Fashion-Focused Digital Resources: Videofashion Library

This week I’d like to share a review I wrote last year for the ARLIS Multimedia & Technology Reviews. The newsletter, intended for librarians, has highlighted several resources that are relevant to fashion historians. I examined Alexander Street Press’s Fashion Studies Online, an archive of fashion news videos produced by Videofashion starting in the mid-1970s and marketed as a “video magazine.” You may remember the now-defunct Style Network–Videofashion produced half the programming for that TV channel, including fashion shows, profiles of designers and overviews of trends or decades in fashion.

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Fashion Studies Online: The Videofashion Library brings together 1,200 hours of vivid video capturing the many faces of fashion—including nearly 40 years of worldwide fashion shows, designer profiles, documentary segments, and more—into one convenient online learning interface.This collection is the most comprehensive of its kind and features high-caliber content from the archives of Videofashion, the world’s premier provider of fashion video footage. More than 80 percent of the films are exclusive, giving users access to nearly 1,000 hours of footage that can’t be found in any other database. – From the publisher

You can see additional screen shots of the database and read the full review here. A comparable resource, less extensive but free, is Style.com’s fashion show video archive.

Other recent articles of interest in the Multimedia & Technology Reviews examine the Domestic Interiors Database and the Women’s Wear Daily Archive. All three databases are behind a paywall and accessible only through academic institutions, though many libraries accept and even encourage requests for new electronic resources, and Videofashion’s site provides interested parties with a library recommendation form.

Image credit: Alexander Street Press

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Under the London Fashion Umbrella: Video Post — Savage Beauty

Emma is still away, so for this week’s post I will share a video from the V&A’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition which opened in March. The video offers and inside view of the exhibition and features interviews with Claire Wilcox, Katy England, and Shaun Leane.

Have any of you seen Savage Beauty, either in London or New York? What did you think? Have any of you been lucky enough to see both versions of the exhibition? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Parisian Insights: Déboutonner la Mode at the Arts Décoratifs

To be very honest, Déboutonner la Mode (Unbuttoning Fashion) is probably one of the fashion-related exhibitions I was least excited about this season. Not that the subject did not interest me (being obsessed by the fact of looking at garments from behind, buttons surely occupy a prominent place in my passion) but rather was I worried to find its presentation a little boring. Not easy to create an imaginative and dramatic exposition with such tiny accessories! Yet the Arts Décoratifs made a fabulous job in designing a captivating black walled display that not only brings the attention on the buttons as objects of embellishment but also as true artistic and historical works. Another fascinating element of this exhibition is the story that lays behind: that of a collector, Loic Allio whose 3000 button collection is the main actor of the display. With creations by Alberto Giacometti for Elsa Schiaparelli, Hans Arp, Sonia Delaunay, the sculptor Henri Hamm or the jewelers Francis Winter and Roger Jean-Pierre, raging from the 18th century, its age d’or, to the contemporary period (the display is organized in a chronological order), the exhibition is highly eclectic as it testifies of the variety of craftsmen that have lent their talent to button designs. Thanks to many photographies, drawings, paintings but also garments by Paul Poiret, Christian Dior or André Courrèges, the exhibition perfectly contextualizes the creativity and the cultural significancy of buttons as well as their influence on the aesthetic and silhouette of fashion while it helps us link the miniature objects observed within glasses cases to their greater background, thus adding dynamism to the display.

Buttons par Henri Hamm

Buttons par Henri Hamm

The fashion department in the museum always presents its exhibitions on two floors. Here, the first floor ends with the 1910 decade and shows how buttons had become a luxurious and social adornment item during the 18th century – they then responded to strict rules that defined their position on the garment as well as their making – but also the means of political propaganda during the French Revolution – a fantastic example resides in a button garnished with the depiction of a slave and bearing the words: ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’. In the 19th century, buttons become more discreet and practical thanks to the industrial revolution. Buttons feature various sizes and colors and appear on almost every fashion item: from lingerie to shoes.

