Jasleen Kandhari: Exploring Asian Textiles Study Day

This summer I had the lovely opportunity to meet NADFAS accredited lecturer Jasleen Kandhari, an art historian specialising in Asian art and design. Her breadth of interest in Asian collections is both broad and diverse. In covering subjects from Tibetan Buddhist sculpture and Korean ritual art to Sikh miniature painting and South Asian textiles, Jasleen has enjoyed interesting curatorial positions both here in London and abroad, as well as lecturing in universities and museums around the world. A prolific writer, Jasleen has published frequently on her subjects and is contributing editor (Indian Textiles) for Textiles Asia Journal. Currently, Jasleen is lecturing and teaching the Indian Textiles Course at the University of Oxford Department of Continuing Education as well as delivering study days on Asian art and textiles at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, which is what brought me to one of her Exploring Asian Textiles study days at Morley College earlier this year.

Looking at Jasleen's selection of textiles (author's own)

Looking at Jasleen’s selection of textiles (author’s own image)

The study programme was fast paced, packed with different mediums and filled with Jasleen’s enthusiasm for her subject. In just one day, we travelled across the geographical expanse of Asia, stopping off in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Japan and Tibet. Jasleen took us on a grand tour of textile design, production and consumption while still allowing us to focus in on a specific example at each place. These ranged from the obvious to the obscure. We embraced the Japanese kimono and the Malaysian songket while being encouraged to take a closer look at the phulkaris of the Punjab and the tiger rugs of Tibet.

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Snippet of Jasleen’s textile collection (author’s own image)

Within each location, Jasleen provided the class with lots of visual examples to include handouts, film clips and illustrative slides. In addition, there was an extensive display of textile examples at the front of the room and we were warmly invited to handle these half way through the day, accompanied by Jasleen’s informative commentary about their origins and significance. A personable and confident tutor, matched by a welcoming disposition. Jasleen asked all the students to introduce themselves and was able to respond to every individual interest in Asian textiles with further information. The breadth of motivation was wide for those present. Some were makers, others were thinkers but all shared a common fascination with textiles and were keen to broaden their haptic experience.  

Phulkari from Punjabi, Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, Canada

Jasleen’s own interest in Asian textiles emerges from her expertise in South Asian art and design, which began with a BA in Asian Art History with Music at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London and then an MA at Sotheby’s. This was followed by various curatorial and educational positions at the British Library and the British Museum before Jasleen took on the position of Curator of Asia at the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. It was there that Jasleen became more interested in Asian textiles, drawn to their large collection of uncatalogued phulkari, a style of embroidery specific to the Punjab.  Jasleen also loves contemporary textiles and suggests that her passion was always there, having grown up in Kenya in a family with close ties to India where her aunt is a fashion designer in Mumbai. This was also nicely mirrored in her use of current examples from popular fashion magazines as well as the catwalk to highlight the continued significance of Asian textile design in today’s clothing styles.

Jasleen immersed in the research process; wearing kimono in Japan

When not writing for various cultural publications, Jasleen can be found visiting textile factories, filming production techniques or trying on regional costumes, in an effort to immerse herself in the subject for the benefit of her students.  I asked her to share some highlights of teaching a subject she loves. These included inspiring students to want to learn more about the subject; and the fact that it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ but an integral facet of her own passion for the subject. I wondered if Jasleen had any good advice to share with regards to teaching her subject. ‘Always put yourself in the lecture’, she replied. Whether it be wearing a particular costume or including photographs that show you participating in your research, Jasleen suggested this was a vital way to connect with students.

Image from the Sanskriti Museum of Indian Textiles, Delhi

I also wanted to know which museums had enhanced Jasleen’s interest in textiles. Special mentions included the Musee de Jacquard in Roubaix, Northern France, the National Textiles Museum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the Sanskriti Museum of Indian Textiles in Delhi, India. According to Jasleen, their emphasis on actively displaying techniques and processes allows visitors to see how textiles are produced in a dynamic way. This is very reflective of Jasleen’s pedagogical approach to her subject. The study day was nicely peppered with opportunities to look at a range of material sources, watch films showing how particular types of textiles are made and a myriad of handouts identifying techniques and motifs.

Tiger pelt rug, date unknown

I was particularly struck by her research into Tibetan tiger rugs, of which there are apparently only 200 in existence that feature a tiger pelt motif. Interestingly, the tiger pelt design varies from the very abstract to the very literal. Made from sheep wool, these rugs are said to have come out of Tibet as a result of the uprisings in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originally made as gifts for lamas, the tiger skin design is reflective of Tibetan Buddhist iconography. Yogins are often depicted meditating on tiger pelts and the tiger is historically believed to have protective qualities amongst Tibetan kings and warriors. These are fascinating textile objects and it was great to be introduced to them by Jasleen in the study day.

