Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Technology as material culture?

Blogging has certainly been on the backburner this last year while I have been preparing my applications for graduate school.  Now, however, that they are all submitted and I am anxiously awaiting interviews and/or acceptance/rejection (I die...) notices, my brain has been churning about what I really think I would like to study if admitted.  Before graduating in 2010, I began to study lower and middle class working women at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Since I never got the chance to fully explore the topic the way it should it has always been on my mind for future study.  Recently, however, I have been thinking a lot about technology and material culture, or rather, technology AS material culture.  Questions like, "How has technology changed the fashion world? How has technology changed how society views material things? Has the curation of style and persona on fashion blogs and social media sites shifted young society's perception of self-expression from how you dress to what you blog about or post pictures of?" 

The strong correlation between what you wear everyday to your percieved identity is one of the reasons I wanted to study fashion.  Clothes are made with the intention to be used everyday, to be practical or functional, but dress (ie clothes, shoes, glasses, jewelry) is also the most accessible form of self-expression. And unless you live in a nudist colony, you are required everyday (by law) to make a choice of what you want to put on your body.  The choices you make about your appearance leave instant impressions on those you encounter whether you intend for that or not. So, how has technology changed this notion of how people express their identity in an ever growing youth culture where what you "like" on Facebook supposedly lets the world know what type of person you are?

The fashion world imparticular has been impacted hugely by this shift.  Today, I can watch fashion shows almost instantaneously with the editors and stylists sitting in the front row, but I get to do it in the comfort of my bedroom on my laptop.  The speed at which this type of sharing happens is mind-boggling when one contemplates how long the ladies of the 19th century had to wait for fashion plates from Paris in order to know what was in vogue. I can get on sites like style.com and click through all the images of the Paris couture shows faster than the length of time it takes for one show to start and end.

To sum this string of thoughts up the question that concludes in my mind is, "Has the concept of materiality shifted to a 2-D, digital realm instead of the notion that physical objects and ownership of those objects is a form of self-expression?" I'm sure that it has not shifted completely, so rather the question should be is there new form of material culture to consider when studying fashion and technology?

I leave you with this picture I saw on The Retronaut last week. I have always said I wish we still wore hats that required hat pins.. And this is definitely a new reason why.

Using a hat pin for self-defence in 1904 = awesome.
"Oh you think a fair lady that can be taken advantage of? Think again..."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Not your average coffee table books.

As a perpetual student and lover of books, I make it a point to go to a bookstore every couple of weeks.  It's kind of like a form of yoga for me, in that it is relaxing, I love the smell, and I'm giving myself the chance to learn something, either from a book or about myself.  I've always said that I hope bookstores stay in business for as long as I'm alive and don't die with the advancement of digitil books and technology.  My favorite book store in Chicago was The Book Table in Oak Park.  I always found something right up my alley or discovered something I hadn't heard about yet when I went in there.  In Memphis, I always go to the Booksellers at Laurelwood, formally Davis-Kidd.  All the staff there is so nice and hospitable (as they should be, being Southern men and women..) ANYways, I bring up bookstores because there are a few books dedicated to fashion that I hope to see on the shelves of my favorite bookstore soon.

Hollywood's hold on the pulse of fashion is influential even today.  This book highlights 35 films that have influenced not only fashion but also style in their own time and continue to inspire today.  Not only is the character from one of my favorite movies, "Bonnie and Clyde" with the gorgeous Faye Dunaway, on the cover of this book, but I am also so excited that a book has been written about the actual costume designers of some of the most iconic movies of our time.  So many know of the little black dress from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or the little white dress from "Seven Year Itch", but how often does anyone hear the accounts of the designers who sketched them or the costume production team that so fatefully choose those garments.  Expect to see this book in bookstores on October 16th.

The memoir of the beautiful Grace Coddington, creative director of Vogue, is bound to be filled with a story worth taking note of for any aspiring fashion die-hard. Out on November 20th, Grace is the memoir of a woman who rose through the world of fashion as a young model in London and would eventually become the right hand woman of Anna Wintour. Her creative vision has shaped the pages of Vogue for many years and a peak inside the world of Grace Coddington is certain not to disappoint.

My first encounter with the work of Antonio Lopez was the drawings included in the Charles James exhibit at the Chicago History Museum last fall. This book cronicles the life and influence of Antonio Lopez.  He created a vast collection of illustrations, photos, and paintings working with some of the most revered and respected designers, including Yves Saint Laurent and Versace among many more.  This book by Roger and Mauricio Padhilha, with an introduction by Andre Leon Talley, an epilogue by Anna Sui and contributions from Bill Cunningham, is the first of its kind featuring Antonio Lopez and will certainly be a must have for the collections of historical institutions as well as fashion moguls worldwide.  Look for it on September 4th!

