This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine featured photographs of objects left behind by South American immigrants crossing the border into America. Jason De Léon directs the “Undocumented Migration Project,” which collects, catalogues, photographs, and exhibits these “things they carried” and oral histories as witness to the experience, which De Léon describes as violent and traumatizing, comparing it to the forced migration of Africans earlier in the history of the United States.
The photographs featured in the Times are a mix of those taken by collaborator Richard Barnes in situ, and of objects exhibited out of context, en masse at the University of Michigan (where De Léon is an Assistant Professor in Anthropology). Combining video, photographs, and found objects, “The State of Exception” was the first exhibition of the UMP’s years of work. Whether in the “wild” or arranged in a blank museum space, the massive accumulation of objects (clothing, backpacks, shoes) highlights the personal, human side of this experience and obviates the scale of northern migration.
This method may not be moving to all, as this anthropological study uses material culture to expose and explore a very controversial topic. But a well-worn axiom of our field is that clothing is common to the human experience, and children’s dirty, abandoned backpacks featuring Dora the Explorer and other cartoon characters tug at the heartstrings. De Léon notes that within a day’s walk of the border, he finds mostly water bottles and other objects we generally think of as disposable, impersonal. Would exhibited photographs of those be as moving? Or might they look like a bunch of trash (perhaps further stigmatizing those left them)? What is different about clothes, shoes, backpacks? Where do Bibles and pictures of one’s family fall on this scale?
Although a comparison of the two experiences is inappropriate, these photographs reminded me of the documentation of victims in the Holocaust Museum. The infamous pile of shoes, ironically, serves not to put a face to the vast, unimaginable suffering, but rather to show how anonymous people can become.
Photograph by Richard Barnes, part of the exhibition “State of Exception,” published in the New York Times Magazine July 21, 2013.
What is it about a pile? De Léon encounters piles of all kinds of things when he began his anthropological study, and in interviews often mentions the “worn-out shoes” he finds–especially the tiny ones. As an anthropologist, De Léon sees his job as making these anonymous objects personal, in order to understand the migrating people individually, as a group, and also to expose some realities of the experience to those who may see the immigration issue abstractly. The Smithsonian plans to accession these objects collected by the UMP in the summer of 2014.
What do piles or masses of objects communicate to the visitor in a museum setting? Are real, tangible (but untouchable) objects in a museum building more moving than photographs of the objects where they were found? Or vice versa? Is this a manipulative practice, or a realistic one? Have you seen this exhibition, or have you been to other exhibitions using large volumes of material culture that have stuck with you (for better or worse)?
Please leave your comments below!
Photo Credit: Richard Barnes for the NYT, 2013.
At last, London Fashion Umbrella is back to its weekly Wednesday schedule! While I have been on hiatus from the column, so many exciting exhibitions have sprung up in and around London, so my first order of business is to round up some highlights. I’ll be periodically publishing a calendar like this one of dress-related exhibitions and events with vital info and brief commentary. I won’t be doing in-depth reviews any longer, in favour of bringing you a more diverse column.
Before the academic year gets back into swing, there’s plenty to feed your head going on in London. Here’s my curated picks:
Fashion Rules: Dress from the collections of HM the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales
Kensington Palace Now until summer 2015
‘More royal fashion?’ you might be thinking. Seems the British population and tourists alike can never get enough of the pomp and opulence of a frock worn by a member of the Royal Family. Kensington Palace promises to hone in on three Royal women and how their wardrobes epitomised and have come to reflect significant fashion trends of their time. Even if, like me, you are more interested in the dress of the common people than of the great and good, this exhibition holds information and insights that tell us about dressing in Britain both in and out of the palace walls. It’s going to be a fixture on the UK exhibition map for a good long time, and there’s well-designed online content, including a specially commissioned version of drawing app Paper to satisfy your curiosity before visiting or to afford you a worthwhile virtual visit if you won’t be passing near the Palace in the next two years!
Take me to the doors of the Royal Wardrobe.
Kate Moss in bronze glitter, 2013, Allen Jones
Kate Moss – the Collection – Curated by Gert Elfering
Viewing: Christie’s London King Street 21-25 September 2013
Next to Royalty, celebrity comes close in as a point of obsession for fashion exhibiting in London this summer. Christie’s London is set to offer for sale a collection of art and photographic works featuring national treasure, Kate Moss. Again, whether you love or loathe her, the fact of the collection, its potential selling value and seeing the many manifestations of a fashion muse in one place, are reasons to pop over and see these works before they get consumed into private collections.
I might need to bid on a piece of Kate Moss.
A PAIR OF LIMITED EDITION FERRAGAMO CREATIONS PATCHWORK WEDGES
SALVATORE FERRAGAMO, CIRCA 2010
In My Fashion: the Suzy Menkes Collection
Christie’s online auction only 11-22 of July 2013
While Kate Moss is undoubtedly a voice of fashion despite having being oft-critiscised for what her image contributes to damaging stereotypes of women, Christie’s has also reserved auction space for another strong voice of fashion – fashion journalist Suzy Menkes. Perhaps known more for substance than style, Menkes’ wardrobe and sense of personal style are a testament to her taste, affinities and relationships with designers and design. Menkes is personally offering up 90 lots of items from her wardrobe, which she claims never to have purged! This auction has ended, but the online catalogue will give you a look at some marvelous garments and accessories most of which were likely to be sold at modest prices, and exist in wearable sizes. Hopefully this inspires buyers not only to collect garments from the Menkes collection, but to wear them as well!
Suzy Menkes, I am sorry I missed your auction but please show me the lots.
Trojan and Mark at Taboo
© Derek Ridgers
Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s
Victoria and Albert Museum July 10, 2013 until February 16, 2014
The title of this exhibition sounds suspiciously similar to the Costume Institute’s Punk: Chaos to Couture, but it promises a whole different approach to displaying and deconstructing the relationship between subcultural style and commercial fashion. The exhibition showcases fashions by designers who were enmired in and inspired by London’s vibrant post-punk club scenes. Fans of glam-rock and its fashion progenies may have already been to the V&A recently to admire the togs of David Bowie, but Club to Catwalk will be worth another fashion pilgrimage to South Kensington. As always, the V&A is hosting a wealth of events and heaps of online content to accompany and support the exhibition.
Take me past the velvet rope and into the 1980s London club scenes.
Drum cover girl Erlin Ibreck, London, 1966 © James Barnor/Autograph ABP
EverYoung, James Barnor
Impressions Gallery Bradford, UK July 5 through August 31, 2013
Portrait photography is a key source of fashion information, and thus exhibitions such as this one, despite having no mention of being “fashion exhibitions” often turn out to be more exciting and informative than those that scream the fact. James Barnor’s street and studio photographs, taken in Ghana and London from the late 1940s to early 1970s show us fashions of these times and places as a portrait of time and place and a testament to the role of dress in identities.
Take me back in time though James Barnor’s lens.
Zandra Rhodes: Unseen
Fashion and Textile Museum 12 July through 31 August, 2013
Ten years ago, the Fashion and Textile Museum London was established by fashion and textile designer Zandra Rhodes. In the past decade it has hosted many exhibitions that include her designs and pieces from her archive. However, Zandra Rhodes Unseen offers a comprehensive look at her prolific career, while it marks the anniversary of the museum with an homage to its founder.
Zandra Rhodes, whisk me away to your archive.
Blumenfeld Studio, New York, 1941-1960
Somerset House East Wing Galleries 23 May until 1 September, 2013
These days when you hear the name of a new fashion photographer it only takes a few clicks to call up images of their work online. More and more works by photographers shooting before the digital age are also being archived and re-disseminated online. Yet, the name of an influential and prolific designer of one of my favourite periods of fashion history somehow eluded me until now. Probably, I have seen many of his works before, and I certainly can do a bit of internet research on him now, but I think I will wait and go check out the rarely seen images from his Central Park Studio at Somerset House.
Show me some New York mid-century glamour in London.
