Django Unchained, 2012, Courtesy of Visiona Romantica, Inc., The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures & The Motion Picture Academy
Rather unusually for fashion exhibitions, it’s going to be a busy autumn.
For the first time in seven years, The Metropolitan Museum‘s Costume Institute is opening a fall exhibition on October 21, 2014 (Press Preview, October 20). Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire will be open through February 1, 2015 and “will explore the aesthetic development and cultural implications of mourning fashions of the 19th and early 20th centuries.”
Also in New York, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe opens today, September 10, at The Brooklyn Museum. “From the high platform chopines of sixteenth-century Italy to the glamorous stilettos on today’s runways and red carpets, the exhibition looks at the high-heeled shoe’s rich and varied history and its enduring place in our popular imagination.” The exhibition will be open until February 15, 2015.
Opening November 15, 2014, Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile will be on view until August 16,2015 at the Chicago History Museum.
Here in California, the FIDM Museum‘s 8th Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design exhibition is entering its final weeks, closing on September 20. Their other exhibitions, International Inspiration: The Donald and Joan Damask Collection at the Orange County campus, and the Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection at the main campus downtown will be up until November 1.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in addition to their Kimono for Modern Age exhibition which is up until October 19, 2014, Art Deco Textiles is also up and will be on display until February 22, 2015.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presenting the exhibition, Hollywood Costume, at the Wilshire May Company building in Los Angeles – the future site of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The building is right next door to LACMA. The exhibition will be the final showing of the Victoria & Albert’s Hollywood Costume, but expanded to include costumes from The Hunger Games and Django Unchained. The exhibition will be on view from October 4, 2014 until March 2, 2015.
It is also symposium season! Three regions of the Costume Society of America will be holding their annual symposia in the next few weeks. Starting with the Midwestern Region on September 26 & 27, followed by the Northeastern Region on September 28. The Western Region‘s symposium — where I will be giving a paper, myself — will be happening October 10 through 12. Be sure to follow the links to see the schedules and paper topics for each one.
As always, if there is an exhibition or event happening in your area or your institution that you think Worn Through readers should know about be sure to let me know either in the comments or by emailing me!
Nothing like some Tyvek booties to complete your installation outfit…
Photo by Pete Smith
For the last week we’ve been installing costumes for the just-opened exhibition, The Making of Gone With the Wind, at the Harry Ransom Center. While our installation is small, (five costumes within the larger exhibition of other materials), they are voluminous, fragile, and pose many display challenges.
During this time I was reminded of this hilarious post from staff at the Museum of London, “Things they don’t teach you at curator school.”
Many of you may have already read this, but if you have or haven’t, please enjoy again or enjoy for the first time! And good luck with your fall exhibitions, everyone!
The Costume Society Symposium in London
Friday 3 – Sunday 5 July 2015
This symposium theme is The Power of Gold. This is intentionally wide-ranging and offers many possibilities for papers which could focus on any aspect, period or geographical area in relation to dress and appearance. Papers are welcomed which interpret the theme imaginatively through different approaches and issues, drawing on interdisciplinary research based on garments and accessories, jewellery, photography, film, literature, and archives.
Subjects could fall within the following headings:
•The power of the use of gold in fashion and dress – issues of status, symbolism and cultural meanings, ranging for instance from fashion for beach and sunbathing to the power of golden jewellery
•Fashion’s fascination with gold – couture from its 19th century origins to the 21st century
•The power of gold in ceremonial and religious dress – the use of gold fabrics and embroidery in court dress in Europe or Asia, or ecclesiastical vestments from Opus Anglicanum to the present day
•Gold in fancy dress, theatre and film costume
•Golden fabrics – manufacturing techniques, design, status and consumption, such as 18th century silks to gold and metallic fabrics in the 1920s and 1930s
Papers are welcome from academics, collectors, curators, designers, research students, and independent scholars. Papers, with the exception of those by keynote speakers will be of 30 minutes duration with illustrations by PowerPoint.
Deadline: Those wishing to offer papers should submit an abstract of about 200 words with a short CV by 23rd October 2014 in WORD (no formatting). All submissions will receive replies by January 2015.
Abstracts and CVs should be sent to email@example.com
Submissions will be considered by a committee from the Costume Society Executive Committee.
The Society regrets that it is not possible to pay for expenses in the preparation and presentation of a paper, or for travel to the Symposium.
The Society offers a bursary for a student to attend the Symposium – details can be found on our website costumesociety.org.uk
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)
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.
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 Bleu. Artists 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, September 19th.
