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Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture

Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture, exhibiting at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey (until 13 March 2022), unites over one hundred garments, worn by stars belonging to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and others which were sold at the likes of Biba and Granny Takes A Trip. The exhibition details this truly electrifying decade, one which was home to creativity, angst and rebellion alike.

To honour the occasion, I chose to wear a floor-length Biba coat, in a tiger-print no less, which I had initially ‘borrowed’ from my mother as part of a Cruella de Vil Halloween costume some years ago. A dramatic piece which isn’t exactly an everyday item, it felt like the perfect time to bring it out ahead of our much-anticipated MA Documenting Fashion outing.

While the first time at the exhibition for most, it marked the second visit for Susanna, Claudia and I who had each planned a respective visit almost as soon as it had opened in the beginning of October. Providing a fascinating combination of insights into the 60s, this exhibition explored the impact of cultural, social and economic change within the context of fashion and its design. Indeed, it could easily warrant a second or even third visit as there is a considerable amount of information to digest and, with such well-preserved garments, a desire to focus on each and every minute detail on any one jacket or dress.

Beautiful People
Author’s Own Image.

At the beginning of the exhibition, a timeline situates key moments within the 1960s, where bullet points were replaced with the flower power emblem of the sixties, serving as one of many examples of the care and consideration which went into curating this exhibition. Outlining dates and information relating to the opening of boutiques along the King’s Road and throughout London, it also hinted at the importance and impact of the introduction of oral contraception on the NHS (National Health Service), which played a part in cementing this decade as the ‘swinging sixties’.

Further highlights included a recreation of some of the most iconic boutiques, signposted with the company’s logo, including both menswear and womenswear that were relevant to the boutique. The upstairs part of the exhibition was home to yet more clothes, and a few of us took it in turns to pick out our favourite pieces and note the occasion we’d like to wear them to. Jazzy jackets and flared two-piece suits proved to be our top picks.

 

Beautiful People
Author’s Own Image.
Beautiful People
Author’s Own Image.

As we made our way to the photography gallery, I was drawn to the article ‘Qui sont les filles anglaises? [Who are the English girls?]’ and a quote from Jenny Boyd outlining ‘Elles me ressemblent [They look just like me]’ for the 1966 December issue of Mademoiselle Âge Tendre. To me, it highlighted the ongoing fascination, or perhaps more accurately obsession, with being seen as ‘fashionable’ both at home and across The Channel, which is an idea that is ever-present today.

Beautiful people.
Author’s Own Image.

From there, we were delighted to receive a presentation from Photography Curator and Instagram-enthusiast Terence Pepper and former MA Documenting Fashion student Grace Lee who individually boast a huge wealth of knowledge about all-things sixties. Terence ran us through each photo, advertisement and magazine in such detail that for a brief moment we too were transported to the photoshoot, soirée or city being discussed. What’s more, we had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Pattie Boyd, whose sister Jenny Boyd was mentioned above, and who had an incredibly successful modelling career, gracing countless covers of Vogue and inspiring many a Beatles song with her then-beau George Harrison.

Situated à deux pas from London Bridge Station and Borough Market, it makes for a wonderful mid-morning viewing before a spot of lunch at one of the many fabulous food stalls and restaurants nearby.

During the exhibition, be sure to activate the nifty QR-code which links to a virtual exhibition catalogue! Further details on opening hours and tickets to the exhibition can be found here: https://www.ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/beautiful-people-the-boutique-in-1960s-counterculture/

Beautiful People
Our MA Documenting Fashion Cohort (not pictured: Rosie) with Susanna Brown and Terence Pepper.

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

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

Pampooties and Brogues: A Folkloric History

It was during my undergraduate degree when I first came across the word Pampootie in environs outside of my own home. It was discussed during a lesson centered around a study of Jack B. Yeats and his illustrations for William M. Synge’s book The Aran Islands. My professor began to describe the dress of The Aran Man (below) when she referred to his light leather shoes as Pampooties. Growing up my mother had always called our children’s shoes Pampooties, which lead me to think of it as nothing more than a made-up word which my family used. Clearly, I was wrong. This initial introduction to the Pampootie in the wider world typifies the myth and dynamism which animates the shoe’s history.

