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.


Parisian Insights: Yves Saint Laurent 1971 – The Scandal Collection

It’s always intriguing to observe past scandals when our contemporary eyes have become accustomed to much more outrageous! The Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent has decided to look back into its archives to propose an exhibition dedicated to the French designer’s Spring/Summer 1971 “Libération” or “Forties” Haute Couture collection. At the time, the show had instantly caused much discussion and shock as the six models had nonchalantly and insolently presented the 84 outfits inspired by the war years and in particular, the style of women living in an occupied Paris.  ‘It is with the arms of elegance and fashion, perfect manners, a cold kindness that the French woman has resisted’, had written Curzio Malaparte, in 1947, yet to 1970s commentators, the allusion was this time described under the terms ‘hideous’ or ‘tragic reference to the nazi years’.

Jacket and Trousers. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Jacket and Trousers. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Thus short fluid dresses, Platform shoes, square shoulders, turbans, tight waists and exaggerated make-up were some of the explicit citations Yves Saint Laurent had decided to highlight, influenced by his muse, Paloma Picasso who had promptly adopted a retro look inspired by the glamorous film stars she admired in 1940s productions and that suited better her voluptuous figure rather than the pop androgynous fashions of her time. Indeed, Yves Saint Laurent had not really invented anything, he had simply observed the outfits of his entourage – many Parisian teenagers would then rummage thrift stores to mingle 1920s, 1930s and 1940s pieces of clothing as they tended to evoke the glories of Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich as they rediscovered classic films. The French designer had also met Andy Warhol and his Factory within which individuals like Candy Darling had also adopted a nostalgic allure without ever provoking any scandal.

View of the Exhibition

View of the Exhibition

So why did Yves Saint Laurent’s provoke so much controversy? Let’s look back at the period. Cristobal Balenciaga had closed his house in 1968 at a time when France was facing drastic social changes and Gabrielle Chanel had died three weeks before Yves Saint Laurent’s show. The young designer’s presentation resonated with the end of a certain aristocracy of couture and it seemed as though, by creating that infamous collection, he was letting go of the heavy burden his mentors had left him and had refused to be considered haute couture’s prodigious child. Rejecting classicism and conventions, Yves Saint Laurent also refused the futuristic aesthetic proposed by such designers as Pierre Cardin or André Courrèges. To him, innovation laid in the past and the revival of a dramatic glamorous and sexualized allure. Thus, although the reference to World War II and occupied France was brutal and considered disrespectful to many clients and journalists that had experienced the moment, it appears that the scandal had more to do with Yves Saint Laurent’s new take on haute couture rather than the sole historical evocation. Actually, the inspirations for the show were much more diverse. One can only recognize a hint to Elsa Schiaparelli in the embroidered lips and cigarettes on a velvet coat while evening dresses ressemble Greek classic tunics. Of course, the narrative is more sensual thanks to the audacious transparency, the slits and the erotic prints.

Detain of an evening coat. Photography: Courtesy of Sophie Carré for the Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Detain of an evening coat. Photography: Courtesy of Sophie Carré for the Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent

Surely commentators focused on the 1940s references to emphasize their scorn but didn’t the scandal have more to do with his aim to consider a younger generation – a project initiated with the opening of the ready-to-wear Saint Laurent Rive Gauche shop, in 1966 – the mocking of the bourgeoisie and the introduction of an overtly sexy and eccentric silhouette? And most of all, how Yves Saint Laurent audaciously invited, in a highly provocative way for the time, street fashion on couture catwalks? He had declared to the French Elle: ‘What I want? Shock people, force them to think. Haute couture is now only about nostalgia and taboos. Like an old lady. What counts is that young girls that have never known this style, would want to wear it. The others, will obviously want to imitate them afterwards.’ With the help of the (only) 28 models exposed and wall blow ups of all the show’s drawn silhouettes, we can observe how boldly, Yves Saint Laurent had indeed completely repudiated the boundaries that had until then been clearly established between ready-to-wear and haute couture. We read the condemning articles and observe the cutting-edge films proposed by a younger generation that had understood and accepted the designer’s aesthetic. We also identify Francine Crescent’s radical  judgement and how as the editor of Vogue Paris, she was a rare journalist to admire the new style and feature it in the pages of the magazine, through the lens of a certain Helmut Newton: who better would have captured the sulfurous silhouettes and their sensual wearers? 1971 became a shifting year: the collection, a manifesto and the designer, the mediator of a new liberated generation – the same year, Yves Saint Laurent posed nude for Jeanloup Sieff to promote his new perfume. He introduced an aesthetic that now dominates the industry, that of the retro, but also established fashion into the world of marketing and spectacle. And thus contributed to the creation of the sophisticated scandal, the one feared and desired at once, the one that brings the attention on the brand…