Women Garments in the 19th century display

Women Garments in the 19th century display

With the early 1910s and the Art Nouveau Movement, buttons bear a precious identity again as they are created by artists and jewelers. From social objects, they become decorative naturalistic works and adornments that families adoringly keep in jewelers boxes and pass on to future generations. Paul Poiret emphasizes their importance, believing that knowing where to place them on garments answers ‘a secret geometry that is the key to beauty’. On the second floor, we enter the Art Deco aesthetic of the 1920s while French great couturiers collaborate with gifted craftsmen to design the exquisite buttons of their creations – Madeleine Vionnet accompanied her bias cut dresses with buttons that enhanced the fluidity and asymmetry of her aesthetic – and eccentric designers such as Elsa Schiaparelli dare to collaborate with avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, Hans Arp or Salvador Dali. With World War II, buttons convey noble political messages and symbols again while postwar haute couture uses delicate creations – Christian Dior adds narrative to his garments with buttons while Cristobal Balenciaga believes that a perfectly calculated amount of buttons sculpts the entire structure of his designs – and emerging ready-to-wear associates its minimalist identity to graphic and geometrical buttons.

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937

With the 1980s, zippers become the norm and the use of buttons has since declined but such designers as Jean Paul Gaultier or Yves Saint Laurent who believed that buttons are the precious stones of clothing, prove to cherish those fragile adornments when they install them at the centre of their creations’ embellishment.

While there is something incredibly familiar with buttons as they belong to our everyday existence, as they have accompany us from the learning of fastening our childhood clothes to that of the sensual gesture of unbuttoning one’s garments during a romantic encounter, with this exhibition we observe how much they have been and are the allies of elegance and ornamentation, building the cut of a garment and thus structuring the silhouette. Today as they have become most often minimalist and almost invisible on our contemporary everyday clothes, they nonetheless are the agents of technical innovations and history.

 

Exhibition held at the Arts Décoratifs until 19th July 2015

Further Resources:

Take a look at Tove Hermann’s post about buttons enemies: zippers

The exhibition’s catalogue: Belloir, Véronique. Déboutonner la Mode. Paris: Les Arts Décoratifs, 2015.

Allio, Loic. Boutons. Paris: Seuil, 2001.

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CFP: Women, Gender and the First World War: Home Fronts and War Fronts

One Day Conference, University of Portsmouth, Saturday October 10, 2015
Venue: Park Building, 5 minute walk from Portsmouth & Southsea station

The Conference organisers welcome proposals for papers on any aspect of the First World War relating to women and gender.

Possible topics may include, but are not restricted to, the following themes:

  • Women and pacifism, peace movements
  • Women and patriotism
  • Women and war work
  • Women and the state/social policy/welfare
  • Women’s wartime writing
  • Women war artists
  • The women’s movement
  • Religion
  • Women and voluntarism
  • Women and domestic life/leisure
  • Women, gender and sexuality
  • Mourning and bereavement
  • Poetry, plays and film
  • Commemoration and heritage

Please submit an abstract of 200-300 words to June Purvis (june.purvis@port.ac.uk) and Lee Sartain (lee.sartain@port.ac.uk) by June 15, 2015.  

Confirmed speakers so far include: Maggie Andrews, Alison Fell and Lucy Noakes.

The Conference is supported by the AHRC funded Gateways to the First World War Public Engagement Centre, the Southern Region of the Women’s History Network and the Centre for European and International Studies Research (CEISR), University of Portsmouth.

It is intended that a selection of the papers will form a Special Issue of the journal Women’s History Review and/or an edited book.

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You Should Be Reading: Chinese Costume

This Thursday marks the opening of China: Through the Looking Glass,  a Costume Institute exhibition at the Met touted as “two and a half times larger than any previous” produced by the Institute. Tonight’s Met Gala red carpet will receive extensive coverage from fashion media, and many outlets have expressed concern that celebrity guests will be unable to dress for the theme without giving offense. In preparation for live streaming this potentially controversial event, or just to further contextualize the range of Chinese aesthetics-influenced objects that will be on display, below are three recent academic articles on historic costumes of China. In an attempt to address broader subjects of costume studies, I chose a conservation study and analyses of patterns and color. If you’re a member of the Met and will attend the exhibition’s preview that begins tomorrow, we’d love to hear what you thought of it in the comments.