When listening to her, I was swept away by the heady descriptions of projects, texts, workshops and tours that Jasleen has in the pipeline, all of which can now be discovered on her own website entitled the Travelling Art Historian. In terms of what the future might hold, Jasleen is enthusiastic about museum education, in particular expanding what is on offer in Asian textiles and arts online courses. Jasleen is also keen to develop her research into Sikh art and textiles, both past and contemporary. According to her, ‘it is very important to record Sikh cultural heritage, which includes the influence of crafts such as textile design and painting’.

Spending the day looking at Asian textiles reminded me how useful it is to put myself in the shoes of the student and the advantages of having material artifacts when teaching what you enjoy. I would also very much like to meet others whose teaching interests include textiles and fashion history/theory here in the UK so please feel free to get in touch by email emma@wornthrough.com

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On Teaching Fashion: Students with Disabilities-UPDATED

Today I am reposting the Students with Disabilities article from June because a reader provided a useful link that I want to share with everyone: http://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/disabled-students/

This article covers your legal rights, what type of academic adjustments will be provided for you, and useful links to help students with disabilities. There is so much information so please click the above link and read over it. Thank you readers for writing in and contributing to Wornthrough.com!

The first year I attended Central Saint Martins, I served as the student course representative for my program. Course reps were given the opportunity to attend faculty meetings and I thought this was a great chance to see the behind the scenes work at my school. The most memorable meeting for me focused on students with disabilities. We discussed both physical and learning disabilities and strategies for working with them. I learned so much and left feeling inspired. I no longer have any of the paperwork from that meeting but there are many articles, such as “The prevalence of dyslexia among art students written by Ulrika Wolff* and Ingvar Lundberg,  if you would like to read up on this subject.

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My first year teaching at a university, I followed our syllabus requirements guide and included the disability office information with the short paragraph saying that any student with a disability has a right for reasonable accommodation. Over the years, I have had a few students approach me with a request for more time on tests and assignments. One semester I was given a sheet of paper from a student who told me that I had to sign it and return it to the office. I looked at the sheet and saw that the student had a disability that would require me to step in and provide aid when needed. There was a list of steps that I need to be prepared to do if a situation arose. A feeling of panic washed over me. This was quite serious and I couldn’t help thinking what if I made a mistake? When I went to drop off the paperwork I expressed my concern to the staff member and was told: “You don’t need to worry about this student. They have enough foresight to take care of themselves and contact the department and give you this paperwork. That means they will take care of themselves. The students you need to worry about are the ones that never report their problems.” I wondered how many unreported disabilities or even undiagnosed disabilities our student body may be struggling with.

According to the US Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability in the U.S. which makes the possibility of having a disabled student in class fairly high. A physical disability may require more planning in a class room setting to accommodate a student, especially in a sewing lab. There is a small business in my town that hires people who are sight impaired to work in a sewing factory. The employees are trained to work in each station and learn how to sew and assemble a finished product. This business has a major contract with the government and is able to employ disabled people while teaching them a trade. I had hoped to tour this facility and report more information but was unable to arrange it.

The TedTalks lecture by Hugh Herr titled “The new bionics that let us run, climb, and dance”, is worth viewing if you haven’t already seen it. Herr says that a human being can never be viewed as “broken” by having a disability. He says, “It is our technology that is broken and inadequate”. The word disabled itself implies that something is not working. But with so many new technological advancements in prosthetics there is a major shift happening in the way we view disabled people in society. Our department recently held a lecture presenting current projects on special apparel for disabled people. Apparel is being redesigned with disabilities in mind such as clothing for a person that sits in a wheelchair all day. Clothing can be ergonomically designed in a way to avoid bulky seams that may put pressure on skin with poor circulation. Clothing that uses the same trends and style lines but redesigns closures is one area that is useful for disabled people as well as the aging population. Many of these design discoveries can be used for all people, disabled or not, and perhaps that is part of the positive change that is happening.

This is a topic that I will continue exploring and would love to write future posts addressing any new information I find. I am also interested in exploring the topic of teachers with disabilities, acquired either before of after they began teaching, and any struggles or strategies used in the classroom. Do you have any experiences with disabled students in the classroom that you would like to share? What are your experiences with teaching with a disability? Please leave your comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Review: The V&A Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion

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In October 2013, the V&A Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion in London opened and so it was nice to mark their one year anniversary with my first visit last month. Due to the Centre only being available via advance appointment or a tour once a month on a Friday morning, it has been impossible for me to get there and I do wonder how anyone who works full-time and/or has an interest in or teaches textiles and fashion study is able to access this fantastic resource. Therefore, I was very excited when I found out that the Centre had teamed up with Open House London to allow several tours to take place on a Saturday in September. Finally, I could get a chance to see the Centre and find out more about what it has to offer as a study resource.

