Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bernhard Willhelm: A Unique Approach

    Not every person who decides to create apparel is interested in making things that appeal to, or are even understood by, the mass market.  By that I mean, most of us.
    Bernhard Willhelm is a designer who's interesting, daffy, and utterly unique vision of Attire is not meant for all of us, or even many of us.
    Its meant to be for a select few to wear, and for everyone else, its a visual slap in the face, a direct challenge to convention, and an utter dismissal of whatever we might have considered sacrosanct about how we tog ourselves out each day.  I must and will applaud him for that, though the vast majority of what he creates is real world un-wearable.
     In the end, its application to the real world and how we dress ourselves day to day is of little matter.  What is of note, and serious importance, is how much he defends the rights of those who live outside the norm.  Women and men who care little or nothing for social conventions will find a safe harbor here. And those who are of transitional sexual identity could also find a true friend in this world of bright colors, clashing patterns, and completely androgynous shapes.
     I don't mean for an instant to imply that everyone can, or should get on board with this kind of dressing.  But I will say this.  If we were to adopt such a gender neutral, non sexual ID way of presenting ourselves, we could very likely help to ease a great many social ills that plague us.
    We live in an increasingly complex world, where black and white no longer have relevance in any respect.   Our world has become more and more a continuum of grays.  And as such, its much harder to suss out what means what. It makes sense then, that our Attire language shift to express that.  We can no longer be entirely comfortable with alpha and omega presentations of male and female.  We must and should learn to adapt to a world where sexuality, sensuality, and the expressions of our individual personhood are no longer defined by the mass market, or by outmoded views of humanity.
     That said, I champion, and always will, the designers who throw the gauntlet in our faces, for good or ill.  I don't care if you like this stuff or not. Frankly, some of this looks completely crazy to me.  But I don't get to decide what someone else likes.  And THAT, my friends, is the ultimate point.  What someone else chooses to say to us with their Attire sentence, is their statement, and we have not a single right to call what they have said into question.  We can be confused, dismayed or dismissive. But the fact remains that they have said it, and that as they say, is that. Because THEY said it.
   So, her ya go.  Bernhard Wilhelm.  Look him up.  I think you'll be impressed, if not by his work itself, then by that it may mean for us all. 

All photographs by Josh Paul Thomas.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Scatter #32

    Mkay, so now its official, the "holiday Season has begun for those of us in the USA.  The mad whirl, the rushing about and all the mad scramble to socialize with as many people as possible.     So straight into our Scatter we go, heedless of the dangers.
    First out onto the page are the divine Sarah Bernhardt, and her compatriot of the stage Rosemonde Gerard.  Both actors are here shown wearing elaborate and obviously extremely costly tea gowns.  Such ensembles were meant for receiving one's afternoon guests over tea. They allowed the lady of teh manor to relax, often without her stays while still looking ridiculously affluent.  The level of workmanship displayed in each of these is nearly unbelievable.  Sarah's gown with its bunches of grapes all made of very fine batiste fabric that's been stuffed and individually sewn on makes me shake my head in wonder.  Rosemonde's gown is gasp worthy in its complexity of construction.  Just take a good long look at both of these.  Stuh-Ning.
    This image goes into the "personal transformation as as human construct' pile.  Though I doubt that in actuality this young man 86ed all those birds personally, the implication here is of very high level skills as a hunter.  So we see him changed from the very likely quite modern young dude, into an icon of history and culture, quite removed from what is probably his daily experience of the world.