Miles Aldridge: I Only Want You to Love Me
Somerset House Embankment Galleries 10 July until 29 September 2013
The words Miles Aldridge conjure for me bright colours, sharp edges, shiny textures and faraway looks in the eyes of beautiful but hard women. I also smell the scent of glossy magazines when I hear his name. Since Somerset House is hosting an exhibition of his works to coincide with the release of a new monograph by Rizzoli, I’ll be able to see Aldridge’s works in a new way. As large scale prints, free from the magazine pages. I imagine the colours will seem brighter, the surfaces shinier and the women even harder. But will the images still smell like the glossy pages of a fashion mag?
I already love you Miles Aldridge so please show me some pictures.
Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait
The Jewish Museum London 3 July until 15 September 2013
Many fashion exhibitions are biographical, and many biographical exhibitions rely on clothing to tell part of the tale. Sometimes, fashion is so much a part of a life story that clothes stand in for the subject. Perhaps moreseo when the subject has died tragically and young after being in the spotlight. This is why, for me, the Jewish Museum’s exhibition on the life of Amy Winehouse is as much about her as it is about how clothing represents a life lived, and I’ll be swinging over to Camden Town (also Amy’s favorite part of London) to visit the Jewish Museum for the first time.
Amy, Amy, Amy…
In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion
The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace 10 May until 6 October 2013
While Kensington Palace is showing us how 20th Century Royal Women came to be fashion icons, Buckingham Palace is opening the Queen’s Gallery to show its been going on for a whole lot longer. While we may hardly need to be reminded, this exhibition affords a rare opportunity to see garments from the Tudor and Stuart periods, alongside paintings of the period. With an accompanying app, and online contenxt including an interview about the influence of Tudor fashion on avant-garde designer Gareth Pugh, the exhibition promises to be more than a reverent look at Royal History.
Ruffs, I love ruffs!
Opening the Olympics
Museum of London Until 31 October 2013
Seems hard to believe that the London 2012 Olympics were opening a whole year ago this week. The Museum of London’s new display featuring costumes designed for the Olympics and Paralympics opening ceremonies takes a closer look at the craft, concepts and stories behind fragments of the dazzling spectacles.
Take me back to summer 2012!
Trying to capture the beauty and detail of the de Young Museum‘s current textile exhibit, From the Exotic to the Mystical: Woven Treasures from the Permanent Collection in a review is a daunting task. My recollection of the exhibit is as small and intimate, and yet when reviewing my notes, I realize that there are more than 40 objects within the exhibit, and that those objects span fifteen centuries. With a collection of over 13,000 pieces to draw from, curator Jill D’Alessandro and her team have put together a fantastic exhibit that explores the exoticism and mysticism of textile history, and one that has me considering my sofa cushions in a new light.
To take so much material and display it in a way that is not overwhelming, but indeed creates a feeling of intimacy between the visitor and the objects is no small task. The lighting is dim, as is to be expected when viewing Coptic textiles and seventeenth-century tapestries, but considering the exhibit’s themes, the dim lighting creates a hallowed space in which to admire the objects. Despite competition from two major exhibits, and pieces from the Vatican’s ethnographic collection, Exotic to the Mystical was never empty, but always quiet.
The exhibit examines four themes in textiles: exoticism, mythology, religious symbolism, and the fantasized animal world. My initial attraction to the exhibit was the phrase “treasures from the permanent collection”, combined with a blurb about the exhibit featuring pieces never before displayed. Once in the exhibit, and receiving a tour from Jill herself, I was doubly glad I came due to my own fascination with cultural exchange and exoticism in dress and textiles. Setting the theme for the exotic are four massive tapestries and quilts each with their own orientalist flavour. Outside the exhibit is an amazing tapestry by a San Francisco artist, Mark Adams (1925 – 2006), of a lotus. Adams created the piece after a stay in South East Asia, and the piece utilizes the Buddhist symbol of light and enlightenment to convey a message of beauty from darkness.
Inside, the first piece is a bed cover, decorated with appliqués of a fabric featuring Zarafa, a famous giraffe given to Charles X, king of France in 1827. Zarafa was very popular, with hundreds of thousands of people appearing in Marseille and then Paris to greet the exotic animal’s arrival. Her popularity set off a craze for all things African and Egyptian (one and the same to consumers of 1827). This makes the piece, which is from the southeastern United States, a fantastic representation of the breadth of popularity exotic themes in textiles have.
Next to the Zarafa bed cover is another, quilted cover of white on white with an embroidered biblical scene in the middle. Yet the attire of the characters is oddly orientalist in nature — a wonderful counter balance to the boteh design of the quilting — with at least one of the men wearing a colourful turban and billowing trousers. The piece that takes over the space however, is the renowned tapestry, An Audience with the Emperor, from France circa 1722 – 1723 (seen above). The piece is enormous, and yet it compliments the others, rather than distracts from them. The details illustrate the exhibit’s theme of the exotic and mysterious in textiles quite well with its depictions of a Chinese court based on heresay and imagination. The colours are amazingly vibrant considering its age and size.
By far one of my favourite pieces combines the exotic with the mythological theme: a silk damask (seen below), depicting the gods of ancient Greece circling Apollo — the sun god and no doubt an analogy for Louis XIV, considering its date of c. 1750 — in the centre, along with the four cardinal points, and the four regions of the globe. Jill believes the unique depictions of the global regions are possibly based on those found on Dutch maps of the time, especially considering that the man embodying the Asian continents is depicted as being Indian rather than Chinese, as is usually found in French representations. My favourite part about this piece: it’s a napkin. Used for serving coffee (there is even a stain on Apollo’s leg). The influence of print culture can be seen in many of the animal tapestries as well, which mimic natural history books and prints of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Napkin, ca. 1750
Linen, silk; satin damask weave, embroidery
110 x 90 cm (43 5/16 x 35 7/16 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Henry Potter Russell
This is by no means the only object of amazing beauty, but also daily practicality. The exhibit shows a pair of pillow covers from seventeenth-century Germany that are astounding in their condition, and in their entirety: they both retain their original damask lining, tassels, and the complete scene of Samson and the lion, merging the themes of mythology, religious symbolism, and fantasized animal world into their motifs. An example of what usually happens to such covers can be found in the exhibit: cut down to only its main design (again Samson and the lion). This contrast manages to illustrate better than any text panel could just how valuable these textiles were. Sofa cushions are taken for granted today, and the more durable the better, whereas four hundred years ago they were cared for and recycled.
There are beautiful lace valances depicting the epic of Orlando Furioso, and examples of Belgian lace motifs that had been adapted over the years from a clear homage to the French royal family to a nebulous symbolism that might be royal, or mythological, as well as both Italian and English bizarre silks from the eighteenth century.
Textile panel , ca. 1700–1710
Italy, or France
Silk, metallic threads; damask, supplementary-weft patterning in twill weave
150.5 x 106.7 cm (59 1/4 x 42 in.)
Museum purchase, Textile Arts Council Endowment Fund in honor of Diane B. Mott
© Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The pieces exploring the fantasized animal world are largely beautiful tapestries with very similar imagery, but each one unique. A jungle or forest dominates the foreground, populated as often by actual animals as by mythological beasts. In the distance (along the top of the tapestries) is a neat, orderly mediaeval city. It is never certain whether the depiction is a warning similar to fairy tales and folklore about the dangers of venturing into the wild, or a longing for that uncivilized place by people whose lives are perhaps a little too comfortable for their own liking. And looking at them, you’re hypnotized, too.
While the pieces are largely European and early modern in date, there are many older pieces from across the globe mixed in as well. Separating the damasked napkin from the bizarre silk above is a poncho made in Spanish Colonial Peru, which is an amazing blend of indigenous imagery in the style of the colonizers. The lions and jaguars on the poncho are remarkably similar to the lions of Judah on a “torah bag” found among the religious symbolism pieces, despite several thousand miles and at least a hundred year separation. My favourite of these pieces (tied with the napkin above for my favourite pieces in the entire exhibit), is a tiny fragment from ninth or tenth-century central Asia, out of silk in a weft-faced compound twill weave. Depicting exotic beasts in bright red on a white ground and flanked by fantastic shrubbery, it is a perfect example of a sentiment Jill quoted to me: Give me a fragment of a masterpiece over an entire mediocre piece any day.