Figure 1: An Island Man, Jack B. Yeats, Sligo County Library and Museum

The pampootie is the traditional shoe of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway in the west of Ireland. The shoe consists of a flat piece of cow hide punctured with holes around its edges which are laced with leather thong and tightly wrapped around the foot. This basic attempt towards the fashioning of a protective foot covering stands as the common ancestor to the modern brogue shoe, as a derivative of the Irish word Bróg (meaning shoe). Yet the humble pampootie style still exists as a more historically modern version of the shoe, as the brogue style can be traced back to prehistoric times. In 1967 a horde of exquisitely preserved brogues were discovered in a bog in County Mayo which were dated back to the year 1965BC. In many ways these shoes may be considered more artistically advanced than the pampootie, as the ornamental holes characteristic of the modern brogue can be identified. Thus, despite the pampootie’s modern use the silhouette of the classic brogue which one may recognize today is far older.

Figure 2: Peter Phatch Faherty lacing his Pampooties, 1952. Getty Images

Here the mythology of the pampootie and the brogue must be addressed. In 1992 artist Brad Legg wrote his “avowedly populist” The Stars and the Brogue: Ancient Astronomy and Footwear in Ireland in which he compares the hole designs of brogues to the star patterns of the spring equinox of 1800BC. Similarly, this explanation for the shoe design was widely popular throughout the Victorian era. It can be argued that the discovery of such a bountiful horde of ornamented brogues in 1967 drives home this assertion as they were possibly gathered as a sacred offering to the pagan gods.

Figure 3: A selection of Celtic and Viking Ornaments which Victorian Scholars compared to Brogue patterns.

However, other interpretations of the holes have become more widely accepted. Many believe that the brogue’s punctures serve an entirely functional purpose, as the holes provided drainage whilst walking along the often damp and waterlogged ground of rural Ireland. Others attest that the shoes were fitted to the wearer a size too big so they may be filled with straw to absorb the wet.

Additional speculation surrounds the name of the ‘pampootie’ and where it converges with the brogue.  No one is quite sure where the seemingly exotic sounding ‘pampootie’ finds its origins, yet some have hypothesized that it is perhaps an alteration of the Turkish word ‘papoosh’ or slipper. Irrespective of that correlation, it is most likely that the brogue and the pampootie later became united through the shortening of the word pampootie to the Irish word Bróg or shoe, as aforementioned.

Nonetheless, the necessity of function over form replaced the decorative and descriptive qualities of the early pampootie, and only remerged through the revival of the shoe in the twentieth century. No conclusion can ever be outrightly drawn from many of these notions, yet it is through the mysticism surrounding the design of the shoe which we may examine its modern interpretation as it finds a secure home in the contemporary wardrobe.

In the early twentieth century the brogue’s functional and formal characteristics finally harmoniously merged in the modern variation of the shoe. The dual inclusion of a sturdy leather construction alongside the ornamental hole patterns poised the brogue as a classic country walking shoe for the twentieth century gentleman. Advertisements emphasize the traditional nature of the shoe and use its historical precedent to sell ideas of reliability and comfort.

Figure 4: Abbot & Sons “Super Brogues” Advertisement, 1919. Shutterstock

Thus, throughout the twentieth century the brogue form underwent many iterations and alterations as the traditional holed pattern took on new silhouettes as the century progressed. As made clear by the Cosmopolitan article below, by the mid century the brogue had been translated to walk the pavements of the burgeoning cityscape.

Figure 5: Cosmopolitan Article “Shoe Talk”, 1968, ProQuest

Later brogues became an iconic symbol within artistic and cultural movements, as evidenced by the iconic image of Twiggy below. This photograph taken in 1972 features a pair of brogues made by renowned British shoemaker George Cleverley. Cleverley exclusively made shoes for men but was convinced to make an exception in this case for Twiggy.

Figure 6: Twiggy in George Cleverley Brogues, 1972, Getty Images

Thus, both the brogue and the pampootie occupy a fascinatingly ambiguous space within the lexicon of modern dress. The myriad of myths surrounding the footwear informs the modern understanding of the shoes as both contemporarily relevant and deeply historical.

By Victoria FitzGerald

 

Sources:

“Brogue – Word History”. Word-Origins .com. Last modified July 18, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20110718083106/http://www.word-origins.com/definition/brogue.html

Hall, Joseph Sparks. The Book of the Feet: A History of Boots and Shoes. Second Edition. London: Read Books, 2017.