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Public entrance to Blythe House (author’s own)

It was a rainy Saturday morning when I arrived at Blythe House in Olympia, the home for the Centre as well as other collections belonging to the V&A’s Archive of Art and Design, the British Museum and the Science Museum. As part of the Centre’s design, it was decided to reopen Blythe House’s original public entrance to what was once the largest Post Office Savings Bank in the country. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, Blythe House served as its headquarters until the 1960s when it relocated to Glasgow. It is a huge, rather grand but formal, building that once was packed with thousands of employees, both men and women, looking after ordinary people’s savings. Walking in, I felt very much like this place had been both factory and civil institution.

The Centre was designed by Haworth Tompkins Architects and to some extent, it is an essay on intervention given that Blythe House is a Grade II listed Edwardian building and so cannot be drastically changed or rebuilt. For example, the reception area has been created by installing a large display case that will contain a rolling exhibition of the V&A’s study collection.  The first display is Eduardo Paolozzi’s Krazy Kat Arkive of Twentieth Century Popular Culture, which includes toys, figurines as well as some of his own work.[1]

The redesigned conservation studios have been installed so as to maximise natural light while allowing enough access for the transportation of objects to and from storage. On our tour, we were able to glimpse through the windows and although there were no conservators there that day, a few had kindly left out a few examples for us to have a look at.

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Glimpse into the Textile Conservation Studios (author’s own)

With the Centre itself, one of the main issues for the architects was being able to spread the weight of a collection of textiles and fashion evenly across a space the size of a football pitch without altering the ground or the supporting columns. As a result, a huge raised floor was installed as well as limitations on the weight of the collection at any one time. According to one review, every item had to be weighed before it could enter the building.[2] This must have been a considerable task, given that the V&A’s textile and fashion collection includes approximately 104,000 objects that span more than 5000 years.

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The Centre’s storage; note the raised floor and the large space (author’s own)

The main study area is beautiful in an understated way, with functionality at the heart of the architectural interruptions to the existing building. Tables are on wheels to allow visitors to move around objects, lights are retractable to allow for close ups or to reduce potential damage and there is even a mirror and a magnet board in the area designated for large study groups. It was nice to see one of the original wooden display cabinets for textiles from the V&A’s former Textile Galleries had been included [3], a reminder that these have been closed since 2011 and that to have access to the collection now was no mean feat on the part of the V&A and the architects.

Detail showing bees and flowers from evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1957, V&A

As part of the tour, we were shown a few highlights from the collection, which included an evening dress designed by Norman Hartnell and worn by Queen Elizabeth for a state visit to Paris in 1957. I had previously seen this dress on a display mannequin at The Golden Age of Couture. Paris and London 1947 – 1957 exhibition in 2007 but to see it so close up, laid flat on conservation tissue paper, was a special moment. Not only was it a delight to see the diplomatically inspired embroidery of French field flowers and Napoleonic bees again but the evidence of being worn was also more apparent and somehow more poignant. I could immediately imagine Elizabeth wearing this garment and all that might have happened,  seeing it laid out in all its years of existence than I could have when posed on a mannequin in a state of presentation that was never its original destiny.

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Study tables in the Centre (author’s own)

The main aim of the Centre is to provide more access within a suitable setting for conservation and study. My understanding is that it was the V&A’s response to long waiting times for people to see the collection up close. I think the Centre is a critical resource and am glad that it is now in a dedicated space. However, I still think access is an issue. It is definitely not possible to visit the Centre spontaneously as it requires you to book in advance and give a reason for your visit. You are also required to provide photo identification on arrival and so you do need to be prepared in advance.

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Information desk and note the old wooden display case from the former Textile Galleries to the right (author’s own)

Although this may be apparent for those of us who are researchers and curators, I do wonder whether how inclusive this is of teachers and lecturers in the field. For example, the study group room can only take up to 18 people and is available only for five and a half hours a day, four days a week.  Having just begun the academic year again, I am very aware that I am very aware that my classes never seem to be less than 25 students and we may meet on a day when either the Centre is closed or the hours are not suitable.  I think this is a missed opportunity because students would benefit greatly from the opportunity to see such amazing primary sources in a setting that is very different from that of the curated exhibition display. It would also provide me, as the teacher, with a new physical context within which to guide student’s learning.

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View of Blythe House (author’s own)

The more convenient it is for young people to see what the V&A has to offer, the better it will be for both us and them. Yesterday, one of my fashion students asked me if the objects I had showed them from the V&A’s online collection were replicas. This was a great question and enabled us to consider the origins of museum collections, the ethics of conservation and the availability of artefacts for further study. I was reminded how unfamiliar students are now with museums and their collections.  My final thought as I left the elegant Centre and the rather formidable façade of Blythe House was that archives need to be used, ideally by those who will remember them, if they are to survive in the future.

