Rose-Coloured Tresses: Pink Hair for Dark Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lapinal hair colour chart, late 1950s, image via Etsy,

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

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

By Ruby Redstone


Bateman, Kristin. ‘How Pink Hair Came to Define the Aesthetic of Covid-19,’ Teen Vogue. 22 December 2020.

Elan, Priya. ‘Why pink hair is the “statement-making” hair color trend of the pandemic,’ The Guardian. 8 January 2021.

Felsenthal, Julia. ‘Pink Hair is All the Rage – Just Like it Was in 1914,’ Slate. 12 May 2011.

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

‘New Pink Hair Fashion’. St Joseph’s News Press. 14  September 1940.

‘Paris Picks Pink Hair-Calls It “Hermine Rose”’. Toledo Blade. 2 December 1948.

“Pink Nylon Hair.” Women’s Wear Daily 75, no. 48 (Sep 08, 1947): 3.

“SCRAPBOOK.” Harper’s Bazaar 76, no. 2772 (12, 1942): 58-59.

“Shopping Bazaar.” Harper’s Bazaar 71, no. 2704 (01, 1938): 32-37.

The Pas de Deux of Fashion and Ballet

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Leotard Idea,’ Harper’s Bazaar, 1943.
Stella McCartney, ‘Stella Wear Modern Open-Knit Bodysuit’ via

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simone Rocha spring/summer 2021 shoes via

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


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

By Genevieve Davis


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

Daher, Nadine. “From Ballerina Flats to Tutus, Ballet Has Left Its Mark on Fashion.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed February 11, 2021.

Marshall, Alex. “Brown Point Shoes Arrive, 200 Years After White Ones.” The New York Times, November 4, 2018, sec. Arts.

Pike, Naomi. “It’s A Ballet Slipper, But Not as You Know It: Simone Rocha Has Created A Shoe We Never Knew We Needed.” British Vogue. Accessed February 11, 2021.

Pointe. “1820s–1830s: Marie Taglioni and the Romantic Ballerinas,” August 5, 2020.

Staff, C. R. “The History of Ballet Flats.” CR Fashion Book, October 15, 2019.

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

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

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

Chet Lo’s ‘durian’ designs, accessed via

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

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

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

‘ASTER CHINENSIS – Pair’, Helena Thulin, accessed via

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

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

By Kathryn Reed


Zoë Kendall, ‘Screwing with silhouettes: these designers are reimagining shape and form’, i-D, published 7 January 2021, (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Jade Wickes, ‘Chet Lo: a designer set on switching up the knitwear narrative’, The Face, published 3 December 2020, (Accessed 8 February 2021)

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

Chet Lo, personal website, (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Monirath, personal website, (Accessed 8 February 2021)

Helena Thulin, personal website, (Accessed 8 February 2021)











The Bimbo: A Fashion Icon

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

By Alexandra Sive






Alice V Robinson: Confronting Consumerism

‘374’ is a collection of accessories and outerwear that includes: sleek, tan knee-high boots with a mid-heel; a belted suede mac with silver fastenings (and a second, interchangeable belt featuring cowhide pouches); a tan leather bucket bag with a silver clasp; suede mules; a cowhide jacket. Part of the collection – conceived, designed and created by Alice V Robinson – went on display at the V&A in 2019 as part of the exhibition Food: Bigger than the Plate. Visitors were able to get a closer look at the solid silver plates and leather tags engraved and embossed with the number ‘374’, a reference to ‘Bullock 374’, a longhorn bullock from whom the entire collection was created.

Alice V Robinson graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2018. Her degree collection, the predecessor to ‘374’, involved her purchasing a sheep (‘11458’) from a farm nearby where she grew up, attending its slaughter and designing a collection to make use of the entire animal. The resulting cream-coloured knitted jumper, finger gloves and butter-toned leather bag, shoes and purse are elegant and contemporary. Burgers made from the leftover meat were served at the degree show, shocking some attendees.

