Tag Archives: Fashion

The Spectacle of Fashion

Complete with allure, sophistication and sparkle, jewellery has continued to captivate and spark people’s interest, be it in a tiara, a ring or as an uncut gem. It is perhaps of little surprise therefore that a pair of seventeenth-century Mughal spectacles, with diamonds and emeralds as their central lenses, originally conceived from substantial stones weighing at least 200 and 300 carats respectively, became the headline act for Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World and India auction held in London on the 27 October 2021. What may be of surprise, however, is that they remain unsold, having failed to reach their combined £3 million estimate, despite the fact that no other examples are believed to exist.

 

Seventeenth-century Mughal Glasses nicknamed Halo of Light. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

In the run up to the event, these highly unusual and rare spectacles attracted international media attention, including writeups in news outlets such as BBC and CNN Style, hinting at a potential bidding war and expectation that these glasses were likely to exceed their £1.5-2.5m respective estimates. Comparisons were made to Kylie Jenner’s 2018 MET Gala outfit or Cartier’s diamond glasses as seen at the 2019 Billboard awards, highlighting how all things bling are forevermore in fashion.

 

Seventeenth-century Mughal Glasses nicknamed Gate of Paradise. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

I’d also like to throw another comparison into the mix: that of the infamous Rothschild Surrealist Ball of 1972. It was an event which saw fancy dress and opulence operating at new extremes, with costumes designed by the likes of Salvador Dalí himself and well attended by the crème de la crème in society at that time. What’s more, these glasses were created to be worn not simply admired, an impressive and audacious feat in itself. As such and notwithstanding their original provenance, these spectacles once again seem to maintain a contemporary feel despite their seventeenth-century origins, suggesting a continued appetite for lavishness and all that *glitters*, supporting the theory that a diamond (or emerald!) continues to operate at the height of fashion.

 

Two attendees at the Rothschild Surrealist Ball, 1972.

 

This opens up the discussion towards the continued historical and academic research, in part, because the provenance of these glasses is still somewhat contested but also because of the absolute technical prowess they exhibit. Research has concluded that these glasses were conceived in the seventeenth century in India, with the frames developed at a later stage during the nineteenth century. The first pair presented by Sotheby’s is aptly named Emeralds for Paradise (or nicknamed Gate of Paradise) and its central gems can be traced back to the Muzo mines of Colombia; conversely, the diamond lenses forming Diamonds for Light (dubbed Halo of Light) likely came from the Golconda mines of Southern India, but this is still under review.

 

What can be ascertained, however, is that these glasses are exemplary in demonstrating the fusion between science with beauty and tradition, with each pair believed to possess unique healing properties – emeralds have been used as early as 1CE as a means of combating strained eyes but were also seen as a key aid in warding off evil. On the other hand, diamonds were considered to have illuminating properties, and the skilful cut of the flat-cut diamonds ensures that transparency is retained when the glasses are worn, thereby offering enlightenment to its wearer.

 

One of the rumoured owners of these extraordinary glasses is emperor Jahangir who was the fourth Mughal Emperor, ruling from 1605 to 1627. At a time where the monarchy set the standard (and boundaries, legal or otherwise) as definers of elegance and sophistication, it seems fitting that an emperor would have guaranteed – the implicit or explicit – exclusive ownership of such elaborate pieces. This can be partly determined by a willingness to sacrifice the majority of a 200-carat diamond to make two flat-cut diamonds, totalling a comparatively modest 25 carats for the Halo of Light spectacles, with the same process being repeated to provide the two flat-cut emeralds for the Gate of Paradise spectacles.

 

Painting of the Peacock Throne, commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan in early 17th Century India.

