Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Happy Birthday, Attire's Mind- Double Scatter!

     This is, and it shocks me, really, to put this down, my 299th post to this blogspot blog.  When I started a year ago, I had no notion I would still be yammering away a year later, and still having things I hope are substantive to say, and fun to read.
     So, in honor of that,  I've pulled up twice the number of randomness from my over-crowded head to share with you. I hope its both appealing, and informative.  So today, Happy Birthday Attire's Mind!  And here come 24 wildly divergent things to tempt, tease, and hopefully please you.
    We've got a lot to cover, so lets get to it!
    Walter Van Bierendonck is one very edgy menswear designer.  It delights me, not necessarily that he's so talented, though he is. but that he has no problem with throwing convention into the river and going off on his own path.  This effort is costumey, DIY looking, and completely unwearable in a real world sense, but it offers something important, nonetheless.  It shows us that we don't have to be bound by materials, colors, or tradition, if we don't wish to be.  Do I think this is entirely successful? Nope, in honesty, I don't.  But in the end, its the challenge to convention that matters here.
    Sometimes something is so straight up pretty, that nothing else matters to me.  If I could own this cuff bracelet, I would wear this proudly. Its a gorgeous example of the jeweler's art.  One magnificent hexagonal amethyst, mounted in a yellow gold cuff, with white enamel, and split pearls.  Not much more to say. Its 19th century, and American in make.
    Cristobal Balenciaga is one of my design Gods.  He always has been.  This is the Infanta dress he did in the 1939, based on a painting by Velasquez.  Its always struck me as a fascinating bridge point between the overly restricted mores of the 19th century, and what was to come in the next half of the 20th.  He adroitly distilled the rigidity of the Spanish court costume of the 1600s into a formal, yet somehow modern feeling garment for the near mid century over 300 years later.  Did this have a profound effect on world wide apparel design?  Nope.  Did it have an effect on me?  Yup.  This image is one of the things that got me searching through art books and learning about history, and ultimately, broadening my life considerably.
    Time was when a man's waistcoat was one of the most important items of clothing he had.  Where his coat might not be heavily decorated, or terribly unique, his waistcoat was a place where a man could express his individuality.  So, costly fabrics, lavish embroideries, paste jewels,  and hand worked buttons were the order of the day.  This example is a glorious metallic threaded silk brocade, with a peach background, and multicolored brocaded fans, and flowers.  A waistcoat of this sort would have been worn with multiple coats, if the gentleman could afford them, broadening his wardrobe considerably.  In today's world a man has no item that stands in place of this.
    Up through the 1950s, the art of making silk flowers was widespread, and commonly sought, since ladies wore hats routinely, and required them for decoration for both their headgear, and sometimes their more formal dresses.  Its a painstaking craft requiring great skill and dexterity.  Individual pieces of silk fabrics are dyed, or painted, and then shaped with steam, or stiffened with glue to hold their form. A single silk rose might require over 40 pieces, each tended to carefully by hand, and then assembled finally into a perfect semblance of a real flower.  This box is full of early 20th century millinery flowers. What you're looking at is the result of hundreds of hours of skilled, loving labor.  Such craftspeople still exist, but their work is vanishing, because we no longer care to adorn ourselves in this way.  At least, not just now.
    This just sends me off somewhere  beautiful and strange, someplace otherworldly, and wonderful.  I have said it before, and this is so exemplary of it, our human desire to make ourselves into something entirely other than who we are is without limit, and when we add to that the endless imagination, and creative impulse we bear as a species, those flights we take ourselves on go far indeed.  I think this is breathtaking.
    A young Kalash girl of Pakistan.  Here she sits, looking for all of it like she exists outside of time entirely, till you notice her feet.  You might have thought I was getting you ready for another praiseful look at the dress of another culture.  Not in this instance.  What came up for me this time was how this points out the growing reality of the global village.  Through world wide commerce, those shoes, which would have been unknown to her in years past are known to her, and worn by her now.  Western culture styled shoes, slipped on, and used as one of the apparel words in her vocabulary.  Her use of the Attire language expands, and by the tiniest of increments we are brought closer.
    In 1885 some lucky, and no doubt well heeled, (literally and figuratively) lady stepped out one day in winter wearing this spectacular Dolman styled cape.  Made in black voided velvet, and liberally decorated with passementerie tassels and cording, the cape has the short back needed during this second emergence of the bustle silhouette. The Dolman also has the characteristic fronts that arc out at the elbow point making lifting of the arm easier.  Its trimmed in fur completely around and has passementerie heads on the fur tassels.  This was clearly meant for winter, since it has a  goose down quilted lining of silk satin.  Lucky lady.
    Two very very old crafts in view here.  First felting, one of the single oldest crafts we have, and the way we created what is probably the first textile ever.  Second, the manner of beading you see in front of you is similarly old.  Once we knew how to make small beads, this was one of the first ways we used them.  Beads are strung in lengths and then sewn to the surface of something using the couching technique, where a second thread is passed over the beads regularly to hold them down, without the first thread holding the beads going under the fabric, or leather.  It allows huge areas to be covered quickly, and for complex patterns to be created simply. And yet, we've probably been doing this for many thousands of years.
    In India, as well as in other countries where a strong national dress is still in evidence, there is a movement to update, and make more modern, the styles that have existed for so long.  Though the elements of this model's ensemble are all correct, all of them have been subtly altered to get them into the 21st century.  Like the Kalash girl a few paragraphs back, this is globalization at work, though it might not seem so at first glance.
    John Galliano designed this deeply disturbing thing for Maison Martin Margiela Artisinal this year.  When I can temporarily edit out the grotesque mask, and concentrate on the dress, there is some amazing stuff going on.  The drapery of the skirt is masterful, and a clear evidence of his aesthetic.  And while the jumbled, and layered embellishments on the bodice are too much of too much, there's still something compelling here, that keeps me going back to look again.

