Research Award Guest Post: The Fashions of Early Modern London

Worn Through Research Award winner, Sophie Pitman is a second year AHRC-funded PhD student of History at St. John’s College, Cambridge, supervised by Ulinka Rublack. Her dissertation, ‘Tailoring the city: the making of clothing and the making of London, c.1560-1660,’ uses material, visual, literary and archival sources to explore the ways clothing contributed to the development of early modern London and, in turn, how London’s rapid growth changed the making, wearing, and meaning of clothing. Her methodology is based on interdisciplinary approaches to visual and material culture that she developed during her Frank Knox Fellowship at Harvard (2010-11) and her Master’s at the Bard Graduate Center (2011-13).

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, (c.1574), MAP L85c no.27. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, (c.1574), MAP L85c no.27. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Early modern London was full of clothing. Fabric-laden boats traversed the Thames, bringing textiles in and out of the city to customers hungry for a wide-range of colours, textures, and patterns. Young apprentices wearing large ruffs were disciplined by their masters for their transgression, merchants imported and exported textiles which were then sold in new shopping spaces such as Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange, actors wore sumptuous costumes on the public theatre stages, and cast-offs were re-sold in the second-hand shops of Long Lane. This was a city growing rich from the trade of textiles, and on whose booming streets an ever-increasing range of fashions could be seen.

I am attempting to study the growth of early modern London through the ways clothing was made, worn and understood by inhabitants and visitors to the city. As Vanessa Harding has explained, “historians of early modern London do not expect to find new caches of unknown documents.”[1] Most of the manuscripts and printed books that I pore over in the archives have been consulted, discussed and debated by generations of scholars fascinated with the history of London. But when I embarked upon a PhD focusing on clothing in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London, a period of rapid and uncertain change in which London grew from a small European outpost into one of the continent’s largest cities, I decided to not limit my search to textual sources alone. In addition to consulting archival documents, I look to images and – most excitingly – to extant objects. 

The Museum of London is widely celebrated for its vast costume collection, containing over 24,000 objects. But while a handful of its earliest pieces from the Tudor period have been well-preserved and are well-known, particularly through Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion books[2], most of the early clothing collection is under-represented in the online catalogue and little has been published on it. Though not a completely unknown cache, the collection is certainly a promising trove waiting to be explored, and provides much exciting material for my research.

 

Until recently, the Museum of London’s walls were decorated with a huge sculpture based on a diamond and emerald studded salamander brooch, part of the Cheapside Hoard, a cache of sixteenth- and seventeenth century jewels found in the City of London 1912.  Photograph by Sophie Pitman

Until recently, the Museum of London’s walls were decorated with a huge sculpture based on a diamond and emerald studded salamander brooch, part of the Cheapside Hoard, a cache of sixteenth- and seventeenth century jewels found in the City of London 1912. Photograph by Sophie Pitman

The costume stores under the galleries of the Museum of London are as tantalising as any other museum I have visited. Rows of umbrellas, concealed with protective white covers, hang from a rail, their horn handles peeking out. One apparently unpromising cupboard, which could be confused for a filing cabinet, opens to reveal shelves full of children’s shoes – rows filled with tiny pairs of Victorian boots and leather slippers which give a slightly eerie feel to one corner of the collection. But most of the objects I consulted were carefully laid out for me on large tables in the centre of the room.

This is where I was able to view the Isham doublet (A7577) – a black silk cut velvet piece dated to the first quarter of the seventeeth-century. The doublet, one of the most common forms of male upper-body wear, is much degraded, but this deterioration enables a close examination of the tailoring techniques used in this fashionable garment’s construction.[3] The silk, patterned with leaves and scrolls, covers a layer of dark brown wool fabric, underneath which is a coarse linen interlining. The doublet has been quilted with wool, the neat ridges of which are covered with an inside lining of pink silk. The collar, now coming away from the body of the doublet, is constructed of four layers of stiff canvas. The doublet was fastened with thirty-four buttons constructed of wood and wrapped in black and silver gilt thread. Similar buttons are at the collar neck and the lower sleeves. The metal hooks along the waist of the doublet show how it could be attached to a pair of breeches or hose. Around the lower edge of the doublet at the waist there are small tabs or ‘laps’ made from different felted brown fabrics. We can almost imagine the thrifty tailor at work, selecting off-cuts from previous commissions to line these small decorative flaps. Though this doublet is said to have been worn by a wealthy nobleman – either 1st Baronet of Lamport John Isham (1582-1651) or his son Justinian (1610-1675) – it bears evidence of quick and economic manufacture. This branch of the Northamptonshire Isham family gained their fortunes in London in the cloth trade, and so this doublet contains many threads (please pardon the pun) of the development of the city – as a site for the dynamic and lucrative commercial trade in textiles, as a centre full of quick and clever tailors, and as a stage upon which the well-dressed could show off their new silk velvet doublets tailored to the most fashionable shapes.

While most of the pieces I was able to consult were laid out carefully on tables, I had the most fun rifling through the storeroom drawers. These wide and shallow wooden trays are filled with fragments carefully protected with foam and card supports. Excavations of London sites over the past century have furnished these draws with pieces – laces, shoes, belts, codpieces, hats, decorative bands, cloth fragments. Unlike the Isham doublet, we have few clues as to the identity of the original owners of these pieces. But as an historian, I have long been fascinated by the way that clothing carries the imprint of its former owner. Sweat stains, rips and tears, even deposits from a decaying body all give us insights into the life (and sometimes death) of the body beneath the clothes.

