Parisian Insights: Jeanne Lanvin

While studying at the London College of Fashion, I had chosen, for one of our papers, to imagine an exhibition focusing on Jeanne Lanvin’s “Robes de Style.” At the time, I discovered with much surprise that no retrospective had ever been dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin and what a major impact she had have not only on fashion but on building a whole lifestyle brand. When I learnt about the Palais Galliera’s exhibition, despite suffering from a slight pinch of jealousy (how I wish I could have collaborated on my student years’ fantasy!), I was thrilled to discover how the museum’s curator Olivier Saillard and Alber Elbaz, the brand’s actual designer, had decided to present Jeanne Lanvin’s work. 

Exhibition View. Photography: Courtesy of Pierre Antoine for Palais Galliera

Exhibition View. Photography: Courtesy of Pierre Antoine for Palais Galliera

Although, most people do know the name Lanvin, very little are aware of Jeanne Lanvin’s career and imprint on a contemporary vision of the fashion brand. From milliner and dressmaker for young girls, Jeanne Lanvin rapidly turned into celebrated couturier, lifestyle designer and perfume maker- thus setting the standards for contemporary brands.

Galleria’s display featured over a hundred pieces signed by Jeanne Lanvin – garments and accessories – mostly from the 1920s and 1930s alongside a number of material culture objects such as photographies, personal correspondences, notebooks, drawings…that enabled to comprehend not only the aesthetic and technical virtuosity of the designer but also her personality. Indeed, I believe no other fashion brands has been as inspired as Jeanne Lanvin’s by her personal history and inspirations, the passion she had for her daughter, Marguerite, surely being the most prominent: her signature blue influenced by her love for Fra Angelico, a depiction of Marguerite and herself serving as the house’s logo…Albert Elbaz supervised the artistic direction of the exhibition and chose to present the garments with the help of various themes highlighting key concepts defining Jeanne Lanvin’s style. Thus the display underlined her artistic expertise, her Robe de Style, her iconic “Lanvin Blue”, her hats, her children designs, her jeweled and embroidered dresses, her taste for black and white, her exotic, religious and Art Deco inspirations as well as her evening wear and wedding gowns.

Exhibition View. Photography: Courtesy of PierreAntoine for Palais Galliera

Exhibition View. Photography: Courtesy of PierreAntoine for Palais Galliera

Despite the exquisite embroideries, the nostalgic Robes de Style, the naive mother and daughter  identity, Jeanne Lanvin was greatly modern in her approach, creating garments that dared to be loose, diaphanous, bejeweled or at other times, geometric or Japanese-like but also  in establishing her brand as a whole lifestyle house. The scenography illustrated her modernity with the use of black steel cases and frames to display the garments in a sort of industrial atmosphere. Yet, what surely captivated me the most was the daring choice of showing certain garments laying flat in mirrored cases opened like a piano. Transforming the garment into a two-dimensional object not only enhances it as an art piece on which the visitor can closely observe meticulous details, it erases its relationship to the body, establishing its shape as a timeless silhouette. Nonetheless I appreciated the trick as it turned the gowns into ghostly “sleeping beauties” as described by Alber Elbaz and, although anatomy was removed from the context, it yet did not negate their humanity as these garments hustled into the cases gave the impression of having just been taken off by their elegant owners after a night out. The use of mirrors and lights created playful reflections that accented the mysterious aspect of those dormant gowns that also evoked the conservation of garments within archives –  a hint to the museum’s storage rooms and Lanvin’s incredible patrimonial collection. ( Olivier Saillard had already used this aesthetic for his 2012 Balenciaga exhibition at the Cité de la Mode et du Design)

Exhibition View. Photography: Courtesy of PierreAntoine for Palais Galliera

Exhibition View. Photography: Courtesy of PierreAntoine for Palais Galliera

Finally, what I also enjoyed was Alber Elbaz’s refusal to include any of his designs within the exhibition, letting the sole focus of the display being Jeanne Lanvin and thus avoiding the usual game of comparisons. Alber Elbaz’s participation was “confined” to texts and the scenography which is quite relevant when we know how talented the designer is to imagine the displays of his shops’ windows. 

Although according to my personal taste, I believe the exhibition could have been further in evoking all the aspects of Jeanne Lanvin’s creativity: her Art Deco interiors, her lifestyle designs…This exposition is surely one of the most beautiful and interesting I have visited these last months or should I even say, years…

Further resources:

The catalogue: Grossiord, Sophie. Jeanne Lanvin. Paris: Paris Musées, 2015.

One of my favorites: Merceron, Dean. Lannin. New York: Rizzoli, 2007.


Domestic Affairs: I Did! at the Lacis Museum


I’ve lost count of the number of wedding dress exhibitions that have come and gone since I entered the world of dress history. This is perhaps because, as one of humanity’s oldest and most universal ceremonies, there is so much to explore and learn. There is also the simple fact that most wedding attire is the height of beauty and craftsmanship in clothing and textile arts.

The I Did! Wedding Finery Past: The Affirmations of Past Generations at the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley (previously spotlighted in Domestic Affairs here) is only the second wedding-themed exhibition I have attended — the first being Bliss, at FIDM in Los Angeles. I strongly suspect that this will not be the last such exhibition and I can safely say that for me, at least, Lacis has set the standard for wedding exhibitions remarkably high. Many of the exhibitions I have heard about focus, understandably, on the craftsmanship and beauty of the gowns. This is not to say that the exhibition at Lacis does not do that, but that I Did! does so much more.


