Category Archives: Fashion Now

We discuss themes relating to the contemporary fashion industry

YSL: The Muses

Whilst it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when high-profile fashion muses became widespread, the concept has been around for centuries. In Greek mythology, the Muses are goddesses of the arts who ruled over ‘the Inspiration’ and are famously beautiful and alluring. The myth suggests that poets and other artists would attempt to summon the Muses in the hope that they would provide them with inspiration for their work.

Muses
The Muses and Minerva by Hendrick van Balen the Elder.

 

In fashion, one of the most famous muse and designer pairings was that of Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, which was immortalised by the Breakfast at Tiffany’s LBD. For a designer, a muse is someone who inspires creativity within the designer, and embodies what the brand is about and the type of consumer they are hoping to attract.

Audrey
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy at the Academy Awards, 1954.

YSL’s most iconic muses:

Betty Catroux

Betty
Betty Catroux and Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1970s, Droits réservés

Betty Catroux and Yves Saint Laurent met at a Parisian nightclub in 1967 and their close professional and personal relationship remained consistent for over 50 years until Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. This relationship is recognised as so influential to YSL’s creative process that the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris held an exhibition surrounding Betty Catroux’s status as Saint Laurent’s ‘female double’. It was through Catroux’s androgynous look and the mixing of masculine and feminine elements, that YSL defined ‘the unusual codes of femininity and seductiveness’ that remain central to the brand and can be clearly seen in the exquisite tailoring that the brand is known for. The essence of what it means to be a muse is perfectly captured by current director Anthony Vaccarello, who states, ‘She lives and breathes Saint Laurent. An allure, a mystery, an almost nefarious aspect, an elusive yet desirable nature, all that underlies the house’s aura, and you understand the magnitude of it when you meet Betty.’

 

Paloma Picasso

Paloma
Paloma Picasso and Yves Saint Laurent, photographed by Jean Luce Huré.

Paloma Picasso has remained a muse for the YSL brand from Yves Saint Laurent himself to current director Anthony Vaccarello. Vaccarello claims that ‘Paloma Picasso was the only woman who inspired a collection for Yves Saint Laurent’. Before going on to state, ‘Paloma was the only one who really changed Yves Saint Laurent’s perception of fashion… Before, he was really into couture – really into this cute, very perfect silhouette – and when he met her, with her huge red lips, dressed in vintage, she was really new for him. It changed his own style.’ It was this unique vintage style that Paloma wore in the early 70s that inspired the 1971 Scandal collection. By mixing past and present fashions, and masculine and feminine styles, YSL made fashion into a spectacle.

 

This iconic 1971 Scandal collection was referenced in the brand’s SS22 collection in which Vaccarello stated he wanted to recreate that exciting, fresh feeling associated with the original collection and Paloma herself, in his collection which marked the, hoped or perceived, end of the pandemic.

YSL
Saint Laurent’s SS22 collection.

 

Mounia

Mounia
Mounia and Yves Saint Laurent on the runway, 1980s.

Mounia made history as the first black model to walk a Haute Couture catwalk in 1978. However, before this, Yves Saint Laurent was drawn to Mounia’s ‘rich complexion and unparalleled grace’ and throughout their collaboration, he drew upon her for friendship, inspiration and creativity. Saint Laurent was committed to showcasing the diversity within his models, and through his continued support, the fashion world as a whole fell in love with Mounia’s elegance. Throughout her career, Mounia wore YSL on the cover of many major magazines and consistently appeared in his collections throughout the 70s and 80s.

 

Rosé

Rose
Rose and Anthony Vaccarello at the 2021 Met Gala.

Blackpink’s Rosé was announced as global brand ambassador for Saint Laurent in 2020, and since then she’s become close friends with Anthony Vaccarello. Vaccarello said of Rosé, ‘She is Saint Laurent in the way she lives, in the way she takes charge of how she dresses, in her way of liberating herself from the crowd… She is someone who represents today’s society.’ In response, Rosé said, ‘I hope I am a muse to him and that he does get a lot of ideas from me…I have very strong opinions, and I think Anthony noticed that.’ So far the duo have most notably appeared side-by-side at the 2021 Met Gala, with Rosé wearing a ready-to-wear black mini dress with an oversized white bow.

 

It will be interesting to see where this partnership goes next!

 

By Rosie Dyer

Sources:

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/blackpink-rose-met-gala-2021

https://www.wmagazine.com/fashion/rose-blackpink-interview-saint-laurent

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/blackpink-rose-saint-laurent-paris-fashion-week

https://www.lofficielusa.com/fashion/who-is-mounia-model-yves-saint-laurent-haute-couture

https://agnautacouture.com/2014/06/29/paloma-picasso-the-seventies-it-girl-inspired-ysl-scandal-collection/

https://museeyslparis.com/en/exhibitions/betty-catroux-yves-saint-laurent

https://fashionista.com/2019/07/fashion-designers-muses-inspiration

https://www.prestigeonline.com/id/style/fashion/the-relationships-between-fashion-designers-and-their-muses/

https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/The_Muses/the_muses.html

Shoe Fetish: The Glorification of Female Discomfort

ShoesMaddy Plimmer, No Romance on the Pedestal, 2021, Goldsmiths MFA Degree Show, London

 

On a recent visit to the ‘London Grads Now’ exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, showcasing the works of recent art school graduates, I was magnetised towards a towering pair of heels (above). Created by Goldsmiths graduate Maddy Plimmer, these heels, at a metre tall, are not for the faint-hearted or weak-ankled. Plimmer explains that the inspiration behind these art objects was a mobile game featuring a female avatar whose heels grow in height as she navigates a progressively challenging obstacle course. The precariousness of women’s existence through self-elevation, literal or metaphorical, is evidently a topic of fascination. I couldn’t help but imagine how painful the experience of standing, let alone attempting to walk, in these shoes would be.

 

The obsession with shoe-related female discomfort is by no means a new concept. Footbinding, a practice enforcing the beauty standard of delicately small feet, is a global phenomenon throughout dress history. Not only did binding stunt foot growth, it also debilitated women’s ability to stand, walk and exist. The historic desirability of women’s tiny feet and dainty little shoes makes the female foot an eroticised object that warrants regulation. For example in China during the Ming dynasty, if a woman revealed a barefoot in public, she would be committing an indecent assault. The air of secrecy that feet acquired through centuries of being hidden away is what made them so controversial. Shoes, hinting at what lies within, have thus become objects of Freudian fetish fascination.

 

Foot

Foot reliquary of Saint Blaise, c. 1260, Musée provincial des Arts anciens, Belgium

 

In its purest form, ‘fetish’ defines objects that have religious or spiritual significance, such as reliquaries. Saint Blaise, a fourth-century physician and healer, was beheaded for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. The above reliquary, supposedly containing authentic relics of his foot bones, served a practical function of directing prayer, as well as embodying and inspiring fervent Christian dedication. Comprised of oak, stone and precious metals, each individually crafted toe hints at the holy bones contained within without revealing them. However, the hinged door detail implies that the reliquary could be opened to witness the relics.

 

From a dress historical point of view, the reliquary calls to mind Maison Margiela’s iconic Tabi boot (below). Like the medieval reliquary, the Tabi draws attention to the separation of the toes, connoting the foot within without directly showing it. The almost hoof-like appearance of the foot takes on a fetish significance, but not in religious terms. The statement shoe draws the eye down the length of the body to be affronted by a yonic slit in the usual place of a modestly covered foot. While heels are usually regarded as phallic objects to elongate and accentuate the sexualised female form, the Tabi boot subverts this, and is particularly potent when worn by a man.

