Bold, ambitious, yet subtle and witty, the exhibition is a tour de force, and makes you engage and reconsider your own attitudes to this very slippery term from the start. Adam Phillips definitions of ‘vulgar’ tease out its meanings, and the range of objects, as well as the exhibition’s design suggest ways to redefine …
To give some insight into Judith Clark’s way of thinking, I asked her to fill in a Proust Questionnaire – a 19th century parlour game popularised by Marcel Proust, which is designed to reveal the respondent’s personality.
__1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness? Being with my family.
__2.__What is your greatest fear? Snakes on a plane.
__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Wanting to be liked. It means drowning out other more interesting thoughts about people and situations.
__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others? False allegiance.
__5.__Which living person do you most admire? Mr Rob Crossley, Mr Matt Jones
__6.__What is your greatest extravagance? Other than clothes?
__7.__What is your current state of mind?
__8.__What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Academic intelligence.
__9.__On what occasion do you lie? To make others feel better about themselves.
__10.__What do you most dislike about your appearance? Different parts at different times.
__11.__Which living person do you most despise? Today, anyone voting for the far right.
__12.__What is the quality you most like in a man? It is something to do with how the difference is negotiated rather than denied.
__13.__What is the quality you most like in a woman? Loyalty
__14.__Which words or phrases do you most overuse? No (to my children); Props and Attributes (to my students).
__15.__What or who is the greatest love of your life? The father of my children.
__16.__When and where were you happiest? Walking from Carbis Bay to St Ives, 2013.
__17.__Which talent would you most like to have? Anything and everything to do with craftsmanship.
__18.__If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would be much more courageous.
__19.__What do you consider your greatest achievement? Having had the courage to have a family.
__20.__If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Someone born in the countryside and not a major city.
__21.__Where would you most like to live? My current home in London only with more room, or Rome.
__22.__What is your most treasured possession? My sketchbook at any given time.
__23.__What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Stubborn loneliness.
__24.__What is your favorite occupation? Exactly my occupation, making exhibitions of dress with the people I build them with.
__25.__What is your most marked characteristic? I don’t know, you would have to ask other people.
__26.__What do you most value in your friends? Their memory.
__27.__Who are your favorite writers? Those who have made dress sound interesting, valuable, serious. Those who have resisted the temptation to be snide, or apologise for their interest in it. Many years ago Elizabeth Wilson made it more possible for me to become interested in fashion. And Adam Phillips.
__28.__Who is your hero of fiction? Mrs Moore, in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Like her, I don’t like muddles, and I don’t like racism.
__29.__Which historical figure do you most identify with? I would always like to identify with a female artist who had a studio. If she had a studio it meant that she was taking her work seriously and maybe was herself taken seriously.
__30.__Who are your heroes in real life? People who really manage to be kind to other people.
__31.__What are your favorite names? Marianne and Seth, and Jacob.
__32.__What is it that you most dislike? I’m not sure.
__33.__What is your greatest regret? That my mother did not live long enough to know my children better.
__34.__How would you like to die? In a way that would not make my children feel guilty.
__35.__What is your motto? ‘All experiments are good’.
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is at Barbican Art Gallery until 5 February 2017
Born in Bulgaria, Yordan Mihalev is a 26-year-old fashion designer who studied at Varna Free University in Bulgaria, with a semester abroad at Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp that also educated designers such as Dries van Noten. With a first prize for “Young Designer”, television interviews and an Italian shop interested in buying his latest collection, he is on his way to establishing his brand.
What have you been working on since completing your study?
My first fashion show took place about a month before my graduation at Ethno Tendance Fashion Weekend Brussels. The idea of the event was to gather a lot of designers from different countries to create a collection that was inspired by their own culture, so my entire collection was inspired by Bulgaria and presented by models of African origin.
Afterwards, I moved to Paris where I had a normal, paid job for an American brand, which I wasn’t really interested in. In addition to the job, I did a lot of side projects with different stylists, designers and artists which was really nice, but not spectacular. One of the projects, perhaps the most interesting one, was for Palais de Tokyo. I worked with a stylist and designer who is mainly famous for working with Lady Gaga. He’s a big name and a very interesting guy and I was lucky to have the chance to work for him as an illustrator.
I returned to Bulgaria about nine months ago, because I discovered that it was impossible for me to do what I wanted to do in Paris. I was first thinking about going to Germany, but Bulgaria was a more obvious choice because I would have much more space to create my collection. Since February, I have constantly been working on my new collection, which I presented at the beginning of October at the Salone della Moda, a yearly event in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
What is your favourite part of designing fashion?
The beginning and the end. The beginning and end are the most interesting because the beginning is when you have ideas; a vision of what you want to do. You’re only drawing and sketching and it feels free and you can experiment. The end is when you finally see everything three-dimensionally; everything is done. I don’t know about other designers, but I am always surprised at the end at what it finally became.
Are you now working on setting up your own brand in Bulgaria?
Yes. It’s interesting because for a lot of years I thought that I would have to be outside of Bulgaria, in France, Italy or the US, somewhere where fashion is huge. But this collection, for example, I made in Bulgaria, showed in the Netherlands and now I am going to sell it in Italy. Fashion is very international and the world is such an open place that it doesn’t really matter where you are physically based. I really want to establish my collections in Bulgaria, so that one day I can create spaces and jobs for people in my own country, but after that I want it to be everywhere.
Since the interview, a shop from Dubai has also shown interest in selling Mihalev’s latest collection.