This book is definitely the most coffee table-esque out of the others just because it mainly features photos.  However, as a forever follower of anything Lagerfeld touches, I will definitely be checking this book out.  This book does reflect on the timelessness of Coco Chanel's oringinal design of the "little black jacket" and its versatillity, so there is definitely some historical referene and provenance to this book.  It also features some of my fashion icons, such as Yoko Ono and SJP, wearing the jacket in their own way. This book is due out on August 25.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Online collections = happy eyeballs

Just in case anyone needs to kill some time on the internet or actually needs to find an object for research's sake, here are a few links that I have been perusing lately.

House of Worth, 1896

Paul Poiret, 1913

and OMG that dress!, which is a blog dedicated to posting images of historical fashion from institutions from all over the world.
Jacques Fath, 1953, The Kyoto Costume Institute

The images in these digital collections are gorgeous and include centuries of history.  So even if you are not looking for academic purposes, just browsing for the sake of your eyeballs is a good reason too.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fashion Journals: Worn and Address

I have come across two fashion publications that I have enjoyed so much in the last few months.  Address, based out of London, is an independent, academic journal that presents fashion through many different creative mediums and perspectives.  Worn, based out of Toronto, is another independent fashion journal that also showcases fashion and the art of appearances from many different viewpoints.

One of the reasons I love these journals so much is the incorporation of different styles of writing, perspectives, cultures, themes, and personalities. Their broad spectrum view of fashion and the ways we encounter and interpret it in our past, present, and future lives is what makes these publications different from fashion journals before them.  While Address has pieces written by those in and out of the fashion industry from all over the world, Worn supports those in its local fashion community and operates in a realm of its own where an extraordinary fashion journal is cleverly disguised as a fashion magazine.  Worn and Address share an important quality, however,  in that they both approach dress as something that is unique and different to every culture and every individual for that matter.

I could not turn a page in either of these publications without finding something that struck me.  These are just a few quotes that I could not help but make note of.

The introduction to the opening article in Address titled "From Out of the Box" by Nathaniel Dafydd Beard: (This article discusses the ever-rising emphasis being placed on fashion exhibitions in cultural institutions and how museums are learning as they go to find the best ways to make their collections accessible to the public.)
"Historically, the relationship between fashion and the museum ended at the cloakroom.  Yet, just as curators began to explore the vast cultural significance of the fashion industry, their spaces saw an explosion of vitality which has now escaped from the boundaries of physical space altogether.  As fashion curators develop an increasing hunger for the digital, what role does clothing now play?"

(from the same article) "Despite their vast wealth of knowledge and expertise, there remains a slight amateurish air over the fashion curator's role, in part because so many had to create their own jobs as they went along."

"Or as Cecil Beaton once put it, 'He who ignores fashion, ignores life itself.'" (My new tagline..)

This opening article in Address meant a lot to me. While I was still interning at the Chicago History Museum, I saw first hand the types of efforts that were being made to catalog images for future public release on the web.  Fashion has always been, well, fashionable, but as for fashion in museums, the public and museum staff themselves are still trying to figure out how to receive it.  I strongly suggest anyone who has any interest in this subject to order the journal from their website.  This article is only one of many gems in their current issue.

(Don't mind it's creased corners, I've been carrying it with me 
everywhere since I got in the mail last week)

I have only been a subscriber to Worn for its last 2 issues. They are a bi-annual publication and their most recent issue was their 14th.  Just as the 13th issue was, the 14th issue has been just as much of a page turner filled with insightful and refreshing articles that do not take themselves too seriously as some long-standing fashion publications might.

Right away in the editor's letter, Worn manages to talk about style in a way that had not occurred to me before:
"When it comes to style, fashion, and taste, WORN is committed to challenging the polarizing concepts of good and bad...We believe we have as much to learn from things we don't like as things we do.  Realizing that there is no one sartorial path is to accept there is no one human narrative; ultimately, our individuality is what we have in common."

Throughout the issue, from the different types of bras and their histories to the affects the military has had on men's fashion ("Shop at all seriously for a suit, and you enter a realm of things you must always or never do."), I learn more and more about the clothing I put on everyday.  I also learn about the clothes that other types of people wear everyday, such as ballet dancers, or even other cultures, such as Mayan women in South America and their traditional huipils.  All in all, Worn presents information about style and dress in such a thought-provoking and witty way that will make me a subscriber to their journal for as long as they keep sending them to me all the way down in Memphis.

The mere existence of these publications gives clue to the rise of this once scoffed at industry of dress as interpretive history.  And as someone who hopes to have the privilege to work in this industry one day, publications, blogs, and other forms of media like these ignite my drive and passion to meet that goal even more.  And for that, editors of Worn and Address, I thank you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Favorite Old Thing of the Week (??)

So I think I started the Favorite Old Thing post and then did maybe two weeks hence the question marks in the title sooo let's try this again, shall we?

One of the greatest tools that I've found on the internet for studying historical objects is the online archives that museums work tirelessly to photograph and publish online for the world to see. I can't wait for the Chicago History Museum to launch their own archive of objects because that collection deserves to be seen on a world wide basis. One of the existing online collections that I continually return to for examples of historical dress, however, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's. Currently, the Met has 341,940 objects at our disposable to browse through or to conduct a specified search. I was browsing through the collection in research of my last post on the Charles James exhibit when I came across this gorgeous sweater.

