Author Archives: Ali

Uncovering Family Threads

Quarantining in your childhood home due to Covid is quite a unique experience. Beginning back in April, my parents and I have been cleaning out closets, cabinets, and drawers all over the house, which has turned into a kind of history lesson on our family. We’ve found old polaroid photos, costume jewelry, silver dollars, and, most exciting for me, clothing that belonged to my grandparents and uncles. I have been lucky enough to uncover some personalized, embroidered bowling shirts my grandfather designed in the 1960s. At first glance, the shirts are certainly retro, almost to the point of gaudy, but from these shirts I’ve learned more about my family history than through old photographs. I sadly never met my grandfather, so to actually hold, and even put on, a shirt my he wore, stains and all, it something quite intimate and special.

Ali's grandfather's shirt
My grandfather’s personalized bowling shirt c. 1963.

My father’s family moved to Minnesota City, Minnesota in 1962, and as can be imagined, there’s not a lot to do in a town with a population of 190. Bowling, I learned, was very important to my uncles and grandfather, as that was about the only thing to do, apart from ice skating. My uncles were all on bowling leagues that competed every week against other local leagues. They wore shirts like the one shown above, so clearly, they bowled in style. Every league was sponsored by a local business who paid for their gear and shirts, and this is where my grandfather comes in. He and my grandmother owned a local tavern called the L-Cove Bar which starting in 1963, sponsored many local leagues.

Ali's family

A family celebration at my family’s tavern, the L-Cove Bar

My grandfather bought the shirts, like the one above, from a large company that sold bowling-gear, called King Louie. The embroidered logo was designed my grandfather and done by one of his regular customers. The logo on the back of the shirt featured classic L-Cove Bar imagery: the signature martini glass, signifying a kind of 1960s elegance, and music notes, connoting their weekly live music performances (mostly by country bands). My grandfather wore this particular shirt often, judging from the light stains on the front and a cigarette burn above the front pocket. A bright yellow shirt that belongs to my uncle shows how bowling shirts evolved later into the late sixties. The L-Cove logo isn’t embroidered into the shirt, but printed. The font is simplified, and the bright yellow reflects the boldness of late sixties, and the quickly approaching 1970s.

Ali's Family
My uncle’s bowling shirt, late 1960s

I can imagine my grandfather wore this white shirt not only for bowling, but also with a sense of pride. According to my father, he wore personalized bowling shirts while tending bar and around town. The shirts were certainly a kind of advertising for my family’s business, but also so much more than that. My grandfather was the child of Lithuanian immigrants who spoke little English and worked grueling, low-paying jobs in the stockyards of Chicago. For him and his wife, to be able to run their own business was attaining their vision of the American dream. He was deeply involved in his community, as he was the chief of the local volunteer fire department. Judging from the pristine state of the shirt and my father’s memory, he didn’t actually fight too many fires, but wore this shirt to the local bingo night every week.

Ali's family
My grandfather’s volunteer fire department uniform, late 1960s

My grandfather was coincidentally about my size, so I’m able to wear these shirt today. I get a lot of comments on them, mostly from people who are looking to buy high-quality vintage shirts. For me, those shirts are priceless, as they are a connection to my family’s past. My father’s side of the family constantly reminisce about “the bar,” making it seem like a mythical place where the family worked and celebrated together. It has become my family’s pride and joy and the legacy of my grandparents, but unfortunately, my family sold the bar before I was born. When I wear these shirts, I am reminded the hard work that generations of my family put into the country. Although I never went to the L-Cove Bar or met my grandfather, I can feel the generations of stories against my skin. It is certainly a privilege to know your family history, especially in America. Having access to the clothing that loved ones wore is even more of a special privilege. These shirts tell the story of my family, and I’ll treasure them forever.

Black Power Style in Wattstax

Wattstax was a day-long festival that happened in Los Angeles in 1973. It was known as the “Black Woodstock,” but it could not be more dissimilar to the rural New York music festival of 1969. Wattstax was organized as a celebration of the seven-year anniversary of the 1965 Watts Uprisings. It was a celebration of Black music, fashion, and success. Organized by Stax Records, the festival was organized by Black folks for Black folks, making it one of the least remembered, yet most successful events of the Black Power movement. Soul and blues artists like The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Albert King, and Rufus Thomas graced the stage and moved the audience to cheer, laugh, and dance. All of the day’s celebrations were captured on film by director Mel Stuart in the 1973 documentary Wattstax.