Just over a month ago I had the chance to chat to David McDermott, of American artist duo McDermott and McGough. In their works and lifestyle they describe how they have chosen ‘to immerse themselves in the period from the late Victorian era, at the close of the 19th century, to the style of the 1930s’ and as such, refuse ‘to embrace the historical present’. As part of an exhibition of photography held at Dublin’s Solomon Fine Art Gallery, I got to pick McDermott’s brains on anything related to fashion. Unfortunately, the below is only a snippet of the long, insightful conversation that I had with the artist. Overwhelmed by the choices of what I could possibly ask him, I settled quite simply on his clothes of the day as a starting point.
This happened to be a white wool sports suit from 1928, which McDermott describes as ‘nipped in at the waist’ and with rounded shoulders. He explains to me that the trousers have a 22-inch bottom, which are the widest that trouser bottoms ever were, although the suit was probably sold in 1937 when trousers were beginning to narrow. McDermott suggests that extra fabric was left on the seam on the inside, for possible alteration because it was not yet sure that the trouser style would really change. Similarly, he believes the patch pocket on his coat stemmed from the need for extra material for patching. Such aspects of this clothing have also come in handy for David, who alters and sews his clothes by hand. He has forgotten where he bought the suit, but thinks it is the type that would have been worn in Hollywood. On the day of the interview, he has paired it with a straw hat, whose wear he says depends strongly on the Irish weather. We agree that summers in Ireland are often too short and invariably, so too is the wearing of his straw hat.
When asked about where he sources his clothes, McDermott tells me about great finds in Paris. At antique fairs, or flea markets as in this case, he once bought a collection of about fifty neckties ranging from the 1890s to 1910s. Indeed, McDermott collects widely, although he admits he would not be found collecting a Hawaiian shirt from the 1950s. His overall fascination of clothes from a different period began with a costume in a school play in which he was given a detachable collar to wear. Subsequently he sourced a collar made of cardboard and linen from a Costume House.
As enthusiastic and knowledgeable as McDermott is about fashion from another century, he is disheartened in his view of fashion today. He believes we live in a time in which fashion is over since there is no longer a use for it. McDermott criticises the fact that – in his view – people in contemporary society are not interested in fashion, but merely in clothing themselves. After all, he suggests, fashion is not about comfort, it is much rather about making a statement and creating a look.
More about the fascinating work and life of David McDermott can be found under the following link:
You hold a BA in fashion/apparel design. Did you know right after graduation that you wanted to become a fashion curator?
I knew before going into that program that I was interested if not in being a fashion curator, then in old clothes. I was 18-19 and I always had an interest in old clothes, but prior to my studies in fashion design I attended a music performance undergraduate program for two years. In my second year I realised it wasn’t for me; I was with other students who were very passionate for music, I wasn’t on their same level and I became quite jealous that they were so fuelled by something that I didn’t feel.
Also, in my family we have quite a few photographs of my ancestors dating back to about the 1870s and in those images there are women and men (but mainly women) dressed in styles that were very different to what my sister and other women in my family were wearing. It always stood out as something of interest, but a boy on a farm in the mid West is not really pushed into studying old clothes.
This is why I went with what I knew which was music, threatened to drop out, searched about to try and figure out what on earth I was to do, said all this to my course director and she mentioned that I should take a class on anthropology at the university. So, on the first day of “introductions to anthropology” the teacher used the civil war as an example of how a moment can affect material culture, and she discussed architecture, paintings and then she came upon clothing. That was the first time I’d ever hear anyone mention anything related to the study of historic dress and so I went up to her, mentioned to her why I was there, and she said I should look into the study of historic dress and textiles. So I did, and I chose fashion design as there are often fashion history courses.
I am also from a family of dressmakers and tailors, therefore dressmaking and clothing making is something I’ve been around and so it seems natural to me. So I went into undergraduate studies for fashion design but knowing that my goal was not to become a fashion designer, but rather, to eventually use that as a stepping-stone for graduate school in fashion history.
So, how did you end up at the Museum of London?
In order to graduate from my BA in fashion design I had to do an internship, I did that at the Chicago History Museum. My internship was ending at the time I was graduating and at the time I was looking into coming to England for graduate school. But the intern position that I had turned into an offer for a full-time permanent position as a collection manager of the Chicago History Museum’s fashion collection.
I was expecting to be there for a few years and then go to graduate school but that turned into 15 years, and I went from collection manager to assistant curator and then curator. After 15 years and a very exciting career there I began to want to see what else was out in the world, but I knew that if I was to apply for a position, my lack of graduate degree would be key, even though I had great experience of very large, traveling, multi-million dollar exhibitions; publications; and more. So I took a year of absence from my job at Chicago History Museum and came to London College of Fashion.
I was expecting to go back but I fell in love and got married, and so we decided to stay here. My partner is Italian and at the time we didn’t have the option of moving to the US or Italy as gay marriage was not allowed there, and so this was the only country that we could stay together. So I left my job, sold my house, left my family, arrived here and this job became available shortly thereafter. I’ve now been here for almost four years.
Why did you want to devote your career to fashion and textile history?
The reason why is because it is what fulfills my interests. I’ve found my passion. I know that it’s a luxury because I know that many people experience the same feeling I felt when I was at undergraduate school. So that’s why I decided to focus my energy, originally, because I really liked it.
For a long time I didn’t feel that I had a unique voice because I was young and inexperienced, I did not have a graduate degree, I never took label writing, museum nor curatorial studies, and so I felt really out of place very early on. I also had the pleasure of working alongside various seasoned curators very early on in my career who had tremendous influence on me but they just seemed so unobtainable in some way – I think that that was because I was 20-24. But then i found my specific interest, which is to look at the way in which garments are constructed, and I started thinking: “wait, I do, I’ve been around long enough now, I do have a voice, I do have something to say”. And so, that original passion continued to be fuelled by thinking that I might have something to offer. I had enough confidence in myself to have my own perspective.
