Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Drawing Fashion: Influential Favorites Rediscovered

Drawing Fashions by Dawn Stoutsenberger

I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up when I was growing up, and still am and still do. During a period of relative clarity at about age 9, in the year 1986, I was determined and preparing for a career as a fashion designer. I already was clever with a pencil, and had strong opinions about dressing, but had been fairly uninterested in careers that did not involve performing on stage or screen (except for maybe geology). Then in the fourth grade, I ordered a book from the Scholastic Book club that promised to teach one to draw fashion designs. I think the book must have cost about $2.00 at the time, but it proved highly influential to me then and in retrospect, perhaps moreso now.

Instructions on drawing the fashion figure.
I did make a series of drawings using what the book taught - making a fashion figure or croquis, then clothing the figure, adding details of hairstyle, facial features, textures, prints and accessories. Some of these drawings are pasted in a sketchbook I made as a teenager but sadly don't have to hand. Most notably, and characteristic of its day, was an oversized sweatshirt emblazoned with the words STOP and GO overlapping across the front. This text was to have been rendered in sequins.

You wouldn't make it as a fashion illustrator in the mid-80s unless you could draw sequins.
Rendering sequins is just one of a series of techniques that Drawing Fashion conveyed to its humble apprentices - along with other key tools for drawing fashion designs of the 1980s such as sketching leather garments, fur, lace and pleats.

An archive of 1980s hairstyles for women - and the twinkle star eye that became my teenage drawing trademarl
From this book, I developed a habit that was still with me as an art student in the mid-90s. I considered it a sort of trademark to abbreviate female facial fixtures with a star as an eye. And yet, I was surprised when my art and design teachers suggested I was an illustrator.

After I went to the prom, I went to art school.
No one there dressed like this, but they do now.
While at art school, I dabbled in fashion courses, but kept firmly rooted in an illustration department under the tutelage and mentorship of David Passalacqua. He had worked for everyone, but you hardly ever see his name anywhere. 

A showcase of work by Antonio Lopez at Suzanne Geiss Gallery
He encouraged illustrators to be thinkers and observers and also to learn from the work of drawing geniuses from all known history. During life drawing classes we were encouraged to keep inspirational images in our sight. Well known draftsmen and artists could share space with typography, sculptural works, or in my case fashion illustration. The master that Passalacqua ecouraged me to worship was Antonio.  

Antonio works on exhibit at Suzanne Geiss Gallery.
His works of fashion illustration, as well as his lifestyle in New York City in the 70s and 80s are iconic. Recently I had the fortune to be in New York City while an exhibition of his works was presented.

Antonio works on exhibit at Suzanne Geiss Gallery.
The inspiring and diverse range of images show Antonio's energy and passion for his subjects as strongly as they exude with evidence of his virtuoso art and design ability. 

A page from Antonio's illustrated journals.
Throughout the exhibit you can see how he is looking at and learning the styles and techniques from the history of the graphic and fine arts, and then alchemising them into a style all his own. A style that we recognise as the epitome of a 1970s or 1980s fashion aesthetic. 

Antonio works on exhibit at Suzanne Geiss Gallery.
As a fashion curator, exhibition and communications designer, the rediscovery of both Drawing Fashion and the works of Antonio Lopez was fortuitous. 

Antonio works on exhibit at Suzanne Geiss Gallery.
Drawing Fashion ignited my interest in a fashion related career, and today as a "vintage book" gives a peek at the representation of fashion in the 1980s. It also adds to my reserve of case studies on Fashion Toys and Books for young people ( a paper I am writing mentally).

Antonio works on exhibit at Suzanne Geiss Gallery.
While I haven't posted on here in a long time, many ideas for posts have been coming in and out of fashion. This one made it to public life. More to come.
This one I just wish I could have bought.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ballets Russes: Advertising inspiration in the 1920s

Is this an early case of what we would now call copyright infringement in art direction and advertising?

This photograph shows Michel Fokine and Vera Fokina as they appeared in a Ballets Russes production of "Le Carnaval" in 1914. The photograph, credited to Jaeger was reporduced in the 1914 Royal Theatre Drury Lane, Illustrated Souvenir Programme of Russian Opera and Ballet. A French version of this season programme is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Above is an advertisement for Dubarry et Cie. Parfumeurs in London which appeared in the October 1920 issue of British Vogue. The painted illustration at its centre was clearly closely modeled on the Ballets Russes photograph, taken six years before the advertisement was published.

