Parisian Insights: Paris 1900

When I first heard about the Paris 1900 exhibition held at the Petit Palais, I must admit I was quite immediately excited about it. Not knowing anything about it, something inside me believed I would love it and I wasn’t disappointed. For those of you who may not know the Petit Palais, it can surely be considered as one of Paris’ loveliest museums with its beautiful Beaux Arts style architecture, decorated with impressive frescos and mosaics.  Housing the city’s fine arts museum, it was specially erected for Paris’ Exposition Universelle in 1900 and thus stands as the perfect location for an exhibition dedicated to that particular time. On the pretext of the International Exhibition, the display introduces visitors to Paris’s splendid and luxurious context during the Belle Epoque. Organized like the Exposition itself, Paris 1900 is organized into 6 sections – 6 pavilions that all highlight the different aspects of the French capital’s cultural and artistic life. The exhibition demonstrates how spectacular this moment in Paris’ history has been, nourished by about 600 pieces (I think I have actually never seen so many artefacts in one space!) that mingle scientific rigor and pure aesthetic pleasure. From oral and social history to official art and innovative design, the display spans this unique cultural moment with a very rich (almost too rich: there is so much to look at) documentation: Mucha posters, letters, models, films by the Lumière brothers, a real metro entrance by Hector Guimard, paintings, sculptures and costumes. The whole within an impressive yet simple scenography.

Julius Leblanc Stewart - Redemption, 1895

Julius Leblanc Stewart – Redemption, 1895

The first section thus immediately brings our attention on the Exposition Universelle itself and all the architectural projects and decors, built or not, that accompanied it. This first part also celebrates the emergence of modernity with electricity, cinematography, the motor industry…that all supported the festivities’ atmosphere.  A triumphant modernity that liberated imagination leading to such projects as the Eiffel Tower, the Petit and Grand Palais, the Alexandre III bridge, metro and railway lines….that enhanced Paris’ splendor as it was at the centre of the world’s attention. The visitor is introduced to the second section dedicated to Art Nouveau by a dancing Loie Fuller filmed by Pathé, in 1900: her innovative choreographies and her sinuous nature-inspired gestures perfectly echo the lines of the Art Nouveau furniture, decors and objects.

Callot Soeurs - 1905

Callot Soeurs – 1905

Not being an exhibition about Art Nouveau, there is no academic approach to the movement within this section, simply a stunning ensemble of artefacts that all highlight the work of the Art Nouveau’s pioneers and put the visitors in the skin of the Exposition’s wealthy art-lovers. Alongside Majorelle furniture, Gallé delicate objects and Lalique precious jewelry, are presented two ‘avant-garde’ costumes that evoke the concept of total art promoted by the movement. These simple white outfits bear very graphic adornments that evoke the stylistic researches of Art Nouveau artists. The third section establishes what an art centre the French capital was with a hanging evocative of classic 19th century museums – that is an accumulation on the wall, all the way up to the ceiling.

Paul Troubetzkoy – La mère et l’enfant, 1898

Paul Troubetzkoy – La mère et l’enfant, 1898

21st century visitors being used to the white cube concept do get quite disoriented as there are many artworks to observe and you have to raise the neck high (and get blind by the spotlights) to be able to look at the highest pieces: I did appreciate the historical reference but it definitely wasn’t very practical. Nevertheless, this room overflowed with incredible works from Auguste Rodin’s sculptures to the Nabi’s almost abstract experimentations, Symbolist disturbing legends and the Impressionist serene landscapes. Strangely, although the selection is clearly eclectic, there is a certain sense of harmony that can be felt, as though, more than reflecting about different artistic movements, the section simply provides an insight into the period’s global creativity.

Tea Gown, 1898-1899

Tea Gown, 1898-1899

The following section highlights the mythic figure of the admired Parisienne and how her persona was greatly built at the turn of the century with the help of the Exposition that brought much of foreigners’ attention on the feminine characters of the city. A contemporary journalist described her as ‘distinguished from other women by an understated elegance appropriate to every circumstance in life. Her characteristics are restraint, good taste, innate refinement and that indefinable something which is unique to her, a mixture of allure and modernism that we call chic.’ Thus the Parisienne rapidly was identified as not only a geographical cliché but more as a chic attitude that could be embodied by elegant duchesses as well as popular ‘midinettes’. The ‘pavilion’ we enter proposes art pieces that evoke the various representations of the Parisienne, will it be through photographies or paintings and mostly with her very own objects – costumes, jewelry and accessories – the whole drawing the picture of a mythified as well as a real woman. The little number of fashion artefacts (all lent by the Musée Galliera) are mostly spectacular pieces such as a lovely tea gown that belonged to the French comedian, Réjane, a majestic cape earned by the Duchesse de Greffuhle and a Redfern ensemble made for Anna Gould.

