Textile History, 42 (2), , November Exhibition Reviews

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1 Textile History, 42 (2), , November 2011 Exhibition Reviews Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, Los Angeles Count y Museum of Art, 2 October March 2011; Sharon Takeda, Kay Spilker and Kimberly Chrisman- Campbell, Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, Los Angeles Museum of Art, pp., 260 colour illus. $55 hbk, isbn In 2007, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) purchased a major collection of historic dress comprising more than 1,000 pieces from the eighteenth through to the twentieth centuries. The collection was the result of the dual collecting efforts of European dealers Martin Kamer and Wolfgang Ruf, former competitors who joined forces to assemble a significant (and rare) collection, culled through their 25 years of activity in the field. The acquisition of this important group of garments and accessories by LACMA s Textile and Costume Collection catapulted LACMA s holdings of European costume to the highest category of quality, according the Director Michael Govan s catalogue foreword and provided the premise for the recent exhibition Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, Fashioning Fashion featured more than 150 garments and was one of three inaugural exhibitions installed in the new Resnick Pavilion. A capacious room with high ceilings and industrial lighting, it had the feel of a warehouse, a resemblance underscored by the design of the installation. Dressed mannequins were staged as if emerging from large, grey wooden packing crates, artfully arranged with their lids left propped against walls. This design conceit was at times very successful, as visitors wandered down paths between elevated crates, but, at other times, also was disruptive to the visual flow of the show. While Fashioning Fashion was intended to showcase the new acquisitions, they were not the only works on view. In the lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue, curator Sharon Takeda noted, the exhibition and publication celebrate the acquisition milestone, and by integrating key examples collected over the life span of the museum, also acknowledge the enduring legacy of generous donors who have actively participated in fashioning a world-class collection for LACMA. This last comment would suggest that Fashioning Fashion is not only about how fashions are created, but how a collection is fashioned. It was only the former, however, that one experienced when winding through the gallery. The exhibition was organised into four thematic sections Timeline, Textiles, Tailoring, and Trim. The only section arranged chronologically was this first one, intended to give the viewer a general sweep of the changing silhouettes in women s and men s dress from the eighteenth to early twentieth century. The choice to display the women s changing fashions with white dresses was inspired; it kept the viewer s attention on the varying forms rather than distracting with colourful textiles and decoration. White Kyoto mannequins sported expertly made paper wigs and period accessories, making for some striking ensembles. Among the most charming were the early nineteenth-century neo-classical dress with Kashmir shawl, a lovely 1850s flounced cotton dress and a 1910 dress by Paul Poiret. Unfortunately, here the design proved at its most intrusive. The eighteenth-century dresses, in particular, were set deep in the crates, serving only to isolate them and Pasold Research Fund Ltd 2011 DOI: / X

2 Textile History, 42(2), November 2011 disrupt the flow of the timeline. Pulling them out onto the platform would have helped the transition of silhouettes, letting them interact with the others. Compounding the crate obstructions was a double row of open wooden grates, clearly meant to keep viewers away from the shallow platform on which the crates and mannequins were displayed. These wooden grates were visually disturbing and, thankfully, not employed extensively throughout the exhibition. In contrast to the women s section, the men s dress timeline highlighted the splendour, colour and rich decoration of men s dress, especially from the eighteenth centur y. Here, viewers could feast their eyes on some extraordinary examples of men s attire, most of them new arrivals to LACMA as part of the Kamer-Ruf purchase. Typically, men s fashions are the leanest part of any costume collection, so the inclusion of so many stellar examples of male fashion puts LACMA in an enviable position. The timeline opened with a sumptuous crimson cut velvet suit c. 1765, followed by several equally stunning eighteenth-century suits, including a flashy striped silk ensemble from the 1790s complete with a twisted Hercules club walking stick, a rare and wonderful period accessory. Also of note were a 1820s jacket dressed with white silk crepe pantaloons, a lightweight frock coat and trousers from the 1840s, dressed with stock and the de rigueur top hat. The final three sections of the show Textiles, Tailoring, and Trim explored the more practical aspects of making fashionable garments, from selecting the fabrics, cutting and stitching them into three-dimensional forms to adding the final decoration. Garments fashioned from silks, the most prestigious, labour-intensive and luxurious textiles of the eighteenth century, were displayed in their own area. Sumptuous lampas waistcoats, a charming brocaded satin robe à la Française in the chinoiserie style, and a man s damask at-home robe (banyan) highlighted Europe s rich weaving traditions. Here, the crate display was cleverly partitioned to showcase four patterned men s vests from the mid-nineteenth century. Not to be outdone, the sub-section on printed/painted textiles included a dazzling Indian export cotton banyan aptly illustrating why these charming and exotic prints stirred such fascination among Europeans. Their wild popularity in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries stimulated a defensive economic response and the rise of the domestic print industry, embodied in a lovely woman s printed robe à la Française from In the nineteenth century, Europeans were at the forefront of innovations in the printing and dyeing industries. An extraordinary acid-yellow printed dress c illustrate one of the newly invented dyestuffs which caused a flourishing of yellow garments in the 1820s. Focusing on the art of transforming flat textiles into three-dimensional objects, the Tailoring section explained the evolution of more complicated tailoring practices from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. At the heart of tailoring is the need to achieve the correct fashionable shape and understructures emerged as the stars of this section. The display was rich in wonderful examples of the various devices women used to alter, shape and support their look. Following an elegant green shot silk robe à la Française from 1745 was a mannequin in undress chemise, stays and wide pannier illustrating how the ideal conical bust and wide flat hips of the eighteenth-century silhouette was achieved. The hoop petticoat, or pannier, was a particularly fine and rare example, one of the great additions from the Kamer Ruf collection. Juxtapositions of dress and undress were utilised very satisfyingly throughout the Tailoring section. An 1830s dress was shown next to an 1830s corset complete with sleeve puffs. Nearby appeared an 1860s seaside dress and her mate, in corset and crinoline. The mannequins of these comparisons were positioned forward on the wider platform which afforded much greater viewing space. A nice touch was the transformation of the 264

