Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scatter #112

    A Scatter post is a wonderful thing.  I get to share a whole bunch of stuff with y'all, AND I get to clear out my ever enlarging bank of images gleaned from the far reaches of the internet.

    I'm going to begin today with this coat form Vector.  This is exactly the sort of menswear experimentation I fully approve of.  It takes a known form, the trench coat, and shifts its silhouette a bit.  I love that it has a pleasing arc shape to the shoulder and sleeve line, rather than the standard strong square shoulder that is the menswear go to.  The sleeve detail is interesting without being ridiculous.  And the padding not only supports the finished structure, but gives us a clear understanding of function. Finally, it is an interesting bridge point between formality and relaxation.  The firm structure feels formal, but the rounded lines and the easy way it is belted feel casual.  A good effort at finding a new manner of men's dress.
    Oddly, one of the most profound innovations to come from the 1960s and 70s was the printed tee.  Whoever was the smart apple who conceived it I'm sure had no idea how it would eventually develop.  At first it was a method of promotion, but soon, as here, it became a way to express personal preferences with regard to music, art, politics and religion.  Now it is an artform of its own within the Attire language, with endless numbers of limited edition art shirts being created daily and available on line through numerous sources.  The possibilities of what can be expressed go from the most bald faced written remarks to the most esoteric imagery.  Simple to construct, inexpensive to purchase and wearable by literally anyone it has quickly become a universally used word within the lexicon of Attire.  Amazing.
    Before the advent of the kind of menswear tailoring that we now consider normal fit for the garments closest to the body was largely achieved by drawstrings.  This is an article that is part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's collection, a linen set of drawers with what amounts to a corset built into its structure.  You can just make out the boning channels in the wide waistband.  It was entirely common for a gentleman's waistcoat to have its fit adjusted by multiple ties, and as we see here, not unknown for the same to be true of his underclothes.  As a side note, corseting for men was well known and widely practiced from roughly the mid 1700s throughout all of the 1800s.
    The Queen was an immensely popular fashion a living magazine the 1800s.  This image from the January 1874 edition shows the latest thing in ball gowns.  As mechanization proceeded to gain ground it became important to those interested in maintaining class distinctions that their apparel loudly express their wealth and status.  So, not only did clothing become more complex, but the amount and variety of applied decoration went up and over the roof tops.  No one seeing a woman dressed this way would imagine anything else than that she had an army of servants to help her dress and maintain her wardrobe.  As a practical matter, a gown like this would be rarely cleaned, and it it absolutely had to be fully laundered, all the trimmings would be taken from it first, cleaned separately and reattached when the dress body was tended to.  Silk flowers can be cleaned of dust by placing them in a bag with some corn meal and giving them a vigorous shake.  Lace was commonly cleaned by being immersed in milk, and then rinsed.
    In 2014 Kean Etro did a collection of deconstructed menswear that brought the interior makings of clothes to the surface.  When we hear about how much more complex menswear is than women's clothing this image explains a good deal of why.  A common suit jacket has upwards of 5 layers of differing materials involved, and numerous precise construction techniques.  Even an inexpensive suit is a complicated process.  Only at the highest levels of construction do women's clothes get to this level of complexity.
