Congratulations to Charisma Lee, first entry to answer all of yesterday’s questions correctly.
1) Travis Banton for “Cleopatra” (1934)
2) Orry-Kelly first won an Oscar in 1951 for An American in Paris
3) Cary Grant
Congratulations to Charisma Lee, first entry to answer all of yesterday’s questions correctly.
1) Travis Banton for “Cleopatra” (1934)
2) Orry-Kelly first won an Oscar in 1951 for An American in Paris
3) Cary Grant
Every Friday night this month, Turner Classic Movies’ Friday Night Spotlight will focus on costume design. Hosted by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, film and theater costume designer and author of several books. Every Friday, Nadoolman Landis will introduce four films of her choice and discuss the costume design for the films.
In honour of the event, Worn Through is giving away a copy of the Abrams publication, Hollywood Costume, edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis. The Victoria & Albert exhibition that accompanies the book is currently still on display through February at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Heather Vaughan reviewed the costumes for one of Deborah’s first choices, Cleopatra, starring Claudette Colbert, here on Worn Through in 2010. Heather has also reviewed Hollywood Costume on her own blog, Fashion Historia, just this week.
To win the book, be the first person to email me the answers to the following three questions about the first films and designers Deborah Nadoolman Landis has chosen for this Friday (December 6):
1) For which film was the above costume designed, and by whom?
2) In what year and for which film did Orry-Kelly win the Academy Award for costume design?
3) Which actor starred in 1932′s Blonde Venus, costumed by Travis Banton, and then went on to star in 1944′s Arsenic and Old Lace, costumed by Orry-Kelly?
I will email the winner immediately, and share my impressions of the Friday Night Spotlight on Turner Classic Movies in my next post on December 18.
Where do you begin when you have only an hour to cover 400 years of quilting history in the United States? Linda Baumgarten, curator of costumes and textiles for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, began with the story of one quilt. Citing diary entries by the quilter, showing close ups and full length images of the quilt, and last a photograph of the quilter with the quilt: Linda’s mother in law, who made the quilt for Linda and her husband.
A perfect introduction to the history of a textile that is as intimate and personal as it is beautiful and artistic. And a perfect match to the “mini-exhibition” that preceded the lecture, which was in fact the sharing by various members of the American Decorative Arts Forum of family quilts, and hopefully getting a clearer picture of the ages and origins of their heirlooms.
The lecture coincides with an exhibition at Colonial Williamsburg of several quilts from Baltimore, on display through May 2014. As well as with the publication of Linda’s latest book on the Colonial Williamsburg (CW) collection of quilts, out next year.
What was equally wonderful about Linda’s lecture is that instead of simply following a chronological history of quilts, she instead focused on aspects of quilting history that were completely new to me, at least. I have always known that quilting was an international craft, as evidenced by the “melting pot” — if you will — of American quilt designs such as the Norwegian star, Amish designs, and others. But I did not know that in the earliest days of the American colonies, quilts from Eastern India were regularly imported by colonists as luxury items. After showcasing the wonderful Flying Geese quilt her mother in law had made for her, Linda cycled through several pieces from the CW collection discussing the lecture’s main question of “what is an American quilt”, finally reaching a quilt from the 1650s, with a gold tambour embroidery pattern on a cream ground, clearly from India. Which emphasized the point: how do you define an “American” quilt when all of these are part of the textile’s history.
I hadn’t realized until then that I had a stereotype about quilts and quilting. I had always imagined it as something “pioneer” women did during the evening, together, to save fabric from discarded clothing, or scraps, to keep their families warm. Quilts in my mind were synonymous with “home made”. And yet Linda shared ship manifests, import records, and newspaper advertisements for ready-made quilts from East India and Britain. All of the quilts were hand made, but not at home. Those imported from Britain, at least, were made by upholsterers’ shops to go with the beds and other furniture they sold. Not that quilts weren’t made at home, but until about 1800 or a little later, they were made by middle and upper class women as a luxury item, and way to show off their skills, and as a way to socialize, since typically more than one person worked on a quilt. Even men made quilts. Later in the lecture Linda showed paintings of men in hospital during World War I working on quilts as part of their therapy.
Quilts also followed fashion to a certain extent. At the beginning of the colonial period and through the eighteenth century, plain ground quilts made of glazed wool were particularly popular. Later on appliqué became popular, especially as the nineteenth century progressed when “autograph” quilts, or quilts such as those in the image above, became all the rage. In an autograph quilt, each woman contributes one square before the quilt is finished (placed over the quilting in the middle and given a back), usually as a gift for someone who might be leaving town. This might be because the woman married, or a young man was going to college, but the story of one quilt was quite bittersweet: a minister’s wife whose husband was sent to a new parish nearly every two or three years would request a quilt square from friends she had made during her stay and now had to leave. A way to remember people and be remembered.
The autograph quilts brought forward something else I had not realized — the near-identical designs in several of the squares revealed that there were in fact “kits” of squares where all the appliqué pieces were pre-cut and even pinned in place so that all the purchaser had to do was sew them together. I had always thought of the craft kits you see in various stores or online — whether entire knitting projects with pattern and yarn, maybe even needles, or sewing projects with all the pieces and the instructions for how to put it together — were a completely modern invention. A novel way to teach skills everyone used to have but now are somewhat rare. The more I study art and dress history the more I realise nothing is new.