One brown and black cloth slipper, (A.26847) heavily patched and pieced together with large clumsy stitches, suggests many days of pounding the streets of London. Possibly a lining for a pair of outer shoes, this well-worn piece was found in Worship Street and brought to the museum in 1924. When the former owner of this slipper was busy repairing another hole or tear, this area lay outside of the city walls and was mainly fields. Close by, London’s first theatres – The Theatre (1576) and The Curtain (1577) were drawing audiences from across the urban area. Why this slipper was left behind and who took such care to patch and repair it, we will probably never know. But it does demonstrate how early modern Londoners valued their clothing, which bore the brunt of the climate, the urban environment, and the demands of labour on the body. 

But the feather in the cap of the Museum of London’s collection of sixteenth-century clothing must be its unparalleled collection of knitted hats worn by non-elite men. As John Stow explained in his Survey of London (1598), such hats were ubiquitous in the city, ‘the youthful citizens also took them to the New fashion of flat caps, knit of woollen yarn black.’[4] In 1571, the Cappers act even made it obligatory for men from the middling and lower end of the social spectrum to wear an English-made knitted wool cap on Sundays and holy days. It was said that there were over eight thousand people in London alone occupied ‘in the trade and science of capping’ and this act attempted to ensure continued business and stability in a city rocked by fashion trends and imported goods.[5] Fifty-seven knitted caps, all found in excavations within the City of London, demonstrate the range of knitting, dying, and finishing techniques and suggest that many wearers attempted to personalize their headgear with ribbons, slashes and tabbed brims.[6] It was these individual efforts that I was most fascinated to see up close, to witness how early modern Londoners attempted to stand out, adapt and make even the most humble and necessary items of clothing fashionable in a city bustling with dressed bodies.

Unknown, Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Early of Devon (1526-1556), c. 1555, oil on panel: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_Courtenay_1st_Earl_of_Devon.jpg

Unknown, Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Early of Devon (1526-1556), c. 1555, oil on panel, via Wikimedia Commons

As I am particularly interested in the manufacture of clothing, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see evidence of craftsmanship in the Museum of London’s collections. One dark brown leather jerkin (36.237) on display in the ‘War and Fashion’ section of the Medieval Gallery, is decorated all over with scored diagonal and vertical lines and diamond, heart and star pinking.[1] Sized for a young man and dated to the second half of the sixteenth-century, the jerkin shows how even a relatively mundane item of outerwear could express the emotions and decorative interests of a young man. In conjunction with my trips to the museum, I have been learning the techniques required by the tailors and other makers in the period, and during a weekend course on ‘Historical Stitching & Decorative Techniques on Leather Clothing, 1400-1800’ at the School of Historical Dress, I was able to recreate this punched and scored design myself. In doing so, I realised that such effects could be achieved quickly with fairly simple punching and scoring tools, requiring no more than the patience and eye accuracy of a leatherworker.

A detail of the star punch and my sample reconstruction of the Museum of London Jerkin. Photograph by Sophie Pitman

A detail of the star punch and my sample reconstruction of the Museum of London Jerkin. Photograph by Sophie Pitman

I am very grateful to Worn Through for the support that enabled me to make research trips to London, and to discuss my research in this blog. I would also like to thank Tim Long, Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London, for his help and assistance. Thanks also to Hilary Davidson for her kind generosity – electronically and in person – of information and encouragement. I would also like to thank Karl Robinson and The School of Historical Dress, and my supervisor Professor Ulinka Rublack for their support and interest in the academic value of historical reconstruction. I have much more work ahead of me, especially with regard to the archaeological provenance of many of the pieces, but I am sure that these investigations and the photographs that I was able to take (though unfortunately not able to share online at this stage) will form a central part of my PhD thesis, which – in due course, will hopefully be adapted for publication.

If you have any suggestions, comments, or tips for Sophie, please feel free to leave a comment!

[1] For images and information, see ‘Jerkin, 36.237’: http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-118831&start=474&rows=1

[1] Vanessa Harding, ‘Recent Perspectives on Early Modern London,’ The Historical Journal, Volume 47, Issue 2 (June 2004), pp 435 – 450, 447

[2] In particular see Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, c1560-1620. London; New York: Macmillan ; Drama Book, 1985 and Janet Arnold, Jenny Tiramani, and Santina Levey, Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women C. 1540 – 1660. Unabridged edition. (Hollywood, CA: Macmillan, 2008).

 

[3] For photographs and close examination of the Doublet, see ‘Early Doublet in The Museum of London,’ (9 December 2011) http://thegoodwyfe.blogspot.com.es/2011/12/early-doublet-in-museum-of-london.html

[4] John Stow, A Survey of London ed. H. Morley, (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1997), 445-6. As quoted in Maria Hayward, Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII’s England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 122.

[5]1571 13 Eliz. cap, 19 as in George Nicholls, A History of the English Poor Law in Connection with the State of the Country and the Condition of the People, (reprint Clark: The Lawbook Exchange, 2006), 173-4.

[6] Fortunately, many of these caps have been photographed and documented in the online catalogue: http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/. Thanks to Hilary Davidson and Jane Malcolm Davis for sharing their prepublication copy of ‘“He is of no account … if he have not a velvet or taffeta hat”: A survey of sixteenth century knitted caps’ which is forthcoming….