    This is a Stephen Burrows design from about 1971.  I love the interaction of the various patterns, and the brilliance of the colors.  It's really a textbook example of what is possible to achieve through the effective usage of patterned textiles.  A great deal of the energy and impact of this article is about the very careful placement of each of the three fabrics. Sure, a goodly portion is due to the intense nature of the colors, but if the striped fabrics in particular were positioned differently this might be an epic fail.  Try to imagine the materials used differently, and see what I mean.
    These three outfits are from a company called Engineered Garments.  Leaving aside the very silly pointy hat, the rest of these are all entirely understandable, and useful parts of a reasoned apparel statement.  Everything here could be put to extensive use in a wardrobe, which is I am certain the designer's prime point.  Clothes that work for real life.  While nothing here is especially innovative, they merge seamlessly into the contemporary mindset of how a great number of us want to dress:  simple, casual and comfortable.  As well all these pieces could be just as effectively made up in other textiles.  Using pattern with some of these would broaden the scope of their utility greatly.
     I'd like you to meet the Marquesa de Pantejos. She was painted by Francisco de Goya in this charming outfit in 1786.  What she has on is an interesting variant of the polonaise dress that had become so fashionable.  In a typical polonaise the overskirt of the gown is lifted in three gathers; one on each side, and one in the rear.  This dress is called a round gown, because it has no center front split in the skirt.  The gathers have been carried fully around the body of the skirt, allowing the lower half of the densely pleated underskirt to be on view. It is such an unusual garment for its time it could almost be fancy dress for a masque, but the pose, the accessories and the seeming location all argue that this was meant as summer outdoor dress for the Marquesa.
    This is one of those times when a garment is a perfect synthesis.  The weight and hand of the textile, the scale, colors and pattern of that material, and the cut of the coat all combine perfectly.  No aspect of this is over or under considered.   When a piece of clothing is this balanced in every area it becomes something more than simply an article of clothing.  It becomes artful in the best sense of that word.  Even the circular, and arcing lines in the huge paisley contribute to the whole.  There is a sense of pleasant undulating motion as you look at this.  I love when this happens.
    This style of hat is called a Bergere. It is defined by a number of things.  It is typically made of straw, has a completely flat rigid wide brim, and a very shallow flat crown.  This one is from Williamsburg, Virginia, and was made up in the later 1700s when this sort of hat was very popular.  The lady who wore this must have been a woman of means, because it is covered completely in silk and very fine silk ribbon which of course had to be imported from Europe.  They were popular for two reasons. First was their utility, and second was how flattering they were to nearly everyone.  This one is charm made physical.
    The instant I saw this image I found myself being drawn in by the coat the model is wearing.  Robe? Costume piece? Outer wear?  Who can say? It reminds me of the banyan style chamber robes that were so popular for gentlemen from the 1700s to the later 1800s.  What is of particular interest to me is those enormous turn backs at the sleeves that look as though they would fall forward to conceal the hands. Also the way the sleeve juts upwards at the shoulder point is intriguing.  I would love to see more images of this, but as yet haven't found any.  And okay, yes, I admit it, he is gorgeous.
    And for the last in the line up this week a truly remarkable piece of jewelry from the ateliers of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  This hair ornament is one of three that were made for the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in Saint Louis in 1904.  Tiffany made three different pieces each depicting Queen Anne's Lace in various stages of bloom.  This piece is composed of delicate silver wires bearing tiny opals, demantoid garnets, garnets, and enamel florets, showing the flower in full bloom.  In total the materials are gold, silver, platinum, black opals, boulder opals, demantoid garnets, rubies and enamel. to give you a sense of how finely worked this is, it is only 3 1/4 inches tall.

