Tag Archives: History of Dress

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

Oswald Birley’s “Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown”: dress in focus

Oswald Birley, Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny gown, 1919, oil on canvas, 101.5 x 76 cm. Private collection. Image taken from Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley. London: Philip Mould Ltd, 2017.

Oswald Birley was a prolific British portrait artist active between 1919 and 1951. He was one of the most beloved portraitists of the British monarchy, political leaders and other powerful men. He completed the portrait of the young British debutante Miss Muriel Gore in 1919, however the information available on this work and its subject is extremely scarce. Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown was completed at a time of significant social change for women, started in the final years of the nineteenth century and becoming more prominent with the end of the First World War. This change was translated in fashion and was echoed in the success the designs of Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo found in this historical time.

The scarcity of information available on Miss Gore’s life allows only for a partial understanding of her figure. It is likely that she was Scottish and belonged to the aristocratic upper class, as she was related in some way to Lady Mabell Gore, Countess of Airlie, wife to the 11th Earl of Airlie. It is plausible to say that, at the time the portrait was completed, Miss Gore was still nubile and probably making her debut in society. A few elements of this portrait, such as her title (Miss rather than Mrs.), the absence of a wedding ring, and her youthful appearance support this idea. After careful analysis, the only element revealing her social status remains the expensive Fortuny gown. Known as the Delphos gown, and existing in a variety of versions, this design stands out as the most typical of the Fortuny style.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Pale grey Delphos gown. 1920. Palazzo Fortuny, Venezia. http://www.archiviodellacomunicazione.it/Sicap/OpereArte/338940/?WEB=MuseiVE

A pleated tunic inspired by a robe seen on male and female Greek statues from the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, as well as figures painted on vases, the Delphos was named after the antique sculpture known as ‘Charioteer of Delphi,’ adorned with a long chiton held in place at the shoulders by simple bronze clasps. Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), a Venice-based Spanish artist and designer, patented the dress in 1909. The creation of a single sleeveless Delphos was a highly intricate production that reportedly took eight hours in total. The fabric was a luxurious silk imported from Japan, and the characteristic pleating, usually consisting of between 430 and 450 pleats per fabric width, was achieved by a process of evaporation. The wet and folded silk was laid on heated porcelain tubes, also patented in 1909, which permanently fixed such tight pleats in the material so that the dress looked carved or pressed. This time-consuming and complicated manufacturing process, along with the precious fabric used, made the price of this gown stratospheric, and it was only affordable for women of conspicuous means, such as Muriel Gore. The Fortuny pleat, which did not wrinkle nor lose its shape, expanded slightly over the natural feminine curves, remaining compact in other areas, thus creating alluring zones of light and shadow. Fortuny was particularly interested in enhancing the brilliance of the silk, and he found in albumin, an extract of egg whites, the perfect substance to do so. With the help of a brush, albumin was applied on the humified fabric, functioning on the pleats as a fixing agent, increasing the brilliance, and adding flexibility and softness to the fabric. Birley masterfully translated the characteristic traits of the Delphos gown on his canvas, in particular the malleable quality of the fabric when touched by light and the resulting effects of chiaroscuro, which was also highly important for the designer.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Pale grey Delphos gown completed with belt (detail). From the catalogue of the exhibition “Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise” (2017).

Fortuny’s vision of fashion stemmed from his travels to Greece in 1906, where he found antique printed textiles and admired the beauty of the archaic Korai and Delphi’s Charioteer. His intention was never that of becoming a couturier like Worth; he did not present an annual collection, nor show separate summer and winter designs. His aim was to find his own version of a timeless ideal form, detached from the fleeting trends of fashion, and with his Delphos gown he successfully transformed the past into an eternal present.

The Delphos gown quickly became a must-have garment for the most cultured and liberated women of the time. Eccentrics, divas, intellectuals and aristocrats flocked to buy Fortuny’s dress, which spoke of refined extravagance while exalting the personality of the wearer. The association with such timeless beauty attracted those women who could perceive the uniqueness of the dress, and Miss Gore may be seen as one of them, as she decided to be portrayed wearing a Delphos. With this gesture, she also implicitly showed her support to the movement that had started in the years just before World War I, freeing women from corsets and rigidly constructed gowns. Dancers like Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Loïe Fuller made the liberation of women’s dress a cause, and they did so by performing their pioneering choreographies enveloped in mermaid-like Delphos. Their choreography sought to express a mix of asceticism and sensuality associated with the Minoan women who had inspired Fortuny’s creations.