The inclusion of these ancient pieces from other cultures creates a consistency of theme, and firmly establishes the sense of wonder as a uniquely human trait. Wonder not only with other cultures, but with the metaphysical and unknowable, and the animal world. A wonder so strong it inspired the creators and consumers of these textiles to surround themselves with the unknown, the exotic, and the mystical in their daily lives.
It was wonderful visiting the exhibit with Jill and learning about her research, conversations with other professionals, and her speculations about some of the more mysterious pieces. Many of the pieces are donations from over the years which have virtually no provenance other than their make and year, no history of how they arrived at the de Young, or how those donating them acquired them. What does become clear, though, through an examination of the pieces, and my conversations with Jill is that this is a wonderful testament and memorial to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s founding curator for textile arts, Anna Gray Bennett.
The star pieces of the show are undoubtedly a group for which there is a back story, and an amazing one at that. It is a recent acquisition by the museum of a complete set of ecclesiastical vestments originally from the chapel at Versailles. The story told by the family that owned the pieces until their sale to the de Young is that their ancestor was a lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette and, having a friend who was a nun at Saint-Cyr, where these pieces were embroidered between 1700 and 1710, this ancestor rescued the pieces during the raid on Versailles by revolutionaries. The vestments were kept as family heirlooms for use at weddings, Easter services, and other special events. The miracle of the pieces’ survival, in perfect condition, through the Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and two world wars to the present day is beyond words.
Chasuble, ca. 1700–1710
Silk, metallic threads; cut velvet, embroidery (laid work, couching, padded couching, or nué)
Museum purchase, Dorothy Spreckels Munn Bequest Fund
© Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The exhibit left me with an even deeper respect for textile history and tradition, and a greater feeling of interconnectedness across cultures that shared and influenced each other in the textile arts.
The exhibit is on display until August 4, and I for one will be visiting it again.
de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco.
Opening image:The Audience of the Emperor, 1722–1723
Wool, silk; tapestry weave
317.5 x 502.9 cm (125 x 198 in.)
Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Collection
© Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Jacques Boyer – Le Drapage du Corsage chez Worth, Paris, 1907.
Copyright: Jacques Boyer/Roger Viollet
I have achieved my tour of the Musée Galliera’s fashion exhibitions taking place in Paris and what a final! The museum proposed a sumptuous Haute Couture display at l’Hotel de Ville, a show celebrating Paris and its craftsmanship.
Strangely, a Haute Couture exhibition had never been organised before: we could have thought so, the subject seeming quite an evidence. The display curated by Olivier Saillard and Ann Zazzo, brings together garments by Worth, Poiret, Chanel, Vionnet, Balenciaga, Christian Lacroix, Azzedine Alaia, Christian Dior and more: an incredible reunion that gives visitors the opportunity to discover exceptional pieces. L’Hotel de Ville (Paris’ town hall), therefore, stands out as the ideal venue with its rich interiors and impressive nave.
The Exhibition Wall of Fame;
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
The first level of the exhibition space is dedicated to original sketches, photographs, patrons and samples that help comprehend the making of Haute Couture and bring us into the discipline’s secret behind-the-scenes.
I particularly appreciated a series of beautiful black and white photographs by François Kollar that simply depict the hands of famous couturiers such as Coco Chanel, Jacques Fath or Jeanne Lanvin. Moving on, we can observe how is created a Haute Couture garment (a Chanel by Karl Lagerfeld dress) from its original sketch to the final design: a pedagogic and useful section that enables visitors comprehend that haute couture is the result of a hard and meticulous work. To complete this understanding are finally displayed samples of Lesage’s embroideries or Lemariés feathers that celebrate the atelier’s traditional craft.
Balenciaga Evening ensemble, Autumn-Winter 1967/68
Copyright: Collection Musée Galliera
The lower and principle level (Salle St Jean) is where the magic occurs. Dozens of garments are installed in the centre within glass cases and on the sides(without any glass protection this time): an abundance of beauty! The display is partially chronological: the oldest garments are presented via a chronological organisation whilst the most recent pieces are placed alongside those earlier designs to echo a style, technique, cut or colour, yet each garment makes a strong statement.
The glass cases installed up and down the gallery enable to have a complete view of the garments pushing visitors to turn around them, come back on the other side, start again…My only concern would be that it was terribly dark and I wish I could have observed the exquisiteness of the designs better.
Elevated Worth & Bobergh Garments
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
The sides are differently arranged. The left side presents the garments elevated on elegant black and white steps while the opposite right side displays an array of mainly black and white garments against a mirrored wall that enables visitors to see the back of the creations: a stunning mise-en-scène!
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013.
The oldest dress in the exhibition dates back to 1895, it is a Charles-Frederick Worth tea gown that belonged to the Countess Greffuhle, one of Proust’s main inspiration. The garment highlights the English couturier, often rewarded as being the father of Haute Couture: there can be something quite ironic for French people to discover that what seems so inextricably French (or should we say Parisian) has been invented by a foreigner, moreover an Englishman! Haute Couture is furthermore a protected certification given by La Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture created by Worth himself in 1868.
The display also tells the story of fashion and styles and we move on to Paul Poiret’s high-waisted and corset-free oriental garments that introduce the visitors to the Roaring Twenties when hemlines were shorter and sumptuous embroideries adorned the garments to shimmer under electrical lights. The key piece of this section is Madeleine Vionnet’s 1924 light green silk muslin evening dress with its peacock-like layered train.
Madeleine Vionnet, Evening dress, 1924
Copyright: Collection Musée Galliera
Then come the 1930s that favour a new aesthetic encouraged by the financial crisis that prevents couturiers from using rich fabrics and heavy adornments. It is the cut that prevails now: long draped or bias-cut (invented by Vionnet) garments with plunging backs give a new sophisticated and sensual identity to the body.
Elsa Schiaparelli, Evening gloves, 1936
Copyright: Collection Musée Galliera
WWII challenged Paris’ Haute Couture and Lucien Lelong, head of the Chambre Syndicale, fought to maintain the activity in France. At the end of the war, the touring exhibition, Le Théatre de la Mode and its fashion dolls helped revive the industry and bring the spotlight onto Paris again. In 1947, Christian Dior will be the main initiator of this recognition. With his New Look, he erases the war’s deprivations and restrictions and highlights a new silhouette highlighting a flamboyant femininity. During the 1950s, the Jolie Madame style initiated by Pierre Balmain proposes unpretentious yet highly elegant designs that seduce a new generation of clients.
Christian Dior “Palmyre” Evening dress, Autumn-Winter 1952
Copyright: Colelction Musée Galliera
However, it is the 1960s decade that will transform Haute Couture. Young designers like André Courrèges, Yves Saint Laurent or Pierre Cardin break up with the past and imagine new silhouettes with short skirts, modernist patterns and flat cuts. As a symbol, Coco Chanel’s iconic suit with its easy to wear aspect adapted to society’s changes and the evolution of women’s status, ends the exhibition and introduces this new generation of designers.
Since, these innovators have open the way for designers who freely interpret Haute Couture: some stay true to its splendour, others prefer an eccentric approach while some design simple masterly cut garments. Haute Couture, today, has many faces thanks to its inspirational history.
Hubert de Givenchy facing Christian Dior
Photo: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards, 2013
The display is free and accessible to everyone which makes it even more educational. I could sense that many people surrounding me during my visit were not used to visiting exhibitions and I was particularly moved by a woman who expressed out loud all her emotion and excitement at seeing so many beautiful things, things she had never observed. I was myself accompanied by my 14-year-old sister (the real teenage kind! )and I was truly happy to see her appreciate the beauty of the garments (of course, which girl would not?) but also gather very seriously the educational information she was given and understand what curators had intended to say: that is that Haute Couture is not just about frills and red carpets but is the result of an incredible craftsmanship and that it can also reside in the simplest day wear.