This rather remarkable instance of theatre imagery influencing fashion advertising is all the more extraordinary in light of the fact that these two samples were among a small collection of dress ephemera I have been working to preserve.

The Ballets Russes has been enjoying some intensity of attention in the past year, and is a lingering influence on the more theatrical contemporary designers. These two bits of paper nearly a century old, remind us that t Diaghilev's visionary company was already an inspiration during its golden age.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Memento Mori: Vivienne Westwood Anglomania MaryJanes by Melissa, 2 Pair

Shattered Silk today becomes a platform for confession of a fashion mishap, and a tribute to favourite shoes relegated to the recycling bin, or at least the dead shoe archive.

I loved these shoes for their comfort and versatility, not only because they are featured in the book 50 Shoes That Changed the World. I loved their design, not just because of the designer.  I wore them in all weather and across a myriad of terrains. The first pair I bought (black with silver glitter) while out shopping for props for a photo shoot. When a second pair (plain black) whisked their way into the shop where I work, I adopted them as well.

They had one slight drawback - the tendency to get a little bit musty-smelling despite being fashioned of perfumed rubber.  A few months ago after wearing these on a beach, I washed them in the machine.  Subsequently I learned that this was not advised by the manufacturer.  I had clearly failed to read the instruction booklet that came with my first pair.

Earlier tonight, I nonchalantly tossed both pairs of my Melissa/Westwood Mary Janes in the washing machine, to the bemusement of my mother in law, who then marvelled at the novel and easy care footwear.
With confidence I told her, they were 100% washable and would come out smelling fresh and looking shinier.

That didn't go according to plan.
They're, well, wrecked.
The insole padding has come to shreds on two, and the others have swollen lumpy insides.
They are however shinier.
But they are however rendered unwearable.

I knew full well that machine washing was not advisable, and I suspect the washer may have also been on a hot water setting. And so dear shoes, dear humble servants of fashion affinity, I regret being the cause of your demise.  I miss you so, that I have behaved in the extreme.

A pair of  Melissa Vivienne Westwood three-strap stilettos in midnight are on their way to my doorstep. And I solemnly swear they will never know the feel of a spin cycle.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Piles of Clothes

Boltanski's No Man's Land
I spend a lot of time treating clothing well. In my work in museums and archives, I treat clothing and textiles very well, wearing gloves, handling them with extreme care and even foregoing the wearing of cosmetics in order to ensure no pollutants come into contact with the delicate and sometimes struggling objects.  At the second hand designer and vintage boutique where I work, mending, steaming and neatly displaying carefully selected garments for resale, is part of the daily ritual.  At home with my own wardrobe, I do my best to keep my clothes properly cared for and stored, and to cease wearing things when they become too fragile.All this neatness and precision can really take its toll on a person.

It has I believe led me to become mesmerised by piles of clothes. Haphazard mounds of textile stuff. Not my own laundry, I'm afraid, but works of art where clothes are not precious, but somehow no less alluring.

Piles of clothing at flea markets and boot fairs are attractive too, but their magic lies in what you think you might find in them, which you might come to possess. They don't linger in the memory with a solemn strangeness like the ones that follow.

No Man's Land, Park Ave Armoury
Last summer, the Park Avenue Armoury in New York City, was the site for Christian Boltanski's monumental installation No Man's Land.  Piles of clothes weighing over 30 tons mapped out, "an immersive landscape," irrigated by the action of a 60 foot crane that moved and created mountains of discarded textiles.  Boltanski's work frequently uses multiples, archives and discarded relics of material culture to create vignettes and landscapes that address anonymity, individuality and mortality.

I'm really regretful to say, that I didn't get to experience this piece firsthand. I happened to be in New York City while it was on, and set out on a pilgrimage to see it, but went to the wrong armoury.  When I got there, a private event was going on, and they didn't seem to involve 30 tons of cast off garments.

A few months later, at MADRE in Naples, Italy, I had my piles of clothing and my cake as well.  Their autumn 2010 exhibition Transparency: Art for Renewable Energy, featured two works that comprised piles of textiles, one of which was a cake of socks.

Gatuea des Chausettes, at MADRE 2010

Pascale Martine Tayou's Gateau des Chausettes, literally "sock cake," strikes as both somber and absurd.  Somewhat glittering in the gallery sun, white powder sits atop a disc socks. Is it a delicious dessert or a foul pile of footwear? A surreal thing that may be meal or bed or colony of cast-offs.

