Thursday, December 31, 2015

Get Your Glad Rags On

    Well, folks, we have managed to skid all the way to the close of 2015.  It is New Years Eve.  I want to begin this post with a hearty thank you to all of you out there who trouble to read my posts and keep me going with this passion of mine.  You are all appreciated, though I don't know all your names. 
    Many people will be out there ringing in the new year in their best array. Other folks will be keeping it cozy and quiet, like me and my Sweet Fella.  But if you are going out there, may I take a few minutes of your time to make some suggestions about what to wear?   Just a nice sampling of gorgeous evening wear to drool over as you dress for your night of fun and frolic.
    With all my very best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous and of course, stylish New Year.  Be Well, All!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Call Of The New

    We are such a curious species.  One part of us loathes anything new and untried, because it makes us fearful that the change will end up being a bad thing, even when the existing things aren't that great.  Another aspect of us desires the unknown passionately.  Our innate curiosity about the world, and about how everything in it works, makes us continually try to re-configure the existing reality into another form.
    Enter the Avant Garde.  Yes, I know I've written about this before.  It is such a powerful force in design, art, and Attire that it needs to be regularly revisited.  And going back to it is important because no area of the Attire language shifts more rapidly, or as far.
    The Avant Garde in menswear is pushing outwards in ways that women's wear is not.  Partially because all the basic concepts of Attire, the simplest forms of apparel words, are already available to women to wear, whereas men have been, by their own patriarchy, constrained to avoid certain kinds of garments. fabrications, colors, and textures, for fear of being unfortunately labeled by society.
    Now that attitudes about sexuality, and indeed about the nature of maleness are being examined more closely, we are seeing these restrictions develop weaknesses.  The design community, and in especial those proficients who create clothing at the outer edges of wearability and reason, are presenting clothing options that challenge masculine ideals, resist traditional forms, and open up options for greater freedom of expression.
    Some designers respond to the Avant Garde by creating clothing that is hyper masculine, making a cartoon of the tropes of traditional male attire.  Some are exploring the darker aspects of human sexuality, and placing these oft unmentioned fantasies out there for us to face full on.  Others still are dipping deeply into the closets of the women around them, and adapting items that have been outside of their dress vocabulary before.  And even others are creating wacky worlds of glaring color and childlike silliness to combat the relentless parade of sameness that plagues men's clothing.

    So all these folks are tweaking reality, in their own ways.  As our society continues to change, as it always has and will, more of these shifts with come.  And as we become accustomed to the ideas shown by these visionaries, they will fall out of the realm of the Avant Garde, and land somewhere within the daily spoken lexicon of the Attire language.  It is a natural result of the association with the new that it becomes, in time, the commonplace.  The reaction that a mohawk wearing punk got in society 20 years ago is quite different to the reaction they would get now.  As well, the concept of a skirt wearing fella, while still edgy today, will become a standard, and easily understood part of the Western culture dialect of Attire.

     Barring some serious reactionary fall back, our society will continue to expand on these themes and changes, bringing greater visual expression to the part of our culture that has been confined by their own devices for so long.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Scatter #84: The 500th Post Edition

    So, here we are!  This is post number 500 for Attire's Mind here at blogspot.  I can hardly believe it myself that I've written so much, and so often.  Then again, the Attire language is so huge, and complicated I suspect I still have lots to share.  Typically one of my scatter posts is made up of a round dozen of items gleaned from my files.  Today's post is a double scoop of Scatter Madness.  So 24 entries today, with lots to see, and talk about.  I'd better get cracking.
    I love a lot of the new textiles that are appearing because of advances in production, printing and assembly techniques.  This iridescent metallic material is a micro thin layer of Mylar that has been sandwiched between a flexible clear outer layer, and a bonded cotton base layer. The result is a fabric that has all the shine of true, polished metal, but the mobility of a textile.  The designer here has been wise to let the fabric do the talking.  Creating a complicated structure for this could make the result easily look overworked.  And honestly, styled differently, I could see this coat on the street, getting admiring glances.