Evening Dress - Jacques Doucet, 1900

Evening Dress – Jacques Doucet, 1900

The two last sections highlight Paris’ night and entertainment life made of cafés, bals, cheeky cabarets, drama pieces conducted by the iconic persona of Sarah Bernhardt, operas and early experimental films. The dark side of 1900’s Parisian life is supposedly demonstrated with references to morphine and brothels. I must admit I did not find the rendering of Paris’ dark side that dark: the scenography privileged humour and a certain glamour with portraits of the city’s legendary courtesans that mostly leave us thinking that the period was free-spirited and fun rather than glaucous although we do know poverty, absinthe, drugs and prostitution were serious issues. Focusing on the Parisienne part as it enclosed the fashion objects, the exhibition definitely points out to the fact that she was entirely indissociable from the urban environment she evolved in, the reason why tailored masculine-like ensembles popularized by Redfern met with such success as they enabled Parisian women to stroll around  in their city with dark and practical yet elegant outfits – the ancestor of the perfect little black dress! The Parisienne also helped establish the fame of the capital’s couture houses and craftsmanship: the Made in Paris concept becoming highly popular. The display confirms how limited the avant-garde’s influence was – fashion privileged the S shaped silhouettes (although we could say these sinuous forms did resemble that of the Art Nouveau creations) and historical motifs. What disturbed me is how the exhibition has restricted the feminine figure to the ‘frivolities’ of fashion, domestic affairs or to sexual pleasures: I know women did experience such confinements but the art section lacked art pieces made by women as well as I would have wished to see masculine fashion that would have also helped us draw the outlines of the male parisian.

Henri Alexandre Gervex - Une soirée au Pré Catelan, 1909

Henri Alexandre Gervex – Une soirée au Pré Catelan, 1909

In the whole, Paris 1900 illustrates how inventive, spectacular and unleashed the city was, establishing close interactions between art, social and design history. It does not concentrate on precise academic issues nor does it analyse modernity and experimental works but it definitely makes the visitors feel as if they were participating to the Exposition Universelle’s exciting fiesta. I greatly appreciated the fact that fashion was not left out as it does evoke how important this creative discipline was considered within international exhibitions within which they were given special lavish displays: fashion was undeniably part of a whole artistic and cultural context – a partner of high art.

 

Further Resources: The exhibition’s catalogue is very interesting (I did treat myself with it):

Bosc, Alexandra. Paris 1900: La Ville Spectacle. Paris: Paris Musées, 2014.

Rose, Clare. Art Nouveau Fashion. London: V& A Publishing, 2014.

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CFP: In the Context of Change: Approaching Emotions and Objects of Material Culture

XXI IAHR World Congress August 23-29, 2015 in Erfurt, Germany – Dynamics of Religion: Past and Present

Panel: In the Context of Change: Approaching Emotions and Objects of Material Culture

Every text and every material object – from architecture to food – is directly or indirectly related to emotions, either being shaped by emotions, aiming to evoke emotions, or stimulating emotional memories. All religious emotions (take fear of polluted and polluting things as an example) are to a great extent constructs of societies and cultures, and as such subject to historical change.

The panel will explore how emotions and material objects are observed, described, evaluated, assigned roles, and used in strategies of persuasion; and how the ‘regime’, appraisal, control, and display of emotions changes depending on context, communication strategies, historical period, and ‘emotional communities’ (lay people, clergy, deities, members of specific traditions, elites etc.). Which material objects (iconography, clothing, religious art etc.) evoke which emotions in whom? Which emotions are encouraged (and at times exalted), and which are discouraged? These and similar questions will be asked all against the background of change.

The convenor invites contributions from all disciplines of religious studies and related fields of research (e.g., Indian Studies, Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies, Ethiopian Studies, Islam Studies, Jewish Studies). Each panel paper should be limited to 20 minutes. The abstract should be no more than 150 words. The papers may form the nucleus of a follow-up publication.