Venere degli Stracci, MADRE 2010

At the same show, Michelangelo Pistoletto's Venere degli Stracci (Venus of the Rags) offers a host of allusions by installing a copy of Thorvaldson's Venus with an Apple, with her front body embedded in a wall of multi-coloured rags.  The artist selected rags because they bear with them the memory of human lives.  The piece seeks to question the nature of beauty by contrasting the female nude of the canon, with the colour and splendour of an assemblage of discarded earthly goods.  Even without those associations being apparent, the piece is fabulously sensual, evoking the feeling of coming head-on with a pile of fabric.

I remember this feeling from being a child at adult's parties, and going into the room where everyone's coats where on the bed, and just jumping into it. So many different fabrics, scents, and textures. Leather and wool. Perfume and hairspray.

Charles LeDray, Party Bed 2006-7

I didn't really remember those occasions at all until I saw Charles LeDray's Party Bed, in his exhibition workworkworkworkwork at the Whitney this past winter.  LeDray was already a favourite, and the subject of an earlier post on Shattered Silk, but this piece made me want to get in bed with him so to speak.  As usual for LeDray, scale shift holds the power of the uncanny, but in this case the whimsy of the vaguely 1970s bed and coats, make the effect startling and delightful. Startling like having just walked in on an orgy of inanimate objects, and delightful because now you know such things are possible.

While my usual encounters with clothing involve padded hangers, archival boxes and acid free mannequins, it was a nice break from the everyday to see clothes in museums on the floor, still being very much admired.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ghosts of Halloween Past

Halloween, London 2007
It is yet again time for me to pull Shattered Silk up by the corset laces, and post more frequently. There has been no lack of topic ideas in my corner, so the only thing keeping me from the task has been time. Yawn.

However, since I am on a brief hiatus from some of my other work activities, and since I have not actually posted since Halloween, I thought to pick up where I left off, and offer up a photo essay of a life spent dressing up.

A few months ago, someone marveled at my saying I had dressed up for Halloween every year of my life, some years with two different costumes. I then wondered if I had mis-spoke, and challenged myself to remember my Halloween costumes from every year to date.

Turns out there are possibly two years when I did not dress up for Halloween. Tellingly those were in my early teens, when mischief of other sorts took precedence over trick or treating.  Yet, I have been able to collect photos of nearly every Halloween costume I have worn.

While this blog does not set out to be a personal portrait, I offer this post as a case study of costume and ritual. Hopefully this might inspire you to remember your own Halloween costumes and what they meant to you then and now, and how they were manifestations of your aspirations at particular moments in time.

Enjoy, and do get in touch with comments, memories or photos of your own.

I add a brief reading list on Halloween costumes and customs.

Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween
by David J. Skal

Masked Culture: Greenwich Village Halloween Parade
by Jack Kugelmass

Treat or Trick: Halloween in a Globalising World
by Hugh O'Donnell and Malcolm Foley

Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History
by Leslie Pratt Bannatyne

Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade
by Valerie Steele, Mark Alice Durant and Phyllis Galembo

October 1978, Minnie Mouse

October 1979, Witch

October 1980, Raggedy Ann

October 1981, Snoopy

October 1981, Snoopy (with mask on)

October 1982, Annie

October 1983, 1st Grade Class 

October 1983, Princess Leia and Ernie 

October 1985, Rainbow Brite and Superman

October 1987, Cleopatra

October 1992, Group photo, Cleopatra (again)

October 1993, Sally from Nightmare Before Xmas

October 1994, Death from the Neil Gaiman comics

October 1995, Aeon Flux and the Crow

October 1996, Sally from Nightmare Before Xmas (again)

October 1999, Bastet the Egyptian Cat Goddess and Satyr

October 2000, Medusa and the Devil

October 2000, Cruella de Ville

October 2002, Drowned Ophelia

October 2003, Skeleton Pirate

October 2004, Group Photo, NYC

October 2004, Bearded Lady and Circus Barker

October 2005, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and Groom

October 2006, The Black Dahlia

October 2007 Spoiled Brat/Candy Doll

October 2008 Egyptian Bird Goddess, Bull and Invisible Woman

October 2009 Victorian Mourning and the Elephant Man

October 2010, Zombie Nurse and Otto the Zombie