You are currently working at The Museum of London for the past 4 years. What does your work there entail and your current project ‘Fashion & Science’ is about?
My job as a curator here is split into a variety of general tasks. One is assisting with academic research. Beatrice Behlen and I host about 450 people each year in the store, who are looking at the collection in a variety of ways, from individual undergraduate, MA and PhD students interested in whatever topic we might have, to student groups, so a significant amount of my time is aiding and hosting research.
Also, acquisition, looking at ways of adding pieces to the collections or finding where the holes might be. Recently I’ve acquired quite a bit of things specifically related to menswear – because menswear is a great interest of me.
Another task is considering what type of exhibitions we might be able to produce, from small displays, like next to us here [pointing to his left] is the small show space display, which is a quick rotation of a few cases that we can change every month or month and a half. 1 to 17 objects is the maximum I can put here.
We also have other quick rotation spaces. I am also working on the rotation of the Pleasure Garden display which is a costume display that was installed many years ago and needs a refresher. It is costume from 1735 to 1869 and now I’m beginning to come up with the object list for the 16 mannequins, dressed in styles from those dates.
The curatorial exhibition work involves knowing the collection well so a percentage of my time is just being in the collection. To answer researcher’s requests I go into the store and often I’ll spend extra time looking around just to try and get my eyes onto everything that exists so I know it well.
Additionally we are now about to move the collection, so a lot of my work is beginning to focus on what the new museum might be, so proposing ideas for curatorial work, exhibitions, for public programs, how we can use the collections in new and exciting ways… but then also beginning to prepare to move the collections (so a lot of collection management duties, etc.)
You are responsible for publishing onto the museum’s collections online, but you have gone a step further and are very active in social media too, showcasing some treasures from the museum’s collections. I’m very interested in that engagement with different audiences. Where the idea came from?
Social media was something that I was against for a while, because I did not find any value in it professionally. Although I had a Twitter account I didn’t use it for many years, and I’ve only been on Instagram for less than a year.
But that was wrong actually, I didn’t take the time, and also the reason why there was a negative reaction from me was that we were forbidden at first here to post anything related to the museum and that is because of licencing and copyright, intellectual property etc. And also, I think, there is a general negative reaction to social media that most museums have, fearful that they are going to be sending out stuff that they can make money on, fearful of it being taken the wrong way.
But then I started to prepare for launching my personal website. I was going through my CV and, in my previous job I had about two exhibitions that I curated per year, ranging from 35 objects up to 120 objects – medium size to large – multimillion-dollar exhibitions. When I was then updating my activity at the Museum of London my activity all but ceased, dried up, because we don’t have galleries here, we have one that is rotatable, and so all of a sudden was all this dearth of work as a curator. So I started to worry that if people were to look at my CV they would think, “what has he been doing for this last years? Why has he gone from 30 some odd major exhibitions to none?”.
It was about that time that the communications department here were starting to urge us to consider social media. We were maturing as an institution at the same time that I was starting to think that it could actually be a platform to talk about my work. I can have a voice here instead of waiting to produce an exhibition of substance, which might take years, I can talk about the collection through social media.
And also to finally answer this quest, I’ve had been trying to replicate those Aha! moments I have often in the store when I open a box and gasp because there is something amazing inside. Or when I bring people with me into the store, students or researchers, they also have those gasping moments, so it’s been a career long obsession to try and replicate that. If you put something on an exhibit it’s quite slick, so you really you don’t have the aha! moment of opening a box or a drawer.
How did it happen, was it planned?
All of that clicked one day and I decided to post a photo of what I was doing and it got a decent response, but although I thought it was interesting, I was sort of scolded by the museum because I didn’t put copyright in the image. But I protested, I think it shows something quite negative because most of the museums don’t put copyright in their images. Thankfully the response that I’ve got was positive.
Then I started posting videos which have got a great response, and it’s been remarkable. It kind of came about not in a very active way originally, but now I see it as a very high value, the museum sees it as a high value. Almost in every moment seems to be something tweetable or intagramable because I work with very cool things.
And where do you want to go with it?
Now we are starting to mature the idea, I’m getting better devices. Right now I’m doing it just with my phone, so sometimes you can see the shake in my hand or it’s not smooth, so I’m getting some devices to hold the phone and to make the transition smoother. We’ve tried to do it a bit more slick but I think that sort of goes against the idea. I’ve also tried with different software to put digital labels instead of the paper ones, but almost immediately people say: “bring back the paper labels!”.
It’s amazing, because never in my job outside of those aha! moments in the store, do we get that immediate experience, although with the ability to communicate the kind of questions that one might naturally ask if they are at an exhibition. I don’t have to wait for an exhibition now, I can find how I write labels or how I talk about labels based on the feedback I get from social media.
Twitter used to be my main focus but now the activity has gotten much greater on Instagram once they increased their video length… some of them having currently more than 45,000 views. Instagram seems to be a much greater reach and presents a much greater discussion – it also seems to be a 24h response.
Moreover we are about to do our first live presentation through Facebook at the end of October, trying to push the envelope a bit with what I do on social media and think a bit outside of the box now that the response has been so great.
The Fashion and Science project and the re-dress of the Pleasure Garden are two projects that we were hoping to use the research as things to promote on social media, so instead of an exhibition only being promoted once it’s open, now we are using the re-dress, the conservation, the mounting of the mannequins, the selection process… as something that we post on social media instead of “now it’s open, come look”, so that’s something new we are experimenting with now.