1. Chen, Wang. (2014). Conservation Study of Ming Dynasty Silk Costumes Excavated in Jiangsu Region, China. Studies in Conservation, 59 (Supplement), S177-S180.

The article discusses the study into the conservation of damaged silk costumes from the Ming Dynasty from the Jiangsu region in China. Topics include details on the history of the silk production industry in Jiangnan, China, details on the effect of research of the texture of costume fabrics and artifacts on conserving materials scientifically, details on Suzhou Silk Museum of China’s work in conserving Ming dynasty silk costumes, and details on the correlation between the forms and patterns of the costumes and the social class of the people. – Full Article Abstract

2. Yu, Zhang. (2014). The Application of Xinjiang Traditional Atles Silk Patterns in Modern Costume Design. Advanced Materials Research, 1048, 245-249.

The Atles Silk, popular in Xinjiang, China, is a traditional batiked silk rewoven after warp-knot dyeing process, with its pattern as one of distinctive national features. Through arrangement and analysis of its constitution and nature, the author holds that the Atles silk pattern provides abundant elements for designing in terms of modeling, decoration, etc so the research and application of the pattern is significant in modern costume design.  – Full Article Abstract

3. Qu, Xiaomeng. (2012). Study on the Prohibition of the Purple Costumes in Ancient China. Asian Social Science, 8 (8), 134-138.

In ancient China, the color of the costumes was closely related to the social position of its wearer. It was such an intuitive and effective way to maintain the ruling order by distinguishing hierarchy according to the color of the costumes. As one of the important types of costume color in ancient China, the symbolic meaning of the color purple had went through the changes from the humble secondary color to a color representing honorable position. The prohibition on purple costumes had become an important part of the prohibitions in costumes in ancient China. This paper aims to probe into the transmission and changes about the prohibitions on purple costumes in ancient China by listing the regulations on wearing prohibition for its social members in different dynasties.  – Full Article Abstract

Image Credit: metmuseum.org

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On Teaching: Teaching a Fashion Millennial

As the beginning of a new quarter approaches, I find myself preparing for my classes conflicted. A part of me still feels close to my students in age and personality traits.  I remember being in college and how I thought and felt.   Another part of me feels removed.  The conversations and motivations of my students seem very different than how I acted in college.  As this inner conflict arose while preparing for this quarter, I began asking myself new questions; how do I engage these Millennial students? And beyond engagement, how do I actually teach them?

FC Tech Group

Photo courtesy of FC Tech Group.

First we must endeavor to understand a Millennial. According to Michael Wilson and Leslie Gerber (2008), Millennials are sheltered, confident, optimistic, team-oriented and are not internally driven. “Millennials respond best to external motivators… (Wilson & Gerber, 2008, pp.31).” Despite their sheltered upbringing, millennials are international consumers and show concern regarding global issues (Pasricha & Kadolph, 2009). In addition, students who choose to study fashion are “more creative and interested in the arts than students in other majors (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 69).” The most significant motivating factor for students is the perceived professional image and a personally satisfying career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010). Students want to “…take their love of fashion beyond an interest and turn it into a career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 71).” Many understand they will not graduate into their desired position but they expect to grow into it instead; others express the desire to be their own boss (Poshadlo, 2010; Hodges & Karpova, Making a major decision, 2009).

Tru Access Blog

Photo Courtesy of Tru Access Blog.

With the beginning of understanding comes the beginning of teaching theories. Some educators are responding by shortening lecture times, reshaping assignments and incorporating more technology (Wilson & Gerber, 2008). Others are simply not assigning work they know the students are not “good” at. But, just as my own conflict sways me to one side, another sound argument is presented; at what point does this “reshaping” destroy higher education (Barnes, Marateo & Ferris, 2007)? At what point do we stop the “razzle dazzle,” as one of my colleagues puts it, and we teach?