The Met dates this sweater at 1895. The clues that point to this date are the leg-o-mutton style sleeves, which came into popularity in 1890, and the intended use of this type of sweater, which would have been for sportswear. It may be hard to believe that a woman would have played tennis in an ensemble like this with our Under Armor and barely there Nike outfits that the Mrs. Williams's play in today, but it is true that this sweater would have been considered "casual wear" in 1895. The state of its condition is really remarkable and makes pieces like this very rare in museum collections because its intended use would have allowed for wear and tear and made it an unsuitable piece to be donated.

Prior to the rise of women playing sports it was considered dangerous for women to participate in rigorous physical activity because her energy needed to be conserved for "childbearing and rearing." As a young woman who played college basketball, it is unfathomable to think that women had to be restricted to "calisthenics, dancing, walking, and horseback riding" for exercise. Thankfully, by 1900, even the fashion world had begun to approve of sports for women:
"But aside from the team spirit there are wonderful physical advantages in basket-ball. Of all the team games that men play, for many long years not one was available for the women's colleges... Basket-ball, however, was available from the first, and it was not many months after its invention in 1892 that it was welcomed in all of the women's gymnasiums...The fascination of the game attracted the girls to the gymnasiums, and they took this exercise willingly and even eagerly when chest-weights, dumbbells, and rowing-machines seemed a drudge. The excitement of play, too, permitted them more exercise with less fatigue, the advantage of which is apparent."
-- J. Parmly Paret, Harper's Bazaar, October 20, 1900

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Charles James: Genius Deconstructed"

On this grey Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of revisiting some old stomping grounds at the Chicago History Museum and the chance to see the Charles James exhibition that has been in place since October. Charles James, a London born fashion designer, first made his stake in the industry in Chicago in the 1930s. The 1940s and 1950s were the wonder years in Charles James career. In 1946, James presented his first (and only) collection in Paris. "The Paris showing was so successful that Christian Dior credited James as an inspiration for his now-famous 1947 New Look collection."* The exhibit, titled "Charles James: Genius Deconstructed," presents James's work through the lens of construction. James approached dressmaking with techniques that he had acquired making his daring style of hats in the late 1920s. Therefore, James's designs were constantly ahead of their time in style and technique, as well as considered masterworks of art and construction.

One of the highlights for me (outside of the gowns themselves) of the exhibit were the CT scans that were taken of several of the gowns at the Field Museum. The scans revealed the very meticulous construction of the gowns which included intricate metal stays and boning in many of the gowns.

CT scan of Charles James's "Tree" gown

Cover of exhibit catalog** featuring a side by side image of the "Tree" gown and the CT scan taken of the gown

Another highlight of the exhibit for me was a little tidbit of fashion history that I learned about one of my favorite James pieces, the Infanta or also known as the Williamsburg. The two different names for this gown refer to the two different time periods in which a similar style of gown was worn. "Infanta" was a name used for women in the royal Spanish court in the seventeenth century whose wide style skirts are infamous in paintings by Diego Velazquez. The name "Williamsburg" refers to the panniers, an undergarment that widened the appearance of the hips, that women wore in the eighteenth century in the United States.

Left to right: Velázquez, Infanta Don Margarita de Austria, 1660;
Charles James, Infanta, 1952; Robe a l'Anglaise, 1784-87.

The illustrations of Antonio Lopez are another interesting and beautiful aspect of the exhibit. James and Lopez collaborated in the mid 1960s when Lopez was beginning to be recognized in the art world. This collaboration has been a vital point to the survival and legacy of James's work. 106 of Lopez's illustrations were donated to the Chicago History Museum during Charles James's visit to the Chicago History Museum in 1974.

Illustration by Antonio Lopez of Charles James design

"The artist, Charley James, who chose silks or furs instead of stone or paint as his media, built sculptures and created paintings around the living flesh." - Franklin Rose, friend of Charles James

Charles James on his visit to Chicago History Museum in 1974,
the purpose of which was to examine the collection of his gowns.

*Quote from exhibit catalog.
**The exhibit catalog for Charles James: Genius Deconstructed can be purchased here.
Images from Metropolitan Museum of Art and Chicago History Museum.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I was perusing the runway images from Paris and Milan's most recent fashion weeks (Spring 2012 Ready-To-Wear) and I came upon this fabulous hat (or visor, really..) in the Balenciaga show. Instantly, the famous Irving Penn photographs of Balenciaga fashions circa 1950 came to mind, but also..and please bear with me on this one..images of trench warfare soldiers from World War I. Something about the almost cape-like brim reminded me of the drawings and cartoons of trench soldiers that were plastered on propaganda posters and war bond posters. Whatch'all think?

Balenciaga Spring 2012 RTW

Lisa Fonssagrive in Balenciaga, taken by Irving Penn, 1950.

Love, love, love.

O and just for fun...Another gem from Spring 2012. Yall know I love some Barbie shoes...Especially some YSL Jack Sparrow meets Marie Antionette Barbie shoes..*sigh*

Runway images property of Style.com