 

[1], [3]  http://www.kcwtoday.co.uk/education/c5q6xee5a8.html [Accessed 6/10/14)

[2] http://historyfashionculture.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/designing-a-design-archive/ (Accessed 6/10/14)

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On Teaching Fashion: Interactive Engagement Lab

 

I generally teach fashion design studio courses where my student number around 18-20. This is Ideal. I like to get to know my students, their process, their names and aspirations. In the fall each year I teach a foundation lecture course that focuses on Sustainability in the Fashion Industry. My classes are large and switching from the intimacy a studio course provides to a lecture format has always been extremely difficult and painful for me. With a large class it is hard to get to know each student.

If my goal is to assist each student personally in, essentially getting a job, this is a dubious task. I have felt so deflated in the past after teaching my large lecture courses; I have discussed this in previous posts. My fall lecture course is a three-hour lecture of 40 students. Three hours? Yes! I have to say, though, three weeks into teaching that it is going swimmingly. I have structured the course in a way that saves me from going completely crazed.

The second hour of my lecture is, what I call, an active engagement lab. The structure is experimental. I am providing hour-long demonstrations that are active in that students move around. The lectures are tactile and always involve a component of touch. Finally, I have had the students create a tumblr site to capture our weekly activities. Personally, I am delighted by the outcomes.

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My students are engaged and excited. The energy generated by the labs are contagious and influence the energy levels of student interaction before and after. The lab is a free hour of experimentation and I would like to share our activities here, maybe you will be inspired to embed a lab activity similar to mine in your own courses? Personally, the idea of the three-hour lecture is painful to me. As a learner I do not do well in a situation where I am sitting and listening to a professor. Our lab is a free space of experimentation, where I can try experimental activities. On either side of the lab I give a more traditional lecture with quizzes and activities so my student goal outcomes can be assessed.

The Lab

 

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Each week I offer an activity concurrent with our readings that tease out the material in a more hands on way. I teach a lecture on four pillars of sustainability so the content relates to the environmental, social and labor, consumption and body image aspects. During our first week, I challenged students to define sustainability.

They were then paired in groups to define the term in relation to the key areas listed above. During the second week, I handed out images of women roughly my students’ age. Below the image of the woman her name was printed. The students were given the task of uncovering her story, and then they were asked to reflect and imagine sitting and talking to the woman, on a plane, in an effort to inspire empathy.

Hashra Khatun

Hashra Katun

The exercise was called “an exercise in empathy”. In our third week we, after researching as a group “workplace ethics” developed a “fashion worker manifesto” geared at college fashion workers: fashion interns, design assistants, buying assistants and sales associates. I offered up a series of manifesto statements:

  1. I believe…..
  2. I want to live in a world where…
  3. If there is one thing I know
  4. The fourth was a wild card, some piece of lived advise……

You can find the student blog here. It is very much in progress and I cannot promise correct edits or spelling at this point in the semester. If you can take in the idea of a free form lab experience and how that might push your student to do or think differently, that is what I hope my post this week inspires.

The tumblr can be found here: http://210lab.tumblr.com/manifsto

Please look back during the semester as we will be adding to it. The site will be proofread and optimized in December.

Do you use free form activities or capture actions via blogs in your class. How do you do it? What are your outcomes? I would love to hear from you! Happy Teaching!

(all images sourced online)

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A Postcard from Abroad: Autumnal Activities in London

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 MuseumWomen 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 livesWomen 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

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Back to School: Top Five Research Resources

It’s September, which means back to school!  There hasn’t been a single year when I am not completely preoccupied by what to wear on the first day of class.  Crafting and presenting my socio-intellectual-professional identity becomes a full-time project from the end of August until the start of term.  Taking the time to equip myself sartorially was always a helpful way to manage the uncertainty and anxiety of unknown classes, unfamiliar teachers and unforeseen changes amongst friends last seen before the summer break. As an adult, working out what to wear at this time helps me to get in the mood for teaching, moving away from the breezy feel of holidays towards a more disciplined aura manifest in the lace up shoes, sombre tones and heavy fabrics of my September wardrobe.

Yet, preparing to return to our studies means brushing up on our books as well as our winter warms.  So, to get ready for this academic year, I wanted to highlight my top five online fashion/textile/clothing resources that any budding scholar or thinker could add to their academic outfit and we don’t already feature here on Worn Through.

First up is the Fashion Research Network, a collaborative project developed by PhD students from the Royal College of Art and the Courtauld Institute of Art and set up in 2013 “in response to their own experiences of navigating the networks already open to fashion researchers.”  Not only does the website promote early career researchers but it is one of the few websites that attempts to bring all the various strands of fashion research together into one space, where conferences and courses can be browsed simultaneously.