Robinson’s approach to the ethical and environmental concerns of the fashion industry was based on the attempts of the food industry to tackle their own similar production problems. Using a by-product of meat, Robinson was able to address the issues around sourcing fashion’s materials: the hide of ‘374’ would have otherwise been incinerated, at cost to the farmer who raised him. Her resource-led process and a zero-waste objective enabled her to work creatively and respectfully within the limits posed by what was available: ‘it is all defined by the animal used’. While supply chains can be murky in both industries, Robinson’s small-scale, entirely localised production allowed for complete traceability and transparency. Her process also demanded slowness, that desirable but elusive antidote to rampant consumerism, leaving her ‘unable to stick to the same deadlines as others in my class’ as she awaited the completion of each step. Style, too, is one of the most significant aspects of the collections’ sustainability. Classic pieces designed and made thoughtfully from durable materials, they are built to last without needing replacement, thereby negating the need for future production.

It would be impossible to label this experiment as half-hearted greenwashing: it rips apart received ideas about sustainable fashion. Leather goods, like fur, have been demonised by some animal rights activists since the 1990s (unlike fur, however, leather remains prevalent and widely accepted) and, as in the food industry, veganism is considered by many to be the only ethical and environmentally-sound choice. Instead, Robinson confronts the reality of the cycle of production and consumption, including the violence, sometimes overlooked, that is undeniably present within the fashion industry. By identifying the once-living source of her materials by name, Robinson plays on the shame of many carnivores who admit that they would feel uneasy witnessing the death of their future food, or in this case, garment. The numerical name tricks the viewer-consumer, putting a figure to a life and, once the significance is illuminated, revealing the distance created between that life and its outcome. Wearing, like eating, is an embodied experience, which adds emotional weight to the subjects of fashion and food. Robinson’s method is certainly shocking to consumers accustomed to facing only the end product but, in some ways, violence seems the appropriate response to a system that is so frequently violent to its workers and ecosystem, in often only thinly veiled ways.

The ethics of Robinson’s project are far from clear-cut, but her exploration is valid and thoughtful. In its refusal to shy away from reality, it demonstrates a kindness that is missing from many attempts at sustainability in fashion. By borrowing lessons from the food industry, it builds ‘a bridge between farming and fashion where values between the two [are] mirrored’. This uncomfortable collection reveals that the most important directive for a sustainable system is to keep questioning, experimenting and reworking, because there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution.

By Lucy Corkish


Alice V Robinson, 374. Installation image at FOOD Bigger than the Plate © the artist. Photo Victoria and Albert Museum, London (



Catherine Flood and May Rosenthal Sloan, Food: Bigger than the Plate (2019)

Alice V Robinson, personal website (

Rebecca Speare-Cole, ‘Budding London designer who makes clothes from entire animals to promote zero waste on show at V&A’ (2019) (

Rosario Morabito, ‘Fashion is a living thing: the RCA fashion show 2018’ (2018) (

Depop vs Reality

When artist and writer Leanne Shapton gave her talk on the seduction of amateur fashion photography in the Fashion Interpretations Symposium in early December, I felt as though she had exposed to me the secrets of my online shopping habits. From this point on, I became fascinated (and a bit obsessed) with investigating what actually goes into my experience of buying second-hand clothes online.

Shapton happened upon the subjects of her 2020 painted series when scrolling through eBay and Craigslist. Through magical means, she transforms the one-dimensional amateur photography into whimsical painted expressions. Her talk and her work highlighted the absurdity of second-hand fashion online. The nuanced way in which we are seduced by amateur photography into buying something online that once belonged to someone else transcends the here and now to consider the imagined arena of what could be.