    This just makes me smile.  The utter simplicity of this, with the classic counterbalance of black and white, is absolute perfection of cut, fit and correct textile use.  Its classy, elegant and could be worn with equal grace by women of many ages.  Perfect editing of elements down to essentials.  Bravo to Narciso Rodrguez for making this come to life.
   Virginia Bruce, here pictured, played an established Ziegfeld girl, on her way down and out in the MGM extravaganza, The Great Ziegfeld.  She's shown here wearing, for film promotion, one of the hundreds of wildly lavish costumes designed by Gilbert Adrian.  She didn't wear this in the film.  In the number where this appears, she is clear at the top of a huge rotating spiral staircase, while the extra wearing this is somewhere near the bottom.  Its been said that when Adrian was done with this film there wasn't a sequin, a rhinestone, or an ostrich feather to be had for 200 miles.  Ah, the days before studio budgets.
    Our connection to the Attire language is so strong, and the imagery connected to it so powerful, that references to that language, and the words in it, pop up in art and design in all sorts of other forms. This crystal chandelier/floor lamp is by artist Susan Taylor. It merges a dress dummy with its rolling wheels, a corset, and a classic glass chandelier into something that also slyly references show girls and strippers.  Its a great example of how far reaching our apparel expressions take us.
   Mittens, my kittens.  Except that these are red silk velvet and embroidered in real silver in a lush pattern of flowers.  Such mittens and gloves as these were highly prized gifts, gifts of love, and gifts given in a diplomatic context. This pair is 16th century and from the court of Henry VIII.  Only practical if you've got acres of servants, but then , the wealthy, and titled, did.