The following information are asked for:

Academic Title
First Name
Last Name
Home institution/ City
E-mail
Title Paper
Abstract max 150 words
Relevant Literature max 3 titles

Deadline for submission: September 1, 2014 to the panel convenor, Barbara Schuler, and afterwards to http://bit.ly/1kb1kgN; Congress thematic area: Practices and discourses: Innovation and tradition

Panel convenor: Barbara Schuler, Universität Hamburg, Barbara.Schuler@uni-hamburg.de

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You Should Be Watching: Hats!

This month’s YSBW focuses on millinery, taking a look inside the ateliers of two of today’s leading British milliners, Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy.

The first video visits Stephen Jones in his workshop where he discusses his early years in the millinery business, historic references, and why he thinks millinery is still relevant to today’s fashion. The second presents an interview of Philip Treacy as he discusses his process and inspiration.

Bonus video: Deborah Miller of Stephen Jones crafts a Union Jack hat.

 

 

 

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A Postcard from Abroad: UK Endeavours

Six months ago, I started to write for Worn Through as a regular UK contributor and over that period I hoped to not only review London exhibitions and events but also interview people and get out beyond the capital to capture dress and fashion studies further afield.  On reflection, while I think I have achieved the former, the latter has proved more challenging, particularly when teaching full-time in the spring semester.  However, I am excited to say that I will soon share my first interview, featuring Jasleen Kandhari, a textile and art historian specialising in Asian textiles.  So, although it’s taken half a year, I am beginning to fulfil more of my initial brief!

To mark this six month occasion,  I want to highlight a few interesting exhibitions across the country as well as those taking place in my hometown this summer.  It’s nice to be able to stop and take the long view half way through the year before moving forward again.  And I was very inspired by Brenna’s Domestic Affairs posts that provide a brilliant round up of American exhibitions and events.

In commemorating this year’s centenary of the First World War, both the Bowes Museum in Durham and Chertsey Museum in Surrey have displays focusing on clothing and fashion from the era until the end of August.  Interestingly, Bowes Museum have chosen to work with BA Hons Fashion Design and Marketing Programme students from Northumbria University to create an exhibition that not only features clothes worn during the period but also contemporary designs inspired by the times.  I think this is an interesting idea because often historical events can seem very remote to a young audience but by embodying history into clothing design, it is possible to learn about and, perhaps more importantly, empathise with the past.

Opening on 1st August, the fascinating exhibition Eye of the Needle at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford tells the story of  17th century embrodieries through the context of women and girls’ social roles and responsibilities.  Guest curated by Dr Mary Brooks, the exhibition features pieces from the Feller Collection, of which many have never been publicly displayed before.  The exhibition runs until the beginning of October.

Back here in London, there is much to choose from with Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House, Made in Mexico: The Rebozo at the Fashion and Textile Museum, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk at the Barbican and The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A 1945- 2014, all open until August.  In addition, Kensington Museum has a new permanent display, which focuses on how everyday fashions have influenced the dress of members of the Royal Family.  Fashion Rules is on display until summer 2015.

I am impressed by the diversity of approach to dress and fashion studies across these exhibitions – it’s good to see only one focused upon a specific designer!  I am hoping to get to as many as I can over the teaching break.  It would be great to hear your recommendations or experiences of other exhibitions and events taking place this summer in the UK  – just add to the comments below!

Top image: Interior view from Return of the Rudeboy at Somerset House, June 2014.

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CFP: Culture and Commerce in the Asian Traditional, Modern and Contemporary Music Industries

Cultural studies print and online journal Situations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context will be hosting an international conference  on December 12-13, 2014 in Seoul, South KoreaThe aim of this conference is not so much to critique the East Asian contemporary music industries as to empirically analyze them—in terms of their commercial strategies, their creative potential and their range of cultural expression.

Starting in the early 1980s, a variety of popular East Asian musical pop forms began to explore the possibility of breaking beyond their national borders in order to win for themselves new levels of international exposure and influence. Taking their cues from Cantopop and J-pop, these new East Asian popular music forms, drawing on such global trends as Europop and rhythm & blues, reggae and hip-hop, house and techno, soon won for themselves mass followings in North and South East Asia. More recently still, they have begun to reach out to new fan bases in the Middle East, North and South America and Eastern and Western Europe.