    As globalization continues readily assisted by the proliferation of fashion publications in multiple countries specialized versions of these magazines are made that target specific audiences.  For example, this image is from an issue of Elle Poland.  What interests me here is that there are subtle, but viewable differences in how the clothes and the models are presented that lets us know that this is for a different target audience.  So, even as we slowly build a global culture, the regional differences remain, just more quietly than before.
    This early 18th century gentleman's waistcoat is a real special survivor.  First of all, it shows the bent shape sleeve that was the way clothing was made for a few hundred years.  What is also of note here is the length of the sleeve cuff.  During the time when this waistcoat would have been worn, the coat sleeves were deliberately shorter than the waistcoat sleeve, to allow even more display, as here, of sumptuous, and highly expensive fabric.  This silver metal threaded silk brocade is luxury on a very high scale indeed.  Sleeved waistcoats disappeared from menswear about the 1760s, and never really returned.
    As an artifact of Victorian femininity, this bonnet is about as good as it gets. Fragile looking, delicate, frothy, and yet scrupulously correct, this piece of headgear is a realized object that exemplifies much of what was expected of a women at that time.  She was to be decorative, sweet, complying, and conformative to not only society, but to the wishes of her husband.  This is part of what I find so endlessly fascinating about Attire.  A small, insignificant item like this, has within its structure a history, and a message.  Regardless of how much is still to be done to forward women into a place of true equality in our society, we can look at such things as this, and understand how far we have indeed come in the process.
    Gucci. Spring/Summer 2016.  This is an interesting presentation to me. Why?  Well, we take the trope of the innocent school girl and give it a sexual spin that is entirely different from the run of the mill way that sexy school girl gets shown.  What makes it really different to me is that the black outlining of every part of this entirely beaded work makes it look like a cartoon image, which largely diffuses the sexual charge that might otherwise overtake the ensemble.  The fact that the beadwork is also rendered in cartoony colors helps that along.  I find myself wondering at what sort of event this would seem appropriate, but like many runway looks, that isn't quite the point.
    Sometimes the visual power of color to convey concepts of energy and motion is amazing to me.  This sweater is composed of entirely static elements and sections of color.  However with the careful design and manipulation of those colors, this inert object seems to vibrate, even pulse with energy.  Its like looking at an exposed strip of neon lighting.  This is a fine look at what color can do to present a thought to us as viewers.  Nothing is extraordinary about the shape of this sweater, nearly the entirely of its ability to affect us comes from the interplay of the colors in use, and how they have been managed.
    The Lover's Eye appeared as a symbol in the late 1700s.  The story goes that George IV of England, when he was still Prince of Wales, wanted to send a love gift to the widow, Maria Fitzherbert.  Since such a gesture of affection would have been frowned on, George employed the talents of a miniaturist to paint only his eye, so that Maria could wear it without giving the identity of the giver away. George wore the eye portrait Maria gave him under his lapel.  It became a fashionable thing, and spread to courts over Europe and into Russia.  The fashion for these lasted about 30 years before fading away.  Prior to this fad, the presentation of a single eye in apparel or jewelry usually was indicative of sorrow, or at least a pensive, thoughtful nature.  After the fad evaporated, the single eye became again, a symbol of mournfulness.
    Ah, the 1960s.  Pantsuits appeared in abundance and women found that they were gaining a level of acceptance that had never before occurred.  Where women in pants, and pant suits had existed since the beginning of the century, they were a novelty, and a bit scandalous.  Suddenly in the 60s they emerged from design houses in a way that resonated in just the right way, and women of every sort took them up.  They were a potent visual symbol of the growing level of female equality, especially in the workforce.  This suit is Italian, of a wool/polyester blend, and was made in 1968.
