Saturday, February 27, 2016

Scatter #93

    Good morning and Happy Saturday, it's time for everybody's favorite activity; guessing what random stuff falls out of Paul's brain.  It's been a wacky week, so let's just see if that reflects itself in the scatter choices, shall we?
    I'll start you off with something easy.  This is a fashion shot from 1958.  The two coats are emblematic of two differing, but very popular shapes for the time; the reed slim columnar line, and the coat with significant back volume that arcs out from the body.  Both coats exemplify a time when the choice of outerwear was far more significant than it is now.  Dressing for town was a much bigger deal, requiring closer attention to detail.  It was socially required to put your best self forward when you were on the city streets, so considering what coat to purchase was a major question.  For most women, this meant not only finding a style and color they liked, but taking into account the sort of clothing it would be worn with.  The idea that we had to look fully pulled together when we walked the city was about two things, to my mind, one was simply about being socially acceptable, about fitting in.  The other was a subtle nod of respect, not only for those who were seeing you, but for yourself.
    A few days ago on the facebook version of Attire's Mind I posted a pair of white satin breeches from the early 1800s.  Here is an example of the last time that breeches had any serious use in the Attire language.  These are what was referred to as Plus Fours, which were very popular in the 1920s for outdoor sport, particularly activities like hunting, fishing, and golf.  They were normally worn with over the knee socks, and sturdy brogues.  The amount of volume in the leg allowed ease of movement, and the removal of volume from the lower leg made moving through wooded areas easier.  They remained in use only for a decade or so.  By the mid 1930s, they had been relegated to silly old fogey status, and slipped out of use entirely by the 1940s.  There have been a few attempts since to bring them back to use, always without success.
    Beautiful and disturbing.  It's amazing how dense the level of reaction to something like this can be. For me, my response to this covers many things.  First, the interplay of luxe embroidery work and modern materials, like the transparent plastic of the skirt creates a nice tension that I find appealing.  The twining lengths of beads, encased as they are in sheer fabric tubes take on an organic feel that is slightly unsettling to look at, mostly because of the color. It looks like viscera.  Associated with that, the organic look to those twisting forms implies that they might be snaking over the body of their own accord, which is an uneasy thought of its own.  For all that, it remains a beautiful object.  Imagining it in another color, it would take on entirely different meanings, but still be lovely.
    A trope that keeps surfacing in design is that of deliberate bedragglement.  In these often confused and difficult times, gestures like these take on a much darker subtextual meaning.  They remind us of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and societal conflict, so they are uncomfortable for us to look at with dispassion.  Of course the other aspect that makes us squirm a bit is that clothes like this are fabulously expensive garments, made to be worn by people who have no contact with any of the uncomfortable things I mentioned.  So they are also a visual slap in the face, as well as a statement of blithe unconcern.  That they can at the same time be meant as a social satire is part of why the Attire language is so fertile, complex, and expressive.
    This gaudy object is the crown of Empress Eugenie who was the spouse consort of Napoleon III of France. during the mid 1800s. Designed by Alexandre-Gabriel Lemminier in 1855 it bears eight gold eagles with wings aloft.  The decorations include 56 square, and round cut emeralds, and nearly 2500 diamonds.  The court of Napoleon III was known for the extremity of it's lavishness, and for a certain florid taste.  This crown is a perfect example of the "over the top-ness" of the court.  It is almost as if, by pushing so hard with display they were trying to convince not only others, but themselves about their power and importance.
    This is a detail image of a Louis Vuitton design from several years ago.  What made it appeal to me is the ferocious intensity of the colors in use, and how they affect emotion and opinion.  Orange is a difficult color for most to pull off since one of our gut level responses to it is uneasiness.  Pairing it in equal distribution over the pattern with that orchid violet, and with black changes the messages possible.  Our associations with purple pertain to royalty, and also to intellect.  Black is a color associated with mystery, and danger.  Put these three colors together and suddenly there are complex stories that can be told, myriad emotional states.  How we interpret the colors in the fabric depends largely on the rest of the sartorial words that get used.  Carrying this bag, for example lightens what might be a dark message, because of the bright flowers that look as though they were lifted from some east European ethnic costume.