Social media is something that before would’ve been part of my job, but now it’s a task in my PMD. It’s something I really want to do and the museum wants to have embedded it in what I do as a curator.
What is your favorite piece from the collection and/or over the years?
The favourite piece I’ve ever worked with would be the Charles James “Puffer Coat”. I did my dissertation on James, I’ve curated an exhibition on Charles James and then recently I’ve published a book with the V&A about James “Charles James fashion designer in detail”. So one of my all time favourites is the Charles James Puffer Coat, late 1930s white acetate satin coat. And I’ve got a project brewing just on that piece. I had the pleasure of working with it, I figured out how it’s made, I’m not sure if others have yet, so I’d like to publish something on that.
Here at the museum my favourite item shifts – as you can imagine – but currently it is this beautiful late-18th Century men’s ensemble that is being considered for the re-dress of the Pleasure Garden. It is silk satin with an embroidered peacock feather in silk thread.
If I remember well, you posted this piece in social media?
Yes I did. And when I posted it I did not click that there was a peacock feather. Until Paul Bench (colleague, friend and follower on social media) asked if that was a peacock feather. What is exciting about that is that my understanding of the term peacock as a way to describe a flamboyantly dressed men is something that I thought was mostly in the 1960s.
Finding this jacket and the embroidered feather made me question how long men have been referred to as peacocks and I found out that it is actually quite old. I found a reference that the 14th Century is the earliest time a man was referred to as a peacock, who was flamboyantly dressed. So that means that in the 18th Century the term had been around for many hundreds of years, and so this man, wearing this exquisite piece with a peacock feather was certainly not coincidental. The kind of humour that is involved in that, the concept of perhaps a dandy represented here earlier than we think (typically of dandies is the 19th Century). We don’t know anything about the original wearer but now we have a little bit more. He would potentially have ordered it that way, he would’ve taken great pride in wearing it.
Because all of that is why right now this piece is my favourite, but that might change soon when I find another amazing piece.
On a rainy day in The Courtauld student café, Alexis Romano and Katerina Pantelides, both of whom have recently completed their PhDs in dress history at The Courtauld, generously agreed to tell me a bit about their work. Due to the length of the interview the first half was posted last Friday, it continues here:
Do you have any advice for people who might be thinking of doing a PhD?
Alexis: I would say be as organised as you can and treat it as a nine-to-five job. I think if you professionalise it you will be more productive.
Katerina: I would say that it’s really difficult to write and research things if you’re worried about money, so try and get that sorted. It’s a really practical thing but it helps so much with treating it like a job. I would also say make sure you have a topic that you are really passionate about. Be open minded. Make sure you have the supervision and support that you need, for exampleif you have a topic that bridges disciplines, try and get supervision from both.
You’re both co-founders of the Fashion Research Network. Can you tell me a bit more about it?
Katerina: We are both co-founders with Nathaniel Beard and Ellen Sampson, who are from the Royal College of Art. It started off because we felt that there were lots of institutions in London with students who were doing research in fashion and dress but they all seemed like these separate little fiefdoms, and we thought why don’t we try and get them together, put on an event, and get people talking to each other. It started with a pilot event in summer 2013 and it was a really big success. Since then we have done quite a few events: museum tours, artists and designer talks, symposia andreading groups. We have had some interesting people involved and it’s been pretty interdisciplinary.
Alexis: Yes,the interdisciplinary aspect is a central part of our mission, because the other co-founders are not historians; they work on fashion but they come from different fields.One of the obstacles for us in our own research was coming to terms with the fact that fashion is not just history and it’s not just image, it’s an industry, it involves so many different types of people, languages and disciplines – things that, as art historians, we might not understand without having conversations with people from other fields. Through the FRN, we wanted to get as broad a definition of fashion as possible to work with!
What are your plans for the future now that you have both finished your PhDs?
Katerina: I’m writing my first novel, teaching English and am in the first stages of planning a small exhibition about fashion and the senses with Alexis.
Alexis: I am hoping to put together a proposal for a manuscript and some exhibitions, and a course from my research. So that’s the current project, but I am also looking for funding to make that happen. I am currently Exhibition Reviews Editor for Textile History Journal, am also starting a project making greetings cards, and of course, we are in the very early stages of curating an exhibition together about fashion and the senses. So stay tuned for more!
On a rainy day in The Courtauld student café, Alexis Romano and Katerina Pantelides, both of whom have recently completed their PhDs in dress history at The Courtauld, generously agreed to tell me a bit about their work. Due to the length of the interview the second half will be posted next Tuesday.
What made you both decide to do a PhD in dress history at the Courtauld?
Alexis: I was living in New York, studying design history with a focus on fashion and textiles. When I finished the degree I didn’t have a concrete plan, but I was still writing and researching so it just seemed like the next logical step. My research, which is based on national fashion and post-war dress, really connected with Rebecca Arnold’s work, which I always admired. So it seemed like a good fit!
Katerina: I did an MA at The Courtauld, and it was interesting because during the time of my MA I always thought that I wanted to be a curator. I was always really interested in theatre and dress and performance, and so I did an internship at the V&A at the Theatre and Performance archive. It was a round the time of the big [Sergei] Diaghilev exhibition and I remember there was all this stuff about émigrésand Russian ballet. I was so interested in all the stories. At that time, I thought I wanted to do a book on Russian émigrés and the ballet in connection with dress and costume, but then I applied for the PhD and I got it and I got the funding, so I worked on that for three years. I ended up working with Rebecca because I met her on the MA and I really liked her and her approach.