    For some reason, we cannot give up entirely on the lure of the lush, sexy texture of fur.  This Canali ensemble is from 2013 and employs a skillfully crafted imitation fur coat.  I say it is skillfully done because everything has been brought to bear to make it as real looking as possible.  Even the construction style, with its numerous panels, mimics how real furs must be made.  The look and feel of fur connect us immediately to our primal selves, and to the dimly lit expanse of our own history.  The secondary effect, that of creating an image of wealth, is also one that stretches back as far as our written histories go, and very likely, considerably further back than that.
    This girl's dress is from 1885.  It's interesting to see how much it copies the adult version that would have been worn.  Simply take the skirt to the floor, and add a train, and this same design could have been proudly worn by some middle class homemaker.  The Victorian period was a time when there was a positive mania for representing other times and places in art and design.  This dress is meant to evoke the late 1600s, as the cut and decoration of the coat are what gentlemen were wearing at the close of that century.  The skirt, however is completely Victorian with its multiple layers of pleating, each of a different sort.  A dress like this one helped to explain to viewers that the child's family was one of fairly significant means, since she could have clothes that required so much careful maintenance.
    I have posted armor, and parade helmets before.  This one is an especially grand version.  it is made of gilded steel and was fashioned in France around 1550.  It is not certain whether it was ever worn by Charles IX who was born in 1550, or whether it was worn by his brother, Henri II, who preceded him.  There are no portraits of Henri wearing this helmet, though there is a portrait of him in armor, different from this.  Such fantastical metalwork was meant to not only express the might of the monarch, but the height of the armorer's art.  This helmet depicts furious battle scenes, and the crest has curved Fleur de Lis on it, between leaping ocean waves.  Armor such as this would have not only been worn on parade when returning from victorious battle, but also at the ceremonial departure of the army to whatever conflict awaited them.
    One of the most inventive periods of apparel design before the current one was the 1960s, when all manner of experiments were tried, most of them failing to capture the imagination sufficiently to survive.  But this image of an ensemble designed in 1968 looks as freshly avant garde now as it must have then.  the pants play with volume in a unique way, and the freely wound straps presage a lot of the edgier design work that would not appear till twenty years later, when the arrival of many Japanese designers who challenged notions of shape and proportion in ways western designers had not.  What really makes this retain its avant garde edge is that it still speaks effectively to our notions of body shape, and  gently drops a gauntlet down.
    The sixties and seventies saw the first really serious challenge to the evening apparel of men.  Prior to that time there were no other options than black or white, dinner jacket or tails.  The experiments that abounded during this time extended just as much to menswear as to women's and what became known as the Peacock Revolution was born.  Everything about the menswear of this time was on a large scale.  Lapels, cuffs, pant legs were all bigger, broader and more emphatic.  The result was that except for a few men, the clothing of the time was not especially flattering.  Being a short guy, this kind of jacket would have made me look even smaller, and much broader.  Did it stop me from trying though?  Of course not.  My mom, who was a very skilled seamstress made me a plaid jacket that had a large scale repeat in oatmeal, navy, and chocolate brown.  I wore it for my senior class picture with a turtlenecked sweater.
    The decorative work that has been applied to apparel has, like the rest of Attire, gone through significant changes over time, often encouraged by the development of new materials or techniques, or in this case, the growth of the understanding of the fractal geometries which permeate the natural world.  Here, a Gucci dress has been adorned with embroidery that references that geometry in three dimensions.  Its another of the things about us humans I find intriguing.  We can't just copy what we see, we must, and do, transform it into something it never was, often, as here, creating something amazing.
    I have an abiding love of the work of Charles Frederick Worth, credited as the first couturier.  This effort of his house dates from 1886 or 87.  It's a good choice to look at to see a lot of the hallmarks of his design style.  First of all there is a grandly scaled textile.  The floral brocade has a huge pattern repeat; one so large that it does not fully repeat in our view.  Such a multicolored fabric was often his jumping off point, since the other colors in use here all are taken from it.  One of the other things he mastered was a way of creating the bodice of a garment for evening in such a manner as to be both deeply sexy, but also perfectly acceptable socially.  The drapery of this bodice enlarges the apparent bustline, and draws the eye to the center, while really revealing nothing.  His sense of color balance is also delightful. He rightly chooses to pick up the sunny yellow in the brocade, but in small amounts scattered from hem to shoulder.  This is hardly the ultimate of his work. I have posted other pieces that deserve that title far more than this.  But as an example of what he could do, and what his establishment stood for, this is perfect.
