Balenciaga Shaping Fashion at The V and A

Katie Godman, Dex Grodner, Stacey Richards

 

The work of the master behind glass showed a stark divide between Cristobal Balenciaga’s glamorous 1950s studio and the modern world. An overwhelming focus on craft, creative genius and celebrity cemented this divide. One of the most eye catching aspects of the exhibition was the x-rays of key Balenciaga garments, allowing the spectator a glimpse at the internal workings of a master couturier.

 

Balenciaga originals                             Gareth Pugh

 

Artist Nick Veasey was behind the dissecting of the pieces. As a way of curating fashion, this method gave both a visually pleasing aesthetic, alongside a pattern cutter’s wonder at the genius of the garments.

 

The exhibition followed the V&A’s typical model, traditional period pieces in the mood-lit maze of ground floor cabinets and more modern disciples of avant-garde craft above.

The ground floor charts the development of Balenciaga’s designs through the 1950s and 1960s, and the shifts in his influences from the bull fighting, priestly cassocks and Flamenco dancing of his native Spain to kimonos and saris of Asia.

The exhibition features mannequins padded to the proportions of models of the day, giving consideration to the shift that has consequently occurred. Once mannequins were fitted to the individual, but now models are selected to fit standardised mannequins. Anecdotes accompanied the acquisitioned wardrobes of celebrity fans, a dress once owned by Countess Mona Bismarck recounts her locking herself away in her room for three days after the tragedy of Balenciaga ‘s retirement.

To demonstrate the intricate nature of his designs London College of Fashion students made calico replicas displayed alongside original pieces, showing the extent of his craft. Upstairs had offerings from modern designers which showed how Balenciaga’s influence stretched far and wide.

This approach offers something for everyone, while some want to apricate the craft of ‘the master’ (a title asserted in captions throughout displays), others want to see how modern designers would push the limits of garment shape and design further still. Inspired by Balenciaga, the exhibition’s upstairs atrium features a surprising mix of works from the gothic stylings of Gareth Pugh to experimental sportswear of Calvin Klein. Nonetheless, the displays of Balenciaga’s own work are able to add a personal flare to the otherwise mysterious and distant worlds of haute couture. An impromptu conversation with a member of V and A staff who had spilled nail varnish on her own Balenciaga wedding gown, brought this world closer and begged the question of how different the exhibition would be if it featured ‘lived in’ pieces, instead of museum artifacts, which had mostly been afforded the care of archives.

 

Whatever: The Representation of Women in Clueless

Wednesday 22nd February saw our first film night, hosted by Katie Godman and Stacey Richards from MA Fashion Cultures. We screened the 1990s classic ‘Clueless’. For some of the audience it was a good opportunity to reminisce about slumber parties past, while for others it was a first time viewing. The film met with a positive response and many laugh out loud moments!

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Roberta Degnore and Sian Hunter. Roberta Degnore is a writer, lecturer, activist and film maker. Sian Hunter works in fashion marketing and is a MA Fashion Cultures graduate, whose masters’ project focused on teen movies. The questions posed focused on the use of costume and space in the film, in relation to the female characters. The film’s  feminist merits were discussed and the panelists agreed that the film was empowering as the characters embrace sexual freedoms, fashion and feminism as well as supporting other women. The costume of the film came up for discussion, since it started many trends and it was achieved on a relatively small budget. The film also predicted the way modern life would evolve with increasing use of mobile phones and apps.

Interesting points were also raised by the audience, including the representation of LGBT characters.

Our next film night will be on Thursday 27th April and we will be screening the James Bond film, Skyfall – quite a contrast! On the panel will be LCF’s own Pamela Church-Gibson, a reader in Cultural and Historical studies, as well as course leader for MA Fashion Cultures: Fashion and Film and editor for Film, Fashion and Consumption. Joining her will be Llewella Chapman, film historian and PhD candidate from University of East Anglia who is currently writing a book on Bond films and has previously had work published on fashion promotion in the franchise.

Whatever: The Representation of Women in Clueless

The film Clueless was released in the middle of the nineties and for many people captured the look of the decade perfectly. The film conjures to mind plaid skirts, knee high socks and feather boas. On the surface this is a fun, feel good film about frivolous teenage girls but is there more to it?

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Clueless has a female lead (Cher played by Alicia Silverstone) a female director, (Amy Heckerling) and is based on a classic of English literature written by a female author (Emma by Jane Austen). The film spawned many parodies and imitations, as well as its own TV series. Made at the end of the 20th century, what does it really say about women’s changing roles in society? How do women portray themselves and how is fashion used in the film to get this message across?

