This week’s post is a bit of a cheat, since I will be discussing an exhibition that closed over a month ago. But the exhibition was so wonderful, despite being small and tucked in amongst LACMA’s South Asian and Middle Eastern permanent displays, that it absolutely deserves a mention even if it is no longer open.
Back in September when I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see both Kimono for a Modern Age and Art Deco Textiles (both of which I reviewed here at Worn Through), I noticed Princely Traditions and Colonial Pursuits in India on the list of exhibitions currently on display. Having done my master’s thesis (dissertation in the UK) on the influence of India on British dress and society, I knew I had to stop in at the exhibition before I left the museum that day.
Landscape with the Taj Mahal, circa 1800-1825
India, Uttar Pradesh, Awadh, Lucknow
Opaque watercolor on paper
Sheet: 15 3/4 x 24 in. (40.0 x 60.96 cm); Image: 14 x 22 in. (35.56 x 55.88 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by The Smart Family Foundation through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar G. Richards (M.86.123)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
For my master’s research I was focused on Britain itself, and what the returning nabobs and nabobinas — as they were derisively referred to — brought with them and how it affected their society. LACMA’s exhibition focused on what they collected and commissioned while they were in India, the prologue to my own research, if you will. So needless to say I found the exhibition absolutely fascinating. I learned that many artists and artisans who had previously worked for Indian princes, now offered their services and products to the British colonists, “adjusting their practices to suit the taste of their new patrons.” There was also the influence of European artists who came with the merchants and government officials, as can be seen in the two paintings above: they introduced new genres and aesthetic styles to India.
LACMA does not ignore the fact that many of these officials and merchants were only temporarily posted to India, and also explores the demand for Indian luxury items created by not only Britain’s having this new colony, but more definitely by those returning from India with their collections of Indian art and household goods. One intriguing detail I noted was that the names of the Indian artists were far more often known than those of the European painters. I found myself wondering if India didn’t respect the arts and thus the artists more than Europe did during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Attributed to Dana Bhati Maharao Ram Singh (r. 1827-66) Enjoys a Dance Performance, circa 1850 India, Rajasthan, Kota Opaque watercolor and ink on paper 17 x 21 1/4 in. (43.18 x 53.9 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Paul F. Walter (M.77.154.22) Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
Pair of Lorikeets on Broken Branches, Folio from an album commissioned by Sir Elijah and Lady Impey, 1780
India, West Bengal, Kolkata (Calcutta)
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Image: 20 x 29 in. (50.8 x 73.66 cm); Sheet: 25 x 37 1/4 in. (63.5 x 94.62 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by Christian Humann (M.72.36.1)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
As I have said the exhibition was small, and tucked away amongst the South Asian and Middle Eastern permanent displays. However, it was very rich and the museum managed to communicate much through the use of objects from across museum departments. There were paintings, sculptures, architectural pieces, and, of course, fabric.
Designs from the Adina Mosque, Pandua, West Bengal, 1812
India, West Bengal, Purroah (?)
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Image: 21 1/4 x 17 9/16 in. (54 x 44.6 cm); Sheet: 21 7/16 x 17 15/16 in. (54.5 x 45.6 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Indian Art Special Purpose Fund (AC1993.74.1)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
India, Coromandel Coast for the European market
Cotton plain weave, painted and dyed
124 1/2 × 89 in. (316.23 × 226.06 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the Costume Council in memory of Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (M.2012.73)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
This is something I have noted before that LACMA does extremely well: integrate various objects to create context without using often-limited wall text. By placing the objects with other pieces – albeit of a different medium – that they would have been seen with originally, the exhibition gives visitors a better impression of what the “whole picture,” as it were, was for this particular aesthetic movement or trend. It also creates an ambiance that is sometimes lost when an exhibition focuses only on one element. That is not to say that focusing on one element, era, or designer is a bad thing — I would never have been able to appreciate the beauty and artistry of Balenciaga had I seen his work “in context” as it were, whereas seeing it in an exhibition devoted only to him at the de Young museum gave me an understanding of his technique and genius. But it does strike at the heart of museum exhibitions: what are they trying to communicate? And how often then succeed at communicating that message through objects and their arrangement.
