich will be a wonderful opportunity to explore bodily depiction from approximately 110 different cultural groups. It may be a wee bit early to get excited about March openings, but I must confess I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland opening on March 7 and featuring not only Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, but his portrait of Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry in full Scottish military regalia which inspired my master’s ‘virtual exhibition’ on tartan and Scottish dress. Even more exciting is the arrival of High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Legion of Honor on March 14.
What exhibitions are you making time for this winter? Are there any exhibitions you want to share with Worn Through readers? If so, feel free to either email me or to share your thoughts in the comments!
Opening image from the website for Hillwood’s Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gem
It continues to be an exciting Fall for fashion exhibitions and events.
Closing soon is the Museum at FIT’s Exposed: A History of Lingerie exhibition on November 15.
Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love is still open at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which doesn’t close until December 7.
If you missed your chance to see the Downton Abbey season four costumes at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, the costumes from seasons one through three are still on display at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware until January 4, 2015.
To lead the new events and exhibitions opening or happening in the next few months, 92y (92nd Y Street)‘s regular series of Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis on October 9 will feature Fern Mallis in conversation with Teri Agins.
In Milwaukee, the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee has opened an exhibition in time for the High Holy Days, Stitching History from the Holocaust, September 14, 2014 – February 28, 2015. The exhibition, which was featured in the New York Times recently, celebrates the memory and work of a dressmaker in Prague who could not make it out of the city in time. The opening image is one of Hedy Strnad’s designs on display in the exhibition and is taken from the exhibition website.
At the Des Moines Art Center, an exhibition examining the creativity and friendship between Andy Warhol and Roy Halston Frowick, Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede, opened on September 19, and will be up until January 18, 2015.
At The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kimono: A Modern History opened last week and will be up until January 4, 2015. The exhibition examines the kimono from the eighteenth century to the present day. And of course, the Costume Institute will be opening its first autumn exhibition in seven years, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire on October 21.
As previously mentioned, the Chicago History Museum will be opening Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Royal Mile on November 15.
And at the Denver Art Museum, Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, will be opening on November 16.
If you have been to any of these exhibitions, or know of other exhibits and events worth sharing, feel free to share you experiences and suggestions in the comments. You can also email me your events for a future Domestic Affairs column.
Django Unchained, 2012, Courtesy of Visiona Romantica, Inc., The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures & The Motion Picture Academy
Rather unusually for fashion exhibitions, it’s going to be a busy autumn.
For the first time in seven years, The Metropolitan Museum‘s Costume Institute is opening a fall exhibition on October 21, 2014 (Press Preview, October 20). Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire will be open through February 1, 2015 and “will explore the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Also in New York, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe opens today, September 10, at The Brooklyn Museum. “From the high platform chopines of sixteenth-century Italy to the glamorous stilettos on today’s runways and red carpets, the exhibition looks at the high-heeled shoe’s rich and varied history and its enduring place in our popular imagination.” The exhibition will be open until February 15, 2015.
Opening November 15, 2014, Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile will be on view until August 16,2015 at the Chicago History Museum.
Here in California, the FIDM Museum‘s 8th Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibition is entering its final weeks, closing on September 20. Their other exhibitions, International Inspiration: The Donald and Joan Damask Collection at the Orange County campus, and the Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection at the main campus downtown will be up until November 1.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in addition to their Kimono for Modern Age exhibition which is up until October 19, 2014, Art Deco Textiles is also up and will be on display until February 22, 2015.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presenting the exhibition, Hollywood Costume, at the Wilshire May Company building in Los Angeles – the future site of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The building is right next door to LACMA. The exhibition will be the final showing of the Victoria & Albert’s Hollywood Costume, but expanded to include costumes from The Hunger Games and Django Unchained. The exhibition will be on view from October 4, 2014 until March 2, 2015.
It is also symposium season! Three regions of the Costume Society of America will be holding their annual symposia in the next few weeks. Starting with the Midwestern Region on September 26 & 27, followed by the Northeastern Region on September 28. The Western Region‘s symposium — where I will be giving a paper, myself — will be happening October 10 through 12. Be sure to follow the links to see the schedules and paper topics for each one.
As always, if there is an exhibition or event happening in your area or your institution that you think Worn Through readers should know about be sure to let me know either in the comments or by emailing me!
Distance may prevent me from seeing the Charles James exhibition at the Met, or the Museum at FIT‘s current exhibition, Exposed: A History of Lingerie, which opened June 3 and will be up until November 15; but I will still be travelling quite a bit this summer, from one end of California to the other.