Well, that's the lot for this week's edition of Scatter.  Have fun today!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

One Shot: Embroidered Muslin Caracao and Petticoat 1790-1800

    As the 18th century was drawing to its close, and revolution was aboil in numerous places the desire for greater simplicity of dress, especially among the well to do grew apace.  Partly due as well to the interest in the Arcadian ideals presented through various important philosophers like Voltaire a Rousseau, and the growing interest in the simpler lifestyle of the English country life, clothing like this ensemble became very popular.
    Queen Marie Antoinette was one of the early and vigorous proponents of this sort of dress.  What is interesting and sad is that she was vilified for wearing such simple clothing,  because people claimed she was trying to destroy French luxury industries.  What makes it tragically sad is that this same manner of dress was then co-opted by the very folk who derided her choices, and it became the ideal of dress for right thinking democracy approving French folk. Marie had thought she was doing a good thing, simplifying her clothing, but yet again she misread the people, who were determined to oust her, no matter what.
    So, what we have is a style of dress that both helped to destroy the old guard, and begin the new.
    But on to discussing the garments themselves.
    Made entirely of white cotton muslin of exceedingly fine weave this is a caracao style jacket with a matching underskirt.  The embroidery is simple, naturalistic and direct.  Gone are the spangles,  paste stones and metallic threads that typified decorative detail just a few years earlier.  The only other decoration aside from the simple floral embroidery is the openwork at the hem of the skirt.
    The skirt is referred to as an underskirt, but it was entirely acceptable is casual dress to wear it without an over gown.  Also this entire ensemble probably weighs only a few ounces. You can clearly see in the detail images tow things, one is how incredibly fine the muslin is, and also how much it was stressed during its worn life throughout the bodice area.
     Such lightweight clothing must have been a huge relief after the massive and heavy apparel of the rest of the century.  It was, of itself a revolution, so I suppose it was inevitable that the people desirous of social change would take it to themselves with such force.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What Are We About?

    What are we about? What are we doing here?  What is it that this whole massive, seemingly incomprehensible language I choose to call Attire really for?
    Are we merely trying to find an appropriate mate?  That is surely a strong part of it.  Are we trying to define our position in the dominant culture?  Of course we are.  Are we trying to forward ourselves within that culture.  Yes, indeed we are.  Are we trying to access something we cannot define that exists outside of words?  Yes, we certainly are.  Those various reasons for what we do lay at the heart of what Attire does for us, and means to us.
    This post is mostly for those of you who are new to this blog, and to what I am about here.  This fantastically complex, multilayered language we have created, built over the entire history of human experience, is one of the most comprehensive symbolic communication sources we have to hand.  Yet, we demean, diminish, and deride it as trivial.  We call it fashion and place it outside of ourselves.  We call it style and make it something other than us. But every minute of every day, whether we think on it at all or not, this huge edifice of symbols and cues informs and affects our life.  It changes how we see others, and how others see us, constantly.
    Am I suggesting that everyone go out an buy a whole lot of new clothes right off the racks of major designers so you can be au courant with current styles? Hells to the no. What I am suggesting is that you think seriously about what it is you choose to present to the world. Is that presentation truly you,  or is it some fantasy you think others will approve of?
    If we are to understand Attire as a language form we must look inside ourselves. That's a scary prospect for most of us, I know. Few of us are comfortable with extensive introspection.  And some of the looking about in our own nooks and crannies is less than appealing.  It's a frightening idea to try and see ourselves for true, but it's a major player in what Attire is about. We need to know ourselves if we are to succeed in the world in any expression of that word, (or honestly, in any other realm).  Attire tells everyone who looks at you what you are about.  If you wish to tell the truth, then do so, and you will be happier for it.  For those who approach you will understand what and who they are seeing, right off, and less will need to be defined later.  If you wish to present a fantasy, then do so, but you will have to deal with the consequences, when people discover your truth later.  If you use the Attire language with thought and conviction, you can achieve much, but there will be a cost rendered.  Own this, no one likes to be lied to when it comes to the essential nature of a person they have regard for.

   So, Attire is vital to understanding what it is that we are doing, and how it can move us forward.  Could we be as effective a series of societies without Attire? Of course we could.  I would however suggest that we would have found something else, equally as variable and subtle to take it's place.
    The clothes we clap our backs, the shoes on our feet, the way we cut our hair, how much we work out,  and the make up we may or may not use all contribute to what those who see us each day think they know about us.  Their knowledge is surely incomplete, and doubtlessly inaccurate to some extent. My point, the point is this: never forget for a moment that what you present to the public world is a story that they are reading.  It is up to you to decide whether that story is to your benefit, or to your bane.  That might sound selfish. It is, to one degree.  It is also about survival, and prosperation.
    We can convince ourselves that we care nothing for what others think. We can try all we might to believe that is so. When it comes to it, we care profoundly, even if it is about a tiny group of intimates.  And for that small cluster of folk who we believe understand us, would we take ourselves deliberately outside of their understanding by changing our apparel in a way they could not comprehend?  Likely not.  We do not easily relinquish that tribe we have become part of.
    End of the day, it's still about tribalism.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Scatter #111