Another revelation was that many of the patterns used in the quilting stitches were created by professional pattern designers as well, not necessarily passed down through the generations. Once popular these designs would last for generations no matter how general aesthetics had changed — hence the Baroque designs you see on quilts made during the height of the neoclassical period.
And this brings me to the most amazing part of Linda’s lecture, and what I am sure will be the highlight of her upcoming book. She would show us quilts, sometimes very simple Amish quilts, and then she would show us a graphic in white that showed the amazing, elaborate quilting stitches in the background, otherwise invisible in the photograph. This was incredible because it enabled me to see things I don’t even know if I would have seen in a museum with the quilts on the wall in front of me. It highlighted a very particular aspect of historic quilts: they were designed to be seen on beds, in the bedroom, where the sunlight from a window could catch the change in the texture and other patterns on a horizontal surface you otherwise would not be able to see.
These patterns also help you to determine a quilt’s place of origin. Linda placed two quilts side by side, each seemed to use the same triangular appliqué or patchwork pattern, the same dark colours that one would expect from an Amish quilt. Then Linda showed the patterning of the quilting stitches which were completely different and revealed that one was indeed Amish, the other was Welsh. Vital in the textile history world to be able to tell the difference, or even if you are a quilt collector.
Another incredible discovery is the literary history that can be found inside the quilts themselves. Women would cut out out pattern pieces from old books, papers, newspapers, letters — like the unfinished quilt by Francis Scott Key’s wife at the San Jose Quilt and Textile Museum, where Key’s love letters to his future wife are found under the quilt as pattern pieces. Who knew quilts could reveal what the average household might have read — or no longer wanted to read.
Quilts as a luxury item made by and for upper and middle class families didn’t last. As the nineteenth century wore on and the industrial revolution led to more, cheaper fabric, quilts took on their current perception of being how families preserved scraps and bits of fabric. It is also when the African-American tradition of quilting began to emerge. And now quilting has returned to the earlier tradition of being a luxury, a craft. And one which has retained its social aspect.
In the eighteenth century their were quilting parties or “quiltings”, where young women would socialize not only with each other but perhaps brothers of friends, and other potential partners. Many even ended in impromptu dances once the daylight faded and the quilting materials were put away. These evolved into the quilting bees of the nineteenth century, where women would congregate to work on a quilt.
What I came away with was a history as rich and varied as America’s own. The quilt has been with us since the beginning, and it changes and evolves with us. From luxury to necessity to art form to cherished tradition.
There was not enough time to cover everything. An hour for 400 years is not enough. Still, there was so much information. Crazy quilts of the nineteenth century were barely touched on, as were several other fads and traditions.
I guess I’ll just need to buy Linda’s book next year.
There are many great changes afoot here at Worn Through. While we are sad to see some of our contributors leave, it is exciting to bring in new voices and perspectives, and all the changes have enabled us to notice a gap in our coverage: namely those fashion and dress studies events happening here in North America. So with no further ado, I present my new column, ‘Domestic Affairs’, where I hope to fill that gap by sharing exhibitions, lectures, book publications, and anything else related to the study of fashion and dress here on Worn Through’s home continent, if you will.
I cannot possibly travel to every happening, but I am committed to bringing as much information as possible to our readers, so if any of you have an event coming up, or know of one you would like featured, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to conduct interviews over email or by phone to gain deeper insights and perspectives on exhibitions and lectures, and I will travel to those events I can. Or you can always let me know about something in the comments (as well as letting me know what else you would like to know about something already covered)!
This week I can report on two events. The first is the Costume Society of America, Western Region‘s announcement of the Jack Handford award. The Jack Handford Summer Internship awards a $2000 stipend for a student internship at an accredited museum or educational institution with a costume or dress collection. The Western Region is currently seeking applicants AND accredited institutions to participate for the summer of 2014. Applicants must be current CSA Western Region members, and the internship is open to undergraduate students about to commence their senior year and to graduate students.
Applications for both students and institutions are available at the website above. Though for more information please feel free to contact Jeremy Miller, Student Awards and Summer Internship Chair for the Western region.
Application deadline is January 10, 2014.
The second event is Linda Baumgarten‘s return to the American Decorative Arts Forum of Northern California, with a lecture on the amazing history of quilt-making in America. Since 1978, Ms Baumgarten has been the curator of textiles and costumes for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and is responsible for its collections of antique quilts and coverlets, costumes and textiles, and will be presenting “400 Years of Quilts, Styles, and Influences”. The lecture will be on November 12 in the Koret Auditorium at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. There will be a mini-exhibition at 7:15 pm, and the lecture will begin at 8:00 pm.
Ms Baumgarten’s lecture will ask the question “What is an American quilt?” in the context of the quilt’s history and use within the United States since its earliest years of settlement. According to the event announcement, Ms Baumgarten’s answer to this question is that ‘the story of American quilts is really many stories, “written” in the stitches of the women – and men – who produced them’.
You can read more about the lecture and mini-exhibition at the website above. I will be attending the lecture and will be able to give a summary and review, and I hope a mini-interview with Ms Baumgarten, in my next column (November 20). Are there any questions you would like me to ask? Anything you would like to know about the history of quilts in the United States or about the Colonial Williamsburg collection?
Also, please email me or leave events you’d like covered in the comments below!