Isaac Hayes as the center piece of Wattstax poster, 1973, offset lithograph, 41 inches x 27 inches, Edward Mapp collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Isaac Hayes as the center piece of Wattstax poster, 1973, offset lithograph, 41 inches x 27 inches, Edward Mapp collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (source: screenshot from AMPAS)

The fashions of Wattstax range from elegant and sleek to spectacular and outrageous. Director Stuart was sure to capture not only the performer’s costumes, but also the soul style of the audience and local community. Performers like Isaac Hayes and Rufus Thomas incorporated clothing into their performances by wearing capes and then dramatically throwing them off to reveal their humorous and politically-charged ensembles. Audience members arrived to Wattstax in their best soul style like over-sized newsboy hats, zebra print ensembles, and African prints. The documentary’s biggest achievement perhaps is its ability to show the diversity and creative abilities of Black Americans’ creative styling abilities.



screenshot from movie clip - Audience Members arriving in Wattstax, Dir. Mel Stuart, Columbia Pictures, 1973
Audience Members arriving in Wattstax, Dir. Mel Stuart, Columbia Pictures, 1973 (source: screenshot from movie clip)

During the Black Power Movement of the early sixties and late seventies, Black people across the globe sought to achieve liberation by rejecting White beauty standards and creating a unique black aesthetic. Dr. Tanisha C. Ford explains that “soul” was a “cultural language through which people of African descent could speak about the horrors of slavery and colonialism while also serving as a source of cultural pride and political solidarity” (Liberated Threads, 6). Clothing was an essential part of Black Power, and soul style served as a way to express to the world one’s personal dedication to Black liberation. Wattstax provides a window into how each Black person constructed a liberated identity at the largest gathering of Black people at that point in Los Angeles history.

For all of its celebration of Black liberation, Wattstax not perfect. A clear hierarchy appears throughout the documentary that favors young, urban people over older rural people and most obviously, favors men over women. Few women performed at Wattstax, mainly because Stax Records simply did not represent as many female musicians. The Black women that do appear onstage are all similarly dressed in maxi dresses and afros while the male performers wear outrageous ensembles comprising of chains, neon colors, and white fringe. Indeed, Black feminists and conversation about gender equality was often excluded from Black Power events, as gender was believed to complicate the goal of racial equality. In interviews of the local community, men share their opinions on racism, politics, unemployment and policing, while women are only filmed giving their opinions on hairstyles and love. So while Wattstax was a groundbreaking event, it still represented relatively regressive gender politics.

Kim Weston, Carla Thomas, The Bar-Kays, and Rufus Thomas in Wattstax, Dir. Mel Stuart, Columbia Pictures, 1973.
Kim Weston, Carla Thomas, The Bar-Kays, and Rufus Thomas in Wattstax, Dir. Mel Stuart, Columbia Pictures, 1973 (source: screenshot from clip extract)


Among the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, I’ve watched Wattstax in a different light. The film is not only an intimate glimpse into Black life during the Black Power Movement, but it is clearly relevant to the current protests of police brutality. When the festival was being planned, the venue owners and local White community feared that a gathering of 100,000 Black people would become violent. Wattstax was successful and peaceful because it was handled by an all-Black, unarmed security team. This stipulation was extremely important to the festival organizers because police forces, particularly the LAPD, had a history of racial discrimination and violence. Sadly, American policing has not improved, but has since become more militarized and continues to over-police and brutalize Black communities. Wattstax can be a lesson to us contemporary viewers of how communities can flourish when they are protected, and not violently policed. American policy-makers have tried body cameras and police reform, and Black Americans are still being arrested, imprisoned, and killed at a disproportionate rate. The police as we know it in America needs to be abolished and replaced with something more like what we see in Wattstax: an unarmed, community-based team dedicated to protecting citizens.

Watching Wattstax is a truly uplifting and joyous experience. Its detailed depiction of the audience and local community creates an intimate collective portrait of the Black Los Angeles community during the Black Power Era. In focusing on Black music, the documentary gets to the crux of Black life. Through music, Wattstax shows the beauty of Black church life, Black family, and Black creativity. Although Wattstax was not perfect in its politics, it is an important record of how Black Americans expressed their individual freedom through music and clothing. Wattstax was a small, yet significant step in the journey to towards Black liberation and should be an integral part of American history.





Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities by Darnell Hunt and Ana-Christina Ramon

Fire this Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s By Gerald Horne

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul by Tanisha C. Ford

The Many Meanings of Watts: Black Power, Wattstax, and the Carceral State by Donna Murch

Aubrey Beardsley’s Fashion

This spring, before I had to essentially evacuate London because of this vicious global pandemic, I chose to go to an exhibition on a random Wednesday afternoon. I’m so glad that I decided to see the Tate Britain’s Audrey Beardsley exhibition because it was the only show I was able to attend this season. Not only is Beardsley one of my favorite artists from my favorite historical era, but I saw his art through new eyes: fashion eyes. I have studied Beardsley’s work quite a lot from the perspective of an art history student, examining his relationship to literature and the decadence of the 1890s. Viewing his art again from a fashion perspective was enlightening. The exhibition was expansive and educational, even though it was a rather conventional display of a completely unconventional figure. 

Aubrey Beardsley, The Black Cape, 1890s, print, V&A (author’s photo)

Whether he admitted it in his lifetime or not, Beardsley certainly had a flair for fashion. Many of his drawings and prints feature imaginative clothing with delicate drapery and peacock-inspired headdresses. In 1891, he illustrated Oscar Wilde’s rendition of Salomé. Heralded as his most imaginative and perverse work, the series features languid beauties with fabric falling off their chests and massive, swirling cloaks. One print in particular reads more like an avant-garde fashion plate than a narrative illustration. This particular illustration does not clearly relate to any particular scene in Salome, but rather seems to display Beardsley’s potential for designing women’s wear. The massive shoulders of the dress seem to merge into the sleeves and unfold like an armadillo shell. Beardsley also clearly was aware of the power of the S-bend silhouette which was gaining popularity in the 1890s. Beardsley’s dramatic s-curve in this print suggests a sense of languid, slinky elongation for which he was famous. Beardsley himself was known to be tall, thin, and wear clothing that highlighted his slenderness. 

Beardsley’s bold graphic style and bizarre visions inspired countless later artists. The exhibition featured a viewing room that showed a constant loop of Alla Nazimova in the 1923 film rendition of Salomé. This particular film sought to translate Beardsley’s still, two-dimensional illustration into a moving, filmic world. Some of Beardsley’s drawings, like the one shown above  are directly translated into real costumes which were designed by Natacha Rambova (see the background dancers below). Other costumes take on a more 1920s style such as Nazimova’s platinum wig and reflective rubber dress seen below. 

Screen capture of Alla Nazimova performing The Dance of the Seven Veils, in Salomé, directed by Charles Bryant, 1923 (from

The most striking innovation of the 1923 film is Nazimova’s wig, although it was not featured in the exhibition. Constructed from black coil with giant white pearls at the end, the wig is an ode to Beardsley’s graphic style and his love for massive locks of hair on his figures. Although the wig is not directly inspired from any particular illustration, it feels completely Beardsley. With every move of Nazimova’s head the coils of the wig bounce and make the pearls jiggle and reflect the studio lights. The overall sensation of the wig evokes a trembling eroticism, as Salomé childishly shakes her head and refuses Herod’s advances. Rambova’s design fully understands the tension, eroticism, and movement in Beardsley’s work. Once believed to be lost, the innovative wig was rediscovered in a storage trunk in Columbus, Georgia in 2014 and has since been donated to the Alla Nazimovia Society located in West Hollywood. 

Screen capture of Alla Nazimova wearing the “Salome wig” in Salome (1923); right: the wig as it appeared when it was discovered recently in a trunk (Jack Raines © 2014) via Alla Nazimova Society.

Our Documenting Fashion class got to see one of the more recent iterations of Beardsley’s work this fall in the V&A’s exhibition, Tim Walker: Wonderful Things. Also inspired by Beardsley’s Salomé prints, Walker translates Beardsley’s sensuous lines and bodies into fashion photographs. The exhibition featured an array of different photoshoots that were inspired from items in the V&A’s collection, but the Beardsley-inspired photographs were a highlight for all of us. Located in a stark-white room lit by fluorescent lights, the setting was eerily apt for these warped pictures. Our class was lucky enough to hear from head curator Susanna Brown about how difficult it was to mimic the thinness of Beardsley’s lines. In order to get the extreme point on the shoes seen in the photograph below on the right, stylist Amanda Harlech purchased the heels from a fetish shop. Quite fittingly, Walker’s photos exhibit a 21st-century take on Beardsley’s strange eroticism. Beardsley’s work has obviously deeply affected artists during and after his lifetime. Knowing he would not live long due to tuberculosis (he died at the age of 25), he embraced his eccentricities to create a bold, uncensored, and prolific oeuvre.