The result of this has been an increasingly homogenized set of youth styles and performances and unprecedented levels of profit, overseen by a relatively small network of musical management companies. For example, according to Billboard estimates, “the Korean music industry grossed nearly $3.4 billion in the first half of 2012 … a 27.8% increase from the same period last year.” What is more, these figures belie the actual sums of money being generated. According to CJ E&M, a major Seoul media company, “record sales account for about 40% of the major management companies’ revenue. The other 60% comes from having their stars appear on everything from energy-drink labels to soap operas.” These new pop forms now exist alongside an array of more traditional forms, some of which are also seeking out ways to make their presence felt in the more competitive capital-intensive contemporary pop market.

What is the cultural and commercial logic of these major musical entertainment industries? What can cultural theories say about contemporary celebrity and idol culture? What do we have to say about music and dance performance, cosmetic surgery and diet routines, scandal and gossip, as aspects of wider commercial and cultural management strategies? How have the major musical management companies succeeded in displacing other musical forms from the national imagination? What are the risks and rewards of an increasingly homogenized musical style? How can traditional (trot, enka, pansori) and alternative forms (jazz, blues, punk) best position themselves in a highly capitalized marketplace?

Possible topics of the conference include, but are NOT limited to:

  • The Financial Bases of the Major East Asian Entertainment Companies
  • The Evolution of Girl Groups and Boy Bands (Music, Dance, Image, Marketing)
  • Music Performance: TV, Youtube, Lap Top and Mobile Technology
  • K-Pop Songwriting as Commerce and Creativity
  • The Growing Eroticization of Dance Performance
  • Fads, Trends, Gossip, Scandals: The Making of Pop News
  • Fan Groups, Social Networking, Subcultures
  • J-Pop, K-Pop, Canto-Pop: Fads and Fashions
  • The Role of Impromptu Street and Live Performances
  • Jazz and Blues in the Contemporary Music Scene
  • Traditional and Alternative Musical Forms in a Highly Capitalized Market

Each presenter will offer a 20-minute presentation of a projected 6,000-word academic paper. That presenter will then be invited to take part in a formal question-and-answer session with other panelists and audience members.

Deadline: Abstracts (300 words maximum), full texts or other suitable material must be submitted via email to bk21eng-intl@yonsei.ac.kr by August 15 2014.

Be advised that all accepted participants are expected to turn this initial presentation into a finished 6,000-word paper for possible inclusion in a future issue of our journal, Situations: Cultural Studies in the Asian Context. The deadline for completed papers is November 15 2014. Should you have any questions or require more information, please do not hesitate to contact the conference coordinators, at bk21eng-intl@yonsei.ac.kr.

 

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CFP: Wear Your Nation – Wear Your Utopia?! Clothing, Fashion and Beauty in Historical Perspective

The basic premise that “everybody needs to dress” enables historians to examine to which extent individuals and groups define themselves by means of clothing, fashion and beauty ideals, or whether (and how) they disassociate themselves from these ideals. In short, whether intended by the respective actors or not, (self-)identifications, categorizations, self-images and feelings of belonging can be clarified within this framework.

Did people over the course of history also try to express national, religious or political belonging through their clothes? In these respects, manifestations of power relations can come into focus, whether in terms of the relationship between (state) authorities and individuals or with regard to social stratification, interactions between the individual and the collective, generational differences or gender roles. A historical perspective and a focus on various geographical areas and communities enable us to emphasize the constructed and dynamic nature of concepts of fashion and beauty.

This three-day-workshop, with ample room for discussion, will explore how ideals of clothing, fashion and beauty as categories of analysis provide a new perspective upon historical processes of negotiation in the context of nation-building and during the implementation of social projects and utopias.

It aims for a broad geographical coverage with regard to the contributions. The chronological focus should be on the modern period. The focus lies on both the actors, who determined and shaped the processes of negotiation as to what was considered “fashionable”, and on the analysis of tension in the economic, medial, political and social realms that were the driving forces behind far more visible manifestations.

Clothing, fashion, and beauty should in principle be reflected and discussed as a historical category of analysis. Of interest are, among other things, methodological and theoretical approaches (for instance of visual culture studies, of material culture, performativity, body history, etc.), whose applicability should be examined by using historical case studies.