 

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You Should Be Reading: Fur in Fashion

In one of my favorite holiday films, the 1945 classic “Christmas in Connecticut,” viewers are first introduced to Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) as she receives an exciting delivery at her New York City apartment – her first fur coat. She tells her friend Felix that she needed the coat, despite it costing six months of her salary. “You need it?” he asks. “Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink.” In that era, it was a lighthearted line for laughs and not a condemnation. In the twenty-first century, there is more attention on the ethics of wearing fur and its potential environmental impact. Designer Pamela Paquin of Petite Mort has her own idea of ethical fur: roadkill pelts. Luxury consumers may not attribute the same level of glamour and status to a raccoon muff that Paquin refers to as “accidental fur,” but the price is still high, with pieces starting at $1,000 each. The more popular ethical alternative to fur, synthetics, are often constructed of materials that are harmful to the earth. Despite increased discussion of these issues, the International Fur Federation reports that sales are at an all-time high of $14 billion worldwide. For many designers and shoppers, fur still signifies elegance and extravagance. Three articles below discuss fur in the fashion industry. The earliest examines the conflicting representations of Victorian women adorned with animal skins in public spaces and in the paintings of John Collier; next, an overview of key ethical issues in fur production; and, conversely, a final look at the negative consequences a decline in the fur market would have on indigenous economies. What’s your stance on fur in fashion? Let us know in the comments.

1. Gauld, Nicola. (2005). Victorian bodies: The wild animal as adornmentBritish Art Journal, 6(1), 37-42.

Victorian artists’ representation of women adorned with animals is examined. In the late 19th century, the wearing of animals was an increasingly integral part of wealthy fashion and undoubtedly evident in the art of the period, but with very different meanings. In fashion, animal products signified wealth and status while symbolizing Victorian power over nature, which was also intimated in representations of men and animals in art. In John Collier’s paintings Maenads, Lilith, and A Priestess of Bacchus, which show provocative images of women covered by animal skins, the inclusion of the animal suggests the much more disturbing idea of female sexuality, however. These images clearly show the Victorian perception of the female as, in the words of Edward Carpenter, “more primitive . . . more intuitive and . . . more emotional” while suggesting the presence of “a separate species from men.” – Full Article Abstract

2. Sorenson, John. (2011). Ethical fashion and the exploitation of nonhuman animalsCritical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, 2(1-2), 139-164.

Fashion theorists have largely ignored ethical concerns about the industry’s exploitation of nonhuman animals. While critical theory and political economy approaches stress the centrality of animal exploitation to global capitalism, an animal rights perspective critiques the fashion industry’s use of nonhuman animals as a ‘theatre of cruelty’ which turns them from living beings to mere products, or raw materials. Adopting these perspectives, the article provides a brief survey of some key issues, and examines the resurgence of fur sales and fur industry rhetorics. The evidence and the arguments presented illustrate why a critical approach to ethical issues in fashion and beauty cannot exclude nonhuman animals. – Full Article Abstract

3. Strege, Gayle. (2014). Fur as fashion in AmericaFashion, Style and Popular Culture, 1(3), 413-432.

Animal skins and furs are some of the earliest clothing items worn by humankind and the practicality of their toughness and warmth is one of the reasons why they are still worn today. Beyond its practical use, fur acquired the added appeal of decoration and luxury throughout fashion history, and its wearers, criticism via accusations of ostentation. With the rise in the late nineteenth century of a middle class with economic means, greater demand for luxury fashions such as fur ensued. To meet market and fashion trend demands, overharvesting of fur species led to rapid declines in animal populations. This in turn resulted in industry regulations protecting endangered species and domestic farming of fur animals. Aggressive activities of animal rights organizations in the late twentieth century resulted in devastating consequences for indigenous economies dependant on fur hunting. These peoples in turn organized to counter misinformation and promote fur as the ultimate natural fibre contrasted to fake furs that are petroleum by-products with their own harmful environmental harvesting issues. – Full Article Abstract

Image credit: Still frame from Christmas in Connecticut via Movie Star Makeover.

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Research Award Guest Post: Discovering Bob Bugnand

Costume and textiles scholar, and Worn Through Research Award winner Susan Neill has eighteen years of experience as a museum curator and has also practiced independently. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology; has curated more than a dozen exhibitions of textiles, ethnographic dress, and historic fashion; and has presented her research at national and international symposia including the Costume Colloquium in Florence, Italy. Her current research interests are couturier Bob Bugnand and the American textile designer Mary Crovatt Hambidge. She works at the Field Museum as an exhibition project manager.

Discovering Bob Bugnand

First Encounter

No matter how long I work in museums or how many costume collections I visit, I get a thrill every time I enter one of those exalted closets. There is a mix of pleasant anticipation – of encountering old friends like a 1960s paper dress or a full-skirted antebellum gown – and the promise of discovery – of garments that spark questions I never thought to ask before. So it was in February of 2012, as I began selecting objects at the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) for an exhibition of twentieth-century dress that became Dior & More – For the Love of Fashion (closed May 24, 2014).