Opening image credit: Pieced quilt top fragment, England, 1700–1730, silks and metallic threads over earlier paper templates. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Obtained via http://www.adafca.org/
Worn Through is seeking three new contributors! Three of Worn Through’s contributors are moving on and we wish them well, so now we are searching for some more wonderful fashion academics to join our team.
1. Are you a higher education instructor in dress and fashion studies? Preferably in the US. Would you like to share your ideas, lessons, experiences with our readers twice a month? We have a regular Friday feature on teaching in apparel studies and are looking for some new insights in that area. for alternating posts with current contributor Kelly Cobb.
2. Jenna gave us so many wonderful views into life of an apparel scholar in the UK and she is moving on to an array of new projects, meaning she is shifting away from writing for the blog. We would love to continue to spread the word on happenings in England, including academic and museum events, interviews, and other ideas specific to the writer such as regional history. So if you’re UK based drop us a line.
3. Would you like to cover fashion in museums for Worn Through from anywhere in the globe? This is an area that has been been written about from Australia, Canada and the US. We are open to a new location or repeating one of those with a museum professional who wants to share the inside scoop on what it’s like to work within the ranks of curator, collections manager, exhibition designer, or similar.
Our goal is to find strong writers with lots of experience and enthusiasm for this field who can commit to posts that appear at least bi-weekly. This is a volunteer effort of a team, however do note we get about 40k hits per month and have been featured in many publications and reviews as a place to go for info in our field–thus, the exposure and community service are both reasons to participate. Contributors have also spoken of how the blog format provides a venue to lightly, loosely, and briefly discuss issues on their minds, rather than always heading toward journals, books, and exhibitions which take months/years to come out and generally have a more narrow audience. Also note for 2014 we plan to continue such things as our annual award (in its second year!), book give-aways, CFPs, and more.
We like to think of Worn Through as an information vehicle within our community, and we are looking for more people to get on board.
If you would be interested, please email Monica with your ideas, your CV and your availability. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please share this post with them!Positions open until filled, but ideally ready-to-go for Jan 2014.
Tove Hermanson, a former Worn Through contributor and Editor, is a fashion culturalist whose work has been featured on the Huffington Post and Gaga Stigmata, among other publications. In addition to writing on her own fashion culture blog Thread for Thought, she is working on a book about fashion and revolution.
Presented by the Asian / Pacific / American Institute at NYU and Museum of Chinese in America
June 25, 2013
Accompanying the concurrent fashion exhibitions at the Museum of Chinese in America, Front Row: Chinese American Designers and Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910-40s, the Museum hosted an ethnically and professionally diverse panel of fashion writers who deal with aspects of race in their work, of which this is a summary.
In her introduction, the Museum’s Executive Director, Helen Koh, humorously addressed the rapidly shifting perception of Asians in America and abroad: slowly but surely, the image of the Chinese laundry is shifting to that of the rising Chinese designer such as Jimmy Choo, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, Anna Sui and Yeohlee Teng, to name but a few not to mention the increased marketing energy focused on the Chinese population of one-billion-plus. While there is certainly a dark, oppressive, commercial and insidious nature of fashion and appearance, this panel attempted to address how fashion can enact positive change.
Minh-Ha T. Pham (one half of one of my favorite smart fashion blogs, Threadbared), spoke about Chinese representation in fashion blogs. She rightly asserted that the increasingly common inclusion of bloggers at runway shows has diversified the range of editorial coverage; likewise, the self-published blog format has given visibility to minorities like Asians and women of color in their street style blogs and personal outfit posts: Susanna Lau (a.k.a. Susie Bubble) and Bryan Grey Yambao (a.k.a. BryanBoy) are prime examples of increasingly familiar Asian bloggers from across the globe (Lau and Yambao are British Chinese and Filipino, respectively).
With this success and visibility, however, comes predatory commercialization and the danger of the unethical appropriation of Asian blogger styles and trademarks. For example, BryanBoy’s standard pose showing off his own designer purses was co-opted by Fendi for a series of purse ads. Of course, the Fendi ad replaced the spindly gay Asian boy with a spindly white (presumably heterosexual) woman suggesting that Asians (and ethnic minorities generally) are still prone to being white-washed, essentially erased by corporate marketing in the final product, even when they provided the inspiration. Fendi never asked permission of BryanBoy to appropriate his recognizable pose, much less offered monetary compensation though it certainly gave Fendi prestige and street cred precisely because the sassy hooked elbow would be recognized by many as BryanBoy’s style, thereby suggesting, however subtly, BryanBoy’s endorsement of the products. Oddly, it was not BryanBoy who caught the uncanny similarity in the Fendi ads, but his fans, who, after ascertaining he had not participated in the campaign, subsequently launched their own blogging counterattack to call attention to the purloined pose. Pham was ultimately optimistic that, however haltingly, Asians are redefining themselves as creative originals, and slowly shedding their stigma as professional counterfeiters.
