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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Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture and Fashion at the FTM

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For my second summer exhibition review, I went to see Made in Mexico: The Rebozo in Art, Culture & Fashion at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Publicised as a first, this exhibition attempts to consider the rebozo, a shawl worn by Mexican women since the 17th century, through displays that consider historical context, cultural identification with well-known Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo, social functions and the influence on contemporary art and fashion in Mexico today.

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Examples of rebozos made in the 1950s and arranged to evoke the style of Frida Kahlo who wore them often.

Given that the Fashion and Textile Museum is housed in a building designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta and that many of the earlier designs by the museum’s founder, Zandra Rhodes, are inspired by Mexican culture, it is not a surprise to find the exhibition here.

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Here, you can see contemporary rebozo designs by British designers Zandra Rhodes on the right with a white feather screenprint on a cotton rayon mix and on the left, a wool patterned design by Wallace & Sewell

There is certainly a celebratory feel throughout the space as artists, designers and anthropologists display their enthusiasm for the rebozo by providing photographs, films and contemporary interpretations alongside material examples that cover every possible fabric and motif.

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The main room which featured displays of rebozos juxtaposed with art installations and photographs from the Mexican anthropologist Ruth Lechuga (1920 – 2004)

The main room is given over to a dynamic display of these beautiful coverings, demonstrating the diversity of Mexican female society. There is a rebozo here for everyone, from plain to fancy, soft to hard, flat to sculptural, raw to recycled.

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Appliqued cotton rebozo made by Mamaz Collective, a group of women from Tanivet, Oaxaca in 2014. It shows how women wear and use the rebozo in their daily lives.

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A detail from a rebozo owned by Lila Downs, a popular singer-songwriter in Mexico

The rebozo can be made with pompoms, silk, feathers or glass beads. It can be woven from silk, wool, cotton or even constructed out of teabags. A rebozo can be both abstract and figurative, sharing stripy details or offering up appliquéd people. A rebozo can identify you with both a particular region of Mexico and the country as a whole.

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Photographs by Tom Feher of Dominga weaving a rebozo, 2010

There are fantastic images by Tom Feher of women weaving rebozos, such as Dominga, which show how these complex garments are made using a relatively simple back strap loom. Although the practice of wearing these shawls originates from the Spanish conquest and the emphasis on women covering their heads in church, their production is clearly the result of methods developed by earlier indigenous people of Mexico. As a result, the rebozo is an object of interest for collectors, artists and anthropologists as they continually seek to identify its cultural significance.

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Detail of a traditional back strap loom

However, there is another reason for having this exhibition other than having a celebration.  Production of rebozos has gone from involving a third of the Mexican population to less than forty people scattered across the country. And of those left, there are only two who use the traditional back loom while the rest use a foot loom, introduced through colonialisation (1).

The craft of the rebozo is clearly in decline and current generations seem less interested in learning the skills and knowledge required to make these emblematic objects. The display of contemporary art and fashion inspired by the rebozo suggests that their importance is not lost and Mexican designers today are keen to continue indigenous skills and materials.

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An jaspe rebozo jacket designed by Beatriz Russek, 1990

I particularly enjoyed the garments designed by Carmen Rion and Beatriz Russek, known for their collaborations with Mexican indigenous weaving communities and who have created some striking modern designs. While the exhibition highlights the significance of artists re-interpreting the rebozo, the highlight for me was a film of weavers talking about the process of making a rebozo. They described a sense of ‘urgency’ felt when weaving as they became closer and closer to finishing the rebozo and became more and more curious about whose shoulders it might finally embrace. I was transfixed by this narrative as I imagined what it would be like to weave these objects, spending up to sixty days on one rebozo, thinking about who might this shawl belong to one day. Capturing what it feels like to produce something seems critical when inspiring current generations to value and utilise historical skills and knowledge in the future.

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Recent designs by Carmen Rion using the rebozo form to create blouses and skirts

(1) Virginia David and Hilary Steele, The Rebozo: A Mexican Tradition, Fibrearts, vol35 no1 60-1 Summer 2008, p60-61

 

 

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Reader Survey 2014

chk

We would like to encourage our readers to participate in a brief survey about Worn Through. Quite a few years ago we did a similar survey and it helped shape the direction we took the blog.

