Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What Have We Created?

    There has never to my memory been a single image that has created such a pronounced, and largely negative response for me in the realm of Attire.  This image from Vogue Nippon, October 2001 is as in your face an admonishment about what we are expected to do as anything I've ever encountered. 

   While I fully understand that this cover and text may have been meant satirically, its point is valid.  Though we are not meant to literally die if we do not actively support the apparel industry, we risk being made symbolically dead, by being perceived as non-players.
    We have constructed a machine of apparel consumerism so huge that nearly half the people on the planet depend upon it in one way or another. When you consider the myriad layers involved in production and distribution on a global scale, the number of people involved becomes impossible to accurately tally.  And in order for this gargantuan edifice of production to continue to prosper in the way it has been, we must purchase. We must do so again and again, continually, or the entire thing collapses.  We have built something so enormous that it cannot manage to maintain itself simply with a reasonable input on our part. It can only be supported by an ever increasing outlay from consumers like thee and me.
    In this manner it has become something cancerous, and we need to rein it in, somehow, before it expires of its own weight.  But how do we do this?  The answer is quite simple really.  When we choose to shop for clothing or accessories, make up or and other things relating to Attire, we should do so mindfully.  By doing so we can slowly decrease the overly inflated industry incrementally, diminishing the negative impact. What we need to give over is the impulsive shopping that has become an essential part of this brobdignagian industry.  We must give over the greed that sits at the center of so much of modern life, a greed that is born mostly of fear of loss.
    Our Western culture in particular has a nasty little secret at its heart, one that pervades nearly everything we do.  We have been inculturated for centuries that whatever we have is not good enough, that more is of its own, somehow better, than less. We have been taught that making a living means not simply surviving and thriving, but having lots of excess income with which to fill our homes and our closets with stuff. Our media continues to support this notion, and certainly the apparel industry could not survive in its current version without it.  It is not good enough to have a few pairs of well made shoes, we must have lots of them. A couple of pairs of jeans aren't good enough. We must have dozens. Some nice pieces of jewelry are not sufficient. We must have needless arrays of differing options.
    I am every bit as guilty of this sort of over-consumption as the next person.  I am working to shift my focus, to change over to a more mindful sort of consumption. And I realize also that this very blog, and the baseline premise from which I operate here, depends on there being options available to each of us from which to choose our daily visual expression.  So what I am trying for personally and with this concept here, is to find a balance between the need for expression and variability within that expression, and the need to be responsible about what we do in the world.
    I do think we can make this happen, and it will require us all to take more care, to give more thought to where and how we purchase the things we do.  Perhaps we should take a leaf from the Europeans, who often have tiny apartments with tiny closets. Plus, clothes are much more expensive there, so people choose with greater care, and make their clothes work for longer periods.
Our real end point is this.  It is one we cannot ignore without peril  There are rising 8 billion of us, and within 10 years the prediction is 10 billion.  The idea of us consuming without regard to what we do endlessly has no validity. it is in fact an insanity.  If we are willing to have a care for the rest of the world, then this must cease.  We must pull back, retrench, and learn to live smaller.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Using What We Have

    It's true that the Attire language is a tool of immense power. We have seen it be wielded by actors, business-people, politicians, and royals for centuries.  We have watched as people of fame have risen and fallen, in part because of the seemingly superficial choices that they made regarding how they presented themselves to all of us in the manner of their dress.