 Here Hedi Slimane clearly evokes the archives (a 1971 dress) of the house he now designs for. Remember how scandalous his first collections for Yves Saint Laurent were considered? Nothing new!

Here Hedi Slimane clearly evokes the archives (a 1971 dress) of the house he now designs for. Remember how scandalous his first collections for Yves Saint Laurent were considered? Nothing new!

How ironic to see Yves Saint Laurent become a public enemy just as his mentor, Christian Dior had with his New Look when that now classic style is exactly what the young designer rejected. What are Yves Saint Laurent’s sensual evening dresses compared to Alexander McQueen’s bumsters, Hussein Chalayan provocative burqas or Vivienne Westwood’s revival of the oppressive corset? The French couturier simply initiated what would now become classic: the spectacular show: from Thierry Mugler’s blockbusters to John Galliano’s dramatic yet provocative narratives. How poorly scandalous may Yves Saint Laurent’s arrogant models appear compared to Rick Owens’ naked masculine models or Jean-Paul Gaultier’s antipodean mannequins.

With a very small display, much is said although I must admit I would have loved to be given a greater angle with a better comprehension of the context: a comparison of Yves Saint Laurent’s collection to that of fellow designers of 1971 and also, why not an opening on the greater theme that is the fashion scandal. Nonetheless a bright and pedagogic exhibition worth seeing!

The display is on until 19th July at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent

Further Resources:

There’s an ideal responding exhibition at the FIT: Yves Saint Laurent + Halston – Fashioning the 70s

And the book: McClendon, Emma and Mears, Patricia. Yves Saint Laurent + Halston Fashioning the 70s. New York: Yale University Press, 2015.

You can have a look at the show here


Domestic Affairs: Vicariously Through the Looking Glass

After my last column rather exhausted the fashion exhibitions up this summer (though if I missed anything, don’t hesitate to tell me what I missed by emailing me or leaving a comment!!), this week I am visiting the Met’s China: Through the Looking Glass from my own home. Like many of you I cannot possible visit all of the exhibitions I would like to, and being in California it is unlikely I will get to see this year’s Costume Institute exhibition.

Thankfully, we live in the digital age and the Met has provided the video below through which people like me can still experience the exhibition!

What do you think of the video? For those of you who have been, how does it compare to actually being in the exhibition? What other exhibitions are you visiting vicariously through interactive, online, or other resources? What do you think of technology and exhibitions? Great? Need improvement? Please share your thoughts!


Review: Riviera Style Resort & Swimwear Since 1900, FTM, London

A recent visit to the Regency seaside resort St Leonards on Sea along with a renewed interest in swimming, courtesy of my local lido, meant I just had to start the summer with a visit to the exhibition Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear Since 1900 at the Fashion and Textile Museum (FTM) in London this week. 


Pyjama suits popular in the 1930s, part of the Cling, Bag, Stretch 1920 – 1939 section

Billed as a celebration of clothing worn in and by the sea, the exhibition displays a huge range of garments lent by Leicestershire County Council, which is also the county where many of the swimwear manufacturers were based.  As a result, most of the items on display reflect UK and USA manufacturers and tastes. The guest curator is Dr Christine Boydell, a design historian from Leicester’s De Montfort University, who has an interest in twentieth century fashion and was previously involved in the FTM’s 2010 exhibition on Horrockses Fashions as well as the author of Horrockses Fashions'; Off-the-Peg style in the ‘40s and ‘50.

The exhibition is an effort to tell several stories and I think some are told more successfully than others.  The first charts the role of design and production in the developing styles of swimwear during the last century.  The second is the relationship between shifting notions of the fashionable human form and design, while the third is the increasing emphasis on holiday locations, whether they be at home or abroad, for the display of swimwear styles.  While the first and second story are more obvious throughout the exhibition, the third story is less consistently told, and the visitor has to work harder to find the narrative amongst the displays.