Perhaps adding credibility to such a theory is the fact that Jahangir (in his twelfth year as ruler) gifted himself an article of clothing in the form of a sleeveless over-tunic (named the nadiri) that he alone could wear, only ever extending this to his inner circle. Indeed, one of the recipients was his son and successor Shah Jahan who ruled from 1628 to 1658. During his reign, Shah Jahan commissioned the famous and hugely opulent ‘Peacock Throne’, which featured the 186-carat diamond named Koh-i-Noor (now part of the British Crown Jewels). He too is rumoured to be the original owner of these glasses, with the central emeralds believed to have offered aid to soothe his eyes, following an extended period of mourning after the loss of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

 

While there is plenty left to say about these extraordinary glasses, I shall conclude with this: should bling be your thing, and if you can afford to splash the cash, then I hope they’ll be back up for auction ASAP. But in the meantime, if you want to feel like royalty on a budget, then why not try this great alternative: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Princess-Glasses-1-Pc-Apparel-Accessories-1-Piece-/164141097819

 

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

 

Sources:

 

Belfanti, Carlo Marco, ‘Was Fashion a European Invention?’ in Journal of Global History, no. 3 (2008), pp. 419-43

 

https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/arts-of-the-islamic-world-india-including-fine-rugs-and-carpets-2/a-pair-of-mughal-spectacles-set-with-emerald?locale=en

 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-58825741

 

https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/diamond-glasses-emerald-mughal-auction/index.html

 

https://therake.com/stories/icons/party-animals-the-rothschild-surrealist-ball/

In Conversation with Dr. Rebecca Arnold…

*Due to teething problems with the new editing team, this post will be updated with images ASAP*

Current student Ipek Kozanoglu chats to MA Documenting Fashion’s very own Dr Rebecca Arnold about all things fashion and the @documenting_fashion Instagram account.

The emergence of Instagram eleven years ago has awoken a frenzied desire to share. Whether it’s the photos/videos of daily routines, favourite pastimes, interests or passions, the app has transformed whoever posts on the platform, into a curator.

It is undeniable that Instagram’s visual potency has breathed new life into the exhibition and dissemination of fashion and its imagery. Although a time before Instagram almost seems unimaginable ever since social media became deeply ingrained in our daily lives, exhibiting trends in fashion before was most common through magazines, fashion shows and films. Dr Rebecca Arnold’s @documenting_fashion Instagram account, with its array of photographs, drawings, magazine spreads and film extracts from a variety of periods, starting from the 1920s all the way to today, and cultures, spanning from the US to Europe and Asia, evokes this type of ‘documenting fashion’ before an age of social media. The account’s rich visual content is often accompanied by Dr Arnold’s brief yet captivating captions that not only inform the viewer about the history and meanings behind the images but also draw the viewers attention to details that often slip the gaze of the untrained eye. Presenting a broad view of styles that belong to different ages and cultures, the account becomes an outlet to compare similarities and differences in dress whilst highlighting the fact that many concerns, as well as fascinations in fashion, are universal.

In this interview, Dr Arnold delves deeper into her visual library and responds to questions about the creation and aim of the account, her interest in fashion and how it links to Instagram as well as criticism regarding fashion influencers today.

 

Could you elaborate on how you came up with this account, what was the inspiration and aim behind its creation? What drew you to Instagram as opposed to say other outlets such as Pinterest or Twitter for example?

I was only ever interested in Instagram – because it is image-based but with the potential for a little caption.  Originally, it was for my MA students and I, but I think they had enough to do with their studies and the blog, plus, followers started to recognise my caption writing style and so it gradually evolved to be my own account and the students focused on the blog.

Is there a specific period/era in fashion history that you favour amongst others and find yourself coming back to explore on your account?

One of the things that’s fun on Instagram is that I can jump around a lot – but I do love interwar fashion and mid-century photography so I return to these eras a lot. I also really like early 1970s fashion, especially its illustration, and I like looking at old WWD issues and posting the amazing drawings from there.

Your account features a rich variety of fashions, styles that belong to different cultures from North America, Asia to Europe. Could you elaborate on the elements that you take into consideration before you create a post? Is there a strategy that you tend to follow when you create posts or shape your content, such as geographical or periodical order/patterns?

I don’t prepare posts in advance or think about it too deeply – so it’s very much what I feel like in the moment I’m posting. I have enormous image files, I’m always looking at databases, archives, books, magazines. It’s funny when I look back a few posts and realise I was clearly attracted to a colour, pose, period or region without realising.

That said I think it is essential to reflect diverse peoples, representation matters.