This is what I love about LACMA — and many other museums, it was just that this particular exhibition brought the idea home — the work and effort that goes into the exhibitions behind the scenes to make the exhibition and its message seem effortless, whether it is about a single topic, or trying to create as close to the full picture as possible. So much of ‘Domestic Affairs’ focuses on a single topic — whether it is modern kimono or fashion during World War I – it was lovely this time around to focus instead on an entire group of people. And a group of people with whom I discovered I was only half familiar. I thought I was a bit of an expert on the nabobs and nabobinas, but LACMA’s Princely Traditions revealed that I was familiar with only half their lives and opened a new avenue of research to me. Which is exactly what museum exhibitions are supposed to do.
Principal Monuments of India, Including the Taj Mahal, circa 1850
Opaque watercolor on ivory, mounted in an ebony frame
6 3/4 x 7 x 1/2 in. (17.145 x 17.78 x 1.27 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Albert G. Wassenich (34.13.965)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
Did any of you see Princely Traditions? What did you think? Are there any exhibitions that have made you stop and appreciate the art of exhibition creation, lately? Do you feel integrated exhibitions are less successful than those with a sole focus, or more? Are there any small museums or exhibitions that didn’t get the press they should have? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, if you have an announcement or know of an event or exhibition that you want featured here, please either comment below or email me.
Opening image caption: Arthur William Devis Manre Royale d’Aubusson The Hon. William Monson and His Wife, Ann Debonnaire, circa 1786 England 40 1/2 x 51 1/2 in. (102.87 x 130.81 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Hearst Magazines (47.29.16) Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
This is the time when everyone starts to go a little wild with holiday shopping on the brain, often not knowing what to buy. Perhaps your list has a fellow fashion-minded friend or colleague, or maybe someone who has always had an interest in subculture? You could consider picking up my book Punk Style!
It features chapters on history, cultural analysis, merchandising, and identity, with interviews from Tish & Snooky, Marco Pirroni, Roger Burton from the Contemporary Wardrobe, and many self identified punks who took the time to speak at length regrading their experiences with the style. Also there are numerous high quality photos of the garments and accessories individually and in use.
Click here to read find a snippet from the book and give it a try.
My publisher Bloomsbury has generously provided a coupon code for Worn Through readers and friends and family. Use the code “PunkHolidays” on Bloomsbury.com and get 15%off thru January 1, 2015. It comes as paperback, hardcover, and e-book.
I just received an exciting invitation for academics to collaborate with a London based radio station on broadcasting their research in a range of creative formats. This is a great opportunity for fashion and dress researchers to produce a speech based programme about their work, supported by an experienced team of broadcast producers.
Modulations is the brainchild of Resonance FM, a London based radio station focused on the arts since 2002, and The Arts & Culture Unit, a media and communications agency dedicated to the dissemination of research and practice in the arts, humanities and social sciences. The idea is to produce a range of programmes, from discussion shows to documentaries, in order to engage new audiences with current research. How exciting to be able to share your research interests in a creative way but also help raise the profile of fashion and dress research amongst a diverse range of listeners!
For this initial round, Modulations are seeking out researchers based in London and the South East with the hope of extending the geographical field in later rounds. They are particularly interested to hear from researchers with little experience in broadcast, who are enthusiastic to collaborate and whose research makes use of a range of media forms and/or oral histories. The project will enable you to learn about broadcast media and production, resulting in both a programme and a podcast that will become part of Resonance’s archive (which I strongly recommend you peruse)
This couldn’t be a more perfect project for a fashion and dress researcher who is looking to bring their subject to life in new ways and wants to extend her/his communication skills.
The deadline is 7 December 2014; you need to submit a 400 word outline and rationale which, with such a low word count, means entry will be highly competitive. If successful, you will start production in January 2015 and the first programmes will be broadcast in Spring 2015.
For further details, you can either go straight to the Modulations website or contact Juliette Kristensen at The Arts & Culture Unit by emailing email@example.com
Image credit: https://twitter.com/resonancefm
Author, Journalist, and Adventurer Jacki Lyden has started a new project entitled The Seams. A team with experience from NPR and a passion for clothes plans to start a radio show/podcast discussing history and cultural stories pertaining to fashion.
It’s a fun new project we at Worn Through are supporting and we would encourage you to as well.
Consider donating to their Kickstarter campaign to help get this off the ground! It runs through Dec. 6, 2014.