    I was so struck by the amazing young Chinese woman I had to post this.   I'm not even sure why, really.  Perhaps its the intensity of her regard, perhaps its the riot of color involved in her clothing, or maybe its her wonderful, bead bedecked hat.  Whatever it is, I was enchanted. What moves you, when you see this?
    This is called a plural dress. As a potential word in the Attire language, I think its quite unlikely to ever get spoken except as an oddity.  It challenges a reality about human nature that may not be subject to long term change.  We, though we are certainly social animals, enjoying the close association of others of our species, we are not truly herd animals. We value our independence and our internal self definition too highly to ever feel truly comfortable in such a situation.  It would require complete acceptance of group decisions in every respect.
     As a side note, many years ago when I first got involved with the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, they approached me to get help creating a unique costume for one of their shows.  All 40 women in the chorus needed to be able to wear a single dress. And at one point during the number, that dress needed to successfully divide into sections.  It was quite a challenge, and loads of fun.  I remember sitting in the audience, watching the number, and overheard another patron say, "Oh dear GOD, its multiplying!"
    Accessories, darlings, accessories.  We start here with a featureless white top, which could be taken nearly anywhere.  Introduce that great striped bag, those rather aggressively Mod sunglasses, and that snood and we have a really strong statement going on.  This is not a woman to be trifled with.  She knows her mind, and is not afraid to tell you what's on it.  Accessory items are very often prime players is the working assembly of an Attire sentence.
    When I saw this my initial reaction was confusion. it took me a few seconds to understand exactly how this image had been manipulated.  But then I started to really look in particular at the jacket, and I understood the compartmentalizing of the body being done in the image.  What does this say in terms of being an Attire statement?  Not much, truly.  The person has been literally broken up and distorted in  such a way that their humanity is missing. So this is much more like seeing something on a store manikin. So, as a method of displaying garments, its quite successful. In terms of what might be conveyed other than that, not nearly so.  I happen to dig the jacket, by the way.

    In terms of her contributions to fashion and style, Chanel is most remembered for the ubiquitous suit she designed and a life long commitment to freeing women from constraints and extraneous furbelows.  What is far less often remembered is that she made it fashionable for women to wear jewelry that was not the real deal.  Not only did she champion the wearing of costume jewelry, but also the wearing of great masses of it.  It was a deliberate, and well conceived slap in the face to class distinctions.  Of course as time has gone on, those distinctions have re-emerged, since costume jewelry is now made that costs not much less than the real thing.  We do seem stuck in the notion of hierarchy.
    I couldn't help but laugh out loud when I caught my first glimpse of this.  Sure it is intentionally silly.  If you had any doubts you need only look at the bright pink head scarf/wig to know that it is.  All that said, this is a deliciously merry, sartorial raspberry.  Its a visual "nyah, nyah" that demands us to laugh, but slyly encourages us to look deeper.  There are things here worth examining, ideas, feelings and perceptions that deserve our consideration.  Really study this, and see if you don't see what I mean.
    Model Kim Sung Hee photographed for Vogue Korea in the August 2014 issue.  I've spoken before about our current fascination with stylish decay.  There is a vogue, (pardon me) for things that look worn, re-purposed, and lived in.  This outfit is an Attire representation of that for me.  The elements could easily have been re-made from other things, borrowed from other people.  There is a rough hewn aspect too, that encourages this feeling of being used before, of having been gathered somehow.  Its an interesting thing, that in our corporate production culture we have suddenly decided that anything that looks DIY is a good thing.  Too bad the corporate structure has stepped up to the mark and mass produced things that look like that.
    This just made me smile so much.  These eight super dapper gents are from the Congo. each has their unique sartorial vision, each brings a polished and erudite statement to the Attire conversation.  If these fellows can rock such individuality with such panache, so can you, boys!  This makes me very happy inside.

So much for this week's scatter.  Hope you had fun.
Have a splendid weekend!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Beauty Is Everywhere Different

    This is just a straightforward paean to the wondrous diversity that is human expressive beauty as seen through the lens of Attire's language.  We let ourselves get so locked into thinking that what is beautiful exists in fairly narrow confines.  That what we consider to be appealing with regard to our apparel must follow universal guidelines and never be deviated from.  Of course in our hearts we know this to be untrue, yet we largely cling to it. perhaps its the force of the media, or perhaps social pressure. Most likely its both, and much more.
    The fact remains that everywhere you go on our amazing planet, our equally amazing fellow humans come up with endless methods of making beauty for themselves out of wildly disparate things.
    With that in mind and heart, a series of images of sheer human wondrousness.  We can forget that there is so much beauty around in this seemingly ever darkening world.  Take heed, take light, and take your own beauty out into the world to share.