Hall, Michael. “Brogues and the Stars: on an Archaeological Controversy.” Country Life 187, no. 13 (1993): 94. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/brogues-stars/docview/1521579963/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Pampootie”. Merriam-Webster.com. Last modified October 24 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pampootie

“Shoe Talk: A new Kind of Brogue.” Cosmopolitan 165, no. 5 (11, 1968): 54. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/shoe-talk-new-kind-brogue/docview/2007367987/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Twiggy in Cleverley”.  Iconic Images.net. Last modified 24 October 2021. https://iconicimages.net/photo/jdv-tw018-twiggy-in-cleverley/

 

 

 

 

2021/22 Introduction!

A new academic year and a new group of brilliant bloggers – welcome Rosie, Megan, Victoria, Ipek, Claudia, Erin and Georgina!

While Rebecca Arnold is working hard on her latest book, I’m teaching the Documenting Fashion course. I graduated from the Courtauld History of Art MA in 2005 and it’s a joy to be back! As well as lecturing, I write on fashion and photography and curate exhibitions – most recently Tim Walker: Wonderful Things at the V&A, London, and The Photographic Art of George Hoyningen-Huene at Grisebach, Berlin.

Term began just a few weeks ago and we’ve explored so much already. Highlights so far include a visit to James Barnor’s exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, and a morning with the rare fashion sketches and magazines from the Courtauld Library’s special collections. There are lots of fantastic blog posts to come this term, so please stay tuned!

— Susanna Brown

Goodbye For Now!

Every group is special. Every year has its own particular character.  But the academic year 2020-21 was a year like no other… and this year’s MA Documenting Fashion students proved their intelligence, resourcefulness and grace during lockdowns, restrictions and global uncertainties.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKCm5myJuGa/

I want to congratulate all of you for everything you’ve achieved – for the inspiring seminar discussions, sparkling presentations and thoughtful essays. For your imaginative searches for evidence and resources, the brilliant visual analysis and innovative ideas expressed in your Virtual Exhibitions and Dissertations, all the blog posts and, of course, the truly amazing costumes for our zoom parties.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CIlzAv2JQLL/

Well done Violet, Kathryn, Ruby, Simona, Alexandra, Genevieve, Lucy and Bethan. It has been an honour to teach you and to spend this weird and difficult year in the company of such brilliant young dress historians.

Happiness and success to you all, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for you – I know that each of you will continue to shine.

Rebecca.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CQY-0k5IXsU/

P.s. extra thanks to Simona and Ruby for acting as the blog’s Editors-in-chief during the autumn term, and to Kathryn and Lucy for taking on this role in spring and summer. You all did such a great job!

P.p.s. the Documenting Fashion blog will return in October, with posts by the new 2021-22 group of students…

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

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

5 Minutes with… Simona Mezzina

As the dissertation deadline looms, we’re spending some time getting to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Simona discusses growing up in her family’s fashion boutique, dress as a language and American screwball comedies from the 1930s.

Do you have an early fashion memory to share? 

I have many early memories related to fashion. I often say that I was born among clothes: my grandfather started his textiles business in the south of Italy in the 1950s, which he shortly after turned into a menswear boutique. My father started working there at the end of the 1970s and then opened his own boutique in 2000, when I was just four years old. The boutique still exists in its original location and is currently run by my elder siblings, with the support of my father. I have many memories related to both my grandfather’s and my father’s businesses. As a child, I was extremely fascinated by the tactile qualities of clothes: I particularly loved passing my hand through the suits, perfectly hanging on their display racks, organised by colour, cut and fabric, and unfolding every shirt, sweater and pair of trousers to look at their smallest details, often deciding to try them on despite the obvious size mismatch. Some of my favourite memories involve a game I used to play in the boutique, where I would pretend to be a sales assistant with the support of our oldest employee, who would kindly and patiently play along, interpreting the role of ever different customers with the most bizarre requests. It was certainly good training – also because he taught me how to fold every item properly.

What is one thing you’ve learned about dress history that you wish more people knew? 

That dress history in itself is not just about ‘clothes’. The general understanding of the concept of dress is so shallow that trying to explain to those who ask what it means to study it is quite complicated. I recently came across a picture in a fashion magazine with a text reading ‘I don’t understand what my clothes mean’, and I became obsessed with it. It made me think that this is precisely the reason why I decided to study dress history: to understand the meaning of these items that we put on our bodies – along with all the elements that compose our appearance – which possess a unique and incredible communicative power, even more immediate than words. The problem, however, is that this language is unknown to most people, and trying to decipher it without the right tools is practically impossible. Studying dress history gave me those tools, unlocking an immense universe which encompasses multiple fields, such as sociology, social anthropology, psychology, economics, and politics.