Depop is my queen. It has provided me with an escape – not only in this past year but since the day I first created my ‘shop’ – and a space in which to carve out my very own, very ‘authentic’ style. I sit for hours, ‘liking’ clothes listed as ‘authentic vintage’, ‘deadstock’ or ‘y2k’. I sort each item into ‘collections’ that I’ve labelled ‘vintagey’, ‘jewels’, ‘lingeree’, ‘hat’, ‘topz’, ‘dressup’. I hope that no one will see my collections, so that the dress (that I’ll forget about as soon as I close the app) is mine, in perpetuity.

I sometimes search for months and even years for the right version of the garment I want. In the past year and a half, I’ve spent an unfortunate amount of time trying to find the perfect cowboy boots at the perfect price point. When I finally found them, I felt as though my hard work had paid off. The caption read: ‘Blue embroidered cowboy boots. UK7. #cowboy #western #bohovibes #boots.’ Simple, effective and they only cost £30 (including postage and packaging)! The seller (@portlevenmermaid) put up four images of the pale blue boots with white embroidery, against a diamond-patterned carpet in similar colours. She photographed them on their side, then from the perspective of the toe, then from the heel. She even modelled them herself, sat on the floor with legs outstretched. However, this wasn’t enough for me to be sure that my £30 would be well spent. I wanted to see them standing up; I asked, and she made me a video.

To help me weigh up the pros and cons of investing, I imagined myself walking around in the shoes I hadn’t yet purchased. I put together outfits that I thought would go with them. I imagined events that I would wear them to. In essence, those cowboy boots spent a lot of time in my head before I would ever see them on my feet. The last push was the recognition that if I saw that ‘SOLD’ stamp appear, I would feel a guilty sickness for the time wasted as well as a size-seven-cowboy-boot-shaped hole in my heart. I confirmed with the seller and bam! £30 left my account.

I waited two weeks for our postman to hand me a shoe-sized package. As soon as they arrived, I excitedly ripped open the flimsy plastic purple packaging. They were exactly as @portlevenmermaid had shown them! The embroidery was delicate and yet pronounced against the pale blue faux-leather material. The wooden heel was a lot sturdier than I had expected. They looked in great shape. I rushed to put them on, unzipping the leather and sliding my foot inside. Oh… a bit tight. Not to worry – I was wearing thick bed socks and I would never wear them with these! I jumped into a pair of tights and slid the boots on again. Still a bit of a pinch… It was fine, I wouldn’t be walking long distances in them anyway.

Our Christmas Day walk was the first outing for me and my boots. We walked about 6,000 steps according to Apple Health. The pointed toe squeezed my thinly covered feet and, with every step, created a friction that became unbearable. Taking off the boots at the end of the walk felt like taking off the favourite bra that you won’t admit you’ve grown out of, despite the red-raw indents it leaves on your chest. I was disappointed to say the least, but I also felt a real sense of guilt. I thought of my grandma and the hours we had waited for my number to be called out in Clarks, to have my feet precisely measured for shoes that would last me years. This was clearly a lesson I did not bring with me into my adult life.

Outlining my Depop experience in words has been a bit bizarre. I’ve come to realise that this is not a standalone experience: it has happened to me multiple times, with shoes, suits, tops and jeans, and I’m sure it has happened to everyone who has ever bought something online. This imaginary incorporation of this digital thing into my real life is beautifully represented by Shapton in her latest series of images. She highlights the strangeness of making judgements (and handing over money to strangers online) based on a one-dimensional image that you have worked to make real in your mind’s eye.

The entire experience of buying clothes forces us to think of a life not yet lived. This imagined potential is greatly intensified online, even more so now that it allows us to hope for a future. With that in mind, I think I’ll try to cling on to the pleasure felt at the imagined version of me, wearing my cowboy boots.