 

 

Tabis

Maison Margiela, Mens Painted Calfskin Tabi Boots. maisonmargiela.com

 

 

Appropriated from Japanese tabi that date back to the fifteenth century, Margiela’s boot continues a long history of the regulation of women through their footwear. Tabi were originally leather shoes made from a single piece of animal skin, later evolving into split-toe socks to be worn with thong shoes, such as geta.

 

Tabi

Koma geta, second half on 19th century / Edo period, Japan, Tokyo, Musée de Quai Branley, Paris

 

This pair of geta, nearly 30 centimetres high and weighing over 2.5 kilograms, belonged to a courtesan in the Yoshiwara pleasure district of Edo, modern-day Tokyo. The two wooden ‘teeth’ platforms are ornately decorated in guided floral motifs, whilst the straps are wrapped in now faded velvet. Both connote a degree of luxury, suggesting the status of the courtesan. The woodblock print below depicts a procession of richly-dressed courtesans, all in geta and ornate kimonos, accompanied by attendants. However, this is not an accurate depiction of the realities of the sex district. By physically elevating the female wearer, geta were utilised as a way of identifying courtesans within the district, especially to make sure they weren’t running away. Furthermore, some geta also bore the mark of the courtesan’s owner, revealing that these shoes were a way of binding courtesans to their life within the sex district, thus denying female empowerment or freedom.

 

Image 5

Utagawa Hiroshige II, Nakano Street in Yoshiawa district in Edo, 1857, woodblock print, Japan, V&A, London

Restrictive footwear, in every sense of the word, is also evidenced throughout Europe. For example, chopines were highly popular throughout Renaissance Europe, in particular Venice. These stilt-like shoes served the practical function of elevating the wearer above flooded streets to prevent their expensive garments from being dirtied. However the chopines below, at around a staggering 55 centimetres tall, offer an entirely impractical degree of elevation.

 

Image 6

Chopine, Italy, circa 1600. wood and leather. Royal Armoury, Stockholm

This suggests that chopines also served the symbolic function of displaying status, as they literally showcased women of higher standing. Additionally, chopines create a phallic image of the female form – transforming her into an erect column-like structure. According to Freud, it is not simply the fact that the shoe imitates the form of a phallus that justifies fetishists’ appreciation of footwear. It is also the positioning of the shoe in relation to the body, creating a link up to the leg towards the genitals. Freud argues that young boys, from their low vantage point, make this link in relation to their mother and their mother’s absent penis. The materials of heavy skirts that shield the female body from prying eyes add an erotic level of mystery to this.

 

Image 7

Ferrando Bertelli, Venetian Woman with Moveable Skirt (with flap lifted to reveal her chopines), 1563. Engraving, 14 x 18.9 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

The above image depicts a respectable sixteenth-century woman who is reduced to ridicule as her skirt can be lifted up to expose her chopines as well as her breeches. At the time, breeches, a masculine undergarment, were often adopted by prostitutes. The hovering cupid, once her skirt is lifted, crudely points his arrow directly at her covered genitals. Her chopines are not as grand as other examples. She is neither elevated through her rank nor her footwear, making her lowered status as a prostitute a possibility.

 

 

Image 8

Mule, circa 1900, Vienna, Austria, International Shoe Museum, Romans.

 

Excessive heel height is not only about displaying women’s aspirational status but also about diminishing and controlling them through severe discomfort. The above fetish mule, made of black kidskin, represents female discomfort for male gratification. The severe point of the toes, combined with the flared and precariously narrow 20-centimetre heel, reveal that it would be impossible to stand in these delicate shoes. They could only be worn sitting or lying down. Yet these mules would have enhanced the curvature of the arch of the foot to an extreme degree, creating a graceful silhouette. The intricate ruffled detail and the bow adorned with a cabochon set in porcelain demonstrate that this is a valuable object. Hence, this shoe is not about diminishing a woman’s social standing, but about reducing her to an immobile, passive object of desire.

 

 

Image 9

Fetish boots, c. 1900, Vienna, Austria, International Shoe Museum, Romans

 

Similarly, the 28-centimetre heel of the above fetish boot creates an unnatural curvature of the female foot. The point of the shoe and the heel sit at different heights, again showing that these boots were not made for walking. The length of the boot, extending up the entire calf, evokes the physical proximity of the leather to the female skin, which adds a layer of fetishism to the object. The thirty two intricate button fastenings up the length of the boot enhance this, creating a sense of longing for what the boot encapsulates but is unwilling to surrender. In this way, it is not entirely dissimilar to the foot reliquary.

 

 

 

 

Image 10

Christian Louboutin, Pumps, 2007, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Louboutin’s 2007 ‘Fetish’ collection brings the themes of early twentieth-century fetishism into the present day. Louboutin takes the humble flat ballet pump, a staple of contemporary women’s wardrobes, and morphs it into something that looks like an instrument of torture. In the campaign shoot, photographer David Lynch stressed this element of eroticised female suffering.

 

 

Image 11

David Lynch, Fetish, 2007. Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

 

In keeping with the ballet pump, Lynch requested dancers instead of models for the shoot. This also tied in with Louboutin’s origins as a shoe designer for showgirls at the infamous Paris cabaret music hall, the Folies Bergère. Thus dance and movement (or a lack of movement) have always been taken into consideration in his designs. Moreover, Louboutin prioritises his imagination over technical elements and natural proportions, and this is certainly the case here. The strong, athletic legs of the dancer tower over her tiny delicate feet that are hardly visible in their contortion. The harsh light projects a shadow of the extreme, sensuous curvature of the dancer’s feet, teetering precariously en pointe. Lynch has created an atmosphere shrouded in secrecy through these chiaroscuro light effects, forcing the viewer into the role of the voyeur. The dancer’s naked body is fragmented as we can only see her bare legs. Her arms are out of shot and supposedly holding onto supports. The blurred image evokes a sense of panicked movement, as if she is in the process of falling. In this instance, it is the delicate vulnerability of a woman wearing such torturous shoes that renders her an object of spectacle and thus of erotic fascination.

 

There is something inherently powerful about employing footwear, something that was originally designed to root you to the ground and facilitate walking, as a means of self-elevation through tolerated agony. Yet if such an accessory is forced onto unwilling feet, it denies selfhood, and objectifies the wearer as a passive mannequin-like static form.

 

By Claudia Stanley

 

Sources:

 

Apter, Emily. Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the Century France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.

 

Bossan, Marie-Josèphe. The Art of the Shoe. New York: Parkstone, 2004.

 

Croizat-Glazer, Yassana. Historical Shoe Trends, Sexual Contrasts and the Need to Take Up Space. 15th July 2021: https://awomensthing.org/blog/historical-shoe-trends-chopines-crakows/

 

Furiassi, Cristiano Gino. Chronicling a Global Fetish: A Linguistic Analysis of the Pseudo-Italian Internationalism Stiletto. ZoneModa Journal 9, no. 2, 2019. pp. 103–121.

 

Hamlyn, Anne, Freud, Fabric, Fetish, Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, vol.1, no. 1, March 2003. pp. 8-26.

 

Jacobs, Fredrika H. Shoes. Res (Cambridge, Mass.) 71-72, no. 1, 2019. pp. 284–294.

 

Jacques M. Chevalier. “Foot and Shoe Fetishes: The Bright Side.” In Corpus and the Cortex, 109–. MQUP, 2002.