The following speaker, Ashley Mears, has been a working model and who now writes and teaches about race and gender within the modeling world. She confirmed what most people suspect: that there is a huge variance in model pay that literally values paler races over others. She showed some photos from when she traveled with fashion scouts who typically seek out girls ages 13 to 18 in Siberia and Eastern Europe: cold climates with pale inhabitants (the German immigrants of South Brazil are also very popular, such as Gisele Bundchen). She projected a series of photos she took of model casting calls and model schools (it might be difficult to see in my photo, but all the girls are looking quite awkward in their underwear):
Mears suggested that model schools operating in small towns offer hope (however unrealistic) to economically depressed young women; the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s opened that country to the world and there was a corresponding increase in Soviet model applicants (it didn’t hurt that the pale skin, willowy limbs, and large eyes of Eastern European women conform to contemporary beauty standards and model scouting criteria). Soviet women also had less belief in upward mobility and so were prime targets for exploitation.
While Mears approved of sites like Jezebel which are policing racially and sexually egregious fashion images (blackface shoots, etc.), she acknowledged that cultural logic does influence the races chosen for particular model projects: Western models seem to be more comfortable posing in lingerie, while more Japanese women appear in cosmetics ads. It is also not uncommon for the Asian runways to be testing grounds for emerging models, who may appear in Tokyo fashion shows before graduating to the more prestigious fashion markets of Paris, London, and New York.
Mimi Thi Nguyen (the other half of Threadbared) spoke about hoodies and African American life, concentrating on how the Trayvon Martin case (which had not yet concluded) has fueled this discussion in the public eye lately, with competing stories and the hoodie becoming a racially loaded sartorial symbol. During the trial there was a proliferation of people (often otherwise “innocent”-seeming like children and the elderly) posing in hoodie photos in solidarity, sometimes accompanied by “do I look suspicious?” text, and posted online:
While it can be read as a distracting detail, the activist hoodie photo campaigns and other social media incorporating the hoodie handle (“#MillionHoodies” Twitter and Facebook tags), the humble hoodie has become a potent illustration of the relationship between black life and black death in America, not to mention the impact of social media upon justice movements.
The last speaker, Sharon Heijin Lee, spoke about social media as well, though as a potentially unchecked source for misinformation. Lee is interested in Korean plastic surgery and opened her lecture with a widely shared GIF of nearly-identical faces of Korean beauty pageant contestants with variations on the headline “Has Plastic Surgery Made These 20 Korean Beauty Pageant Contestants Look The Same?‘”
Lee is quick to correct a widely repeated inaccuracy: these are not Miss Korea contestants at all, but rather contestants in Miss Daegu, a Korean province. And yes, they’re all very pale and have similar eye shapes and “eerily” similar smiles that can easily be read as racist Americans not being able to tell the difference between non-whites, or evidence of Korea’s plastic surgery obsession, but it’s also true that the same could be said about Miss USA contestants: this might be more of a pageant look than an entire country’s.
Lee points out that Psy’s K-Pop sensation ‘Gangnam Style’ video pokes fun at Gangnam, the Korean equivalent of Beverly Hills. Half of Korea’s plastic surgeons are located in Gangnam, and Psy’s parody is (a hilarious and dangerously catchy) critique of South Korea’s consumerism in clothes and plastic surgery:
Lee introduced me to a new video as well, an SNL digital short “Plastic Face” (set to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”) by K-Pop band Brown Eyed Girls. While it is definitely tongue-in-cheek, they show pre-surgery photo of themselves and call out other Korean dignitaries (men included) who have had work done, is it ultimately just another ad for plastic surgery?
In reaction to these and other more insidious examples of Korea’s plastic surgery obsession, a feminist Facebook group, Korean Womenlink, has been trying not to blame women for their supposedly innate narcissism, and rather to enact preventative political policies. This echoed a theme of the night: that social media is a double-edged sword with the capacity to spread homogenized images of thin white women, but also to educate and empower disenfranchised racial and social groups.
While you already missed this event and must rely upon my Reader’s Digest version, the accompanying exhibitions at the Museum of the Chinese in America will be on view until September 29, so you still have time to visit them yourself!
Breaking the walls of the museum has become my manta, in my attempt to make the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection an accessible resource for students, faculty, and visitors. Like many transformational projects, the obstacles have been enormous and I continue to fight for support and recognition. This week I will be speaking at the Discursive Spaces conference, which is co-presented by Ryerson University School of Interior Design, the University of Leicester, the University of Nottingham and the Art Gallery of Ontario. This forum is intended to facilitate discussion about “the integration of art, design, and architecture in the creation of memorable and immersive museum experiences, while balancing the public’s expectations of self-directed expression and engagement”.
I rarely mention it, but I began my university studies in architecture at the University of Waterloo. My passion for architecture has never abated, and I continue to be acutely sensitive to the aesthetics and physicality of the space I am in, especially in museums. The nature of the space – scale, proportion, balance, flow, light – affects mood, ease of movement and the level of engagement with the art or the objects contained therein.
For example, I found the experience of seeing the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibition in Paris at the Musee d’Orsay to be very different from that I experienced when I saw the same exhibition in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The special exhibition gallery at the Musee d’Orsay has low ceilings and the galleries are long and narrow, such that museum visitors were funnelled through tight corridors and the rooms always seem crowded – even when they are not. As well, it was very difficult to step back to experience the beauty of the large-scale Impressionist works or to linger over the beautiful and fragile costumes on display. The same exhibition shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art seemed altogether different with the Met’s spacious galleries and elevated ceilings. The same paintings had room to breathe and were displayed in a way that highlighted their grandeur. It was the same show, but in different spaces had different effects.