With 7322 posts and counting, @documenting_fashion resembles a time capsule (staying very true to its name), garnering fashion imagery, photographs, magazine spreads, ranging from a variety of periods, starting from the 1910s all the way to the 70s and 80s. What draws you to the fashion imagery of the past? The quality of the material, the process of creation or the ‘lived-through experience, memories garments hold perhaps?

I’m a historian, I love evidence, I love finding something that tells us about the past, that enables us to understand, question, investigate a particular moment. I’ve been drawn to images all my life, and to dress – I love how it’s at once intimate, personal and about memory, but also about many other histories – from attitudes to the body to technology.

Your account has an impressive number of followers (113.000 to be exact) which includes highly esteemed faces from the fashion and art world such as Val Garland and Richard Haines. Did you have a target audience in mind when you first started the account and does this wide reach that the account now has affect the content that you post each day? Do you try to create content that aligns with what they’re looking for?

Not specifically. When the account was set up, it was really about my students and I, and entertaining ourselves. It’s amazing to me that it’s grown so much.  I’ve definitely come to understand Instagram not just as curated images, but as building and more importantly, being a part of a like-minded community. I love the way choice of images and responding to images others choose means you connect with people through shared visual taste, interests etc.  I am thrilled to have connected with and made friends with so many people this way.

I don’t tailor any of my content, I don’t really know how you’d do that, I don’t think that would be very interesting and would be a quick way to go crazy! – I post what interests me – and I respond to other people’s accounts where they also seem to be fascinated by the images they post.

Instagram has become a competitive social media outlet with the surge of ‘influencers’ over the past couple of years. Some influencers are often criticised for being tone-deaf regarding social matters and for glossing over them by posting glamourous photos on every occasion. Does your account, with the variety of mediums it offers from a broad period, also carry the aim of somehow informing/educating people regarding fashion history and issues surrounding it?

As I said above, I think you should post what interests you, but also remember that representation matters – and like everything you do, it should therefore reflect your politics and beliefs.  It’s unacceptable to represent only white people, it’s unacceptable to only think about supporting a particular cause once a year when there’s a special day or whatever.  Representation is an ongoing, political act, for all it is fun and entertaining etc.  So, I suppose what I’m saying is, if you truly believe in inclusivity, for example, it becomes part of everything you do, and not a performance that you have to think about.  I am not consciously aiming to educate, but since I have strong opinions, and have spent the past 25 plus years as a lecturer, education is fundamental to me, even when I’m “just” posting pictures on Instagram.

Another criticism that influencers face nowadays is that they conform to and perpetuate high beauty standards and wear clothes specifically for Instagram, to project a certain image of themselves and please their target audience. Your account has many photographs from magazines that go back to eras such as the 1960s and even all the way back to the 20s. As a dress historian and owner of quite an active Instagram account about fashion imagery, how do you view and respond to this criticism?

The best influencers wear and style themselves in a way that is authentic to them – whether to the way they actually live or their aesthetic aspirations. Those are the influencers I follow and that I’m interested in.  It’s easy to criticise influencers, but they aren’t all the same, and with all the people I follow, I’m responding to something they bring to the imagery – and by extension to the way they wear and style themselves.

Nowadays, it seems like everyone can become a fashion/beauty influencer with the right amount of popularity and number of followers. Do you think this concept existed before the time of social media, with icons such as Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot? If so, has it intensified over time as Instagram rose to prominence?

I actually don’t think anyone can – not as a sustained thing.  It only really works if it connects to you, and if you really are good at styling and projecting yourself in a way that connects to a particular audience.  There have always been women whose sense of style and ability to project themselves through clothes is admired. Now, they are more visible, and a wider range of people can be seen and therefore find their audience.

Aside from the @documenting_fashion account, you also have a podcast called Bande à Part where you discuss all things fashion and its different themes, periods, styles and mediums, with Beatrice Behlen, which airs every Sunday! Could you expand on how Bande à Part came about? Is it an audio companion to your Instagram account where you delve deeper into the fashion sphere?

Bande à part was not conceived of as connected to my Instagram account, it came from my friendship with Beatrice and thinking it would be fun to do something together and that’s what it has continued to be. My main creative and academic outlet has always been writing, so audio is closer to that really.

Finally, following up on your “If I was a fashion photograph/a painting…” game on your podcast and with Halloween approaching, I couldn’t resist asking you if there is a dress that you would like to wear from a museum and what would it be?