 

Stephens, Sonya. Sex and Spleen: Fetish in Baudelaire’s ‘les Bijoux.’ South Central review 29, no. 3, 2012. pp. 63–79.

 

V&A. Christian Louboutin interview, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrH4JlyW5zo

COP26: A Sobering Message for the Fashion Industry and its Consumers

Inside COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Getty Images.

As I dressed for an exceptionally cold day in London this morning, I took the time to read the label inside the jumper that would keep me warm for the day ahead. The care label read:

 

Made in China

42% Cotton

26% Acrylic

25% Polyamide

4% Wool

3% Elastane

Handwash at 30 degrees

Do not tumble-dry

 

I’m ashamed to say that it was the first time I read such a label and considered what it really meant, besides how to wash my beloved cosy jumper without shrinking it. Many questions came to mind. Where in China was it made? Who worked the sewing machine that put it together? How old were they? How much were they paid? What were the conditions of the factory in which it was made? Where did all these raw materials come from? And how did it travel from China to the UK? The questions go on and on.

These were just some of the questions explored last week in Glasgow at COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Countries present at the conference, and their industries, were expected to ‘show up with something to offer’ to the global pursuit of combatting the climate crisis (Rachel Cernansky, 2021). The fashion industry was not exempt from scrutiny. During the week, the UN Fashion Charter updated their climate commitment, with an aim to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030. British fashion houses (including Stella McCartney and Burberry, among high-street labels like H&M) participated in talks and shows to signal their allegiance to the cause. However, with the latest national pledges only estimated to achieve one-seventh of emissions cuts necessary, we must ask not only if brands are doing enough, but ourselves as consumers.

 

Image from the Fashion Revolution Instagram page (@fash_rev). Caption: Polyester = plastic = oil. But fossil fuels are part of our wardrobes even if there aren’t synthetics on the label. 27 October 2021.

Posters carried by attendees of the Climate Conference read: ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ and ‘What’s in My Clothes?’. These are the slogans of Fashion Revolution, a non-profit organisation and global movement that participated in discussions at COP26. The Fashion Revolution Manifesto calls for an environmentally sustainable and ethical fashion industry; dignified work, equal and fair pay, and conservation and restoration of the environment are just some of their global aims. Ciara Barry, Policy and Research Coordinator at Fashion Revolution, remarked that the organisation was ‘disappointed that fashion isn’t further up the agenda’ of discussions surrounding the climate crisis. Fashion Revolution reported that if fashion were a nation state, it would be the seventh-largest in the world, showing the magnitude of the industry and its contributions to global pollution. The global industry was in fact responsible for about 4% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, which is ‘comparable to the combined emissions of France, Germany and the UK’ (Madeline Speed, 2021).

In their panel discussion with questions from Scarlett Conlon of The Guardian at COP26, Fashion Revolution reminded members of the conference that these environmental issues are never divorced from ethical consequences. It was noted that ‘the global north is responsible for 92% of emissions while the global south bears the burden of harm’. Factory flooding, the pollution to local water sources, and – in the case of the 2013 Dhaka factory collapse in Bangladesh – disastrous damage to industrial regions is all too common in the areas that mass-produce garments for the global north. It is not the responsibility of workers to address these issues, but the ‘brands and retailers who must take a more active role in addressing these risks’. More than this, it is our responsibility as consumers to rethink our overconsumption of fast fashion goods which encourages overproduction, and inevitably leads to these dangerous worker conditions. Fashion Revolution prompt us, not only at COP26 but in their widespread campaigning for economic and social justice in fashion, that we consumers must rethink our out of sight, out of mind approach to fashion.

 

After the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 2013. Getty Images.

So, what can we do to rethink our consumption of fashion and combat these environmental and social issues? One place to start is addressing our relationship with fashion in social media, which largely feeds into our desire to consume more and more without considering the unseen consequences. In recent years especially, popular trend videos on platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram have encouraged ‘haul videos’ from high-street brands, where consumers show off their latest purchases. The garments in these ‘hauls’ usually fall into the ‘micro-trend’ category; made at a speedy rate to be enjoyed for the season, and probably discarded afterwards. Likewise, in the run-up to ‘Black Friday’ sales happening next week, many retailers engage in the social media frenzy of promising heavily discounted prices for end-of-season stock, which only encourages further overproduction at the beginning of the season. By taking the time to think about what garments we really need, rather than buying for the sake of buying, we can begin to curb the thoughtless shopping habits which lead to dangerous working environments and environmental pollution overseas. Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index is also a useful tool for consumers to research further into their favourite brands, with a breakdown of their sustainability in terms of shipping and raw materials, and socio-economic issues like worker wages and conditions.

COP26 brought a sobering message for the fashion industry, but it is also one of hopeful ambition towards the future. Indeed, brands must be held accountable for the environmental and ethical oversights of their suppliers, but it is we as consumers who must change our outlook on our speedy and thoughtless consumption of garments. If action is taken now, we might contribute to a future of fashion which is sustainable, ethical and considerate. Now is the time to ask: ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ and ‘What’s in My Clothes?’

 

The Fashion Transparency Index for 2021 by Fashion Revolution can be downloaded following this link: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/transparency/

Fashion Revolution Instagram handle: @fash_rev

 

By Erin-Atlanta Argun

 

References:

Barry, Ciara. Fashion Revolution at COP26, 15 November 2021.

Cernansky, Rachel. ‘What Fashion Should Expect at COP26’. Vogue Business, 28 October 2021. https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/what-fashion-should-expect-at-cop26.

Chan, Emily. ‘How Fashion Is Ramping Up Its Climate Efforts At Cop26’. Vogue, 9 November 2021. https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/article/un-fashion-charter-cop26.

Conlon, Scarlett, and Fashion Revolution. COP26: Questions from Scarlett Conlon at the Guardian, 2021.

Entwistle, Joanne. ‘The Fashion Industry’. In The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.

Fashion Revolution. ‘COP26: Why Fashion Needs a Seat at the Table’, November 2021. https://www.fashionrevolution.org/cop26-why-fashion-needs-a-seat-at-the-table/.

Godley, Andrew, Anna Kersher, and Raphael Schapiro. ‘Fashion and Its Impact on the Economic Development of London’s East End Womenswear Industry, 1929–62: The Case of Ellis and Goldstein’. Textile History 34, no. 2 (November 2003).

Speed, Madeline. ‘Fashion Industry to Miss Emissions Target despite COP26 Pledge’. Financial Times, 9 November 2021. https://www.ft.com/content/92d64022-415c-4fa2-93a7-bc277c417544.

The Gucci Love Parade…

On November 2 2021, the Gucci Love Parade took over Hollywood Boulevard. The show drew on Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s childhood and paid homage to the glamour of Old Hollywood. Michele’s mother worked in the film industry, and it was the stories that she told him that acted as an escape for Michele. This infatuation lasted throughout adulthood with Michele stating that:

“Hollywood is… a Greek temple…actors and actresses are acknowledged as heroes of the myth: hybrid creatures with the power to hold divine transcendence and mortal existence at the same time”.

Journalist Nicole Phelps also notes how Michele’s Love Parade “absorbed all manner of Hollywood tropes” from Old Hollywood glamour to more everyday looks too.

Let’s look at some of the favourites…

Elizabeth Taylor, ranked seventh in the list of the greatest female screen legends in Hollywood Cinema, is perhaps best known for her eponymous role of Cleopatra in the 1963 Walter Wanger film.