For the Discursive Spaces conference, I submitted a joint paper with architect Guela Solow about the project we undertook to break down the museum walls and redesign the physical space housing the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. To make the collection more accessible to students and faculty, it physically had to relocated within the School of Fashion, bringing it out of the seventh floor of the library, which was 20 minutes and two elevator rides away. Guela Solow, is Managing Principal of ARK, a Toronto-based architecture firm, and also my friend. She had used one of my photographs in another project for the hospice at the Princess Margaret Hospital and she undertook this project at Ryerson on spec. She was not deterred by the very ugly space assigned to house the collection, which consisted of the very dirty, dark and dingy chemical darkrooms.
Using my photographs of historic pieces from the collection as a means of inexpensively transforming the space, her vision literally transformed this space into the centrepiece of the School of Fashion. Although we received huge accolades from all that viewed the project, it will not come to fruition, because of funding issues at the university. Nevertheless, the conceptual underpinnings behind this project – an integration of architecture, fashion and photography – is a strong premise and worthy of further discussion.
Provided below is an abstract of our presentation. If you live in Toronto, day passes to the event are available. Guela and I will be speaking at the AGO on Friday, June 21 at 330 pm.
A study collection, like a museum, is intended to educate and inspire, and may also serve to enhance teaching, research and outreach in the community. The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is a repository of several thousand garments, accessories and other artifacts acquired by donation for study purposes in the School of Fashion. Garments as artifacts embody complex histories, and in donating a dress artifact or photograph to a collection, the donor entrusts the curator with the care and keeping of that object into the foreseeable future. Biographical information is not always known, available or recorded when an item is accepted into a collection, and yet it is the role of the curator of fashion to interpret a narrative, and to read time backwards, placing singular garments within a historical continuum. However, upon acceptance of a garment into a collection, the emotional connection to the donor is effectively reduced to an accession number, and the question becomes how to engage the student or scholar with the multi-faceted object biography as well as honour the donor’s narrative.
For the past decade, the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection has been housed behind an unmarked door on the seventh floor of the library and was not widely known within the student body.
At the beginning of 2012, the Collection was largely inaccessible due to the volume of material piled into the storage facility, the degradation of the database and a lack of curatorial direction. Since that time, Ryerson University School of Fashion Collection Coordinator Ingrid Mida has undertaken the editing of the Collection, in an effort to transform this underutilized asset of the university into an accessible resource for students, faculty and visiting designers and researchers to use for design inspiration and material culture studies.
The proposed plans for the Ryerson Fashion Research Centre are the result of a shared vision between Ingrid Mida and Architect Guela Solow of ARK. This plan integrates art, design and architecture to dissolve the barriers of the museum by integrating the collection within the university environment. Weaving museum and school together, the facility design effectively removes the barriers between subject and object, artifact and viewer. Decentralizing the collection creates an experience that moves beyond immersion to active engagement. The architectural design inverts the typical division between “front” and “back-of-house” museum functions by accommodating storage, the archival process, and academic analysis within the educational arena, allowing fashion students to meaningfully connect with and interact with the Collection.
While not compromising the integrity of the artifacts, their photographic translation creates a secondary collection, which speaks to cultural outreach and threads itself into the architectural fabric of the greater university. Linking past and present as well as providing a double link between image and material, this photographic reinterpretation of the Collection provides insight, illumination and perspective – essential to an interpretive understanding of the beauty and fragility of the original pieces. Interwoven throughout the campus, photographic images clad the university itself in large-scale transparent fragments of garments and objects from the Collection; both illuminating the material relevance of the artifacts, as well as adorning the larger world in its memories.
Edwards, Elizabeth (1999). “Photographs as Objects of Memory.” Material Memories: Design and Evocation. Eds. Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward, and Jeremy Aynstey. New York: Berg, 221-236.
Macleod, Suzanne (2012). Museum Making, Narratives, Architectures, Exhibitions. London: Routledge.
Pearce, Susan. (1992). Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study. London: Leicester University Press.
Sandeil, Richard and Christina Kreps, eds. (2012). Museum Meanings. 2012. New York: Routledge.
Ingrid Mida, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
Ingrid Mida, BA, MAcc, MA, is the Collection Co-ordinator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. She initiated and undertook the editing of the Collection and has championed this project at Ryerson University. Ingrid is also a freelance photographer and writer, focusing on fashion in the museum.
Guela Solow, ARK, Toronto, Canada
Guela Solow graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1985 and is a member of the Ontario Association of Architects. Committed to the specific needs of the non-profit world, her work as Managing Principal of ARK, explores and challenges the boundaries of architecture beyond traditional disciplines to integrate urban, graphic and interior design with architecture, art and theory. In addition to practicing architecture, Guela has taught design theory as Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, lectured internationally and been the recipient of federal research grants. Her work has received international acclaim and has been described by juries as “ an excellent example of the profound ability of art and architecture to transform space and the human experience”
During one of my lazy and cosy Sunday press reading, I came across two news that immediately caught my eye: Riccardo Tisci has designed the Opéra Garnier’s actual show, the Boléro’s costumes and Azzedine Alaia imagined the choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj’s latest touring spectacle’s costumes, inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights, Les Nuits.