Jim Crewe and Kiki Walker photographed by Tim Walker, V&A, Tim Walker: Winderful Things, 2017 (author’s photo)

A Rumination about Tattoos and Fashion

The new designs that came out of Paris Fashion Week were all fabulous and exciting, but one collection in particular made me think deeply about clothing, the body, and how we present ourselves to the world. Viktor and Rolf’s spring 2020 collection featured a collection of slender, doll-faced models who marched down the runway in patchwork gowns pieced together with contrasting fabrics. Their ensembles were avant-garde, prairie-style dresses; childish and playful, some were even reminiscent of my Grandma’s housedresses.

What took me by surprise was the highly visible tattoos that covered the models faces, necks, legs, and arms. Every model was covered in traditional, American-style tattoos with slogans like “keep calm and get tattooed” and “success is not final; failure is not fatal.” At first, somewhat naively, I assumed that Viktor and Rolf hired only models with gothic-typeface facial tattoos for this show until I realized that almost every model had “DREAM,” “LOVE,” or “SKY” tattooed across their foreheads. These matching tattoos were clearly crucial accessories for this show and essential to Viktor and Rolf’s ‘tough but innocent’ vision for the collection. The mixture of pastel floral fabrics, ruffle dresses and jelly sandals (an icon of early 2000s childhood) were combined with bold, almost macho tattoos.


Instagram v and told
Victor and Rolf, Spring/Summer 2020 Couture, Instagram: @viktorandrolf

Tattoo design made its first major appearance into haute couture in 1971 when Issey Miyake presented his seminal “Tattoo” collection. His now-famous ‘tattoo dresses’ and body suits were flesh-toned garments covered in a tattoo illustrative style that featured portraits of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. This dresses and bodysuits blurred the line between skin and clothes, suggesting that this full-body tattoo could be slipped on and off with ease. As tattooing was usually used to identify prostitutes and criminals in Japan, this ‘taboo’ technique shocked his audience but has come to inspire many younger generations of designers.

Miyake Issey installation
The Work of Miyake Issey installation view at The National Art Center Tokyo, Photography by Masaya Yoshimura; printed in AnOther magazine.

In 1994, Jean Paul Gaultier incorporated a similar method and used mesh clothing covered with tattoo designs to evoke real tattoos in his show entitled “Les Tatouges.” Using models both with and without actual tattoos, Gaultier extended the work of Miyake to create tattoo-inspired sleeves and tops. Again, the clothing suggested that tattoo designs could be put on and taken off, but it seemed that all kinds of body modification were integral to this collection. Models sported realtattoos, face jewelry and long nails, proving that any form of self-presentation could be fashion. Gaultier’s models were not simply blank canvases in which he could showcase his designs, but real people with the agency to alter their bodies who lived outside of the world of Gaultier.

Tatoo artile
Jean Paul Gaultier, Autumn/Winter 1994.

Thinking again about Viktor and Rolf’s 2020 spring show, the tattoos brought a dark and intense atmosphere when used to accessorize jelly sandals and quilted dresses. In comparison to the colorful designs, the tattoos seemed dire, serious, and intense and presumably permanent. This integration of tattoos brings a sense of endurance and devotion to the fast-changing world of fashion. Even though the models could easily wash off the temporary tattoos after the show, tattoos make you think about what is important, consistent, and lifelong. The use of Vocabulary like “dream” and “love” put a hopeful and sentimental spin on the often masculinized art of tatouage. The messages are sweet, if not cheesy, perhaps pointing out the revealing, intimate nature of body art. After all, getting a meaningful, visible tattoo permanently embellished onto your body is like wearing your heart on your sleeves (or on your skin). It’s like constructing a second skin of your own that is unchanging and everlasting.

Tattoos are essentially a permanent form of fashion. They alter the appearance of our body as clothing does, but tattoos even more profoundly construct our style and identity because they are permanent. They are certainly not going anywhere without a large amount of pain and money anyway. Constructing one’s identity through fashion is a small endeavor compared to doing so through tattoos. Clothing can be changed, taken off and bought new. But what makes something so important that one should get it embedded into one’s skin? These designers’ attempt to incorporate tattoo design into their fashions is admirable and fresh, but ultimately, clothing will never match the power and devotion of a tattoo. Unlike the constant barrage of change and flux that comes with each fashion season, tattoos last a lifetime.