In the second half of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth century, various countries in the Western world underwent both revolutions and reforms that are especially noteworthy for dress history. The French Revolution and its effects on the clothing of the upper class is well documented, a touchstone for the concepts of protest dress, trickle-up fashion, political fashion, and more. Although I couldn’t find a caption for the cover image (just a copyright note), the red phrygian cap brings to mind that bloody exercise, and will be the most familiar case of nationalism and revolution for most readers.
One of the real strengths of Alexander Maxwell‘s new book, Patriots Against Fashion: Clothing and Nationalism in Europe’s Age of Revolutions, however, is his insistence on including historical examples from a wide range of Western countries. Newspaper clippings from Madrid, Polish poetry, Latvian law, and first-person Turkish accounts are integrated seamlessly with the more common French and German fashion magazines and British colonial writing. As he states in his introduction, the book “refuses to conflate the history of ‘Europe’ with the history of its two greatest powers.” (5)
The academic tone and few illustrations may turn readers off, and the amount of information here can be a bit stunning. Maxwell layers on his primary source examples, at times a little thick. But one can hardly complain about extensive and inclusive research like that which Maxwell offers in this book.
From “Patriots Against Fashion” by Alexander Maxwell. Palgrave, 2014.
Although a pile of books have been published on fashion and revolution, they have often focused on one or two countries (or nations), providing an in-depth study. Patriots Against Fashion offers instead a broad comparative study of clothing and nationalism. Revolution is often an attempt to redefine a nation, to streamline, democratize, renew–for the love of a place. Citizens strive–and sometimes give their lives–for what they see as a better version of the country or nation that they love. Who defines nationalism, and what does it mean to be Latvian, for example? How is that expressed through clothing, and could it be improved with a national costume?
Clothing is visual and immediate; your appearance on the street defines your position, real or imagined, directly to your fellow walkers, shoppers, or protesters. In the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, fashion was generally considered a feminine vice, shallow and seductive. Male figures of power, be they doctors or politicians, offered not only critical views of fashion, but also passed laws regulating this and forbidding that. One solution to the “problem” of fashion was national dress, separate for women and men. The men’s versions may have included variations for fancy occasions or military service, depending on the country, but Maxwell focuses on the “uniform,” an everyday outfit worn by “all members of the nation.” The (male) leaders of various countries had many reasons for imposing–or suggesting–a national costume, and there were a range of expectations regarding how these costumes would be manufactured, paid for, and distributed. Was the monarch/government to impose it, or “civil society” to “spontaneously adopt” the costume? Would it be based on a sort of formal-military combination, or would it find its roots in regional folk dress?
From “Patriots Against Fashion” by Alexander Maxwell. Palgrave, 2014.
Theoretically a democratic action, Maxwell describes how national dress was actually discriminatory, as various groups were forbidden from wearing the proposed national dress; this echoes nationalism’s darker, racist tendencies.
The author leads us through a logical and well-organized set of chapters, setting up the general attitudes toward fashion in the period, with a focus on anti-fashion in all its iterations. He gives many contemporary examples of fashion’s popular association with a greedy elite and unnecessary waste, both monetary and material. He describes reactions against the “tyranny” of fashion, including the most striking (and well-documented): sumptuary laws.
Maxwell then offers case studies for four different “types” of national uniforms proposed or instituted by various nations: Absolutist, Democratic, Minimal, and Folk Costumes. Absolutist come from monarchs and other absolute leaders, including Gustaf III’s unpopular national Swedish dress. Democratic dress is, as the name suggests, for the people and by the people. Here, Maxwell uses the French Revolution as the prime example, while noting that democratic national dress was a topic of discussion in Germany and America before the revolution in France.
Despite its theoretical practicality and universality, national dress would have been a radical move in many countries, and the realities of putting them into practice were essentially insurmountable. Gustaf III here in Sweden actually made his vision a reality, if for a short period of time. But a full outfit wasn’t necessary to show one’s national pride or political affiliation, and perhaps the most popular versions of “national dress” were simple items of clothing or accessories that spoke volumes. Maxwell gives headwear examples, citing the cockade, the bonnet rouge, and the fez. Can these be considered uniforms? As objects or items of clothing they were relatively uniform, but they were worn with citizens’ regular outfits, by both sexes in some cases, and could cross social lines. Here, they are offered as “minimal national uniforms,” no less meaningful than a whole outfit. Elective and powerful, the hats Maxwell describes were wildly popular patriotic symbols in ways we can only imagine now.