    The thing we tend to forget is that that same power lies within us. We have this same chance, this same tool to use, this same power to put forward into the world. You and I have this same opportunity to shift ourselves into a new realm. You and I have this same facility to make of ourselves something entirely unique.  The Attire language is a mechanism of transformation you can use.  It doesn't require immense amounts of money. It doesn't require couture clothing. It merely requires thoughtfulness.
     I am reminded of the period when I was wearing kilts daily.  I wore a kilt of one manner or another for over a decade.  I have not had one on my body for over two years, yet every day I hear this:  "You aren't wearing a kilt!  I've never seen you in pants."; and this from people who see me multiple times a week. I bring this up because what we choose to present to the society around us manifestly changes how we are viewed, and how people respond to us.  The image of myself I presented was so individual, and so consistent, that people still, multiple years later, have difficulty realizing me in some other way.
                                                             Me, September 22 2012
     This thing I call the Attire language is a huge, complex, and powerful implement.  You have the right, and the ability to make it work for you.  It's a mechanism that can alter your life in ways you want it to. It only remains for you to choose to utilize it in it's most potent forms. If you want to be a creative, then look creative. If you want to be in business, make yourself the image of business. 
    I'll be honest with you all. I've reached a tipping point in my own life. I feel to a degree at sea, rudderless. I am not implying that for me, a change in my choices of apparel would create the changes I am thinking of in my own life.  I bring it up because for many of us, such simple, small changes, can have enormous impact.  And who knows?  Perhaps some shift in how I accoutre myself would move the other changes onward.
    You are a young person wanting to move forward in life and work. You choose to cling to the manner of dress that was yours as a teenager. What happens?  You get shunted aside.  Otherwise, you choose to meet the people you want to work with, the people you want as colleagues on their own ground.  Perhaps instead you get hired.  I do not mean that your skills or intelligence mean nothing; far from it.  Your manner of showing yourself to the world around you shifts the perceptions of those who see you. It may not be fair.  They may be mis-perceiving you.  All that is true.  This remains, however.  If you choose to live and work within the constructs of the society to which you belong, you must work to some degree with the rules already in place.  If you choose not to, then your journey may not be impossible, but it will surely be more difficult, and much longer.
    So what I am getting at here is this.  This immense edifice I call Attire is a powerful adjunct to your potential success in the world, however you perceive success. It is a wise person who chooses how they present to the world with care.  Fame and wealth are not the only goals. In fact, they are the least and last for many of us. That said, we can win out in our own sphere with greater alacrity, when we show ourselves to others in a way that is most effective.
    Think about it.  What can we as individuals do to change up how others see us in a positive way without giving up our own reality?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Scatter #114

    Good morning, Class.
    Guess what time it is?
    That's right, it's Scattertime!