    Here we are at Saturday again. How do we do this so quickly?  At any rate, I have been rummaging through my brain again and here is what I picked up as I was digging through the debris.  Herewith, your Scatter for this week!
    This pair of fellows is a performance art duo from Johannesburg South Africa called FAKA.  What I am loving here is how they are taking known pieces of clothing, known Attire words, and making them mean other things than they were designed to express in the first place.  To be clear, these are not the costumes they wear for their art work, this is simply how they both dress themselves.  It's a manner of clothing oneself that I feel we are going to see an increasing amount of; partly because of the merging of cultures that is continuing apace, globally, and partly because the world apparel market is becoming so homogeneous that the need to be unique in one's choices is increasing.
    For a very long time fur has been a status statement of great significance.  It's really only since we began to face the reality of what we were about as far as animal treatment was concerned that this began to change.  But certainly in the 1950s it was still a potent cue to wealth and status.  This evening dress from the mid century is about as in your face as it can be about extravagant display.  Would this be comfy to wear?  Probably not. Surely sitting for any length of time would become a sweaty business.  Nope this is a stand and be noticed sort of garment, which is entirely the point.
    In the menswear design community, much has been and is being done to broaden the number of available Attire words men can use. At the same time there is an increasing softness to what is getting made.  Partly this is driven simply by stylistic change, and partly it is driven by the society changing how we are living, and what we need for ourselves to do so.  The rigidity of the three piece suit, as I have written before, is fading.  But we do need something in its place. So the design community is playing around with ideas.  We can choose to see this as being imposed upon us, but it is also a direct reaction to the substructure of our culture changing. The Attire language is shifting as all languages do.
    Looking at this charming day dress and bolero from the 1930s it's hard to believe that only 30 years earlier such a simple ensemble would have been out of the question.  We might look at this from our position in the 21st century and perceive it as fussy and old ladyish, but looked at through a broader lens it is a part of the gradual loosening of rules and regulations with regards to how women could dress, that has culminated in our current level of openness.  Now women can wear nearly anything they wish to without drawing negative commentary about it's lack of fitness based on their sex.  A less obvious part of that loosening is the bias cut of the dress itself.  Even in day wear, the bias cut was being used, which makes materials more elastic and mobile. Sure, the lady still had her undergarments to deal with, but even those were significantly lesser and lighter.  This dress is a step on the road towards greater physical freedom.
    I will never try to deny that I love the shiny.  I do indeed.  And I love the idea of opulence as an option for men finally being reintroduced within the design community. This is, of course, from an Indian designer, where such ideas have never really gone away.  But boy howdy would I love to see this spread to my part of the world.  Maybe I'll just have to start the trend my own self.   I could start with a bead embroidered shawl. Heck I can do the beadwork myself. Hmmmm  And yes, he IS rather lovely.
    This is from Aquadi Couture.  I find this intriguing because the intense contrast of the black decorative elements on the red material allows us to look at the decorations and see their individual rhythms and composition.  It fascinates me how the parts of a garment contribute to each other and to the final meaning of the entire piece.  Do I think this needs all the parts it has?  No, not really. It seems to have too much going on.  Even structurally the dress has a lot happening.  So does it really require every bit of the detailing?  Editing might not be a bad notion.