Having worked with the treasure-trove of WRHS in the past, I expected the major challenge would not be in selecting garments so much as it would be paring down a long list of worthy candidates until the most compelling cast remained. Such an exquisite dilemma! As the days passed and haute couture designs by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Grès, Lucien Lelong, Jeanne Paquin, Callot Soeurs, and others began to fill out the ranks, I turned my attention to lesser-known couturiers to add dimension to the story. And that is when I met Bob Bugnand.

Paris label, ca. 1960, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Paris label, ca. 1960, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Evening dress, ca. 1960, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Evening dress, ca. 1960, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Ultimately, eight Bugnand designs were located in the collection and two were featured in the show. These evening dresses were made for Elizabeth Parke Firestone (Mrs. Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.), a discerning client who began buying made-to-measure clothing in Paris in the 1920s and amassed an extensive wardrobe by leading designers. Writing exhibit labels proved challenging, since references to Bob Bugnand were cursory. Some basic facts were repeated: 1) he designed for Jacques Heim and Robert Piguet before going out on his own, and 2) Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor were both his clients. The tidbit that stayed with me came from a letter Firestone wrote in 1970, saying Bugnand had relocated to New York, where he “makes only for a very few people, [and] does all my work” (Orr 2006: 80). (Let’s hear it for graduate research – thank you, Lois Orr!)

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.16

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.16

Still wondering about Bugnand several months after the exhibition opened, I inquired about pieces in other collections containing Firestone garments and soon a dozen more had surfaced. When I learned his papers had recently been made available through the Special Collections at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT),I knew I had stumbled onto a topic worthy of exploration.

Thanks to the Worn Through research award, I was able to go to New York to examine the Bugnand archives and begin piecing together the arc of his career. Though it is tempting to craft a research melodrama of alternating dead-ends and puzzle pieces fitting together, instead what follows is more straightforward and, I hope, somewhat more useful. These paragraphs offer a basic chronology of Bob Bugnand’s career and my initial assessment of his work, which helps situate him in the context of twentieth-century fashion and can assist in dating his surviving fashions.

The Garments

To date, 75 Bugnand designs have been identified in 15 collections and I have personally examined 37 of them. Nearly all of the designs are complete garments or ensembles, but the number also includes a few separates. Fully half of the pieces were made for Firestone.

Limited information about additional Bugnand garments is available in a 1991 Sotheby’s catalog featuring pieces from Firestone’s estate. Images and descriptions of several other garments are available through auction house websites. Garments with Bob Bugnand for Sam Friedlander labels are beyond the scope of my current research and are excluded from the data set.

Additional Sources

This preliminary study has also been informed by Bugnand’s archives in the Special Collections at FIT and Firestone’s papers at the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford. Women’s Wear Daily, newspapers, and magazines further document the designer’s life and work.

Early Career

Fashion designer Bob Bugnand was born Antoine Bugnand in France on Feb. 23, 1924. The city of his birth is unknown, as is the source of his seemingly American nickname. He studied architecture at the Beaux Arts before focusing on couture, then apprenticed with Lelong, and was chief designer for both Piguet and Heim (New York Times Oct. 3, 1958). An undocumented press clipping reports Bugnand also worked with Alwynn Camble, another young designer, for several seasons.

In 1954, Bob Bugnand “opened a Couture house [in Paris] based on the formula of original designs which will not be repeated” (Women’s Wear Daily May 21, 1954). The venture was unusual, if not entirely unique. Rather than presenting traditional collections and incurring the associated expense of production and showings, he instead presented to private clients and buyers original sketches from which they made selections. The press described Bugnand as a “personable young designer” (New York Herald Tribune Feb. 25, 1959). His early enterprise had the capacity to produce fifty original models per month.

Bugnand apparently met Firestone, one of his most important clients, in May of 1956, after which she commissioned this evening dress now in the collection of The Henry Ford. In a letter the following spring, Firestone told the designer the red evening gown was her favorite and ordered a second version in white, which resides at WRHS.

Evening dress, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

Evening dress, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

Draping, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

Draping, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

By the summer of 1957, Bugnand expanded his business from sketch-based exclusive designs to include traditional seasonal presentations (Women’s Wear Daily July 23, 1957). Though Firestone did not attend the showing of forty models in his fall collection, she did place a significant order while in Paris that September. She commissioned a black velvet dress called Blackmail; the Florence dress of blue wool; the Jaguar coat ensemble; and Platinum, a gray flannel suit with embroidery, mink trim, and a matching chiffon blouse. Regrettably, none of these have been identified in collections.

Paris Without a Passport

Bugnand opened a custom-order salon in New York on East 62nd Street in the fall of 1958. This additional location enabled him to better serve existing American clients while also making his designs accessible to women who did not make seasonal trips to Paris to have clothes made. With another unconventional strategy, Bugnand simultaneously reinforced the allure of French fashion – the cachet of garments designed in Paris, constructed of French fabrics, and made in the couture tradition – while removing the obstacle of transatlantic travel.

According to the press, Bugnand seemed to have found “a magical formula for selling made-to-order clothes to American women,” though it was actually more of an innovative business practice than alchemy or even sleight of hand (New York Times Feb. 25, 1959). The “magic” happened by making and fitting a muslin of the desired dress in New York, flying the muslin to the designer’s Paris workroom where it was used to make the dress, and then flying the finished model back to New York for final fittings – voila! The entire process took only about three weeks. To uphold their prestige, Bugnand collections were shown first in Paris and presented again several weeks later in New York.