By Bethan Eleri Carrick


Kathryn Reed, Fashion Interpretations Symposium Part II,

The Suggestive Power of Colour in Milena Canonero’s Costume Design

With a career spanning over four decades, four Academy Awards, and collaborations with some of the most acclaimed directors of the century, Milena Canonero is a legendary figure in costume design whose talent contributed to the creation of modern cinematic myths. As stated by former Berlinale Director Dieter Kosslick, her excellence lays not only ‘in the art of subtly accentuating a character’s personality but also in enhancing the texture of a film through very detailed and original designs’. Her particular focus on colour – already visible in the contraposition between black and white in the droogs’ outfit in A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, 1971) – was brought to the spotlight thanks to the costumes she created for Marie Antoinette (2006).  But it was not until her collaboration with Wes Anderson that colour truly acquired the suggestive and symbolic power that enriched her creations with multiple layers of meaning.

With Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006), Canonero won her third Oscar, after Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, 1975) and Chariots of Fire (Hudson, 1981). In the colours and textures employed, the fashion at the cinematic Versailles looks like the desserts in which the queen is seen indulging in multiple scenes. In fact, Canonero was inspired by a box of Ladurée macarons received by Coppola as a gift. The colour palette, then, was mainly constituted by pastel hues, with one significant exception: Madame Du Barry (Asia Argento), King Louis XV’s maitresse-en-tître. In fact, the colours of the dresses convey important unspoken messages throughout the film, a technique which Canonero later extensively employs in her collaboration with Wes Anderson. In the case of Madame Du Barry – whose relationship with the king Marie Antoinette historically deplored – the personal contrasts between mistress and queen, as well as their inherently opposite nature, are emphasised by the contrasting shades they wear. While Marie Antionette (Kirsten Dunst) and her retinue flaunt highly elaborate dresses in pastels and neutrals, Du Barry wears rich, luxurious colours like deep blue, burgundy and purple, even in bed, revealing her lascivious personality and conduct. The only moment in which the queen and her friends depart from their classic pastels is during the masquerade ball, in which they wear emerald green and black, allowing themselves to become their alter-egos and disobey the rules of the court. Emblematically, it is at this ball that Marie Antoinette, who is wearing a black dress with a matching sheer blindfold, meets Count Fersen (Jamie Dornan), delving for the first time into the same territory of affairs and lovers as Du Barry.



Only two years before Marie Antoinette, Wes Anderson asked Canonero to work on the costumes of his new project freely inspired by the life of underwater filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). This was the beginning of a collaboration that still continues today, characterised by a precise work of coordination which ensures consistency throughout the film, especially in terms of colour palette. Colour is, in fact, fundamental for Anderson in establishing a mood that contrasts grim situations with the levity and fairy-tale-like appearance of his characters and mise-en-scène. Canonero has compared it to the musician’s approach to a melody: ‘colours have their own music, and Wes cares a lot that all of them hit the right notes’.

In The Life Aquatic, Canonero’s wardrobe choices echoed Anderson’s references to the French filmmaker. The red watch cap, one of the most memorable and iconic pieces worn by Zissou, was a characteristic feature of Cousteau and his crew, usually paired with a light blue shirt. Canonero recreated all these elements for the Belafonte’s crew, giving predominance to primary colours like red, blue and yellow. Conveying Anderson’s trademark levity, the movie narrates Zissou’s mission to kill a mysterious sea-creature that has eaten his best friend, yet the whimsical element of the red cap, worn with every outfit, formal or casual, prevents Bill Murray’s character from being taken too seriously.

Jacques Cousteau (left) and Bill Murray as Steve Zissou (right, down) in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). (
Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). (

Similarly, The Darjeeling Limited (2007) presents a contrast between the rich colours of India’s Rajasthan region and the grey suits worn by three brothers, protagonists of the movie. Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) embark on a spiritual journey, in an effort to bond and heal after their father’s death and reconnect with their mother (Anjelica Houston). Each one is wearing a different shade of grey, a gloomy colour which reflects their inner turmoil, externally represented by a set of bright orange suitcases which the brothers had inherited from their deceased father. Hand-painted by Anderson’s brother Eric, these suitcases were the result of a collaboration between Canonero, Anderson, Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. Their warm tones reflect the colours of the locations in which the movie was shot, a practice embedded in Anderson’s film aesthetics. But their main function is to embody the physical and emotional luggage of which the brothers will free themselves at the end of the movie.