The Return of the Mullet

Business in the front and party in the back. Yes, the mullet has returned. While critics have hoped the style will remain part of a regrettable past, the mullet is experiencing a comeback in fluorescent colors and dramatic lengths. What was once considered a dark spot in the history of popular culture, the hairstyle now graces the pages of Vogue and catwalks of major designers. Whether we like it or not, the mullet is here to stay for those brave enough to wear it.

The mullet seems to have emerged within the music world of the 1970s. As a precursor to giant 1980’s volumized hair, the 70’s rendition of the mullet perhaps expressed a forward-looking sensibility, a way to achieve volume on top of the head without masses of hairspray. David Bowie adopted the hairstyle in the early 1970s to capture his futuristic, androgynous character, Ziggy Stardust. The redheaded spaceman was a bizarre and shocking subversion of gender for its time. This sense of androgyny can be seen in a photograph of Paul and Linda McCartney donning matching mullets in 1973, proving that the hairstyle could easily cross gender lines. The 1970s iteration of the mullet perhaps reflected an idealistic, progressive style that could be worn by people of all genders which provided volume and long waves at the same time. It was a step towards the endless volume and curl of the 1980s, but still reflected the shaggy locks of the counterculture of the 1960s. In the 1980’s however, the hairstyle was cemented as a symbol of bad fashion. From country singer Billy Ray Cyrus’s adoption of the hairdo to the Joe Dirt films from the early 2000’s, the hairstyle has long been synonymous with white trash, the antithesis of fashion.

Photograph of Paul and Linda McCartney in black and white leaning into each other and looking at the camera.
Paul and Linda McCartney, 1973. (Image: Liverpool Echo/Stephen Shakeshaft)

Despite the sordid past of the mullet, this hairstyle has recently been seen on high fashion catwalks, magazine pages, and it-girls across the world. Marc Jacobs has particularly been interested in bringing the mullet back. In his autumn 2013 fashion show, he outfitted all of his models in in textured, uniform mullets. Anna Sui did something similar in her autumn 2019 show, in which all of her models wore spiky, technicolor mullet wigs. Gucci has also been rigorous in rounding up personalities and musicians who have mullets for their advertising campaigns, like Dani Miller and Amy Taylor who both wear mullets as frontwomen of punk bands, Surfbort and Amyl and the Sniffers, respectively.

Three models in a line on a runway with mullets.
Marc Jacobs, Autumn/Winter 2013 (Image: Josh Haner/The New York Times)
Instagram Screenshot of Anna Sui models wearing pink outfits with pink mullets.
Anna Sui, Autumn/Winter 2013. (Instagram: @annasui)
Instagram Screenshot of two models shooting a Gucci campaign sticking their tongues out.
Dani Miller and Amy Taylor for Gucci Pre-Fall 2019. (Instagram: @gucci)

Early in the semester, our class considered the definitions of fashion, and discussed the work of Joanne Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach Higgens who wrote that dress can be considered “an assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements displayed by a person in communicating with other human beings” (15). In this sense, clothing, tattoos, piercings, and even mullets are considered fashion, and those who adopt the these elements communicate something to the world in doing so. But what exactly does the mullet communicate?

As silky, shiny beach waves and blunt bobs have become fashionable in recent years, the mullet is a rebellion against orthodox styles. The mullet does not make much sense as a practical hairdo, as the flowing layers in the back of the head need to grow long while the shortness atop of the hairdo needs constant trimming. The backs of mullets often become infamously thin “rat tails” while the front stands up strait. It doesn’t make a lot of sense as a hairstyle, but this certainly appeals to people who want to push against the beauty standards and trends of the fashion world. Suitable for any gender, the mullet is a subversion of gendered beauty standards that separates men and women by their hair. It is both male and female. When we see a mullet we conjure up memories of David Bowie and Billy Ray Cyrus, but above all, I think the mullet is a rebellion against fashion and a celebration of “bad taste.”



Arden Fanning Andrews, “Mullets and Shags, Oh My! The Anti-Blowout Movement Taking Over NYFW’s Runways” in Vogue, February 13, 2019.

Joanne Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins, “Definition and classification of Dress: Implications for Analysis of Gender Roles” in Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning, (London: Berg, 1992). 8-28.