What is your favourite thing you’ve read this year? 

Every paper or book I read thanks to this course was fascinating and challenging in its own way. However, to go back to what I was saying before about not knowing what the concept of ‘dress’ actually means: I would say one of the most important things we have analysed, at the very beginning of the MA, was Joanne B. Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins’ ‘Definition and Classification of Dress: Implications for Analysis of Gender Roles’. As a long-time supporter of Judith Butler’s ideas on gender as performance, this paper furthered my understanding of how, in the societal context I am writing from, the most prominent social distinction communicated by dress is that of learned gender roles.

What is your dissertation about? 

My dissertation is about the intersection between star image, costume design and film genre. I am discussing the function and meaning of costumes in the context of the American screwball comedies of the 1930s, through a specific focus on the screen couple Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Howard Hawks’ 1938 movie Bringing Up Baby and George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, released in 1940. Throughout my academic career, I have been particularly interested in star studies and how this field relates to film and fashion. I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on Sophia Loren’s costumes in Vittorio De Sica’s 1963 comedy Ieri, Oggi, Domani, and, although through different lenses, I enjoyed the idea of following a similar path to conclude my MA. Comedy is one of the richest and most fascinating genres, in my opinion, and I believe there is much to be said about the implications of clothes and fashion when it comes to screen comedies.

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938) Source: The New Yorker

Which outfit from dress history do you wish you could wear? 

This is such a hard question! I will go with the one outfit that immediately came to my mind when I read this question, which is included in one of my favourite portraits and dress history images: Charles Frederick Worth’s evening ball gown worn by Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Sissi, in her 1865 portrait painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. It is just sublime. The off-the-shoulder neckline, the white satin mixed with tulle, with thousands of silver foil stars shimmering throughout the dress, matching the diamond edelweiss pins in her long, braided hair… I must have dreamt of a dress like this a thousand times in my childhood ‘princess’ fantasies, way before I became acquainted with this painting. Plus, what an unforgettable experience it would have been to be dressed by the father of haute couture himself!

Franz Xaver Winterhalter (German, 1805–1873). Empress Elisabeth of Austria, 1865. Oil on canvas; 255 x 133 cm. Vienna: The Hofburg. Source: Wikiart

The representation of fashion in ‘A Beatnik Community in St Agnes’ (1969)

During the wintery months of 1969, something unusual happened in the Cornish seaside village of St. Agnes. That is, a group of eccentric, unemployed, and, crucially, strangely dressed ‘beatniks’ arrived and began living in the off-season holiday cottages. This occurrence was notable enough to warrant coverage by local television station Westward Television. In this twelve-minute piece of black and white archival footage, Del Cooper interviews both the ‘suspicious’ local residents and the ‘unconventional’ beatniks, capturing a unique moment of fashion microhistory.

Before delving into analysis, it is important to first set this film in a temporal and geographic context. Alternative style was not necessarily new: indeed, by 1969, a variety of subcultural styles and countercultural thought existed in the UK. Since the mid-1950s, Jazz Fiends, Beatniks and West End Boys, stylistically spearheaded by West Indian immigrants, challenged the constrictive post-war aesthetic of adulthood. In the 1960s, Mods and Skinheads similarly used their dress to be socially disruptive. And while Beatniks are not as readily associated with 1960s subculture as Mods, in June 1965, beat poet Allen Ginsberg nevertheless drew a crowd of 7,000 to his four-hour-long poetry reading.Yet, while counterculture and alternative style was a real possibility in this era, visible street style was often limited to London and other cultural hubs. So, when a group of fashionably long-haired Beatniks arrived in a village at the extremity of southwestern England, they signified something new, and disrupted the social ‘norm’.

Analysing this film through the lens of dress and fashion, therefore, is extremely valuable. It is the Beatniks’ dress that is the main disturbance to St. Agnes. Their unusual and sometimes flamboyant style is a stark juxtaposition against the conservative villagers and the local television reporter. This non-fiction film is illustrative of an important representation of fashion on a micro-level, separate to the world of high fashion and London.