Jacqueline Kennedy (Mrs. John F. Kennedy) was a Bugnand client during this period, though whether she placed orders in Paris or New York is unknown. The future First Lady used his fashions helped shape her public image. She chose a simple pink wool dress by Bugnand for the Life magazine cover story, “Jackie Kennedy: A Front Runner’s Appealing Wife” (Life August 24, 1959). Numerous photographs demonstrate his black-and-white houndstooth wool suit with black braid was a workhorse on the campaign trail during her husband’s presidential run in 1959 and 1960. The graphic, easy-to-wear combination was featured in the popular exhibition, Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, and is the sole Bugnand design in the Kennedy Library. Notably, the catalog for the Hamish Bowles-curated exhibition contains the only scholarly reference to Bugnand published to date (Metropolitan Museum of Art 2001: 47).

Haute Couture Years

In the summer of 1960, Bugnand’s reputation advanced considerably when he was recognized with membership in the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and opened his salon at 372 rue St. Honore in Paris. Women’s Wear Daily anticipated his inaugural showing could “be the big opening of the year,” noting the designer “already in New York has a fine reputation for elegant young clothes which have a sophisticated zip” (July 25, 1960). Though the collection received mixed reviews, the New York Times lauded his “trompe-l’oeil tricks” – reversible jackets and overskirts that transformed dresses for wear after five. Remarking on his evening clothes, the paper reported, “Bugnand can be aptly called the bead boy. His lady-like dazzlers included one hound’stooth [sic] check done in jet, another in a fabric patterned like an old Victorian rose wallpaper and covered with shining bugle beads” (July 28, 1960). Sparkling eveningwear was the designer’s hallmark and featured prominently in all his collections.

Evening dress, ca. 1965, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Evening dress, ca. 1965, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Beadwork, ca. 1965, author photo, The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Beadwork, ca. 1965, author photo, The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Burchard Galleries auctioned one of Bugnand’s characteristically brilliant confections in 2012 (below). The calf-length gown commissioned by Firestone may well have been from the designer’s Spring 1959 collection, about which the New York Herald Tribune reported his “[s]hort evening dresses sparkle like the ceiling of the Hayden Planetarium. They’re almost all bare topped with semi-full skirts and what appears to be the labor of forty seamstresses worked into their elaborate surfaces” (Feb. 25, 1959).

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Burchard Galleries

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Burchard Galleries

Many fashion-conscious women in the United States learned about Bob Bugnand in the pages of Vogue. The magazine first mentioned him in its April 1960 issue. A larger feature two months later called readers’ attention to his design for a new night look described as “a plaid overlay of baguette beads, worked on Argyll [sic] lines in navy-blue and clear crystal on a dress of white silk net” (Vogue June 1960). Also noted were its navy blue patent leather belt and “underplayed shaping….” This dress survives – albeit unlabeled and without the belt – in The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection.

Evening dress, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.15

Evening dress, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.15

Firestone ordered an iteration of the design with short sleeves and a more conventional gathered skirt. In December of 1961, a Bugnand design graced the Vogue cover, accompanied by enchanting copy, “In a season of stupendous night-looks, one of the greatest: a rangy net sweater, beaming with glitter and crystal, and pulled down on the hipline of a long white silk satin dress.” This garment also resides at Ohio State.

Evening overblouse, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.24

Evening overblouse, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.24

Broad Base

Despite having salons on both sides of the Atlantic, a growing list of clients, and accolades from the fashion press, Bugnand did not rely solely on custom-made clothes to make ends meet. He also sold designs to manufacturers, though there is minimal documentation of those transactions. Some American department stores prided themselves on selling faithful copies of the latest Paris fashions. For example, at a fall 1960 event, Orbach’s showed “translations” of styles by Bugnand, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Grès, Nina Ricci, Cardin, Fabiani, and other designers, claiming they were “so exact…done with such unhurried perfection…they’re actually re-creations” (New York Times Sept. 14, 1960). A few months later, Bugnand announced his own ready-to-wear line named for the French national flag, the Tricolor Collection, which was targeted to select stores (Christian Science Monitor Nov. 7, 1960). When Bugnand began designing cocktail and evening dresses for the wholesale house, Sam Friedlander, in 1962, he stayed true to himself as a designer. According to the New York Times, “The beading and jet trim usually reserved for couture fashions trimmed moderately priced clothes” (June 12, 1962). Other designs for the manufacturer even included fur trim.

Consolidation

As the fashion world evolved, Bugnand continually revamped his business strategy to keep pace. Sometime in the mid-1960s, he closed the doors of his Paris salon and moved his entire business to New York, presumably to be closer to loyal clients such as Firestone and the socialite and philanthropist Judith Peabody (Mrs. Samuel P. Peabody). In 1965, the New York Times reported that Peabody –an avid supporter of the American Ballet Theater, New York Shakespeare Festival, and the Dance Theater of Harlem – had single-handedly “boosted the stock” of couturier Bob Bugnand by invariably appearing in his designs at parties and premieres (New York Times June 7, 1965).