Miniskirts and Mods: A Review of the Mary Quant Retrospective

Museum exhibition, two mannequins wearing raincoats
Rainwear display, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019. (all photos taken by Ali)

Mary Quant brought fun to fashion during the postwar era, a time when clothing rationing had just ended and Christian Dior was strangling women’s waistlines. Quant’s shop Bazaar was the headquarters of the Swinging Sixties, where one could buy miniskirts, neon tights, and psychedelic blouses. She wanted women to have fun again; her miniskirts liberated legs and allowed for dancing and her waterproof mascara held up in a walk through the rain. The V&A’s retrospective of Quant’s work takes viewers chronologically through her career, starting with her unassuming, yet innovative designs of the late 1950s and ending with a showcase of her global brand which produced cosmetics, lingerie, accessories. Although somewhat lacking in imagination, the exhibition proves that Quant’s designs allowed all kinds of women, not just wealthy ones, to incorporate imaginative designs into their wardrobes.

When you enter the exhibition, it’s not a blatantly colorful exhibition about the 1960s mod culture, but it is rather a slow burn that lingers on Quant’s somewhat conservative early designs. Meandering through a display of glass cases, we see that Quant slowly deconstructed fashion rules that existed in the 1950s. Quant did this carefully, as innocent wool pinafores and thick coat jackets with bright patterns dominate the first half of the exhibition. She started to create revolutionary designs by incorporating masculine traits into her fashions. Her use of ties and more shockingly trousers, are a signal of her journey into a completely new style.

Museum vitrine with three mannequins dressed in Mary Quant dresses and coats
Early Mary Quant Designs, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019.

The second floor more clearly conveys the fun and light-heartedness one might expect of Quant’s mod designs. Set in a brightly-lit, white arena, Quant’s brightly colored designs pop and are strikingly contemporary. Glittering tartans, pinstriped raincoats, and crocheted frocks prove not only Quant’s talent in working with many fabrics and techniques, but also her seemingly endless creativity. I found myself making a mental-shopping list of what items I would happily wear on a daily basis (a pink sailor dress and monochrome PVC clutch, please). I could hear people of all ages around me doing something similar, proving Quant’s ability to make her clothes universally attractive by combining comfortability and bold patterns.

Five mannequins in museum wearing mini skirt dresses
Iterations of the miniskirt, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019.

There is a clear attempt throughout the show to breathe life into these clothes, many of which are paralyzed by rigid mannequins. The majority of outfits had an accompanying text panel that explained who owned the garment, why they chose it, and how they wore it. There were also numerous photographs behind the outfits, showing how models or regular women moved and posed in Quant’s clothes. These curatorial efforts suggest that these clothes were not designed to be shown on stiff mannequins, but were designed for walking, skipping, and dancing. Some mannequins strike outlandish poses, but there is an overall dullness that hangs over the exhibition, particularly on the dimly-lit first floor of the two-story exhibition. Quant’s shop Bazaar on King’s Road was known for creating psychedelic, dreamlike tableaus, but this kind of eccentric experimentation and creativity seems absent from the exhibition design. Perhaps I was too optimistic in hoping to see a recreation of one these infamous store front designs behind one of the many glass cases.

The focus on the exhibition is not an experiential recreation of the quirkiness of the 1960s, but a focus on how actual women wore Quant’s designs. At the center of the upstairs display is a giant rounded screen that scrolls through pictures from the 1960s and 1970s of women wearing Quant’s designs. Quotes from these women describe how they wore their Quant pieces and how much they treasure them. In fact, a large portion of clothes in the exhibition were collected from regular women all over the world. The home photos show mothers, working women, brides, and young girls wearing Quant’s clothes and giving them life. This curatorial decision embraces the sacred relationship between designer and customer with the clothing as a bridge between them. Ultimately, this show is really about how Quant democratized the postwar London fashion scene, allowing middle-class women to take part in the exciting and eccentric innovations of mod culture.

5 Minutes With… Niall


Niall is a Courtauld MA Student currently on Rebecca Arnold’s Documenting Fashion course, about to graduate in July. During our end-of-year class trip to Kew Gardens, I caught up with him about his style.

Describe what you are you wearing today?

I’m wearing a black turtleneck with black trousers, a black blazer, and a black umbrella to keep away the summer sun.

Does your style differ depending on where you are?

I literally wear a black turtleneck and high waisted black trousers everywhere, even at home.