Peter (Adrien Brody), Francis (Owen Wilson), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) in The Darjeeling Limited (2007) with their orange suitcases. (


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2015), the latest collaboration between the costume designer and the American director which earned Canonero her fourth Oscar, saw the fundamental involvement of two world-known Italian fashion houses: Fendi and Prada. Fendi created pieces for Tilda Swinton’s Madame D., an eighty-four year old aristocrat, described by Anderson as ‘an eccentric beauty and an art collector’. For her wardrobe, Canonero was inspired by the paintings of Gustave Klimt and Tamara de Lempicka and included some hand-painted patterns which clearly referenced the artists. Prada created Jopling’s (Willem Defoe) black leather coat, inspired by 1930s military dispatch riders and with a front lapel functioning as a secret weapons arsenal, as described by Anderson in the script. The dark tones worn by Jopling and Dimitri (Adrien Brody) were contrasted by the pink, purple and mauve tones of the Grand Budapest hotel and its staff’s uniforms, as well as by the unforgettable Mendl’s pastries and their boxes.


Milena Canonero’s forty years of work have seen her involved in some of the most iconic and influential movies of the century. The partnerships with both directors and fashion houses she managed to secure throughout her career resulted in a deep trust that guaranteed communication and creative exchange, without the restrictions of a singular vision. In this way, her costumes deepen the audience’s understanding of each character, masterfully using colours to communicate unspoken truths or inner turmoil. The four Oscars and multiple awards won over the years are just emblems of her talent and genius, widely recognised by the film and fashion industries, as well as by audiences.

By Simona Mezzina



Zoller Seitz, Matt. The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel. London: Abrams, 2015.



A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, United States, 1971).

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, United States, 1975)

Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, United States, 2006)

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, United States, 2007)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, United States, 2015)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson, United States, 2004)

Tied Up in a Bow: A Brief History of the Hair Ribbon

‘Tis the season for wrapping everything under the tree up with a bow. This year, to borrow a phrase from the great Diana Vreeland, why don’t you consider trimming yourself with ribbons too? There is nothing quite as festive as a velvet bow pinned neatly under atop the crown of the head or a strand of silk looped around the end of a braid. The appeal of the ribbon as a hair accessory is, however, no seasonal trend–it perhaps one of the most timeless adornments. 

Ribbon-making likely dates back to the early Middle Ages, when the invention of the horizontal loom allowed for the creation of more complex woven textiles. Ribbons quickly became a sartorial trend, pinned to clothing and wrapped into hairstyles. Chaucer notes the existence of ‘ribbands’ as accessories in his work. Visual evidence of the popularity of ribbons is widespread throughout Renaissance works, worn in great, swooping quantities by Filipo Lippi’s angels and as a dainty crown of bows in Lorenzo Lotti’s more secular Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucretia

Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucretia, 1530-1532, oil on canvas, 96.5 x 110.6 cm, The National Gallery, London, inventory no. NG4256.

As the Renaissance came to a close, a more specific trend in ribbon-adorned hairstyles took hold: that of the lovelock. Worn almost exclusively by men in the late 16th and early 17th century, the lovelock was a long strand of hair worn draped over the chest and often tied with a bow or a rose made from ribbon. The lovelock was a deeply sentimental style, intended to signify the wearer’s romantic devotion to their beloved as it drew emphasis towards the heart. 

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Henri II de Lorraine, 1634, oil on canvas, 204.6 x 123.8 cm (80 9/16 x 48 3/4 in.), The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., accession no. 1947.14.1.