Displayed in the smaller of Lacis’s two display spaces (the smocking exhibition I previously reviewed was in their larger space), I Did! features wedding attire for both men and women from about the 1850s through the 1930s. It also has a huge number of material culture items — wedding certificates, prayer books, calling cards, etc. — that deepen the show’s exploration of wedding history. The garments are displayed in chronological order, but museum curator, Erin Algeo, also created a number of tableaus showing the journey from engagement through ceremony, through wedding breakfast, through the wedding night (featuring the delicate details and beauty found in traditional trousseaus).


These tableaus were a remarkably clever and creative way to not only engage the visitor, but also to ensure that the visitor is not overwhelmed by the sheer number of objects on display. It also allowed Erin to feature garments that she was not entirely comfortable calling “wedding gowns,” such as the beautiful 1850s (circa) gown above which features green trim on the bodice. In her research, Erin discovered that not only was green considered bad luck for a bride, but by the 1850s a bias against brides wearing color existed (my Edwardian-born, old fashioned, maternal grandmother declaring to my mother in the early 1970s that “brides do not wear color!” when my mum wanted to add a green sash to her wedding dress came immediately to mind). This made her reluctant to call this exquisite gown a wedding dress, since she did not have any provenance for when the green trim was added. So in order to still include it, and to tell the story of weddings, she created the “proposal scene” you see above, dressing the mannequin as though at a ball.


Next to this engagement scene was a proper wedding gown from about the 1860s, which was a beautiful example of the period and of the excellent workmanship of the period. As weddings were required under British law (and continued via tradition in the United States) to take place in the morning, this was a wonderful contrast in fashions and proprieties of daytime and evening attire for the mid-nineteenth-century. It was this very tradition/law created the next tableau: a wedding breakfast. The wedding breakfast was of particular interest to Erin, she even went as far back as pre-Reformation England in her research to try and discover the origins of the law, and it is also a wonderful exploration of a tradition that has not survived intact but is instead the origin of the modern day reception. The tableau also allowed for the display of the gowns from 1870s through the 1910s, going around the table in chronological order from left to right, as well as allowing for the inclusion of flower girls, and menswear.


The contrast in gowns was fascinating. Starting with the lacework of the 1870s, through to the leg-o’-mutton sleeves of the 1890s gown, right up to the pre-World War I example. Having written about wedding gowns from the perspective of fashion trends and etiquette, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at fashion plates for brides from about 1890 to 1935. I was greatly impressed by Erin’s styling of the different mannequins. She captured the spirit of the trends of the various decades perfectly with her use of veils and strings of fake flowers.

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This idea of fashion trends in wedding attire is also to be found in I Did!. In the display of 1920s garments, three gowns show both the early 1920s when the waist had yet to give way to the boxy silhouette of the mid-1920s, and that expected 1920s silhouette itself. The difference in the two more expected gowns also showed the range of styles and preferences available to brides. The lone gentleman in the back also showed the shift in menswear from the cravat to the bow tie and the transition from the 19th-century ideas of formal masculine dress into what is, essentially, the expected attire of grooms today. But the display does not stop there, as you can see. While most (lay) people expect the boxy, “flapper” silhouette seen on those two gowns, Lacis also has two gowns that feature the eighteenth-century revival trend of pannier that could be found not only in women’s evening gowns, but seen in the Ascot photos of the era. It was clearly found in wedding gowns as well. These two pieces feature delicate details you had to be there to appreciate (I tried desperately to capture them with my camera and failed). The gown on the left has hand-made ribbon roses, and the one on right has a peak-a-boo panel underneath the lace of the front featuring a silver bow. I’m trying to imagine it as the bride walked up the aisle, just a glint of silver every few steps. The two pieces are, however, too delicate and far gone to have been placed on a mannequin and this is probably, Erin tells me, their last public showing. A pity, because they are wonderful examples of this 1920s style often ignored by popular media.


The 1930s display was remarkably personal for me. That maternal grandmother with strict ideas about what could and could not be worn? She married in the 1930s and I have grown up looking at the picture below of her in the bias-cut, satin wedding dress (with matching satin pumps that cannot be seen), and hearing the story of how she worked all summer to afford the gown and trousseau. Lost in the 80-plus years since the wedding, I think the two gowns on display at Lacis are the closest I will ever get to seeing my grandmother’s gown and admiring the work that must have gone into it.


The display also has a couple of stories of its own. The veil displayed with the silk velvet gown on the left above belonged to a woman Erin was able to interview several years ago when she was 100 years old. Erin had long been curious about the marselled waves of 1920s hairstyles and asked about them, low and behold, the woman had been a hair dresser. Erin interviewed her about hairstyles and many other things, and when she passed away three years later what her family could find of her wedding trousseau (unfortunately the gown hasn’t been found) was given to the Lacis Museum. The expansive veil, and her shoes (later in this post), as well as a beautiful (and quite sexy) nightgown were included in this exhibition. Even the gown on the right, in the bias cut satin, with its original veil came with the provenance of a remarkably similar wedding portrait to my own grandparents’, and emphasizing that absolutely gorgeous train.


The final tableau in the exhibition was the exploration of “the bride at night,” and a wonderful way to explore the now lost tradition and craftsmanship of the trousseau. I have mentioned before that I love delicate details and embroidery, so needless to say this was possibly my favorite display because there was plenty of both. My two favorite pieces were definitely the above-mentioned negligée, and the pink, embroidered camisole and knickers set with net-lace trim you can also see on the close up of the bed below.