Paris Haute Couture is not just a show-stopping exhibition, it is also a very informative and brilliantly displayed presentation that brings into light audacious and compelling affiliations.
The exhibition has just ended but you can find its beautiful catalogue.
Maziers, Amandine. L’oeil et la Main: Les Artisans de la Haute Couture. Paris: Editions du Collectionneur, 2005.
Wilcox, Claire. The Golden Age of Couture. London: V&A Publishing, 2008.
You can add to your list: Ashley’s reading advice.
And, of course, Paris Haute Couture’s Fashion Week just took place so you’ll find numerous delightful reviews and photographs all over the web.
Viktor&Rolf Hyeres Doll 1993
Luminato Exhibit 2013
The cold perfection and the haunting gaze of the Viktor&Rolf dolls – recently on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto – embody what Freud has defined as uncanny -- that “intense feeling of strangeness that can occur when encountering something that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, causing doubt as to whether or not the object is, in fact, alive”. On the three occasions I visited the ROM display during the Luminato Festival, I overheard visitors repeatedly use the word “creepy” to describe their reaction to the Viktor&Rolf dolls.
VIKTOR&ROLF Dolls on Runway
Luminato Festival 2013
Fashion dolls are not a new phenomena in the museum. In 1945, the travelling exhibition of Parisian fashion dolls called Theatre de la Mode was conceived and presented in an effort to restore the haute couture industry after WWII. With outfits designed by Dior, Lucien Lelong, Piguet, Carven, Nina Ricci, Jean Patou, Schiaparelli and others, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture showcased the best of French fashion – in miniature. Milliners, shoemakers, glovemakers, and jewelers all contributed to the project.With blank faces, wire bodies and real hair, these small scale mannequins (27.5 inches in height) were clothed in miniature versions of the designer’s clothing and accessories. Everything was replicated with precision: pockets opened, buttons could be unbuttoned and handbags unclasped. The effect was surreal and the audience, who had “been starved for beauty, for glamour, for amusement after four years of occupation” streamed in. An estimated 100,000 visitors saw the exhibition in Paris before it travelled to cities like London, Barcelona and New York. The dolls were packed away in a basement in San Francisco for several years before being sent to the Maryhill Museum of Fine Art in Washington. They have been redisplayed on occasion including an exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1990 and at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991.
In 2008, the Viktor&Rolf retrospective at the Barican Gallery, the use of dolls as mannequins was a curatorial choice by Caroline Evans specifically designed to invoke a sense of Freud’s uncanny (Evans 19). These dolls were commissioned for the exhibit from a Belgian doll maker and combine a French bebe type doll from the 19th century by Maison Jurneau in Paris with a German fashion doll from 1860-1890. The wide eyed Viktor&Rolf dolls have bisque porcelain faces with pouty lips and full cheeks. The real human hair is styled to match the runway model, and the paper-mache bodies feature small waists and articulated joints.There were two sizes of dolls used in the exhibition at the Barbican: 70 cm (27.6 inches) tall dolls dressed in miniature versions of the designer’s collections as well as life-size dolls dressed in the actual garments. The shift in scale created a surreal Alice in Wonderland illusion, which has haunted me since I saw the exhibit at the Barbican in 2008.
Luminato Festival 2013
For the 2013 exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, only the smaller 70 cm size dolls were on display. Thirty dolls were presented as if in motion along a specially designed runway in the Thorsell Spirit House Gallery. Each doll was exquisitely dressed in a scaled-down version of the runway outfit made in the Viktor&Rolf atelier and was accessorized with hair, makeup and shoes. This display was not meant to be a didactic presentation of the designer’s work since there was an absence of labels or explanatory information, and this seemed to confound and confuse many visitors (who frequently asked the security attendants for information). The lack of text was consistent with the presentation of the dolls as conceptual art pieces, and the sole exhibition label revealed that: “Dolls are conceptual art objects of strange beauty and desire”.
Viktor&Rolf Dolls on ROM Runway
ROM Luminato Festival 2013
In an essay in the Summer 2013 ROM Magazine, Dr. Alexandra Palmer described this project as one that “shifts the conventional archiving of designers’s oeuvres from static outdated representations of past work. Instead, by recreating modern, abstracted forms of their designs, Viktor&Rolf ensure its creations survive into the future as precious objects to be admired. The clothes, the model doll, and indeed the Viktor&Rolf collection become fashion specimens as if under a bell jar” (8).
References and Additional Reading:
Evans, Caroline and Frankel, Susannah. The House of Viktor and Rolf. London: Merrell. 2008.
Fox, Carl. The Doll. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc, 1972.
Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. London: Penguin Books, 2005.
Mac Neil, Sylvia. The Paris Collection. Grantsville, Md.: Hobby House Press, 1992.
Palmer, Alexandra. “Luminato at the ROM: Viktor&Rolf Dolls”. ROM Magazine, Summer 2013.
Théâtre De La Mode. Ed. Eugene Clarence Braun-Munk, Edmonde Charles-Roux, and Susan Train. New York: Rizzoli in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.
Photo credits: Ingrid Mida, copyright 2013
Author’s note: Parts of this essay originally appeared on the blog Fashion is my Muse!
Telling the readers of this blog that textiles and clothing are a significant part of our lives, and that individual objects have great importance during milestones and transitions in those lives would be the dress studies equivalent of preaching to the choir. But it is a question that those of us in the field are often asked, and of course its obviousness does not negate the subject’s being explored.
Exploration of the roles textiles and garments play in the major moments of our lives is precisely the purpose of the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles‘ current exhibition, Milestones: Textiles of Transition. The exhibit is one that curator Deborah Corsini has long wished to do, and instead of simply featuring objects from significant life events, Corsini has blended such objects with modern art pieces inspired by the exhibit’s theme.
The museum’s exhibition space lends itself perfectly to the exploration of life, death, and reflection on the two, being separated into two main rooms and a third, smaller display space. I had never thought of the museum in this way, but for this exhibit you come away feeling as though you have seen three separate exhibitions, and yet one. Rather the way we live separate stages of life, and yet one life.
Forever Yours, Susan Else 2010
Commercial and hand-treated cloth
Machine collaged, machine quilted, surface collage hand sewn over armature
Opening the exhibit is a beautiful, quilt sculptural piece (seen above and at the opening of the post) entitled Forever Yours by Susan Else. The piece features two perfectly sculpted (and anatomically correct — note the differences in their hips) skeletons locked in an embrace and representing the romantic ideal of love surpassing life. The piece is wonderful as much for its technique as for its symbolism, but it also makes a clear statement that this will be as much a textile arts show as an examination of milestone textiles.
The first room explores the important life events of love, marriage, conception, birth, and transition to adulthood. Two antique wedding dresses are featured, on loan from The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale, along with several double wedding ring quilts. The two dresses are from the 1920s and 1950s, showing how the same garment can be adapted for the same ceremony depending on the fashions of the time — a trait reflected in the variety of adaptations to the quilts, and the way in which the quilts were reinterpreted.
Right: Bride’s Dress, late 1920s
Silk, silk crepe, machine lace, glass beads, rhinestones
Sewn, machine lace
Collection of The Lace Museum, Sunnyvale, CA
Left: Bride’s Dress, mid 1950s
Silkscreened tulle, hand-applied gimp,
underdress is polyester satin
Collection of The Lace Museum, Sunnyvale, CA
Mixed in with the archival quilts are modern adaptations. The first wedding ring quilt (far left in the image above) is indeed an heirloom, but one onto which body scans of a man and woman have been embroidered symbolizing, as the piece is named, Marital Bliss (Paula Chung, 2012). By mixing such contemporary pieces in with the heirlooms, the exhibit encourages immediate reflection, causing myself at least to consider not just the beauty of the objects, and the importance of the occasions, but also to consider how marriage has changed within our society in the last century or more. The reflections are not entirely positive, either. A third wedding dress is featured, which from a distance looks like a simple, if meringue-like wedding dress made of a pink and white fabric. Upon closer examination, the fabric is printed with quotes from a “Bridezilla” blog or forum, revealing the nastier side of modern wedding culture.