Second up is the University of Brighton’s listings of dress collections in museums put together by Prof Lou Taylor and Dr Charlotte Nicklas in July 2011.  This comprehensive list offers fashion researchers a wealth of information concerning dress/textile collections in the South, South East and South West of England.

In third place is the Vintage Fashion Guild ‘s Label Resource, which enables those with an interest in history and clothes to begin tracing the retail lineage of loved garments through their labels.  Although this resource is aimed at vintage buyers and sellers, the information provided is fascinating for anyone who has ever wanted to know more about the story of their worn clothes.

Taking fourth position is Behind the Seams, Vice Magazine’s collection of fashion and dress documentaries. Online access to interesting leftfield films about apparel, particularly from a global perspective, is not easy which is why this site is so valuable.  I only wish that films were added more frequently, thereby building upon this unique archive.

A still from Bulletproof Fashion, a Behind the Seams film about Bogata’s tailoring industry which specialises in protective clothing for bodyguards and UN officials

My last choice is Documenting Fashion, a dress history blog set up by Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress and Textiles, and students studying textiles and dress at the Courtald Institute of Art in London in 2013.  This collective approach to writing about dress and fashion provides a good model of academic research whereby both student and teacher’s interests inform one another’s work within a public information forum.

If you know of any other online resources that you would like to share with our community, please do let us know via the comments below.  Alternatively, if you have an idea for something that does not currently exist, we would love to hear from you!

(Top image is a collage by Alexis Romano taken from the Documenting Fashion website)

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From the Archives: Parisian Insights: Ballet and Fashion

During the summer, I read about the New York City Ballet’s fall gala that will feature five ballets staged by five choreographers, each working in collaboration with different fashion designers. Thus Peter Martin will work hand in hand with Carolina Herrera, Liam Scarlett with Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, Troy Schumacher with Thom Browne and Justin Peck with Mary Katrantzou. In addition,  a pre-existing piece by Christopher Wheeldon will feature costumes designed in 2012 by Valentino Garavani. Such different aesthetics and styles!

While we wait to discover the beautiful costumes on the 23rd September, I thought I could share again my post about the relationships between ballet and fashion designers.

During one of my lazy and cosy Sunday press reading, I came across two news that immediately caught my eye: Riccardo Tisci has designed the Opéra Garnier’s actual show, the  Boléro’s costumes and Azzedine Alaia imagined the choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj’s latest touring spectacle’s costumes, inspired by the One Thousand and One Nights, Les Nuits.

Ballet and fashion are certainly two of the most delectable pleasures of my personal life: when both meet, I am thrilled. I highly appreciate Riccardo Tisci’s work but what mostly seduces me here is the evocation of the sublime Boléro which is certainly the tune that most makes me shiver. I was also curious to discover what the Italian designer would propose after he had imagined Rihanna’s latest tour stage outfits: two parallel worlds united by costume design…

Concerning Alaia’s contribution to Les Nuits, I must admit that, this time, the simple allusion to the designer’s name is enough to seduce me: I am an enthusiastic fan of the couturier.

My earliest encounter with ballet costume design is a personal experience: my first important ballet show, at the age of 7. I started practising ballet very young and I was a rigorous pupil what made me part of the Parisian antenna of the Royal Academy of Dance: foolish pride! For our first major show, we were little mice and I can recall the absolute pleasure of putting on the exquisite and precise outfit the costume designer had imagined. The spell was cast: I had become a real mouse! This anecdotal souvenir makes me realise how important costumes are, not only for the spectators but also for the dancers themselves. Just like actors do, a dancer entirely becomes the character just by dressing up. As an adult, today, I can also appreciate the clear reference to ‘le petit rat de l’Opéra’: the common and charming name given to the prestigious school’s students.

Le Train Bleu costumes by Coco Chanel. Copyright: Victoria and Albert Museum Collections.

By investing the world of stage, these fashion designers pursue a long tradition that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. When Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes arrived in Paris, in 1909, the art of costume design is renewed: the creative avant-garde gets its hands on what was until then the privilege of stage costume specialists. From the late 19th century, fashion houses and couturiers had already provided clothes for leading actresses. However, in 1924, Coco Chanel will be the first fashion designer to imagine proper costumes (fancy knits) for a show, the now iconic, Le Train BleuArtists and couturiers have now wholly integrated the world of theatre, ballet and opera.

In 1965, a significant partnership is demonstrated by  Yves Saint Laurent’s designs for Roland Petit’s Notre Dame de Paris. Today, Christian Lacroix and Jean Paul Gaultier are certainly the most prolific contributors to costume design.