The workshop will be held in English.

The committee invites researchers to submit abstracts for short presentations (in English), which are connected to the aforementioned topics. The inclusion of historical sources is considered a requirement.

Deadline: A 250 words abstract must be submitted by August 1, 2014 via email to fashionworkshop.dhi@gmail.com.

Participants will be informed by August 15, 2014 about the results.

Costs for accommodation over the course of the workshop and travel expenses (to some extent) of invited speakers will be covered by the organizers.

Funded by the German Historical Institute (DHI) Warsaw and the Institute for the History of the German Jews (IGdJ), Hamburg

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Review: Wedding Dresses 1775 – 2014 at V&A Museum

In The Language of Clothes, the author Alison Lurie suggests that a bride’s preference for a one off all white outfit can be what the earlier costume commentator Prudence Glynn describes as wanting on the one hand “one marvelous, escapist, romantic moment in an otherwise drab life” or, on the other “by wearing archaic dress she is stating her unconscious belief that the ceremony itself is archaic.”[1]

Display featuring the pink background and in the foreground, an ensemble of accessories dating from the early to mid 19th century. www.adorngirl.com

Wedding Dresses 1775-2014, the latest exhibition in the V&A’s wonderful Fashion Galleries, certainly appears to embrace this perceived romance and escapism of what to wear on the special day with its emphasis on a ‘western wedding style’, predominantly British, in sartorial form. Upon entering the exhibition, the visitor finds herself looking at a timeline of white dresses, displayed against pink walls, with curvy fonts highlighting the wonder of weddings as expressed by a range of contemporary cultural commentators. Once on the upper gallery, it is possible to see huge projections of photographs showing the more current dresses on their owners, in-situ, replete with soft focus edges and flowery transitions. This exhibition holds to the ideals associated with a particular normative notion of femininity, where weddings are a bride’s ultimate dream rather than a complex socio-cultural event where ideas and values are negotiated through dress.

Jenny Bishop in Ian Stuart wedding dress, with the exhibition in the background. Victoria & Albert Museum.

Despite there being several outfits on display that make reference to different religious systems, local traditions and economic groups, these often felt like a novel footnote to the main body of text rather than a full paragraph or chapter. The primacy of the ‘western wedding style’ meant that it was hard for me to place experiences such as the double wedding of my Trinidadian neighbour, who celebrated her nuptials in both a Hindi and Christian ceremony, into this exhibition. Similarly, I struggled to find examples of the angst experienced by many brides to be when it comes to finding the one dress, knowing that it is likely not to be worn again. I recall one friend who decided to overcome this challenge by buying a dress for 99p on Ebay while another gave herself only one day to find something to wear, recounting the experience as if it was had been a prison sentence.

Monica Maurice’s red wedding dress, 1938. Victoria & Albert Museum

So, for me, the most interesting outfits were those that were more idiosyncratic because they went some way to demonstrating the complex socio-cultural negotiations that take place around weddings. Take Monica Maurice, for instance.  The first woman to become a member of the Association of Mining Electrical Engineers in 1938 and who decided to wear red for her wedding of the same year to celebrate her love of the colour.  Or Elizabeth King, who had her dress made from furnishing fabric in 1941 as a way to circumvent clothing rations. More recently, imagine the moment when Christopher Breward and his partner James Brook wore suits for their civil partnership in 2006. I also enjoyed the dress worn by Lisa Butcher in 1992, whose literal baring caused her husband to pass judgment on the appropriacy of bridalwear at a wedding.

Suit worn by Christopher Breward in 2006 for his civil partnership with James Brook. Victoria & Albert Museum.

I thought the arrangement and presentation of the dress worn by Margaret Whigham in 1933 was excellent because it was possible to acknowledge the context more vividly with the inclusion of Pathe footage documenting the event. It also provided an early example of the way in which the white one off costume could be completely removed from fashionable dress, which in this case meant having a spectacularly huge train.

I appreciated those outfits where additional contextual information was present, which included photographs, accessories, design sketches and wedding invitations.  It was fascinating to spot a napkin souvenir created by Maud Cecil for her wedding in 1927, drawing our attention to the inherent ephemerality of nuptial occasions. It was also interesting to note that there was very little jewelry on display despite the fact that this can often play an important role in nuptial ceremonies.