Duchess satin, tulle, pearls
Fiber-reactive dyed, printed on digital paper
Opposite the wedding ring quilts and the dresses is an entire wall of baby and birthing quilts. These tiny quilts display the sort of mix you would expect, from the miniature versions of traditional quilts (see the Irish example centre above and detailed below), and modern perceptions of pastels and sweet motifs.
Red and White Check Baby Quilt, c. 1870
Hand pieced, hand quilted
Again, contemporary pieces are mixed with the historic. Ruth Tabancay’s Blankie (2012) creates a quilt using embroidery floss, a found blanket binding, and used teabags. Stephanie Metz’s Baptism Pelt (2009) explores our obsession with being hairless, despite our mammalian nature. Radka Donnell’s simple, but exquisite Birth of Tenderness (from Paradise Dozen) (2006), creates an exquisite sense of the delicacy of newborns in her combination of two different colours of the same fabric.
The second room deals with the end of the life cycle: death and grief. The pieces in this exhibit explore this in a number of ways, from the quietly reflective to the comical. The reflection can be seen in a series of fabric collage portraits illustrating the last year of an older person’s life, as recorded by artist and hospice worker, Deidre Scherer (on the wall above and in detail below). The ‘Death Gets Married’ embroidery series (excerpt below) is particularly comical.
Detail, The Last Year
Thread on fabric
Cut, layered, stitched
Death Gets Married, 2012
Cotton embroidery thread, muslin panel, archival batting
Victoria May’s Collateral Damage (2006) — the field gurney installation in the photo above — explores death on the battlefield and the darker side of war, while Mary Mazziotti’s Momento Mori pieces (below) examine our mortality, yet manages to be optimistic and find the humour in our impermanence.
Vintage garments, embroidery floss, beads
Hand embroidered, beaded
By far my favourite piece in the room, though, was Wendeanne Ke’aka Stitt’s Bonne Nuit quilted tapestry seen below. In honour of Día de los Muertos, Stitt created this offrenda or offering at the last minute after another artist dropped out of creating something for an Oakland museum. The wall text states that Stitt created the piece while imagining all of her loved ones and friends who had died having a party together in the after life and talking about how they knew her. She realized while working on the piece that she was in fact, eulogizing herself, not those that she had lost.
Bonne Nuit, 2006
Wendeanne Ke’aka Stitt
Contemporary, vintage, and recycled cottons and artist-made kapa cloth
Machine pieced, appliquéd, quilted
After life and death, you would think there was nothing to explore, but there you would be wrong. Through the display of ethnographic pieces and two art pieces, the final room of the exhibit enables the visitor to reflect on life and death, and on how they would like to be remembered. A Coat for Two Occasions (below) was created out of joss paper (burned ceremonially at Chinese funerals) by Erica Spitzer Rasmussen to be worn by her to her funeral and cremation.
A Coat for Two Occassions, 2000
Erica Spitzer Rasmussen
Flax, joss paper, acrylics, cotton thread, rayon, walnut stain
Sewn handmade paper
On show simultaneously is Threads of Love: Baby Carriers from China’s Minority Nationalities, which displays a private collection of Chinese baby carriers. Beautifully embroidered, each one different, and each culture unique, the pieces shown in this small exhibit are a wonderful compliment to the pieces in Milestones. The symbolism in the various embroideries for protection and love, and in the fact that the straps for each are cut off before the pieces are sold at auction as they symbolize the umbilical cord, are a testament to the universality of the love and hope we place on our children.
The piece that has haunted me the longest was the last piece I saw in Milestones. Beverly Rayner created Accretion (2009) from the materials she found in several family albums at a yard sale. Despite having no connection to the people in the images, Rayner used the material in these albums to create the amazing housecoat you see below.
Polyester housecoat, fabric, ephemera, metal and stone lamp stand, wooden hanger, glue
Original housecoat extended with similar fabric, wire armature, ephemera layered and glued over entire surface, inside and out.
The outer coat and its train are made of the various Christmas, birthday, and anniversary cards, the Valentines, the birth announcements, and the funeral handouts saved by the family. Newspaper announcements of births and deaths, or simply articles the owners found important enough to clip and save can be seen, as well as vacation souvenirs and other mementos. The lining of the coat is made of the family photos — the faces that the original collector must have held dear to her heart. I could not help but think of the cards and letters — all too rare in the days of text messaging and emails — that I have saved, along with mementos of museum exhibits, accomplishments, adventures with friends and families, and wonder what they might tell others about me when I am no longer here to tell my own story.
Milestones and Threads of Love will be on display until July 21, 2013.
San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, 520 S. First Street, San Jose, CA.
In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of the Musée Galliera’s projects occurring all around Paris. I therefore visited an exhibition curated by Sylvie Lécallier in charge of the institution’s Photography Department in collaboration with Les Archives de Paris and that takes place at le Crédit Municipal, in the Marais.
View of the Instalment.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin, 2013.
1931: Face-Dos-Profil features a selection of photographs, design sketches, and a few garments culled from the more than 10,000 registrations submitted to the Conseil des Prud’hommes de la Seine in Paris for copyright protection in the year 1931.
Firstly, I’d like to say a few words about the Crédit Municipal. It is a credit institution, the city’s historical pawnshop to which numerous literary pieces make reference to. We often relate to the establishment as « Ma Tante » since the prince de Joinville (1818-1900) chose no to reveal to his mother he had left his watch at the Credit Municipal to honour his gambling debts, and pretended he had forgotten it « chez ma Tante » (at his aunt’s). The institution is therefore a historical and familiar face of the city’s landscape. I often associate this place to Emile Zola’s, Victor Hugo’s or Honoré de Balzac’s pitiful and miserable stories. In a time of economical crisis, I can imagine that the Credit Municipal is unfortunately still very popular.
Registered Model – Philippe & Gaston – Robe du soir ” Sirène”, 16/09/1931
Copyright: Archives de Paris/DU1210392
That is why I went there (for the very first time), thrilled to visit an exhibition that promised to be very interesting but full of the apprehension to step into a place charged with desperate feelings. The pleasant exhibition space faces the entrance to the loan’s offices and I did feel a little frivolous, marching cheerfully towards a fashion exhibition under the looks of people queueing for money loans. However, we’re not in a Zola novel so let’s not make all this sound so tragic! The sun was shining (a rare scene these days in Paris) and the building is beautiful, one of those splendid neoclassical town-houses, typical of the Marais district.
While Paris is celebrating the history of Haute Couture with a major exhibition presented at the Hotel de Ville, the Crédit Municipal’s show focuses on the year 1931, for a condensed history of 1930s fashion through the prism of official and legal documents.
Why 1931? In 1931, a large-scale counterfeit clothing operation which had illegally obtained couture sketches was uncovered in Paris. In the meanwhile, that same year, a record number of couture houses (almost 50 in all), including Madeleine Vionnet, Jeanne Lanvin, Hermès, Lucien Lelong or the Callot Soeurs, patented more than 10 000 objects from their collections.
Registered Model – Paquin – Robe du soir – 13/08/1931
Copyright: Archives de Paris/D12U10297
Despite the law of 1806 regarding drawings and brand names, and those of 1793 and 1902 (completed by a 1909 law) concerning literary and artistic property, French legislation still had its loopholes and was not actually intended to cover fashion and garment design. It was not until Madeleine Vionnet took out an anti-imitation lawsuit in 1921 that the administration gave ‘models for dresses, suits and coats the protection of the law of 19/24 July 1793 in the same way as all artistic creations’. This event interestingly also contributed to the development of the couturier’s role, from craftsman to acknowledged artist.