To celebrate and examine one of the ultimate teen movies of the 1990s, we are hosting a screening on February 22nd at LCF. It will be followed by a discussion with Renaissance woman Roberta Degnore, award winning novelist, screenwriter, director, scholar and psychologist as well as LCF MA Fashion Cultures’ graduate Sian Hunter, who wrote her dissertation on teen movies and has a background in fashion marketing.  It should make for an interesting evening! Book your (free) place here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/whatever-the-representation-of-women-in-clueless-tickets-31319223641

Review: Fashion Cities Africa, Brighton Museum by Lindsay Parker

Situated in Brighton museum, Fashion Cities Africa focuses on four African Cities and the key agents involved in their fashion scenes, from designers and stylists to photographers and bloggers, a diverse and vibrant representation of fashion and style is presented to the visitor opening with the exclamation that “The time for Africa is now. The world is looking to us for inspiration” (Tiffany Amber, designer.)

The exhibition is made up of a selection of garments, interspersed with photography, video and sound which are displayed across three rooms and divided into different sections – with each of the fashion cities (Johannesburg, Casablanca, Lagos and Nairobi) made distinguishable through the use of different coloured backdrops. A series of platforms, line the edges of the space and statistics and key information for each city are also provided. Each platform is dedicated to a “fashion agent” and contains a selection of three or four outfits along with information about the agent and the garments on display.

A range of women’s and menswear, couture and street style are displayed with pieces ranging from the androgynous styling of Sunny Dolat (Niarobi) to the elegant formal wear of Lagos fashion week, craft centred pieces created by traditional Moroccan artisans (Amina Agueznay, Casablanca), to the politically aware collection of The Satarists (Johannesburg), serving to create an impression of the diversity and depth of African fashion. It is clear that the agents themselves were involved in curating the “looks” that appeared in the exhibition and that they hold meaning for them.

What makes the exhibition particularly engaging is the choice of subjects; the overarching theme being that the agents are all advocates for enterprise and creativity. They represent the burgeoning fashion scenes in their respective cities, and give candid opinions about both its growth and uniqueness, and the challenges that they face.

Historically, the study of Fashion and dress has been decidedly Eurocentric, with a focus on the global North resulting in the “othering” of fashions from elsewhere, and despite more recent publications beginning to address this imbalance a divide still exists.

Although this exhibition may not directly reference the hegemonic underpinnings of fashion systems, it is successful in demonstrating to its visitors that contemporary African fashion is diverse and exciting enough to merit its own exhibition, in offering a new perspective from the voices of that continent and in going some way towards addressing the balance through visual language.

Curation, the idea of Tailoring

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( by Stacey Richards 2017)

I was given the opportunity to curate the glass boxes, within the JPS campus library. The theme for January was Tailoring, an area I have a strong interest in from my freelance work as a military costumier. At first it was a little daunting, but at the same time it seemed like a great experience to take.

 

My first meeting was to discuss the idea of tailoring and to get a feel for the items I would have access to. The head of the Special Archives Elizabeth Higgs, met me with me towards the end of December to work through my ideas and to show me what I could use to curate the spaces.

 

After this first meeting, some planning was need and more in-depth thought was given. We met again just before closing for the Christmas period where she had kindle pulled the items I was interested in using for me to see.

 

Then the day came for me to actually get to work and put my personal idea of tailoring into the glass boxes. I had decided to a woman’s box and a man’s box as the Special Archive had some really stunning pieces that would suit this idea.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

The large single tier box I decided to use for the woman’s display, for this I wanted to include my own personal Alexander McQueen unfinished tailored jacket. For me, this piece really put across the notion of tailored construction. In the box also is the Visionaire issue 58, which is the tribute volume to McQueen.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

I used the images within the box to form the base for the objects. The case is set up with tailoring items and some of the archives women’s construction books. I had the idea of using my own pattern pieces and drawing on the glass using chalk pens. I wanted to incorporate more of the feeling of making and being in the making environment into the space.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

From then I moved on to the men’s tiered box, for this I wanted to start with modern ideas of tailoring and then move down into more traditional works on the subject. Again the Special Archive has some beautiful pieces to include, one such piece was an Artist book, which is at the very top of the case.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

I simple loved the Visonaire collection we have and so included the issue 35 Man. I also mixed in issue 20, which was about Comme des Garcons. Then the space moves into traditional shirts, waistcoats, military attire and ends on pattern cutting.

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(by Stacey Richards 2017)

The experience is one I really enjoyed, and despite initial nerves of exactly what I should do, I would love the chance to do something similar again.

Stacey Richards MA Fashion Culture: Fashion in Film.

British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles/ Past and Present edited by Christopher Breward, Philip Crang and Rosemary Crill Reviewed by Katie Godman

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British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles/ Past and Present was first published in 2010 by the V and A. This book predates The Fabric of India exhibition and the publication of Muslin by Sonia Ashmore, though comes after the museum’s publication of Textiles and Dress of Gujarat by Eiluned Edwards.