Wedding dress designed by Norman Hartnell and worn by Margaret Whigham in 1933. Victoria and Albert Museum

Yet, overall, I found that the chronological approach to this exhibition made for quite a dull experience. Much of the label descriptions were given over to aesthetic references with very little explanation, intimating an art historical approach to understanding objects where prior knowledge is assumed. I find this quite irritating because it not only makes information appear esoteric but it fails to engage the visitor in a more critical dialogue with the objects on view. Interestingly, the aim of Wedding Dresses 1775- 2014 is to demonstrate how fashion has impacted upon the design of wedding dresses from a historical perspective yet in doing so, the one off all white outfit becomes increasingly fetishlike as it moves further away from its various spatial and temporal locations.

I think the exhibition could have extended to asking more reflective questions around the roles and responsibilities of those involved in a wedding. For instance, what do a bride and groom actually do in a wedding? How and why? What other factors play a part in wedding practices? What impact might this have upon their choice of dress?

Ending on a more positive note, the accompanying exhibition blog is very informative because, through curatorial narrative, the nuances of wedding dress design and wear are given more space as the curators move in and out of people’s lives through the chosen objects, forcing them to consider their relationships in a more immediate way than in the actual exhibition. This is most vividly realized when the curators meet with the designer Gareth Pugh and Kate Shillingford, fashion editor of Another Magazine to discuss how she wore his dress on her wedding day. The curator observes how intimate the relationship is between the designer and the client in their negotiation of specific details. I wonder if the exhibition could have benefited from having observations like this or even recordings of those who wore the garments recounting their experiences included as an audio guide to accompany the visitor.

 

REFERENCES:

[1]Alison Lurie (1981) The Language of Clothes London, Heinemann

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CFP: Color in Ancient Global History

Recently the subject of color in antiquity has found a voice and has received considerable attention in scholarship. The reconstruction of ancient monuments and material culture has been one aspect of this discussion. Studies of race and color in the ancient world have also been considered. The subject of color, however, may also be considered from a global viewpoint that addresses world historical approaches and the complex interconnections that exist in trade. Areas such as Mesopotamia, India, Africa, China and the New World may shed light on the subject of color and its importance in ancient times.

This is a call for papers to be published as a collected volume on the subject of Color in Ancient Global History (3000 B.C.- 600 A.D.).

Papers that address the following topics will be considered:

Color as a geographical marker or trope
The manufacture and manipulation of color
The global effect of color production (e.g. Silk Road studies)
Color-term studies in literature, particularly from religious texts
Color and the senses
Color and food
Color and textiles

The volume will consist of 12-15 essays to be published in the next two years.

Deadline: July 15, 2014

Please submit a 250 word abstract with your C.V. to Rachael Goldman via email at goldmanr@tcnj.edu.

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Artists’ Dress and Identity

Many thanks to all those who contributed comments to my last post on academic dress.  The stories about the librarian who challenged her colleagues to reconsider their sartorial presentation in light of public perceptions or the art teachers preference for particular high street clothing stores were both funny and moving, I was also reminded of just how potent dress is as an intended and unintended signifier of our socio-cultural identity.   In addition, I realised that we often fail to inquire further about our relationship with dress as part of a constant construction of everyday appearance.

A self-portrait of my mum, June 2014

A self-portrait by my mum, June 2014

This weekend, I had the important task of supporting my mum, an artist, with her open studio. This not only involved making sure she was fed and watered but it also meant I had time to chat to her about what she wears as a working artist. While I wasn’t surprised to hear that this involves bulk buys of shirts from the Gap for those frequent moments when paint was spilled or ink splattered, I wasn’t expecting to hear that when it came to dressing for exhibitions, my mum is concerned not to overshadow her work by her choice of clothes. In other words, my mum didn’t want to her clothes to get in the way of people looking at her paintings. In sartorial terms, this tends towards a lot of black across minimal, angular cuts of cloth that will probably sound familiar to anyone who has ever been to an art gallery private view. For my mum, the practice of her work is not a feature when it comes to the representation of that work beyond her studio.

Francis Bacon in his 7 Reece Mews Studio, 1974. Photo: Michael Holtz © Michael Holtz Estate. Via Francis Bacon Estate/Facebook.