View of the Exhibition.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin, 2013.
From then on, numerous other couturiers of the 20s and 30s would systematically protect their haute couture models via the principle of photographic and/or drawing registration at the Industrial Tribunal and the National Office of Industrial Property (ONPI). These Face-Dos-Profil (Front, Side, Back) photos documented the first sample of each design, each season and pictures were intended for use in court plagiarism trials, and not for public consumption.
Today, these images can be appreciated as fashion photographs with a more authentic feel than many other visuals from the same period. The mannequin is not asked to pose gracefully and look at her best nor are there aesthetic considerations in the photographies’ mise-en-scène.(A stimulating contrast with the Mannequins exhibition I have evoked on this blog). They focus on garments and accessories and thus generate an amazing sense of modernity, evoking avant-garde concepts.
Registered Model – Madeleine Vionnet – Robe de jour – 3/02/1931
Copyright: Archives de Paris/DU12U10365
What I highly appreciated is that the display does not adopt a scholar (that could have been boring) point of view with an emphasis on the story of these legal registrations. On the contrary, the exhibition is organised thematically and highlights the key trends of 1931 and the main pieces that could be found in an elegant 1930′s woman’s wardrobe through the lens of these archival documents that are displayed alongside a selection of complementary pieces from the Musée Galliera: a few garments and magazine pages from 1931 that contextualise the period.
View of the Display. I loved the lighted table on which were presented several Rodier textile samples.
Photo: Hayley Dujardin, 2013.
The objects are arranged following eight themes: Illusory Simplicity, Graphic Bustles, The Beach Pyjama, Optic Prints, Accessories, Romantic Fashion, The White Ermine and the Sheath Dress.
After the 1920s had erased the feminine body, the 1930s recapture its essence: hems are longer, lines regain fluidity, waists are slim and legs slender. The 1929 American crash reaches France in 1931. For economical reasons, adornments on the garments are rare and the emphasis is put on cuts and construction: cut-outs, flounces, draperies, décolletages and geometric and contrasting designs set the aesthetics of a glamorous and feminine fashion.
There are only five garments and a few accessories presented in a glass case and even though the 1930s might be my favourite period in fashion history, I did not miss the lack of objects as this exhibition present such rare and interesting documentation.
Registered Model – Pérugia, Chaussure “Phébus” – 16/03/1931
Copyright: Archives de Paris/DU12U107
It is certainly not the most spectacular fashion exhibition I have ever seen but I enjoyed to be entertained through the lens of a precise and singular subject. And if the show can serve a purpose, it is to remind us that imitations are never to be accepted. For, even though the display investigates the past, the topic is cruelly contemporary: counterfeits, imitations, legal threats in the fashion industry are legion. Who has never stumbled upon fake luxury bags in the streets of New York, Paris, at Ventimiglia’s market or in Moroccan souks? Fakes are obviously unacceptable but what to say about imitation and inspiration? Today, copying is a standard in ready-to-wear. High street brands all propose garments inspired by catwalks: is that illegal? A homage? A threat? This is a very ambiguous question. Consumers are happy to put their hands on designs resembling pieces they would never be able to afford but what about the designer’s creativity? An everlasting debate confronts those who think that copying is a reward for designers who are stimulated and flattered to see their designs go on the streets while others declare that copying is simply counterfeiting. With the arrival of ready-to-wear and the expansion of the fashion industry, these questions have become very significant, much more complicated to handle than in 1931.
The exhibition is on until the 6th July and the entrance is free. More information: here.
You can read Brenna’s articles examining the question of counterfeiting here and there.
You can also read this recent Huffigton Post’s article.
Dirix, Emmanuelle and Fiell, Charlotte. 1930s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook. London: Goodman/Fiell Publishing, 2013.
Golbin, Pamela. Madeleine Vionnet: Puriste de la Mode. Paris: UCAD, 2009.
Breaking the walls of the museum has become my manta, in my attempt to make the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection an accessible resource for students, faculty, and visitors. Like many transformational projects, the obstacles have been enormous and I continue to fight for support and recognition. This week I will be speaking at the Discursive Spaces conference, which is co-presented by Ryerson University School of Interior Design, the University of Leicester, the University of Nottingham and the Art Gallery of Ontario. This forum is intended to facilitate discussion about “the integration of art, design, and architecture in the creation of memorable and immersive museum experiences, while balancing the public’s expectations of self-directed expression and engagement”.
I rarely mention it, but I began my university studies in architecture at the University of Waterloo. My passion for architecture has never abated, and I continue to be acutely sensitive to the aesthetics and physicality of the space I am in, especially in museums. The nature of the space – scale, proportion, balance, flow, light – affects mood, ease of movement and the level of engagement with the art or the objects contained therein.
For example, I found the experience of seeing the Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibition in Paris at the Musee d’Orsay to be very different from that I experienced when I saw the same exhibition in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The special exhibition gallery at the Musee d’Orsay has low ceilings and the galleries are long and narrow, such that museum visitors were funnelled through tight corridors and the rooms always seem crowded – even when they are not. As well, it was very difficult to step back to experience the beauty of the large-scale Impressionist works or to linger over the beautiful and fragile costumes on display. The same exhibition shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art seemed altogether different with the Met’s spacious galleries and elevated ceilings. The same paintings had room to breathe and were displayed in a way that highlighted their grandeur. It was the same show, but in different spaces had different effects.
Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, Gallery 1 Installation Shot,
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
For the Discursive Spaces conference, I submitted a joint paper with architect Guela Solow about the project we undertook to break down the museum walls and redesign the physical space housing the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. To make the collection more accessible to students and faculty, it physically had to relocated within the School of Fashion, bringing it out of the seventh floor of the library, which was 20 minutes and two elevator rides away. Guela Solow, is Managing Principal of ARK, a Toronto-based architecture firm, and also my friend. She had used one of my photographs in another project for the hospice at the Princess Margaret Hospital and she undertook this project at Ryerson on spec. She was not deterred by the very ugly space assigned to house the collection, which consisted of the very dirty, dark and dingy chemical darkrooms.
The Darkrooms Before Transformation
Using my photographs of historic pieces from the collection as a means of inexpensively transforming the space, her vision literally transformed this space into the centrepiece of the School of Fashion. Although we received huge accolades from all that viewed the project, it will not come to fruition, because of funding issues at the university. Nevertheless, the conceptual underpinnings behind this project – an integration of architecture, fashion and photography – is a strong premise and worthy of further discussion.
Provided below is an abstract of our presentation. If you live in Toronto, day passes to the event are available. Guela and I will be speaking at the AGO on Friday, June 21 at 330 pm.
A study collection, like a museum, is intended to educate and inspire, and may also serve to enhance teaching, research and outreach in the community. The Ryerson Fashion Research Collection is a repository of several thousand garments, accessories and other artifacts acquired by donation for study purposes in the School of Fashion. Garments as artifacts embody complex histories, and in donating a dress artifact or photograph to a collection, the donor entrusts the curator with the care and keeping of that object into the foreseeable future. Biographical information is not always known, available or recorded when an item is accepted into a collection, and yet it is the role of the curator of fashion to interpret a narrative, and to read time backwards, placing singular garments within a historical continuum. However, upon acceptance of a garment into a collection, the emotional connection to the donor is effectively reduced to an accession number, and the question becomes how to engage the student or scholar with the multi-faceted object biography as well as honour the donor’s narrative.
For the past decade, the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection has been housed behind an unmarked door on the seventh floor of the library and was not widely known within the student body.
The Unmarked Door, LIB767
At the beginning of 2012, the Collection was largely inaccessible due to the volume of material piled into the storage facility, the degradation of the database and a lack of curatorial direction. Since that time, Ryerson University School of Fashion Collection Coordinator Ingrid Mida has undertaken the editing of the Collection, in an effort to transform this underutilized asset of the university into an accessible resource for students, faculty and visiting designers and researchers to use for design inspiration and material culture studies.