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A very comprehensive exhibition, but there is yet more! Gowns and suits are not the only aspects of weddings, which is perhaps why I was so deeply impressed by I Did!. In the display case in the center of the room, arranged in such a way as to properly feature each item but also create a feeling as though you had just uncovered these heirlooms in situ in an attic, was a vast array of wedding ephemera: A wedding certificate from Covina in 1891 (I didn’t even know the city was that old!), prayer books, the sorts of fashion sheets a young woman might have used in the 1890s through 1920s to plan or choose her wedding gown, headpieces from hats to tiaras, and shoes (including those belonging to the centenarian Erin interviewed). My personal favorite were the calling cards, since I have a private obsession with etiquette history.






I describe myself as a material culturist as well as dress historian because while I love fabric beyond reason, it is these simple, exquisite, mundane items that I most adore because they so represent and give us insights into the everyday lives of people. They tell their stories and demonstrate that the more we change (or our technology changes) the more we stay the same: we still fall in love and marry, we still celebrate weddings, we all save the things that are important to us.

It is this last detail that is what I really took home from I Did!. There are two sets of items that really showcase the fact that these are truly universal experiences — something that can often be lost in material culture studies as usually it is only the remarkable or the objects owned by the wealthy that survive. Lacis’s I Did! features items that belonged to the average person as well.

The first set of objects is a group of three wedding certificates from the late eighteenth through the very early nineteenth centuries. From a German immigrant community in Pennsylvania, they are small, but have been beautifully embellished either by the couples themselves or someone close to them. Who decorated them is lost to history. In contrast with the official certificate from Covina, these are a touching example of the small ways in which “the average person” without extensive means might preserve and celebrate a momentous occasion. I even made a note for myself to research the tradition at some point, and the motifs connections to traditional Germanic embroidery.


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The best display emphasizing the “universal” aspect of wedding attire is found in the first tableau, which features the engagement. There are two men’s waistcoats hung in the background. Both are from about the 1850s, both are handmade with exquisite detail. The first, seen below, has provenance of having been worn in a wedding, and is the typical sort of item that is saved: wedding attire of a man who was in comfortable enough circumstances to afford special clothing for his wedding. It is made of ivory moiré silk, and while handmade was definitely made professionally, as can be seen in the tininess and uniformity of the stitches.

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This waistcoat is contrasted with another made of cotton — a good cotton, but still cotton — and featuring buttons on the inside where a warmer lining or padding could be attached in winter. It is also handmade, but its details are no less intriguing or excellent for being homemade rather than professionally done. While it does not have documented provenance as the ivory moiré waistcoat does, it was clearly someone’s “best” waistcoat and very likely worn in a wedding and other special occasions. It may not be the height of fashion, but it was important enough for a family to save it in practically pristine condition and deserves to be in this exhibition as much as anything else in it — which is why Erin featured it and spent so much time showing me its details.

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Small, but truly wonderful, I am very glad I chose I Did! as my pre-semester museum visit.

I Did! Wedding Finery Past is on display at the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles until April 2, 2016.

Have you been to I Did!? What did you think? What are your favorite wedding attire exhibitions? Or are there any collections of shows that you feel did an equally excellent job of telling stories like this one? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below! As always, if you have any announcements or events, please let readers know in the comments or email me with the details to include in a future column.


Kōrero Kākahu: New Zealand Fashion Museum and Online Collections

Kia ora! I am writing this from bed, where I have spent a lot of time recently as I finally succumbed to the dreaded cold/flu hybrid that is doing the rounds. From the comfort of my own bed also comes this month’s post about the New Zealand Fashion Museum (NZFM). The NZFM was established in February 2010 as a predominantly online venture. This is a pragmatic and reasonable decision given, as the museum say in their own words, that they choose “to be represented not by a grand building or a physical collection but rather by the quality of its research, its publications, its online museum and by its award-winning pop-up exhibitions. Acquiring and conserving fashion garments is a costly service already provided by other public and private institutions, so NZFM has opted to borrow rather than collect.” What has been created in this online space is a highly collaborative and interactive environment with a wealth of knowledge attached to each photo.

Collection page of the New Zealand Fashion Museum

Collection page of the New Zealand Fashion Museum, each image is clickable and has an explanation of the clothing, designers and history featured

Making the decision to focus on a digital collection has meant that the collections have a lasting presence. As a proponent of seeing exhibitions in real life so that I can more tangibly experience the history listed alongside, I’m surprised to find myself so won over by NZFM. In short, it is because of the permanence of it and the quality of the images. I remember going to a textiles exhibition a few years ago with a friend who worked in the clothing industry and being surprised to hear her frustrations at the dimness of lighting (a conservation-based choice) because it meant it was difficult to see the intricacies of the garments and their creation. This would not be a worry on the NZFM website, it operates similarly to an online retailer wherein hovering the mouse of clothing images provides a close-up to the details.

Up close detail of a collection item

Up close detail of a collection item

Another aspect of the website that I enjoy is the Upload section wherein members of the public are invited to upload a personal garment and its related history. Though there doesn’t appear to be much uptake in this area, the stories I have read have been very interesting and heartwarming and allude to the presence and importance of clothing as markers of moments in people’s lives. Furthermore, by introducing a more democratic offering for knowledge development like this (open to the public to contribute what is important to them about their favourite pieces of clothing with presumably lax criteria) it means that fashion histories are including the personal stories of people by their own merit not merely as illustrators of wider fashion movements. It is a grass-roots contribution where the personal is treated as importantly as the societal and cultural.

Aside from the pop-up exhibitions that show in various locations throughout New Zealand, NZFM also features online exhibitions, the most recent one titled “What to wear to the ball”. Again, utilising the online collection offers an ease of display that wouldn’t be a possibility if it were to be recreated physically. Furthermore, the exhibition doesn’t appear to be restricted by time period and all of the online collection that could be worn to a ball is featured resulting in a fascinating cross-section of clothing on offer.