What were the topics of your theses?
Alexis: I wrote about the French ready-to-wear industry and its development between 1945 and the late 1960s. I explored this in relation to what was happening in terms of various aspects of the post-war reconstruction of the country and women’s history, and the shift in constructions of fashion, modernity and the representation of women. I looked at how women connected to wider cultural issues through their experience of [ready-made] fashion.
Katerina: My title was ‘Russian Émigré Ballet and the Body: Paris and New York c.1920-50’. I looked at how Russians who emigrated after the Russian revolution in 1917 brought over their dance practice and how they influenced body, dress and exercise culture in the west. I also looked at how dress and exercise culture in the west, specifically in New York, influenced the Russian émigrés. So it was this two-way relationship that I examined.
I am always really interested in how research develops. People start off with having one thing in mind, and then they work on it and it sort of transforms into something completely different. Did you find that your research developed over the course of your study? And if so how?
Alexis: I think research is a personal thing, and connects to who you are. My research evolved a lot, for instance, I ended up studying an earlier period than when I started out. But on a more personal level I became much more interested in women’s personal, everyday experience of dress, focusing on women in their 30s. I turned 30 over the course of my research, and that apparently was a defining moment that I came to terms with through exploring women of a similar age, and their hurdles, in history.
Katerina: That’s so interesting because I do think that you grow up with your PhD in some ways. I started out being very young and idealistic, interested in the ethereal aspects of the ballet and the whole idea of Russian Émigré ballet as a ghostly nation that travels, and then as I got further into the research and started to look at things in archives, I became more interested in the dusty, dirty things. I became much more interested in the realities of travel and what people took with them, what they archived, what they lost, how they talked about things they lost. I think I started out being very interested in the illusions that were taking place and then I became much more interested in the women themselves, the gritty realities.
Alexis: I wonder why we both became interested in the personal rather than looking at things from a scholar’s lens?
Katerina: I think it’s because with fashion images, for example, you always want to know what’s beneath them, and what’s the reality of the people who consume them and things like that. You always look for depth I think.
#1. I really liked that you wore a silk robe to speak about Robert Mapplethorpe in the recent documentary. Could you explain why this was so important for you? And how it connected you to him? It seems like it’s about the fabric and how it feels, as well as how it looks …
The black silk chinese robe was worn for Robert.
He liked black, silk, and robes. Three out of three…
I always wore and wear robes around my place.
Usually black, but a caftan on either sex is quite the way to go also.
You are dressed and easily undressed.
#2. Are there any other garments that link you to him? Or to that period in your life?
In 1970 when Robert and I met, there was still a late 60’s vibe.
I was in London all of 1969 as a model with Monty’s in Chelsea off
the King’s Road, an agency formerly known as English Boys Ltd. that
was started by Mark Palmer. It was more than fun working with David
Bailey, Bill King and Brian Duffy etc.
I did Mr. Fish shows. There was a great trip to Wales wearing Antony Price’s
mens collection. Antony is and was a riot of talent and fun. The razor
blade print shirt from Mr. Fish is still with me, the rest I left in
London and Paris.
I think if one wears too much vintage after a certain age, then you
look a certain age.
Dated without a date.
Best to mix it up with new and treasured vintage bits from here and there.
#3. I loved the show you curated at Alison Jacques Gallery in 2013 – what made you decide to focus on Mapplethorpe and fashion? And how do you think jewellery design fitted into both Mapplethorpe’s and your own work?
The show at Alison Jacques in London was her idea and she asked me to
lend some of the jewelry that Robert made for me. Alison showed some
of the early polaroids Robert did of me from 1970 and 1971. Wearing
robes, and not.
I always wore vintage pieces bought or given to me by family and friends.
The Chelsea Antique market on the King’s Road was a cool place to add
to the mix.
I wore an elaborate necklace made of black cord and silver as an every
day piece and a big black hat from Herbert Johnson with floor sweeping
Robert always loved jewelry and it was fun to hunt around New York for
He started to make things with the bits and pieces we found and we
wore them around town. Friends such as Loulou de la Falaise, Marisa
Berenson, Halston and YSL admired and bought some for themselves and
#4. You told me you met Susan Bottomly at the opening of Paraphernalia and that it was a key moment for you – what was that night like? Were you conscious of the impact it would have on you at the time? And did your involvement with Warhol’s milieu make you more conscious of how you dressed and presented yourself?
The day I met Susan Bottomly and Andy Warhol was the start of that
life and the end of another. My school days. I was 18. I did not even
know who Andy was. He liked that. And I liked Susan. First trip. The
Cannes Film Festival to screen ‘Chelsea Girls.’ Susan and I were
supposed to be there for 2 weeks. We stayed for a year. Andy was not
too pleased about this as Susan aka ‘International Velvet’ was his
newest Superstar after Edie Sedgwick had left the scene. Paris
beckoned and we obliged. The way I dressed started early. My Mother
was a beautiful woman who wore mostly solid, dark colors. Black and
more black. My brothers and I were quite impressed. Understatement. It
cannot be overstated.
#5. Your photographs and drawings often have a sense of movement and fluidity to them – do you think your own work as a model has influenced the way you show the body?
I was a model before becoming an illustrator.
The modeling started in New York when I was 17, and took off in London
when I was 19. The Illustration also began in London. Harpers Bazaar
gave me my first jobs.
Fun stuff, full pages. lucky boy. I always looked at fashion magazines
at home as a kid. Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka and Donyale Luna were and
are my fave gals. Susan and I lived with Donyale in Paris for a while.