In the late 18th century, the Dutch engine loom once again revolutionised the production of ribbon, allowing for six different types of ribbons to be produced simultaneously on a single loom. This industrial innovation spurred an unprecedented frenzy for ribbons of all kinds, which is apparent in the styles of Rococo France. Both men and women of the time were draped with ribbons and bows from the tops of tall wigs down to the pointed toes of effeminate court shoes.


After the fall of the French monarchy, ribbons remained a popular accessory, even amongst those who had most vehemently opposed the Rococo style. Women who wore decidedly anti-Rococo Regency era dresses often topped their looks with bonnets bedecked in bows and flowers made from ribbon. These bonnets would remain popular for women throughout the 19th century, though ribbons as an accessory for men largely fell out of fashion. The Victorian affinity for elaborate braided hairstyles provided an ample canvas for yet more ribbon to be pinned into women’s hair. By the end of the century, a fashionable women’s hat could contain a decadent ten to twelve yards of ribbon–plus more woven into her tresses beneath. 

An illustration of Regency bonnets from Costumes Parisiennes, 1811, via


In 1939, classic films Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz presented their respective starlets as pictures of wholesome femininity, their hair trimmed with bows of red and blue. Hair bows became stylish accoutrements for women of the silver screen and their fans. Bows took on flirtatious connotations, as evidenced by a 1944 spread from LIFE magazine that assigns various romantic meanings to the placement of a young lady’s hair bow, not at all dissimilar from the purpose of the lovelock popular over four centuries earlier. In contemporary Russia, the young woman’s hair bow had a far more political purpose. Girls wore two large, gauzy white bows known as bantiki as part of their school uniform to demonstrate their loyalty to the Soviet Union.

‘Girls Hair-Do Reveals Love Life,’ LIFE magazine, 15 May 1944,

From Renaissance angels to stars of the silver screen, the hair bow has been a steadfast and stylish companion for nearly the entirety of written dress history. Well into the 20th century, French ingenues like Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and Anna Karina again made the hair bow a part of 1960s stardom, lending it a coquettish quality by styling it with winged eyeliner and short hemlines. In even more recent years, pop stars Madonna and Lady Gaga have put their outlandish touches on the ribbons in their hair as well, enlarging them to comical sizes and pairing them with clashing punk studs. Whether it is used to communicate romantic entanglements or political affiliations, ribbon is an infinitely customisable accessory, and looks just as pretty tangled in tresses as it does tied up under the tree.

Please note that the Documenting Fashion blog will be taking a brief holiday to make bows and be merry! We look forward to sharing dress history with you again regularly in the new year.

By Ruby Redstone


Anna Purna Kambhampaty, ‘From Marie Antoinette to JoJo Siwa, Hair Bows Have a Surprisingly Meaningful History,’ Time, published 14 August 2019,

FIT Fashion History Timeline, ‘Love Lock,’ published 10 August 2018,

Katya Soldak, ‘This is How Propaganda Works: A Look Inside a Soviet Childhood,’ Forbes, published 20 December 2018,

National Museum of American History, ‘For your Easter bonnet: Silk ribbons,’ published 13 April 2017,

‘Ribbons,’ Encyclopedia online, accessed 17 December 2020,,Knights%20of%20Bath%20wear%20red.


Women’s Bodies and Male Designers: John Galliano Spring 1994 and Alexander McQueen Autumn 1995

John Galliano graduated from Central Saint Martins in 1984, and eight years later Lee Alexander McQueen followed suit. Two of their collections from the mid- nineties, Galliano’s Princess Lucretia (spring/summer 94/95) and McQueen’s Highland Rape (autumn/winter 95/96) use women’s bodies as a medium beyond clothing. Both use historical narratives to emotional and aesthetic effect, and both are fascinated with hierarchical power dynamics and violence against women.