The national costume’s nostalgic turn is described in his chapter on folk costume as national dress, from Welsh national costume to Greek foustanela. He addresses the very important–and very current–concept of “buying local.” Even if a national costume failed to gain popularity, buying goods and dress-related services made in your country was considered very patriotic. The whimsy of fashion could be swayed to meet the needs of nations undergoing growing pains. For example, this excellent quotation about Hungarian fashion, written by a British observer in Budapest 1869 and cited by Maxwell:
To subscribe to a journal of a fashions, written in the Hungarian language, is spoken as an act of patriotism. All this seems to us very absurd, but from the standpoint of the Hungarians themselves it is quite intelligible. The most mindless and frivolous of women, even if she have neither husband nor child, has still some influence in society. (199)
That statement is in turn quite absurd to modern readers, but probably intelligible to those (men) reading it in the mid-nineteenth century. Maxwell follows through to the twentieth century in his final chapter on haute couture and textiles, an extension of the buy local-patriotism discussed in the former.
With its extensive research and truly European outlook, this book is a must-read for those interested in the time period. It would be an excellent complement to the more specialized works on specific revolutions, and is rich with primary-source quotations and citations to inspire a rich term paper. With all of his primary source research, I imagine Maxwell must have come across a great number of images, and I wish there were more included here. It would have been exciting to be able to make a visual comparison across countries to accompany his written comparison; maybe that is a different book, or a future project.
Compact, academic, and thoughtful, this book is definitely aimed toward those with more than a passing interest in the subject. In fact, he suggests that this is not a fashion history book at all, but instead a contribution to the study of nationalism. It is too a fashion history book, I argue, and a much more nuanced and well-researched one than many intentionally fashion-based history books I’ve read.
Lead Image: Cover of Patriots Against Fashion: Clothing and Nationalism in Europe’s Age of Revolutions by Alexander Maxwell (Palgrave, 2014).
Find more book reviews on Worn Through here!
**I feel like this is way skewed toward France and England, if you have good non-London, non-Paris suggestions please leave them in the comments section and I’ll add them here!**
Condra, Jill. Encyclopedia of National Dress: traditional clothing around the world. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2013.
Jones, Jennifer. Sexing la Mode: Gender, Fashion, and Commercial Culture in Old Regime France. Oxford, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004.
Purdy, Daniel. The Tyranny of Elegance: Consumer Cosmopolitanism in the Era of Goethe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Roche, Daniel. Jean Birell, trans. The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the ‘Ancien Régime.’ Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Starobinski, Jean and the Kyoto Costume Institute. Revolution in Fashion: European Clotthing 1715-1815. New York: Abbeville Press, 1989.
Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: what Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution. New York: H. Holt, 2006.
Wrigley, Richard. Politics of Appearances: representations of dress in Revolutionary France. Oxford: Bloomsbury Academic, 2002.
Among the many things that I am preparing for with the approach of the holiday season is how I’m going to work various fashion exhibitions into my schedule.
Obviously, those exhibitions outside of California are impossible for me, but hopefully they will be possible for many of you.
Most exciting for next week is Fern Mallis’s conversation with Valentino at 92Y in New York City. Tickets are currently sold out, but there is a wait list available for Mallis’s November 18 program with the legendary designer. This is in addition to the Death Becomes Her having opened in the last couple weeks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Jill discussed her visit to the exhibition in her post, yesterday), and Killer Heels still open at the Brooklyn Museum.At the Museum at FIT, while Exposed: A History of Lingerie is closing, their special exhibition, Dance & Fashion will remain open until January 3.
As I was informed by Jon in a comment on my last exhibition round up, there is another exciting exhibition on the east coast examining Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Cartier collection at the Hillwood Estate. Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems has been open since June, but will not close until December 31.
In the Midwest, Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mileopens November 15 at the Chicago History Museum. It looks to be a truly fascinating exploration of the local fashion industry and the people who both worked in and utilized it, based upon the amazing blogposts that have led up to the exhibition’s opening.
In Des Moines, Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede will be open at the Des Moines Art Center until January 18.