    So let's just dive right in, shall we?
    These are house slippers for a lady of fashion. They were made by the company Rosenblum's in the 1890s.  What appeals to me about them is that they are so playful.  When we think of the Victorian period we tend to think of it as a serious, a solid time. We forget that within those social rules and regulations of which we have heard so much there was still room for play.  These delightful red kid slippers with their swinging tassels, upturned toes and petal-like openings have a middle eastern sensibility right in line with the passion for exoticism that pervaded a good deal of popular culture references and a lot of art.  I can easily imagine the lady who wore these lounging in her oriental inspired robe with these on, reading a novel while she sips her sherry.
    The 1960s was one of the decades where a significant attempt was made to reestablish the concept of the male peacock.  This silk damask Nehru suit is one example of how it was presented.  It really never took off completely, confining itself primarily to the young generation and to entertainers, who always get more license anyway.  Clean lines still dominated, but where it manifested most was in color and textile usage.  Suits appeared in velvets, damasks and brocades. Color became more saturated, and shirts often got worn with scarves or cravats.  Sadly, the Peacock Revolution died out by the later 1970s.  But we seem to be seeing a new round of it, and perhaps this time, with all the changes happening socially it will take more firm root.
    Along with everything else that shifts in the Attire language, our perceptions of beauty change as well.  Over the many thousands of our years what has been considered beautiful in the physical form has changed again and again, and from culture to culture.  This is Meg Myles, who was a popular pin up model, a singer and an actor on screen and daytime television, having several roles in various soap operas.  But she is emblematic of a particular style of body that was very much part of the popular conception of female beauty and sexual allure at the time.  According to our currently held notions, she would be considered overweight, which is absurd of course.  But it's an interesting look at how vastly our notions have changed.
    Two warrior men of the Samburu people of Kenya.  One of the things that strikes me here is that we ritualize and glorify our warriors to the degree that we do.  These two men are not just ready to do battle to protect their families and gather food.  They have been visually elevated, venerated by the manner of decorations that they wear. To be fair, I suspect that these ornaments are rather like parade armor, meant to be seen, rather than utilized in real terms.  However the point is still a fair one.  Even in the real world, the utility of clothing meant for combat has a layer of meaning over it that we have given it based on our understanding of physical hazard the wearers undertake, and our appreciation that it is not us doing the fighting.
    We can look at this fashion plate from 1916 and find it charming in it's relative naivete. But during the time this sort of fashion was put forth a good percentage of Europe, and the US as well was at war.  The perception was that this was needlessly frivolous styling for war time, even though there was little in the way of rationing going on.  Many women came under negative scrutiny for wearing such full skirts and short (to them) hemlines.  It's interesting to note this because the fashions of only 10 years before were far more lavish and in many ways decadent.  Another example of how our society shifts and our perceptions of correctness shift along with it.