If, as fashion scholar Carlo Marco Belfanti argues, fashion is defined by ‘an increasing passion for change and an insatiable search for novelty’, there is nothing more novel than the juxtaposition of a trendy subcultural dress with an underpopulated tourist destination in winter. Accordingly, the film opens with a static shot of Del Cooper standing against a backdrop of usual activity in St. Agnes. He seems to embody the orthodox, respectable and masculine. His grey hair is cut short and only slightly windswept, and he is dressed conservatively in a monochrome polo-neck jumper and clean-cut wool jacket. Behind him, a woman in a headscarf exits Webb’s Store, and a Jacob’s van pulls up across the road to unload a delivery of cream crackers. This scene of total normalcy, however, is soon unsettled by subversive dress. As the camera pans right, the viewer’s eye is drawn to a group of women and men making their way through the village. They are wearing loose-fitting, layered garments, accessorised with patterned scarves and a random assortment of hats; all of them with genderbending long hair. At this moment, Cooper, addressing the camera, answers the unspoken question: ‘Well, of course, it all depends on what you mean by Beatniks. If you mean young people with long hair and rather unconventional clothes, then the Beatniks are here, in St. Agnes, right now.’ A group who have fashioned themselves so conspicuously, their desire for novelty and change is palpable.

It is important to note Del Cooper’s definition of ‘Beatnik’. There are only two elements of this definition: their novel clothing and their long hair. While their actual behaviour is mentioned in the film – sharing money and belongings, strict vegetarianism, and inclination to burn joss-sticks in the local pubs – it is their dress that makes them Beatniks, including their decision to grow their hair long, a body modification that clearly communicates to other human beings that they are unconventional.

Figure 1: Del Cooper addresses the camera as the Beatniks walk into shot
Figure 2: Overcoats, scarves, dark colours and an air of casualness defines these young people

As the camera follows the Beatniks through the village, a man and a woman lead the group, five or six paces ahead. The man wears dark, flared jeans, pointed heeled boots, and a sparsely buttoned-up patterned shirt over a ruffled scarf. A cropped fur coat shrouds this outfit, that he wears undone with his hands resting casually in the pockets. His hair is slightly longer than shoulder length, accessorised by an askew cowboy-style hat. The woman is casually dressed in all black: a loose-fitting dress that reaches her ankles and leather boots. Over this, she wears an oversized, lightweight jacket and a carelessly knotted scarf around her neck. Her long hair flows behind her as she walks.

Figure 3: The flamboyantly dressed leaders

Following behind them are six more long-haired members of the group. Another woman in all black pushes a pram while four men walk alongside her, all in flared trousers and casual shoes. Their winter coats are a trench coat with the belt hanging loose at the back, a hooded duffle, and two double-breasted peacoats, respectively. One man wears a beret, while another wears a Russian Cossack-style fur hat, and they have on a hodgepodge of scarves. Another woman brings up the rear, dressed in a more masculine style, with loose-fitting trousers, a shirt, and a chunky waistcoat. She does not wear her coat but drags it along in her left hand, with a lit cigarette in her right.

What about these people’s dress draws them together? They are undoubtedly a collective, with loose and layered flares, long hair, and patterned scarves. Crucially, these clothes must be thrown on their bodies carelessly, unbuttoned, with pockets to rest the hands. Casualness defines this style tribe. Yet their clothes incorporate a range of cuts, styles, and materials, from paisley cotton scarves to striped woollen scarves, from fur coats to duffel coats – a nod to the growing interest in second-hand clothing in the late 1960s. This exemplifies the paradox at the heart of fashion. As Sheila Cliffe has put it, ‘humans have a need to be both a member of a group, which provides security and also distinguish themselves from the group and assert their individuality’. This is highlighted through the community’s differences in dress and fashioning themselves – they accessorise with individual styles of hat, scarf, and sometimes coat.

This casual, loose, and layered style would not be nearly as striking if it were not juxtaposed with the relatively plain and certainly traditional style exhibited by the long-term residents of St. Agnes. Yet, as the film begins to interview the locals, it is clear that the exhibition of dress is of far less importance to the filmmaker. While the camera angles ensured to include plenty of full-body shots of the unusual Beatnik outfits, the shots of the interviewees are only static close-ups. And to a degree, this is understandable: if fashion is novel, in constant change, and both individual and group-based, the St. Agnes citizens are not particularly fashionable.