    I full on love this image.  For me this is the whole dialog about sexuality and how it manifests in our apparel choices.  It's a commentary on our natures both superficial and buried. It is a single shot look at how we are, as a culture, beginning to come to terms with the actual breadth of the human sexual experience.  And one of the things that I find personally interesting is that years back I might have found this image quite disturbing, now I can look at it and see so much more than my visceral reaction would have permitted.  We do evolve.
    As a clean juxtaposition to the previous image this fashion shot is a complete validation of everything we have created as a perception of what woman ought to be. There is nothing here that challenges our old school concept of frail and fragile woman. But it is, of course that curious fur coat that is somewhere between a heart and labia that turns the model into a depersonalized icon of sex.  I understand that this is a fashion shot, and as such treats with fantasy to a huge degree, but the message conveyed is to say the least a conflicted one, especially these days.
    I do have a few bones to pick here.  It's not common for me to wax negative about anything. This is going to be one of those moments.  While I have nothing against experimental and avant garde apparel, I want it to be done well. By that I mean I want it to be constructed effectively in order to present the idea to the best possible effect.  In this case it appears there are multiple things that miss the mark: textile choice, fit, and assembly. The pant fabric appears to be white denim, but it is not handled well, making the side seams lumpy, which might be acceptable in real world terms but is not in runway presentation.  The fit of the top is off, making it look like it shrunk awkwardly in the washer. The choice of a secondary textile for the top does not serve the entire ensemble. It skews proportions again into an odd place.  The shirt would be better realized without the undersleeves.  Your thoughts, folks?
    For women of middle and upper means, pregnancy did not mean your round of social calls was to stop until the final weeks before birth.  Nor was a woman permitted to give over the predominating styles simply because she was uncomfortable 24/7.  So with that in mind we end up with ensembles like this one.  Clearly the only nod given to the lady's condition and needs is the loose fit of the waist. Everything else is spot on for a fashionable visiting costume in 1870. Yes, it is true that corsets existed that were designed for pregnancy. They were more like a bra with fairly loose side panels, but they kept all the potentially moving parts from moving, which was the whole point.  The lady would still have worn her bustle and her multiple petticoats.  It must have been hellish.  Mercifully, we don't go there anymore.
    "He stuck a feather in his cap, and called it macaroni."  If you've ever wondered what the heck that was supposed to mean, this is where you get your answer.  A Macaroni was the slang term given to a really over the top dandy in the later 1700s.  This suit is a full on Macaroni suit from 1770, possibly Venetian.  The slightly outre' color choices and the extremely tight fitting throughout are what marks it as different from a normal gentleman's suit of clothes.  Though it is shown with a bow knotted cravat with a lace fall, in reality that bow knot was sometimes quite a bit bigger, and the lace fall longer.  As a final note, the wig used here is in no way an exaggeration of the hair dress that a Macaroni would have sported.
    As a final entry this week, a bit of bling.  One of the things I find continually interesting is how we are constantly about mimicking the natural world in some way.  We are forever about taking things we have seen and creating them again in another form.  Jewelry is one of our favorite ways to do this, and this is a perfect expression of that urge.  What is also interesting is that this is so very naturalistic coming from 1870, when the style was much more rigidly formalized.  Made up in rose gold and silver, the floral clusters are citrines with diamonds, and large pearls at the centers, the beetle is made of two opals and has ruby eyes.  It's a glorious piece of work.