In July, in addition to a trip to Los Angeles especially to see the latest FIDM Museum exhibition, Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection (open until November 1) and LACMA‘s Kimono for a Modern Age (July 5 – October 19) and Treasures from Korea (June 29 – September 28), I will also be making the trek to San Francisco to see the Asian Art Museum‘s GORGEOUS, open June 20 – September 14. GORGEOUS intrigues me because it seems to aim at encouraging visitors to explore or even challenge their perceptions of beauty — be that in art or in appearance and aesthetics in general. According to the Asian’s website, the exhibition features 72 paintings, sculptures, objects of high design or decoration and photographic works from both the Asian’s collection and that of the SF MoMA (currently undergoing a major renovation); the exhibition spans cultures and millennia and “in an attempt to shift the focus from historical and cultural contexts, emphasiz[es] instead the unique ways each work announces itself or solicits a viewer’s attention emphasizing instead the unique ways each work announces itself or solicits a viewer’s attention.”
Look for my Los Angeles reviews in my August columns, and my review of GORGEOUS in my July 23rd post.
For my first column in July (July 9), I will be covering (virtually) the upcoming Kent State University exhibition, The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War, which opens July 24. I cannot attend, but I will be interviewing curator Sara Hume about the exhibition, its challenges and its aims. World War I fashion is something I have long loved — it is the only reason I started watching Downton Abbey, I confess — so I am looking forward to speaking with Sara and sharing what I learn with you.
Other fashion-related happenings in June and July include the Fashion Tech Forum, happening today in New York city. According to the website, the forum’s purpose is to “provide a platform for fashion, design, and technology to connect and collaborate on hot to work together in the future.” This sounds like an interesting topic, and I’d be curious to hear if anyone went, what they thought, or if any of you have had any ideas or experiences with something similar in your classrooms or museums in the comments!
In Detroit, Bruce Weber’s photographs of the city’s people and their clothing are on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The exhibition combines two projects of Weber’s, the first an assignment from W magazine to photograph Kate Moss in unfamiliar surroundings, the second highlighting the city, its people, evolution, and dynamic. The exhibit opened June 20, and will be up until September 7.
As always, please feel free to share your experiences of and thoughts about any of these exhibitions — or even those I’ve not mentioned — in the comments below. Also please share any exhibitions or events you want shared either in the comments or by email.
It looks like it will be a truly wonderful summer for fashion exhibitions!
As we were informed by Kristen of the Newport Restoration Foundation the last time I did an event roll call, there is a small but wonderful exhibition at the Foundation looking at the fashion of tobacco heiress, Doris Duke, called No Rules: The Personal Style of Doris Duke.
Worn Through’s Jill Morena started a wonderful series of posts yesterday on the Charles James exhibition, A Thin Wall of Air: Charles James, at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. The exhibition closes September 7, and be sure to read Jill’s post from yesterday and to look for her next installment!
In Los Angeles, the FIDM Museum just opened an exhibition today of rare Hollywood costume sketches from the collection of Christian Esquevin, author of Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label, called Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection, which will be open until November 1. Opening later this month (June 26) at their Orange County campus will be a second exhibition, International Inspiration: The Donald and Joan Damask Collection, featuring a recent donation of over 75 pieces of vintage clothing and world dress, objects by Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, and theatrical designs by Erté. International Inspiration also closes November 1, and look for my review in September or October after I make the trek down to Orange County.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I am eagerly anticipating the opening of Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392 – 1910 at the end of this month (June 29), and even more so, Kimono for a Modern Age which opens on July 5. Did any of you get to see Treasures from Korea in Philadelphia?
All of this on top of Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the CSA fortieth anniversary symposium last week, Charles James at the Met, Draped Down at the Studio Museum in Harlem (check out the Domestic Affairs guest post from the creator and curator, Monique Long from last week), and many more.
Do you, like Kristen, have an exhibition in your institution or at one nearby? Have you been to any of these exhibitions mentioned? What did you think? Did you go to CSA National which I unfortunately had to miss this year? What did you think?
Please feel free to share exhibition and event announcements in the comments below, or to email me with details. I’d also love to hear about your experiences at any of these events or any I might have missed. Please share your experience in the comments!
Opening image: 2002.367 Circus Skirt from the Doris Duke exhibition at the Newport Restoration Foundation
I tend to think of May as the Golden Month for fashion exhibitions, due to the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fashion exhibition, the Met Gala with all its red carpet oggling opportunity, and so many other museums gearing up for their summer exhibitions. The Met’s exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion opens this week (May 8), with member previews yesterday and today (May 6 & 7). The accompanying Met Gala was Monday night.