    We really cannot stop ourselves.  We keep coming back to this.  We seem to have a segment within us that can't stop trying to refashion ourselves into something fantastical, magical, or surreal.  Perhaps it is simply our unbounded creativity and curiosity.  Certainly in this particular costume there is a strong aspect of sexuality, both in the choice of fantasy creature, and the way it's realized.  We never stray too far from our primal selves, no matter what we may think. It lives within us all, just waiting for it's moment to come out and play.  For some of us this is an aspect we embrace, for others, something fiercely denied.
    This object is part of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This corset is from one of the final points before they changed shape to encase the hips to a degree.  Prior to the drop to the hip line corsets finished right at the waist point.  This one is from the 1860s. It is covered with bright royal blue silk moire', also known as watered silk, and trimmed with hand made Broderie Anglaise.  Another thing of note is that after this point the corset rose in front creating the mono-bosomed effect that typified the remainder of the century.  This was the last time that a woman's breasts we separate from each other visually till after the beginning of the 1900s.  Scholars have equated this merging to the general lack of willingness on the part of Victorian culture to mention anything whatever having any connection with sexuality or procreation.
    Like any art, applied or fine, it is part of the purpose of it to occasionally disrupt our composure.  This image is from a 1998 Alexander McQueen collection. The aluminum lower jaw jewelry is a deliberate act to get us to ponder what exists beneath.  It is also in profound contrast to the clean lines and exquisite nature of the model's suit, and his grooming.  The mouthpiece is rough, and looks like it might even have been cast from a real jaw, which only intensifies the effect on us.  Though such things are unlikely to become used words in the Attire language, it is vital that they exist, even for a small moment of time to make us think a bit, and keep us a trifle off balance.
    It is often the case for me that it is a detail on something that captures my eye and won't let me look away.  In this instance it is those silk roses.  Each one is crafted by hand, petal by petal, and the finished product is so realistic you could easily imagine dew on them, or a bee being convinced of their truth.  The hat is from the famous Paris milliner Mme Virot who was so successful, and so skilled she could maintain a shop on the Rue de la Paix, still one of Paris' premiere high end locations for retail.  Made in 1902, this beautiful silk and linen summer hat is perfectly proportioned, and expertly trimmed.  It's in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
    Even I, sometimes am left scratching my head in confusion.  As a concept, the interplay of fluid and rigid, translucent and opaque, I completely understand.  There is even an aspect of surrealism in the way the front of the jacket works with the applied front that looks like a biker jacket.  I get that.  Another point where I have concerns is that the jacket, with it's fur collar and metallic brocade is all about extravagance.  The lace skirt looks like it was made from very low end goods, or at least they were not worked up in a way to enhance them.  Where my confusion comes from is that these disparate elements contain no point of harmony.  There is no single thing that makes these all relate to one another, so it becomes a visual gibberish that will not allow us to parse it out.
    As a final entry today something that just made me smile really big.  Manish Arora is one of the many designers who are sending men down womenswear runway presentations, and vice versa.  This men's ensemble walked the runway for his S/S 2016 collection.  There is not a single thing here that I don't totally love.  Each piece contributes equally to the finished visual statement.  And being the color whore that I am, this makes me very happy indeed.

No go on out there and have some fun!



  1. Did you really accuse Eugénie's crown of being over the top? It's a crown! Hehe. I'd like to see your examples of something more discreet and tasteful in an imperial crown; maybe something in beige...? ; )

    It should be mentioned that this crown was never worn, mainly since there was no coronation. (Napoléon III's crown was never even finished.) But you can see it lingering in the background of some of the Empress' state portraits. And, actually, it's quite remarkable, given the brevity of the Second Empire and the massive sell-off of the state jewels after the fall of the Empire, that this survives to this day; seems like a prime candidate for being broken up.

  2. Would that I could afford to wear satirical clothing! And I'll take one of those jaw thingies. Are you sure the flowers on the hat are not peonies?