Tag Archives: Museum

Charles James, Revisited

I’ve just found a few interviews with some of the talented folks who worked on the Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit currently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enjoy!

Charles James: Beyond Fashion—Interview with Conservators Sarah Scaturro and Glenn Petersen

Interview with Charles James: Beyond Fashion Co-author Jan Glier Reeder

Charles James: Beyond Fashion—Interview with Photographer Karin L. Willis

 


A ‘Paper Dress’ … From the Late 15th Century

Yeah okay, so not entirely paper.

Dr. Henrike Lähnemann, chair of German Studies at Newcastle University, has delivered a series of lectures looking at the use of paper in textiles. The items in question are late 15th century German dresses that once clothed religious statues. The Bodleian Library has published a short blog post about it here.
Paper has been documented as used in other pieces of clothing, too, but since until recently I’ve only studied 18th century clothing in depth, I’ve never noticed it used during another century. I’ve seen newsprint used in a banyan cap and some wallets, and paper or cardboard used in stays. I used two types of paper when I sewed myself an 18th century wallet, and it’s held up really well.
So why not? Paper isn’t too washable in the soap-and-water sense, but it was a cheap and available material, and works well as a light stiffener. Apparently, people figured that over 500 years ago, at least. Have you seen paper used in clothing from this time, or earlier? Comment below!


Exposed: A History of Lingerie

The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC has a new exhibit which opened today at noon – Exposed: A History of Lingerie. I had a few hours today to go see it. I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the last time I went to see a FIT exhibit. I was really hoping for a better experience this time.

IMG_1418The exhibit begins with a few historic pieces such as 1880s corsets, and modern counterparts drawing on those designs, such as Rudi Geinrich creations. The rest of the gallery is a timeline of underwear, starting with rare 1770s sleeved stays and ending with a handful of 2014 pieces. The garments on display are all wonderful examples of their type. For the constricted gallery space, there’s a lot of stuff to see, though many facets of 18th/19th century lingerie (such as drawers or chemises) are not shown.

IMG_1419Since the exhibit was in the same gallery space used for RetroSpective, the clothing was poorly lit. The beautiful, flowing lace, silk and tulle were reduced to 2D shapes, seen from 4-6 feet away, tucked into the shadows. The curators could have achieved better visuals with large poster prints.

Through the gallery I saw some incorrect terminology, but nothing else stood out to me. I have a feeling that the labels are farmed out to undergraduates for grades.

I thought the most misleading thing about the exhibit was how some of the garments were displayed. You can’t understand a 1815 corset when it’s laced onto a modern form and has no busk: you’ll never know the real shape. There was also a 1890s princess slip with a corset over it, the garter straps hanging down to nothing. It was apparent that whoever dressed some of the mannequins really had no idea what he or she was doing, and had no desire to learn how do it it right.

I was moving through the 1960s pieces when a tiny old woman next to me tapped me on the arm and pointed to the 1962 pantygirdle. “I have that in my drawer” she said. Apparently, she was a lingerie designer from the late 1940s up through the 1960s, and had designed pieces that were in competition with pieces FIT had on display. She knew her stuff.

And man, was she pissed.

“That’s incorrect. And that, too. He never designed that. He never used that dart in the sixties. This isn’t his. He wasn’t known for these. That’s not a babydoll dress.”

Obviously insulted, she systematically took apart every label from 1950 through 1980, then she told me “I’m 97, I lived this.” and to the side, “I’m gonna call up Valerie and spank her.”

In my less-than-perfect opinion, this exhibit was more of the same let’s-put-the-Delphos-dress-on-display and let’s-shock-people-with-corsets. The gallery space is poor, and the exhibit isn’t very informative or accurate. In the opinion of the designer I met in the 1960s section, the exhibit was a completely incorrect view of her life and career – she’d both made and worn these garments. She had every right to be pissed.

And according to her, Valerie Steele has some explaining to do!


Charles James: Beyond Fashion

Recently I took a little time to visit the new Charles James: Beyond Fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was both impressed and not impressed with the whole thing. I suppose after experiencing Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Charles James is tame subject matter.

So let me air the cons first. The exhibit is very unfortunately spread over a few small galleries in the museum, meaning one has to hike all the way from European or American statuary, through the Wrightsman Galleries, through the Medieval galleries, across the lobby and through the Egyptian wing to the Temple of Dendor, and finally down a flight of stairs to see the second half of the exhibit. Any atmosphere that the exhibit was meant to have is dissolved after having to follow vague signs and cryptic security guard’s instructions across the museum, elbowing through crowds as you go. This trek would be better with the help of a map, so FYI, if you go, grab one before you head into the Greek & Roman galleries (where the first exhibit begins).

So there’s really no atmosphere, which is a shame – but that’s the worst aspect of this exhibit. The cool parts are as follows:

1) So these ballgowns are really complex. The museum broke them down with computer animated videos showing how each was draped, cut and sewn. Some videos even show X-ray images of parts of the gowns. The brilliance of James’ design is in his drapery, and these animations and live camera feeds show exactly how awesome his work is. The entrance to the first gallery even has a handful of muslins on dress forms, so you can see the process of designing the gown.