How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style by saying, “I’m going to the opera at 7, and I’m meeting my Coven at 11.” That’s how I would describe it, especially because in the Winter I have this big, black faux-fur coat, and I tend to wear velvets a lot. I feel like my approach to style is very Minimalist because the basis of what I wear is very plain and I wear the same things everyday, but then I also have more extravagant items as well which add a little touch. Because I love texture, I like velvets, satins, lace and silk, so I’ll wear those fabrics sometimes. I actually was going to wear black lace gloves today, too.

Have you always dressed like this?

No, I haven’t. I used to wear colour but then I felt really self conscious and it made me feel like I stood out, and then I started to wear all black — just because I think it looks best on my skin tone and my hair.

Do you remember an early fashion memory?

When I was four of five I would wear every single day the same red Postman Pat t-shirt with black trousers and the same pair of white trainers. I wore them everyday, until the shoes fell apart and the t-shirt had holes in, which I think is interesting because now I wear the same thing everyday as well.

Are you associated with the word ‘uniform’?

Yes, I like to wear a uniform because it makes me feel like I always look put together. It takes so much time out of the morning… I never have to be self conscious about what I’m wearing. I found my uniform just by accident because I ended up just naturally gravitating towards things that I felt the most comfortable in and the things that I feel like I looked best in. Because I wear the same thing everyday, I never have to worry about whether it looks nice or not, and can just throw something on and have it always look put together.

Do you have any favourite accessories?

One item that I wear a lot is my black and purple velvet shawl. It’s more of a Wintery thing, but I like that its kind of witchy. I got it after I went to see Stevie Nicks in the Summer Hyde Park concert, so obviously have a fond memory of it.

Can you note any inspiration for your style?

A big inspiration for me was a picture of Audrey Hepburn. Its a studio portrait of her and she’s in a black top with high waisted black trousers which are basically the same ones that I wear, and she’s got black ballet flats on. Another inspiration, honestly…. in the first two Harry Potter films, Professor McGonagall always wears a black turtleneck dress with a green velvet cape and a brooch around her neck. That was a big inspiration to me as well because I like vampiric, witchy things. And obviously American Horror Story’s Coven is a big aesthetic inspiration too. Stevie Nicks is also a style inspiration to me because she doesn’t strictly wear a uniform, but she’s always in all black, and she wears similar things to me.


All photographs taken by Niall


Dissertation Discussion: Grace

What is the working title of your dissertation?


So far, it is ‘Movement in Metal: The Representation of Paco Rabanne’s 1960s Fashion Designs’

What led you to choose this subject?


My virtual exhibition was about late 1960s minimalist sculpture in relation to fashion. One of my exhibits was a metal ‘sound sculpture’ robe made by the Baschet Brothers for the 1966 film Who are You, Polly Maggoo? I became interested in how the models moved in this uncomfortable metal dress, which eventually drew me to Paco Rabanne and his metal dress creations from the late 1960s. In 1966, Rabanne presented a collection titled ‘Twelve Unwearable Dresses in Contemporary Materials’ at the Georges V Hotel in Paris, which I will discuss further in my dissertation.

Favorite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?


I enjoyed reading Jane Pavitt’s Fear and Fashion In The Cold War (V&A, 2008). Pavitt discusses late 1960s avant-garde and space-age fashions, stating the reasons why designers and wearers chose to make such statements in what was a politically turbulent time. The book also features many entertaining photographs of strange space-age costumes.

Favorite image/object in your dissertation and why?


I found an advertisement in the January 1967 issue of British Vogue for Goddard’s ‘Long Term Silver Polish’. In the photograph, a model wears a Rabanne style metal disc dress, and the advert explains the polish’s use for the dress. It is interesting to see the connection between ‘traditional’ metal surfaces and Rabanne’s style of dresses, and also imagine the mixed attitudes towards them during this period.

Favorite place to work?


The National Art Library at the V&A is beautiful, and I like that it isn’t too overwhelmingly big.


By Grace Lee

Zita Elze’s Flower Dress at Somerset House


On the 20th and 21st of January this year, the annual Aashni + Co Wedding Show came to the West Wing of Somerset House. The event featured hundreds of breathtaking South Asian couture dresses and jewellery for brides, made by worldwide famous designers such as Sabyasachi, Gaurav Gupta and Tarun Tahiliani.