This exhibition has been a source of excitement and anticipation within the fashion history community, and I don’t know of any of my friends in the field who aren’t eager either to see it or to at least get the catalogue. Former Worn Through contributor, Ingrid Mida, has said on her own blog that Charles James is one of her must-see exhibitions this year (along with the Museum at FIT’s Elegance in an Age of Crisis). The joy of the internet age is that for those of us who can’t make it to the actual exhibition, the exhibition website offers a way to experience it virtually. One such is the video de-constructing James’s ‘Ribbon Dress,‘ featured at the New York Times this weekend. It is interesting to compare the ‘Ribbon Dress’ — with its masterful construction — with the bias-cut tweed gown from the beginning of James’s career featured in the Museum at FIT’s Elegance in an Age of Crisis video, to see that while James’s taste was always impeccable, it takes time and experience and mistakes to become the master couturier he was. There is a second video through the museum website through the 82nd & Fifth blog, in which Consulting Curator Jan Glier Reeder discusses one of James’s evening gowns.
Much-anticipated as the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion has been, it is not the only thing happening this month, not even in New York. Over at The Studio Museum in Harlem, their exhibition, Draped Down, has been open since late March and will close June 29. According to the museum’s website, “Draped Down looks at both the implicit and explicit references to fashion in visual art. The title is adapted from a renaissance-era slang term meaning well-dressed; to be in the height of Harlem fashion. The term “draped down” was culled from a short story that the novelist and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston published in 1942.” I’m very pleased to announce that the exhibition organizer, Curatorial Fellow Monique Long, will be doing a guest post on the exhibition for Worn Through that will be posted here on May 21.
At the New York Historical Society Museum & Library, Bill Cunningham: Facades is entering its last month. The exhibition opened in March and will close June 15. The show features photographs from an eight-year project Cunningham began in 1968, “which paired models—in particular his muse, fellow photographer Editta Sherman—in period costumes with historic settings.” According to the museum, “Cunningham’s work will be reconsidered in a show that will highlight the historical perspective the photographs suggest—not just of the distant past, but of the particular time in which they were created.”
In Philadelphia, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love opened last weekend at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Running until November 30, the exhibition “is an expansive retrospective showcasing some eighty ensembles that were recently presented to the Museum as a promised gift by Kelly’s business and life partner, Bjorn Guil Amelan, and Bill T. Jones. Kelly’s designs are complemented by selections from the artist’s significant collection of black memorabilia, videos of his exuberant fashion shows, and photographs by renowned artists including Horst P. Horst, Pierre et Gilles, and Oliviero Toscani.”
Scottish Knot Brooch
1850 – 1860
Here in California, the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles has opened Artfully Adorned: Jewelry from the Christie Romero Collection on display in the Annette Green Fragrance Archive at the main campus in downtown L.A. The exhibition explores two hundred years of jewelry history through 50 pieces from Christie Romero’s private collection.
Are there any exhibitions opening in your area (North America only) that you want to let people know about? Feel free to email me, or to leave details in the comments!
Have any of you been to Charles James: Beyond Fashion, yet? Are you intending to go? What were your favourite Met Gala moments? Have any of you seen Draped Down at The Studio Museum, Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love at the Phildelphia Museum of Art, or Bill Cunningham: Facades at the New York Historical Society? If so, please share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments.
Opening image credit: Charles James with Model, 1948, Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photograph by Cecil Beaton, Beaton / Vogue / Condé Nast Archive. Copyright © Condé Nast
Last night I was able to attend the last of a series of talks curated by Dr Carolyn Mair, MA course leader at London College of Fashion (LCF), and entitled ‘Looking Ahead…isms in Fashion’. Previous talks in the series have covered topics such as ageism, racism and ableism, underlining LCF’s initative Better Lives, which aims to develop our understanding of sustainaiblity within the business of fashion. This final presentation was a panel discussion between a range of diverse speakers, all asked to reflect upon what the Chair, Dr Phil Sams, suggested were ‘tools’ at our disposal in effecting positive change upon a range of long-held stereotypes within the fashion industry.
James Partridge, founder and CEO of UK charity Changing Faces
The discussion was structured around brief presentations by all the speakers and the order of service was well considered. It began with two very positive, eloquent and engaging introductions by James Partridge, the founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the distinguished UK charity supporting people with disfigurements, and Caryn Franklin MBE, fashion broadcaster and co-founder of All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, an independent organization focused on challenging stereotypes of body ideals within the fashion industry.