    These sueded leather gloves were made in England in 1670.  They would have been a perfect companion to the waistcoat I showed you early on in this posting.  At the time these were made there was a mania for ribbon.  Ribbons in loops and bunches, cockcades and festoons, appeared on clothing for both men, and women.  It was a fashion that got its biggest boosts from Charles II and from Louis XIV.  It was a terrific way to show just how wealthy you were by utilizing literally hundreds of yards of expensive ribbon. The ribbon on these gloves would have been very expensive indeed, considering that it has a good deal of silver in its construction.  And, at a guess, I would say about 30 yards of silver ribbon was used here.
    This here is a wonderful example of the human desire and ability to change things up, transform them into something else, and by doing so, create something entirely new that would not exist without the grace of human creativity.  At base line there is plain weave.  It is the simplest, oldest form of weaving, predating any kind of codified language.  Then, plain weave is varied, given other forms like the basket weave of the blue sections on the hip, and sleeve, and the gridwork of the shoulder line.  To that is added some encrustations, like barnacles, or fungi that grow over the gridwork, sometimes taking scrolling, curvate form.  But all of this is created and made real with tiny glass beads sewn down in patterns by the hands of skilled artisans whose life work it is to create such evanescent loveliness.  We. Are. Amazing.  Our capacity to create beauty is boundless.  How very sad it is that we squander this gift on hatred, and death.
    This is Liya Kibede and Michael P. Jordan modeling for Vogue in the August 2014 issue, photograph by Patrick Demarchelier.   What makes me so very happy about this is that this is where I want us, as a culture to get to. I want us to get to a place where, regardless of ethnicity, background or religion, we can raise each other up, as these two gorgeous people have been.  I understand that this falls short. I understand that this is a white folks version of what people of color should be like.  I get that.  What I see here though, is the change. I see the emergence of a real identity.  Sure, this is filtered through a patriarchal, Caucasian view of things, but it is my hope, (and I am ever hopeful) that we will get to the point where we will not see these people as people of color, but only as beautiful people, like I do now.  I mean, how could anyone resist those smiles?
    Whatever you might think about organized religion, the oldest and most carefully preserved items in the Attire lexicon are objects from the religious arms of our world cultures.  This is a chausible, the outermost garment worn by Catholic priests in the religious service of the Mass.  This particular one was made in1593. What makes it especially wondrous is that the pattern you see is woven en disposition.  It was woven to be that shape, that size, and have those images precisely where they are in the finished garment. That means that this is without question the most costly method of creating an item of clothing.  The textile is woven entirely to purpose, and cannot be altered for size or shape.  It fits this person, this function, and no other.  What we have gone to to praise our deities is amazing.
    In the 1800s, mostly due to the unearthing of the amazing ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, a fashion developed for mirco-mosaic jewelry. This piece, made in Naples in 1808 is a wonderful blending of the Neoclassical style and the micro-mosaic technique.  Each losenge shows ceramic sea shells that are surrounded by mosaic fields of dark blue. Such jewelry as this looked splendid on the unrelieved surfaces of the women's clothing of the first decade of the 1800s. Gold mounting. Lapis Lazuli micro tiles. ceramic shell forms, and assorted other semi precious stones as additional micro-mosaic tile work.
    While the hoi polloi, and the upper classes were merrily getting themselves mashed together into a singular view of Attire, the peasants were just as happily going their own merry way, clinging to their traditional forms of dress and lifting them in the process to iconic status, that now, in the 21st century, informs countless designer's work. This is a vest from Eastern Europe. It could be from any of a number of countries slammed together at the border of Russia.  What is important is that the shape, style and decoration are so profound that garments like these have ascended out of commonality of speech, into the area of the Attire language reserved for the eternal. A piece of clothing of this sort, tied as it is to its culture, is also outside of time and place. It's quality of design and workmanship make it so.  I've included all the images I have of this so you can really understand what I mean.