Ballet and fashion are certainly two of the most delectable pleasures of my personal life: when both meet, I am thrilled. I highly appreciate Riccardo Tisci’s work but what mostly seduces me here is the evocation of the sublime Boléro which is certainly the tune that most makes me shiver. I was also curious to discover what the Italian designer would propose after he had imagined Rihanna’s latest tour stage outfits: two parallel worlds united by costume design…
Concerning Alaia’s contribution to Les Nuits, I must admit that, this time, the simple allusion to the designer’s name is enough to seduce me: I am an enthusiastic fan of the couturier.
My earliest encounter with ballet costume design is a personal experience: my first important ballet show, at the age of 7. I started practising ballet very young and I was a rigorous pupil what made me part of the Parisian antenna of the Royal Academy of Dance: foolish pride! For our first major show, we were little mice and I can recall the absolute pleasure of putting on the exquisite and precise outfit the costume designer had imagined. The spell was cast: I had become a real mouse! This anecdotal souvenir makes me realise how important costumes are, not only for the spectators but also for the dancers themselves. Just like actors do, a dancer entirely becomes the character just by dressing up. As an adult, today, I can also appreciate the clear reference to ‘le petit rat de l’Opéra’: the common and charming name given to the prestigious school’s students.
By investing the world of stage, these fashion designers pursue a long tradition that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. When Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes arrived in Paris, in 1909, the art of costume design is renewed: the creative avant-garde gets its hands on what was until then the privilege of stage costume specialists. From the late 19th century, fashion houses and couturiers had already provided clothes for leading actresses. However, in 1924, Coco Chanel will be the first fashion designer to imagine proper costumes (fancy knits) for a show, the now iconic, Le Train Bleu. Artists and couturiers have now wholly integrated the world of theatre, ballet and opera.
In 1965, a significant partnership is demonstrated by Yves Saint Laurent’s designs for Roland Petit’s Notre Dame de Paris. Today, Christian Lacroix and Jean Paul Gaultier are certainly the most prolific contributors to costume design.
Other fashion designers also try their hands on this particular discipline, like Valentino who, in September 2012, created 16 original designs for the New York City Ballet’s Fall Gala.
Even the eccentric Belgian designer, Walter Van Beirendonck (I mentioned in my post about the Fashion Monster’s exhibition) was asked to design costumes for the Opéra Garnier for Sous Apparence at the end of 2012.
The Boléro was composed in 1928 by Maurice Ravel who conceived a repetitive and mesmerizing tune with a progressive crescendo. The 2013′s version of the ballet is choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet who, alongside the popular contemporary artist Marina Abramovic, in charge of the scenography, and Riccardo Tisci, highlight the obsessive feel of this music. The ballet evokes a trance with a magnetic and kinetic centre that entraps the dancers. The space is blurred and dancers twirl in an organised chaos just as the repetitive and intense tune of the Boléro does.
Riccardo Tisci imagined multi-layered nude tulle catsuits embroidered with ivory lace that forms a skeleton. The layers are shed during the dance like flowers loosing their petals, emphasising the cycle of life and the near coming of death. This encounter between nudity/the skin and the skeleton evokes an ambiguity between life and death. The costumes therefore emphasize the choreography’s narrative.
It is not Azzedine Alaia’s first experience as a costume designer: he had already imagined outfits for Carolyn Carlson in 1996 (I, unfortunately, have found no significant text nor images about this collaboration). This year, he is in the centre of two projects. Angelin Preljocaj’s Les Nuits ballet and the opera, The Marriage of Figaro for which he designed costumes (with many knitted pieces, dear to the couturier’s predilection) that has just ended playing at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Alaia chose to make the characters dress up on stage. Figaro arrives with a bare chest and wearing his trousers while a barefoot Suzanne wears a silk slip. This choice brings an effective touch of reality and intimacy to the performance.
For Les Nuits, he created rather customary costumes: fluid dresses and skirts and body clinging catsuits and vests. If I were a professional dancer, I would surely be 100% confident in having Alaia design an ensemble for me. He has such a precise knowledge of how to embellish women’s bodies while promising much comfort, he is surely an excellent costume designer.
Designing a ballet costume requires to think of the body and its movements more than fashion demands. Another significant point is to never forget about the dancing partners: a misplaced ornamentation can scratch or even hurt! I still practice ballet today and I know how important it is to feel comfortable and free in one’s moves.
Even if a fashion designer introduces his own style, he has to adapt himself to particular and common odds: dancers are not models and their bodies and moves are material designers are not always used to. Costumes must act like a second skin.
Ballet costumes can adopt multiple aspects: they can be purely decorative (yet dazzling) like the traditional tutus tend to be or minimalist when they take the form of nude catsuits or fluid dresses. Still, some costumes succeed in telling a story, becoming part of the narrative and a significant element of the choreography.
Moreover, some choreographers assume to let the costume deny, refine or add reflection to the writing of their dancing moves. The costume can, therefore, suggest new volumes, new lines, extend or hinder the body…These choices encourage the dancers to move in a different way and provoke a new language while their bodies reveal a stimulating stress.
An interesting example illustrating such a reflection is the 1997 collaboration between Merce Cunningham and Rei Kawabuko. For the choreographer’s Scenario ballet, the designer imagined costumes inspired by her notorious Body Meets Dress/Dress Meets Body collection. The choreographer asked for padded and irregular designs that altered the dancers’ balance, moves and relationships to the environmental space. This is a fabulous example of the deliberate impact of costumes on the spectacle.