Figure 4: A fur-hatted local

Six different locals are interviewed, and either express distaste or indifference to the unorthodox new arrivals. In a few minutes, viewers meet a range of characters: a woman, without make-up, her white hair tucked into a dark fur pillbox hat, and a paisley scarf knotted around her neck; a middle-aged man in a wool coat and trilby hat; a young woman, bare-faced with a messy bob haircut; a woman with dark hair tied up in a loose bun, both make-up and accessory free; an old lady in a fur bonnet; a local councillor with neat curls and cats-eye spectacles; and a man in a stiff-collared coat, white shirt and tie. Dress, at its most fundamental, can signify ambivalences inherent in humans. Here, the functional and stylish – but not particularly trendy – fur hats help to signify a woman’s age. Likewise, the local councillor’s well-ordered spectacles and hair signify her – relatively – public-facing occupation. The man in a coat, shirt and tie suggests professionality. Most fundamentally, the men have short hair while the women have long. Therefore, while not everyone self-fashions to be novel, trendy, or individual, the interviews with the Cornish people signify that on some level, everyone self-fashions to reveal a subconscious element of themselves.

Figure 5: Traditionally masculine
Figure 6: A practical fur bonnet for winter
Figure 7: A stern pair of cats-eye spectacles

As the film moves to interview the Beatniks, however, deeper elements of the inner self are visually expressed. As Daniel Miller argues, dress can often be used ‘as an appropriate exploration of who one really is’.[1] The television reporter, Cooper, seems quite aware of this innate connection. While interviewing Toni, a single mother who wears a string of sparse beads wrapped around her neck twice, reminiscent of hippie love-beads, and a black button-down blouse with delicate embroidery and slightly puffed sleeves, he asks, ‘The people of St. Agnes are very suspicious of you because you’re very unconventional in your dress. Are you also unconventional in your morals?’.

Figure 8: Toni wears artistic beads and slightly puffed sleeves

Additionally, the non-fiction news segment shows snippets of the travelling artists undertaking their crafts and passions. We see people engraving slates, painting, forging jewellery, and playing music. And, in line with Miller’s theory, each person’s dress seems to reflect their own inner talent. The jewellery makers wear thick metal rings on nearly every finger, and the performer dresses the most flamboyantly, in a beret, with long hair and white-rimmed sunglasses – impractically worn indoors. Not only do these accessories help these artists with their self-expression, but they also embody a further definition of fashion. That is, prioritising form over function. It is certainly not practical to wear so many rings, nor are sunglasses fulfilling a practical function when worn indoors. These Beatniks are using dress and accessories purely to portray themselves how they desire.

Figure 9: Layered handmade silver rings adorn this jewellery maker’s hands
Figure 10: Sunglasses indoors

And as the short film comes to a close, an atmospheric shot pans out of shabbily, artistically dressed Beatniks, listening to a poem being read aloud against the crashing waves of Cornwall. Miller’s concluding argument seems apt: a study of clothing should evoke feelings, both tactile and emotional. Perhaps, then, in the bitter winter air, their layered outfits, hats and scarves are keeping them warm in the wintery air. Or perhaps a breeze blows right through the loose-fitting dresses. Perhaps their chunky, hand-knitted woollen jumpers are itchy. Perhaps they enjoy feeling the sea breeze in their long hair.

The film ends, panning in on the waves after Del Cooper makes his closing statement:

What bothers the 4,000 odd residents of this charming, attractive and rather conventional seaside village is that the community with unconventional clothes and rather unorthodox ways will, as they put it, give the village a bad name and drive away the holiday visitors.  They want them to go. But whether you call them free-thinking artists, Beatniks, or the vanguard of a new movement to make England great again, they’re here to stay. And St. Agnes will never ever be quite the same again.

Here, the importance of fashion and dress is notable: this strangely dressed yet fashionable community has altered the microhistory of St. Agnes.

Figures 11 and 12: The closing scene of the film, the Beatniks set against the backdrop of the cold, wintery ocean

By Kathryn Reed

Bibliography

A Beatnik Community in St Agnes. Presented by Del Cooper. BFI (South West Film & Television Archive), 1969. https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-a-beatnik-community-in-st-agnes-1969-online

Arnold, Rebecca, Fashion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2009)

Belfanti, Carlo Marco, ‘Was Fashion a European Invention?’ in Journal of Global History 3 (2008)

Cliffe, Sheila, ‘Think Fashion or Tradition?’, The Social Life of Kimono: Japanese Fashion Past and Present. (London, 2018)

Davis, Fred, Fashion, Culture and Identity (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995)

Donnelly, Mark, ‘Wholly Communion: Truths, Histories, and the Albert Hall Poetry Reading’, Journal of Cinema and Media 52 1 (2011), pp. 128-140

Eicher, Joanne B., and Roach-Higgins, Mary Ellen, ‘Definition and Classification of Dress,’ in Ruth Barnes and Joanne B. Eicher, Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts (Oxford, 1993)