Donyale and I met in New York in 1965. Teenagers. These girls could
move. Richard Avedon was and is my inspiration for how it’s done. The
sense of movement and the extreme extremities influenced my work. And
#6. You’ve created images of so many fascinating people, and worked with Halston and Diane von Furstenberg for example – how do you approach photographing a portrait versus presenting a fashion brand or garment?
Working with so many wonderful persons since I was very young was the
key to all the images one made and makes today.
Halston commissioned me to do portraits of many of his best friends.
Elsa Peretti, Loulou de la Falaise, Marisa and Berry Berenson, Paloma
others. I approach all jobs the same way. Get to know the sitter’s
likes and dislikes.
Their favorite colors, clothes. Who they were, are and would like to be.
In the portrait and in life.
The jobs for magazines and advertising are more defined. Draw this
shoe. Make the dress a bit more. Or less.
Hannah Jackson completed both her BA and MA at The Courtauld Institute, and is now Assistant Curator at the Bowes Museum in Durham. Here she discusses how 19th century dress construction lead to a photography-focused MA dissertation and the joys of the recent Bowes Museum exhibition “Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal”.
Having completed your BA at the Courtauld in the History of Art, what led you to decide to pursue your MA in the History of Dress at the Courtauld as well?
I came to The Courtauld to study a BA straight after completing an art foundation at Falmouth University. During my foundation course I specialised in the construction of 19th century dress, taking my inspiration from textile collections in local museums across Cornwall. So during my BA I was always trying to squeeze in dress history into my various course options. In my third year I researched the depiction of drapery in 18thcentury French painting. Following this I knew I wanted to focus purely on dress history and the MA felt like a natural progression.
Reflecting on your experience during the MA, how did your research interests evolve throughout the year, and if so, how did these interests coalesce into your dissertation?
Having spent the previous three years as an art historian I found it difficult initially to break away from that method of analysis. I was very image focused so most of my research leaned towards photography, looking at the works of Cecil Beaton and Eugene Atget. This informed my dissertation topic on Madame Yevonde’s Goddess Series. I examined several photographs from the Goddess series in detail, demonstrating the ways in which Yevonde seized the opportunities offered by neo-classical dress and the new technique of colour photography to explore deeper themes of female identity and representation.
What role did the Courtauld MA in the History of Dress play in defining your professional trajectory?
My love of imagery combined with the stories behind objects in museums has always been a big part of my enjoyment in the subject. During the MA course Dr Rebecca Arnold organised some incredible trips to national and international museums including the American Folk Art Museum in New York and Museum of London and V&A. These trips ‘behind-the-scenes’ were so interesting and I knew this was a world I wanted to be part of.
Can you describe what your average day as an Assistant Curator at The Bowes Museum entails?
It’s a combination of things… at the moment we are de-installing our permanent display of fashion and textiles to make room for our next exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain which opens in June. I also handle any enquires or offers of donation to our department. If new donations are accepted then I ensure they are catalogued and stored. The curators also work closely with the textile conservation team on exhibitions and loans. Earlier this year our team catalogued a very large collection of privately owned quilts, which will soon be divided between family members, with some pieces being sold. Last year I spent quite a bit of time on events relating to temporary exhibitions including a dance/costume performance with Fertile Ground, a Newcastle based dance company and a film symposium with Durham University which coincided with our Summer 2015 exhibition Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal.
How did The Bowes Museum’s “Yves Saint Laurent: Style is Eternal” exhibition come about?
A few years ago we loaned a Canaletto painting to the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris. When the Canaletto was being installed, my colleague met a freelance curator working on the show and mentioned how similar The Bowes’ history was with the Jacquemart-André. My colleague mentioned the fashion and textile department here and how it has grown and developed, with past exhibitions such as Stephen Jones and Vivienne Westwood. The freelancer said that she had close affiliations with the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and that she could put us in touch with them. My collegue Joanna Hashagen, Curator of Fashion and Textiles, established the working relationship with the Fondation from that moment. The Bowes Museum’s co-founder was a fashionable Parisian woman, and the building itself is in the style of a French château, so our French roots were integral to our partnership with the YSL Fondation.
Were there any particular theoretical and aesthetic approaches that informed your work on the exhibition?
The show itself was co-curated by Joanna Hashagen (Curator of Fashion & Textiles at The Bowes) and Sandrine Tinturier (Responsable de la Conservation Textile et Arts Graphiques at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent) so this question is probably better aimed at them. They really wanted to celebrate Yves Saint Laurent’s love of women, art and fashion, as a designer notable for equality in fashion. The exhibition was split into five themes: Haute Couture, Masculin/Féminin, Transparence, Art and Spectaculaire. The pieces were carefully curated, making links to our own permanent display of fashion and textiles, which highlighted Yves Saint Laurent’s distinct relationship with history and art.
Did you learn anything particularly fascinating about Yves Saint Laurent or his maison while researching and preparing the exhibition?
The most fascinating thing I found out about Yves Saint Laurent was how truly dedicated he was to his subject. This may seem obvious but he started at such a young age. As a teenager he designed collections for a series of hand-made paper dolls by cutting out silhouettes from his mother’s favourite magazines such as Vogue, calling it ‘Yves Mathieu Saint Laurent Haute Couture Place Vendôme’. The paper-dolls were all named and he created model programmes for each collection and put on fashion shows for his siblings and mother.
What was your favorite piece from exhibition?
The toiles were my favourite pieces in the show. I really like seeing the making process and the ‘before-hand’ pieces, they were essentially 3D sketches. The selection of toiles were displayed in a completely white space, so they really had their own voice in the exhibition. Even the toiles were effortless couture, every inch of the stitching and design was immaculate.