 

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

 

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

 

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

Gucci’s pre-fall’22 collection featured this inspired look:

Gucci Love Parade, 2 November 2021. Source: Vogue Runway

Another cult classic film is featured in the form of the 1976 rendition of Stephen King’s Carrie. The title role was played by Sissy Spacek, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

 

Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

 

Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

Gucci Love Parade:

Gucci Love Parade, 2 November 2021. Source: Vogue Runway

And finally, we have a reference to Anna May Wong’s Tu Tuan in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues. Wong is an important figure in Hollywood as she is considered to be the first Chinese-American movie star.

Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues

 

Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues

 

Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues

Gucci Love Parade:

Gucci Love Parade, 2 November 2021. Source: Vogue Runway

So, what do you think? Do you think Gucci successfully paid homage to some of the most iconic Hollywood fashion moments and the starlets that wore them? Or do you think they verge too much on Halloween costumes for a November 2nd show?

 

By Rosie Dyer

 

Sources:

 

https://fashionista.com/2021/11/gucci-spring-2022-collection

 

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-week/a38148413/gucci-love-parade/

 

https://www.gucci.com/uk/en_gb/st/stories/runway/article/love-parade-fashion-show-looks-gallery

 

https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2022-ready-to-wear/gucci

 

https://www.afi.com/afis-100-years-100-stars/

 

https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/anna-may-wong

Make-up as Artistry and the Origins of the Beauty Industry in ‘Make-up: A Glamorous History’

Global beauty industry sales hit $500 billion in 2019, and consistently outperformed other areas of fashion retail throughout the pandemic. It can seem as though this economic force appeared overnight, but make-up artist Lisa Eldridge’s BBC Two series, Make-up: A Glamorous History, debunks this notion by tracing the history of make-up in Britain in three parts. In each episode, she highlights an important moment in beauty history: ‘Georgian dandies, demure Victorians and decadent flappers.’

Each episode of the series sees Eldridge make up a model in the style of the period, where possible using products made according to original recipes. In some cases – notably, with the toxic lead used by the Georgians to create white pigment for face powder – this requires the help of a specialist and protective equipment. In others, Eldridge is able to knock up batches of luxurious Georgian facial cleanser and subtle Victorian lip tint with nothing more than a single tabletop hob and some muslin. Eldridge also speaks to historians to dig deeper into the trends of each era, looking at the women and men considered to be the beauty influencers of their time and what this says about each society. She looks at extant objects, including posters, magazines and compacts, to get an understanding of the marketing and retail of beauty products in each era.

While researching Georgian beauty ideals, Eldridge meets with Royal Academy of Arts Curator of Works on Paper Annette Wickham. Their discussion of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ paintings of society women – including actresses, singers and courtesans – reveals the origins of the ‘beauty influencer’ system that is so culturally and economically significant today. The boom of print culture at this time allowed the images of these women to be disseminated in newspapers and as prints, displayed in alehouses, coffee shops and in the street-facing windows of dedicated print shops. The women who featured in these images encouraged their dissemination and even staged publicity ploys: Wickham tells the story of Kitty Fisher, a prominent courtesan who deliberately fell from her horse in Hyde Park to ensure that her name and picture would appear in the newspapers. Maintaining a high profile aligned with beauty brought these women financial security in the form of wealthy husbands. Today, being recognised for beauty (or, often, excellent make-up artistry) can bring financial gains in the form of brand partnerships and advertising revenue, highlighting the significant potential outcomes of effective use of make-up throughout history.

Kitty Fisher (1762), line engraving by William Humphrys, after a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, National Portrait Gallery.

The episode that focuses on Victorian beauty reveals the secrecy around make-up during this period. Just as today the perfect ‘no-makeup make-up look’ is a holy grail for many, the Victorians went to great lengths to appear ‘naturally’ beautiful. Make-up masqueraded as medicine in published recipes and advertisements, adding a further layer of artifice to what was already perceived as immoral trickery. But such efforts were necessary: the inherent sinfulness of make-up was enshrined in a law that enabled police officers to arrest women if they were suspected of wearing make-up. The argument was that if a woman was so depraved as to wear make-up, she might also be guilty of illegally selling sex. This puritanical preference for bare – and, notably, pale white – skin fed into the Victorian colonial narrative in its parallel suggestion that a person’s ‘natural’ appearance was an indication of their human worth. The quest for pallor meant that there was even a vogue for ‘tuberculosis chic’, prefiguring the trend for ‘heroin chic’ that would appear a century later. Prominent beauties, including Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, also known as Madame X, paid the equivalent of thousands of pounds in today’s money for a form of semi-permanent make-up known as enamelling. The treatment comprised an aggressive exfoliation before a thick layer of white paint – meant to fill in fine lines and cover blemishes – was applied, then drawn over with blue veins. Some of the dangerous attitudes that drove these extremes – especially those around deviations in skin tone or texture from a ‘natural’ yet idealised beauty – are undoubtedly still present in some form in the global beauty industry today.

Portrait of Madame X (1884) by John Singer Sargent, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

According to the third and final episode in the series, the 1920s was the era in which the beauty industry as we know it today was born. A desire among women to break away from social ideals eventually led to the acceptance of a full face of make-up in public, as well as bobbed hair and new behaviours. This change was inextricable from the rise of cinema, which disseminated moving and still images of new beauty ideals – women were necessarily heavily made up under studio lights – and provided the technological advancements in make-up that allowed for its commercialisation. Eldridge traces the rise of modern foundations from their inception in Max Factor’s stage make-up. New markets also appeared – make-up was no longer just for the wealthy – and elaborate packaging encouraged further consumption. Celebrity endorsements continued to be important, but now famous faces could be tied to brand names, for example, Josephine Baker’s many beauty lines. Eldridge introduces a piece from her personal collection: a Josephine Baker and Flamand compact cuff. The glamorous black and gold bracelet can be opened to reveal powder and a mirror, allowing for regular, public reapplication. While it’s more unusual to find cross-pollination like this today, likely owing to the cost that would be involved for the manufacturer as well as the consumer, make-up brands continue to place a high importance on packaging. This is increasingly true as consumers look for sustainable (yet still aesthetically pleasing) options.

Josephine Baker and Flamand powder compact cuff bracelet, 1930s, personal collection of Lisa Eldridge. (Still from Episode 3 of ‘Make-up: A Glamorous History’, BBC).

Overall, the series makes it clear that, while the beauty industry as we know it today exists in an intensely commercialised form, it has been an important part of society for centuries, functioning in broadly similar ways. While trends have changed according to the mores of the day, some form of artifice (either highly decorative or more ‘natural’) has always been the goal. Make-up has always represented a form of self-expression: it offers a means of communicating wealth, health or alternative values. Furthermore, for viewers who may be accustomed to buying their make-up branded and boxed from the beauty aisle, the series reminds us that make-up is an art like any other, with the body as its canvas. The medium and the tools that can be used as make-up aren’t necessarily always labelled as such. Experimentation and play are therefore encouraged, and a less exclusive concept of beauty can emerge.