    I've posted sleeves waistcoats before. This one is especially fine.  One of the things to distinguish it is that the sleeve fabric and back of the waistcoat is of a very high grade silk material.  Quite often these waistcoats had much plainer stuff in use for the parts of the garment that would remain unseen. Then there is the sheer magnificence of the material which was woven en disposition so that it could be made up exactly as you see here.  It is a polychrome, metallic threaded silk brocade with five colors in addition to gold and silver thread.  The sleeves and back are of a large scale red silk damask. Additionally, the 22 buttons on the waistcoat are of gold. Yikes.
    This image set me thinking, as so many things do.  When I saw this I saw first the juxtaposition of the natural and the manufactured.  But then I saw the profundity of how much most of us will endure, how much we will encompass in order to conceal the reality of ourselves from the world. Hidden behind all of our applied glitter we all share the same bones. A good thing to remember in our troubled times.  The other looks just like us within their skin.
    Frankly Sci-Fi, edgy, genderless.  This Atelier Wonder ensemble from 2015 caught my eye.  While I'm not sure it's entirely successful, It's an interesting take on the gender free concept that is spreading slowly in our culture as we explore our own inner world more keenly. I am drawn, however to the combination of textiles in use and the color choices employed.  Something about them appeals to me, though I can't define it for myself, yet.
    No Scatter would be complete without a bit of sparkle.  This is a Renaissance Revival brooch from the later 1800s.  The central stone is a large citrine of unusually dark color that has been carved into a cameo of a lavishly dressed woman. Little thought has been given to accuracy about the clothing she is depicted with. Especially her forward tilted hat with the ostrich plume nodding over her face.  The frame is oddly simplified from how it would have looked in the Renaissance. And the diamonds that fill out the frame are faceted, which was only just beginning to happen in the 1500s. so the manner of their faceting would be much simpler.  All that said, it's an amazing piece.
    Speaking of carved gemstones,... This necklace, called L'Odyssee' is from Cartier.  It's a platinum mounting with a 50 plus karat sapphire carved with leaves hanging from the center.  There are other sapphires carved as leaves and the rest is carved emerald and sapphire beads.  It's quite the piece of dazzle.  It will be interesting to me to watch as manufactured gems move more and more into usage for jewelry.  It's really an inevitability that they will take over the bulk of jewelry craft.  Does this mean more folks will be able to wear gemstone bling?  Yup.  The days of the nasty diamond business is waning.
    Walter Van Bierendonck is one of my favorite, more experimental designers.  What I love here is how the traditional suit has been turned into a flat surface that has been splashed with a zigzagging shape.  The result is rather surreal, which I always like.  What makes it work so well is the precision with which it is made.  Any deviation from matching those overlapping elements would make this a fail.  I give this one a rousing yes!
    Force of personality.  Carmen Miranda is practically the poster child for it.  Never in Hollywood's glory days was there a performer who was more overburdened with decoration. Never was there anyone so massively laden with jewelry, fruit, feathers, pom poms and fringe as she.  Yet by sheer force of will she managed to overtop even all that ruffled, beaded, fooferaw and bring her unique persona to the public.  Perhaps it's because she so clearly saw the absurdity of it all, and allowed herself to never take any of it seriously.  As much as I write about the meaning and message carried within each garment we wear, we should never lose sight of having a bit of fun with it, and never let ourselves become too grimly serious about it all.  We are a wonderful and absurd species. we should go with that.

