Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween: A Look at Dennison's Bogie Book of 1923

Have had some scans of this well-known vintage Halloween pamphlet in my inspiration files for a few years now, and thought to increase its visibility and fame here on Shattered Silk.  Costume, decorating and entertaining ideas fill its pages along with delightful two-tone illustrations.

These books come up from time to time for sale in online auctions or at amazon, and there a some youtube videos by sellers and collectors that show the book in its entirety. The best of which you can view here.

I  must admit not having done much research on its production or makers, so please direct me to any info you may have on it. It is a lovely little window into traditions and celebration of this glorious holiday in the past, and for fashion lovers and researchers it is a great source of some very fashionably 1920s spooky costume ideas. It's not too late to take costume inspiration from them this year, and if you do, please send photos this way!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Birds of Paradise: The Fashion Film Festival

Promising to be a "major extravaganza in costume spectacle, dance and diabolical glamour," the 3rd Fashion in Film Festival in London, is coming this December 1-12.  Curated by Marketa Uhlirova, the films will focus on the use of costume as a spectacular cinematic element as seen in European and American films from the 20th century.  Included in the programme are many early rare and unseen films, as well as some of the lavishly styled underground films of the mid-century.

Last week I had the pleasure to hear Marketa speak at a fashion media conference at the London College of Fashion.  She spoke in depth about the films and showed us some tantalising preview footage!

Screenings will take place at the BFI Southbank, Tate Modern, The Barbican, and the Horse Hospital. So if you live in London, or will be near London in early December, don't be surprised if "diabolical glamour" abounds.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Return of Shattered Silk

Welcome back to shatteredsilk.
I hope you have not forgotten it.

Posts will return with regularity, with a focus on imagery, brevity and levity, for the most part.

I will be also posting regular reviews of exhibitions, events and publications in the UK on

See my first post on Thursday October 28th.

And also follow me on twitter at violetreign26 with more links, observations and announcements related to the satirical/sartorial and dress at large.

For today, on all channels of virtual communication, my message to you is this dream of the future past.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More Doris Langley Moore

I had seen this series of BBC documentaries on fashion history entitled What We Wore on VHS in the London College of Fashion Library, but regretfully never borrowed them because I don't  have a VCR.  Currently I don't have borrowing privileges at London College of Fashion because I finished my MA, and the library card has been cut off.  A quick search for the series online opened up the magical realm of the BBC Archive site, where all of the clips can be viewed.

This series was remarkable, not only for its insightful look at dress history in the contemporary context of 1957 Britain, but they were the first BBC programmes to be broadcast in colour! 

I do recommend spending an evening viewing them all - Enjoy the brilliance of the colours as well as Ms. Langley Moore's rather stern commentary and dry sense of humour.  Do also salute her for being a pioneering fashion curator and great innovator of linking fashion to a wider social and cultural context.

Some screen shots I took below illustrate the range and highlights of the programme's topics.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Menswear in Miniature: Charles LeDray

Charles LeDray's Mens Suits installation, an Artangel commission somewhat recently exhibited in London was what what actually inspired me to want to write a blog.  I had thought to write it a proper review for publication in the fashion academic sphere, but as time has passed and it is with awe and admiration mainly that I think of it, I prefer to sing its praises here, and to inspire others to seek out LeDray's work.  Other reviewers have also found it worthy of praise.
I went to see the piece on what was meant to be its closing day at the old Chiltern Fire Station near Baker Street.  Stepping into the cavernous yet intimate room, I immediately stopped to take it in, a highly effective trick of scale, and then - whoosh - I was immersed in the wondrous realm of the miniature.  The three installations of men's clothing in miniature were enrapturing.  Like awkward mistakes in perspective or dollhouses you must climb stairs to peer into, the installation conjured a simultaneous feeling of unease and delight.  

Closer inspection revealed a wealth of detail and immediate awareness of an artist's passionate obsession and commitment to process.  The exhibition's catalog includes a number of explanatory essays on the piece, LeDray and the work's context.  I hope to add to those analyses not with more of the same, but with the personal reflections it generated.