Galliano’s show was built on an invented fairy-tale narrative, inspired by a Vanity Fair article which detailed a DNA connection between the Romanovs and the Duke of Edinburgh. Galliano’s Princess Lucretia runs away from the 1860s crinolines and hoops skirts of her Russian upbringing to Scotland. On her escape train, she meets a polka-dotty duke and duchess, who introduce her to parties. She becomes “naughty”, drinking, smoking and gambling, before falling in love with a lord and living happily ever after in reimaginings of Madeleine Vionnet’s bias-cut dresses. This magical realist narrative allows for the corseted, extremely unwieldy shapes of the mid-nineteenth century to metamorphose into the lithe and figure-hugging silks of the nineteen twenties in one performance.

Galliano’s show also follows the narrative of the seeming emancipation of a young woman’s body after the First World War. However, the ideal boyish figure of the twenties was by no means less restricted. Though it took up less space than the hoop-skirted silhouettes we see at the beginning of the show, the binding of breasts and pushing down of hips through corselets was hardly comfortable or natural. By the nineties, these techniques of reducing the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics had been internalised through dieting, exercise, and, at times, starvation. Where Galliano’s show foregrounded a fairy tale narrative featuring the recognisable historical shapes of crinolines and bias-cuts, McQueen’s story was far more abstract. His historical starting point was the eighteenth-century Jacobite rebellion, reinvented as a tale of masculine English domination and violation of a Scotland that is codified as feminine and natural.

In Highland Rape, the beginning of McQueen’s fascination with what Stephen Seely terms the “becoming non-human of the wearer’s body” is visible. Such de-humanising has long been used as a method of patriarchal control, as evidenced in the consideration of undergarments from the 1860s through the 1920s. For Seely, however, this can also “problematize the privileged Western binaries of human/animal, organic/inorganic, real/artifice, and male/female.” These binaries are made evident in the lace that McQueen features throughout the collection. At times, it is a matte pale blue, that trains off in tendrils down the model’s legs, resembling a cornflower meadow turned upside down. At others, it is painted over with iridescence, like the scales of a fish. Later, the lace becomes dark green and seems almost moss-like, matching up with the clumps of scrub which decorate the edges of the catwalk, through which the photographers’ cameras leer, like predators waiting to pounce.

Using rape as metaphor in art is uncomfortable and risky, particularly when that art involves real women’s bodies in varying states of nudity as part of the performance. When it was suggested to McQueen that the collection was misogynous, he was deeply upset, stating that he was “very close” to his oldest sister who had been abused by her husband. “All you want to do is make women look stronger (…),” he said, “I want to portray the way society still sees women in some ways, not the way I see women.” McQueen’s focus on personal experience over public narrativization is key in Highland Rape, but it is also problematised by his use of lesser-known models who, given the precarious nature of their occupation, might not have able to give full consent in the use of their bodies in the show.

This was not the case for Princess Lucretia. In Catwalk, we see Galliano directing Kate Moss backstage. The tiered blue skirt billows out behind her as she runs, her torso emerging childlike from the top, tiny in comparison to the sea that swallows the rests of her body. The name “Lucretia” has obvious connotations of rape (the tale of the Roman woman’s assault has been retold many times), but there are other signs of vulnerability. The soundtrack of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé is cut through with the sound howling wolves, the threat of the traditional wolf whistle transferred from man to animal. Galliano instructs Moss that, when she hears the wolves, to “stop” in order “to make the dress go really forward”. The suggested whiplash of fear in her heart is communicated through the momentum of the dress.

In both shows, the models wear matted hair extensions, mismatched and straggly. These accentuate their jerky and uncomfortable movements, adding to the sense of the physical suffering they have endured. Where Galliano’s models look back behind them as they come out onto the runway, the women in McQueen’s show stare at the audience as they return. Certain models were given sclera contacts lenses which cover the whole eye and make it black. These empty-seeming eyes evoke the blank stare of a survivor’s dissociation. The lenses also act like black mirrors, reflecting the onlookers’ faces. These models glare back at the audience, challenging them to examine themselves and their assumptions.