Are there any exciting curatorial or research projects you are working on at the moment?
Last April I was one of five to win the Art Fund’s New Collecting Award which encourages curators to pursue new avenues for collecting in their museums. We won a total of £60,000 to collect French haute couture. I aim to acquire key pieces of French fashion which reflect the Museum’s founder Joséphine Bowes. Joséphine was a shopaholic, purchasing garments from The House of Worth during the 1860s. The John and Joséphine Bowes Archive in our library holds a number of bills which relate to the establishment of the museum but also all of Joséphine’s shopping receipts which reveal a lot about the type of fabric she was buying, how much and from which establishments. Joséphine was extremely fashionable but unfortunately none of her wardrobe survives today, so I want to collect pieces which reflect her identity and shopping habits, using the extensive archive of bills as evidence. I have a year left on my contract at The Bowes Museum so I am also focusing my time on selecting garments for the gallery redisplay, planned for 2018.
Antwerp based alumna Elisa De Wyngaert, graduated from the Documenting Fashion MA in 2014. Counting Helmut Lang and Pierre Balmain among her research interests, Elisa has continued to write about fashion and contributed exhibition reviews to Belgian radio since leaving the Courtauld. After pursuing further study and undertaking work experience for Raf Simons and A.F.Vandevorst, she now works as a fashion curator at the MoMu Fashion Museum in Antwerp.
What made you want to study Dress History at the Courtauld?
I read Art History at the University of Leuven and wrote my MA dissertation on “The House of Balmain: Before and After Pierre Balmain”. This research process was new and fascinating to me, especially as it was very different from my previous art historical research. I found it challenging to analyse proper academic sources and it took longer to determine the correct methodology. That being said, it was exciting and I couldn’t wait to specialise in this kind of research, and to find the right academic guidance to do so. I believe I Google’d something along the lines of “Academic Fashion Studies”, and the course ‘Documenting Fashion’ at the Courtauld Institute of Art seemed to offer just what I was looking for. I knew Rebecca Arnold’s name because I proudly owned some of her books – it was a perfect match.
What were your personal highlights from the course?
Looking back, I think the strength of the course lies in its intensity: it was an unbelievably enriching year, both academically and personally. It was a high-paced course and it is astonishing how much you can learn in just one year. Being surrounded by fellow students who are as passionate as you are about their topic is inspirational, and, it goes without saying, having Rebecca as a tutor was priceless. Not only is she an outstanding scholar who challenges her students, she also has a great sense of humour. Again a good match.
You wrote you dissertation on Helmut Lang, what was it that inspired you about his work?
I knew Helmut Lang’s work from images in books about fashion in the 1990s. He was, however, still an enigmatic designer to me: I was not prejudiced with knowledge, nor was I a longtime admirer of his work. I thought it was interesting that Helmut Lang decided to leave his fashion house in 2005 to “move on to art”. In this narrative, it appeared that being an artist is still in certain aspects regarded as higher than fashion in the hierarchy of the arts. After leaving his house, Lang decided to shred his archive and use the shredded pieces in an art installation. This, however, only happened after he had donated a large volume of his most interesting designs to fashion museums worldwide. The idea of a designer curating his own end, leaving the fashion world infected with infinite Helmut-Lang-nostalgia, was the starting point for my research. I got to appreciate the characteristics of Helmut Lang’s sensuous work, especially after studying it closely in the archives of the fashion museum in Bath and MoMu in Antwerp.
Since leaving the Courtauld you have worked for Raf Simons and A.F.Vandevorst, as a personal fan I would love to hear a little more about what your work experience was like with these?
I didn’t like the idea of becoming a “fashion writer high up in her ivory tower”, so I decided to do a course in Fashion Management and to get hands-on work experience with Antwerp designers. I undertook a short internship at Raf Simons. Raf Simons’ company in Antwerp is surprisingly small-scaled but has a high impact on fashion, which is an important characteristic for independent Antwerp designers. After that, I was hired by A.F.Vandevorst, where I worked for more than a year. I learned about the logistics behind the production of a collection. We often tend to focus on the shows and the magazine editorials, but we don’t always realise that after that there is quite a long and tumultuous road before those pieces end up safely in the stores and with the customer. A.F.Vandevorst has a small but strong creative team and the energy leading up to a fashion show is incredible. You can’t compare that to anything. In general, I was happy to learn that these brands are still authentic and true to their DNA and signature.
What else have you worked on since leaving the Courtauld?
During the week I worked at A.F.Vandevorst and on occasion I gave guided tours in the evening at MoMu. In the weekends, I created time and peace to focus on what I am most passionate about: the less commercial but more reflective side of fashion. I wrote a piece for Vestoj on Helmut Lang and I wrote some shorter articles for the new Bloomsbury Fashion Photography Archive. As a fashion critic, I reviewed fashion exhibitions for Klara, a Belgian radio station. By now, I think I have reviewed more than 20 fashion exhibitions, which proved to be not only insightful, but also my favorite adrenaline kick.
From what I understand you are currently working at MoMu as a curator. What does your work there entail and what current projects are you working on?
MoMu organises two major exhibitions a year, one of these focuses on a theme and the second one on the work of a living designer. We want to expand this offer with a (rotating) permanent exhibition on Belgian fashion and an online exhibition platform. At the moment, I am researching and writing about the designers and the pieces in the MoMu collection to prepare this project. MoMu actively acquires pieces by living designers, which ensures a rich and ever-growing contemporary collection. I discover new items every day and the challenge is to make a sensible selection of pieces per designer that haven’t been displayed too often, and that are telling for the signature of the designer.