Early twentieth century swimwear, 1895 – 1919, opening the exhibition

The exhibition is arranged by the way in which swimwear has attempted to address the human form with the application of textile design and technology during the twentieth century.  This is reflected in a chronological order of display, organised by five sections: Bathing Beauties 1895-1919, Cling, Bag, Stretch 1920 – 1939, Mould and Control 1940 – 1959, Body Beautiful 1960 – 1989 and Second Skin 1990 onwards.  In case you are not familiar with the layout of the FTM, it is essentially one large ground level room that can be divided up into smaller sections, overlooked by a horseshoe shaped mezzanine that provides relatively narrow corridors of exhibition space.  For this exhibition, the first two sections occupy the ground level, where the designers have recreated a fictional lido setting, literally placing the early twentieth century swimwear into a recreational context. The last three sections are to be found upstairs, with increasingly less emphasis on a literal context and more emphasis on the quantity of items on display.


Lido recreated on ground floor for the first two sections of the exhibition

The initial impact of the exhibition is strong as the visitor finds themselves walking past bathers and swimmers enjoying the benefits of a fictional lido. Here, the visitor learns about early twentieth century swimwear, with its shifting emphasis on modesty against the backdrop of increasing demand for seaside holidays.  The visitor sees garments in-situ, whether they are swimsuits for swimming or pyjama suits for lounging by the pool, sipping on an apres-swim cocktail.  The entire lido scene is supported by some beautiful blown up promotional images from the 1930s of resorts in the UK, as well as a range of fantastic prints from British Vogue showing models wearing swimwear in a range of holiday locations.  Literal recreations of places where swimwear might be worn and seen continue upstairs with the third section, which focuses on the relationship between underwear and swimwear.  Here, the curators have displayed the mannequins as if they were taking part in a beauty contest held in a seaside town, each one sporting a rosette with their respective number and placed upon prize giving blocks.

Bathing Beauty Queen context, 1945 - 1989, Morecambe, Lancashire ,UK

Bathing Beauty Queen context, 1945 – 1989, Morecambe, Lancashire ,UK

The immersive approach to the exhibition’s theme is followed through with associated summer songs played through speakers and heard across the entire space, as well as plenty of smaller displays focusing on accessories and some specific events related to the display of swimwear, in particular the Bathing Beauty Queen context held in Morecambe, Lancashire between 1945 – 1989.


Body Beautiful 1960 – 1989 section; note popularity of the two piece suit

What I find the FTM does well when it comes to their exhibitions is the sheer number of garments on display, often reflecting a diversity that is just not possible to see in more permanent displays of dress favoured by bigger museums like the V&A.  Walking through an FTM exhibition reminds me just how important it is to see real examples of clothing, and not to just rely on two dimensional representation for further understanding.  This is perhaps even more critical when it comes to swimwear, where the form can often be misunderstood until it is seen on an actual body.  This exhibition does not disappoint the visitor who wants to see a hundred years of swimwear design with real examples.  It is also fantastic to see so many examples of clothing worn by, and not just in, the water, ranging from day dresses to sarongs, playsuits to burkinis. 


Pyjama suit, 1920s, rayon, designer/maker unknown

I thought the recreated lido and beauty contest displays worked very well because they best represented the development of resort life, which is really only dealt with in the written summaries for each section.  I think having most of the explanation presented in this way meant there was sometimes a tendency to display objects without any labels.  Corresponding images could either be too small or in awkward places, making them difficult to read for further historical context. Also, upstairs, there are almost too many examples shown and the displays teeter on the brink of becoming glorified shop windows.

Examples of swimwear from 1990 onwards

I particularly enjoyed the British Vogue prints because it is here in fashion magazines that we often imagine ourselves into clothes and situations.  They give us opportunities to fantasise about what a particular swimsuit might look like in our imagined holiday or for us to pragmatically assess whether it will suit our particular body shape.  Although swimwear is clearly a staple of designer collections, is associated with specific manufacturers and, arguably, integral to the planning of our holidays, for many of us, it is something we spend very little time actually wearing.  However, we do seem to spend a lot of time imagining ourselves in swimwear and possibly buying it, often with little success (well, in my experience, this is certainly the case!) It would have been nice to have seen the exhibition embrace this more, perhaps with the addition of soundbites from people talking about their own experience of swimwear, whether it be buying or wearing it.  I was curious to know whether people would try to make their own ‘telescopic’ swimwear in the 1940s, given that they were expensive to buy at the time.


