Just over a month ago I had the chance to chat to David McDermott, of American artist duo McDermott and McGough. In their works and lifestyle they describe how they have chosen ‘to immerse themselves in the period from the late Victorian era, at the close of the 19th century, to the style of the 1930s’ and as such, refuse ‘to embrace the historical present’. As part of an exhibition of photography held at Dublin’s Solomon Fine Art Gallery, I got to pick McDermott’s brains on anything related to fashion. Unfortunately, the below is only a snippet of the long, insightful conversation that I had with the artist. Overwhelmed by the choices of what I could possibly ask him, I settled quite simply on his clothes of the day as a starting point.
This happened to be a white wool sports suit from 1928, which McDermott describes as ‘nipped in at the waist’ and with rounded shoulders. He explains to me that the trousers have a 22-inch bottom, which are the widest that trouser bottoms ever were, although the suit was probably sold in 1937 when trousers were beginning to narrow. McDermott suggests that extra fabric was left on the seam on the inside, for possible alteration because it was not yet sure that the trouser style would really change. Similarly, he believes the patch pocket on his coat stemmed from the need for extra material for patching. Such aspects of this clothing have also come in handy for David, who alters and sews his clothes by hand. He has forgotten where he bought the suit, but thinks it is the type that would have been worn in Hollywood. On the day of the interview, he has paired it with a straw hat, whose wear he says depends strongly on the Irish weather. We agree that summers in Ireland are often too short and invariably, so too is the wearing of his straw hat.
When asked about where he sources his clothes, McDermott tells me about great finds in Paris. At antique fairs, or flea markets as in this case, he once bought a collection of about fifty neckties ranging from the 1890s to 1910s. Indeed, McDermott collects widely, although he admits he would not be found collecting a Hawaiian shirt from the 1950s. His overall fascination of clothes from a different period began with a costume in a school play in which he was given a detachable collar to wear. Subsequently he sourced a collar made of cardboard and linen from a Costume House.
As enthusiastic and knowledgeable as McDermott is about fashion from another century, he is disheartened in his view of fashion today. He believes we live in a time in which fashion is over since there is no longer a use for it. McDermott criticises the fact that – in his view – people in contemporary society are not interested in fashion, but merely in clothing themselves. After all, he suggests, fashion is not about comfort, it is much rather about making a statement and creating a look.
More about the fascinating work and life of David McDermott can be found under the following link: