Wednesday, October 26, 2016

One Shot: Wedding Suit 1673

    In 1673 the Duke of York married for the second time. This suit, which is part of the vast collection at the V&A is what he wore.
    His second wife was Mary of Modena (1658-1718), whom he had married by proxy in Italy in September. The marriage contract was confirmed in November upon Mary's arrival at Dover. The second ceremony was a subdued affair, as Mary was a Roman Catholic and the union was unpopular in England and at court. Only the Duke's closest supporters attended and there were none of the public ceremonies or processions normally associated with royal weddings. The Duke of York wore this suit at the Dover nuptials.
    The suit is wool, but is covered over nearly all of it's surface with couched silver gilt, and silver threads.  Those threads are then wound around narrow strips of parchment, that is what gives the embroidery its 3D effect.  Part of what makes this amazingly extravagant suit even more interesting is that the embroidered design is not repeating, even though it is symmetrical.  It implies that the floral and foliate design was free hand drawn.
     The style of the suit is one of the earlier iterations of what would emerge as the three piece suit by the 19th century.  And it's consistent with the clothing promoted through the courts of Louis XIV and Charles II, though it is of English make.  The waistline is above the natural point, and the sleeves of the coat are deliberately short, to allow the fall of the shirt and it's cuffs to be shown off to full advantage.
    The cuffs of the coat are red wool, as is the coat lining.  It must have been far more dramatic when first made, but the red has faded considerably over time.
    The breeches are very full and have a deep, broad cuff that is even wider than the breeches leg and is attached to the body at regular points to create something like pockets, though that was not the intent.  It was simply a way to be even more wildly, and evidently costly in dress.
    The suit has nearly 90 hand made, silk and silver gilt wrapped buttons.  More than fifty are on the center front, and ten each for the two pockets, with another 16 on one of the back vents.  The huge majority of these buttons serve no function beyond the decorative.
    We are very lucky that this survives.  There is so much silver employed here it would have been a prime candidate to be taken apart and the silver melted down. And this thin must weigh a ton. Fortunately the ceremony was in November, so it probably wasn't overly hot to wear.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sketchy McSketcherson

    I've been asked more than once where my interest in apparel, it's design, history and implications comes from.  I can only reply that I have been fascinated since childhood.  My earliest memories of drawings I did usually involved people in fantastical clothing.  I've been drawing people in clothing historical, contemporary and imagined ever since.  I thought I would do something different from my usual run and share a number of those with you.  Many of these eventually were made real for various of my clients during the years I was doing costume design as a side business.  But some are entirely theoretical.
    So, sit back and enjoy.  You will I hope, get a clearer picture of me and what I'm about here from them; this series of B/W and color illustrations.
                    The client wanted to be Sheherazade.  So here ya go, This is what I designed.

  This is called Mother Harvest. I suspect no one is going to want to present this way. But I love it.
                                             I wore this my very self in days gone far, far by.

                      Narcissus, it was designed for a manifestly self involved client of years ago.

                                          This is another, maybe, someday design. Night.

     A client was going to a party where everyone had to arrive as their favorite cocktail. Pink Lady.

     I have to be honest, I no longer really remember the client. but it was all about Romeo and Juliet, as I recall.

        Dragonmaster. Honestly I would love the chance to build this in real terms. One day, maybe.
     I made this up as a wedding dress for a client who wanted a 19th century wedding. The wedding dress version was in white, and off while silk. This version was meant to be a traveling costume. Never made. It was identical in cut and decoration to the wedding dress, simply in other materials and colors.

                                       Ukraine, only a notion, but I'd love to do it one day.

                                                 Caliph, for a long time client of mine.

                                    A concept for kilted dressing, while I was always en kilt.
                                En Visite, for a client of mine who is sadly no longer with us.


               I called this, The Widow.  I would love to actually make this for someone, one day.

                                     Parts of things. I always have something in my head.

                                       I made this for myself for Halloween, AGES ago.

         A jacket design for 1900. I made this up in dark green velveteen with silver beadwork for a client.

                                            This item is called, China. Never really made.
                                            Just a thought. A different manner of men's dress.
                             Titled, Gaucho, this was made for a client of mine in the 1990s.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Scatter #123