By Lucy Corkish

Sources

Emily Gerstell, Sophie Marchessou, Jennifer Schmidt, and Emma Spagnuolo, Consumer Packaged Goods Practice: How COVID-19 is changing the world of beauty, McKinsey and Company, 2020 (https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Industries/Consumer%20Packaged%20Goods/Our%20Insights/How%20COVID%2019%20is%20changing%20the%20world%20of%20beauty/How-COVID-19-is-changing-the-world-of-beauty-vF.pdf)

Make-up: A Glamorous History, presented by Lisa Eldridge, directed by Rachel Jardine and Lucy Swingler, BBC Two, 2021

Copy Culture and Creativity

As long as there has been fashion, there have been fakes. Couture was copied from its earliest days: sketchers or buyers working for counterfeiters were sent to shows to bring back new designs for replication as soon as they were available. Garment labels were developed, in part, as a measure to combat the copyists – Madeleine Vionnet even went as far as to mark her labels with her own thumbprint. Others frequently altered their label designs to stay one step ahead of the thousands of counterfeit labels being produced. In France, the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture was set up so that designers could register their original works in an attempt to protect themselves against counterfeiting. In the United States, however, the legality of copying remained murky. In a video created for the 2014-15 exhibition Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits at The Museum at FIT, US experts on fashion law note the legal differences between counterfeit items – “made in exact imitation … with intention to deceive” – and knockoffs, which are similar but not identical to the original item, as well as the lack of copyright protections for fashion design in the US.

Madeleine Vionnet labels with thumbprint via Susan Scafidi [http://www.counterfeitchic.com/2006/02/marking_territory.php]

It is standard practice for artists to copy masterpieces as part of the process of developing their own style and, in the same way, fashion designers are able to hone their skills by observing and replicating the work of master couturiers. But just as commercial forgery is widespread in the art world, so in fashion, the most popular high-end designs inspire corporate copycats. These range from terrorist groups and drug cartels, who exploit the high profit margins that can be achieved by selling counterfeit ‘It bags’ produced using cheap materials and labour, to highly creative designers like Dapper Dan, who began riffing on designer logos as part of his own fashion line in the 1980s. In the grey area between these ethical extremes lie brands like Fashion Nova, who reinterpret – as quickly and as minimally as possible – the work of more expensive and often emerging designers, to sell to the masses at a fraction of the cost.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bsd6z4pFVO1/

For those with an appetite for high-end fashion but without the means to purchase it, fakes that mimic the style (without necessarily replicating the standards of production) offer an affordable alternative. Excepting those that are produced in a moral vacuum, counterfeit designer goods are a democratising power for consumers. However, the cost to the designers – and to emerging designers, in particular – is self-evident. Furthermore, the barefaced copying arguably contributes to the homogenisation of style by negating the need for self-styling through innovation. An alternative to this can be found in the ‘Versage’ style noted by Allyn Gaestel in Lagos: she writes that the self-styling is just as important to the overall look as the ‘knock-off Versace’, and that, often, the garments themselves don’t feature a logo, but rather an aesthetic nod to the designer brand that has been reinterpreted for the Lagosian consumer.

Photography Bénédicte Kurzen / Noor [https://nataal.com/versage]

With the widespread access to visual culture that the internet affords comes a partial exposure of the processes of creativity, which almost always involve references to existing creations. The growing acceptance of this fact can open up conversations around copying and inspiration, thereby facilitating respectful homages rather than theft. This same access to images means that those who do copy without crediting or sincerely reinterpreting their inspirations are likely to be targeted by watchdogs like Diet Prada. The increased awareness of references means that – regardless of the law – those who do reuse logos, whether for prestige by association or the complex forms of expression associated with ‘post-parodies’ (as described by Charles Colman), are encouraged to use them innovatively, creating designs that are evidently not direct copies of ‘originals’.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CL2DZkPHzdZ/

This form of homage, which is so important in hip-hop, brings us back to the work of Dapper Dan. When Gucci largely copied a Dapper Dan jacket in 2017, they initially rejected the idea that the design had been stolen. After much furore online, Gucci partnered with Dapper Dan, eventually opening a store in Harlem. This reclamation of the prestige of copying can be seen elsewhere in Diesel’s ‘DEISEL’ pop-up on Canal Street in 2018. With the explosion of visual culture for all online, attitudes towards copying in fashion are being forced to evolve and adapt to an acceptance of creative reinterpretation.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUuGSvrD59w/

By Lucy Corkish

Sources:

Allyn Gaestel, ‘Versage’ in Nataal, issue 1 (2018)

Charles E. Colman, ‘Trademark Law and the Prickly Ambivalence of Post-Parodies’, NYU School of Law Public Law Research Paper No. 14-45 (2014)

Ellie Pithers, ‘Why Diesel Is Selling Knock-Offs To Unsuspecting Customers’ (2018) [https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/diesel-fake-store-new-york-february-2018]

Farah X and Lisa Cortes, ‘The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion’, Netflix (2019)

Nancy J. Troy, Couture Culture (2002)

TED, ‘How fake handbags fund terrorism and organized crime | Alastair Gray’ (2018) [https://youtu.be/5UH7uTpTa44]

The Museum at FIT, Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits (2014-15) [https://www.fitnyc.edu/museum/exhibitions/faking-it.php]

The Museum at FIT, ‘An Insider’s Perspective on the Counterfeit Industry’ (2014) [https://youtu.be/Is9Hxn7Wr5w]

Rose-Coloured Tresses: Pink Hair for Dark Times

Every February, like clockwork, I am struck with the sudden urge to dye my hair pink.  The desire is almost inexplicable. Perhaps by this point it is a force of habit or evidence of my desire to blend in with saccharine Valentine’s Day decor, but it also feels like a small act of rebellion against the onslaught of bitter, grey days that blur together in late winter. This season it seems that I am not alone in this desire. Teen Vogue has deemed pink hair to be the ‘defining aesthetic’ of the Covid-19 pandemic. This statement is supported by Alex Brownsell, founder of the hair salon Bleach known for its wild colours (and, for the record, producer of this author’s favourite at-home pink dye kit), who told The Guardian that her company has sold one pink hair product every 30 seconds in the past year – which makes for nearly 2,880 people buying bubblegum hues each day since the pandemic began.

While the exact number of Londoners sporting pink hair in lockdown remains difficult to calculate, the reasons the trend has spiked so much this year seem quite simple. Lockdown has felt like an endless late winter slump, each dreary day blending into the next and the familiar walls of our homes beginning to feel, well, too familiar. The visual equivalent of candyfloss made to top your head has the effect of a jolt of sugar to the system – an instant mood booster. Additionally, with screens limiting our outward appearance to the shoulders up, pink hair seems an easy way to set oneself apart from the crowd in an onslaught of endless Zoom calls. (I’ve also found that I receive many more smiles on the street with pink hair – proof perhaps that it’s not just my mood that the colour brightens).

Using blush hair as a distraction from dark times, however, is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. As long ago as Rococo France, men and women tinted their hair pink with powder, a trend which, in hindsight, may have been one of the more minor frivolous diversions from their festering societal problems. Several centuries later, pink hair took on a more practical purpose in cheering up citizens of a war-stricken nation. A 1940 issue of St. Joseph’s News Press proclaims a new fashion for pink hair, writing that across London: ‘Blondes are going to turn pink…for khaki and blonde don’t go together too well. The new pink fashion is becoming especially popular among women in uniform. The new pink tint is the invention of a West End hairstylist, who said that uniforms are playing a big part in hair fashions’.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bx6qd97heao/

As Pat Kirkham establishes in ‘Keeping Up the Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ hairstyling and beauty products were essential to the identity of women enlisted in the British military, who were encouraged to maintain traditionally feminine appearances both to differentiate themselves from male soldiers and to project a polished, confident image of unified nationalism. Women not enlisted in the military were similarly encouraged to adhere to their usual beauty routines or enhance them even further, as means of offering comfort to themselves and their families that all was well on the home front. In light of this, unnaturally pink hair seems to be a choice motivated by much more than the fact that blonde hair clashed with khaki uniforms. It seems more likely, perhaps, that a coif of pink hair poked out from a sea of khaki like a beacon of optimism, offering brief respite from the drabness of wartime rationing and imposed service. In occupied Paris, cosmetics took on an air of rebellion, signifying a refusal to adhere to the plainness essential to Nazi standards of femininity. Just four years after the liberation of Paris, the High Fashion Coiffeurs Union showed a shade of pale pink called ‘hermine rose’ as the hair colour of the season, which reads as a jubilant celebration of the full potential of beauty products.