3 crates (behind the mannequins) into hanging closets where a variety of hoop skirts was illustrated. Other standouts in the Tailoring section were the 1790s couple she in snappy redingote and he in early tailcoat. They performed beautifully as a mannequin duo, illustrating the new taste for English styles in the late eighteenth century. Also a treat to see was a c pink formal dress with its wide, complex beret sleeves, pleated and stitched in a reverse twisted fan shape. The Tailoring section also included a pair of black fetish boots and leather corset from the late nineteenth century. The extreme height of the laced boots (with their red tongue flaps) and black corset and knickers stirred much curiosity amongst viewers. The final section of Fashioning Fashion addressed the embellishment of garments the last stage in achieving the correct look. Here, the arts of embroidery, open/cut work, lace, beadwork, feather work and passementerie were highlighted. Objects were often separated by crates which worked to focus the viewer s eyes on these individua l gems. The art of wool (crewel) embroidery on linen was perfectly illustrated in a lovely woman s robe à la Française from 1760, whose pristine condition and vivid colours defied its age. More subtle, but no less fine, was the embroidery that covered the bodice of a small boy s wool dress, stitched in Kashmir for the western market in the 1850s. A c mantle by the renowned Parisian couturier, Emile Pingat, was stunning in its rich beadwork embroidery. The Trim section also included one of the most interesting objects in the whole show an extraordinary man s vest fashioned in France during the revolutionary period c It was made of linen plain weave, completely covered in petit point stitches in patriotic red, white and blue silk, yet lined with a fancy green silk (not so patriotic!). Mottoes stitched on the two front pockets, and images of caterpillars and butterflies with clipped wings on the collar, alluded to the wearer s former life as a flamboyant dresser checked, though Exhibition Reviews perhaps not entirely curtailed, by the turbulent political climate. It remains a fascinating statement on what it is to fashion fashion in one s own time. The very end of the exhibition was called Bling and was dedicated to the enduring interest in, and use of, precious materials such as gold, silver, stones, and pearls. It included some spectacular pieces most notably two trained satin court dresses, flush with copious gold embroidery. Unfortunately, these two over-the-top pieces were conspicuously placed in the centre of the platform, leaving several very fine metallic-embroidered eighteenth-century ensembles to get lost at the end of the last platform. The arrangement would have benefited by placing these extremely theatrical court dresses at the very end, building the momentum. Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, was an engaging exhibition, offering the viewer an opportunity to see rare and stellar examples of historic dress through simple well-conceived themes. As a celebration of a new and important acquisition, it might have been a rarity itself, as fewer and fewer of these early and important costume pieces appear on the market. Lauren Whitley Curator, David and Roberta Logie Department of Textile and Fashion Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston What Will She Wear? The Enduring Romance of the Wedding Dress. Fashion Museum, Bath, 14 February January 2012 The announcement of a Royal wedding for spring 2011 set museums across the land buzzing with ideas to celebrate the national occasion. The Fashion Museum in Bath was no exception, and among the first to plan a special display. We wanted to mark and celebrate the Royal wedding, commented Rosemary Harden, manager of the councilrun museum, and also saw it as a great 265