Miller, Daniel, ‘Why Clothing Is Not Superficial,’ in Stuff (Cambridge: Polity, 2010)

Tulloch, Carol, ‘Rebel Without a Pause: Black Street Style & Black Designers’ in Juliet Ash and Elizabeth Wilson (eds.) Chic Thrills:  A Fashion Reader (Berkeley, 1993)

Welters, Linda, ‘The Beat Generation Subcultural Style’, in Linda Welters and Patricia A. Cunningham (eds.) Twentieth Century American Fashion (London, 2005)

James Barnor: Britain in the 1960s

After being shut for months due to lockdown, galleries in the UK have finally reopened their doors to visitors. Amongst a plethora of ‘must-see’ shows, the Serpentine Gallery’s highly anticipated James Barnor retrospective is opening to the public this Thursday. Exhibiting a selection of iconic images taken by the Ghanaian photographer during his six-decade career, it aims to highlight his role as a pioneering figure within modern photography.

Now ninety-two and living in the UK, Barnor recalls how he crossed continents and genres to further his knowledge of photography. As a studio photographer and photojournalist, he captured Ghana on the cusp of independence in the 1950s. He later introduced colour photography to the nation in the 1970s. In between these two pivotal chapters of his career, he moved to London, where he documented the city’s transformation into a multicultural metropolis in the post-war era. Working as a documentary and fashion photographer, he harnessed the power of photography to illuminate the multidimensionality of Black experience in Britain in the 1960s.

Drum Cover, Nigerian Edition 1967 @james_barnor_archives

In order to comprehend the power of Barnor’s images and his skill as a photographer, it is important to first understand the complex time he was living in. During the 1950s and 1960s, Britain was experiencing a wave of post-war migration as a result of the 1948 British Nationality Act, which granted people in the Commonwealth full rights to British Citizenship. Whilst this marked a watershed moment in the formation of Black Britain, it was also a dark chapter in the nation’s history with racism inherent in the media, politics and society-at-large. This racial intolerance culminated in the Notting Hill Riots of 1958, during which Black people were targeted in violent attacks by white mobs. In the political sphere, various acts were introduced throughout the 1960s which aimed to limit citizenship rights. It was against this backdrop that Barnor worked as a photographer, producing images which were not overtly politically or racially charged in nature, yet prove incredibly impactful given the socio-political landscape of the period.

Drum cover girl Erlin Ibreck, London, 1966 / Drum cover girl Marie Hallowi, London, 1966 @james_barnor_archives

Commissioned by Drum, the South African Anti-Apartheid journal, he photographed Black models engaging with the latest fashions in the streets of London. These were circulated internationally and have come to be known as pioneering images of Black beauty. Presenting a multi-national cohort of Black women against iconic British backdrops such as post boxes, telephone boxes and Underground signs, he visually manifested the merging of different cultures in post-war Britain. Whether he was photographing Erlin Ibreck leaning against a Jaguar in Kilburn, Marie Hallowi feeding birds in Trafalgar Square, or Mike Eghan leaping off the fountain at Piccadilly Circus, Barnor aimed to capture his subject’s essence and individuality at a time when Black Britain was triumphantly coming into being against a challenging socio-political backdrop.

Guests at the Baptism Ceremony of James Vanderpuije, London, early 1960s / Portrait of the sister of a friend of James Barnor, London, c. 1960 @james_barnor_archives

Barnor also photographed his friend’s weddings, christenings and parties. Taken for family albums, these documentary images were intended not for public consumption nor to make a political statement about racism or marginality, but rather to capture key milestones within the multicultural communities which were emerging in Britain at this time. Style was a tool of social and cultural transformation for Barnor’s subjects. Inspired by various factors such as Western culture, urban dress, group identity, African style and gender ideals, they harnessed the communicative power of clothing to visually manifest their own perspective of what constituted being Black and British at that time. Meticulously dressed, they exude a sense of joy and self-assurance as they become part of the social fabric of multicultural Britain.

Friends, Accra, late 1970s / Back to school, Accra, 1970s or 1980s @james_barnor_archives

Barnor’s images of London make up the second of three sections at the Serpentine exhibition. The first section is dedicated to portraits he took in his studio, EverYoung, in Accra during the 1950s, as well as his journalistic photographs of Ghanaian independence. The third and final section is made up of colour photographs taken in post-colonial Ghana on his return from Britain in the 1970s. What unites these three sections is a sense of joy and community. Barnor saw photography as a collaborative venture between the photographer and subject, which created a sense of intimacy. His images of both Ghana and Britain are powerful visual testaments of societies in transition during the latter half of the twentieth century.