The controversial nature of the Delphos stemmed precisely from the sensuality presented by the gown, in particular the ‘clinging fashion’ with which it enveloped the female body to reveal its shape and rendered lingerie impossible to wear. In a society that had not totally abandoned the use of tight bustiers and stays, this feature understandably caused quite a scandal, and the gown was initially considered more suited to be worn in the privacy of one’s home, or complemented by a shawl, coat or robe when in public, often designed by Fortuny himself. Likely aware of such tensions, Miss Gore chose to be portrayed wearing an embroidered shawl over her Delphos, which she gently falls down to her elbows to uncover another beautiful detail of Fortuny’s design: the drawstrings used to tighten and change the height of the short arum-lily sleeves.

Roger Viollet. Isadora Duncan and her husband Sergei Essenin with one of her adoptive daughters, Irma Duncan, wearing Delphos gowns. Photograph. Harlingue-Viollet collection, Paris. From the catalogue of the exhibition “Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise” (2017).

During his life, Birley was considered one of the most gifted portraitists both in Britain and overseas for his ability to combine physical likeness with psychological realism. The portrait of Miss Muriel Gore, dated 1919, shows the image of a wealthy debutant, nonetheless controversial for her clothing choice. The expensive Fortuny gown Miss Gore decided to be depicted with carries meaning reflecting not only her social status but also her character and personality Ultimately, Miss Muriel Gore in a Fortuny Gown emblematically illustrates how eloquent the depiction of a dress can be in the context of a portrait, as it becomes the only key to unlock the mystery surrounding the sitter’s identity.

 

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources:

Black, Jonathan. ‘The Life and Portraiture of Sir Oswald Birley MC’. In Power & Beauty: The Art of Sir Oswald Birley. London: Philip Mould Ltd, 2017.

Deschodt, Anne-Marie and Davanzo Poli, Doretta. Fortuny. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Desveaux, Delphine. Fortuny. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Mariano Fortuny. Edited by Maurizio Barberis, Claudio Franzini, Silvio Fuso, Marco Tosa. Venezia: Marsilio, 1999.

Mariano Fortuny: un Espagnol à Venise. Edited by Sophie Grossiord. Paris: Palais Galliera, Paris Musées, 2017.

Addressing Images Talk Friday, February 9th

Every term we have a meeting of the Addressing Images Discussion Group.  Actually, that makes it sound far too official and formal, what really happens is that anyone who feels like spending their lunch hour talking about fashion can drop in and join my students and me. This session opens up discussion of dress’ significance within imagery – whether paintings, prints, photographs, advertisements, film stills or drawings. It brings together dress and art historians, as well as those interested in exploring issues and meanings within representation.

Guided by PhD student Leah Gouget-Levy, a single image will be shown, giving participants the opportunity to re-examine familiar, and confront new representations of fashion and dress. We will rethink images through the lens of dress history, and consider what is shown from the perspective of participants’ own research. The aim is to provide a forum to debate, share reactions to images, and to consider ideas about fashion, dress and representation in an informal environment. This reflects our desire to share and build upon the innovative work being undertaken in this field at the Institute with the wider community, and beyond.

Taking place this Friday over the lunch hour, these sessions are open to all.

Friday 9 February 2018

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Research Forum Seminar Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN

Documenting Fashion on Summer Break

Details from Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs for Harper’s Bazaar.

The Documenting Fashion Blog will be on hiatus until September for the summer holiday. While you wait in anticipation for our return (and fresh posts from a new group of MAs), take a look at a few books recommended by our recent graduates.

Barbora: Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes (Random House, 1938)

I based my second assignment of the year on Elizabeth Hawes, the sadly not well-known American designer and writer, after we saw her archive at the Brooklyn Museum. Hawes was pretty much a dress reformer in the 30s, urging for more ready-to-wear fashions as well as clothing for men that was less restrictive and unhygienic as the multiple layers they were required to wear by society all year round. Fashion Is Spinach is the first book by Hawes in which she takes on the fashion industry in a hilarious manner, questioning its principles, uncovering the way it operates, how copying works (something she herself has done as a young woman) and generally just ridicules the way fashion authorities dictate what is and is not stylish at a certain moment. Her other books are great too, but Fashion Is Spinach combines all the different aspects of the industry and the business. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and definitely the best book I read during the year. Also, I feel more people should know about Elizabeth Hawes and the amazing work she has done, so this recommendation was a no-brainer. Only problem is, it is a bit tricky to find it online. But the search is so worth it in the end!