Though it is unclear how Bugnand felt about leaving Paris to work full-time in the United States, the designer seems to have approached his work with good humor. The earliest dated garment with his signature New York label is the sequin-covered minidress dubbed Scuba Duba from 1968. [Image 11 WRHS 92.43.45a label] [Image 12 OHCT 1990.576.3]

New York label, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.45

New York label, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.45

Scuba Duba evening dress, 1968, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1990.576.3

Scuba Duba evening dress, 1968, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1990.576.3

He continued to create and show collections and worked closely with long-time clients. Bugnand sent Firestone sketches of new collections and custom designs and often offered suggestions, which she sometimes heeded. [Image 13 WRHS 92.43.46] In the summer of 1975, Bugnand shifted his course again by opening a shop in Westhampton, Long Island, where he sold ready-to-wear resort clothes along with his custom designs. He continued to create collections as late as 2001 and he died at age 81 in 2005. No obituary has surfaced.

Day coat, ca. 1971, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.46

Day coat, ca. 1971, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.46

Summary

This preliminary investigation shows that designer Bob Bugnand’s career reflects the changing realities of Paris couture from its “golden age” in the decade or so following World War II through the end of the century. Although he was steeped in the couture – or perhaps because he understood its realities – Bugnand committed himself to the world of fashion and all its unpredictability. His longevity seems to be due to a combination of passion, flexibility, resourcefulness, and a commitment to his clients, to whom he gave what they wanted and needed, in a way they felt good about. His designs never shock, occasionally amuse, and invariably appear effortless. “I am always happy,” he said, “when I have succeeded in making a woman look her best. I consider it a personal victory…” (Christian Science Monitor Nov. 7, 1960). Making a woman the focal point – rather than her clothes – earned Bugnand earned a loyal following.

Once again, I am grateful to Worn Through for the research award that facilitated my inquiry into designer Bob Bugnand. Likewise, I appreciate the dozens of generous individuals in museums, archives, auction houses, and vintage sales who fielded my inquiries and provided information and access to materials. I intend to publish an article on Bugnand’s career and would appreciate any additional leads you can provide. It is my hope the overlooked designer will soon receive the attention he deserves.

 

Sources

Bowles, Hamish. 2001.Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bugnand, Bob Collection. Special Collections and FIT Archives, Gladys Marcus Library, Fashion Institute of Technology.

Firestone Family Papers. Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.

Orr, Lois. 2006. “Elizabeth Parke Firestone: Her Couture Collection and Her Role as a Woman of Influence.” M.A. thesis, University of Akron. http://sc.akronlibrary.org/files/2010/12/Elizabeth-Parke-Firestone.pdf

Sotheby’s. 1991. Collectors Carousel: Including Couture Clothing from The Elizabeth Parke Firestone Collection and The Lydia Gordon Collection. Auction catalog for Dec. 19, 1991. New York: Sotheby’s.

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Book Giveaway 2 – 1940s

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Shire Books generously provided us with some titles to give to our readers during this month.

U.S. only please to save on my shipping. I’ll set up another that is international–thank you!

In this post we’re giving away:

Fashion in the 1940s by Jayne Shrimpton

The first reader to email me with the correct answer to the following trivia question about Worn Through question can have this book!

Here is the question. The answer can be found reading previous blog posts.
What fashion editor and eccentric was the grandchild of one of the earliest female ethnographic photographers?

Thanx for playing! Look for more giveaways soon.

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Museum Life: fashion studies and material culture

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In October, I had the opportunity to attend the 4th annual Fashion Now & Then conference at LIM College in NYC. This three-day conference involved a good mix of participants–designers, industry entrepreneurs, librarians, archivists, and professors–that resulted in a wide range of topics discussed.  Sessions were concurrent and it was not possible to attend every one. Some good presentations and resultant discussions included the state of corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices in the luxury market, African companies that challenge the dominant Western aesthetic and modes of production in fashion, new directions for online shopping and the increase in consumer data collection, the limitations and possibilities of querying databases and data mining in fashion research, and opportunities for research in various online resources, including Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, the Photographic Collection at the The American Museum of Natural History, and the André Studios collection at the New York Public Library–and the exciting announcement that the administrative records of the Costume Institute will be available for research in 2015.

The opening reception included a book signing with Holly Price Alford, Associate Professor in the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising and Director of Diversity for the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Alford discussed her changes to the 6th edition of Who’s Who in Fashion, which will include color photographs and a more diverse array of practitioners in fashion, such as journalists, photographers, costume designers, and accessory designers.

One particular panel focused primarily on the current state of instruction in fashion studies, assembling a range of sources and approaches for research, such as paper-based archival records (the Costume Institute records, referenced above, and the potential avenues for research within that collection), object-based teaching methods, and a survey of programs nationally and internationally.  I felt a summary of two presentations in this panel would be a nice follow-up to my October post on balancing knowledge of material construction and theory in curatorial work.

Presenter Chloe Chapin began her career working for 20 years in costume design in the theater.  Now simultaneously an assistant professor and MA candidate at FIT, Chapin described her experience with costume and clothing in the academic setting as quite different.  She began her presentation with a juxtaposition of visuals that aptly summed up the jarring shift in her daily experience.  As a designer, her world consisted of “physical objects, bodies, and patterns”, presented onscreen with images of hands working with needle and thread, at sewing machines, and draping fabrics.  At FIT, Chapin’s daily world has transformed into a word cloud of theory and theorists: Simmel, Veblen, Foucault, Barthes, semiotics, and consumer studies, to name a few. In the face of this startling change of focus, Chapin set out to understand “what is this discipline of fashion studies?”, and “what are the training programs” out there in the world and “how do they market themselves?”