Other fashion designers also try their hands on this particular discipline, like Valentino who, in September 2012, created 16 original designs for the New York City Ballet’s Fall Gala.

New York City Ballet Fall Gala. Copyright: Paul Kolnik

Even the eccentric Belgian designer, Walter Van Beirendonck (I mentioned in my post about the Fashion Monster’s exhibition) was asked to design costumes for the Opéra Garnier forSous Apparence at the end of 2012.

The Boléro was composed in 1928 by Maurice Ravel who conceived a repetitive and mesmerizing tune with a progressive crescendo. The 2013′s version of the ballet is choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet who, alongside the popular contemporary artist Marina Abramovic, in charge of the scenography, and Riccardo Tisci, highlight the obsessive feel of this music. The ballet evokes a trance with a magnetic and kinetic centre that entraps the dancers. The space is blurred and dancers twirl in an organised chaos just as the repetitive and intense tune of the Boléro does.

Bolero. Copyright: Agathe Poupeney/ Opéra National de Paris

Riccardo Tisci imagined  multi-layered nude tulle catsuits embroidered with ivory lace that forms a skeleton. The layers are shed during the dance like flowers loosing their petals, emphasising the cycle of life and the near coming of death. This encounter between nudity/the skin and the skeleton evokes an ambiguity between life and death. The costumes therefore emphasize the choreography’s narrative.

Bolero. Copyright: Agathe Poupeney/ Opéra National de Paris

 It is not Azzedine Alaia’s first experience as a costume designer: he had already imagined outfits for Carolyn Carlson in 1996 (I, unfortunately, have found no significant text nor images about this collaboration). This year, he is in the centre of two projects. Angelin Preljocaj’s Les Nuits ballet and the opera, The Marriage of Figarofor which he designed costumes (with many knitted pieces, dear to the couturier’s predilection) that has just ended playing at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Alaia chose to make the characters dress up on stage. Figaro arrives with a bare chest and wearing his trousers while a barefoot Suzanne wears a silk slip. This choice brings an effective touch of reality and intimacy to the performance. 

Les Nuits. Copyright: Jean-Claude Carbonne

For Les Nuits, he created rather customary costumes: fluid dresses and skirts and body clinging catsuits and vests. If I were a professional dancer, I would surely be 100% confident in having Alaia design an ensemble for me. He has such a precise knowledge of how to embellish women’s bodies while promising much comfort, he is surely an excellent costume designer. 

Les Nuits. Copyright: Jean-Claude Carbonne

Designing a ballet costume requires to think of the body and its movements more than fashion demands. Another significant point is to never forget about the dancing partners: a misplaced ornamentation can scratch or even hurt! I still practice ballet today and I know how important it is to feel comfortable and free in one’s moves.

Even if a fashion designer introduces his own style, he has to adapt himself to particular and common odds: dancers are not models and their bodies and moves are material designers are not always used to. Costumes must act like a second skin.

Ballet costumes can adopt multiple aspects: they can be purely decorative (yet dazzling) like the traditional tutus tend to be or minimalist when they take the form of nude catsuits or fluid dresses. Still, some costumes succeed in telling a story, becoming part of the narrative and a significant element of the choreography.

Moreover, some choreographers assume to let the costume deny, refine or add reflection to the writing of their dancing moves. The costume can, therefore, suggest new volumes, new lines, extend or hinder the body…These choices encourage the dancers to move in a different way and provoke a new language while their bodies reveal a stimulating stress.

An interesting example illustrating such a reflection is the 1997 collaboration between Merce Cunningham and Rei Kawabuko. For the choreographer’s Scenario ballet, the designer imagined costumes inspired by her notorious Body Meets Dress/Dress Meets Bodycollection. The choreographer asked for padded and irregular designs that altered the dancers’ balance, moves and relationships to the environmental space. This is a fabulous example of the deliberate impact of costumes on the spectacle.

Scenario. Copyright: Jacques Moatti

Finally, a fashion designer can be importantly inspired by his work on a ballet. When in 1991, Issey Miyake imagined the 400 pieces of William Forsythe’s creation, The Loss Of  Small Detail, he desired to create garments that would perfectly marry the dancers’ moves while composing unexpected volumes and ingeniously and gracefully coming back in shape after various moves and jumps. The future Pleats Please line was born!

Fashion designers’ take on ballet costume design is an extensive theme and it features various concepts. In general, fashion designers fulfil their role with much effectiveness and they can count on the dancers and their creative colleagues to advise them and reach a common, successful goal. However, some collaborations seem to meet with less success in particular when fashion designers tend to disguise the dancers. Thus, dance costume design is a singular discipline that emphasises one question: can all fashion designers be costume designers?