This is in direct contrast with the way in which the painter Francis Bacon literally impregnated his clothes with the materiality of his studio in an effort to signify his practice beyond the confines of his studio. In London: After A Fashion, Alastair O’Neil describes how Bacon was remembered for bringing a dry cleaned suit back to the studio and laying it out on a table covered in paint and detritus from his work. When a friend moved the suit in an effort to retain its cleanliness, Bacon retrieved the suit only to put it straight back on to the table. O’Neil draws upon Bourdieu’s observation that artists dress in such a way as to divest their appearance of assumed values. In this case, Bacon asserted his artistic identity by inverting the prevailing significance of a suit as something to be protected and maintained.[1]

Yet, as one of my favourite writers about dress, Elizabeth Wilson, points out, my mum’s choice to wear black is also an attempt to oppose the status quo, because we no longer wear it for mourning and so any attempt to wear this colour is instantly at odds with its earlier significance. It is perhaps this fact that has allowed black to be subversively adopted by social groups in an effort to draw attention to economic, political and cultural concerns.[2]

Wilson also suggests that where one’s profession concerns artistic or intellectual pursuits, dress conformity will always be secondary and this might explain why the dress of both artists and academics are often overlooked. It is assumed that clothing just appears upon these people because it has to, not because it wants to be there. However, as the example of my mum and Bacon show here, the way in which artists dress is not a natural phenomenon born out of a disinterest in fashionable dress but rather a carefully ‘raised’ identity that serves to distinguish the artist from both the production and practice of their work.

Lastly, there are so many good exhibitions taking place in London this month that I am having a hard time deciding which one to review for my next post! If you want to hear about any in particular, please do let me know via the comments below. The choices are Wedding Dresses 1775 -2014 (V&A), The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014 (V&A), Return of the Rudeboy (Somerset House) or Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion (Fashion & Textiles Museum). I aim to see them all but be nice to know if there’s a preference for the first review!

 

[1]Alastair O’Neil London: After A Fashion 2007 Reacktion Books (p111)

[2] Elizabeth Wilson Adorned in Dreams 2003 RUP (p189)

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I teach therefore I dress: Fashioning the Academic

I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge the recent passing away of Louise Wilson, the enigmatic course director of MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins This ‘formidable’ professor was known for her passionate but sometimes challenging approach to teaching fashion, which I think is described best by Wilson herself in an interview on ShowStudio in 2012.

I strongly recommend listening to Wilson talk about her own educational experience studying fashion at Central Saint Martins, her views on the shifting political landscape of higher education and the value of studying as a transformative process which can often be a tough journey for both teachers and students.  It was perhaps this last point that meant Wilson was able to push those she taught to find their own voice, as evidenced in an alumnus list that includes Roksanda Ilincic, Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Christopher Kane.

Still from ShowStudio interview with Wilson on 15 February 2012

Watching Wilson in the interview, I was struck by her uniform of black dress, her poise and the steadiness of her hands clasped together.  Her choice of dress was, as Wilson explained in Vogue, a consideration of her scholarly identity as wearing black gave her the opportunity to  avoid being singled out by others.  Conversely, it seems that the decision to maintain a particular uniform also lent authority to her role as tutor/teacher, as well as her strong views on the purpose of education.  This reflection upon the way in which dress can impact upon our role as teacher/educator resonated with a comment I heard at a recent workshop on learning development in higher education when the presented referred to the power of performativity in dress when engaging with students.  Both make a valid point – clothing plays an important role in the negotiation of our various identities, which in this case is our scholarly one, and perhaps it is this recognition that contributed a small role in making Wilson such an inspiring tutor. 

As someone who works across two universities, and who encounters both students and staff in a variety of contexts, I am in constant negotiation with clothing as a way to define both my roles and my responsibilities.  For example, in one university, I am categorised as an academic member of staff who works within an art and design department so I have free rein over how I present myself sartorially.  However, in the other institution, I belong to a senior professional services staff team who support students studying predominantly science and business subjects.  The dress code is more formalised, or uniformed, and for me, the hardest to negotiate in terms of my own educational identity.  Interestingly, there is often no formal dress policy within universities so these signs of uniformity are arguably individually and socially generated.

I am currently developing a research project into the dress of academic staff and would be very grateful for any reading suggestions, theoretical angles, everyday observations or possible volunteers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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