Luminex hair dye ad shown in L’Officiel, late 1930s-early 1940s.

The trend for rosy locks was widespread enough to necessitate options for women who were not ready to take the plunge into permanently colouring their hair. A 1947 piece in Women’s Wear Daily describes how women could purchase pink nylon hair from British designer Bianca Mosca to mix with their own hair, creating a style that coordinated with their pastel evening gowns. A 1942 issue of Harper’s Bazaar praises socialite Mrs. Arturo Lopez-Willshaw for her ‘immaculate and lovely’ hair styles, braided creations that were festooned with pink velvet bows and pearls.

Lapinal hair colour chart, late 1950s, image via Etsy, https://www.etsy.com/listing/894710740/vintage-lapinal-hair-color-chart-poster.

Just ten years later, a brochure for Lapinal hair colour offered no fewer than four shades of pink available to women dyeing their hair at home. In 1964, famed costume designer Edith Head brought pink hair to the silver screen in the movie What a Way to Go! with Shirley MacLaine in a Pepto-Bismol hued bouffant and a fur coat to match. In a London where we are blessedly free from military draft and enemy occupation, pink hair seems a bit less shocking – these days it’s been seen on everyone from Kate Moss to Kylie Jenner. The sentiment behind the style, however, remains unchanged: when the going gets tough, it helps to look at the world with rose-coloured tresses.

Promotional image for What a Way to Go!, 1964, directed by J. Lee Thompson. 20th Century Fox.

By Ruby Redstone

Sources:

Bateman, Kristin. ‘How Pink Hair Came to Define the Aesthetic of Covid-19,’ Teen Vogue. 22 December 2020. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/pink-hair-aesthetic-covid-19.

Elan, Priya. ‘Why pink hair is the “statement-making” hair color trend of the pandemic,’ The Guardian. 8 January 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2021/jan/08/pink-hair-color-trend-pandemic.

Felsenthal, Julia. ‘Pink Hair is All the Rage – Just Like it Was in 1914,’ Slate. 12 May 2011. https://slate.com/culture/2011/05/pink-hair-is-all-the-rage-just-like-it-was-in-1914.html.

Kirkham, Pat, ‘Keeping up Home Front Morale: “Beauty and Duty” in Wartime Britain,’ in   Atkins, Jacqueline M. ed., Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Home Front in Japan, Britain, and the United States, 1931-45 (New Haven and London: BGC/Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 205-228

‘New Pink Hair Fashion’. St Joseph’s News Press. 14  September 1940. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=G4hkAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U3UNAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=6185%2C2174950.

‘Paris Picks Pink Hair-Calls It “Hermine Rose”’. Toledo Blade. 2 December 1948. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=mNMpAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AgAEAAAAIBAJ&dq=pink%20hair%20history&pg=2723%2C5938092

“Pink Nylon Hair.” Women’s Wear Daily 75, no. 48 (Sep 08, 1947): 3. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/pink-nylon-hair/docview/1627474466/se-2?accountid=10277.

“SCRAPBOOK.” Harper’s Bazaar 76, no. 2772 (12, 1942): 58-59. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/scrapbook/docview/1832465226/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Shopping Bazaar.” Harper’s Bazaar 71, no. 2704 (01, 1938): 32-37. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/shopping-bazaar/docview/1832491061/se-2?accountid=10277.

The Pas de Deux of Fashion and Ballet

As a little girl, I watched prima ballerinas dress up in flowing tutus and sparkly leotards to perform seemingly impossible manoeuvres with only their bodies and a pair of pointe shoes. Slipping into my own tights, leotard, and shoes while pinning my hair into the tightest bun possible felt like a daily badge of honour. As a former ballerina, I can’t help but admire the intricate, graceful look of ballet costumes and how their designs highlight the elegance of a dancer’s body.

Ballet and fashion are inextricably intertwined, with each art form both inspiring and drawing inspiration from the other. Anna Pavlova, a world-renowned prima ballerina of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, wore a particularly striking tutu in her 1905 performance of ‘The Dying Swan,’ a four-minute ballet choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. Pavlova performed the piece thousands of times over the course of her career, and her rendition influenced contemporary versions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Her costume features a tight bodice with soft panels, reminiscent of a swan’s wings, on either side of her tutu and a feathered headpiece.

‘Cygne Noir,’ an evening gown designed by Christian Dior in the mid-twentieth century, reimagined elements of Pavlova’s timeless costume. The gown also incorporates a tight bodice and its skirt billows out in a waterfall of silk and velvet. Furthermore, the gown reconceives the silky panels of Pavlova’s tutu. If Pavlova’s costume embodies the demure fragility of the white swan, Dior’s gown radiates the mystery and seduction of the black swan.

Herman Mishkin, ‘Anna Pavlova, costumed as the dying swan,’ 1905. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Christian Dior, Cygne Noir (Black Swan)
Evening Dress
1949-1950 (made)
Victoria and Albert Museum

The leotard, a fundamental component of ballet costumes and rehearsal wear, has been consistently reimagined and incorporated into fashion. In 1943, Harper’s Bazaar introduced ‘The Leotard Idea’ based on designs created by Mildred Orrick. With sportswear dominating wartime fashion, fashion editor Diana Vreeland hoped to introduce the styles to young women, particularly college girls. She worked with renowned sportswear designer Claire McCardell and Townley Sports to create ‘variations of the leotard theme,’ but the designs were ultimately too expensive to manufacture. However, twenty-first century bodysuits recycle this traditional piece of balletwear into contemporary streetwear.

‘The Leotard Idea,’ Harper’s Bazaar, 1943.
Stella McCartney, ‘Stella Wear Modern Open-Knit Bodysuit’ via https://www.neimanmarcus.com/p/stella-mccartney-stella-wear-modern-open-knit-bodysuit-prod234870329

Twentieth-century camp also seized upon the connection between ballet and fashion. Franco Moschino designed a strapless dress for his fall/winter collection of 1989, combining a bustier top with the ballet pink of a leotard. The dress is an optical illusion, depicting a pair of legs in pink tights and pointe shoes posing in passé, underneath a cropped, pink tulle tutu that protrudes from the black skirt. The ensemble comes alive as the wearer moves; a simple shift in direction sends the legs on the skirt spiralling into a pirouette.

Franco Moschino (Italian, 1950–1994) for House of Moschino (Italian, founded 1983). Dress, fall/winter 1989. Courtesy of Moschino. Photo © Johnny Dufort, 2018. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ballet slippers and pointe shoes are another source of consistent inspiration in fashion. Ballet slippers were first introduced in the eighteenth century by Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo, a French dancer who preferred to perform in soft slippers as opposed to high-heeled shoes, breaking away from traditional dance footwear. A century later, Swedish ballerina Marie Taglioni pioneered the creation of the pointe shoe, which would be further advanced by Anna Pavlova. Pavlova also worked with Salvatore Capezio to create the world’s first international pointe shoe brand. Pointe shoes and ballet slippers were traditionally made for white female ballet dancers. Therefore, pale pink – perceived to be close to the colour of white skin – became the standardised colour for ballet tights and shoes.