Forbes

Photo courtesy of Forbes.

The benefit of my position as the coordinator for fashion design and management programs is that I can look at the whole picture and see how new ideas can be applied to a larger construct. For these fashion millennial students, how can we tap into their motivators and provide quality education throughout their program to develop them into a successful fashion professional? Through analyzing our total curriculum, a colleague helped define an approach I believe can address this challenge. Through curriculum analysis, this hypothesis can start students at a “discovery” phase to explore and gain a foundational knowledge then lead them to critical thinking. After they critically evaluate the material, students and faculty can create a “collaborative learning environment,” which applies the course concepts, enhancing the student’s skills (Pidgeon, N., personal communication, 2014 April 2). To ensure these fashion millennials find value in this collaborative environment, applying a social concern in a service-learning activity could actively engage them (Videtic, 2009). Karen Videtic from Virginia Commonwealth University (2009) explores this concept in greater detail for fashion education and presented strong arguments supported by research completed by Anupama Pasricha and Sara J. Kadoph (2009).

I have constructed my own course content with this new progression;

  • Scavenger Hunt: The first homework assignment students will be given is a scavenger hunt. This hunt will require them to find examples of various topics, which will later be covered in the quarter. This is a discovery project and sets them up for the competencies of the course.
  • Article Analysis: Next, I lead them into a critical thinking phase. The student’s read articles related to the topic of the week. After they read the articles they must develop their original opinion on the content and create a presentation to deliver to the class the following week.
  • Socially Responsible Project: A project that involves a socially responsible component is an active engagement exercise. The students must work as a team to develop a project centered on a class-selected charity. The project is a total competency assignment summarizing the information taught throughout the quarter. Just as the scavenger hunt was a homework assignment to “discover” the content of the class, this final project is an “application” of what they have learned.

These new approaches should allow these millennial students the opportunity to embrace their learning and walk away from my courses with a deeper understanding of the content. Thanks to the insight provided by the many notable scholars on millennials, these assignments, activities and project will guide students through the learning phases in my courses.  By changing my methods to engage and teach the millenial students, my conflict remains but has lessened in importance.

I will be trying this out this quarter and will let you know how it goes! Wish me luck!

Eyedea

Photo courtesy of Eyedea.

References:

Barnes, K., R. Marateo, and S. Ferris. (2007). Teaching and learning with the net generation. Innovate, 3 (4). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=382 (accessed April 24, 2008).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2010 March 24). Majoring in fashion: a theoretical framework for understanding the decision-making process. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 3(2), 67-76. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/external?sid=ee4d9ae7-d4e9-4510-939f-e468c27039df%40sessionmgr115&vid=3&hid=122 (accessed March 24, 2015).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2009 July 13). Making a major decision: an exploration of why students enrol in fashion programmes. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 47-57.

Pasricha, A. & Kadolph, S.J. (2009 October 6). Millennial generation and fashion education: a discussion on agents of change. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 119-126.

Poshadlo, G. (2010 September 20-26). Fashion students don’t want to be part of the brain drain. Indianapolis Business Journal, pp 38.

Videtic, K. (2009 November 7). Service Learning: opportunities for deep learning in fashion design and merchandising education. The International Journal of Learning, 16, 397-403.

Wilson, M. & Gerber, L.E. (2008 Fall). How generational theory can improve teaching: strategies for working with the “Millennials”. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 29-44.

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Guest Post: Review of the 14th Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium

Today Worn Through would like to present a guest post from Hannah Schiff, a current Master’s candidate in New York University’s Costume Studies program. Her research primarily focuses on the strange and unusual, centering on curiosities and outliers throughout history.

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In addition to my passion for antique and vintage dress and textiles, I was drawn to Costume Studies in large part due to its interdisciplinary nature. A quintessentially human phenomenon, dress is linked to virtually all aspects of life, from fine art to politics, anthropology to economics. Fashion may often be marginalized or trivialized, but one may argue that this is done, in many instances, as a response to the overwhelming power clothing and textiles have over us.