I actually don’t like dressing up in costume! But if there are any museums that would like to lend me a Vionnet dress, I’d be thrilled…

Special thanks to Dr Rebecca Arnold for taking time off from her book and responding to the questions for the blog.

Interview by Ipek Birgul Kozanoglu

The Pas de Deux of Fashion and Ballet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Genevieve Davis

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kathryn Reed

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bimbo: A Fashion Icon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

By Alexandra Sive

Sources:

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

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

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

 

Vintage Clothes and Modern Londoners

London has long been a hub for subcultures: teddy boys and girls in the 1950s, mods and rockers in the 1960s and punks in the 1980s, to name only a few. What of the subcultures found in London today? One of the least well known is the vintage subculture: a community of people who dress in distinctively old clothing. 

Before we begin discussing the vintage community, let’s first establish some ground rules on what vintage clothing is. There is a difference between antique, vintage, retro and reproduction in terms of clothing, as well as most other material culture items. Items 100 or more years old are generally considered antique, while items 20 (or 30, depending on whom you’re talking to) to 99 years old are considered vintage. Retro items tend to be newer and have a clear inspiration or aesthetic from the past. Finally, reproduction garments are new but closely imitate older items and often are made using similar materials and techniques.

The ‘VintageOOTD’ hashtag on Instagram shows the fashion-oriented nature of the Vintage Instagram community.

The vintage community in London, myself included, embraces all of these classifications. Some members dress only in antique or vintage garments, while most of us sport a combination of older and newer pieces.

What does this community look like, and how does it interact, you might ask?

Unlike some subcultures, which are exclusive and uniform in terms of their membership, the vintage community is incredibly diverse and inclusive. People of all professions, nationalities, races and identities make up the London vintage scene. For example, friends of mine include a Chinese-Indonesian-Australian scientist and a Croatian marketing advisor and model.

Three members of the London Vintage community: @James.L.Richardson, @JeordyRaines, and @NoraFinds. See below to find them on Instagram.

Somewhat ironically, the vintage community —a group of individuals who all share a love for the past— functions largely through social media, particularly Instagram. Through Instagram, vintage men and women from all over the world engage with and support each other. Oftentimes, someone with whom you have an Instagram relationship with will become a real-life friend when you live in the same city. These interactions are incredibly fashion-based, with outfit photos being one of the primary media of interaction. Via Instagram, the vintage community is able not to only keep in touch remotely, but also to organise events through which to engage in person. One of the most prominent of these events is the Chap Olympiad, a summer garden party and festival of all things odd and antiquated, which rolls around for one day each July. Both social media and events like this bring together a group of people who love old clothes and allow them to discover a likeminded community in a large and sometimes standoffish urban world.

2018 Chap Olympiad at Bedford Square. Jeordy Raines, James. L. Richardson, @MateaInWonderland, and @Telombre. See below to find them on Instagram.

You can learn more about these vintage Londoners and what inspires them on Instagram:
James.L.Richardson
JeordyRaines
NoraFinds
MateaInWonderland
Telombre

All images belong to the author.

Fashion and Feminism: The Brand of the Suffragette

With the centenary of the Representation of the People Act being celebrated this year, images of the Suffragettes have been very much in the public consciousness. The banners, colour palette and clothing in these images are so recognisable to the modern eye that it can be easy to forget how consciously and painstakingly this identity was created; so much so, some historians have argued, that it amounts to a kind of early publicity campaign centred on the ‘brand’ of the Suffragette. The WSPU utilised colour, merchandise and clothing to publicise the ‘Votes for Women’ cause, counter-balance negative publicity and fit their cause into the rhetoric of the age.

The tricolour of the WSPU featured across all aspects of campaigning and became a powerful visual signifier of the suffrage movement, bringing cohesion to the campaign. White, green and purple – representing Purity, Hope and Dignity – highlighted the values of the Suffragette woman but also resonated with the wider social rhetoric of femininity as pure and virtuous. The extensive dissemination of merchandise was particularly innovative, creating a recognisable ‘brand’ and spreading understanding of the suffrage cause. Ties, badges, banners, sashes and waistbands were all available in the Suffragette colours, allowing members to take their political cause with them into their everyday lives, showing their solidarity and raising awareness.