By Violet Caldecott

References: 

Campt, Tina M., Image Matters, Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Duke University Press: Durham and London), 2012

Hall, Stuart, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, 1990, in Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Selected Writings on Race and Difference, Stuart Hall (Duke University Press: Durham and London), 2021

Olusoga, David, Black and British, A Forgotten History (Pan Macmillian London), 2017

Ed. Mussai, Renée, James Barnor, Ever Young (Autograph ABP: London) 2015

Park, Rianna Jade, How James Barnor’s Photographs Became Symbols of Black Glamour, Aperture, issue 242, New York, March 2021 (Aperture Foundation Inc: London) 2021

Yva and Helmut Newton: Haptic Seeing

Last week, I watched Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful. This candid biopic explores Newton’s complex legacy as a photographer through a series of his most provocative images and interviews with the women who featured in them. Amongst Newton’s iconic shots of Claudia Schiffer, Charlotte Rampling and Marianne Faithful, I found myself struck by a grainy black and white photograph hanging on the wall of his New York apartment. A cropped shot of a woman’s legs in stockings, dramatically illuminated against a dark background, it is an evocative rendering of the female form. Whilst it possesses the same sensual quality as Newton’s photographs, it is not his work. It was taken by Else Neulander Neuman, otherwise known as Yva, the Weimar photographer who had mentored Newton in the early days of his career.

From Gero von Boehm’s Helmut Newton: The Bad and The Beautiful, 2020

Yva was a leading photographer in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s. Inspired by the creative atmosphere of the Bauhaus, Objectivism and German Expressionism movements, she used theatrical lighting and clean geometric lines, to create a sophisticated and refined image of glamour. In the male-dominated sphere of fashion photography which often propagated a sexualised model of femininity, her elegant and allusive photographs of women provided a refreshing outlook on female beauty.

Woman in Dress, 1933, Accessed via: Instagram: @noirmelanie
Two women in Coats, 1935, Accessed via: Instagram @documenting_fashion

Yva’s most iconic images were her stocking advertisements. Using close-cropped shots and theatrical lighting, she put the focus on the texture of the garment and immersed the female viewer in an act of ‘haptic seeing’. The photograph which Newton had hung on his wall was from an advertisement she shot for UHU in 1929 titled Schöne Beine in schönen Strümpfen (Beautiful Legs in Beautiful Stockings). The dramatic lighting of the woman’s legs against the nebulous dark background serves not only to highlight the form of the woman’s knees, shins and ankles, but also to emphasise the contrast between the grainy texture of the mass-produced stockings and the soft satin of her shoes. In its rich and sensuous depiction of the different textures, it encourages the women to imagine themselves wearing the stockings, with the visual focus not solely on the leg, nor solely on the stocking, but rather on the relationship between the item of clothing and the body. Yva’s photographs for magazines such as Die Dame and Elegante Welt provided a feminine perspective of products, engaging with female consumers’ sense of sight as well as touch.

Schöne Beine in schönen Strümpfen’, Yva, for UHU Magazine, 1929 Accessed via: Instagram @documenting_fashion
Shoe, Monte Carlo, 1983, Helmut Newton, Accessed via: Instagram @noirmelanie

Looking at Yva’s work, I have come to understand Newton’s photography in a different way. As shown by the stocking advertisement he had hung in his flat, he drew inspiration from her use of ‘haptic seeing’ to immerse the women in a multi-sensory experience of the latest fashions. Although he was not a woman, having understood the world through Yva’s eyes and indeed lens, he created photographs which spoke directly to the female consumer and her needs and desires.

By Violet Caldecott

 

Sources:

Belting, Hans, ‘The Transparency of the Medium: The Photographic Image,’ in An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2011)

Hatton, Hayley, Yva: shattered vision, The tragic hidden legacy of one of history’s most visionary photographers, Dazed and Confused, July 2008

https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/20704/1/yva-shattered-vision

Ganeva, Mila, Fashion Photography and Women’s Modernity in Weimar Germany: The Case of Yva, NWSA Journal, 2003-10-01, Vol.15 (3) (Baltimore: Indiana University Press: 2003)

Van Deren Coke, Avant Garde Photography in Germany, 1918-1939 (Pantheon Books: New York, 1982)