In attending The Fourteenth Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium, an event hosted by the Costume Studies program at New York University, I was pleased to see the interdisciplinary nature of this field on full display. The four M.A. candidates and guest speaker, Dr. Alison Matthews David, made it clear through their dynamic and varied presentations that the boundaries of this discipline are limitless.

The evening began with the presentation of Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, by Dr. Alison Matthews David of the Ryerson School of Fashion. A rich and visually stimulating talk, Matthews David took the audience on a forensic journey through some of history’s darker moments in the conception of aesthetics. Her strong language (including references to “satanic mills” and “homicidal luxury”) acted as vibrant punctuation for a series of fascinating topics discussed, namely the intersection of disease and dress, toxic processes and dyes used, and fashion accidents.

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Matthews David referenced this charmingly grim turn of the century poster representing the transformation of rabbits into hats (the source, as she explained, for the perennial favorite magic trick), in her discussion on the use of mercury in constructing hats.

Specific examples explored included the use of mercury in millinery, the 1778 development of an emerald green pigment created with arsenic, and the tragic death of a prima ballerina in 1862 after her tutu caught flame. Matthews David’s use of quotes from primary sources, and her deep exploration into the scientific, psychological, and sociological causes behind these varied fashion traumas made for an engaging talk. Her forthcoming book on the subject promises to be just as inspired as her presentation, and while waiting for its release I would encourage all who are able to see her work on display at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

The first M.A. candidate to present was Felicity Pitt with her talk entitled Bare-Cheeked Bicycling: Trick Cyclists and the Eroticism of Female Bicycle Riders, 1885-1900. This cheeky presentation chronicled the impressive feats, both on wheels and in society, of female daredevils at the turn of the century. Pitt’s research primarily focuses on 25 cigarette cards advertising these female performers, which reside in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Female trick cyclists of the nineteenth century wore scandalous (for the day) garments, Pitt argues, both out of necessity for movement and as an attraction.

The talk, centering on voyeurism, objectification of the female body, adoption of masculine influences in female dress, and displays of curiosity and taboos, demonstrated how these performers also engaged in impressive social feats in order to balance out their subversive behavior. “The mere sight of a woman riding at this time is a trick,” states Pitt, underscoring the fact that the athletic skill of these revolutionary women was perhaps only a piece of the equation which brought them notoriety.

Following Pitt, Anna Burckhardt presented a strikingly original topic entitled Walking Weavers: Ethnicity, Gender, and Tradition in Contemporary Indigenous Columbia. As the title suggests, this research has a strong anthropological component, and is a refreshing contribution to a field dominated by the study of Western dress throughout history. Burckhardt spoke passionately about the gendering of weaving and themes of reviving tradition in spite of geographic and cultural displacement.

 

Mama Rosa, a member of the community at La Maria in Piendamó, Columbia, weaves a chumbe, a band of cloth essential to female cultural expression.

Mama Rosa, a member of the community at La Maria in Piendamó, Columbia, weaves a chumbe, a band of cloth essential to female cultural expression.

Specifically looking at the chumbe, a woven band of cloth, usually in bright colors, Burckhardt illustrated how this woman-woven textile is an umbilical chord which connects the woman’s hand to the land of her people. Burckhardt’s personal experiences conducting research in the reservations of Silvia and La Maria in Columbia lent further support to her discussion, and her visual aids, many of which were pictures she took during her time there, offered undoubtable proof of the agency and support system weaving provides for these indigenous women.

Continuing on the thread of autonomous women, Bruckhardt was followed by Stephanie Kramer presenting You Look Good in My Dress: Courtney Love, Grunge and the Role of Gender in Postmodern Subcultural Style. Of the topics presented, Kramer’s was perhaps most accessible to the audience, for while grunge may have emerged as a subculture, it rapidly gained media attention and made household names of musicians such as Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. However, while much existing scholarship (and press) have traditionally focused on the male contributions to the grunge sound and aesthetic, Kramer shows the strong influence wielded by Love by placing her within the framework of theorist Simone de Beauvoir.

Kramer illustrates the significance of Courtney Love’s role in the grunge movement by placing her life within the theoretical framework established by Simone de Beauvoir.

Kramer illustrates the significance of Courtney Love’s role in the grunge movement by placing her life within the theoretical framework established by Simone de Beauvoir.

Tracing Love’s journey through the three phases of womanhood de Beauvoir outlined, Kramer provided compelling support for her assertion that Love subverted each of them. Above all, Kramer’s use of quotes from Love, such as “I am a woman. I depend on artifice as I have been taught,”  vastly legitimized the agency of a woman commonly ridiculed by the media rather than seen as an originator of a trend and a figure consciously in control of her image.

Rounding out the evening, Eric Zhang brought levity to the symposium with his presentation Just Landed Like Fresh Tilapia: Race, Gender, and Ambivalence in Asian American Drag Performance. Zhang, like Burckhardt, provided a much needed discussion about a minority rarely represented in fashion or academia. Tracing the construction of identity of several drag queens featured on various seasons of the television series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as queens who have not participated in the show, Zhang looks critically at the ambivalence of gender and race in Asian American drag culture.

In both visual and rhetorical terms, many Asian American drag queens express the complexity of their cultural identities.

In both visual and rhetorical terms, many Asian American drag queens express the complexity of their cultural identities.

Assessing the “rhetoric and aesthetic of race,” Zhang locates these performers as falling “somewhere in between being Asian and American,” calling the audience’s attention to the tensions present between race, gender, and the presentation of the two. Although video clips from Drag Race elicited laughter from the audience, they also provided solid evidence supporting Zhang’s interpretation of the complex relationship between gender, race, and the development of a performer’s persona and personal ideologies.

As the vastly divergent presentations of The Fourteenth Annual Richard Martin Visual Culture Symposium illustrate, Costume Studies is a discipline with endless possibilities for research. Trauma induced by fashion, female trick cyclists at the end of the nineteenth century, the links between tradition, textiles, and cultural identity in Columbia, the subversion of gender norms and theory by a female grunge music and style pioneer, and the search for identity among Asian American drag performers may all be seemingly disparate subjects. At their heart, however, they are tied together with intersecting themes of gender, race, identity, and the impact of dress and textiles, and have been masterfully woven together by the five scholars to show the numerous impacts fashion has on human experience.

Opening Image Caption: Open until June 2016, The Bata Shoe museum in Toronto plays host to Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century.

Did you attend the symposium? What did you think? Have you attended other symposia with student speakers that you would like to share with Worn Through readers? Please feel free to share your thoughts and impressions in the comments below.

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Kōrero Kākahu: The Creamy Psychology of Yvonne Todd

Kia ora from Aotearoa/New Zealand! This is my first post as the Worn Through New Zealand contributor and I’m starting off with something a little unorthodox. Creamy Psychology is an art exhibition that recently showed at Wellington’s City Gallery. It was the first time that the whole gallery had been dedicated to the work of one artist: the inaugural winner of the Walters Prize (New Zealand’s most prestigious art prize), Yvonne Todd. Todd is an Auckland-based artist and alumni of the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland who works predominantly with photography to create often unsettling portraits of characters, real and imagined. The show consisted of around 150 photographs, an installation featuring a selection of Todd’s expansive vintage clothing collection and a room showcasing objects and images that inspired Todd’s work. As a recent convert to the Yvonne Todd cult, I found the recurring themes of nostalgia, obsession, glamour (and the fall from it), reality and imagined reality throughout her oeuvre. The creations in Todd’s photographs are a mixture of characters she has dreamed up, real people/situations she has obsessed over before styling and photographing, and people playing themselves, or at least Todd’s version of themselves. Throughout her work clothing and costume is a constant, whether it be the inspiration for the story she tells or an element she employs to assist in her storytelling.