Clothing was also central to the image of the women’s suffrage movement, and was employed by the WSPU to construct an image of the Suffragette which would encourage women to join the cause.  Edwardian cultural norms dictated that women should exist largely in the private sphere, as the ‘Angel in the House’.  Women who entered into the public sphere of political campaigning were widely ridiculed, with derogatory cartoons – depicting such women as masculine, ugly and unfit mothers – springing up across the media. In order to counteract this, the WSPU actively encouraged its members to follow the latest fashions. This allowed the WSPU to construct its own image in the public consciousness, an image which was, in the words of Shelia Stowell, ‘at once both feminine and militant’.

As the government continued to ignore the issue of women’s suffrage, and militant tactics became more widespread, maintaining this feminine image became even more essential. The press released images of Suffragette run-ins with the police, and the police took a number of under-cover surveillance photos of activists. These images directly opposed the gender stereotypes of the age, showing such women as bold, loud and even dangerous. In response the WSPU organised mass demonstrations, and clothing played a key role.  A ‘uniform’ of white dresses combined with WSPU sashes created an almost military presence to catch the government’s attention, while flowers, bright colours and fashionable hats reinforced the idea that a woman could be both pro-suffrage and feminine.

The WSPU realised that clothing and accessories could be utilised to support their political campaign, creating a powerful and easily recognisable ‘brand’ around the ‘Votes for Women’ movement that still resonates with us today.

References

Blackman, C., ‘How Suffragettes used fashion to further their cause’. The Guardian [online], 8 Oct 2015. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/08/suffragette-style-movement-embraced-fashion-branding [Accessed 18 September 2018].

Boase, T., 2017. Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism – Women’s Fight for Change. London: Aurum Press.

Kaplan, J. and Stowell, S., 1994. Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Exhibition: ‘Branded: fashion, femininity and the right to vote’, Killerton House, Devon

Exhibition: ‘Votes for Women?’, Killerton House, Devon

 

Discovering ‘The World of Anna Sui’

Entrance to the Fashion and Textile Museum.

May 2017 will stand out in designer Anna Sui’s memory as a month full of successes and landmarks. As well as receiving an honorary degree from Parsons School of Design, the designer and her influential career became the subject of London’s Fashion and Textile Museum’s latest exhibition. Entitled ‘The World of Anna Sui,’ the show takes visitors on a journey through the Chinese-American designer’s inspirations, obsessions and most iconic moments, which formed her style and established her as one of the key figures of 90s American look, alongside names such as Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi.

A view of the entrance to the exhibition space.

The title of the exhibition could not be more accurate – as soon as one steps into the first gallery, Sui’s vision becomes unmistakable and overwhelming. Her voice beams out of the speakers as she describes how she came to be interested in fashion, proclaims her love for Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, and explains how her own style developed in her teenage years, despite strange looks from her peers. As the visitors listen to Sui’s narrative, archive videos of The Beatles, celebrity culture, markets at Portobello and Carnaby, and scenes of boho youths frolicking in the park bring into forefront the environments and mentalities within which Sui grew up, capturing her imagination, and eventually manifesting themselves in her designs. With the understanding of her background, Anna Sui’s exhilarating universe is ready to be explored.

A photograph of Anna Sui’s first boutique at 113 Greene Street in Soho, New York, which opened in 1992.

The main gallery space almost teleports the visitor into one of Sui’s boutiques, a photograph of which is featured in the corridor between the different rooms. Entering through a grand, black lacquered door, groups of mannequins clad in Sui’s extraordinary garments, arranged according to their clique (nomads, punks, mods, surfers, rockstars and schoolgirls all make an appearance), lure the spectator deeper into the space, in an almost hypnotic state. The colours, patterns, textiles and surfaces are otherworldly, creating a kaleidoscope of all the characters one can become in Sui’s fashions. With vitrines in which shoes, make-up, sunglasses, hats and other Sui paraphernalia are showcased, the gallery space is almost a treasure chest in which anyone and everyone can find something to lust over. Completing and complementing the exhibits are purple walls, red platforms and Sui’s signature pattern with which the space is decorated. The curator Dennis Nothdruft and exhibitions designer Beth Ojari transformed the relatively small space of the Fashion and Textile Museum, with great success, into an enchanting and intriguing environment.