Until as recently as 2018, dancers of colour were forced to dye their pointe shoes. As most ballerinas go through two to three pairs of point shoes per week, many dancers spent as much as eight-hundred dollars per year on dyes. However, ballet manufacturers like Gaynor Minden have finally recognised the need to accommodate ballerinas of colour, and ballet shoes are now available in a range of satin colours that represent a wider variety of skin tones.

‘Melle. Taglioni dans La sylphide,’ 1860. Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Gaynor Minden’s satin shades for pointe shoes via https://dancer.com/satin-colors/

Modern, prêt-à-porter ballet flats echo their onstage ancestors. They exploded in popularity after Rose Repetto designed flats for Brigitte Bardot in 1956, which Bardot later wore in her film …And God Created Woman. Today’s ballet flats come in a range of colours and styles from various designers, and often feature the dainty bow and soft leather that define the ballet slipper. Brands like Repetto and Chanel continuously revamp the classic silhouettes each season. However, some feature modern twists, such as Simone Rocha’s combination of a ballet flat and trainer. Even the design’s crisscross straps resemble pointe shoe ribbons.

Simone Rocha spring/summer 2021 shoes via https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/simone-rocha-ss21-shoes

Ballet and fashion have also been linked in popular culture and advertising. Stuart Weitzman released a series of advertisements for the 2019 holiday season called ‘Step Inside,’ featuring Misty Copeland, one of the foremost prima ballerinas of the twenty-first century. In one variation, Copeland wears a black bralette and black tulle skirt, modernising the traditional tutu. Her shoes change colour as she chaînés across the room, aligning the artistry of ballet with the ephemerality of fashion.

 

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw wore a pink sleeveless bodysuit and white tulle skirt in the opening sequence of Sex and the City (1998-2004). With love of fashion being one of the show’s central themes, Bradshaw’s ballerina-meets-urban-woman look kicked off every episode, embodying the timeless elegance of the relationship between fashion and ballet. Although I am no longer a ballerina, ballet flats, bodysuits, and the occasional tulle skirt are staples in my wardrobe, and I can’t wait to scoop up more reinvented pieces that put me onstage again.

By Genevieve Davis

Sources:

Arnold, Rebecca. “Sportswear and the New York Fashion Industry during the Second World War.” In the American Look: Fashion and the Image of Women in 1930’s and 1940’s New York. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009.

Daher, Nadine. “From Ballerina Flats to Tutus, Ballet Has Left Its Mark on Fashion.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ballerina-flats-tutus-ballet-has-left-its-mark-fashion-180974296/.

Marshall, Alex. “Brown Point Shoes Arrive, 200 Years After White Ones.” The New York Times, November 4, 2018, sec. Arts. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/04/arts/dance/brown-point-shoes-diversity-ballet.html.

Pike, Naomi. “It’s A Ballet Slipper, But Not as You Know It: Simone Rocha Has Created A Shoe We Never Knew We Needed.” British Vogue. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://www.vogue.co.uk/miss-vogue/article/simone-rocha-ss21-shoes.

Pointe. “1820s–1830s: Marie Taglioni and the Romantic Ballerinas,” August 5, 2020. https://www.pointemagazine.com/history-of-pointe-shoes-2646384074.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3?rebelltitem=3.

Staff, C. R. “The History of Ballet Flats.” CR Fashion Book, October 15, 2019. https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/a24663992/the-history-of-ballet-flats/.

Sensory Experience in a Virtual World: Three Young Designers in Focus

As our stay-indoors-dystopia trudges into its eleventh month, an early symptom of a wandering fashion sense may present itself in the form of recent searches on eBay like ‘vintage velvet loungewear’, ‘green knitted balaclava’ and ‘faux fur bonnet’. With nowhere to go where people might look at us, the sense of sight in fashion has been reduced to looking at shoulders on Zoom and the top halves of faces at supermarkets. We finally have chance to experiment with the strange and probably ugly. Even the most fashionable of the work-from-home brigade have relinquished their visually appealing outfits in favour of something that feels comfortable. When looking and being looked at disappears, fashion must search for a more all-encompassing sensory experience.

Of course, fashion and the senses have long been connected. In 1972, Diana Vreeland’s pioneering Balenciaga exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art played traditional Spanish music, and the galleries were misted with the scent of Le Dix. While Vreeland was revolutionary in constructing a playful, multi-sensory experience of fashion, the exhibition retained a disjunct between seeing, smelling and hearing.  Innovative young designers Chet Lo, Monirath and Helena Thulin, on the other hand, are pushing the boundaries of bodily experience by creating and thinking through the senses. Without ignoring the aesthetic importance of design, they invite us to imagine, too, how things could taste, smell and feel.

Chet Lo’s ‘durian’ designs, accessed via https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela

A recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, Chet Lo makes vivid, tight-fitting knitwear that stretches over and hugs its wearer. The fluorescent colours and spiky textures of skirts, leg-warmers, and puff-sleeved jumpers are shamelessly striking. But the arresting visuals take us on a further sensory journey – Lo’s trademark puckered, pointed knitting technique (which was a ‘happy accident’ in his final year of study) mimics the appearance of the durian fruit, an Asian fruit known for its potent smell and formidable spikes. We are taken aback not only optically, but also by imagining a powerful smell and taste. Described by i-D magazine as ‘push[ing] the boundaries of wearability’, the softness of these garments’ feminine silhouette is contrasted with the abstract prick of sharp thorns. The 24-year-old designer’s mantra is to let things happen naturally, so it seems fitting that his happy knitting accident twists ideas of wearability by combining the body’s ordinary outline with an otherworldly-but-natural fruit that conjures up an abundance of sensations.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CJMJZxqA7xE/

Departing from the fun and fruity, Brisbane-based designer Monirath creates jarring jewellery and hats that wholly challenge the way we consider accessories and their visual appeal. Her most recent ambitious project includes the ‘Water Hat’, a clear, rippled, ambiguously plastic hat that fastens under the chin with a white or black satin ribbon. The reflections of the wrinkles in the hat create ‘wave refractions’ on the wearers face when beneath a source of light, evoking the sensation of skin submerged in water. Made to order, each ‘Water Hat’ has a different arrangement of waves, creating a unique sensory experience that alters both the feel and appearance of the face (Monirath, with a playful nod to Instagram, describes her work as ‘a real life filter’). Such ground-breaking design gives birth to an entirely distinctive accessory that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but interacts with the body and its surroundings, activating both real and imagined senses.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKSfwUegOiI/

Helena Thulin, an alumni of Studio Berçot in Paris, similarly experiments with the connection between accessories, nature, and the senses. Through delicate beading, the French designer portrays the simplicity and prettiness of a flower, freshly picked from a grassy meadow. Her earrings, either an asymmetrical pair or a single earring, imitate the individuality of wildflowers. Indeed, her designs are intended to be cherished like a flower, and her beading techniques are intentionally reminiscent of the childhood pleasure of making daisy chains.