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Installation view of frock room

The first room I entered presented two opposing walls of close-up portraits, the first a series called Bellevue depicting 9 women immaculately presented in their stiff cosmetician’s blazers and smocks. For this series Todd used real women i.e. women who worked in the beauty counters at local pharmacies, but these women were presented very coldly: their unsmiling faces and chests are cropped and lit in a way that makes them unapproachable. The starched look of their clothing only adds to the prim, distant feeling the evoke. Todd tells a story of how one of the woman reacted when seeing her portrait, gasping at it in shock and leaving the gallery. Across from these women is a similar series of female face and chest portraits titled Sea of Tranquillity. Here, Todd’s characterisation of the models is more overt; she has styled them all in high-necked, mock-Victorian, polyester blouses, again their faces are immaculately made-up but on their heads they wear wigs. However, these women do not match the unapproachable distance of the cosmeticians, in fact none of them look at the camera and their minds appear to be elsewhere. These portraits have a stifling feel about them, a sadness belies their distant looks and the oppressive feel of the itchy-looking high necks only adds to this. That Todd sees Bellevue as a modern day rendition of Sea of Tranquillity is highly insightful in regards to her childhood obsessions of cosmeticians.

The following room featured a photograph titled Pupators and on face value looked like a it could be from a girls clothing catalogue. It features three delicately fluffy angora cardigans that float in a black background. Though the cardigans were made for young girls, they are filled out by an unseen, flat-chested mannequin so they appear beguilingly androgynous. Todd styled these so  as to emphasise a time in life when girls are in a state of transformation, verging on puberty and inevitable adulthood. By presenting the cardigans in this way, Todd highlights the opportunities and experiences to come but with the black background the sinister feeling that is ever-present in Todd’s work remains.

Also featured in this room was the unsettling series Vagrants Reception Centre. This was one of the instances in which the story was inspired by the clothing. Todd is an avid vintage clothing collector and after buying two Victorian dresses online, she realised upon receiving them that the extremely nipped in waists would not work on modern women thus this series of discomfiting portraits of young girls was borne. For the most part the photos are cropped in a similar way to Bellevue and Sea of Tranquillity with the face and chest on show, and this only highlights the juxtaposition of their overdone, mature facial make-up and the high-necked, embellished, ruffled Victorian dresses. That these dresses were intended for women and yet are worn by modern day 12 year old girls is unnerving, what does this say about how young women’s lives in today’s society? What do they tell us when their portraits appear as a caricatured version of kids playing dress up in their mother’s closet yet none of them appear to be enjoying themselves? The leg o’ mutton sleeves appear even more exaggerated upon their young shoulders and symbolise the oppressiveness that recurs throughout Todd’s work.

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Installation view of frock room. The work in the background is “Mulkie” and features a model wearing a Norman Norell pantsuit.

As aforementioned, a selection of Todd’s clothing collection was displayed as part of the exhibition. Curated by Claire Regnault, Senior Curator Creative Industries at the national museum Te Papa, the decision was made to focus on the glitzier pieces in Todd’s collection. Todd has collected clothing for many years but her collecting practice gained momentum with the advent of websites like Ebay which gave her unprecedented access to glamorous clothing of a higher quality than before. Consequently Todd now has pieces by Emanuel Ungaro, Norman Norrell and Bob Mackie with some pieces having significant celebrity provenance including Whitney Houston and Liza Minelli. Despite these interesting back stories, Todd insists that the impetus to buy is due to the dress itself, not the provenance. Regardless, the inclusion of the dresses in the exhibition added a material dimension to the exhibition wherein the exquisiteness of the dresses in situ could be appreciated up close and the back stories added an element of intrigue in and of the clothing that is somewhat superfluous when they are utilised by a model in character. Glamour is a dominant theme in the works of Todd’s that I haven’t covered here but it is a flawed glamour, a glamour that has undercurrents of despair and darkness. The stories that the clothes and their former owners add via this sculptural dimension reinforces a lot of Todd’s ideas surrounding glamour and their inclusion is to be lauded.