Here is the link to do the survey

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s brief and would only take a couple of minutes. To keep things quick for you we did not include a lot of open commenting, however, we invite you to add any further comments to this post itself, and after the survey is over we’ll pick one person who commented at random and I will send you a copy of my book Punk Style (it does not have to be a glowing review of the blog to get the book!).

I’ll post this a few times and we’ll wrap it up the first week of September.

Again here is the survey link.

Comments

Reader Survey 2014

chk

We would like to encourage our readers to participate in a brief survey about Worn Through. Quite a few years ago we did a similar survey and it helped shape the direction we took the blog.

Here is the link to do the survey

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. It’s brief and would only take a couple of minutes. To keep things quick for you we did not include a lot of open commenting, however, we invite you to add any further comments to this post itself, and after the survey is over we’ll pick one person who commented at random and I will send you a copy of my book Punk Style (it does not have to be a glowing review of the blog to get the book!).

I’ll post this a few times and we’ll wrap it up the first week of September.

Again here is the survey link.

Comments

CFP: Visible Lives in Material Things: Visual and Material Culture and Irish Cultural History

Chapter proposals are sought for a planned edited volume on visual and material culture and Irish cultural history.

The respective material and cultural turns of the twentieth century have brought a number of disciplines into closer dialogue with one another in their approaches to Irish cultural history. While there has been no consensus on questions of methodology or a shared common purpose, a number of fields have addressed themselves to material objects and visual imagery in their exploration of Irish cultural life outside the dominant themes of economics and politics that have pre-occupied much Irish historiography. The disciplines of archaeology, social anthropology, history, human geography, art and architectural history and literary studies have increasingly incorporated the material forms of artifacts and the pictorial depiction of social life into the broad corpus of cultural texts to be mined for historical evidence of Irish social life.

However, the nomenaclature of “visual culture” and “material culture” to describe the mutual interest in the intersection of physical objects and visual images, have obscured significant methodological and theoretical differences between disciplines that raise questions about the extent to which recent interest in Ireland’s visual and material culture enriches the understanding of social and cultural life. In the rush to rebrand art, design and architectural history as visual and material culture studies in the academy, the formal qualities of material objects, the built environment, artefacts and visual imagery, still dominate the field, and symbolic meaning and authorship remain elevated above questions of agency, utility and circulation. In literary and historical studies material objects and images are largely approached as texts to be “read” as representations of cultural life or “mined” for historical data. Interpreted against the backdrop of history, the ways in which visual and material culture become embedded in social life largely remain unexplored as an avenue to broader the horizon of Irish cultural history.

Differences between visual imagery and material objects as representations of Irish history, and Ireland’s visual and material culture as the “historical”, thus provide different routes into the relations between things, images and the deeper understanding of Irish cultural history. Essays proposals are sought that approach material objects and visual imagery as salient features of Irish cultural history and which prioritise visual and material culture as the historical. Discussions of visual and material culture as providing insights into how everyday Irish life was and is experienced, and how the making of objects and images either through craft based practices and/or technologies express cultural practices and behaviours are especially welcome. Essays that push beyond or incorporate issues of representation with questions of use, circulation, reception, exchange, collection, and visual and material culture as mediating social relations are also welcome. While submissions from all disciplines are encouraged, essays should focus on the ways in which visual and material culture enables and enriches understanding of the intersections of Ireland’s social and cultural history.

Possible topics include but are not limited to;

Souvenir collections (private and public)
Museum artefacts and collections
Household objects
Scrapbooks
Home movies/videos
Printed ephemera
Book collections
Photographs/Photo albums
Slide collections
Clothing
Built environment
Old and new technologies
Themes and approaches include;
Cultures of collection
Cultures of display
Clubs and societies
Gender and womens lives
Exhibitions
Biographies of objects
Migration and exchange of objects and images
Consumption
Circulation of object and images
Oral histories
Sensory Experiences
Ethnographies of material and visual culture
Historiography and material and visual culture

Deadline for submission: Proposals of 500 words submitted as a word document together with a brief bio and contact information should be sent to Justin Carville via email to vlmtculturalhistory@gmail.com by September 1, 2014.

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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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