    Geez, we are already nearly through October, the Holiday season will soon be staring us in the face.  But before we descend into that madness, let's take a walk in the Scatter Zone again.  It's an enjoyable stroll, so take your time.
    Say hello to Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour.  This remarkable and lovely lady was the official chief mistress to Louis XV from 1745 to 1751, but remained both a friend and advisor to the king till her death in 1764.  Of the many things she championed during her life one that she is most remembered for is her commitment to the arts.  She was virtually the poster person for the Rococo style, and her notable elegance expressed itself in an ability to take a type of design that could be overwhelming and make it utterly charming.  This portrait is by Francois Boucher, who painted her more than once, and who managed to convey that balance of opulent luxury and grace with which she was credited by her supporters, and vilified for by her detractors.  It takes quite a bit of presence and self confidence to be able to carry of such a complex set of apparel choices and not be swallowed whole.
    We dip into history constantly for ideas to use in our current apparel design.  And I do find it interesting that this particular concept keeps getting brought out, even though it is manifestly impractical in a modern world context.  Used as a part of light duty armor in classical Rome, these sorts of sandals were meant primarily to guard the shins from sword cuts. But I'm showing these to you because I need a question answered.  What things would you wear these with that would both balance with them and not look like a costume?  Even as pictured here with those embellished shorts we are breathtakingly close to costume land. So, help me out here.
    The world of the couture is a strange, wonderful place.  It is rarefied in the extreme, often lovely, sometimes deeply silly. But one thing is supreme; workmanship. The level of craft brought to bear on one garment is amazing.  These two ball gowns are by Jacques Griffe, from 1952 and 1953 respectively.  Both clearly show the level of astounding skill required to bring couture design to life.  In both cases huge masses of silk tulle are employed, and overlaid with arcing shapes in organdy that have enough rigidity to keep their shape on their own.  In the first, 14 rows of bias cut organdy have been placed in an ess curving pattern around the skirt of the dress. in the other a total of 128 separate curved pieces of organdy are first embroidered on their outer edges, and the applied to the skirt in rows of decreasing size.  My head hurts thinking about how many hours these took.
    This just makes me smile.  When skirts for men first started showing up in editorials and on runways there were basically two iterations of the idea that got put out there, kilts and sarongs.  It was a clear case of taking culturally accepted and understood forms of male skirting and making them over as modern attire options.  What's interesting here is that, now that the skirts of dudes thing has been around a while designers are willing to push it further and assay versions of skirting that are more traditionally thought of as female only.  This image from Carbon Copy Magazine is a perfect example.  Where a decade ago we would have looked at this and thought it quite avant garde, now we can look at it and think, well why not?  Would I wear this look?  Yep, sure would.
    One of the very important things about the upper tiers of the design community is that they have the wherewithal to experiment with the latest textiles, and as such can show us the possibilities inherent in them in real terms. While I admit that I think the transparent dress is tasteless in the extreme, it is an admirable thing in one respect.  It allows us to see quite clearly what this textile is capable of in terms of drape and fit. We understand right off how it will function used in another way.  The same is true for the translucent iridescent jacket fabric the other model wears.  We can see the manner in which it will move, and even imagine how it will sound, from this design.  So even if I dislike we designs themselves, they still serve an experimental purpose that is laudable.
    Once upon a time there was a man named Junkers Von Bodegg, and in 1609 he owned and wore this very suit of clothes.  It's true that very little remains from this period to show us the reality of apparel at that time, and even more rare for men's clothing to survive. Still more rare is that this is not a suit worn by a person of great wealth, who could afford to pack it away when he bored of it.  And the final astonishment is that the entire suit survives. The doublet, slops styled breeches, hose and shoes all managed to make it through over 400 years of time so that they could tell us a small tale of life in those days.
    Ya gotta wonder sometimes how things manage to get where they end up. This Greek diadem of gold with a carved glass inset comes from about 450 BCE and was discovered in the Ukraine. It's true that Greece had trade in that direction, but how did this get there?  Was it owned by someone who lived in that region, or was it something that meandered here and there to finally stop in that part of what would be Russia one day?  I often find things of this sort fascinating, and wish we could get inside the full story. Sadly this is another mystery that will never completely untangle. I've done some looking about and so far have found noting about this beyond its age and place of discovery.  Still, it's rather gorgeous, no?
    It is quite true that when we try to imagine another time in terms of apparel, we seldom come close to getting it right, but no period was more extreme in missing the mark than the 1700s.  This masque costume for the Ballet of the Triumph of Bacchus is just such a thing.  Not only does this not come anywhere near the actuality of the shapes and textiles of the time frame of the Ballet, this is supposed to be a faun.  Where it falls flat for us, as observers from another time is that we cannot know all the masses of symbolism that went into this costume.  Symbolism played an immense role in the upper levels of art and design or hundreds of years and really reached it's apex during the 18th century. So, while you and I can look at this and see little if anything to connect it to its intended meaning and purpose, to the educated of that time there would have been instant recognition.
    There are many things here to applaud, and some to question.  I really like the draping of the bodice and hip line portions of the garment.  I even like the dotted netting inset on the side.  What I feel needs editing here are two things, really.  First, the shoulder strap seems entirely superfluous. It could disappear without the design losing any power.  Second is the sheer underskirt.  I would have made it in the dotted netting and also used the netting more extensively there to balance the strength of the heavier material around it.  In this iteration the single layer underskirt seems weak.
    Our desire to make ourselves remarkable manifests in some amazing ways, and utilizes not only things that are not part of us, but the materials of our own bodies as well.  Hair dress is one of the method we have used from our proto-history to distinguish ourselves.  This image made me gasp outloud.  This beautiful person has been made even more so by the artfulnees of this intricate hair style.  I can't imagine how many hours it took to make this happen, but I'm certainly grateful that both the stylist and the model were willing to endure it.  It's as though a sea creature were riding on this man's scalp.  Or perhaps something more like tree roots taking hold over his head, some strange plant is growing.  Amazing work on a lovely person.
    I'm including this in the mix this week for the simple reason that it's lovely.  This Italian made dress is a visiting costume from 1904.  It's made of silk taffeta, and blonde machine made lace.  The design work here is very fine, juxtaposing areas of complete simplicity with complexly rendered areas.  I also like the way the bottom section of the skirt has employed ruching to control the volume and ease it into the next section above so that the line is not broken. Absolutely charming.  It's from the Collection of the Museum of the Palazzo Pitti.
    The final entry today is a great look at the difference between fantasy and reality when it comes to apparel design.  This Jeanne Lanvin design, called "Venitienne" is from 1921.  The illustration gives the dress considerably more volume than the actual skirt would be capable of achieving, as is obvious looking at the real dress.  It is also shown in the rendering as nearly hitting the floor, where it's clear from the actual gown that it fell to mid calf.  But that said, it was the intention of such renderings not to relate in precise detail the facts of the piece, but rather to evoke a sense of it.  Till about 1910 fashion illustration was dominantly something that recreated the design with rigorous attention to every detail, primarily so that clients and dressmakers could see and understand the minutiae. By the mid twenties, fashion illustration had divided into two camps.  Catalog renderings were still mostly precise in their details, but images for publication in periodicals were much more freely drawn, more an impression, than a fact. 