This week’s You Should Be Reading column takes a look at the future of fashion through the lens of technology: what sorts of new advances in fashion design and consumption will be possible over the next decade or more? This is an interesting question when we consider the exponentially fast pace of tech developments in today’s world. And while many of these developments started with different applications in mind, the fashion world has used its inherent ingenuity to tweak such developments for its own purposes. We are the lucky consumers who benefit from such research. What does the future hold? These four recently published articles give you some idea. Enjoy!
1. Blázquez, M. (2014). Fashion shopping in multichannel retail: The role of technology in enhancing the customer experience. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 18(4), 97-116.
The difficulty of translating the in-store experience to the online environment is one of the main reasons why the fashion industry has been slower than other sectors to adopt e-commerce. Recently, however, new information technologies (ITs) have enabled consumers to evaluate fashion online, creating an interactive and exciting shopping experience. As a result, clothing has become the fastest-growing online category of goods bought in the United Kingdom. This trend could have serious consequences for brick-and-mortar stores. The aim of this quantitative research is to gain a better understanding of multichannel fashion-shopping experiences, focusing on the role of IT and the crossover effects between channels. In particular, the author explores the influence of the level of online experience on the perceptions and motivations of fashion consumers when they buy across multiple channels. The theoretical framework of hedonic and utilitarian shopping values is applied to measure consumers’ shopping experiences and shopping motivations to buy in different channels. The results from a quantitative survey of 439 consumers in the United Kingdom suggest the need to redefine the in-store shopping experience, promoting the use of technology as a way to create an engaging and integrated experience among channels. Retailers must think in all channels holistically, boosting interactive and new technologies for the Internet and taking advantage of all touchpoints with the consumer, including mobile devices and social networks. — Paraphrased Article Abstract
2. Gilgen, D., & Frankjaer, T. R. (2014). From wearables to soft-wear: Developing soft user interfaces by seamlessly integrating interactive technology into fashionable apparel. Design, User Experience, and Usability. User Experience Design Practice, 8520, 253-260.
The development of electronic features for use in apparel has advanced rapidly in recent years, and applications in athletic wear have been particularly successful. However, ‘Smart Fashion’ has not yet been integrated into everyday garments. In this paper the authors propose a new approach to the design of interfaces in Smart Fashion, which they refer to as the Soft User Interface (SUI). The ways in which e-textiles physically convey information differs greatly from traditional ways in that information is communicated via graphical user interfaces on computers, smartphones or on WearComp devices. As a result of their research, the authors advocate the use of iconic and indexical signs for Smart Fashion as these are widely accessible and understood. As an extension to this new interface paradigm, they expect that the harvesting of biometric data, including bodily gestures, will significantly extend the possibilities of SUIs. – Paraphrased Article Abstract
3. Nosu, K., & Ikeda, M. (2014). A preliminary analysis of item-selection behavior of Japanese female university students examining a 2D virtual fashion web site. IEEJ Transactions on Electrical and Electronic Engineering, 9(5), 569-571.
E‐commerce is spreading into various fields in our daily lives as a result of the growth of interactive Internet communication technologies. Two‐dimensional computer graphics (2D CG) image presentations, which are simple and inexpensive, can be displayed directly on apparel e‐commerce sites. This study uses sequential pattern mining to analyze the item‐selection behavior of Japanese female university students examining a 2D virtual fashion Web site. It is found that most users did not initially examine their favorite category items; instead, they examined the commonly viewed items first, and then examined various other fashion items before making their final selection. – Full Article Abstract
4. Sohn, M., & Bye, E. (2014). Exploratory study on developing a body measurement method using motion capture. Clothing & Textiles Research Journal, 32(3), 170-185.
This was an exploratory study on measuring body surface measurement change in motion using a motion capture system. The purpose was to test the reliability of a motion capture system as a new body measurement method, and to investigate body surface measurement changes in motion. Using an optical motion capture system, this study focused on the measurement changes on the back of the body while the subject performed an arm rotation test. The results of this study suggested that the motion capture system can be used as a body measurement method, especially for measuring the body in continuous movement. The results of the body surface measurement change in the arm rotation motion test showed that upper body measurements increased or decreased corresponding to the shoulder joint and scapula movement. The shoulder width (-38.45%), back width (16.08%), and back arc at the armpit (27.69%) exhibited the most change. – Full Article Abstract
Image Credit: stellafluorescent.blogspot.com
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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”
“I am not the best person for this, why don’t you ask _______________”
Or my personal favorite:
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.
I must confess that of the museums in San Francisco, the Legion of Honor is my favourite. As I’ve been going to “the City” my entire life for art exhibitions, that’s saying something. This is partly sentimental — I consider the Legion to be one of the early influences on my becoming a material culturist and dress historian, long before I knew those careers existed — and partially a sheer love for the unique nature of the museum, itself. Architecturally modelled on the Hôtel de Salm in Paris, the Legion lends itself to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco‘s (FAMSF) eighteenth-century art and material culture collections. Among these are the rooms such as the recently restored Salon Dore.