    For this second section, I will be chronicling the 10 designers, and believe me it took some winnowing to get it down to 10, who most profoundly affected me, my understanding of apparel, and my own approach to design in my work as a sometime costumer.  If I could distill all ten of these artists into one person, and you could see that person's work, you'd have a good look into my head, and what is the core of my sensibility.
     I'll work chronologically, since rating the actual influence of each designer on me is beyond me right now.  Other designers, like Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Guo Pei, and Iris Van Herpen, will have to wait upon their time for another set of accolades.  These ten got here first.  Sorry, kids.
    Before there was a couture industry, there was Rose Bertin, who expanded to fame, wealth, and international prominence, as the exclusive designer of the clothing of Marie Antionette, Queen to Louis XVI of France.  She was the first person chronicled who managed to cross class borders, and leap, almost literally into the laps of the nobility, creating a new way of thinking about clothing design, and its dissemination.  After Bertin, it was less, and less about a small unknown dressmaker, and more about who one patronized.  It would still be nearly a century further, before the couture was born, but Bertin pointed others in the direction that ended with the Couture we know now.  Did she, with her misdirection of the Queen in regards to her apparel deserve some of the blame for what went down?  Damned right she did. And it stands as a testimonial to the power of Attire, that a good part of what brought the French throne down, was clothing.
    How many times have I written about Charles Frederick Worth?  I've lost track.  It must have stuck in the French craw, that the birth of the couture industry they love so well, was engendered by an Englishman, and not even a noble one.  What happened was this; there was a massive collection of brio, genius, business smarts, and luck, that conjoined in Charles Frederick Worth in the mid 1800s, and allowed him to open his fashion house.  It must have seemed so fiercely edgy at the time, for ladies of fashion to go to a business and be shown fully realized fashions on live models.  But it wasn't just his business acumen.  Worth was a genius with textiles and trimmings.  His grand-eloquent statements in fabric were often operatic, bold, and must have seemed at the time, wildly modern.  He showed women that there was power in what they wore, more than any other person before him.  He also showed myriad others how it could be done, and they ran with it.
    A sometime sketch artist at Worth,  and Doucet, a young fellow named Paul Poiret, opened his own house on the Rue De La Paix. When he did, he exploded what we thought about women, and how they should look.  He banished the corset, (not really, but he certainly loosened their stays a good deal). He lightened the load of furbelows and frills. He made movement in the 20th century easier, and shortened hemlines so women could walk, not only with ease, but without fear of soiling their clothes in the streets.  This example of his work, which I got to see in person at the Met some years back, is a wonderful look at how fast, and how far, this man brought women forward into the 20th century, giving them unprecedented freedom to move, do, and be, whatever they dreamed for themselves.
   Four designers of influence to me appeared in the 30s, almost concurrently, so I'm going to treat them alphabetically.

    Cristobal Balengiaga, Adalusian born, and possessed of a ravenous desire to edit, edit, edit, took an innate understanding of the interface between architecture and apparel, and turned it into clothing that moved us forward, broke barriers, and yet at the same time gave women a sense of grandeur, and grace.  His work informed, and effected the work of countless others over decades of time, and continues to do so.  Clothing walking runways today, bears his mark of sublime, and effortless simplicity, and formal beauty.

    Charles James, who learned some of what he knew at the knees of Cristobal Balenciaga, took the idea of the intersection between architecture and apparel, and ran with it.  Under his relentlessly exacting hands, his hands that demanded absolute perfection, regardless of cost, he created garments that stand today as some of the most extraordinary things fashioned by man, regardless of discipline.  His understanding of the qualities of textiles, what they were capable of, what they could be made to achieve, was beyond simple craft.  He understood the weave and heft of fabrics in a way no one has before, and still has not since.  You could look at his work and say it was unique to its time, but much of what is designed now, is in part due to the work of this deeply troubled, profound genius.
    The child of privilege, Elsa Schiaparelli cut a swath through design by saying that fashion, apparel, and how we presented ourselves, need not be so relentlessly serious. We could be light, playful, even thoughtful, and commentary with the clothing on our backs.  Working with artists like Dali and Cocteau, Schiaparelli made the world a more interesting place, because she drew us into a place of dream, and fantasy.  Her legacy of design was about looking at what we see through a lens that is skewed from true. She offered us a chance to see other than we normally do, and we've never fully gone back.
    Madeleine Vionnet, doyen of the bias cut, was another who edited relentlessly, paring things down to essential shapes and forms, allowing a woman's sensuality to express itself in silk crepe and satins, molding like reverential sex, to the body.  She was another forward thinker, who revealed a woman's form, without supports and constraints, for the first time in 130 years.  But in her superlative hands it was never vulgar, or base, it was always, and ever an elevation, a prayer of praise to feminine beauty, and the beauty inherent in all of us.