Beauty is everywhere different, and always the same.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One Shot: Doucet At Home Dress-1880

    In the 1880s a significant change occurred.  The vast skirts that had typified the prior several decades had collapsed like a deflated balloon, and the volume moved backwards, eventually developing into the bustle.  What happened then though, was called the cuirass shape, where the body was tightly encased from neck to the hip line.  This dress by the house of Jacques Doucet is a wonderful example to show you, with many thanks, as always to the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and their astounding collection.
    This dress, which would have been considered fine for receiving guests in the afternoon, or for dinners at home is also virtually a sampler of the kind of dressmaking techniques typical of its time.  There are four textiles in use here, and the list of details is a long one.
    Starting at the top, the bodice, designed to look like a jacket, is princess seamed, so there is no waistline break.  The shawl style collar is done with metallic, beaded fringe.
The half length sleeves are of a brown yellow and white brocade fabric, a tan taffeta, and wide bands of off white lace, and end in cuffs of the lace, with bows of both other fabrics.  The bodice is edged on the front and sides with more of the metallic fringe, and the back has tails of diagonally folded brocade.  The final touch on the bodice is the large scaled enameled buttons with their paired peacocks.
  That is a lot of stuff going on, and we haven't even gotten to the skirt yet.
    So, downward we go.
    The silk taffeta skirt is laterally gathered, created shallow repeating puffs of material that connect in front to a triangular inset panel of the taffeta, completely covered with rows of the metallic fringes in use.  Below the lateral gathers there are 16 chain stitched appliques of fuchsia blossoms and below that still a row od double box pleats of the brocade, lined with the taffeta, and folded back to reveal the lining, with, of course, yet more beaded fringe over it.

    The train is caught up along the upper section into a simple drape, and the hem is edged with multiple layers of taffeta, that has been densely knife pleated and has a heading of a short self ruffle.
    To reiterate, this elaborate confection is not meant for leaving the home.  This was meant for at home entertaining of friends and relatives, and family dinners.
    With the increasing use of the sewing machine, more women of less immense means could dress well.  So, that meant that in order to make your station in life known, you had to resort to more of everything to make your point.
I'd say point made, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Protective Coating

    That we use our apparel to protect us from the harsher aspects of the elements is a given. We understand that as one of the root reasons we wear clothing at all.  The other easily apparent reason is our seeming need to codify, and place each other, and ourselves, into a hierarchy of one kind or another.
    But, there is another reason we do this; a less often spoken one, and a murkier, less understood one.  We wear clothing, in part, as psychological protection from each other.  We gird ourselves to keep away the dangers of too much intimacy, to keep out the unkind, and the uncaring.  We strap on, sometimes literally, layers of garments to insure that we don't give someone else the upper hand, by revealing too many truths about ourselves.
    Wearing a vast and fuzzy coat is partly about keeping out the cold, partly about making a statement of grandeur or drama, and also, possibly a statement of internal unease.
  We can use volume to create a false sense of size, so that we are less visibly vulnerable.  We can use dense texture, like fur, to carry over that animal aspect of us, investing ourselves with its potential dangers, so we feel safer.
    Does this imply that we are somehow less well adjusted?  No, I don't think so.  We all come with our built in boundary layer beyond which only those we love and trust may pass. We watch over that layer, whether we think we do or not.  Our apparel is sometimes a manifestation of that need. So,  much of everything we do jumps from the subconscious, to the conscious and motive, before we realize it.  And certainly a huge percentage of the decisions we make about our clothing choices have very little to do with logic, and everything to do with the unspoken.
    Take a minute to consider this. Is there something you wear that gives you an instant feeling of being safe?  My guess would be that you do, though you might not have ever vocalized it.  I know that I have a coat, not an expensive one, that makes me feel secure and fine in some ineffable way.  Could I tell you precisely how or why it does?  No; not without weeks of internal digging.  I can only tell you that it does, absolutely.
    So, we carry this motivation in the background all the time. Sometimes it voices itself in a feeling of comfort that we don't examine any further; when in fact, we are feeling comfortable because we feel protected.

At the end of any day, any time, the things we do have myriad meanings, both cogent and nonsensical.  Its up to us, as observers, to try and suss out the meaning from what we see. Sure, its often confusing as hell.  Having a background of thought, is a huge help, though.