The most recent online exhibition

The most recent online exhibition offering from New Zealand Fashion Museum

The last aspect of the museum that I want to highlight is its ongoing support and exposure for emerging designers. The curator and creator of the museum is former fashion designer turned fashion historian Doris de Pont and I think she should be lauded for her dedication to creating the site where there was a real gap. As part of the growing online collection, emerging designers are featured, many of whom are recently graduated or still studying. It isn’t an easy industry to make a living out of in New Zealand (is it easy anywhere?) but being given exposure from established industry names in one of the few fashion outputs in the country must be a great boost. 

In closing, check it out. There is plenty to be read, seen and enjoyed!

A note on my column title: Kōrero Kākahu translates very literally from Māori to English as “talk of clothing” but can also be read as the stories gleaned from clothing or the stories that clothing holds. Future columns, particularly those that cover Māori content, may delve into this meaning a little deeper.


Domestic Affairs: Spotlight on FIDM Museum’s Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

Consuelo Vanderbilt

It’s no secret that I am a fan of the FIDM Museum. Excellent collection and exhibitions, with free entry? Yes, please. I loved the museum long before I had the opportunity to work there (some of you may recall my disclaimer at the beginning of my first Domestic Affairs FIDM review). My undergraduate degree is in languages and linguistics and my master’s is in art history. This means that even while I was doing my master’s research and writing my thesis on dress history, I was self educating on the topic of fashion and textile history.

The FIDM Museum blog was one of my first tools for doing that. It was also a wonderful way to procrastinate on my actual papers during my master’s coursework — it was way more fun to actually go out and see what a Callot Soeurs, 1920s gown looked like than write a paper applying Walter Benjamin’s concept of “aura” to Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs. But, I digress.

It is also, to a certain extent, through FIDM that I became less of a dress history snob, and came to appreciate more recent fashion history (even, you know, this season’s) instead of refusing to look at anything past about 1840. This meant that working on their first traveling exhibition, Modern Love, was even more fun because I knew these contemporary pieces already, and now I was getting to see them up close.


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But if I’m honest, it is still the period from about 1780 – 1840 that most fascinates me (though I do occasionally moonlight and teach classes on 1890 – 1938, because Art Deco). So it is probably not a surprise that I spend an inordinate amount of time when I’m at the museum looking at the current display of the Helen Larson Historic Collection. It is where I can swoon over eighteenth-century men’s waistcoats, and even see an actual hair arrow. I know I’m not alone, because the image below was taken from former Worn Through contributor, Ingrid Mida’s post for us on the FIDM Museum collection, and there is an entire category on the FIDM Museum blog dedicated to posts on pieces from this amazing collection.

FIDM Cotton exhibition

A Century of Cotton: Selections from the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection, 1800-1900. FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles. Loan courtesy of Jane Gincig & Pat Kalayjian. Photograph by Brian Sanderson. Copyright of FIDM

I really do not have words for how amazing this collection is, even having worked within sight of it. The Helen Larson Historic Fashion collection contains 1,400 pieces. Among them are objects worn by six queens, three empresses, ten princesses, and 21 haute couture gowns spanning 400 years of fashion history. My personal favorite is one on which museum curator, Kevin Jones, did a paper: a gown having belonged to Princess Charlotte of Wales (on the right below), George IV’s only legitimate child and heir, who died tragically during childbirth in 1817 (my favorite eras are the Regency and Romantic periods, I blame my mother’s introducing me to Jane Austen at an impressionable age).

Monarchy Lecture

Dress c. 1897 Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

Dress c. 1897 Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection © FIDM Museum

But this is not the only piece that is name catching. The first Helen Larson Collection display I saw included one of Queen Victoria’s mourning gowns (above and below). It was astounding to realize I was mere inches from something worn by a woman who gave her name to an entire era of Western history. It also brought the woman startlingly to life. The evidence was there of eight pregnancies, and despite the two- to three-foot platform on which the garment was displayed, I was staring at what would have been her majesty’s shoulders. For some reason this clear evidence of Queen Victoria’s four-foot-seven-inch height (or lack thereof) made her more real than any history book ever could. It is one of the things that drew me to material culture, it brings the people of history to life.

Queen Victoria 1   Queen Victoria 3

It’s not merely British Royalty in the collection either. The image I opened this post with, which I repeat again below, belonged to none other than Consuelo Vanderbilt, and is remarkably similar to the gown she is wearing in the Boldini portrait included in the FIDM Museum blog post on the piece.

Consuelo Vanderbilt

Callot Soeurs Paris, France c. 1907 Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection © FIDM Museum


Consuelo Vanderbilt Boldini Copy

Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill Giovanni Boldini 1906 Oil on canvas Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. no. 47.71 Gift of Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, 1946

My favorite of the couture gowns mentioned is the original iconic little black dress, made in about 1926 by Mademoiselle herself. Beaded (of course!), with a simple elegance of design that literally stopped me in my tracks (no photograph does it justice), the FIDM blog post on the piece admits that this was most definitely no Coco Chanel’s first little black dress (that was created in 1919), but it will now and forever be what I think of whenever anyone uses that phrase.

Coco Chanel c. 1926 Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

Coco Chanel
c. 1926
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

Chanel detail

I’m featuring this collection this week for two reasons. First, while I unfortunately have to miss this year’s Annual Art of Television Costume Design exhibition, I am preparing for my early October trip to see (and then review) the current Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection display: Fleurs: Botanicals in Dress. As I have learned and worked more in the field of dress and textile history since graduating, I find myself drawn to the details: the hair arrow above, the delicate, intricate embroidery of the gown below (also, Romantic era, so double yes!). So I am very excited for this exhibition but have two months to wait before I can go down and see it. So, I am sating myself with other Larson Collection pieces in the meantime.