Okay Kids, that is this week's sampler. Now go out and sample some of our marvelous and crazy world.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Scatter #113

    Howdy do, All.  Welcome to the weekend, and to this week's round of "What Has Spilled Out Of His Head This Time?".
    Texture is one of the more significant aspects of what eventually conveys meaning to us when we observe someone.  This rather extraordinary sweater, designed in 1979 is a study in texture and what it can achieve.  It seems even more fully organic than it actually is. Sure, it was created of a natural fiber that grew as hair on an animal, but the way that fiber was spun and then manipulated into a garment seems more like it occurred of itself, rather than that it was carefully conceived.  It invites us to stroke, to touch. And, while it has a certain formality in its base structure the fuzzy softness of it renders it less formidable.  If this same structural idea was made up in a textile it would change how it communicates completely.   As an exercise try imagining this made up in some other way and see how much it alters.
    The image is called Let It Be, and it was shot by Lakin Ogunbanwo.  Apart from its power simply as an image it makes me think again about the incredible potency of headgear.  Even such a simple shape as this one confers great strength to the wearer.  Since it's likely that putting things on our heads was one of the very first things we did in the unknown past as we began to unknowingly assemble this huge language, it is a thing that has a densely layered effect on us.  Just think of a moment about how you feel when you are wearing your favorite hat. What does it do for you?  And how do you feel if you get complimented on it?
    In 1940 Salvatore Ferragamo designed this platform sandal.  Made in black satin covered kidskin, with a stacked cork platform that is finished with gold kid, it's a wonderful example of how we continue to try to make more of ourselves.  If we are tall we wish to be taller still. If we are not, we dream of height we cannot have. So, inventive souls that we are, we give ourselves a literal boost.  Cultures all over the world, and for as far back as we have records for have done this same sort of elevation.  To be more physically imposing is a goal that a great many of us seek, even if we are unaware that we do. And we will put ourselves through a good deal of discomfort to get there.
    Two very modern gents each speaking in their own way the Attire language.  They are both employing some of the same basic words. Tee shirt, hat, and red shoes, yet the end result that we see is two completely different personal messages. One is somewhat formal, the other, though just as stylish is kick back relaxed.  The detail that caught me here is the shoes.  Both pairs are red, but they both say something subtly different.
    Photographer Irving Penn and designer Issey Miyake had a real understanding of each other, and worked together a good deal.  For me, this image exemplifies what I love about the whole Avant Garde realm of design.  Form and function are called to question, the body being both revealed through closely fitted knit material and concealed in a huge drum that obliterates natural shape and changes movement in space.  I also love that the drum shape dimly recalls the wheel farthingales of the 1500s while looking even now ultra edgy though this was a design from the early 90s.
    There is so much happening here from an Attire perspective.  Whew. Where to begin?  First is the wonderful light energy of the color combination and pattern in the main fabric.  The young man's face is beautifully framed not only by his white turban but by the draping of the floral material.   The stark contrast of the white turban and robe bring our attention to his wonderful dark skin tone, and let us really see his expressive face completely.  The volume of the draping gives an air of formality and a kind of regal grace.  So much conveyed with such relative ease.  Photograph by Omar Victor Diop from his Diaspora series in 2014.
    This witty image is from American Vogue and points up our continuing desire to imitate and in some manner take on the characteristics of the living creatures we share our world with.  If we cannot become a fabulous bird we can copy aspects and make ourselves into something fantastical.  It's a technique we employ constantly in endless ways, from the wearing of fake fur to the wearing of jewelry that looks like scales or claws, we have and I suppose always will draw the world about us in this way.
    Because I simply cannot post a Scatter without something shiny, this.  As a species we have an endless fascination for things that sparkle. It doesn't even really matter if they are precious stones or not, but if it shimmers and refracts light we are all over them.  This tiara was auctioned by Christie's in 2008.  The central stone is called the Shizuka diamond, which was cut from a 460 karat rough to the 101.27 karats you see here.  Though I'm not crazy about the setting, still, it's rather a wonder of a rock.  I also wonder how much longer we are going to mine the earth for these, when we can make gem rated stones in machines now, and in any color we want.
    This Full dress suit is from between 1775 and 1785. It points out something that was going to shift in the next century.  When we think of a suit now we think of a set of matching pieces, either two or three.  It wasn't always so.  For the majority the time men in the Western world were wearing tailored clothing the term suit referred to the various tailored pieces regardless of whether they were the same material or not. In fact it was far less common for all the pieces to match.  Clothing was so insanely expensive that even wealthy folk could only afford a few things, so a coat or a waistcoat or a pair of breeches would be purchased and used with whatever other things were already in service.  By the mid 1800s the term suit would be applied only to a fully matched set of apparel, as it is still today.
    The 20th century saw a unique but fairly short lived manner of dress come into being, cocktail clothing.  Meant to be a set down from the full formality of evening dress, cocktail apparel was in vogue as a separate entity within Attire for only about 30 years from the early 40's into the later 60s.  During it's heyday, ensembles like this one were available at every pricepoint level and all sorts of differing iterations from simple, like this one to fussy.  They had the advantage as well of being easy to get into, much moreso than full on evening clothes which were usually more complex to navigate.  But, a lady could jump into this quickly and be off to toss back a few Manhattans with some friends.  Once the concept of the cocktail party as a social gathering faded from popularity, so too did this manner of dress.
    Anyone who has been reading me a while knows of my abiding love for couturier Charles Frederick Worth.  This dinner dress is part of why.  In the hands of a lesser talent the brilliant colors here, and the huge scale of the pattern would overwhelm the design and turn the finished garment into a hopeless glaring muddle.   What Worth does here is keep most of the trimmings so discrete that they become simply additional textures. How?  By matching the colors of the silk brocade precisely so that the fabric is allowed to continue to play the lead role.  The lace on the sleeves and collar offer welcome relief from the intensity of the textile, and create a focus at the face and hands, so that the wearer is not lost.  Kyoto Costume Institute collection.