That. my friends is that for this week.  Have fun out there in the real world!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Take A Deep Breath

    Okay now, I'm going to ask you to indulge me here.  We are going to do a little experiment. This will be an experiment about visceral response, versus reasoned consideration.  What the hell am I talking about? I am talking about an experiment that exposes just how deeply encoded our first responses are to what we see in regards to Attire.  I am going to give you a series of images, and your mission is to look at each one, note your immediate reaction, and then look again with a more critical eye.  Try see further than your first response allows.  It's not an easy thing to get past.  I know, it stymies me a good deal too.  But as a method of explaining the intense potency of Attire and its effect upon us, it's a fine tool to use.
    The secondary object is of course to broaden our understanding, and our tastes.  If we understand more of the words in the lexicon of Attire, that can only help us to understand each other more fully in the long run.
   Oh, and I will not be making any commentary of my own, this is your chance to step up and do the dissemination of an ensemble's meanings.  Once you've gotten through this, let me know how you felt and what you saw, either by posting here or on facebook.
    So, let's get to it, shall we?

And as a present for being so patient with me, something to give your eyes a rest.
Okay, you can put down your pencils.  How do you think you did?  Talk to me, people.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From This Point, Where?

    It's true we have been at this assemblage of visual cues that is Attire for millennia.  We have donned furs, smeared mud, scarred ourselves, bound our feet, corseted our middles, painted our faces with lead based paint, and endless other variants of what amounts to the boundless human desire to express ourselves.  We have experimented with every sort of variation of proportion, color, and texture. We have garnered ideas from every culture on earth, (whether we understood their full meaning or not).  And technology has been there to hand to forward our deepest desires, and make them realities.
    We have gone from mostly having to craft our clothing ourselves, to there being myriad cottage businesses whose life work it was to see people clad.  Then we began to mechanize and more was available to a much broader audience than before. Now we have reached the point where an idea configured by a designer can be in the hands of the manufacturer in another country this morning, and a sample can be in the designers hands, via Fed Ex, by the next day or so, allowing us to push production even further,  and even faster.   The vast bulk of material goods available at every price point level is staggering to behold. 
    But that said, where do we go now?  What is in store for us?  Now I am not going to be foolish enough to give you a straight simple answer. Everyone who has attempted to predict what we would be wearing in the future has not only been wrong, but catastrophically so.  To be honest, the closest anyone has gotten to seeing what the future holds is the film Blade Runner, which posits a massively polyglot culture with a somewhat Asian spin.  Sound familiar?  It should.  We are in it now, though not as dramatically.

    In Blade Runner, endless combinations of seemingly disparate influences combine to create an individual's personal look.  That is even manifested in the clothing of the myriad extras.  I bring it up because it is one fairly realistic idea about where we will go sartorially over the next decades.  If we take the increase of global communications, and the increased access to differing cultures that creates, then it seems obvious that all that input and sensory information would result in a melange of final communicative responses.  and living where I do, in San Francisco, that is most certainly true.  It is commonplace for me to observe people who are wearing items of clothing with cultural source points that are from all over the world.

    When you add to it the emergence of technologies that could in a decade or so make it possible for average folk to have custom cut and fitted clothing that is unique to them, the potential for individual expression based on our personal interests and knowledge is endless.
    After seeing personally what computer technology is currently capable of with regard to patterning and fit, combined with what is already possible with 3D printing, it is easy to extrapolate that we could find ourselves in very new territories in not too many years to come.
    One possibility would be that you could go into a shop, and instead of pulling clothes from a rack, you would select concepts from a program after having your body scanned to the micrometer,  customize the design, and then select materials, and finishes like buttons or zippers, and have the robotically assembled item delivered the next day.
    Another idea would be similarly devoid of human constructive intervention.  Send to your wall mounted printer the commands for what you'd like to wear and while you are taking your morning shower and drinking your coffee, it is busily printing out clothing for you in the precise size, style, textures and colors your require.  Sounds awfully Star Trek, no?  Truth is that the groundwork has already been laid for just this sort of thing to be realized.
    Or perhaps we might see this occur.  There has already been a huge uptick in the number of designers out there. And a goodly number of them, the majority really, are working and living doing their craft.  Sure, they aren't world wide brands, and they work very hard for little return, but they are paying their rent and producing their product.  What if what we are seeing is a beginning of the return to a cottage industry model for apparel design and construction?  The very technologies that affect so dramatically the ability of major houses to do what they do is increasingly available to people with less financial backing.  What that could result in is a small concern of only a few people, or even just one person being able to realistically work and create custom clothing for a clientele that would still afford themselves enough leisure and funds to enjoy their lives a bit, rather than be chained nearly literally to their sewing machines.
    The realities will be different from any of these things no doubt. One thing I feel certain about. The current model of manufacture is ultimately unsustainable.  We cannot continue endlessly at this pace of production or consumption, so something else, or somethings else need to be positioning to take up the work when it falters, as falter it will.