Do you have any advice for budding dress historians? Particularly for those aspiring to work within fashion curation?
I think it is important to keep thinking about fashion the way we were taught to at the Courtauld. Often people look at fashion studies, and fashion in general, as something shallow and superficial. It can be of course, but we have to keep demonstrating how it is so much more than that: fashion remains an integral part of our society and daily lives. I know, from experience, it’s hard to find work within fashion curation. The only thing I can advise is to, even when you are working another job full-time, try to squeeze in some fashion history and research on the side and to stay both critical and passionate. And then maybe some serendipity?
One of the many things I love about being a dress historian is meeting inspiring women through my research. Women who have pioneered aspects of our industry, worked to connect with female readerships and to forge successful careers. Edie Locke is one such woman. I was introduced to her via email by model turned photographer Pam Barkentin (my interview with her will follow soon).
Locke has had a fascinating life. Born in Vienna in 1921, she went to New York alone in 1939, as the situation in Europe worsened. She attended school in Brooklyn – where she learnt to speak English, and then embarked on series of jobs in fashion. Locke generously agreed to answer some questions via email in fashion media:
What was it like working at Junior Bazaar? And with Lillian Bassman? Did your experiences there impact your approach at Mademoiselle?
[In 1945-46] I was working as an assistant to the Ad Manager of Harpers Bazaar, when Hearst Magazines launched Junior Bazaar, as a ” competition” to Mademoiselle. A short-lived, futile idea! But knowing how much I had hoped to be on the editorial side of the magazine, my then-boss arranged for a transfer to the merchandising department of Junior Bazaar [1946-47] consisting of my covering the very minor dress manufacturers (largely out of St.Louis) and occasional weekend photo shoots, no other editor wanted to go on.
[I] never worked with Lillian Bassman! But did get to know and work with Pammie’s father, [photographer] George Barkentin! When Junior Bazaar gave up its ghost, I followed its then Editor, Kay Long, to the very well-known fashion advertising agency, Abbott Kimball. [From 1947-49] I became its fashion ” guru” – [I] wrote the Newsletter the agency sent to clients and business friends and went on all fashion shoots.
[In 1947] one of the Newsletters reached Betsey Blackwell, Editor in Chief of Mademoiselle and prompted a phone call from her office to arrange a private meeting with her and a job offer to join the magazine as an Assistant Fashion Editor, covering the dress “market”. (My ex-boss offered a huge salary raise… trips to Europe…etc to keep me from jumping to Mademoiselle, but after some excruciating evaluations of my options, I happily phoned [Betsey Blackwell] with an enthusiastic YES).
Fashion magazines are so collaborative – how did you organise and manage the various interconnecting fashion and beauty stories for any one edition?
I do believe that you’re only as good in what you do, as the people who work with and for you. Having the right individual editors in place to head the different departments of any magazine is key. And then trust their expertise and opinions and ideas and judgements. When I became Editor in Chief of Mlle, I was blessed with a great editorial staff – Fashion Editor, Features Editor, Beauty Editor, College and Career Editor and Art Director. And a Publisher who respected editorial content, direction and use[d] it all well to “sell” the magazine to potential advertisers. Two things that are crucial: strong circulation and demographics ( 18-35 at Mlle ) and a readership that is financially compatible with the price range of the products you feature, clothes etc etc – whether self-earned or “parental” income.
Several meetings with all editors come first – each Editor presenting her ideas for the upcoming issue. Discussions, more meetings, until the whole content gels and is one-of-a-piece …. hangs together!
How did the nature of fashion photography included connect to your readership? It’s so interesting that college girls formed such a major part of your target audience, how did you feel about the annual college edition and the college competition?
Mlle‘s annual big College issue (August) would be very much directed to that reader, September more geared toward a “working’- career – readership.
Mlle always leaned more toward lively … location photography, than more formal in-studio shots. Moving, rather than “still”.
The college issue was photographed totally on “real” college students, not professional models! Associate Fashion Editors and photographers traveled to campuses all over the US to do this – with a wardrobe of appropriate fashions. The PR department of each school would sometimes pre-select who they deemed suitable or leave it up to hordes of volunteers who’d assemble for try-outs and fittings in conference rooms on campus. The toughest job: the gentlest rejections… that would not bruise egos !!!!!!
The college competition – which was NOT based on anything but accomplishment – be it in writing, illustrating, or fashion – spawned many extraordinary talents, who went on to major careers.
As attending college became more and more the norm, no longer an elitist group, and definitive target audience, Mlle‘s emphasis had to broaden as well. A move strongly demanded by CNP management.
What was your favourite aspect of working on fashion magazines?
My favorite aspect of working on a fashion magazine??? Making it more inclusive, by diligently balancing content between fashion-beauty, how-to features, and intellectually stimulating articles. Feeding the brain!
The rest is history. I went from Assistant to Associate to Fashion Editor and in 1970 to Editor in Chief, when Betsey Blackwell retired. Til 1980 when Publisher Si Newhouse terminated (fired !) me. Reason : I had firmly kept Mlle‘s intellectual stance … and not made it into a sexier ( [like] Cosmo ?) publication.
A year later, I was on TV with my own version of a fashion/beauty/relevant articles half-hour weekly program called YOU! Magazine. Originally airing on USA CABLE, and eventually LIFETIME, it was on-air til ’86, when Lifetime launched its daily ATTITUDES and I joined as fashion producer and on-air fashion pro until the early 90s. We moved from NY to LA in ’94 to be near our daughter and eventual granddaughters (3) …. and I again worked on fashion TV.