Saturday, June 18, 2016

Scatter #106

    The week zips right by in a blur of over-stimulation of our senses.  Who am I to decide to give you a rest from that?  Here's this week's edition of random fascinations to delight and inform. Enjoy!

    I can practically hear the "nope, no way in hell" going through your heads.  This is a tough one.  Even without the ridiculous plastic upholstery cover, this would be a hard sell for most.  Why?  It's the proportions of the garment here that challenge.  Mostly because the architecture of the cut deliberately makes the model look wider than she is, and not in ways we currently find appealing.  Now what I find interesting, and what makes me wish I could see this in motion is the visual feedback happening between the dress textile and the plastic sheath over it.  Walking this must have been a constantly shifting block of pattern, that could potentially be mesmerizing to see. So what I take away from this is wanting to see some other paired garments that utilize this same layering, but in a more realistically wearable way.  This could be really good.
    People have more than once consulted me about tattoos they were considering, even though I have no ink of my own.  My response is usually a layered one.  There are three things I believe that must be considered very carefully.  Scale, coloration, and placement.  The most gorgeous tattoo work can fail if one of these things is out of alignment.  But to my mind the most significant is placement.  While I cannot say I care for the quality of the imagery here, it's placement is perfect.  What it ends up doing is actually calling more attention to the man's face, by situating right below the jaw line, all the way around. Now, if this is a fake, painted on for a style shoot, i forgive the less than stellar work. But I must applaud how well conceived the positioning is.
    Doing some research on this image I found it repeatedly referred to as a la Garconne image.  That is erroneous.  The 1920s style la Garconne encouraged mannish dress for women, but it did not mean a complete copying of male attire.  There were always nods to female dress employed that kept it from cross dress territory.  This image is definitely a cross dress one.  That said, it made me think of something.  We are going to have to redefine, or perhaps jettison entirely the notion of cross dressing as our understanding of the wide range of sexual identity continues to improve.  It may happen that we will get to a point where all words in the Attire vocabulary are equally as available for use to everyone. At that point, the term cross dress will cease to have any validity whatever.
    Going hunting, or shooting, or just want to tramp the moors? This is what the stylish gent of the 1930s wore to do so.   The only nod to our sort of runway styling is the flamboyant neck scarf, which was by no means a typical addition to hunting gear. Most gentlemen wore a regular shirt and necktie.  Perhaps of most interest, however is the level of formality that used to be brought to bear on even such things as sport shooting and hunting.  True, the clothing is certainly far better suited for the task than town clothing, but just the idea of wearing a collared shirt and a necktie to shoot birds is alien to us now.
    The history of human apparel is a study in extremities.  Repeatedly we have found ways to expand or contract the human form in the most astonishing ways.  This image from the 1890s gives us just one example of how much we will put up with to change our physical dimensions in the name of beauty.  Everything about the design of Marie Valerie's dress is pointed at making the shoulder line broader.  Alexis Carrington Colby has nothing on this.  The horizontal stripes of the bodice, banded with those broad ribbons on the shoulders extend the line outwards, then those vast, absurd sleeves take over.  Getting through a door without having to turn sideways a bit must have been rare.
    This contemporary chap is costumed as Dionysos, and I love the exuberant use of color, which serves to amp up the sensuality of the Dionysos legend and meaning.  I also love the small bit of cultural intersection with the Maori inspired face paint that takes this away from being entirely Euro-centric.  When we choose to take ourselves out of real life and get up in costume, no matter how much we want to be accurate, there will always be something subtle that marks it out as unreal.  why then not just go for it, and take the original notion and play with it some, like this fellow?
    Ah, Cartier, how I love thee.  This remarkable brooch combines three things I really like a lot.  The Art Deco  aesthetic, emeralds, and Cartier.  One of the things that makes this especially interesting is the carving work on the central emerald plates.  Emeralds are notoriously fragile, and so carving them is a mighty tricky business.  One tiny slip and it's all over. So managing to so densely incise the surface of these stones makes this a very special piece of jewelry.  And if someone wanted to obtain it for me, I'd proudly wear it. Promise.
    I am often astonished by the fragility and delicacy of the evening wear of the beginning of the 20th century.  This evening dress is of sequin embroidered black dotted silk chiffon that has been expertly joined on its uneven edges to a layer of embroidered silk tulle.  And the other thing I find interesting is the quite startling addition of the bright aqua silk satin bows at the waist and left shoulder.  It was a fairly common design idea to take a sedate garment and give it one impressive accent that would raise the drama quotient a good deal. Though this is not a Worth gown, it was a technique often used by that house.
    A well conceived hat is a small piece of sculpture.  This bonnet is from 1885, and is the product of Maison Berthe, a modish milliner at the time.  All the elements are in both color and proportional harmony.  The textures vary enough so there is continuing interest at all points, and the whole is achieved with an air that looks unstudied, as though it had simply happened this way.  Some old hat making texts that I have discuss the need for making all the trimmings of a hat look as though they had just landed there, never looking too tightly attached.  This bonnet clearly uses that precept.  the result is a charming little artwork for the head.
    And speaking of hats this 1961 hat ad takes us in another direction entirely.  While the dictum towards hats appearing a casual happenstance was the order of the day for a long while, the further we moved into the 20th century the less it applied.  Part of it was due to the desire to leave behind anything that looked like the prior century, so editing was the order of the day. Also, a greater reliance on the appeal of pure structure, that had its birth in the architecture of the 20th century, made hats more about form than about decoration.  By the 1960s, with the mad obsession with anything space aged, hats, even conservative ones like these took on a rigidity that seems silly to our eyes now, but was the acme of style at the time.
    Here's a piece of full on high voltage glamor for you.  This evening dress from 1931 was designed by Coco Chanel for Gloria Swanson while she was married to the Marquis de la Falaise de la Courdraye.  It is the epitome of not only the slinky bias cut that would dominate the fashion world for a decade, but a perfect example of the level of luxe that many Hollywood stars of the time considered correct.  For them it was not enough to simply look beautiful, but it had to remain clear who was the star in the room.  What better way than to seem as though molten gold had been poured over your body?
    For our last bit of ephemera here's a bit of fascinating history, and mystery.  This object is called
the Talisman of Charlemagne. It's a pendant jewel which is also a reliquary.  The two pieces of wood within the center are said to be fragments of the True Cross.  It is said to have been found on his body when his burial was opened.
    Charlemagne owned a sacred amulet in which a relic of the True Cross was placed between two sapphires. The amulet was buried with Charlemagne in 814, but it was exhumed about 200 years later by Otto III. Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon, wore it at her coronation in 1804 and kept it with her the rest of her life. Later it passed to Napoleon III, and on his death, his widow gave it to the Archbishop of Rheims.  I've left out a number of bits of it's history, because I could go on and on.  But here is a link to a video produced through the Ecole de Van Cleef and Arpels about it's fascinating life story.

Have a great weekend!!!



  1. Fun stuff! About those puffy sleeves - would they have been stuffed with something (tulle, maybe?) to keep them poufy? I recently saw a piece on an 1890s wedding dress that had been worn by I don't know how many generations. However, the sleeves looked floppy now, not poufy. I wonder if that was just a matter of aging material, or if they were given some pouf-assistance back in the day.

  2. Hi Laura,
    To answer your question, there was usually some sort of understructure. Sometimes a horsehair pad at the shoulder, often a dense gather of netting. Sometimes however, the structure of the fabric itself could maintain the needed volume. Looking at this example I would suspect that the sleeves are of cotton organdy, which has a very firm, rigid hand and can stand out from the body unsupported. Sadly, this garment has not survived for us to examine in detail.