Considering the V and A’s  galleries heavily feature Asian art and textiles there is a relatively small amount published by them on this topic, however the publication of British Asian Style seeks to rectify this ‘This book is the first to consider the ways in which these intertwined (Asian and British) histories…have contributed to a vibrant and under-represented aspect of Britain’s cultural heritage and contemporary creative environment…we hope it inspires all those with an interest in a centuries old story of exchange, travel competition and creativity.’ (P.9)

The editors have chosen to examine these ‘intertwined histories’ with a diverse collection of essays, including photo-essays, focusing on the relationship of Asian (primarily Indian) and British fashions, textiles and culture, from the time of the British Raj to the modern day. The essays are written by a range of academics from fields of fashion, anthropology and cultural geography. The writers come from a mix of British and Asian backgrounds, and backing is provided by the Diasporas, Migration and Identity Programme as well as the Arts and Humanities council. An array of sources are used across the essays including interviews, entries into Bridging Arts’ British Sari Story project, photographs from the museum’s collection as well as fashion photography and paintings.

Aimed at the museum-going public, the book assumes the reader has knowledge of history, religion and social customs, as well as life in modern day, urban Britain and its subcultures. Since it was published by a British museum it’s aimed at people living in a post-colonial and increasingly multicultural society. Using fashion and textiles as a framing device it examines the relationship between Britain and Asia in a largely positive way, using examples of successful Asian fashion businesses as well as interviewing sources who treat cross-cultural borrowing or appropriation with humour or pleasure and have generally had positive responses to their Asian or mixed modes of dress.

The book is laid out in three sections: Textiles, Styles and Spaces. Textiles aims to ‘establish the material threads that have bound Britain to India and Pakistan’ (P.9). This is carried out rather neatly, with essays tracing the roots of the British trade with India in Chintz, through to Indian styles serving as an inspiration to the modern British high street and the British Sari Story Project.

In looking at the history of the two countries it glosses over the importance of dress in Gandhi’s protest movement. This was something The Fabric of India exhibition did examine. It also fails to mention as a result of the Industrial Revolution the British market was producing cloth and shawls in Indian styles on their own shores, thus damaging the Indian economy. What is focused on is the British bohemian enthusiasm with certain Indian crafts, demonstrating how these practises might have died out if not for this interest. This paints a rather rose tinted view of the history of British and Indian trade.

Styles is the largest section and contains seven essays, which examine fashion and how it has been adapted and appropriated by different groups, from western bohemians to modern day British Muslims. There are some essays which focus on men’s fashion, however the overall focus is women’s fashion as well as women’s religious dress. Apart from the photo essays the turban is overlooked, while veiling and modest dress is examined in detail, perhaps because it has become a hot topic in recent years.

Generally, the tone of the essays is positive, telling the reader how in the past Asian communities had to try and assimilate due to prejudice but now happily dress in styles reflective of their religion and cultures, many marrying elements of both British and Asian cultures as they feel they belong to both. No mention is made of the rise in Islamophobic attacks on women wearing hijabs or attempts to ban Islamic modes of dress, and the view that veiling is oppressive to women is not discussed.

The last section focuses on space; how Asian fashion and textiles has been curated and sold in the UK. Each essay uses a variety of sources from interviews to historical texts, the aim to ‘investigate the enduring presence of south Asian textiles in British shops and in the museum itself, reminding of the ubiquity of British culture.’ (P.9). By referencing high street stores and using modern photographs as well as charting the exhibition of Indian textiles in British museums the book demonstrates how closely intertwined the cultures are but also queries whether British culture has romanticised India.

The book’s wide range of essays means it skims the surface of a wide range of topics without delving too deep. It doesn’t draw many negative conclusions and overlooks modern racism, controversies surrounding Islamic dress, the negative effects of colonialism, and Gandhi’s movement, all of which could have formed interesting essays.

However, the introduction states that it wants to ‘inspire interest’ and by keeping a generally positive tone, and accompanying the text with plenty of colour pictures it certainly does this. Since it is published by a museum, part of its purpose is to encourage visitors to the museum, and considering it predates the hugely successful The Fabric of India exhibition, it can be assumed it was successful in doing this. This allowed further examination of Indian textiles and also looked at India’s relationship with Britain. With an upcoming exhibition next year focusing on another aspect of Britain and India’s cultural exchange (Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London) we can hopefully assume the V and A is keen to continue the discourse on Britain and Asia which it intended to ‘inspire’ six years ago with the publication of this book.

 

 

References

 

Breward, C., Crang, P. and Crill, R. eds., 2014, British Asian Style: Fashion and Textiles/ Past and Present, 5th Edition, London, V and A Publishing

 

Bryant, J., 2016, The William Morris of India, V&A Magazine, Autumn/Winter, p67-73

 

The Fabric of India, October 2015-January 2016, exhibition, The V and A Museum, London

 

Alam, F. 2005, We Must Move Beyond The Hijab, The Guardian, 29th November 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2005/nov/29/highereducation.uk, 16th October 2016

 

Alibhai-Brown, Y. 2014, Refusing the Veil, London, Biteback Publishing