4 Textile History, 42(2), November 2011 opportunity to showcase the Fashion Museum s magnificent collection of wedding dresses. On entering the exhibition galleries, visitors were welcomed with a delightful array of beautiful wedding gowns encompassing historic and contemporary pieces dating from 1829 to the present. The richness of the museum s collection was immediately apparent; choosing which of the dresses to exhibit must have been a challenging task for Harden, who rose to the occasion with a display of over 30 gowns that revealed the great variety of white wedding dress styles through the decades, noting we chose too to emphasize the romance of the wedding dress, and so deliberately chose white, cream/ivory tones. This was in contrast to the 1995 exhibition of wedding dresses at the Fashion Museum which included non-traditional wedding dresses. White has been the colour most associated with wedding dress in western cultures for well over 200 years; What Will She Wear? presented several historical examples from the early nineteenth century. The most up-to-date wedding dress in the exhibition was a white lace dress with an asymmetric hem by designer Alexander McQueen, worn in the summer of 2010 and especially lent to the Fashion Museum for the display. Each dress was chosen to display the richness of fabrics and decoration that make them unique in their own way. Delicate silks, gossamer fine lace, beautiful embroidery, fine brocades with metal threads, satins and fine crepes vied with crisp white nylons and cottons. Employing a thematic scheme, the dresses were subtly grouped to display the variety of techniques, fabrics and decoration rather than presenting them chronologically. This worked very well and Fig. 1. Victor Stiebel, 1943 (centre left); Bruce Oldfield, 1992 (centre right) (IMG_0216). Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council. 266

5 made comparisons possible of, for instance, lace-making techniques, use of embroidery, beading, ribbons and bows, or the simple pared-down elegance of bias cut silk crepe. Provenanced examples were included where possible in order to celebrate the choice made by the brides, making the title of the exhibition What Will She Wear? ring in the mind while enjoying the displays. Among the early twentieth-century styles, a beautiful 1911 silk dress embroidered with pearls worn by Dorothy Foden was known to have been made in the workrooms of Wilkinson Costumiers, Barrow, a celebration of the maker as well as the wearer. Early nineteenth-century dressmaker gowns were juxtaposed with the contemporary designs of Vera Wang and Alexander McQueen. A stunning 1934 bias cut silk crepe dress designed by the British couturier Victor Stiebel (Fig. 1) looked remarkably similar to the bridesmaid dress worn by Pippa Middleton at her sister s wedding. A strange coincidence or evidence of the enduring qualities that make good design timeless? Alexander McQueen s extraordinary 2010 corseted, panniered lace gown made a striking silhouette beside the romance of Belinda Belville s lace 1960 creation. Edwardian styles were revisited in the 1970s, typified by a charming Laura Ashley 1971 cotton and lace dress. Nostalgic ribbons and bows of the 1980s, reminiscent of Lady Diana Spencer s famous wedding dress, contrasted with probably the shortest dress in the exhibition, from 1969, designed by Simon Ellis. Many British designers were represented, including a 1964 dress decorated with appliquéd flowers by John Bates for Jean Varon, and Bruce Oldfield s rather sexy low-backed creation for Lisa Butcher s marriage to celebrity chef Marco Pierre White in The wedding dresses were styled by Iain R. Webb, fashion writer and consultant to the Fashion Museum, using flowers created by the museum s team of volunteers (Fig. 2). Cleverly made from a variety of materials including tissue, paper and even plastic bags Exhibition Reviews and packing foam, the flowers were formed into headdresses and posies that unified the display of brides giving them what Webb described as a fashion forward catwalk look. The exhibition also included a selection of 25 framed sepia photographs of 1930s brides in couture wedding dresses designed by the famous house of Worth in Paris. These extraordinary photographs form part of a previously unseen archive and led to the inclusion of a photography competition as part of the exhibition programme. Visitors were invited to upload a family fashion show of their own wedding dress or their mother s or grandmother s to the museum s website. Before the April wedding of William and Catherine, speculation about the dress which Fig. 2. Paper flowers with lace (IMG_0138). Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council. 267