Read it online here.

Harriet: How LIFE Gets the Story by Stanley Rayfield (Doubleday, 1955)

I audibly gasped and was sternly shushed when I first opened this book one bleak day in the British Library. It documents the truly extraordinary lengths the magazine’s photojournalists went to best capture their subjects – from microscopic beings to Stalin’s successors; even Audrey Hepburn having her hair washed on the set of Sabrina. My favourite image is of Margaret Bouke-White dangling from a helicopter to get a better shot. As you do.

Jamie: Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David (Bloomsbury, 2015)

I picked up the spine-tingling Fashion Victims for a bit of pleasure reading after the course finished in June. Filled with morbid, and occasionally gruesome, details about dangerous dress, Alison Matthew David’s book brings to light some obvious and not-so-obvious ways that Western fashion of the 19th and 20th centuries led to many untimely deaths. The author’s wonderful balance of detailed scholarship and engaging writing makes this book a truly enjoyable read. While I won’t divulge any of the shocking facts I learned (that’s for you to find out!), I will leave you to ponder a point raised in the introduction of this book: if clothing is supposed to protect the body from outside harm, why is it that it ‘fails spectacularly’ so often in the course of fashion history?

Sophie: Fashion: A Very Short Introduction by Rebecca Arnold (Oxford University Press, 2009)

I feel like I’m stating the obvious and cheekily doing some serious ‘Documenting Fashion’ ad-work here, but this small little book really is a lovely nice overview for anyone wishing to jump into all things related to fashion. If you’re going on holidays it’ll also fit snugly into your hand luggage…lucky you!

Yona: Fashion Since 1900 (2nd edition) by Amy de la Haye and Valerie Mendes (Thames and Hudson, 2010)

This book has been my first point of reference for both my historical fashion designs and my academic work. Even though the book covers an entire century of fashion in rather few pages, it gives a clear overview of fashionable styles and societal influences on fashion as well as interesting details. In addition to mainstream fashion, Fashion Since 1900 also explores subcultural dress and even cosmetics and accessories. Amazingly, this book covers the basics of everything that I have researched during the past years.

Dana: Fashioning London: Clothing and the Modern Metropolis by Christopher Breward (Berg, 2000)

I actually read it before the course started as it was recommended in our reading list, and I love how it goes into detail about the relationships between city life and fashion, which are very explicit in London. It’s an amazing book to learn more about the city’s history and the manner in which particular styles of dress became associated with this leading international city, ultimately challenging the dominance of Paris, Milan and New York. The author constructs an original history of clothing in London its manufacture, promotion and cultural meaning in the city, which was an amazing taster for the course, therefore I encourage everyone interested in the London’s history or living in London to read it.

See you in September!

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Harper’s Bazaar

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


Harper’s Bazaar, October 1940. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

This magazine is an October edition of Harper’s Bazaar published nationwide in the year 1940, during the London Blitz. Despite the hardships of wartime, the magazine targeted the female upper classes, which were the only ones with enough purchasing power to afford it. With the costly price of 2 shillings 6 pence, it was a considerable expense that could feed an average family for one day. In contrast to DIY publications, Harper’s Bazaar relies on the desire to emulate the rich and powerful to disseminate latest fashions. With the upcoming winter, the issue centers around the season’s new fashions coming from the capital, presenting a wide array of greatcoats both furless and completely fur-lined, made mostly out of warm wools or commonly available types of fur like squirrel, mole, and rabbit. The effects of rationing clearly influence the choice of images which are plain in their style with scarcely any accessories and minimal display of jewelry, painting a picture of a simple, although fashionable, woman. The practicality of the inside contrasts sharply with the flamboyant cover which is aimed at defying the grim realities of wartime and giving people back the feeling of normality.