 

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Installation view of frock room.

The final series that I want to highlight is Todd’s most recent work Ethical Minorities: Vegans and this is because I think it is her most overt example of the way in which Todd confuses reality, and clothing plays a major part. Todd herself is a vegan (and includes a self-portrait in this series) and through this work she wanted to explore the ways in which she believes that wider society sees vegans. Todd recruited her artists through specialist publications and unlike most other series’, the models showed up in their own clothing and it is unknown to the viewer whether Todd kept them in their clothes or not. By keeping this to herself, we as viewers are forced to confront our own perceptions of what a vegan looks like and what a vegan wears. It is a fascinating exercise in stereotyping and indicative of the ways in which Todd plays with her viewers.

There is so much to discover in Todd’s work and I implore you to look it up. She uses clothing to tell stories but also to manipulate what you think you know. A comprehensive book about the exhibition has been published and is available here. The book includes essays and images of her works.

All photos credit: Yvonne Todd: Creamy Psychology installation view. City Gallery, Wellington, 2014. Photo by Shane Waugh.

A note on my column title: Kōrero Kākahu translates very literally from Māori to English as “talk of clothing” but can also be read as the stories gleaned from clothing or the stories that clothing holds. Future columns, particularly those that cover Māori content, may delve into this meaning a little deeper.

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You Should Be Watching: The Battle of Versailles

This week I’d like to revisit Worn Through’s inaugural YSBW post, written almost two years ago by Jon Frederick. Jon highlighted the documentary Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution, what he synopsized as an “upbeat retelling of the events leading up to the fashion show and the event itself, utilize excerpts of  interviews with models, designers, and socialites involved with the show in 1973.” This historic event continues to fascinate fashion historians. Last fall, photographer Bill Cunningham was featured in the 92nd Street Y’s live discussion series, “Fashion Icons with Fern Mallis.” The interview made headlines the following day for Cunningham’s emotional recollection of the 1973 show as the best one he’d ever seen. I was reminded of Cunningham’s talk this week, when the Museum at FIT shared a video of fashion critic Robin Givhan discussing her first book, The Battle of Versailles, released last month. See the videos of Cunningham and Givhan below, and check out the archived post for information on the original documentary and additional sources on this topic.

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CFP: ADH Annual Conference: Survival & Revival

Survival & Revival: Clothing Design that Survives & Fashion Trends that Are Revived

International Conference of Dress Historians

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Art Workers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AT, UK

Some styles and forms of garments have remained static for decades, if not for centuries, perhaps symbolizing the eternity of the sacred or the authority of tradition. Meanwhile, from Augustus to Napoleon to modern day, in countless periods and cultures, dress has played an important role in revivals whether for patriotic, political, or other purposes. This conference will explore the meanings of ‘survival’ and ‘revival’ in dress from the archaeological to the conceptual, from ‘retro’ to ‘futuristic.’ We invite the submission of proposals for papers that might include, but are not limited to, the following themes.

Survivals: Clothing design that has survived and remained consistent over long periods of time, including religious dress and ecclesiastical vestments, ceremonial garments, ethnic or national folk dress, military and other uniforms, utility clothing (including blue jeans, etc), and ‘heritage brands’ such as Burberry, etc.

Historic Revivals: Fashions and trends that have been revived including, Medieval, Greek and Roman revivals at different periods, vintage garments, Scottish tartan, and replicas of historic fabrics for dress.

Designer Revivals: The work of designers who reference earlier periods or utilize archival material, including Laura Ashley, Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Paul Poiret, Zandra Rhodes, Vivienne Westwood, etc.

Call For Papers

Please submit your proposal as a Word document with a paper title, a 200-word abstract, a brief biography, and contact information to the ADH Events Secretary, Jennifer Daley, at events@dresshistorians.co.uk. Each speaker will be allotted twenty minutes. The deadline for submissions is June 15, 2015. Notification of the outcome will be advised by e-mail on or before July 1, 2015. Speakers do not have to pay the admission fee, though we do request that all speakers become members of the association.

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