6 Textile History, 42(2), November 2011 Kate would wear reached fever pitch. Names such as Bruce Oldfield, Erdem or Issa were among those considered possible. Of course, it turned out to be the beautiful, elegant design of Britain s own Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Sarah s stunning creation using the couture techniques of corsetry, hand-made lace and fine embroidery embodied the best of British design. How fitting that McQueen s fabulous couture creations were strikingly prominent in this very popular exhibition so cleverly put together by the Fashion Museum. Caroline Ness Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History, University of Glasgow Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: La Révolution de la Mode. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 5 March 17 July 2011 In Paris, haute couture is dying! In his opening sentence for Les Laboratoires de la Mode, a three-part exposé in the newspaper Le Monde in July 1966, author Michel Legris presented a national dilemma, noting fashion chroniclers recent reflection on the shocking death of Paris haute couture, traditionally so important in the world s eyes. His discussion focused on the democratisation of the access to high fashion, triggered by what he described as the post-war social revolution amid industrial developments. Two years later, couturier Yves Saint Laurent ( ), serious and softspoken in his clinical lab coat, boldly spoke of the new ready-to-wear that would rival haute couture to Elle fashion journalist Claude Berthod. This well-known interview, aired on 10 March 1968 on the French variety show Dim Dam Dom, greeted viewers when entering Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: la Révolution de la Mode, on view from 5 March to 17 July 2011 at the Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent in 268 Paris. Curated by Pierre Bergé, this exhibition examined Saint Laurent s ready-to-wear line Rive Gauche in the 1960s and 1970s. With its clear focus on revolution, the installation followed surveys of historical dress where scholars present 1960s fashion on a parallel with the radical culture and politics of that period, stressing the production of accessible, informal, and often daring ready-to-wear clothing in a fashion industry previously controlled by haute couture. With widely propagated quotes by Yves Saint Laurent such as A bas le Ritz vive la rue, or Down with the Ritz long live the street, plastered on the wall, Bergé clearly considered place a key metaphor in this narrative. In 1966, Saint Laurent made an explicit statement in opening Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, a boutique offering his prêt-àporter line of the same name. Designed by Isabelle Hebey ( ), the boutique s Left Bank location far from the Paris couture industry and his own couture house on the Right Bank associated a couturier with an inexpensive, student and bohemian area. In December 1966, Vogue (USA) commented on Saint Laurent s meaningful move, proclaiming in its monthly spread Vogue s own Boutique : Saint Laurent turns left, crosses the river and, everybody watch out!. Saint Laurent joined couturiers such as André Courrèges (b. 1923) and Pierre Cardin (b. 1922) in creating ready-made clothing with the goal of modernising and competing with the popular, less costly prêtà-porter lines in the mid-1960s. While couture ready-to-wear existed before the 1960s the association with ready-to-wear was thought to vulgarise the couture name. In contrast, Saint Laurent called into question haute couture as the sole means of creation in the changing social climate, conceiving a modern dressmaking that differed from the expensive, traditional, and formal couture. The exhibition s strength was indeed its ability to situate the viewer in a specific place: artistic director Loulou de la Falaise and scenographer Christophe Martin aimed to recreate the actual boutique, located at 21

7 Exhibition Reviews Fig. 1. First room of exhibition Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: la révolution de la mode, Paris, Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent/Photo: L. Castel. rue Tournon, complete with its red carpet and walls, clothes racks, and shelves (Fig. 1). While Eduardo Arroyo s (b. 1937) portrait of Saint Laurent, originally mounte d in the boutique in 1966, added an authentic touch, the installation s colour scheme, made up of reds, pinks, oranges and purples, was perhaps too literal a reminder of the late 1960s. The exhibition s soundtrack, consisting of music by the Beatles, the Doors and Serge Gainsbourg, further plunged viewers into a mod ambiance. This type of exhibition effectively seeks to reproduce a physical environment so that viewers better understand a subject, in this case, the meaning of Saint Laurent s readyto-wear clothing against this new cultural landscape. Whilst making an admirable attempt, Bergé could have gone further in his construction by questioning developments in politics, culture and design. The installation space consisted of two rooms, the first resembling the boutique, with clothing hung on racks and mounted on mannequins, and the second with mannequins only, presenting viewers with a more traditional exhibition experience. Bergé grouped the garments on display, dating from 1966 to 1978, according to style rather than chronology, thus considering them as thematic artefacts outside of the seasonal fashion calendar. Accordingly, spectators could contemplate a grouping of short, colourful shift dresses in the context of the new young and active client of the 1960s (Fig. 2). Saint Laurent s use of trousers, unstructured shifts and knitwear opposed the dressier and structured silhouettes prevalent in the 1950s and early 1960s, and shaped a new active, youthful feminine body. The physical movement made possible through these clothes symbolised the social freedom women began to acquire in the 1960s, whether in legal rights or the work lives they led outside domestic authority. While a jumpsuit from 1975 on display in black gabardine cotton resembling a worker s uniform served as a revelatory example of casual ready-to-wear for working women, a contrasting haute couture garment might have further illustrated the two models disparate clientele. Just as this clothing was appropriate for the active career woman, it also reflected the growing number of younger consumers. The fashionable silhouette, in turn, became short and unstructured. Bergé demonstrated the youthful whimsicality of Saint Laurent s ready-to-wear clothing in his display of colourful mini dresses as well as his often tribal-inspired costume jewellery, messily piled in one showcase. Similarly opposed 269