The proposed plans for the Ryerson Fashion Research Centre are the result of a shared vision between Ingrid Mida and Architect Guela Solow of ARK. This plan integrates art, design and architecture to dissolve the barriers of the museum by integrating the collection within the university environment. Weaving museum and school together, the facility design effectively removes the barriers between subject and object, artifact and viewer. Decentralizing the collection creates an experience that moves beyond immersion to active engagement. The architectural design inverts the typical division between “front” and “back-of-house” museum functions by accommodating storage, the archival process, and academic analysis within the educational arena, allowing fashion students to meaningfully connect with and interact with the Collection.
While not compromising the integrity of the artifacts, their photographic translation creates a secondary collection, which speaks to cultural outreach and threads itself into the architectural fabric of the greater university. Linking past and present as well as providing a double link between image and material, this photographic reinterpretation of the Collection provides insight, illumination and perspective – essential to an interpretive understanding of the beauty and fragility of the original pieces. Interwoven throughout the campus, photographic images clad the university itself in large-scale transparent fragments of garments and objects from the Collection; both illuminating the material relevance of the artifacts, as well as adorning the larger world in its memories.
Ryerson Fashion Research Collection, Conceptual Plan by ARK
Images by Ingrid Mida, Plan Courtesy of ARK
Edwards, Elizabeth (1999). “Photographs as Objects of Memory.” Material Memories: Design and Evocation. Eds. Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward, and Jeremy Aynstey. New York: Berg, 221-236.
Macleod, Suzanne (2012). Museum Making, Narratives, Architectures, Exhibitions. London: Routledge.
Pearce, Susan. (1992). Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study. London: Leicester University Press.
Sandeil, Richard and Christina Kreps, eds. (2012). Museum Meanings. 2012. New York: Routledge.
Ingrid Mida, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada
Ingrid Mida, BA, MAcc, MA, is the Collection Co-ordinator of the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection. She initiated and undertook the editing of the Collection and has championed this project at Ryerson University. Ingrid is also a freelance photographer and writer, focusing on fashion in the museum.
Guela Solow, ARK, Toronto, Canada
Guela Solow graduated from the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto in 1985 and is a member of the Ontario Association of Architects. Committed to the specific needs of the non-profit world, her work as Managing Principal of ARK, explores and challenges the boundaries of architecture beyond traditional disciplines to integrate urban, graphic and interior design with architecture, art and theory. In addition to practicing architecture, Guela has taught design theory as Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, lectured internationally and been the recipient of federal research grants. Her work has received international acclaim and has been described by juries as “ an excellent example of the profound ability of art and architecture to transform space and the human experience”
Surprisingly, the Musée Galliera has never been as prolific and creative since its closure. The museum proposes not less than three very different exhibitions these days that all take place in various Parisian institutions. I will talk about all three and I’m starting right away with Mannequin: Le Corps de la Mode (Models: Fashion Bodies), an original and aesthetic exhibition that explores the history of models in the fashion industry, from inanimate mannequins to cover girls and sex symbols, passing through supermodels and girls next door.
Initially created for the annual photographic event, Les Rencontres D’Arles, in 2012, the exhibition met with much success and it was decided it would have a Parisian version taking place in a new dynamic centre: Les Docks – Cité de la Mode et du Design.
View of the Exhibition.
Photography: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards
Numerous fashion photographies and contextualising objects tell the story of the evolution of the mannequin, of beauty and fashion photography in general within a neat, thematically organised display. A story of how fashion photography has evolved, taking as the starting point neither garments, designers, nor even photographers, but models, looking at their style, personality, body shape, aura and status.
The word “mannequin” in French originally referenced 19th century wicker dummies used to display garments in couture salons and dressmaker’s workshops. Although mannequins /dummies remain, other “mannequins” appear at the end of the 19th century: alive this time. These living models, are made of flesh and blood yet the “inanimate” implication persists. Early professional models wore indeed a black undergarment in rigid silk or satin at times with full-length sleeves so that flesh was not exposed. These black slips often gave the models the undesired appearance of inanimate dummies. Lucile was the first designer in London to abandon the practice of wearing undergarments and who opted for fashion shows and presentations that resembled those of her French contemporary Paul Poiret.
Copyright: Galliera/ Roger-Viollet
Made of wood, wicker or wax and finally flesh, the model oscillates therefore with ambiguity between object and subject, mannequin and human being. In the 19th century, simple seamstresses and salesgirls pose for photographies that will then be used by fashion illustrators. The model is a manipulable object, similar to the glass window dummy. An ambiguous status that will cross decades and fascinate photographers like Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton or Valérie Belin who erases the boundaries between flesh and wax. The ultimate diversion will be found in Martin Margiela’s provocative “veste mannequin”, a jacket made out of a Stockman bust. Every detail is transferred to the jacket: the body dresses the body.
The model’s body gives life and movement to the garment. The designer cuts and stitches it directly on the body in order to make both merge. Because they make a living of their bodies, the first professional models were disrespected and had to work anonymously. Some 19th century photographies by Reutlinger where the faces have been cut out make us realise that there is not much difference between them and today’s web visuals. One digital screen presents screen-shots of designer e-shops, demonstrating the recurrent headless figures that inhabit the world of e-commerce, perpetuating the desirability of the garment by inviting the consumer to imagine their own face floating above the designer piece. The model has become a simple merchandise in a commercial system.
Henry Clarke, Jacques Heim- Autumn/Winter 1951
Copyright: Henry Clarke/Galliera
On glossy pages, screens, in couture salons or under the spotlights, models are observed from head to toe. Their poses become choreographies that enable to show the garment and the body under every aspect. In the beginning of the 20th century, models stay a little clumsy while 1980′s top-models propose a real spectacle. Sometimes, models become mechanical bodies for the purpose of the show! Models’ bodies evolve through time following fashion and beauty’s diktats. In the 1920s, Paul Poiret appreciates American models who are tall and slender. From the 1960s, youth and slimness are the fixed standards.
My mother was a model in the 1980s. Many of my childhood memories are made of catwalks and flashlights, backstage’s excitement and boring photo shoots. Growing up, I developped a mixed feeling concerning this activity: I was obviously fascinated by this enchanted world and would find my mother beautiful but there has always been that little something that would disturb me. The superficiality of the environment, the stress, the sexualisation of my mother’s body I could not bare to observe as child…I have kept all this in mind and still look upon this discipline with an ambiguous feel.
Models have to represent an ideal and this perfection is permitted from the 19th century with the help of photo retouch. In the 1980s, the power-dressing enhances powerful women while the 1990s permit imperfect bodies, a certain vision highlighted by Corinne Day’s photographs of Kate Moss. Still, reality has nothing to do here. Models must make place for an ideal of beauty, youth and aesthetic. Before, there were corsets, now there are beauty products and Photoshop to aid women approach the ideal.
Corinne Day, Kate, 1990
Copyright: Corinne Day/Galliera
In fashion photography, still life often incarnates a very commercial aspect of the industry. From the 19th century, are published catalogues of fashion products from which the body is removed: quite a poetic abstraction! Today, fashion garments are classified and numbered: they have become nostalgic objects like the a Thierry Mugler blouse made for a model and on which her name is embroidered, demonstrates.
Are models unique or multiple? In the beginning of the 20th century, designers dress all the models with the same garments for a visual and commercial efficiency that dangerously tends to reach standardization. After the second world war, models become more attractive and are the muses of iconic photographers who imagine glamorous “mise-en-scènes”. In the 1980s, appear supermodels that we all recognize by simply pronouncing their first name…Fame at last!
Today like at the birth of haute couture, celebrity is the best means of diffusion of fashion: high society women, singers and actresses depicted the Parisian elegance. Now, movie and pop stars remain model’s most serious rivals!
Miles Aldridge, Kristen #11, 2009
Copyright: Miles Aldridge/Galliera
This exhibition is also a history of fashion photography but through the lens of these women, anonymous or famous. What would have most of these girls been without a Steven Mesiel, a David Bailey or an Erwin Blumenfeld? Fashion is mostly a world of images, not words and these powerful photographers are the centre of the creation of these pictures.