Here in California, Hollywood Costumeopened a month ago and will be up until March just across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also in Los Angeles, the Fowler Museum at UCLA has three textile exhibitions on display: Bearing Witness: Embroidery as History in Post-Apartheid South Africaup through December 7; Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea up through January 4; and Yards of Style: African-Print Cloths of Ghanaopen through December 14.
In San Francisco, not directly related to fashion — but indirectly since his V magazine photo shoot — Ai Weiwei’s @Largeis currently on display on Alcatraz Island; at the de Young Museum, Keith Haring: The Political Line while not actually involving clothing or textiles offers visitors a chance to see some of the original drawings used by Vivienne Westwood in her 1983 collaboration with the artist. At the Legion of Honor, Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country Houseis open until January 18. I will be writing my review of it in early December.
Opening January 31 at the de Young is Embodiment: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpturewhich will be a wonderful opportunity to explore bodily depiction from approximately 110 different cultural groups. It may be a wee bit early to get excited about March openings, but I must confess I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland opening on March 7 and featuring not only Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, but his portrait of Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry in full Scottish military regalia which inspired my master’s ‘virtual exhibition’ on tartan and Scottish dress. Even more exciting is the arrival of High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Legion of Honor on March 14.
What exhibitions are you making time for this winter? Are there any exhibitions you want to share with Worn Through readers? If so, feel free to either email me or to share your thoughts in the comments!
Opening image from the website for Hillwood’s Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gem
Not strictly related to this side of the Atlantic, I admit, but perhaps an indication of its far reaching influence, today’s post is an acknowledgement of the end of Worn Fashion Journal, a Canadian based bi-annual magazine that has provided a much needed platform for critical but accessible fashion and dress journalism over the last ten years.
Personally, this is timely as it has also been a decade since I lived in Montreal and got myself a brief spot as a local reviewer of clothing stores in the Outremont area for Worn’s website. I still remember being interviewed by Serah-Marie McMahon, its founding editor, in Casa Del Popolo on St Laurent, and thinking how exciting it was to see someone with no formal journalism experience wanting to give voice to the complex narratives, practices and techniques we associate with our clothes. The first copies I owned, including the third issue (which is pictured above), contained such gems from how to adapt your jeans for a skinny fit, the history of bakelite jewellery to the advent of ethical fashion and interviews with Alexandra Palmer. The diverse topics, the absence of advertisements and the emphasis on what people actually wear instead of what they should wear was a much needed antidote to the gloss and proselytizing of most mainstream fashion magazines.
Interview with Alexandra Palmer from the third issue of Worn Fashion Journal (authors own image)
I am probably not alone when I say that with Worn Fashion Journal, I felt I had found a like minded friend. It definitely allowed me to have an academic interest in fashion and dress while still enjoying the fun sensations associated with dressing up and playing with clothes. It also contributed to my return to the UK a few years later to take up a place at the Royal College of Art in London to study history of design. I have much to thank Worn for!
A poster for the launch of Worn Issue 2, that I kept because I loved the design (author’s own image)
The gap left by its absence will be sizeable and I only hope that it does not represent the final descent of very independent fashion publishing. Its presence was notable for its refusal to accept fashion at face value, trying to look beyond but always in a curious and non-judgemental way. There really must be space for media like this because it enables us to hear a dynamic cacophony of clothed voices above what can sometimes feel like the constant drone of commercial, mass produced fashion.
The final double issue is published on 22 November and the magazine is also having a farewell ball, which is sure to be well attended by its many followers, aptly named the ‘Wornettes’.
Cover of the final issue, published on 22 November
When looking for tributes to and articles on this inspirational magazine, it seems the coverage is predominantly by Canadian press. I would love to hear from anyone who has written about or shared an interest in Worn Fashion Journal, wherever you are, and it would be great to know if anyone is thinking about doing a dissertation or thesis about Worn Fashion Journal – could be a very interesting project!
This weekend ended the Palais Galliera’s glamorous exhibition dedicated to the 1950s fashion in France. We often think that because we know all about the New Look, the Bar ensemble imagined by Christian Dior in 1947, we know everything about the 1950s fashion. Yet this display demonstrates how versatile the stylistic silhouettes proposed by the designers of the decade were.