    These two stunning gentlemen are a pair of most likely Punjabi princes, of northern India.  Their elaborate costumes imply that they are both grooms, since they are wearing the sehra.  The sehra is that large piece attached to the front of the turban that covers the face on one side.  It is also sometimes known as a curtain sehra.  The style and materials of them vary a great deal from region to region.  One gentleman is wearing a silk coat called a sherwani, heavily embroidered in gold.  The other fellow has on a coat style called the jama, in silk brocade.  I've said it before, no culture on earth does Man Glam like the people of India.  Spectacular.
    And for the final entry in this massive posting a completely different kind of glamour.  With thanks to one of my favorite designers, Jean Paul Gaultier, this smashing looking evening ensemble.  what makes this so spectacular is those textiles, they are close on dizzying to look at with their spirals and dazzle in combination.  Those three fabrics together take what is in reality a quite simple idea, a sleeveless jumpsuit, and a big coat, and turn it into electrifying theater.  And who doesn't need a bit of theater now and then?

    Hoh Kay.
    That is it for this week.  I will be taking Xmas week off, since I have an annual house do on the day.  I hope that if you celebrate, it's a glorious occasion.
    With my best to you all, Paul.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Wide And Round

    The middle part of the 1800's saw some of the biggest clothing for women in human history.  Technology allowed the skirts of women's dresses to expand, and expand, and expand again, until their mobility indoors was restricted to such a degree, that moving about was dangerous, not just to them, but to furniture, and art objects.  But what was it that fueled this desire to get bigger, rounder, and wider all the time?
    The first and most obvious answer is simply, because we could, which honestly is the real reason for a good deal of human endeavor.  We just gotta see how far we can take something.  So, we take it to it's greatest extremity, then we give up on it entirely.  We took the invention of the cage crinoline, and experimented with different ways of making them till we found an idea that was able to support, literally, the idea we had of vast swirling skirts.
    The second reason I see was class distinction.  Women of means were able to have enormous skirts, because they had the leisure, the money, and support in the person of servants to make and keep up their apparel.  Along with this class distinction was the visible display of excess. Sure, some of these pictured clothes are fairly restrained for the time, but simply the ridiculous amount of fabric required to make a dress, spoke about rank, and money; especially money.  And when that same lady could afford to bedeck that amazing expanse with lace, ribbon, silk flowers or other trimmings, all the better for her.
    With the invention earlier in the 1800s of the sewing machine,  it was possible for women to make up these huge dresses much more quickly, so in order to maintain the semblance of class order, the wealthy made sure that the additional trimmings were luxurious, and plentiful.  Massive amounts of lace, ribbon, and appliques assured that rank stayed rank. 
    The third reason is a deeper, and somewhat darker one; certainly not one that most people would have consciously considered.  Putting a woman into a garment that made the lower half of her huge, but diminished her upper body, making her head look tiny, was a not very subtle slap.  Women were not meant to think, or to express their opinions.  They were meant to produce children, and be decorative.  That it was women themselves who were devising and wearing this clothing is revelatory about how women felt about themselves.  They were still to a very great degree buying into the entire patriarchal set up.  So they willingly supported men's ideas of them, by creating this vision of compliant rectitude.
    A woman dressed in this way was incapable of much in the way of physical activity, and since the creation and maintenance of these clothes took so much thought and time, it was another insidious way to keep women suppressed.  You only need to do a modicum of research to discover that there were endless numbers of books, and periodicals explaining correct dress, and behavior to women. So in addition to the actual process of dressing, they spent time reading up on what was correct, and fashionable, to a degree far greater than we do now.
    Of course, seen through the lens of the past, we can look at these clothes and find them beautiful, and deeply romantic. It is important to remember when we look at them, that there was a reality that went with them that we cannot ultimately know completely.