Finally, a fashion designer can be importantly inspired by his work on a ballet. When in 1991, Issey Miyake imagined the 400 pieces of William Forsythe’s creation, The Loss Of Small Detail, he desired to create garments that would perfectly marry the dancers’ moves while composing unexpected volumes and ingeniously and gracefully coming back in shape after various moves and jumps. The future Pleats Please line was born!
Fashion designers’ take on ballet costume design is an extensive theme and it features various concepts. In general, fashion designers fulfil their role with much effectiveness and they can count on the dancers and their creative colleagues to advise them and reach a common, successful goal. However, some collaborations seem to meet with less success in particular when fashion designers tend to disguise the dancers. Thus, dance costume design is a singular discipline that emphasises one question: can all fashion designers be costume designers?
When I was at l’Ecole du Louvre, I enjoyed a seminar at the CNCS that is the National Stage Costume Museum of France. It is a worldwide unique example where all the costumes from the Opéra Garnier, the Comédie Française and the Bibliothèque Nationale are conserved. I can only suggest you visit this beautiful museum (in the middle of nowhere, in Moulins) if you get the chance to come to France.
The V&A Museum website has interesting content about dance costume design.
L’Opéra National de Paris presents a well illustrated virtual exhibition.
There is an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, exploring Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes adapted from the V&A’s 2010 show.
And the National Gallery of Victoria, in Australia, just ended the presentation of Ballet & Fashion.
Noisette, Philippe. Couturiers de la Danse. Paris: Editions de la Martinière, 2003.
Kahane, Martine, Lacroix, Christiand and Pinasa, Delphine. Christian Lacroix Costumier. Paris: Les Editions du Mécène, 2007.
Kitamura, Midori and Miyake, Issey. Pleats Please. Berlin: Taschen, 2012.
Saillard, Olivier. Jean Paul Gaultier/Régine Chopinot – Le Défilé. Paris: Les Arts Décoratifs, 2007.
Marsh, Geoffrey and Pritchard, Jane. Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929. London: V&A Publishing, 2010.
Bell, Robert. Ballets Russes: The Art of Costume. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia: 2011.
I’m back in London this week, after being in utopic Auckland, New Zealand for a month, where I did catch a few dress-related exhibitions of note. However, coming home to England, I was greeted with the news that advance tickets to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s current retrospective of the career of David Bowie, in sound and vision, were sold out!
Thankfully, my room-mate and die-hard long-time Bowie fan had booked us tickets for late July before the last were gone. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Bowie fans in range of the exhibition or doubtless are coming from afar to see this unprecedented coming together of Bowie’s stage costumes and other ephemera. Some tickets are still available at the museum on day of showing – but the museum’s site advises arriving early to purchase.
Since there will surely be some disappointed fans out there who can’t get in, and I couldn’t really bear the thought of waiting until July to know what’s on display, I share with you a clip of the exhibition put together by ArtLyst. It gives a good impression of the exhibition as a whole and focuses in on the displays. However, I recommend you watch it synced to your favourite Bowie tune instead of with the clip’s somewhat sleepy background music!
Next Thursday April 25th, Pratt Institute will be hosting their annual student fashion show. I was impressed by the student work featured in their look book for the event and thrilled to hear about the school’s choice this year for their Visionary Award, an honor previously bestowed on recipients Hamish Bowles, Diane von Furstenberg, and Catherine Malandrino, among others. While I encourage those available to support student work and come see the fashion show and ensuing cocktail benefit, those outside the New York area can catch a sneak peak of student design below, as well as learn more about the event and some upcoming changes in the fashion design curriculum at Pratt. Special thanks to the Assistant Chairperson of the Fashion Department, Shannon Bell Price, for taking the time to chat with me about some of the exciting things happening at Pratt!
Thom Browne, Ensemble, autumn/winter 2012-13. Image via: style.com
Mellissa: On April 25th, when the graduating class presents their thesis fashion collections, you will also be honoring the American fashion designer Thom Browne with the Pratt Institute Visionary Award. Although Browne has already been recognized with multiple design awards, it was not until recently that he’s started to really garner attention from a more global audience outside of the fashion industry. Yet, even before Michelle Obama decided to wear his clothes to the presidential inauguration, and well before his most recently acclaimed Fall 2013 collections were completed, Pratt had already decided on Browne as a recipient for the award. Could you talk a bit about the choice of Thom Browne for this special acknowledgment?
Shannon: I had been aware of Thom’s work for quite a while and for me he represents all that can be great and important about American fashion in this new century. He revolutionized menswear and is now doing the same for womenswear; and skillfully reconciles art and commerce through highly conceptual runway presentations and impeccable craftsmanship. During my first year at Pratt Institute I very much wanted to help Chair Minniti bring attention to the program, and the important curricular changes she is implementing, through honoring someone who represents the aspirations of Pratt Fashion–no one seemed to do it better than Thom Browne. He has set standards for excellence and originality that push fashion forward and will surely inspire our students to do the same.
Sam O’Brien, Ensemble, 2013. Photo by Dominik Tarabanski
Mellissa: The student work that will be shown on the runway was also chosen by a panel, what was the selection process like for the students to participate in this culminating fashion show?