The first tableau I spent time engaging with appears as a second hand clothing store.  Unique but familiar, vaguely vintage menswear crowd a circular rail and rectangular table.   The clothes are arranged as they would be in a charity shop - neat yet somewhat shabby in themselves, bearing signs of wear and evoking the lives to which they have been witness. Because each garment is a scaled down replica of an actual garment from which it was cut, these pieces are like relics of an ideal form.  Originals destroyed in order to make single copies.

The second vignette takes the viewer behind the scenes of what feels like the same second hand store, to its storage and work room.  Here bins and crowded rails of clothing sit beside laundry bags, an iron and board and stepladder.  The virtuoso skill in producing replicas in miniature becomes overwhelming as the eye travels over a hanger full of tiny leather gloves, and the rail laden with plastic and wire hangers.  A few of the wire hangers even bear the standard paper dry cleaners thank you label.  I didn't know at the time that LeDray was based in New york City, but the canvas bin, and dry cleaner's tags immediately caused me a wave of nostalgia and a flood of memories of rummaging through rails at the Salvation Army on 44th Street searching for the right sized trousers while costume designing on a miniscule budget.

The last installation, of a tailor's dummy, and pinwheel arrangement of neckties on a round table, didn't captivate me as much as the others.  However, I was distracted because as I approached it, I was no longer alone in the space.  A young father with a toddler in a pram entered the gallery and stood behind the charity shop scene.  Seeing the scale of others in relation to the work re-ignited the uncanny feeling of discrepancy in scale.  Even the small child would seem a giant if he chose to break free of his pushchair and enter the scenes (which I secretly hoped he would).

After taking some frantic notes, and considering breaking the rules by taking photographs, I reluctantly left the old fire station, pleased that I had decided to venture west of Liverpool Street that day, but disappointed that the show was about to close and I could not recommend it fiercely and visit it again.

Then, on a trip to Rotterdam to see the work of my tutor Judith Clark (Art into Fashion and the Bueymann von Beuningen Museum) I was rewarded with another view of Mens Suits.  Following its premiere in London, the work travelled to Rotterdam and was installed just outside the Art into Fashion show.  

Here in the stark modern museum, the clothes seemed to be trying a little harder to appear significant.  Yet, they seemed also to be proudly on tour, challenging people to stop on their way to the gift shop or for an espresso break.  And here, you could take pictures.  And pictures with other spectators present.

Although the actual experience of scale inertia can only come by seeing the actual work, the pictures here do some justice in conveying the sense of uncanny quietude and wistful nostalgia that Mens Suits inspired - twice.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Celebrity Museum Mannequins

This fledgling blog and its author have been fortunate to have the encouragement of a small group readers, and you seem to have most enjoyed the peek into the Harrod's archive, so this week, another look at forgotten fashion exhibition ephemera.  This time, a close look at the 1957 guide to the  Museum Costume at Eridge Castle With Commentary on the Trends of Fashion by Doris Langley Moore.  Ms. Langley Moore, who in 1963 founded the Museum of Costume at Bath, is also famous for debunking the myth of the 18 inch Victorian waist via primary research: measuring the waists of over 200 Victorian corsets and bodices, finding none less than 21.  So equip yourself with that knowledge when the need to defend corsetry arises, as it often does.

I recently purchased a copy of The Museum of Costume booklet, bound in a metallic bronze soft cover from an Amazon marketplace seller for the bargain price of £3.50.  To my delight, it arrived with a treasure between its first and second pages: a newspaper clipping of a review of the museum! This yellowing fragment of an unknown newspaper lauds the exhibition, its life-like display scenarios, and the connections it makes between historic and contemporary fashion.  So, like the Harrod's pamphlet, it has a keen eye towards the use of history to market contemporary fashionable dress.

Inside the booklet, Doris Langley Moore introduces us to the collection, and describes some of the challenges and methods of curating dress in museums.  She outlines the problems encountered by dress historians in attempting to accurately and engagingly display items of clothing, most of which are still faced by fashion curators today.  Although the publishing of this honest and informative portrait of the work of an early dress historian is surprising in itself, what is even more remarkable are the illustrations in this booklet.  A range of historic garments from the collection dating from 1760 to 1924 are pictured - on living celebrity models! 