 

Further Resources:

 When I was at l’Ecole du Louvre, I enjoyed a seminar at the CNCS that is the National Stage Costume Museum of France. It is a worldwide unique example where all the costumes from the Opéra Garnier, the Comédie Française and the Bibliothèque Nationale are conserved. I can only suggest you visit this beautiful museum (in the middle of nowhere, in Moulins) if you get the chance to come to France.

The V&A Museum website has interesting content about dance costume design.

L’Opéra National de Paris presents a well illustrated virtual exhibition.

There is an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, exploring Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes adapted from the V&A’s 2010 show.

And the National Gallery of Victoria, in Australia, just ended the presentation of Ballet & Fashion.

Noisette, Philippe. Couturiers de la Danse. Paris: Editions de la Martinière, 2003.

Kahane, Martine, Lacroix, Christiand and Pinasa, Delphine. Christian Lacroix Costumier. Paris: Les Editions du Mécène, 2007.

Kitamura, Midori and Miyake, Issey. Pleats Please. Berlin: Taschen, 2012.

Saillard, Olivier. Jean Paul Gaultier/Régine Chopinot – Le Défilé. Paris: Les Arts Décoratifs, 2007.

Marsh, Geoffrey and Pritchard, Jane. Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929. London: V&A Publishing, 2010.

Bell, Robert. Ballets Russes: The Art of Costume. Canberra: National Gallery of Australia: 2011.

 

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CFP: Costume Society of America 2015 Panel: Teaching Fashion History

This is a call for participants for a panel about teaching fashion and costume history/studies for the 2015 annual meeting of the Costume Society of America (to be held in San Antonio from May 27-30, 2015; find the general CSA CFP here.)

Issues which panelists might consider (but are by no means limited to) include:

-The role of material culture in academic fashion history/studies classrooms (how can we best incorporate textiles and costumes into class work and assignments);

-Collaborating with fashion scholars outside of the academy (working with museum scholars and drawing on museum resources—both virtual and physical—in one’s teaching);

-The digital fashion classroom (drawing on databases and other online resources in teaching fashion studies, and the challenges and opportunities involved in doing so);

-Theoretical and pedagogical issues in teaching fashion history/studies (how to bring art, communication, and design theories into the classroom, how to craft effective and engaging assignments in fashion studies classrooms, etc.

-Challenges in fashion history and studies teaching (confronting student stereotypes about fashion culture, having students work with sources across multiple disciplines within the same classroom, etc.)

Please send any queries or proposals to Holly Kent at hkent3@uis.edu by Friday, September 19th.

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On Teaching Fashion: Go Time!

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My syllabus is printed; my lectures (for the first 5 weeks) are complete. I have a detailed timeline and a daily agenda that breaks my three-hour lecture into manageable sections. Seemingly organized and straightforward, my teaching has a way of always seeping into the time I set aside for my writing and research every semester. There it goes, again! All the great work I thought I would do with all the “free time” I imagined I had. I am trying something new this semester. I am apart of a peer “faculty success” support group offered by my University based on the good work Kerry Ann Rockquemore has done with her Faculty Success Program, based on her amazing book The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure-Without Losing Your Soul, this book is professional development tool useful for any junior faculty.

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The book covers her program in detail, you can actually go through an online live program with other faculty. I want to share resources and tips that are on her website that are free! In looking forward to my semester (with a full class load, several articles and design projects, a toddler, a house re-model,….the list could continue….) I am determined to make my time mine! I am going to offer a few tips that all of us with scholarship aspirations (tenure-track, non-tenured, adjunct, freelance scholar) can benefit from, with pre-planning and a little soul searching.

  1. Sign up for The Monday Motivator.

According to the website: The Monday Motivator is a weekly e-mail message that provides an electronic dose of positive energy, good vibrations, and a weekly productivity tip. The purpose of the weekly message is to reinforce the core ideas presented in tele-workshops and provide support for individuals who are making the transition from graduate student to professor.

Beyond the Monday Motivator the website is a wealth of resources, many free. I suggest also looking into seeing if your school or University has programming with or similar to the faculty success program.

  1. Rockquemore, in her book, discusses effective teaching methods and reflects on how many of us over prepare, spending far to long on class preparations. She suggests spending a set time of two hours each week on teaching prep. Also, she recommends embedding a method of daily writing (at least 30 minutes a day) into your weekly routine. This is where the peer mentoring comes in as accountability. The key is to build scholarship time into your calendar as you would a class and do not give it up for any reason. Finally, she offers a list on how to say NO, as to not fill up your precious time with all manner of obligations.

“That sounds like a great opportunity, but I just can not take on any additional commitments at this time”

Or

“I am not the best person for this, why don’t you ask _______________”

Or my personal favorite:

“No”

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Creating space for scholarship is essentially an organizational task. The book discusses ways to organize visually by color coating folders labeled with “teaching” “service” and “research” for fast recall. There are many truly helpful organizational gems regarding how to create a productive workspace that I hope (after I implement said gems) will assist me in managing my time and space better.