1920s swimming cap made from rubber and reminded me of The Philadelphia Story

I also think more representation of swimwear in popular visual culture might have been included, beyond magazines and postcards. In particular I was thinking about the brilliant scene from The Philidelphia Story (1940) where Katherine Hepburn’s character gets changed into her swimming outfit or the scene from Shag (1989), where Bridget Fonda’s character takes part in a seaside beauty contest.

Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story

I think the choice to present the exhibition chronologically, which the FTM tends to do, is problematic because it fails to make thematic connections that might otherwise engage a wider audience with their displays.  I rarely see diversity amongst the visitors at the FTM, which is a shame, given that the garments on display are often of fantastic quality and make critical contributions to our understanding of the past and present.


Fashionable wear by the water 1920 – 1939; note the outfit in the foreground very similiar to Chanel’s designs which can just be seen in the book in the bottom left hand corner

To conclude, this is an enjoyable exhibition in parts but you do need to read the written summaries while looking at the objects in order to see the various stories being told, particularly the social historical narrative of holidays and resorts.  Perhaps go with friends so you can contribute your own social history to this exhibition – send FTM a postcard of your swimwear in situ!


All images are authors own except for opening image.


Domestic Affairs: More Summer Exhibitions!

African Adornment

I remember reading an article recently about the increase in popularity of fashion and textile exhibitions. Considering I did an entire column on upcoming Summer exhibitions a month ago, and still didn’t cover everything, I would definitely say that’s true!

In Los Angeles, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), African Textiles and Adornment: Selections from the Marcel and Zaira Mis Collectionhas been open since April 5, and will be on view until October 12. Featuring 35 textiles and headdresses, this exhibition explores the concept in many African cultures of the body as the “seat of intelligence, spirit, and identity.” I very much hope to get down to LA to see and review this exhibition before it closes.

Another exhibition I hope to see is opening this week at the FIDM Museum. Inspired Eye: The Donald and Joan Damask Design Collection at the FIDM Museumwill be on display from June 12 until December 19 at the downtown Los Angeles campus. This exhibition is a showcase of a new donation to the museum by Donald and Joan Damask of historic avant-garde fashion and world dress, limited edition art books, and several historic fashion photographs by photographers such as Horst P. Horst, Cecil Beaton, Erté and Willy Maywald.

Also on display at the downtown FIDM campus is Opulent Art: 18th-Century Dress from the Helen Larsen Historic Collectionwhich I reviewed here a few months ago. This latter exhibition is particularly important because the FIDM Museum is on a deadline to raise the funds to acquire the entire Helen Larsen Collection in an attempt to keep this stunning collection together. Since the FIDM Museum is open free to the public, it is difficult to overstate how important it is that they acquire it. For more information you can visit their blog and read their “Fundraising Friday” posts. On display at the FIDM Orange County campus, by appointment, is an entire exhibition on millinery! A Century of Millinery Style: Hats from the Helen Larsen Historic Collection has been up since March 9 and will be on display until August 14. The exhibition features hats, bonnets, toques, and a general overview of millinery fashions during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Up in Seattle, at the Seattle Art Museum their exhibition, Disguise: Masks and Global African Artopens June 18 and explores how masks and masquerades answer the question, “[w]hen our experiences become difficult or curious, how do we confront what can’t be explained?”

In Texas, at the Dallas Museum of Art, Inca: Conquests of the Andes has 120 objects, including several Incan textiles, exploring the effect of imperial expansion on the arts of the Andes before the Spanish conquests. The exhibition opened May 15 and will be up until November 15.

At the Phoenix Art Museum, in Phoenix, AZ, Pattern Play: The Contemporary Designs of Jacqueline Groag has been open since April 4 and will be on display all Summer until August 9. The exhibition explores the desire for color and playfulness in fashion in Britain in the years following World War II through the work of the Czech-born designer, Jacqueline Groag. Featuring works on paper alongside the actual garments depicted, this looks like a wonderful exploration of fashion design immediately post-war but just before the launch of the New Look.