Day Dress British 1820s Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

Day Dress
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

The second reason I am posting is because it is what I can do to help raise awareness within our community about this amazing collection, because it is in danger of being broken up and lost. The museum’s deadline for raising the funds to purchase the entire collection is fast approaching. For those interested in contributing, feel free to check out the #4for400 campaign  on the FIDM Museum blog, and if you can, please spread the word. And be sure to check back in October for my review of the latest Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection display!

Have any of you been to the FIDM Museum and seen the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection? What are your favorite pieces? Are there any collections in your local area that you love and feel should get more attention? Please share your thoughts below, or email me details so I can include them in a future column!

All images — except those taken by me while reviewing exhibitions — and all objects depicted courtesy and copyright of the FIDM Museum.


Parisian Insights: Jean Paul Gaultier

I have a terrible habit that is to always visit exhibitions during their final days…I mostly do so as I believe I will avoid the crowds of the beginnings…Well, this has proven to be a very bad idea quite a few times and I’ve once again been a victim of my very own wrong assumptions as I missed the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition that was held at the Grand Palais in Paris. I must admit I am very disappointed as I heard so many positive and enthusiastic reviews about a display that seemed to have perfectly combined wit, drama, technology and playfulness. I had thought I would nonetheless write about this exhibition, researching articles and questioning the people that had seen it but the point of our posts on Worn Through are mainly to speak from the heart and write about a personal experience so I thought it would be a little dishonest to do so.

However, what I can tell you about this exhibition is that it has been a huge success (that’s also why I missed it: because of work, I couldn’t allow myself to queue for three hours!). Initiated by the Musée des Beaux Arts of Montreal in 2011, the display has since travelled in numerous cities such as San Francisco, London or Madrid: surely lucky readers of Worn Through have managed to visit this exhibition.

Within the different reviews I have read I have been appalled by how some journalists still go on with that archaic debate that confronts entertainment (and thus popularity) and the intellectual (a conflict that often features a fashion exhibition). A journalist even believing that the Grand Palais programmed its Velasquez exhibition alongside the Jean Paul Gaultier display in purpose. The Velasquez show being the scholar exposition that would give profoundness to the institution despite a poor audience and Jean Paul Gaultier being the attractive ‘cash machine’. I have always refused to engage in such an unproductive debate…maybe because I am not only a fashion historian but also an art historian who finds as much pleasure in contemplating Velasquez’s Christ in the House of Martha and Mary as in enjoying a sequined Jean-Paul Gaultier gown. So, without having seen the exhibition but secured by many of my friends’ impressions, I can affirm that its popularity and theatricality did absolutely not prevent the display from brilliant, original and informative. To learn with pleasure: isn’t it what we always seek for?

Here’s a video showing the exhibition’s behind-the-scenes with a lovely Nutcracker air and a fashion show-like atmosphere…because that’s what it’s all about: fantasy and glamour!




Domestic Affairs: Fashion Victims, Wedding Dresses, and Men in Heels

So it’s that time of my year when budgets are too low to travel to far off exhibitions and I don’t have the energy anyway, since I’m prepping for the classes I’ll be teaching for the Fall semester — and by prepping I mean enjoying pool time while it lasts. But I am getting some wonderful tips about exhibitions to plan my pre-teaching and other Fall trips around through both comments and emails from many of you!

One that I hope to get to for fun (and to review) in August is I Did — Wedding Finery Past: The Affirmations of Past Generations at the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley, California. One of our readers told me about this one and as I am always up for a trip to Lacis, I clearly need to do a review while I’m at it.

I was also reminded of two exhibitions at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto that I mentioned a few weeks ago: Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels and, my personal favorite, Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century. Former Worn Through Contributor, Ingrid reminded me of these two exhibitions by email, and mentioned that she wrote about Fashion Victims for the Costume Society of America journal, Dress. And while a trip to Lacis is possible, Toronto is a bit of a stretch, so that article and the video below will have to suffice for now!

What exhibitions do you wish you could see? What exhibitions are you excited for this Fall? Feel free to share them in the comments below or to email me the details so I can include them in a future post!


Kōrero Kākahu: Telling Tales

Kia ora! It is Māori Language Week/Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in New Zealand this week so it is fitting that the exhibition I am writing about this month is borne from the beautiful collision of Māori and European cultures. Tell Tails is on show at the Turnbull Gallery at the National Library until August 4th and features the work of three female artists who have drawn their inspiration from the collection of the National Library. The exhibition was created over two years as a collaborative and creative project between Jo Torr, Maureen Lander and Christine Hellyar. The trio have apparently know each other for many years, and this is no surprise as the synergy of the exhibition is apparent through the many ways in which their works echo back to one another. The show gets its name from the tails of kites that Māori used to fly to show them the way in which the wind was blowing – the figurative and literal wind, that is.

Guiding you into the exhibition space (which is very small), is a large woven manu aute (kite) made of willow, feathers string, muka (prepared flax that is worked until it can be woven into garments) and printed linen. The manu aute is a precursor for the pieces to come: the blending of Māori and colonial history that is reflected through the use of blended fabrics. Also outside the gallery is a coat, created in the style depicted in the portraits of Tuai and Titere from which Jo Torr drew inspiration. The back of the coat is embroidered with another manu aute, the image of which was taken from Titere’s letters. Again, there is a blending of fabrics (wool, linen and muka) to reinforce the ways in which cultures were blending. The letter from which the drawing comes, was written by Titere when he was visiting England in 1818. The two young men were enjoying the sights in London, visiting the zoo and attending high society balls, a far cry from their lives in New Zealand.