So, that ends this week's shuffle in my head.  Go find some fun! Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Balance Point

    We are a marvelous, sometimes mad race.  We destroy, and despoil. We do it for reasons we perceive as important, but history inevitably shows us our folly in that reasoning.  It is the madness we routinely expose to light that is the same madness that drives us to create beauty unimagined before. How do we navigate this conundrum?  What are we to do?  On the one side we manifest such loveliness, such ravishing glory that we are left breathless and bereft of words.  On the other side we make nightmares real beyond rational conception.  What are we to do?
    It remains of us in our regular, real world lives to find a way to come to terms with this extreme disparity.  So, it becomes the really tough part of this whole Attire language thing.  How do we manage to make peace between our manifest desires, and the realities of life?  What makes it tougher on us all is that we are fed an unending stream of idealized images of what we should choose to be, and what we should want from the world.  So many of those images are not only irrational, but nearly impossible to attain, or maintain.
    The system we have built, which spans the globe and produces far more clothing each year than the entire species requires, is the same system which while providing jobs and food to endless millions, keeps them in a near slave condition in order to feed the international need.  The truth here is that it is not your need, or mine which is the ultimate goal of that feeding, it is the profits of massive manufacturers, whose goal is to make more money each year. There are two ways to do that. Either they raise their prices, or they have to convince us that what we already have is no longer good enough.  They do this through advertising strategies, Changing what we see constantly, and often through the expedient of shoddy manufacture.  I don't mean to imply that this is universal.  There are many out there, mostly smaller companies, who do put the genuine needs of their clients first.
    It is true that we all like the idea of having variation, and range in our wardrobes. There is both practicality, and pleasure in that. When we do not need to wear the same things every day, they will last us far longer.  And having a change allows us that field of expression I speak of so often.
    One possible answer is to work with small providers and designers, so your cash spent is going more directly to the makers, rather than to executives and ad budgets.  Yes, perhaps that is the best course; to divorce ourselves from the tyrannical sway of mega-corps, and return to seeking out and supporting small makers and cottage artisans, who we will be connected to personally, and whose lives we will know we are enhancing, as they enhance ours.
    Certainly, a growing number of us have become disenchanted with mass market goods, no matter how beguiling their ad campaigns might be. We have willingly given over part of the power of defining ourselves to people we do not know, who do not really have our best interests in mind.  Part of what makes it so difficult, this bill of divorcement I suggest, is that the propaganda is so pervasive and persuasive that it is nearly impossible to step aside it.  It is not enough that fashion periodicals and media stars present the desired fantasy, but advertisers of all sorts buy into it too. Most television shows present the same ideals to us, and we even have to face it in news programs where any female commentators are almost required to be young, blonde, and nubile.
    Another thing that gives this power is that we are at heart tribal creatures, never fully happy unless we are part of a group that accepts us, and the industry plays on that desire endlessly.  If we only buy this thing, or use this product, we will become acceptable, beautiful and desired.
    And so, we struggle to find our place, and our peace, between the push to consume at all costs, and the world we actually inhabit.