2) Robotic arms with cameras at the ends move around the gowns, showing close-ups and angles that you might not see from where you stand.

3) The gowns are so well-lit, even for being in a darkened room, that you won’t miss a detail. Somebody did an awesome job with that. Most of the gowns are on their own slightly elevated platforms, and you can actually walk all the way around them. Others are on a larger platform, sometimes partially behind glass, but the design of the exhibit allows you to see from most angles, even if it means crossing the room. Hallelujah! No more security guards getting nervous when I bend over to see something a few inches closer.

The brilliance of this exhibit is the way the gowns are presented, and the videos and camera feeds. The exhibit designers and curators certainly chose the perfect way to illustrate James’ genius, and they executed it perfectly. It’s the next best thing to actually holding the gown itself. Visitors get to see truly iconic designs, up close and personal. It’s not a complete experience, and it might have a bunch of frustration thrown in the middle of it as you try to find the next gallery (I had given up finding it when I found it; I was walking out when I saw the entrance), but the presentation of each item is magnificent.

 


The Fashion Institute of Technology Museum: A Queer History of Fashion & RetroSpective – a review

I just got back from a visit to Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, where I was able to walk through the galleries and see the two exhibits now on display, A Queer History of Fashion and RetroSpective. Both are free to the public and open until January 4, 2014 and November 16, 2013, respectively.

Photo on 2013-10-08 at 15.58 #3

Here’s the link to FIT’s museum website, below. Again, it’s ugly because I haven’t learned how to make it pretty yet.

http://www.fitnyc.edu/13666.asp

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk

A look at clothing both created and worn by members of the LGBTQ communities over the past 300+ years, this is an interesting and discussion-sparking exhibit.

Focusing mostly on designer clothing from 1960 to the present, this exhibit offers a lot of information. It’s also well-planned and well-lit, so that almost every piece can be easily seen. Many outfits are semi-hidden behind others, but that speaks to the sheer volume of how many things there are to see. There are clothes from a scattering of the top names of the past century – fashion designers, movie stars, artists and more.

The one thing that disappointed me was the 18th century portion of the exhibit. It includes a 1790s suit, a banyan, and a truly horrible ‘Mollie’ outfit made from a reproduction chemise, a Renaissance Fair corset made from black sparkly brocade, and original shoes, quilted petticoat and red wool cloak.

From my research on gender-bending clothing of the 18th century, I’ve found that an outfit like this was simply not worn in public by anybody other than, possibly, a prostitute. In general, 18th c. LBGTQ people had to hide their true selves almost constantly, because simply being LBGTQ was a crime in a lot of places. Wearing something like this would be to wave a red flag in the face of a bull – not that it would make people immediately think “homosexual”, but the outfit would immediately bring to mind the 18th century debate on the desired tightness and completeness of women’s clothing and how it reflected their morals. Anybody, male or female, who wore an outfit like this would be immediately marked as “morally loose”,  and in 18th century thinking, that wasn’t a far cry from homosexual.

The label did not describe any of this, and didn’t offer information such as where such an outfit would be worn (England, America, France) which could have been crucial in interpreting it. And of course, there is the added problem of the cringe-worthy reproduction clothing.

Finally, the exhibit does not mention two of the most iconic gender-bending outfits there were in the 18th century: the riding habit and the redingote. These garments were a big part of gay and lesbian issues in the late 18th century. While I can understand that the museum possibly did not have originals to put on display, perhaps a picture or discussion could have been included.

I give this exhibit a 9/10. This exhibit presents an awesome topic and illustrates it with outstanding examples of clothing (expect for the 18th century portion). I highly recommend it.

RetroSpective

This exhibit focuses on revivals of fashion elements such as the bustle, hoop skirts and ’empire’ style gowns.

This exhibit is stunningly comprehensive. There are so many garments, accessories and textiles on display that each topic is supported by multiple examples. The exhibit is well laid out and each topic (say, ‘bustles’ or ‘panniers’) is given its own little nook, which makes comprehension of the ideas presented easy. Movies on clothing from the times adds another dimension to the exhibit, and guided tours are available as well.

Most of the clothing is presented somewhat poorly. The exhibit is quite dark where the older clothing is; too dark to see basic details like buttons, embroidery or seams. In addition to the darkness, putting the clothing in ‘nooks’ means that they can only be viewed from one angle. When I tried to lean in a little to see the garments, I set off alarms and was told off by a security guard.

Oops.

I didn’t think that this exhibit was very inspired. The topic of fashion revivals is old, and the exhibit brings nothing new to the discussion except a presentation of the usual topics. There is not a lot of information offered on the labels simply because the exhibit does not stir the waters of this topic: it only skims the surface. I would have loved the exhibit to go into the deeper questions of why fashion goes into revivals, and the way these revivals reflect what’s going on in the culture at the time.

I give it a 7/10. This exhibit is great for visitors with a casual interest in fashion, and since it’s free, it’s a great way to kill half an hour. If you go, don’t expect to learn a lot from it, and don’t expect to be able to see the older garments very clearly.

I’d love to hear others’ reactions to these exhibits. Have you seen them? What did you think?