Moemoeā by Jo Torr

Moemoeā by Jo Torr. Photo by Matariki Williams

Though I liked the idea of having these two works (there was a third also) outside the gallery, I think the objects need to be able to stand alone and this can be done with great interpretation. If not, these objects can look out of place in what is (in this case anyway) a quiet reading room for the library. Furthermore, if the exhibition narrative is going to start outside, visitors shouldn’t have to go back to labels to make sense of the content as I had to with this exhibition.

Inside the gallery space, Christine Hellyar’s piece Cordage Cloud reiterates the theme of collaboration in the exhibition as she utilises flax that was given to her by Maureen Lander and Jo Torr. It also highlights the repetition of threes seen throughout: three artists, and the three woven strands of the plaits used within the piece.


Cordage Cloud by Christine Hellyar. Photo by Matariki Williams.

My favourite pieces of the exhibition were those of Maureen Lander. Lander was taught to weave by the late master weaver Diggeress Te Kanawa and was the first Māori woman to gain a Doctorate in Fine Arts from a New Zealand university. The first piece of hers was the three hanging bonnets, these drew my attention as soon as I entered the room. An inspiring friend of mine first introduced me to thinking about how thoughts regarding bodies are constructed and manipulated through the display of objects. The suspension of the three bonnets, facing one another as if in conversation, their shadows stretching across the wall, all of them at head height, immediately brought this idea to mind: I could imagine the wearers. Instead of being mere objects, they had an element of embodiment attached to them. Reading about the inspiration for this work made me even more excited. Lander had chosen a watercolour by Joseph Merrett called The Warrior Chieftains of New Zealand, and when she carried out further research on the painting, she uncovered the story of Hariata Heke, a woman with a penchant for red who led 700 men into battle. Hariata would often fight wearing a tartan skirt, red jacket and blue bonnet adorned with red feathers.


Hariata’s War Garb by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams.

 The final piece I want to mention is also by Lander, a deconstructed cloak inspired by a red cloak that was exhibited at the British Museum in 1998 with no known provenance. A cloak which she had made for the Te Papa exhibition Kahu Ora has been taken apart and hung, as if it were a collection of newly created pieces drying before being made into a cloak. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this kind of process before wherein something is created for a specific purpose, then a mystery presents itself for solving, so this object is recalled to help solve the mystery through a process that completely unravels the original object, purpose and story. It is a brave and invigorating prospect!


Hongi’s Red Cloak – Deconstructed by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams


Detail of Hongi's Red Cloak - Deconstructed by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams.

Detail of Hongi’s Red Cloak – Deconstructed by Maureen Lander. Photo by Matariki Williams.

What a great idea this exhibition is; letting artists feed off the nation’s largest art collection in such a visceral manner to produce new artworks should continue on. I hope this carries on in some way in the future.

A note on my column title: Kōrero Kākahu translates very literally from Māori to English as “talk of clothing” but can also be read as the stories gleaned from clothing or the stories that clothing holds. Future columns, particularly those that cover Māori content, may delve into this meaning a little deeper.


Domestic Affairs: Fall Forecast


It’s midsummer and the heat is just building in California, but as well as “last chance to see” emails I’m already getting announcements for the upcoming fall and winter exhibitions. But first, I’m happy to share with you some exhibition announcements and tips that other Worn Through readers have shared with me since my last post.

I heard from Laura, in Mexico, who told me about not only about the wonderful National History Museum (in Mexico City) but also about their current dress exhibition, Threads of History: Apparel Collection of the National Museum of History (Hilos de Historia: La colección de indumentaria del MNH). The English-language link tells me this exhibition is designed to showcase the museum’s apparel collection which was started 114 years ago by a donation of “four splendid vice-royal dresses by Isabel Pesado de Mier.” Featuring 180 pieces by such couturiers as Frederick Worth, Coco Chanel, and Queen Victoria’s personal shoemaker, as well as pieces important to Mexican culture and history, or that highlight how fashions of the 1960s and other eras were worn and interpreted in Mexico. Check out the website for exhibition preview images and more information, or if you will be in Mexico City, the exhibition will be open until July 31, 2015!

In Chicago, Petra reminded me that Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile at the Chicago History Museum is entering its final weeks! This exhibition features 26 ensembles from the museum’s collection that explore and represent the evolution of ” North Michigan Avenue into one of the most recognizable and renowned destinations for upscale retail.” I talked about this exhibition  in November, but it will be closing August 16, so if you can, go now (then tell me all about it so I can live vicariously through you)!

As for those I’ve found on my own, on the east coast, the Library Company of Philadelphia‘s Fashioning Philadelphia: The Style of the City, 1720 – 1940 opens next week. However, there is a special opening reception and preview tomorrow, July 16, 2015. The exhibition itself opens on July 20 and will be on display until March 4, 2016. This exhibition explores the history of fashion and manufacturing in America’s first truly cosmopolitan city.

In New York city, the Museum at FIT‘s Global Fashion Capitals is still on display, and will be until November 14. However, if you’re looking to the autumnal exhibitions, Fashioning Underground: The World of Suzanne Bartsch will up September 18 – December 5, overlapping with Denim: Fashion’s Frontier opening November 24.

At the Met, with China: Through the Looking Glass closing in September, they are already preparing for their fall exhibition, Jacqueline de Ribes: The Art of Style which will open November 19.

At the Phoenix Art Museum, their exhibition, Pattern Play: The Contemporary Designs of Jacqueline Groag will be closing August 9. This means that if you want to see the beautiful work of this wonderfully playful designer, you’d better plan to head their soon.