Within its splendid 19th century palace, the museum decided to privilege a simple modernist scenography that would moderate the extravagance of the architecture and emphasize the garments displayed. The exhibitions follows a thematic thread built on the typical wardrobe of an elegant Parisian of those days who would change several times a day to assume her social and fashionable obligations: we thus explore daywear, evening wear (within a ballroom-like presentation), leisure garments and cocktail dresses with a few accessory and undergarment hints. About 100 objects illustrate the abundance of styles, cuts and adornments that for most reveal how Parisian Haute Couture optimistically gained respectability and glory again after World War II while others announce a subtle fashion and social revolution, one that would burst in the 1960s.
The first thing you think of when observing all the garments displayed is how imprisoned the feminine body was during the 1950s, how male designers, led by Christian Dior’s iconic and scandalous ample New Look (influenced by Jacques Fath), fantasized a luxurious nostalgic silhouette with heavy layering of material, rich adornments and girdled hips. Most 1950s wealthy women dressed to seduce and entertain not to work, they wear Haute Couture designs alongside Tupperware products in the pages of the magazines hung on the walls of the Palais Galliera. The masculine and liberated image of women established during the war was erased for a more conservative archetype enhanced by the structural undergarments displayed within the exhibition on walls as abstract art works.
Pierre Balmain, « Antonia », evening dress, spring-summer 1954
Collection Palais Galliera
Yet alongside those romantic corollas, we observe the voluminous and sculptural garments of Cristobal Balenciaga who still inspire many contemporary designers while Gabrielle Chanel’s tailored suits announce the androgynous silhouettes of the following decade. Yes, the Chanel garments of the exhibition clearly stand out. The designer who had stopped her fashion career decided to triumphantly return in 1954 and do what she had already done in her beginnings: fight against archaism and help women build their emancipation with the help of fashion. She despised the hindering silhouettes of the male authorities and created her very own scandal with her sleek ensembles that provoked a cleavage in the middle of the decade.
Installation View: Evening Wear
Although the 1950s decade surely embodies the peak of French Haute Couture, the couturiers of the period help draw the early foundation of ready-to-wear. The exhibition makes it clear that, alongside various social factors of course, the success of Haute Couture worldwide, gave birth to ready-to-wear. The baby boomers of the decade and their youthful tastes are not represented within the display but we can’t help but note how the section dedicated to leisurewear announces teenage fashion and the 1960s ready-to-wear. Led by influential cultural figures such as Brigitte Bardot, young women favor light coton, beach dresses, ballerina shoes, naive prints…that provide the body with unrestricted, dynamic and graceful moves. Those looser designs serve as and experimental platform to the up-coming 1960s wear.
Finally, just as the exhibition’s span begins with the revolutionary look of Christian Dior’s 1947 collection, it symbolically ends with the appointment of the young Yves Saint Laurent as Artistic Director of the Christian Dior house in 1957. Although at Christian Dior, he pursues his master’s opulent style, we know how promptly he would become the emblem of feminine emancipation and ready-to-wear in the 1960s.
Installation View: Day Wear
The Palais Galliera exhibition was a strongly didactic display that not only diffused eye-candy but also proposed an innovative lecture of the decade’s fashion, far from clichés and easy assumptions and raised an undeniable debate: What do you think? 1950s fashion: revolutionary or archaic?
Exhibition Catalogue: Bosc, Alexandra. Les années 50: La Mode en France 1947-1957. Paris: Paris Musées, 2014.
I have eagerly anticipated the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) Kimono for a Modern Age exhibition for over a year. I started out as a Japanese language and culture scholar, and while my research focuses since I entered the field of dress history have drifted westward, I still have a love for and fascination with Japan and Korea. I had also become very interested in the type of kimono this exhibition explores – meisen — through a paper of my own delivered at the CSA Western Region symposium in 2012, which I reiterated in a post for Worn Through.
As mentioned on Unframed, the LACMA blog, the kimono in many ways symbolizes Japan itself. However, people have a very distinct impression of what kimono should look like — a stereotype, if you will — which this exhibition challenges and challenges well.
Instead of small, delicate patterns we are accustomed to in kimono fabric, meisen kimono popular between the end of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), through the Taisho (1912 – 1926), and up to the post-war period of the Showa period (1926 – 1989) had large, bold patterns in bright colors. In my previous post, I discussed the methods of creating the most distinctive feature of meisen: the ikat-imitation effect of stencil-dyeing the warp and weft threads before the fabric is woven. The other distinguishing feature is that much of the meisen designs can be seen as borrowing from art and artistic movements in the West at the same time that Japan was influencing these same Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements, as well as modernizing their own traditions such as screen painting and calligraphy (examples below).