Looking closer at the front cover, we can examine it as a historical source from the era, a social history document that tells the historian part of the story of Britain in the 1940s, and more particularly its dress history. A closer inspection may reveal that the colours chosen in such a specific moment in history are not random. The predominant purple tones, which are one of the first elements that catch the viewer’s attention, are historically associated with opulence, richness, royalty and empire. The crispness and silky texture of the sleeve contrast with the other colours of the dress that look as if they are polluted with randomly distributed red dots. The grainy and wooly texture of the material creates an off-focus effect that contrasts with the smooth and well-shaded arm and the sharp colours of the jewellery that richly decorates it. Our gaze is naturally led towards the hand that holds the cigarette, a luxury item that was rationed and reserved mostly for the servicemen at the front. Smoking, at the time, was an activity reserved for the feminine elite, symbolic of the defiance and rebellion against the male culture and male-centred workplace. The model positions herself in a relaxed and mindful manner looking down upon the viewer in an almost spiteful way, suggesting her higher status. This projects an image of power and confidence, a new Britannia clothed in all the riches of the Empire, watchful and confident of her power to withstand the dangers that befell her.

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Für die Dame

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


This is a January 1927 issue of Für die Dame – Schweizerische Illustrierte Monatszeitschrift für Mode und Gesellschaft (For the Lady – Swiss Illustrated Monthly Magazine for Fashion and Society), a Swiss fashion magazine, published by Druck und Verlag Buchdruckerei Wittmer & CIE in Basel. The cover informs that this is the “3. Jahrgang” (3rd Year) suggesting that the magazine was launched in 1925. Its content consists of a mixture of fashion, society portraits, a novel and short pieces of varied nature. These range from a discussion of hotel staff in Russia to an obituary on William Macdonald II, to humorous short stories. Photography is used especially for the society and fashion sections. The latest Parisian fashion by ‘Romain’ and ‘J.Paquin’ are captured on models standing either in front of a curtain or in a living room tending to flowers. Dresses show a dropped waistline and straight silhouette. The content of Für die Dame is, as for most magazines still today, interspersed by advertisements. These range from soap ads to ‘hygiene’ related articles, to furniture/ interior design shops. The magazine thus, not least through its title, has a very clear female audience, one that the magazine’s content suggests is educated, modern and interested in a variety of different areas of fashion, literature, health and society.

Für die Dame, January 1927. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

The magazine’s remarkable front cover shows a beautiful illustration of a young blonde lady with fashionably bobbed hair on a ski slope. She is wrapped in a yellow scarf, striped jumper and trousers that cut off just below the knee to reveal brown socks and what are possibly the beginning of boots with a blue and red chequered pattern. She stands assertively, holding her yellow skis, while behind her the white piste with two trees forms a winter backdrop. A fellow skier is indicated to her left and a tiny ski-jumper in the background completes the picture of a day on the slopes. The illustration corresponds to an article on the likes of health, posture and diet on the inside of the magazine, which is complemented by photographs of women with skis. Only marked “RI CO” in the bottom right hand side corner, the illustrator’s full identity could not be determined. Offset through grey and white frames on a light blue background, the art-deco styled illustration is striking through its geometric design and modern appeal. The cover is matte and paper-like, suggesting to us viewers that what we are holding is in fact nearly an art print that one could hang on the wall. The paper used for the pages too is a little thicker, rather soft and slightly shiny suggesting quality and preventing the magazine from having a simple throw-away quality such as that of a newspaper. It implies that the magazine would not be entirely out of place in one of the lavish rooms showcased in its interior design spread. Therefore, the lifestyle encapsulated by the front cover, is supported and expressed through the material quality of the magazine itself.

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Gazette du Bon Ton

We are less than a month away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


From 1912-1915 and 1919-1925, fashion and art met on the pages of Gazette du Bon Ton. This French publication entertained upper-class consumers with elaborately illustrated articles and sumptuous fashion plates. Though the First World War loomed on the horizon, the stories in this issue from March 1914 showed no signs of global tension. From an article detailing exotic pearl-net masquerade masks to a list of elites vacationing at the French Riviera, the authors of Gazette du Bon Ton created a world ruled by novelty and luxury.

Stimpl, ‘Riviera… Riviera…” in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Each issue included a set of ten plates with couture fashions by houses like Doucet, Lanvin, and Worth. Two plates from this issue feature designs by masters of 1910s couture: Paquin and Paul Poiret. In ‘La fontaine de coquillages’, George Barbier set an evening gown by Paquin against a luscious blue courtyard and classical fountain. Pearl embellishments on the turquoise velvet and grey tulle dress mimic shells, which Barbier echoes in white on hanging shell clusters. A shell in the figure’s hand catches water from the fountain, merging the background and foreground. In comparison, Simone A. Puget’s illustration for ‘Salomé’, an evening gown by Paul Poiret, is striking in its simplicity. By placing the figure on a plain black base, the artist focuses attention on the dress. The design speaks to the sensuality of the legendary Salomé, as fishnet stockings emerge from beneath the diagonal skirt hem and the figure’s nipples, colored the same red as her lips and nails, peek through the swirled, off-the-shoulder bodice.