Here in California we have several new exhibitions to look forward to. At the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles, there are two exhibitions opening July 21 at the main campus downtown: The 9th Annual Art of Outstanding Television Costume Design which will be up until September, and Fleurs: Botanicals in Dress From the Helen Larson Historical Fashion Collection which will be on display until December. At their Orange County campus, opening August 24, Hooped: Dress of the 1860s, another Helen Larson Historical Fashion Collection exhibition will be on view by appointment.

Also in Los Angeles, at the Getty Museum a wonderful exhibition combining dress and art history will be opening on October 6: Art of the Fold: Drawings of Drapery and Costume will feature drawings from the museum’s permanent collection that explore “how artists regularly employed drapery studies as part of the representation of the human figure.” I very much hope that I can make my way down to Los Angeles soon for these exhibitions, and LACMA’s African Textiles and Adornment, which I mentioned in my last column. So while this summer has been a bit bereft of exhibition reviews, I am very much hoping this coming fall and winter will be full of them!

Last, but for me most definitely not least, I am very, very excited for the upcoming Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Nā Hulu Ali’i which will open at the de Young Museum on August 29. Hawaiian art, history, and culture are a private passion of mine (something about not writing academically about something in your field makes it feel almost like a mental vacation), so I am very excited to see “approximately 75 rare and stunning examples of the finest featherwork capes and cloaks in existence, as well as royal staffs of feathers (kāhili), feather lei (lei hulu manu), helmets (mahiole), feathered god images (akua hulu manu), and related eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings and works on paper…” many of which have never been seen outside of Hawai’i. Expect a review here in early September. I may go see this one several times before it closes on February 28, 2016.

There are so many wonderful museums and collections in North America, I cannot possibly find all the exhibitions and events available within the dress and textile arts. If you have one in your area, or know of one that you think would be of interest to Worn Through readers, please leave a comment below, or feel free to email me the details. Also, if you have been to any of the exhibitions mentioned, please be free to share your thoughts and impressions with us as well!

Opening image credit: Mahiole (feathered helmet), possibly late 18th – early 19th century. Yellow mamo (Drepanis pacifica) feathers, red ‘i’iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, black and yellow ‘ō’ō (Moho nobilis) feathers, ‘ie’ie (Freycinetia arborea) aerial roots, and olonā (Touchardia latifolia) fiber. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology collection. Image via FAMSF exhibition preview.


Museum Life: On the Road

Museum Life is on the road this month and thought I would share with you a few of my museum-related meanderings throughout Western Germany and Eastern France, some of which are generally off the usual, big-city museum destination path for tourists in these two countries.

First is a wonderful and imaginatively displayed archeological collection in Freiburg, housed in a mid-19th century Gothic revival mansion, the Colombischlössle Archeological Museum.


Although all museum labels and brochure guides were in German and therefore largely unknowable to me (unfortunately my knowledge of the German language is limited to a few salutations and food items), the clear and concise layout and display of items made the overall narrative easy to follow for a non-speaker/reader.

Included in the artifacts that help to tell the stories of the life and times of ancient and medieval peoples of the area now known as Freiburg are textiles and other items of adornment and grooming. Throughout the museum, various pieces were mounted on simplified illustrations or silhouettes of human bodies, depending upon the context, making the placement and use of the fragment or complete object immediately evident.


In addition to display in the vitrines, reproductions of objects were often available for visitors to touch or handle (such as chain mail, seen below).


When a garment was not extant, the sense of touch was again utilized to evoke a sense of the garments and what they may have felt like worn against the skin.


Ancient belts “completed” with acrylic mounts.


One of the most interesting objects (my apologies for the somewhat blurry photo) is a reproduction of a prop arrow, used in theatrical productions to simulate an arrow piercing the body, worn with the band encircling the side of the torso turned away from the audience.


In Strasbourg, one of the most arresting paintings at the Musée des Beaux Arts at the Palais Rohan was La Belle Strasbourgeoise (1703) by prolific portrait painter Nicolas de Largillière. The undeniable focal point of the portrait is the young woman’s extraordinary headgear. Although the accompanying label states that the sitter is wearing dress typical for aristocratic young women in the city between 1688 and 1730, it also notes the peculiarity of this particular hat. A brief biography of de Largillière notes that he was the son of a hat merchant; one cannot help but wonder if he was attracted to paint the portrait as it appears not only due to the station and beauty of the sitter but also because of the attraction to her fantastical headgear.


The masterful detailed rendering of the delicate lace sleeves is quite extraordinary:


Looking at this dramatic hat, I couldn’t help but recall the shape of Christian Dior’s classic sloped brim hat from the New Look collection, on a more modest scale, of course (seen here on the far right at the National Gallery of Victoria’s 2013 exhibition, Dior and Yamamoto: The New Look).


Finally, the city of Nancy is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau architecture and art, as practiced by the artists of L’École de Nancy. One place I was very eager to visit was the Musée de l’École de Nancy, which is the former residence of École de Nancy patron and collector, Jean-Baptiste Eugène Corbin. Like William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, this group of Art Nouveau practitioners in Nancy believed in creating a complete environment and dissolving the hierarchies between fine arts and decorative art, and learning the skills and production of different media from furniture to glassware to ceramics to textiles. Art Nouveau style was all curves and highly dramatic, sinuous sensuality—very few if any straight lines to be seen here–inspired directly from the flora and fauna of the natural world. Visitors are free to wander the rooms of the first two stories, with some seeming to remain largely unchanged from the time of installation, while others were most likely reconfigured at a later date.

Salle à manger Musée de l’École de Nancy

Salle à manger
Musée de l’École de Nancy

Textile-based pieces were integral to the vision of this group of artists, and there were several on view at the Musée de l’École de Nancy, including two impressive wall hangings.