Now that we’ve gone over how meisen are unexpected, let’s examine this particular exhibition, which features of 30 kimono spanning the period from approximately 1920 to 1960.
The exhibition is located in LACMA’s pavilion of Japanese Art, and is brilliantly laid out to take full advantage of the unusual exhibition space, the permanent Japanese art collection, and the other exhibition in the pavilion, Zuan: Japanese Design Books. The pavilion’s layout requires that visitors take an elevator to the top — where they can see both the permanent collection and Zuan off to the right — and then perambulate down various ramps to the display spaces on each floor to make their way to the basement and then up the elevator again to the ground floor. The space is designed to compliment Japanese art which traditionally was created with the intent of inspiring contemplation rather than intense emotion or awe. In many ways the pavilion also mimics an Indian stupa, which became the pagoda in the far east, encouraging walking in a circular or spiral pattern as a form of moving meditation. This enables the visitor to take in each of the ten or so displays of three kimono each, in a calm, contemplative manner similar to the way in which you are encouraged to appreciate the traditional arts in Japan.
It worked very, very well. The slow pace that the building’s ramps encouraged and the pause at each landing allowed me to see subtle similarities of patterning I otherwise might not have noticed had the display been set up in the usual single-floor manner of fashion and dress exhibitions. The open-plan layout, with clear, perspex railings so you could see through to the next level below you, also leant a sense of anticipation to the exhibition as you could see glimpses of kimono to come, and compare the patterning to those you were currently appreciating.
What I appreciated most about this particular exhibition was the emphasis on re-interpretations of traditional Japanese art and kimono patterns in meisen, instead of the usual focus on cross-cultural references. For example, in the blue kimono above you could interpret the design as simply “polka dots” on a blue background, but thanks to the well-written tombstones that accompanied each kimono, it was revealed that multi-coloured dots had long been used in kimono as well as paintings to emphasize sun- or moon-dappled dew drops and had specific symbolism within Japanese art.
This is indeed how the exhibition starts, with three kimono featuring three very different uses of an enlarged, traditional arrow patterning. Each kimono is in a different color scheme, each reinterprets this symbol of samurai status in a new way, sometimes emphasizing it with palm fronds that were connected with sixteenth-century warlord, Oda Nobunaga, sometimes simply using the pattern in bold red, yellow, and gray colors. This also adds more layers to the meisen of both overt and subversive political messages.
For example, the “star-patterned” kimono at the beginning of the post also resembles the Japanese war flag of the rising sun with red rays. This kimono was made around 1940 and so while not as overt as some “propaganda” kimono of the same time period is a piece that might have been gotten away with post-war during the occupation. Another kimono from the 1950s or 1960s later on in the exhibition seems to depict a city scene at dawn, but while the sun isn’t visible the red rays associated with the war flag are seen beyond the mountains. Was this a quiet protest against American occupation, or a decree of loyalty even in the midst of defeat?
I have often wondered if there were or weren’t political elements to meisen kimono. The height of their popularity coming in midst of patriotic and nationalistic fervor in the lead of to the second World War, while taking much of their inspiration from Western art movements is full of contradictions. On the one hand, the military industrial complex (bakufu) was very keen on adopting Western ways as a way of defeating both the West and Japan’s neighbors in battle. On the other hand, were the wearers of these kimono making political statements against war through their clothing? If so, is it not possible that those who had different political leanings might not do the same with their meisen?
I consider exhibitions that not only teach you something, but encourage you to re-evaluate perceptions of a particular art form and to ask questions to be the absolute best. Through the display, layout, grouping of various kimono, and informative tombstones, LACMA did just that.
They did not altogether ignore the Western influence, either. On many pieces, such as the third kimono featured in this review, they referenced not only the traditional art of screen paintings of landscapes, but the works of Impressionists and modern painters in the LACMA collection such as Matisse or Cezanne that might equally have influenced the design.