‘ASTER CHINENSIS – Pair’, Helena Thulin, accessed via https://helenathulin.com/collections/earrings/products/aster-chinensis-pair

The dainty floral jewels are often photographed on a bed of grass that you can virtually smell and feel, reminding us to associate Thulin’s jewellery with senses evoked by nature’s flora. Toying with the senses even further, a recent promotional shot by Ignacio Barrios for London concept store 50-m shows her beautiful crystal flowers sandwiched jarringly between two slices of white bread.  In creating naturally charming jewellery that is intentionally photographed to arouse the senses, Thulin’s designs are almost good enough to eat.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CK4F7eFgJGr/

When considering the work of these young artists, an argument put forward by fashion scholar Marco Pecorari feels pertinent: ‘the materiality of dress is not its sole defining element but rather is part of a network of affects and sensorial activities’. In an increasingly digital universe, feeling connected to our bodies through dress is crucial, and a new generation of designers are helping to activate all of our senses with their innovative and striking designs.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

Zoë Kendall, ‘Screwing with silhouettes: these designers are reimagining shape and form’, i-D, published 7 January 2021, https://i-d.vice.com/en_uk/article/bvxy54/young-designers-reimagining-fashion-silhouettes (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Jade Wickes, ‘Chet Lo: a designer set on switching up the knitwear narrative’, The Face, published 3 December 2020, https://theface.com/style/chet-lo-fashion-designer-central-saint-martins-knitwear-lil-miquela (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Marco Pecorari, ‘Beyond Garments: Reorienting the Practice and Discourse of Fashion Curating’ in Annamari Vänskä and Hazel Clark (eds) Fashion Curating: Critical Practice in the Museum and Beyond (London, 2017), pp. 183-198.

Chet Lo, personal website, https://www.chetlo.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Monirath, personal website, https://monirath.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Helena Thulin, personal website, https://helenathulin.com/ (Accessed 8 February 2021)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bimbo: A Fashion Icon

The bimbo has recently been reclaimed as a feminist icon by Gen Z content creators on TikTok. By their standards, being a bimbo involves a self-aware performance of hyper-femininity, whether ‘you’re a girl, a gay or a they’, according to Queen Bimbo Chrissy Chlapecka. There’s even a space for straight ‘himbos’, too. As ‘thembo’ Griffin Maxwell tells Rolling Stone, ‘if [being a bimbo] was originally about catering to the male gaze, we’re taking that back.’ Though originally, bimbos were thin, white women, those reclaiming the term are not bound by the patriarchy’s expectations of white femininity. This performance often includes, but is not limited to, peroxide blonde hair, heavy makeup and false nails and eyelashes… Before the inevitably pink and sparkly garments have even been put on, the body is made bimbo. This aesthetic of artifice is precisely camp. As Susan Sontag puts it, ‘the essence of camp is its love of the unnatural,’ but modern bimbos are not ‘de-politicised’ in the way that Sontag believed camp should be.

Indeed, a fundamental of the movement is its leftist values – bimbos are pro-choice, pro-sex work, pro-BLM and pro-LGBTQ+. It encounters many of the same stumbling blocks as choice feminism, especially when it comes to cosmetic surgery and upholding oppressive beauty standards. But in its extreme, almost parodic, hyper-femininity, bimbofication also requires us to remove the assumption that femininity is equal to stupidity, naivety, and weakness. This article will take a look at three iconic bimbo fashion moments of the past, and how they have influenced the present.

Perhaps the most famous bimbo of Old Hollywood is Marilyn Monroe’s character, Lorelei Lee, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Her most iconic outfit in the film is from the musical number ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’: the dress has its own Wikipedia page. Costume designer William Travilla originally designed an incredibly bejewelled, showgirl body stocking, but after nude photographs of Monroe (shot for a calendar before she had made it big) were leaked, the pink dress was created instead. It is constructed of a hot pink peau d’ange satin, with matching opera gloves and shoes by Ferragamo. The straight neckline covers Monroe’s cleavage, though the huge bow – which was stuffed with horsehair and feathers for shape – emphasises the movement of her hips as she dances. This extension of her physical expression is where the sensuality of the dress lies.

Aside from pink, the other essential component to any bimbo ensemble is sparkle.  Monroe’s wrist, neck and ears all drip in diamonds from Harry Winston. Crucially there is no diamond ring, a symbol since the late thirties that a woman was ‘taken.’ In this way, she is free from male ownership – the power is hers to choose. Monroe’s character is a gold-digger: she believes that women’s power is in their looks and men’s is in their money.  The mutual objectification gives all financial, and therefore all tangible and enduring power to men. Though she is painted and played as ditzy, Lorelei Lee is very successful in securing precisely what she desires: a very rich man.

The ditziness of this character has often been ascribed to Monroe herself. Rosenbaum beautifully illustrates this in his article Merry Marilyn, where he writes that her private speech is peppered with ‘citations from and sophisticated discussion of Freud’s introductory lectures, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare and William Congreve.’ He goes on to write that ‘the difficulty some people have discerning Monroe’s intelligence as an actress is rooted in the ideology of a repressive era, when super-feminine women weren’t supposed to be smart.’ If you’ve read any of the comments on BimboTok, you might argue that such an era has not yet passed.

The second, absolutely iconic look I want to explore is Dolly Parton’s pink, flared jumpsuit. It was worn for her 1974 performance of ‘Jolene’ on The Porter Wagoner Show, which launched her into stardom. The set of the show is old-fashioned and homey, with cardboard cut-out houses and a painted Western sunset in the distance. Juxtaposed against it, Parton’s outfit seems dramatically new.

 

 

The jumpsuit is magenta with bell bottoms and bell sleeves, flaring her whole silhouette so that she is literally larger than life. Her waist is picked up with a rhinestone belt and her chest sparkles with the jewels, too. Her body is totally covered by fabric, yet emphasised in the process. The white lace inserts on her sleeves fulfil much the same function as the bow on Monroe’s dress, completing her movement as she performs. Her hair, the same peroxide blonde as Monroe’s, is backcombed and teased to the gods.

Parton is staunchly apolitical in public, uncomfortably so for many of her fans. Above all, she is a businesswoman (hence her silence on most divisive issues), but, when it comes to gay rights, she breaks her silence to defend them. Like Monroe, she is constantly underestimated but, to Parton, it is a strength of sorts: ‘I’ve done business with men who think I am as silly as I look. By the time they realise I’m not, I’ve got the money and gone.’

The third and final bimbo fashion moment of this article is Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, specifically the court scene – a performance of a very different kind.

In a room full of men in dark suits, Witherspoon’s pink and sparkly dress pops. The body of the dress is hot pink, calling on the power of bimbos past. The wrap shape recalls the Diane von Fürstenberg dresses so popular with working women for their ease, comfort, and modest, yet flattering cut. The collar is wide, and with the cuffs suggest the shirt of an eighties Wall Street banker. This brings a high masculine element to the dress, but reframes it within the feminine by virtue of the cotton-candy, satin material. This same fabric is used on the rhinestone belt – which seems inappropriate in a court room setting, just like Woods herself. Yet ultimately, she wins the case, proving she is just as worthy as any of the law firm bros in the background. Like many other women, she overcomes sexual harassment and constant underestimation to gain the same respect as the men in the room. Regardless of the realism of the film, it is a situation which many women recognise all too well.

Bimbos continue to show up the ways in which society continually undermines and underestimates those who present as hyper-feminine. The real question is whether bimbofication is a revolutionary act – a detournement of the societal ideal – or one that plays into late-capitalist expectations of womanhood, and thereby is recuperated into misogyny.

By Alexandra Sive

Sources:

(https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/bimbo-reclaim-tiktok-gen-z-1092253/)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Monroe’s_pink_dress)

(https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/gallery/dolly-parton-best-quotes?image=5de1086e310d8c00088a752f)