A view of the ‘Fairytale’ section.
Installation of the ‘Punk’ garments.
The ‘Rockstar and Hippie’ group with Sui’s signature patterned wallpaper.

‘The World of Anna Sui’ is unlike any other recent fashion exhibitions. While the space is limited and a lot is packed in, it is never to the detriment of the clothes on show. There is something reminiscent of Diana Vreeland’s multi-sensory exhibitions at The Met’s Costume Institute in the London show. Unsurprisingly, the designer loved Vreeland’s stories for Vogue and The Met. Consequently, Sui’s perfume is pumped into the rooms of the Fashion and Textile Museum, corresponding to the message the garments are relaying. As such, ‘Sui Dreams,’ a perfume described as “inspired by independent women who follow their hearts and exceed their own expectations” provides the scent for the first gallery, that of Sui’s influences and childhood dreams. The main space, where the iconic Anna Sui garments are on show, fills one’s nose with ‘Fairy Dance,’ offering “an escape into a mystical garden where fantasy lives. A happy, whimsical place filled with sunlight and the enchantment of the fairy world.” Not much can be more appropriate for Sui’s story-filled collections. Elsewhere, Nirvana cries out from the speakers, while visitors can study Sui’s design process through the installed mood boards, or find out about the figures she collaborates with on her shows, such as make-up artist Pat McGrath, milliner James Caviello and photographer Steven Meisel. The exhibition is all encompassing, rich, informative, joyful and optimistic. An absolute must-see this summer! And don’t forget to visit the gift shop – you can take a bit of Anna Sui away with you in the form of her fabulous make-up, a scarf, or Tim Blanks’ new coffee-table book on the designer published in conjunction with the exhibition, also titled The World of Anna Sui. And one last tip – leave yourself a lot of time to peruse the exhibition, you will not want to leave!

A cabinet filled with an array of sunglasses and other accessorues from Sui’s shows through the years.
An example of Sui’s research board for a collection – here, Hawaii is on her mind.

‘The World of Anna Sui’ runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until October 1, 2017.

Jewellery, Adornment and the Pursuit of Brilliance

Early 18th century diamond and gold necklace, Portuguese
Emerald and diamond girl dole brooch, c1830 and later

To Georg Simmel, adornment is a contradiction – on the one hand, it displays the wearer’s value, aesthetic taste, membership of a particular group, on the other, it is visible to the viewer, giving pleasure to her, as well as to the owner.  In his 1908 essay ‘On Adornment’, Simmel elaborates on this theme, outlining a spectrum, with tattoos at one end, since they are closest to the skin, and dress in between, moulded  by the wearer’s figure and marked by age, and finally, jewellery placed on the body, but separate from it.  Jewellery thus has special status, its uniqueness resides in its economic value, authenticity and style, but it always seems new, and supplementary to the wearer’s individuality.  While choice of fine jewels surely reflects personal taste, it is interesting to consider the ways gems interact with the wearer and add to her social value.

A case of sparking diamond and emerald jewels

I was reminded of Simmel’s essay when I visited Bonhams’ view day for an auction of fine jewellery last month.  Guided through the delicious rows of glittering rings, bracelets, necklaces, brooches … by Emily Barber, Director of the Jewellery Department, I was continually struck by Simmel’s comments about the pleasure given to both wearer and viewer by these gems – a fleeting relationship created by the bright light reflected by a diamond brooch as you glance across a room, or the deep red glow of a spinel cut to display its clarity as the wearer moves her hands.  In so many interactions, jewellery catches the eye and draws our focus.

A spinel and diamond ring, c1915

Simmel describes how ‘the radiations of adornment, the sensuous attention it provokes, supply the personality with such an enlargement or intensification of its sphere: the personality, is more when it is adorned.’  As such, wearing fine jewellery is ‘a synthesis of the individual’s having and being,’ it implies wealth, but also personal qualities – of taste, discernment, perhaps even beauty and style matching the gems.  At the heart of this is jewellery’s ‘brilliance’:

‘By virtue of this brilliance, its wearer appears at the centre of a circle of radiation in which every close-by person, every seeing eye, is caught.  As the flash of the precious stone seems to be directed at the other – it carries the social meaning of jewels, the being-for-the-other, which returns to the subject as the enlargement of … [her] own sphere of significance.’