My only critique would be that all the kimono were displayed as you see in the images, none were mounted on mannequins. This however is a critique I have often of all kimono exhibitions, not LACMA in particular. I fully understand that this is the traditional method for displaying kimono in Japan, where they are admired as individual works of art in their own right; I also deeply admire LACMA’s conservation department turning to Japanese tradition when they were looking for new methods to store their kimono collection. However, since my personal fascination is with how such pieces were worn and who they were worn by, I would have loved to see at least one kimono dressed on a mannequin. Though I understand there might be conservation issues with displaying kimono this way.
This however, did not in any way diminish the exhibition. The display, use of the pavilion — even the touch of displaying one of the design books in Zuan on the pages the showed kimono designs — were magnificent. All of which combined to challenge perceptions of not only kimono, but perceptions I had about meisen kimono.
Kimono for a Modern Age will be on display in the pavilion for Japanese art at LACMA until October 12, 2014.
As always, if you have any thoughts, contributions, or want to notify me of an exhibition or events in your area please feel free to leave them in the comments, or to email me.
This is the time of year when academic life goes up a gear as we begin our teaching and learning programmes, embrace a new cohort of students and welcome back the older ones. It is also a time of great pressure and the weight of the so many ‘to do’ lists can become unbearable! So, between running around like a maniac and wanting to stick my head in the ground, I am taking this opportunity to mention some autumn activities worth noting.
There would seem to be a buzz for f20th century fashion photography exhibitions this winter as we see two retrospectives open at the V&A and Somerset House. The former features Horst. The Photographer of Style and is on until 4 January. Featuring many unseen prints and restored colour photographs, the exhibition explores the prolific work of Horst P. Horst, the photographer whose work redefined fashion photography during the 1930s and 1940s. Covering a later period but no less esteemed fashion photographer, Somerset House hosts Guy Bourdin: Image Maker from 27 November until 15 March 2015. Showing over 100 works, spanning his 40 year long career, the exhibition is curated by Alistair O’Neill with Shelly Verthime and will also include the entire ‘Walking Legs’ series, his iconic campaign commissioned by Charles Jourdan in 1979 (and from which the above image is taken from).
An intriguing exhibition at Sotherbys S/2 Gallery entitled Stitched Up caught my eye and is open until the end of September. This small display of pieces by contemporary artists working in the medium of textiles claims to show the historical relationship between contemporary art and textiles since the 1980s as well as shine a torch on the breadth of practices seen today. I think this is worth a visit in order to see how textiles as an artistic medium has developed in the last 30 years, something that has yet to be done on a larger scale in the bigger design museums.
Staying with the art and fashion theme, I noticed there is an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery featuring a ‘psychological’ portrait of Coco Chanel by Sam Taylor-Wood, the director of the much hyped film Fifty Shades of Grey and Turner Prize nominee. Taylor-Wood presents 34 photographs that capture the interior of Chanel’s private apartment in Paris, which has been preserved since her death over 40 years ago. The exhibition, called Second Floor, has been curated to coincide with London Fashion Week.
I’m excited to see an exhibition on dress and identity starting soon at the Design Museum. Women Fashion Power opens on the 29 October until 26 April 2015 and offers us insights into how influential women have used dress to define and embellish their status. Featuring 25 women and spanning over 150 years of fashion history, the exhibition features outfits and personal style stories from figures involved in fashion and music to politics and economics.
This also reminds me of a new book by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton which focuses on how women choose to dress as an integral aspect of their daily lived lives. Women in Clothes seems to promote itself as a philosophical ponderance on what it means to get dressed, presented as a stream of dialogues rather than a set of rules. I have yet to read it but understand that this is a take on fashion and dress that draws upon the conversations started in publications such as Worn Magazine, where clothes are rarely about fashion and almost always about stories relating to who we were, are and could be. If you have read the book, it would be great to hear from you. I am very interested to know what you think about this emerging interest in clothes as identity narratives; in the ‘getting dressed’ process might offer fashion and dress scholars new material to consider and reflect upon.
Lastly, I am excited to say that later this week I will visit the V&A’s Clothworkers Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion for the first time – it’s taken me a year to get an appointment! I hope to share my experience at a later date but for now, it’s back to crazy running around!
Photo credit: Guy Bourdin, Charles Jourdan advertisement (1979) Accessed at http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/picture-galleries/2010/august/16/fashion-photography-guy-bourdin/?idx=12&idx=12