By Alexandra Sive

Martin Margiela’s Melting Ice

For many, the arrival of winter brings with it a longing for summer. The cold has a way of expunging memories of sweaty afternoons spent with a cold drink pressed to the forehead in a desperate attempt to cool down. In a playful confrontation of this sensorial paradox, Maison Martin Margiela’s Spring/Summer ’06 collection, shown just as winter crept into Paris in 2005, features necklaces, earrings, bracelets and belts strung with coloured ice cubes. Continuing a process that no doubt began with a hairdryer backstage, the bright stage lights and the heat from the bodies of the audience and models melt the ice so that the dye – green, purple, blue and pink – runs down the models’ skin and seeps into their white clothes.

Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.
Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.
Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.

Jewellery created from ice is an amusing play on the senses. Ice can have the transparency or the sparkle of a gemstone and feels cool to the touch just like jewellery. For decades, hip-hop artists have used ice as a metaphor for diamond jewellery in reference to the optic and haptic crossovers. The obvious difference is that ice cubes, unlike diamonds, do not last forever. The water, artificially and temporarily frozen, therefore speaks to the artifice and temporality of fashion. Both the ice and the clothes are visually altered as time unfolds before the audience.

This visible change recalls Margiela’s ‘9/4/1615’ exhibition held in 1997 at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, for which the clothes on display had been sprayed with living mould, yeast or bacteria. While the decay occurred at a slower rate than the melting of ice, each visitor would see a slightly different stage of development. Caroline Evans notes that each piece, recreated from the designer’s archive and decomposing before an audience, is ‘saturated with complex historical meanings’, hinting at Martin Margiela’s own complex relationship with history and time.

Martin Margiela’s personal and professional archive, unpacked in the 2020 documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, is a testament to his reverence for the past. This obsessive accumulation and preservation of objects might appear at odds with his reputation for deconstruction. Rather than being rooted in any sense of destructive violence, however, his deconstructive practice was based in ‘care for the material object and sartorial techniques’, as noted by Alison Gill. In this way, Margiela’s particular brand of deconstruction can be considered much closer to conservation.

Watching pure white fabric stained haphazardly, like an ice lolly dripped on a cotton dress, has the potential to be jarring. Instead, something in the wet, candy-coloured mess created is enlivening and joyful. The grotesque mixture of melted ice and oil sticks the models’ hair to their skin and causes their makeup to bleed, engaging the audience’s haptic imagination. The streetcast models, who smile and dance, amplify this effect with their relatability. Just as Elizabeth Wilson notes that grunge recalls glamour, here, the grotesque is inviting. The effect, according to Vogue, is ‘a hot display of grittily glamourous womanhood [that could] reduce any man to a pool of water’. Unlike Shalom Harlow, dancing in distress as her dress was spray-painted by robot arms at Alexander McQueen’s show seven years earlier, Margiela’s models exude cool acceptance as the recently frozen water spreads across their skin. Rather than destruction, or even creation, this is something more passive and voyeuristic: decay, or, as Evans described the process at the exhibition, ‘decay without revulsion’.

Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.
Maison Margiela, Spring 2006 Ready-to-wear. Photo: Marcio Madeira.

By Lucy Corkish


Maison Margiela SPRING 2006 READY-TO-WEAR on Vogue Runway: Words by Sarah Mower, Photographs by Marcio Madeira (

Caroline Evans, ‘The Golden Dustman: A critical evaluation of the work of Martin Margiela and a review of Martin Margiela: Exhibition (9/4/1615)’, Fashion Theory 2:1 (1998), pp. 73-93

Elizabeth Wilson, ‘A Note on Glamour’, Fashion Theory, 11:1 (2007), 95-108

Reiner Holzemer, Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, cinematographer Toon Illegems (2020; London: Dogwoof)

Alison Gill, ‘Deconstruction Fashion: The Making of Unfinished, Decomposing and Re-assembled Clothes’, Fashion Theory 2:1 (1998), pp. 25-49