Shannon: The seniors go through a rigorous and regular critique schedule for the entire final year. Along with weekly classroom fittings and critique, we have two formal crits during the fall semester where we bring in a small panel of academics, including professional peers from Parsons and SCAD et al, as well as industry professionals. In the final weeks of the spring semester the students have a formal review with the senior collection faculty and chairs to decide whose collections are in good enough shape, considering concept, cohesion, and craftsmanship, to be presented to the final jury who ultimately decides which seniors will show at the fashion show. This final jury is held outside of Pratt and includes a much longer list of high-level designers and industry leaders who use a very precise grading rubric, the result from which is decided who goes to the runway.
Madeline Gruen, Ensemble, 2013. Photo by Dominik Tarabanski
Mellissa: The lookbook design for the senior thesis fashion show is really striking. How involved were the student designers in the process of putting this together?
Shannon: The look book was designed by Joshua Graver, Pratts in house graphic designer, who worked closely with photographer, Dominik Tarabanski, and us on the concept. The students are so focused on getting their looks done they don’t have much time during this part of the semester to think about the look book so we all bring our years of experience to bear to make sure we produce a professional product that will serve them as they start their careers.
Jefferson Musanda, Ensemble, 2013. Photo by Dominik Tarabanski
Mellissa: The fashion design department at Pratt is about to implement a new curriculum this coming Fall 2013. What catalyzed this upcoming change, and what are some of the immediate differences that currently matriculated and incoming students can expect to see?
Shannon: Pratt Institute brought Chair Minniti in 2 years ago to affect change in the department so Pratt Fashion could remain competitive, and much of that work is done though the curriculum. The immediate differences are a move away from teaching according to markets such as “active wear” or “cocktail”; courses that integrate design and construction education across the curriculum at each class level; and most importantly an emphasis on concept led, craft based collection building.
Simone Kurland, Ensemble, 2013. Photo by Dominik Tarabanski
Mellissa- There are many strong fashion design programs in the U.S., and New York City alone has multiple colleges that offer this major. However, different schools have established reputations for emphasizing specific aspects of the design process in their curriculum, such as a focus on business and industry practice or perhaps veering in a more theoretical direction. Where do you see Pratt falling into the pedagogical equation, and in what ways does the program at Pratt seek to distinguish itself from others?
Shannon- We are in a city with a number of fashion design programs but as New York is such a large fashion epicenter we feel that there is room for all of us and encourage “collaborative competition” with our peer schools. In addition, Brooklyn has come into its own as a cultural center for the city and Pratt is in a wonderful position to tap into that energy. Pratt Fashion was the first program of its kind in the country and our 125-year-old intimate campus in Clinton Hill offers a unique experience for students looking for an alternative to Parsons or FIT. Our classes and student body are smaller, which provides an opportunity for closer individual attention. From a pedagogical perspective because we are smaller we are also more nimble and can integrate exciting things into our curriculum quickly, such as a deconstruct/reconstruct project we did with the sophomores to celebrate Miguel Adrover’s work and visit; and participation in the Costume Institute annual College Design Competition, this year using the PUNK show as inspiration. In general, we are heavily critique based; emphasize the research aspect of the design process whether related to concept development or new approaches to construction. We ultimately want the students to be able to understand the importance of working towards a cohesive collection early in their education, which includes being able to think, write, and speak critically about their work, the work of their peers, and fashion in a historical , global, social and theoretical context.
Miguel Adrover, Photo by Germán Sáiz, via El País
Mellissa- Are there any other upcoming events at Pratt that readers should know about?
Shannon- Besides the senior fashion show on the 25th which is our annual fundraiser this Wednesday we are showing a film not seen in the states yet on Miguel Adrover, he is here for our final senior critique and will be at the screening to do a Q&A with Chair Minniti! Next year we will run our fall lecture series again and also be holding an international symposium on research and practice in fashion education. Louise Wilson, from Central Saint Martins, has graciously agreed to give the keynote so you can see we have a great line up of some of the most important fashion educators. Please like us on FB or check our website for updates!
From Pratt: Tickets to the 6 PM fashion show and the 7:30 PM cocktail benefit honoring Browne are available for purchase at pratt.edu/fashionshow. Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit student scholarships and Pratt’s Department of Fashion. Members of the press should contact Amy Aronoff at 718-636-3554 email@example.com to attend. Credentials will be required.
After a decade in music industry management, costume design, and fashion styling, Shannon Bell Price entered academia through The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. As Associate Research Curator at the Met, she collaborated with Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, and Andrew Bolton, Curator, on exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and education. Since 2000, exhibitions on which she participated included: “Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed” (2002); “Wild: Fashion Untamed,” which she co-curated (2004); “Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion” (2006); “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy (2008); and “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” (2011). In addition to co-authoring “Wild: Fashion Untamed,” Price has contributed to the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion (2004) and the Met’s award-winning Timeline of Art History. She is co-editor for the upcoming journal on luxury to be published by Berg and serves as an editorial board member for the Fashion, Style & Popular Culture Journal (PCA/ACA, Intellect Books) slated for 2013. She has taught and lectured at New York University and Parsons, with research interest areas that include twentieth-century avant-garde fashion and sub-cultural style, non-western costume as it relates to contemporary fashion practice, issues of sustainability, and postwar decorative arts and design history. Price is currently pursuing her doctorate in decorative arts, design, and culture at The Bard Graduate Center in New York City.
Special thanks to Shannon from WT!