Chapin has mapped out the various approaches of programs nationwide and internationally, concluding that fashion studies programs need to better market themselves and make their program philosophy better known to prospective applicants (she also acknowledged that with all the different approaches to the field, there is room for everybody to share expertise on their preferred approach).  So far she has compiled lists of programs along seven themes, including textile sciences (research and development), practice-based design theory, museum studies, and cultural studies.  Chapin is in the processes of creating a website with all of this information accessible in one place, similar to her existing site that brings together fashion and textile museum collections and their various approaches, Fashion & Textile Museums.  This upcoming site should prove to be a valuable resource for students, professors, and prospective students alike.

Diane Maglio, professor in the Fashion Department at the Larry L. Luing School of Business, Berkley College in NYC, presented on her approach to object-based studies in and outside the classroom.  With the work of Jules Prown, Charles F. Montgomery, and Igor Kopytoff as her foundation, Maglio described how she guides students through engaging with garments and objects in their research.  She first draws in students through asking for personal, emotional responses to the object in question, with subjective questions such as, “are you a leader or a follower?”  She then balances the student’s personal interpretation with considering the object’s history in its contemporary context.

Maglio generously answered a few of my questions during a very busy time in the semester, and offered a few more thoughts on the presentation and the student’s learning process.

For their research projects, are students able to study garments within an archive or study collection, or is their engagement largely through exhibitions?

From my experience as an adjunct at FIT, students there have the added benefit of both museum collections and study collections. Our students have no study collections, therefore we rely on exhibitions, museum permanent collections and artifacts in historic houses. The major drawback is the inability to handle garments or objects. When students tap into visceral reactions to what they see, they add a dimension to their engagement with the object and maker and with what they have read or seen in print form.

Urging students to draw on personal feelings or forge emotional connections with a garment is an effective technique in heightening students’ engagement with material objects.  Do you find it difficult to then balance students’ contemporary, personal reactions and opinions with contextual, historical research?  Or do you find students are hesitant to engage personally with an object?  Are they more comfortable with emotional distance, or more comfortable with emotional engagement?

Whether students are more comfortable with emotional distance or with emotional engagement is not easily answered because the student body is so culturally diverse. Some will take naturally to looking at objects from the inside out, while others need to ease into the method. Ultimately, like other assignments, they learn how to do it and then, hopefully, apply the methods to objects they handle in their business life. Students are not so much hesitant to engage with an object as they are unfamiliar with the technique or method. At first try, some students tend to drift from engaging with the object as if it had a unique personality to responding from their own personal experience. In the fashion scenario, the garment or object has a personality. In the business of fashion, successful professionals will develop respect for their ‘intuitive’ reactions which are, in fact, developed through the understanding of the Zeitgeist, material culture and consumers.

Maglio is planning to invert the process by starting with a familiar, personal object, which will allow students to closely and tangibly interact with the pieces:

I am so pleased with the material culture object analysis assignments based on museum exhibitions, I plan to flip the class.  Material culture methods will be studied at home.  Students will bring personal objects to class. Each group can follow all the steps in the material culture analysis (description, deduction and speculation) with the added benefit of being able to touch the objects. This assignment will require students other than the owner of the object to complete the analysis.

What Maglio’s presentation and responses have underscored is that analyzing and understanding material culture is a learned skill, and that students must be trained to really deeply engage with garments and accessories.  Despite numerous successful fashion exhibitions over the past decade or so and the growing acceptance of these exhibitions as academically and intellectually relevant, there is still the lingering perception amongst the general public–and even within museum/archive institutions outside of their respective costume/fashion departments–that fashion and costume is just “eye candy” and what can be learned from an exhibition or collection of fashion is minimal.  I have also heard from students in various university departments the misperception that engaging with objects on a material level is not “academic” enough, and is only useful for seamstresses, conservation work, or fashion and film fans who want to touch their favorite items–not for “serious” academics. Continuing to emphasize that material culture analysis is a learned research skill is very important, as well as that an initial emotional connection or response can lead to a deeper understanding and investigation of the history and use of the object.

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Book Giveaway 1 – Shakespeare

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UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER. THANK YOU

Shire Books generously provided us with some titles to give to our readers during this month.

In this post we’re giving away:

Fashion in the time of William Shakespeare by Sarah Jane Downing.

The first reader to email me with the correct answer to the following trivia question about Worn Through question can have this book!

Here is the question. The answer can be found reading previous blog posts.
At what museum will you currently find the exhibition Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting?’

Thanx for playing! Look for more book giveaways soon.

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You Should Be Reading: Fashion Gets ‘Normal’

New Normal composite

This week’s You Should Be Reading marks a slight departure for the column, as Worn Through turns to a contemporary trend in fashion. The three articles, all chosen from online newspaper and magazine sources rather than academic journals, examine the trend of ‘normal’ dressing, or ‘normcore.’ First identified by trend forecaster K-Hole and now seen everywhere from international fashion weeks to the Gap’s ‘Dress Normal’ campaign, normcore is no longer just a hipster trend for adopting 90s era denim, Patagonia fleece and baseball caps. The following articles provide background on the trend of ‘normal’ dressing and attempt to identify its sources and explain the cause of its sudden appearance.

1. Cartner-Morley, Jess. ‘The Death of the Show-off: How London Fashion Week Embraced the New Normal.’ The Guardian. 16 September 2014.