Gold, diamond and fire opal ‘cinnamon stick’ brooch/pendent by Andrew Grima, 1970

So, as you look at these photographs of the jewels I saw at a Bonhams, consider Simmel’s words and the ways that, once purchased, they might infer what the wearer has, but also who she is.  As Simmel notes, ‘Adornment, thus, appears as the means by which … social power or dignity is transformed into visible, personal elegance,’ – a magical process brought about by the jeweller’s skill at cutting and setting each gem.

With thanks to Emily Barber, all images by permission of Bonhams.

Sapphire, ruby, emerald and diamond brooch, Van Cleef & Arpels, c1970

Sources:

Fine Jewellery, 27 April 2017 (London: Bonhams, 2017)

Georg Simmel, ‘On Adornment,’ (1908), in Daniel Purdy, Ed., The Rise of Fashion: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), pp.79-84

Dissertation Discussion: Barbora

My three bibles for the past few months: D.V. by Diana Vreeland, Allure by Diana Vreeland and Memos: The Vogue Years edited by Alexander Vreeland

What is your title?

“Fake It!” Examining the myths and realities in the life and work of Diana Vreeland.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

Ever since I’ve watched The Eye Has To Travel for the first time, I was fascinated by Diana Vreeland and the way she shaped the industry almost singlehandedly. Her stories, too, are quite something: Vreeland, her sister and nanny were the last people to see the Mona Lisa before it was stolen in 1911; Charles Lindbergh flew over her garden on his first trans-Atlantic flight; she almost took down the British monarchy when Wallis Simpson came to her lingerie store to order some special garments for her first weekend away with the Duke of Windsor, Prince Edward; and she attended Hitler’s birthday party in the early ’30s, sending a postcard to her son afterwards with the note “Watch this man.” Apparently so, anyway. I wanted to find out more about what prompted her to create such an extreme background for herself, the reason behind all the myth and fantasy which surrounded her, the obsession with “faking it” and everything else about her, really. Actually, I think I fancied the role of a detective for a few months, attempting to untangle what really went on in her head and her life.

‘Vogue’ December 1, 1965 Cover | Wilhelmina Cooper by Irving Penn | Diamond cage deisgned by Harry Winston (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)
‘Vogue’ July 1, 1969 | Veruschka by Irving Penn (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

Most interesting research find thus far?

I was lucky enough to go to New York to visit the Diana Vreeland Papers Archive at the New York Public Library. Flicking through the original pages of her teenage diary, handling her passport and birth certificate (the date of her birth is no longer a mystery!) and finding out what she was up to on a day-to-day basis through the Smythson leather diaries she kept between 1950 and 1985 was quite amazing. There are some peculiar entries where Vreeland notes when she is due to start her pills – once green, then yellow, then pink. Very intriguing. Sadly, I only had two days in New York and so could only go through four boxes out of the sixty-something the library has. Might have to go on another trip soon! I think about a month should do it, mainly because Vreeland’s handwriting makes it quite a challenge to decode what she was actually trying to write down. Oh, and one more thing: the Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue online archives are very dangerous if you don’t have much time – they suck you in!

‘Vogue’ April 15, 1969 | Bert Stern (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

Favourite place to work?

I got into a very bad habit of working from my bed. So most of the time I can be found there, surrounded by mounds of paper, pastel-coloured highlighters and books. If I manage to persuade myself to face the outside world, I head to Starbucks (but only one that has comfortable armchairs or sofas!), and have a huge mug of soy matcha latte. I fear to look at my bank statement and find out how much I spent at Starbucks in the past couple of months. And there’s still time to go… Strangely, I find libraries quite distracting, but in Starbucks I get the work done.

Starbucks should probably have its mention in my acknowledgements as the place which provided constant fuel for all the writing.
What my bed looks like most of the time now. Also, pastel-coloured highlighters are a must, as is colour-coding!