    In the later 1940s, someone burst on the scene who changed everything. Gone was the easy life of Chanel, or the witty insouciance of Schiaparelli. We had been through a devastating war. Millions of innocents had died for no reason. We had suffered privations as a result, and what we needed, wanted more than anything at the time, was a sense of continuance, of classic beauty, and of abundance, after so many years of lack.  So, here comes Christian Dior. Following on the heels of other designers who had presented these ideas too early, he hit the mark, right on the button, and transformed how women looked for nearly two decades.  A good deal of what we perceive as classically feminine today is owed to Mr Dior.  For me, he is the bridge point from what was, and what is.  His work, and what it represents, is how we thought about ourselves, and how we viewed women in other times.  That said, a good deal of his work is simply put, ravishingly lovely.
    I leap forward decades, and place us in the hands of John Galliano. I won't weigh in about his politics or personal opinions, that's not my place, or the purpose of this blog.  I'm here to talk about the Attire language, and about design.  Mr. Galliano, what ever his faults might be, is a full on genius.  His theatricality, his understanding of draping, and form, and his desire to push limits everywhere, makes works like this one possible, where others would never have seen it. Sure, what he does doesn't touch you and me all that much in a clear sense. Doubt it not, though, his influence as a designer has pushed the conversation forward.
    I've said before that I would give much to be able to be across a dinner table with this man.  Of the current couture designers, no one has had such an influence on me as this man has. Jean Paul Gaultier.  When I was in Paris 3 years back I wandered into a store in St Germaine called Ultra Mod. They had two shops, one on each side of the street. One carried notions and trims, the other had nothing but hat making supplies.  I went into the dimly lit shop and I started chatting with the fellow working there. He told me I had just missed Jean Paul Gaultier, that he always shopped for things himself.  He told me he was delightful, kind, and gracious.  But what made me love this man's work so much is how gleefully, how resolutely, he messes with our heads about sexuality, sensuality, gender roles, and feelings of social appropriateness.  Add to that that his work is perfection in terms of its construction and details.  I'm in love.

If after a whole year of this, and in particular, after this post, if you don't see what I'm about, then I guess I'll just have to keep at it till you do.  And please, allow me to give you, each and every one of you my sincere thanks for coming here and reading what I post.  Its my pleasure to share this with you, and I can only hope its been as much fun for you, as it continues to be for me.


  1. Wow! So much stuff, wonderful stuff - you're gonna wear yourself out! Thank you.

    Me being me, I have a correction and a question. First, though all the info about Ziegfeld Girl is correct, Virginia Bruce wasn't in the film, and the film was made in 1941. You're - blending - the films Ziegfeld Girl and The Great Ziegfeld, which - was - made in 1936. Virginia Bruce was in the cast of that one, she was atop the enormous staircase in the "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" number, and her character was in the process of burning herself out. And I can't be sure, without watching the film again, but I think the get-up Bruce is wearing here was - only - used for publicity, and isn't in the film.

    Second, are you sure that the garment you credit to Schiaparelli is hers? I can't say I'm any expert on Schiap's oeuvre, but it certainly wouldn't be typical of her, not the Surrealist influenced sort of thing she's best known for.

    1. Thanks for pointing out my error. I was indeed blending films. They merge in my head all the time. I've corrected the text. Thanks again. I was struck by the Schiaparelli, so I did some further looking about and , yeah it really is her work. I chose it actually, because it wasn't such an iconically Elsa piece.

    2. I am your bête noire! And those trio of "Ziegfeld films" do tend to blend. : ) And thank you for giving us a different take on the fabulous Schiap. It's a wonderful example!

  2. Happy blogging anniversary! Love your designer picks. And you know my love of Vionnet. Swooooon.

  3. Hey, Mary! What I'm doing here is in part due to you, and your support. Thanks, Sweet lady, for being there at the beginning and letting me understand that what I had to say was worth hearing. You're AWESOME.