All Walks Beyond the Catwalks 2013 campaign to diversify media representation of body shapes
Both were able to raise questions about fashion, well-being and diversity that struck a personal chord with the audience. James engaged us by revealing just how many people know someone with a disfigurement while noting how research suggests we still psychologically associate negative characteristics with people based upon their physical appearance. Caryn suggested we consider what is meant by ‘success’ not just within the fashion industry but when we get dressed every morning. Caryn asked us whether what we chose to wear was an experience of anxiety and conformity or affirmation and individualisation. This personal approach to the subject of exclusion, identity and fashion was certainly inspiring. While Caryn talked of the ‘extraordinary’ as a profitable antidote to the emphasis on normalization within the business of fashion, James highlighted a recent media campaign by Illamasqua, a cosmetics company, whose slogan ‘beauty is imperfection’ helped to recognize facial diversity within society.
Illamasqua 2013 ‘Imperfection’ campaign featuring a model with a facial birthmark
However, for me, the highlight of the panel discussion was the elucidating contributions by the last two speakers. Firstly, Dr Chris Pawson, a community psychologist and Principal Lecturer in Clinical & Community Psychology at the Institute for Research in Child Development, reminded us of how external circumstances, such as socio-economic systems, can negatively impact upon our mental well-being. As he put it, some people definitely have a rougher time of it than others. To only suggest a range of therapeutic methods that focus on self-improvement fails to address wider communal issues. Chris drew our attention to the way in which stereotypes are the products of socialization, not just cognitive hardwiring as referred to by other panel and audience members. Chris also voiced the oppression felt by young people when faced with pressure to conform to fashion trends or particular ways of dressing in order to be fully accepted into society, however, he was equally optimistic about fashion’s contribution to enhanced self-esteem.
M&S 2013 clothing campaign featuring Helen Mirren (actress), Tracey Emin (artist) and Katie Piper (philanthropist)
Chris was followed by Dr Carolyn Mair, the primary instigator behind these talks, who pointed out that fashion was still a very narrow business in terms of social representation, reflected in the fact that a third of Britain’s population are over the age of fifty yet barely seen in fashion representation. However, the fact that the clothes worn by Helen Mirren and Tracey Emin in the recent Marks & Spencer (M&S) campaign were the first to sell out clearly highlight the profits of appealing to a more diverse fashion consumer.
Both Chris and Carolyn brought a critical eye to a discussion that covered explicit themes such as the normalization of dress, identity and diversity, yet, arguably, more implicit themes of exclusion, anxiety and conformity were less considered. Here, it might have been interesting to include Daniel Miller, material anthropologist at UCL, or Rebecca Arnold, fashion historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art, who have both written about the various ways in which fashion and dress manifests anxieties around a range of issues, including perceived body ideals.
Instead, the final contribution to the discussion was given by Zowie Broach, co-creator of Boudicca, a London based design house, whose practitioner stance would offer insight into how fashion design might help to improve our lives. Unfortunately, her presentation with its focus on a recent art piece rather than the inherent structural challenges of working in fashion failed to engage me despite her being considerably moved by what the other speakers had to say. Zowie observed that the issues raised all made her feel quite ‘sad’. Yet it seems to me that if the fashion industry and the public are to move forward in terms of broadening our perception of what is ‘normal’, perhaps it is better to transform this sympathy, which rarely resolves and more often condones ‘isms’, into an empathy so we can start to imagine ourselves in the body/dress of another in an effort to see the world from their perspective.
Boudicca’s The Liquid Game, 2014 ( audio-visual installation)
The final audience discussion was disappointing, with very little time allowed to hear a range of questions, and was not helped by the panel Chair, who drew upon previously featured speakers amongst the audience for contributions rather than pursue lesser well-known faces amongst the sitting crowd. This was a missed opportunity to have a dialogue about ‘isms’ in more depth and perhaps in future, the panel might consider asking audience members for questions in advance.
Yet, despite these minor criticisms, the discussion was a useful starting point for thinking about cultural values, as both social and psychological phenomenon, and broader concerns about sustainability of the fashion industry. As Sandy Black has made clear, the notion of ethical or sustainable fashion is paradoxical: while the industry operates on wastefulness and obsolescence, it simultaneously claims to be our ecological and economic ally. This is perhaps why it is a challenge for designers such as Boudicca to be understood in a more critical light. But, last night’s discussion went some small way towards more intellectual reflection of cultural practices and their influence upon our efforts to ‘do better’ by fashion and by default by our complex, dressed social lives.
Finally, if you are studying anything to do with dress, fashion and mental health, I would love to hear from you. Recently, here in the UK, it was revealed that one in four people have a mental health disability. How might this impact upon people, especially when it is also often hidden from the normative gaze? How does the role of dress function within this newly emerging socio-cultural context?
 p252, Sandy Black ‘Ethical Fashion and EcoFashion’ in Steele, Valerie (ed) (2010) The Berg Companion to Fashion New York, Berg.