    The final offering today is a bit of edginess.  When I saw this image I thought, well, why the heck not?  Why shouldn't a guy wear a sheer stretch lace jumpsuit if he has the moxie for it?  We are still in the midst of a long trend for sheer clothing. It began for women only but has spread to menswear and is slowly gaining ground there.  What this says about us culturally could be a number of things.  Certainly it has a good deal to do with the greater level of frankness we are experiencing about sex and sexuality.  It's also a methodology for displaying one's worked out frame to maximum advantage. What other reasons can you think of that explain our sudden and increasing fascination with sheer apparel?  Give me your thoughts, folks!

That's the lot for this week, my friends.  Have an awesome weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Enticement & Control

    When we look at these charming bonnets of the 1800s, we tend not to see the subtext.  We see them as sweet remembrances of a vanished era.  But these hats are so much more. They can give us a clue about how it was for women during that time, and how they managed to navigate the endless rules about their conduct in public places.
    Bonnets like these, often referred to as poke bonnets, by their shape offered significant protection to a lady's face from the elements. They also framed the face beautifully when seen full on.  From the side a woman was hidden, out of circulation in a way.  But there is something about the concealed thing that makes us want to expose it all the more. 
   Turning her face just a tiny bit, to reveal a hint of herself to someone could be a coquettish act, but as long as it was done discretely, it could not harm her reputation.  So this garment, which bound her to society and its strictures, could be employed in an almost subversive way, and doubtless they were.  They acted as an enticement to action on the part of those who saw her. 
    Since most hats were made up at home by the lady herself, she could employ her needle skills to convey through her choice of decorations something more of herself to the world outside, and all by staying well within the rules of propriety.
    So have a look at these, and give a thought to who these women were, and what they were after in their lives.  Every garment has a life history, and a story to tell.

Monday, August 8, 2016

One Shot: Robe a Changeant 1865

    I have posted about the robe a changeant, also known as a robe a transformation before.  This one is particularly fine, and since they rarely survive intact it bears some looking at.  They so often don't come down to us because where dress bodices were quite difficult to remake into a newer fashion, particularly considering how radically shapes altered in the latter half of the 1800s, the skirts of these garments could be changed up to the current taste with much greater ease.  So, we are fortunate to see this set of four pieces come to us unaltered from its original state.
    By 1865 when this was conceived skirts had widened to the greatest dimensions possible, even with the advent of the cage crinoline. This dress employs nearly all the girth technically possible.  That said, it is constructed of lightweight silks. One is an olivine China silk, the other a translucent pale cream silk.  The trimmings are of hand made beige lace that looks to be a simple Cluny pattern, extensively used fringes, and multiple scalloped rows of bias covered cord.
    The day bodice has the uniformly close fit common to the mid 1860s. The neckline is kept simple and nearly unadorned, though it is entirely possible that this was worn occasionally with a detachable lace collar, just to change things a bit further.  The buttons are covered in the olivine silk and the majority of the bodice is made of a light tan silk not used in the skirt, but still harmonizing well.  Part of what makes this set unusual is the survival with it of a small matching shawl most likely meant to be worn with the day bodice, though it could have also been pressed into use for the evening as a wrap.

    The evening bodice, which would have been appropriate for all but the most extremely formal of occasions has the broad, low, nearly horizontal neckline considered a requirement for evening dress.  The decorations of it are so many that the short body of the bodice is entirely concealed under scalloped rows, shirred silk and fringe.  This was a wise decision, however since it gives visual balance to the whole composition, and helps bring the viewer's eye up towards the face.
    Now, about that skirt.  The skirt alone is a masterwork of the dressmaker's art.  Though in some of these images it appears to be a single layer it is actually two.  The underskirt has its lower half made up in the olivine silk and edged with a triple row of scalloped bias cord. The upper portion, which is entirely concealed may be made up in the same light tan silk as the day bodice, but we cannot be sure, (and the information from the Met does not include this).  Only in one of these images can you make out where the green begins and the tan ends. 
    It is the overskirt which is doing all the major work here.  It is made up of the translucent cream silk with huge insertions of the green that are scallop edged as the hem is.  The overskirt had huge deep arcs that are finished with the cluny lace. The interiors of each arc separation are filled with more of the green, this time finished with long tan fringes.
    Weeks of patient hand labor were required just to complete the overskirt. Even with the invention of the sewing machine the majority of what you see here would ahve been hand done. In fact, at this early stage in the existence of the sewing machine many upper class folk thought machine assembly was declasse' and staunchly avoided it.  So it is most likely that this ensemble has no machine work in it at all. 
    As a final point, this group of clothes points to a time and place when class distinction was uppermost in most people's minds.  The sheer complexity of this dress and its parts is meant to convey in loud, clear voice the standing of its wearer socially and economically.  Donning this must have helped instill a sense of the rightness of things to its wearer.  At least, so I suppose.

With grateful thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of New York.