Photography: Hayley Dujardin-Edwards
The model and her body crystallize all the contradictions of a system pulled between commercial efficiency and an unreal artistic dimension. The display therefore spans a neat historical timeline of the fabricated dummy, intermingled with the stories of human models and their unveiling from anonymity to stardom.
At the beginning of the 20th century, models were also called “sosie”: they had to resemble the clients, become their doubles and leave aside their own individuality. Today, fashion’s body is fantasized, disconnected from reality but this time also from its clients’ silhouettes.
The exposition does not tend to highlight sociological issues, to analyse the representation of the female body…it is and remains an exhibition about photography. However, behind the history, the glamour, the conceptual…one can observe interesting studies on art, industry and technology.
The exhibition is on until the 23rd June 2013 at Les Docks – Cité de la Mode et du Design
Derrick, Robin and Muir, Robin. Vogue Model: The Faces of Fashion. London: Little Brown, 2010.
Bright, Susan. Face of Fashion. London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2007.
You can also read Tove Hermanson’s post about the manipulations of body on this blog.
Hyères International Festival is also a great resource.
There are numerous books about fashion photography and photographers. Here are a few of my favourites:
Angeletti, Norberto and Oliva, Alberto. In Vogue: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine. New York: Rizzoli, 2012.
Avedon, Richard. Avedon Fashion 1944-2000. New York: Harry N Abrams Inc., 2009.
Baron, Fabien and Moss, Kate. Kate: The Kate Moss Book. New York: Rizzoli, 2012.
Beaupré de, Marion and Poschardt, Ulf. Archeology of Elegance 1980-2000. Paris: Flammarion, 2005.
Blanks, Tim and Sloman, Paul. New Fashion Photography. London: Prestel, 2013.
Demarchelier, Patrick and Wintour, Anna. Patrick Demarchelier. Gottingen: Steidl, 2010.
Gingeras, Alison. Guy Bourdin. New York: Phaidon, 2011.
Hershchdorfer, Nathalie. Papier glacé: Un siècle de photographies de mode chez Condé Nast. London: Thames and Hudson, 2012.
Sieff, Barbara. Sieff Fashion: 1960-2000. London: Prestel, 2012.
Sieff, Jeanloup. JeanLoup Sieff. Berlin: Taschen, 2010.
Walker, Tim. Pictures. Kempen: Te Neues Verlag, 2008.
The Mona Bismarck American Centre for Art and Culture is an informative ground for Americans in Paris. The centre always proposes interesting exhibitions that focus on solely American-centred topics or wider themes that enable visitors to understand the richness of the continent’s culture. The centre is a splendid and typical Parisian townhouse from the 19th century decorated for the countess Mona Bismarck in the 1950s. Therefore, the figure of a fascinating woman stands firmly behind the institution: a wealthy, elegant and beautiful lady who supported arts, fashion and culture. Since her death, in 1981, the building shelters a cultural centre that presents multidisciplinary shows that connect French to American culture.
The current display organised by the centre is Quilt Art: L’Art du Patchwork (on until the 19th May). There are twenty-five works on display, all objects lent by the American Museum in Britain, located in Bath and which opened in 1961 to promote American decorative arts in Great Britain. Their collection of American quilts is the finest and most important in Europe.
Log cabin Quilt, 1875-1900
One of the most popular American quilting pattern.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
To be honest, I barely know anything about quilts, their making and history. To me quilts are associated with a fantasized American history, to the Little House in the Prairie and grandmothers… I personally do not even have a sentimental relationship with quilts: I can only vaguely recall seeing a flowery blue and pink example at my grandparents’ house in England but that is the only encounter I enjoyed with this object.
Queen Kapi’olani’s Fan Quilt, Early 20th Century
Traditional Hawaiian pattern.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
I therefore discovered the Mona Bismarck Centre’s display with much curiosity and expectation. The exhibition is very pedagogic and clear which was great for ignorant visitors such as myself!
Quilts are popular elements of a traditional and humble yet creative art, significant of America’s history and singularity. I appreciated that the display highlighted the concept that the art of patchwork is clearly linked to America’s identity: a melting-pot. The exhibition outlines the idea that a patchwork quilt represents the country with its blending of multiple cultures that come together in harmony without ever annihilating individual identities. A wonderful and accurate comparison.
Baltimore Album Quilt, 1847
Flamboyant gifts made for display rather than domestic use.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
American quilts’ history therefore conveys the country’s pattern. Quilting dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe when padded fabrics were used for military clothing and bedding. When European Settlers arrived in the New World, they brought with them their textile practices that they then adapted to the local materials available. Patchwork is by definition heterogeneous and the centre emphasise the various inspirations patchwork embodies with the help of a combination of European textiles, local crafts, various techniques and motifs and imported materials like silk. The result is a traditional pillar of American decorative arts.
Tumbling Blocks Star Quilt, 1852
Made For the New Jersey State Fair.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
To study the evolution of quilt art is to explore American history: the conquest of the West, the Amish tradition, relationships with Native Americans, the Civil War… The objects presented in Paris range from the eighteenth (the oldest quilt presented was designed in 1760) to the twentieth century. Symbolic motifs and designs indeed evoke political, social and religious realities.
One Patch Quilt: Diamonds variation, 1969
Gee’s Bend quilts design by the Afro American community.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
When observing quilts, you come across various masterful techniques: the layout of dozens of squares of materials, handmade over-stitching as well as modern machine assemblages. I am myself a terrible and shameful seamstress. I could only admire the methods used by the quilt makers who managed to create colourful, poetic and useful pieces with little means.
The ornamental lexicon of American patchwork also illustrates the diversity of their influences and the creation of truly American symbols.
Lafayette Orange Peel Quilt, 1830-1875
Inspired by a popular myth concerning the Marquis de Lafayette.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
When I was studying at l’Ecole du Louvre, I was specialised in decorative arts and I think that what I most appreciated in this discipline is that objects were representative of craftsmanship, but also illustrated the story of people possessing and using them (an interest that was later confirmed by my love of fashion). This emotion was evoked through this exhibit. My imagination visualised images of long and tiring journeys, women patiently working on their designs, children wrapping themselves up with warm blankets…There is something very personal and familiar with objects like these that brings a sentimental feel to the exhibition: an ambiance more pompous displays often lack.
The display is arranged within aesthetic themes which enables the visitors to comprehend the diversity of the designs that somehow have similarities through different times and places while we can establish formal comparisons. We can observe the contrasts between simple Amish designs and rich decorative Hawaiian pieces when constant motifs tend to travel through time (like the Sharon Rose).
Rose of Saron Quilt, 1850
Traditionally made for newlyweds.
Copyright: American Museum in Britain
Quilting also has this distinctive particularity of being practised throughout the whole country, by all women, highlighting the universality of the discipline. Finally, patchwork demonstrates an additional example of decorative arts that from the utilitarian have become works of art.
Another reason I do not know much about quilts is that these objects are often associated with folk museums that, I must admit,I never visit. I am not interested in folk art and I have very bad souvenirs of classes I had at l’Ecole du Louvre about this subject: a trauma. I, consequently, must confess that I would have probably never visited this exhibition if it hadn’t been held at The Mona Bismarck Centre. Thus I have to thank the institution for scheduling this exhibition and gently accompanying me through the process of discovering folk art again. I wouldn’t say that I have since become a huge fan of quilts; they have however aroused a new interest.
Beresford, Laura and Hebert, Kate. Classic Quilts from the American Museum in Britain. London: Scala, 2009.
Kiracofe, Roger. The American Quilt. A History of Cloth and Comfort, 1750-1950. New York, 1993.
Prichard, Sue. Quilts 1700 – 2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories. London: V&A Publishing, 2010.
The V&A Museum’s website also presents an interesting hub on the subject.
You can also read Heather Vaughan‘s post on this blog as well as Brenna Barks‘