George Barbier, ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.
Simone A. Puget, ‘Salome’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Every turn of the page in Gazette du Bon Ton offers a new feast for the eyes. At just 25cm x 7cm it is very easy to hold, though the heavy paper prevents the issue from feeling flimsy. With at least one color illustration in the pochoir technique on every page, the magazine presents itself as something to be slowly cherished. The difference in style of the vivid ‘La fontaine de coquillages’ and stark ‘Salomé’ plates exemplify how artistic variety creates the tantalizing feeling of ‘What’s next?,’ urging the reader to turn the page. This sumptuous array of visual delights did not come cheap: the price of a yearly subscription was 100 francs, or more than 400 pounds today!

Artists sometimes used striking metallic paint to enliven their illustrations. Here is one illustration of dancer Armen Ohanian viewed straight on and at an angle. Valentine Gross, ‘Armène Ohanian’ in Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Gazette du Bon Ton invites haptic interaction as well. The metallic paint used on some illustrations, for example, requires the reader to tilt the page to get the full effect. Should the reader give into temptation and run a finger over the fashion plates, they may feel more than just the horizontal ridges of the thick paper. In ‘Salomé’, the outline of the figure and the dots on the skirt are debossed. Contact with the flat surface of the page brings the gown to life, but also acts as a tangible barrier to the beautiful world displayed in the plates. That space of breathtaking couture fashion, endless luxury, and carefree joy exists only between the covers of Gazette du Bon Ton.

Fashion Illustrator Richard Haines to Visit the Courtauld

Join us next week for two events with renowned fashion illustrator and visiting artist Richard Haines! After years as a fashion designer, Richard uses his eye for detail of fabric and form to produce striking images of fashion for clients like Prada, J.Crew, Pennyblack, Il Palacio del Hierro, Calvin Klein, Coach, Georg Jensen, Bobbi Brown, Unionmade Goods, Barneys, Mr. Porter, Grazia, The New York Times Style Magazine, Man of the World, GQ and GQ Italy. Richard also runs the fantastic blog “What I Saw Today,” where he records the style of trendsetters on the streets of New York City.

On Tuesday 21 February, Richard will be in conversation with London-based writer and editor Dal Chodha to discuss how he found his way to illustration from fashion design. This event will be held in the Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre at the Courtauld Institute of Art. The event is free to all, but make sure to come early to secure a seat!

We will be holding another event with Richard later in the week on Thursday 23 February. At this smaller lecture, Richard answers the question, “What does it mean to be a fashion illustrator in 2017?” through discussions of social media and collaboration. The event is open to Courtauld staff and students, though non-affiliated visitors may book a place at the lecture by emailing researchforum@courtauld.ac.uk. Seating is limited, so reserve your place soon.

If you can’t wait to learn more about Richard, check out his illustrations on Instagram. We hope to see you there!

Documenting Fashion – Happy summer holidays!

Documenting Fashion will be taking its summer holidays during August – so we thought we would leave you with some vacation reading while we are away – essays to download from our archives.

Continue to follow us on Instagram @documentingfashion_courtauld and we look forward to seeing all our wonderful blog followers again in September.

First, Rebecca’s essay with film historian Adrian Garvey – glamour and violence in the 1945 film Leave Her to Heaven:

http://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/09/29/sometimes-the-truth-is-wicked-fashion-violence-and-obsession-in-leave-her-to-heaven/

Next, another one from Rebecca – this time her discussion of the ‘New Rococo’ a style identified in contemporary fashion photography, and cinema – particularly Sofia Copploa’s films:

http://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/09/08/the-new-rococo-sofia-coppola-and-fashions-in-contemporary-femininity/

If you feel like learning more about dress history’s development and the subject’s 50 year development at The Courtauld, then this one is for you:

http://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2015/05/26/dress-and-history-since-1965-from-women-make-fashion-fashion-makes-women-conference-may-2015/

And finally, a discussion of reactions to Japanese fashion in the 1980s by Liz can be found here:

http://sites.courtauld.ac.uk/documentingfashion/2016/04/29/3630/

Happy Holidays!