Beyond being uber organized about your classes, how might you embed time to accommodate your precious scholarship this semester? What are your goals and how can you achieve them simultaneous to negotiating the deluge that is teaching, advising, service and life. What tips can you offer for other Worn Through readers? Good luck and Happy Teaching! Happy Scholarship as well!

All images sourced online.

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Book Review: Writing Fashion in Early Modern Italy by Eugenia Paulicelli

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The sartorial splendor described in Eugenia Paulicelli’s Writing Fashion in Early Modern Italy seems cut from a Tim Burtonesque wonderland—perfumed horses, courtesans draped in yellow veils, “gigantesses” perched precariously on mammoth chopines and sleek, black-clad courtiers crossing a Venetian square with graceful nonchalance. It’s a cinematic world, the inhabitants ever so conscious of their visual impact and driven by, as the author explains, “the awareness of making and molding one’s own identity…according to an external, public gaze.”(62)

But, as Paulicelli makes clear in this excellent, thoroughly researched text, the self-consciousness of these early modern Italians was merely a reflection of much greater underlying themes. The evidence (and the author) clearly establishes that beneath the practiced “naturalness” of sprezzatura, serious attention was being paid to serious issues. There was the question of national identity during a politically unstable time. Who was an Italian or, more specifically for this study, what did an Italian look and act like? “And, then, a new quandary: what to make of this emerging idea: la mode? Was fashion an expression of freedom or one of immorality and deception? What, by god,could be made of this new generation of men touched by “the contagious infection” of fashion? (205) Finally, there was the “problem” of women: feted and adorned, perhaps, but also trapped in the tyranny of a society that denied them access to intellectual and civic life. Some were beginning to take a stand.

Paulicelli charts early modern sensibilities through close examinations of seminal texts, including Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, costume books by Cesare Vecellio and Giacomo Franco, the work of the neo-feminist nun Sister Arcangela Tarabotti and of the moralist Agostino Lampugnani. It’s a lively selection of sources, which she puts to rigorous use through illuminating quotations as well as generous inclusion of other contemporary and early modern sources. We get, for example, not only Castiglione’s words on sprettazura, but snippets of a somewhat truculent letter he penned to his mother. Send me that velvet cape, he chides, otherwise, “If I go [to Rome] I will have to wear my old cloak with fur, which is worn out. Do you think this is a decorous dress to be worn in the company of so many gentlemen?”(67)

While she touches on a great many objects important to the early modern wardrobe—for example, gloves, armor, wigs, the guardinfante (farthingale), textiles, the codpiece—Paulicelli does this through the lens of cultural attitudes and technological advances. The guardinfante, a relatively recent import from Spain, gets a particularly caustic attack from Lampugnani, who recounts tales of prisoners escaping by hiding under a woman’s skirt, miscarriages and “malformed children” caused by its “iron devices”—and, if that isn’t bad enough, social improprieties: “women could easily rest their elbows and hands on them and use them as a little table on with to put their snacks.” (216-17) It’s ironic, then, that Lampugnani, with his blatant mistrust of fashion, was the first to use the word moda in his text La Carrozza da nolo, ovvero del vestire e usanze alla moda.

Of the most inspiring chapters was that which described Sister Arcangela Tarabotti. Although she was forced to take the veil by her father, in truth, nobody could shut her down. “I cut my hair,” she wrote, “but I did not uproot my feelings. I reformed my life, but my thoughts, like my hair, the more they are cut the more they grow, continually multiplying.” (186) From her guarded Catholic confines, Tarabotti fearlessly attacked the male patriarchy and society’s double standards. She spoke out for women’s intelligence and against the male tyranny that restricted the lives of women. And her voice was clear and unabashedly angry. “What else is it but ingratitude when that country under the special protection of the Virgin Mary, that country which once triumphed against the uprising of Baiamonte Tiepolo by means of a woman, finds itself engaged in degrading, deceiving, and denying liberty to its own young girls and women more than any other kingdom in the world?” (179) From her austere religious surroundings, she composed “the first in-depth, sustained response to the long tradition of polemics on female luxury.” I was grateful for the introduction to this early modern firebrand.

I write too much—for, in truth, it’s impossible to address the myriad of issues, attitudes and details that Paulicelli has expertly compiled in this text. Just put this book in your hands. In fact, I’m going to read it again, without you, my audience for this assignment, in my head…just me and the luxury of yellow-veiled courtesans, giagantesses on chopines, sleek couturiers, perfumed horses and early angry feminists.

 

Writing Fashion in Early Modern Italy by Eugenia Paulicelli is available through Ashgate Press.

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