While fashion weeks used to be ‘riots of excess’, The Guardian’s Jess Cartner-Morley observed a distinct change in not only the fashion on display, but the overall mood of this fall’s London Fashion Week. Gone were the ‘peacocks’ of seasons past stomping down the runways in six-inch heels, replaced by relatively modest looks in flat sandals and sneakers. Buzzwords surrounding the collections and their designers’ inspirations included ‘easy,’ ‘fresh’ and ‘effortless.’ This new understatement is interpreted as a reaction to the over-exposure of many of today’s fashion icons through the internet and social media platforms. Concluding that the changes observed were refreshing, Cartney-Morley still can’t help but feel that something was missing from the catwalks this season, suggesting the ‘peacocks’ of fashion may return before long.

2. Duncan, Fiona. ‘Normcore: Fashion for Those Who Realize They’re One in 7 Billion.’ New York Magazine. 26 February 2014.

Fiona Duncan describes the growth of normcore as a trend that began slowly on the Instagram and Tumblr accounts of internet ‘It-kids’ as they ‘embraced sameness deliberately as a new way of being cool.’ However, the adoption of normcore styles can also be seen as an expression of anti-fashion sentiment. Duncan spoke to Jeremy Lewis, founder of Garmento and freelance stylist/writer, who stated that his normcore style represents an anti-fashion philosophy that ‘is about absolving oneself from fashion,’ taking clothing cues from Steve Jobs and Jerry Seinfeld. The author also points to the ubiquity of fashion on the internet, observing that ‘the cycles of fashion are so fast and so vast, it’s impossible to stay current; in fact, there is no one current.’ Normcore is ultimately explained as not being about fashion, but about ‘welcoming the possibility of being recognizable, of looking like other people—and “seeing that as an opportunity for connection, instead of as evidence that your identity has dissolved.”

3. Stoppard, Lou. ‘Just Do It! How Sportswear Innovation Has Created Fashion Staples.’ i-D. 29 October 2014.

Lou Stoppard, editor at SHOWstudio, explores the influence of sportswear on fashion in this article for i-D magazine. As sportswear brands are often the early adopters of fashion tech, designers are looking to Nike, Adidas and others for innovation and inspiration. Designer collaborations are now commonplace in sportswear, pioneered by Adidas and Stella McCartney and seen more recently by British sportswear brand Sweaty Betty and Richard Nicholl at London Fashion Week. Stoppard concludes that the origins of the ‘normcore’ trend may lie in fashion’s current fascination with sportswear and its dedication to function and performance, allowing women to move and live in their clothing.

Image Credit: The Guardian

What did you think of this week’s column? Would you like to see more suggested readings from outside the academic sphere? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Punk Style Book Coupon Code

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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.

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Domestic Affairs: Princely Traditions

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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.

Unknown 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

Unknown
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.

4x5 original

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

Shaikh Zayn-Al-Din 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

Shaikh Zayn-Al-Din
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.

Unknown 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

Unknown
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

Unknown Palampore, 1700-1740 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

Unknown
Palampore, 1700-1740
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.

Unknown Principal Monuments of India, Including the Taj Mahal, circa 1850 India, Delhi 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

Unknown
Principal Monuments of India, Including the Taj Mahal, circa 1850
India, Delhi
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

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You Should Be Watching: Fashion Curation

As fashion exhibitions at museums and galleries become increasingly popular around the world, new ideas in curation are emerging to challenge what a fashion exhibition can offer to the increasingly informed museum visitor. Here are three videos on new ideas in fashion curation that Worn Through would like to highlight for their innovation and unique perspectives. Have you been to any exhibitions recently that engaged or surprised you with their originality? We welcome your comments below.

1. SHOWstudio: 1914 Now

A series of conceptual videos and accompanying essays by imminent curators, designers, filmmakers and historians, 1914 Now offers four different perspectives on a single year in history, one hundred years after the fact. Commissioned for SHOWstudio by Alison Moloney, curator of the international exhibitions program at the London College of Fashion, the project includes the interpretations by Amy de la Haye, Judith Clark, Walter van Beirendonck and Kaat Debo. The video above is Judith Clark’s manifesto for a fashion exhibition, in response to Giacomo Balla’s Il Vestito Antineutrale Manifesto (The Manifesto of Antineutral Dress) of 1914. The rest of the videos and their accompanying essays can be found at SHOWstudio.com.

2. Behind the Seams: Conservation and Fashion Assessment

This short video introduces the Mint Museum Randolph’s current fashion assessment and conservation project. Visitors to the museum’s fashion galleries will witness the de-installation of the previous exhibition along with the photography, assessment and conservation of some of the museum’s vast costume collection, with museum experts occasionally on hand to answer questions. Unlike traditional museum conservation projects, which are often conducted behind the scenes in store rooms and laboratories, Behind the Seams aims to provide ‘an insider’s experience’ of these museum practices.

3. Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting

Fashion Follows Form: Designs for Sitting is an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada that ‘invites visitors to think critically about the relationship between function and fashion in our daily lives.’ The exhibition showcases Canadian designer Izzy Camilleri’s IZ Adaptive line of clothing designed for men and women who use wheelchairs, alongside 18th and 19th century garments also designed for a seated frame. This video features curator Alexandra Palmer and designer Izzy Camilleri discussing the inspiration for and motivation behind the exhibition, which brings focus to a practical side of fashion design that is rarely given attention.

 

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