Also in the Southwest, at the Albuquerque Museum, Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe is entering its last months on display. Closing August 9, the exhibition features loans from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto among others, the exhibition was organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Costume and explores the history of elevated shoes from the 16th-century chopines worn by Venetian courtesans to the modern stilettos or even heel-less shoes favored by Victoria Beckham and Daphne Guinness. The exhibition even explores the pointy boot craze sweeping Mexico and the Southwest, and features several Southwestern designers!

On the topic of shoes, at the Bata Shoe Museum, they have just opened Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels. The stated purpose of this exhibition is to “challenge preconceived notions about who wears heels and why.” Probably of no surprise to Worn Through readers, this exhibition explores the development of high heels as a shoe for elite men and heeled footwear for men through the history of fashion and will be on display until June 2016. Also on display at Bata, Beauty, Identity & Pride: Native North American Footwearis on display until January 2016. Drawing on the Bata Museum’s extensive collection — one of the largest in the world — this exhibition explores the regional designs and craftsmanship found in footwear produced by multiple Native American peoples of North America from several different regions of the continent. It features designs from the 18th century through to the 20th century.

At the Hillwood Estate Museum in Washington, DC, their exhibition, Ingenue to Icon: 70 Years of Fashion from the Collection of Marjorie Merriweather Postopened this past weekend and will be on display until December 31st. Billed as the “first exhibition at Hillwood to present Marjorie Post’s full range of style,” the exhibition charts Marjorie Post’s style evolution and is a wonderful catalogue of her lifelong dedication to fashion. This is one of those exhibitions where I wish the Star Trek teleporter was a real thing so I could go without the jet lag.

Last but not least, in New York, there are a couple exhibitions outside of the Met‘s China: Through the Looking Glass on display. At the Museum at FIT, Global Fashion Capitals just opened and is already receiving extensive praise from places like New York Magazine. The exhibition features pieces from the “emerging” fashion capitals of the world such as Tokyo, Stockholm, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Mumbai and Istanbul, and through these pieces explores how globalization has given rise to these new fashion cities.

Also in New York at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Yinka Shonibare MBE: Colonial Arrangementsis on display until August 31. Shonibare is a textile-based artist and this exhibition was designed exclusively for the mansion and to fit with its 18th- and 19th-century interiors.

In Asotria, New York, the Museum of the Moving Image has announced an extension of its Mad Men Costume Exhibition until September 6. With the show’s finale having garnered rave reviews, the exhibition has been very popular.

Are there any exhibitions or events happening in your area that you feel Worn Through readers should know about? Have you been to any of the exhibitions mentioned here? What did you think? Please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions, or any information about other exhibitions in the comments below. Or feel free to email me the details and I will be sure to feature the event in my next column!

Opening Image Caption: Tunic, Mask, and Headdress, Tunic: Indigo-dyed cotton weave; Headdress: fiber, palm stems and glass beads, Mask: Cotton and glass beads, Marcel & Zaira Mis Collection. © LACMA


A Postcard from Abroad: Summertime in the UK

Hello!  It’s nice to be back, and be able to bring you a summery round up of fashion related events and exhibitions in the UK over the next few months.  My last Worn Through contribution was in early spring and I must say a massive thank you to our Managing Editor Brenna Barks for covering in my absence with some great videos; that last one certainly sets the seasonal tone!

To start, I would like to mention the Textile Society has a great overview of events, exhibitions and activities over the summer that cover both fashion and textiles interests.  I strongly recommend having a closer look because whereas I tend to focus more on London and fashion related events, they provide excellent UK coverage of textile related events.  With that in mind, there are a few things taking place in the capital that I want to highlight now!


The first one is the Institute of Historical Research’s (IHR) 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians, 2-3 July, which focuses on the subject of fashion In collaboration with the V&A Museum, the IHR hopes to showcase the importance of fashion and how it brings together museums, graduate teaching programmes, learned societies and the fashion profession around a common set of interests and concerns.  This two day conference includes over 30 panel sessions, which encompass the history of fashion, tastes, design innovation, globalisation, museum display, consumption and retailing.  There will also be a special exhibition in the IHR,  in partnership with the Senate House Library, that looks like a rare opportunity to see fashion images from their catalogues.  Tickets are now available and a provisional programme can be viewed here.