Les Ombelles, by Charles Fridrich, ca. 1900, velour and leather appliqué

Les Ombelles, by Charles Fridrich, ca. 1900, velour and leather appliqué

La Nymphe, attributed to Louis Guingot

La Nymphe, attributed to Louis Guingot

A standing embroidery frame (ca. 1902) was designed by Emile André, which held an embroidery of leaves created by his wife (there was no full name on the label, only “Mme André” referenced) after a design found in Die Quelle.


Gorgeous embroidered textiles incorporated into furniture upholstery were, in my opinion, most beautifully realized in the Salon aux Ombelles (1901) by Camille Gauthier and Auguste Poinsignon, with a chair, winged bench, and a settee displaying the theme (les ombelles, or umbels, were a recurring motif throughout the house).



Inspiration was close at hand with the lovely two-tiered gardens outside, completely restored in 1998.


Overall, this museum was an immersive and highly enjoyable experience.

All photos provided by the author.


Review: Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery)

I don’t usually do reviews back to back but it was impossible to ignore Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery) at the British Library, given that she is a brilliant artist and that this latest artwork involves textiles in a staggering way.  Arguably, this is not specifically about apparel but it is about thread and cloth, materials at the heart of most dress and adornment.

Walking through the British Library in central London, it would be easy to miss Cornelia Parker’s artwork. With its staggered public areas and labyrinth reading rooms, a visitor to the British Library must navigate him/herself through a three dimensional Escher painting. As a result, Parker’s contribution to the British Library’s 800th birthday of the Magna Carta is not instantly accessible. However, finding it is like discovering treasure; overwhelmingly beautiful, dazzlingly ingenious and unbeknown to most others.

A view of the entire 13 metres encased in glass, from the bottom of the Wikipedia entry

I am a huge fan of textiles as an art medium so it was no surprise to find myself drooling over Parker’s huge piece of embroidered panama cotton, almost 13 metres in length and 1.5 metres in width, which is an enlarged facsimile of the Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta, as it appeared last year on its 799th birthday.  Made up of 87 panels stitched together, the artwork is encased in glass that covers the entire length and includes mirrors below so it is possible to see the back of the textile and the stitches.

A close up of the embroidered text

The embroidery has been done by over 2oo people, whom can be roughly organised into three groups of embroiderersThe first are a small group of inmates involved with the social enterprise Fine Cell Work, which trains them in paid creative needlework, and whom produced most of the text in the artwork.  In addition, Parker invited a range of people connected to the law and civil liberties to contribute certain words. This second group, around 160 people, consists of lawyers, judges, civil rights campaigners, artists and writers for whom embroidery is probably not something they do everyday.

Anthea stitching a small section of the Magna Carta (An Embroidery)

The third and final group was responsible for all the illustrative elements, which include logos, emblems and images that make up the virtual Wikipedia entry.  These were done by embroiderers from the Royal School of Needlework, the embroidery company Hand & Lock and members of the Embroiderers’ Guild.  According to the short video that accompanies the artwork in the exhibition, one of the images took the lady 450 hours to complete.  The quality of these reproductions is breathtaking and it is difficult not to be in awe of all their hands, as well as those of Fine Cell Work that went into creating the bulk of this fascinating artwork.

Another close up of the embroidered image representing the ‘Monarchy’ section

Parker’s idea to reproduce a Wikipedia page with a range of contributors is simultaneously clever and simple.  It takes an everyday virtual object that relies on a community of contributors and recreates it as a three dimensional haptic object, using a similiar mode of production.  As Jonathan Jones, art critic for The Guardian, points out, Wikipedia is arguably a virtual, ever changing product of our time yet in Parker’s work, a small part of it has been made to stand outside of its own timescale, immortalised in the process.

A detail from Elizabeth Wardle’s Bayeau Tapestry replica

In the accompanying text to the exhibit, Parker draws attention to the communal activity of embroidery, particularly in the case of the Bayeux Tapestry, which this artwork definitely draws parallels with.  However, I was also quite struck by how similiar Parker’s idea is to the Victorian reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry on display in Reading.  In 1886, instigated by a successful industrialist’s wife, a group of women embroidered an ‘English’ version of the historical document in just over a yearYet, while their replica was of a medieval artefact, Parker’s replica is of a contemporary artefact whose very nature is both transient and ephemeral.

Jarvis Cocker and Cornelia Parker looking for his contribution of ‘common people’

Viewing the artwork, one activity I found interesting was identifying different contributions.  It is not possible to do this from the exhibit alone.  It has to be done through detective work, cross referencing various sources including text as well as moving and still images.  I only just managed to find Jarvis Cocker’s embroidered ‘common people’ by matching an image of him looking at the installed artwork with Parker with the actual exhibition space.  Reading the reviews, I discovered that drops of blood could help discern a particular contributor and also reminded me that embroidery is not without its risks. This is nicely mirrored in the fact that several contributors to the artwork have risked much to draw our attention to global infringements of civil liberties.

Detail of the Wikipedia logo, which is beautifully rendered in needlework

A recent article in the Journal of Modern Craft raised the question of whether Parker’s artwork could have been printed and still achieved the same outcome. The author suggested that the handstitching drew upon historical connections between needlework and political suffrage.  This is clearly present in the artwork but I also think if it had been printed, the speed of the reproduction would have reduced the overall visual and conceptual impact.  To print out a Wikipedia entry would be too easy and too similiar to the original.  By having it entirely recreated with thread and fabric, the labour of reproduction becomes a vital element that reminds us about the current emphasis on speed of information, production and consumption, arguably at the expense of debate, discussion and democracy.

Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display at the British Library until Friday 24th July and is free to the public.