I first learned of the renovation of the Salon Dore by being startled at its and the other eighteenth-century rooms’ being closed off from the public while on a visit to see FAMSF’s Royal Treasures from the Louvre in 2013. The Salon Dore seemed like the perfect way to end the visit. Except that the Salon was being restored in a huge, eighteen-month long project. As I said, the Salon, along with other aspects of the Legion influenced me greatly in my career, so I eagerly anticipated the reopening this year.
According to the FAMSF site discussing the details of the renovation and encouraging visiting, Le Salon Dore is one of the finest surviving examples of French Neoclassical interior architecture in the United States. I can only agree. What’s more, the restoration has given the salon back the intimacy it had previously lost, while still retaining that subdued elegance that first gave the world the concept of “good taste”.
This is not a criticism of the Salon as I first knew it. In 1995, when it was installed at the Legion, the Fine Arts Museums took the bold step of using it as much to display other object of material culture — glassware, etc. — in the spaces between the gilded mouldings we now see as blank wall. This particular display taught me as a young pre-teen the context of objects I might otherwise have misunderstood. However, there are shifts in attitude about display as much in the museum world as there are everywhere else. The more we learn, the more technology advances, all influence how we communicate with our audiences; so while the Salon was almost avant garde in its educational and display in 1995, those same nuances had become as tarnished as some of the eighteenth-century mirrors by 2013.
The restoration was extensive and amazingly well-done. The lighting has been dimmed in the room to preserve that restoration work for as long as possible, and the room positively gleams. It is this lower lighting — mimicking candlelight — that restores the intimacy and eighteenth-century ambiance to the room. The gilding and other objects are meticulously preserved and restored, but of course what caught my attention was the work on the textiles which is almost mind-boggling. I am unsure whether it is the conservationists’ work, or my own increased education as to the beauty of Lyon silk furnishings, or a combination thereof, that made the deep impression on me that it did. I couldn’t remember the colour of the furnishings in the Salon Dore during the restoration despite having visited it every time I was at the Legion since its arrival, now I don’t know how I missed the beautiful sky-blue silks with cream and gold patterning.
The conservation and restoration is not merely to the artwork, but in their presentation. The set up genuinely suggests that at any moment you might witness an eighteenth-century gathering, though that might be influenced by my having met a costuming group in full sacque and robe à la française gowns in the galleries recently. The fault I often found with the Salon and the other rooms is that there was not enough information about them posted within the museum. There would be the tombstone informing me that this was the Salon Dore from the Hôtel de la Trémoille, but nothing much more. This is no doubt due to pre-teen laziness, the internet not being quite what it is now in 1995, and the museum not wanting to damage the Salon itself with placards when it didn’t have the space. The Salon is a room — giving the museum limited space to work with when labelling items displayed since eighteenth-century rooms are not large and they are, as can be seen, rather ornate.
This is where the technological advances come in handy. Thanks to mounted tablets, there is interactive information available to the public where before the museum was limited to what they could transcribe on limited podium tombstones a decade previously. Entire paragraphs about the room, its creation, its restoration, everything are available at your fingertips. FAMSF has never been shy of technology, embracing it in its presentation of the Bulgari exhibition last year (as I discussed in my review), but I’ve never seen what direction they were intending to go in with with permanent displays. This is all complimented by an extensive, well-researched, well-written catalogue on the Salon and the Salon alone. So extensive I’ve not yet been able to give it the complete attention it deserves (lots and lots of fine print — this is what I will be reading on my next vacation, I assure you). Having done my master’s internship working with a private collection of eighteenth-century architectural drawings, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francsico have done a meticulous job of presenting the history and beauty of the Salon.
One debate regarding museum displays that seemed to trouble my master’s instructors was how do you keep a permanent collection on display interesting to the public? I don’t think there is a single answer to that question since each institution and thus each public is different, but with the Salon Dore and the rotation of various sixteenth- through twentieth-century paintings and material culture objects, the Legion of Honor has absolutely figured out its balance. I was able to visit the very portraits by Reynolds and Vigée Le Brun that had captivated me as a child, while seeing new pieces to fall in love with, and being dazzeled by the newly restored Salon Dore.
And they used the images of the restored textile designs as the end papers in the catalogue, in addition to extensive essays on those same textiles. What more could a girl in love with the late eighteenth-century ask for?
The Salon Dore is open to the public every day that the Legion of Honor is open. The catalogue on the Salon’s history and restoration is available in museum shops, and online.
As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and insights in the comments. And if you have any dress or textile history or material culture events happening in your institution or know of any that you would like to be discussed here on Worn Through feel free to email me!