The Kew Gardens based floral artist Zita Elze was in charge of the floral design for the event, and transformed the rooms of the West Wing into magical scenes. Her flower arrangements were not only placed and draped across the architecture of the building, but also acted as fashion pieces in themselves. In one of the main rooms, Zita created a spectacular handmade fresh flower dress, inspired by Cinderella. As Zita said, “I didn’t want to create another blonde Cinderella so I sourced an elegant mannequin which also alluded to my country of origin Brazil, which has a whole rainbow of ethnic references. The design itself emerged from seasonally available blooms.” Its long and flowing skirt was embellished with sea lavender and the fitted bodice was off-the-shoulder, embroidered with tiny flowerheads. The natural pastel colours subtly altered depending on the texture and shape of each part of the dress.

Zita’s dress was displayed on a gracefully posed mannequin, which took centre stage at the end of a dramatic flower arch lined corridor. There were other floral displays within the space, providing a backdrop for the mannequin and the ethereal dress. In the evening, LED lights enhanced the colours of the flowers on the dress, contrasting with its natural appearance in daylight. At the opposite end of the wing on the Nelson staircase, Zita hung one hundred Cinderella-like shoes from the railings, as well as petal garlands. The shoes were filled with fresh flowers, and created spectacular shadows on the staircase thanks to the lighting. Zita had decorated many of the couture designers’ exhibition rooms, enhancing their dress designs. One area dedicated to jewellery featured a chandelier tree as a centrepiece, which one could walk around whilst viewing the precious accessories in the surrounding cabinets.

Zita has previously created handmade flower dresses for clients and events, and regularly crosses into the realm of fashion. Although not formally trained in fashion, she has a keen sensitivity when working with the human form and designing gowns. Each piece is unique. When creating a dress, Zita notes that she first “creates a textile base, then when the base is ready I apply my floral embroidery technique. This process normally takes a week, all by hand. In this case, I started with the train and then worked on the bodice during the last two days – so that the bodice was kept fresh throughout the exhibition. This is less important when working on a wedding dress which will only be used on the actual day.” Zita also designs accessories made out of real flowers such as veils, hair pieces, bags, parasols and jewellery. Although the materials she uses have a limited lifetime, there is still a beauty to her works once they have dried. The most interesting aspect of her flower dresses is this notion of temporality, and the way in which they gradually change colour and texture as they age.

By Grace Lee

Zita Elze’s shop and design academy are located on 287 and 303 Sandycombe road in Kew, Surrey. Make sure to visit!

All photographs taken by Julian Winslow

Documenting Fashion Takes NYC: The Madame Margé folder at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections


The MA Documenting Fashion crew took New York City by storm last week! Stay tuned for posts about what we saw and did on our fabulous study-trip-extravaganza.

Our first visit was with April Calahan at FIT’s Special Collections department. April kindly showed us several boxes full of fashion illustrations, photographs and designs from the Twentieth Century, including the second issue of US Vogue and early designs from Chanel, Bonnie Cashin and Rudi Gernreich.

Among the treasures presented to us there was a folder containing late 1920s or 30s coloured sketches for designs made by Madame Margé, which was donated to the museum in 1957. There has been very little research done about Margé. She was born as Marguerite Norlin in 1978 in Philadelphia, and later Francophiled her name as was often the case for designers in the earlier Twentieth Century. Paris was then seen as the fashion central, but throughout the decades Margé was working it gradually shifted to include America. In New York and Chicago she owned fashion firms, selling the latest designs throughout the interwar period.[1]

The folder at FIT contained colour-washed fashion illustrations, alongside large swatches of fabric which covered the entire page next to each design. Underneath the designs were the name and number for each piece. It is unclear whether it was Margé herself who drew these, however they are highly effective for us appreciating the clothes because of their use of colour. Rich pastel tones are used to convey the notion of what it would be like to wear such beautiful items. The drawings also show how the clothes would have looked like from behind.

The most interesting aspect of these pages was the presence of generous fabric swatches beside the drawings instead of the tiny squares of fabric customarily included with sketches. These were added so that the customer could get a real feel for the design before buying it. The size of the swatches demonstrates how important fabric was for Margé. For example, ‘Cherie,’ design number 63, includes a highly tactile piece of sheer silk chiffon floral fabric, slightly larger than an A4 paper size. The swatch includes further three-dimensional aspects of the design such as pleats, folds and drapes, and a light tortoise binding.

Although stuck onto a flat page, the contents of this folder reveal intrinsic details to the designs, and offer an alternative experience of the finished products.

By Grace Lee

You can schedule an appointment to visit FIT’s Special Collections department on their website


[1] Ben-Horin, Keren. “Who Are You Madame Margé?”. Blog. On Pins And Needles, 2011.é/.