Fine Cell Work, 2010,

The second display to catch my eye is the artist Cornelia Parker’s contemporary Magna Carta, on public view at the British Library until 24 JulyTo mark its 800th anniversary, the British Library commissioned Parker to create a new artwork and her response was to fabricate the entire Wikipedia entry on the Great Charter with only embroidered stitches.  While the work was produced in association with the Embroiderer’s Guild, the Royal School of Needlework and Hand & Lock, many hands contributed to the piece, including Fine Cell Work, who support prisoners by training them in needleworkHave a look at the video about the making of the piece – it’s fascinating. I am really looking forward to seeing this in person and great to see such a esteemed British artist drawing upon textiles as her medium of choice here.

The third event I want to mention is actually two, insomuch they are both shows based in universities.  At Goldsmiths University, the BA Fine Art/History of Art students have drawn upon the Goldsmiths Textiles Collection to create Reconstructing Textiles.  This exhibition, only open until 23 June, is an attempt to draw connections between contemporary practices and archival material. For me, any opportunity to see the Goldsmiths Textiles Collection is a golden one and it is great to see students engaging with previous students work in the archive.

Image taken from Fabric of the City website. Unknown source.

At The Cass, part of London Metropolitan University, staff and students have invited textile and fashion designers to celebrate the local history of Spitalfield’s 17th century silk weavers for an exhibition entitled Fabric of the City.  This is part of The Cass’ contribution to the festival ‘Huguenot Summer 2015’, organised by the Huguenots of Spitalfields in partnership with the City of London.  The Cass is where I teach so it is great to share what they are up to, especially as, due to health reasons, I have not been there these last couple of months.  The exhibition runs 10-25 July.

Morecambe and Wise presenting Miss Great Britain 1965. Photograph: Fashion and Textile Museum

Moving on, summer is that time when we panic about swimwear in the UK, especially because the opportunity to wear it, given our climate, is so very small.  However, this does not stop us fantasising about the ideal bikini or one-piece nor us purchasing something new each year in the hope that this time, it really will be perfect!  Seeking some kind of perspective then, it may be helpful to catch RIVIERA STYLE Resort & Swimwear since 1900at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London this summer.  On until 30 August, this exhibition, in association with Leicestershire County Council Museums, focuses not just on swimwear style but also technological developments in fabric and the role of retailing in making those design innovations popular.  I hope to review this later on in the month but be great to hear from anyone who has already visited in the comments below.

Camper advertising, SS 1977 and SS 1992 Source: Design Museum

While on the topic of summer sartorial concerns, shoes are also perhaps a major obsession as we dare to bare our pale pieds.  Last year, I was obsessed with clogs.  I thought they were the perfect summer shoe because, unlike most sandals, they kept my toes out of sight.  However, after realising I cannot walk in clogs – too many years wearing flats – I am now still on the lookout for my ideal summer shoe.  Along with my ideal swimming garment, come to think of it.  Perhaps then it comes as no surprise to see two major London design museums dedicating their summer exhibition space to what we put on our feet.  In east London, the Design Museum focuses on the Spanish footwear brand Camper in Life on Foot while in west London, the V&A Museum looks at the extremities footwear has gone to in Shoes: Pleasure and Painife on Foot, open now until 1 November, is the use of archival material from Camper to tell the design story of their products from the drawing board to the concept store.  Meanwhile, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, open 13 June until 31 January 2016, draws upon the V&A’s historic collection to present over 200 pairs of shoes in considering how technology often provides opportunities for extreme wearability

Detail from United States market advertisement, 1947. Courtesy of Jamie Mulherron.

Lastly, I noticed an exhibition about Pringle of Scotland knitwear at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh entitled Fully Fashioned and open until 16 August.  Marking the company’s 200th anniversary, the exhibition charts the history of what is now an international fashion brand with the use of archival material and knitwear garments. I would love to hear from anyone who has visited it or whether it might be travelling to other museums later in the year.

Happy holidays!