8 Textile History, 42(2), November 2011 Fig. 2. Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, piqué cotton dresses with lace trim, Didier Ludot Archives. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent/Photo: L. Castel. to haute couture s associations to noble materials and handmade craftsmanship, ready-to-wear inherently dependent on industrial manufacture became the perfect medium to experiment with new machine processes and synthetic fibres such as vinyl and machine-made knits, respectively. Bergé s presentation of Saint Laurent s vinyl raincoat from 1966 positioned him as an active participant in these new creative enquiries (Fig. 3). But what was the exhibition s message in regards to Yves Saint Laurent and his role in the ready-made clothing industry? In his display of certain garments, Bergé made allusions to the active, young, ready-to-wear client, but never clearly articulated a thesis. Fig. 3. Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche, vinyl raincoat with black knitted sleeves, Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent Archives. Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent/Photo: L. Castel. His nod to synthetic textiles, likewise, opposed the other garments on display made from traditional materials, such as silk, wool and cotton. Moreover, the exhibition s lack of juxtaposing haute couture garments rendered difficult viewers understanding of prêt-à-porter s aesthetic uniqueness. And, while the installation s textual communications stressed the cheapness of YSL Rive Gauche, it avoided discussion of price and the socio-economic situation of women in the 1960s and 1970s. Finally, the issue seemingly at stake, a couturier and his ready-to-wear, was largely ignored. The exhibition also failed to consider more carefully the boutique of the 1960s, a key space in this new ready-to-wear fashion 270

9 landscape, which effectively changed the experience of shopping. Through their avant-garde interior decoration, rapid product turnover, and convivial shopping experience that facilitated fast purchases, boutiques attained an of-the-moment, inexpensive and youthful reputation, as attested by the frequent mentions in fashion magazines. In the April 1965 issue of the Officiel du Prêt à Porter, Eliane Richard used colourful language to portray these revolutionary spaces, describing the audacity of their development, their audacious products, and bizarre window displays. Boutiques interiors opposed the quiet elegance of the maison de couture, as demonstrated by that of Dorothée Bis, described in 1967 by journalist Marylin Bender in her book The Beautiful People as a warehouse complete with red velveteen-covered walls, aluminium ceilings, and aluminium pipe accoutrements. The interiors and music complemented the boutiques clothing and fostered a convivial environment that went beyond the shop as merely place of sale. For Léo Berger, writing in the Spring Summer 1967 issue of the Officiel du Prêt à Porter, his boutique La Gaminerie was not simply prêt-à-porter, it was an ambiance, a new and unique atmosphere that harmonises Exhibition Reviews perfectly with today s youth and the clothes the store offers. Vogue s February 1966 Boutiques de Vogue spread called Le Knack the most musical boutique on avenue Victor Hugo [...] where one tries on clothes to Pussy Cat tunes. As attested by the accompanying rock music, Pierre Bergé conceived Saint Laurent Rive Gauche: La Révolution de la Mode with this environment in mind. Its unique point of departure, namely the boutique, would have benefited from more careful examination, perhaps situating Rive Gauche clearly in the city s fashion and geographical landscape or questioning its symbolic relationship to the couture atelier. Hidden behind revolutionary rhetoric, Bergé should have better positioned Saint Laurent s readyto-wear line vis-à-vis haute couture in the context of 1960s and 1970s culture and women s socio-economic position. Still, this small exhibition presented an easily digestible slice of history, welcome in the wake of 2010 s colossal Yves Saint Laurent retrospective at the Petit Palais, where viewers struggled to see a garment up close. At the Fondation, on the contrary, they enjoyed a privileged view of the radical clothing. Alexis Romano PhD, student, Courtauld Institute of Art 271

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