Yes, photographs of historic and irreplaceable garments modeled by contemporary celebrities.  Needless to say, this choice of presentation is not an option for fashion curators in the 21st century.  Wearing museum artefacts is anathema to the very aims of textile preservation, but I am fairly certain that when faced with archives full of beautiful garments, even the most dedicated fashion academic must have considered slipping something on...just for a moment-just one shoe? or something from a handling collection? Even if you have resisted the temptation up to now, then take a look at these gorgeous, if slightly anachronistic portraits of British actors and aristocrats in the togs of yesteryear, and then just imagine yourself or your favourite thespian in a pelisse, petticoat or polonaise. 

While the opportunity to actually don fashion artefacts does not come around too often, portraits of present day people wearing historic dress have not been entirely eschewed by British photographers.  Take as example the recent work of Tom Hunter, whose portraits of Museum of London staff and patrons in varying degrees of anachronistic dress and settings are currently on display in the museum lobby.  So, despite the preciousness of artefacts, there is still room for some dressing up and posing in the dress of days gone by. All hail the glamour of anachronism.  

Please do check out the work of Tom Hunter at the Museum of London, and read more about him and see more of his work here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shanghai Surprise: Prada's Spring Awakening

Pictures usually succeed where words will fail, and in fashion it seems that video is having more than its day as a medium for artistic advertising. On the streets of Shanghai in a world of nostalgia outside of time, Prada presents its spring/summer 2010 menswear collection in this spellbinding short film by Yang Dufong.

Do watch the film, but make sure to dim the lights, and prepare for magic realism in stark black and white.

Two Costume Confessions

Now before you go thinking this is turning into a personal drama blog, read on and be assured you are in for some rarely seen costume history material culture. And a big dose of the marketing of fashion history by Britain's most famous luxury department store.

That brings me to the confession. I've only been inside it once, and that was to use the loo on my first trip to London nearly fifteen years ago.  Now, living here for the past five years, I haven't ventured in, even for a pitstop. Liberty lures me often, but I have never been ensnared by Harrod's
That said, I have instead become terribly smitten with a pamphlet Harrod's produced in 1949 to celebrate its centennial. And just how did they publicize this event in retail history? Not with a sale or splashy ad campaign, but with a costume exhibition! As this practice is currently in vogue, with stores and brands like Jaeger and Marks and Spencer mounting academic exhibitions of their material archives, it is a perfect time to have a closer look at this early example of retailers linking contemporary fashion to its history.

How I have come to discover this exquisitely designed brochure, and to shed some scanner light on it, is my second confession.  I borrowed this item from the small but brilliant library at The Motley Theatre Design Course where I studied.  Then I put it in a file of things to look at later. Two years later.  So, thanks to this blog, it has come to the top of the list of things to share, and thus I can now return it to Motley with humble thanks and embarrassment.  To Motley, and to Percy Harris who built the library and has inspired generations of theatre design students I dedicate this post.

Without further ado, or further comment:
 Harrod's 100 Years of Fashion

Hope you enjoyed this forgotten treasure, a look at fashion parallels worth remembering.
And thus with a clear conscience, I may just treat myself to a visit to Knightsbridge.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Power of Juxtapostion

It's always immensely satisfying to see a thing and its representation side by side, especially if they have long been separated or have never before been in the same place.  In the case of The Sacred Made Real, The National Gallery's current  exhibition of Spanish painting and polychrome sculpture, the impact of 'the sacred' and 'the real' are multiplied by just this sort of pairing.

Velazquez painting of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, and Juan Martinez Montes sculpture of the same. 

A haunting and invigorating exhibition, by way of curation and design, it generates a palpable collective energy and yet manages to seem incredibly intimate.  At times it seems as though there is not a soul in the galleries save oneself and sculpted mannequins. But then, that was also a function of the exquisite lighting design.

Installation views from the exhibition

What's that? Did I change the focus of this blog already? No it's still fashion focused, and The Sacred Made Real is indeed of relevance to dress history and fashion curation.  The range of garments and textiles faithfully reproduced in wood and paint by the polychrome masters are a treasure trove of costume historical information in themselves. But the exhibition's presentation of representations 
of dress in both two and three dimensional form simultaneously is titillating beyond belief. In some cases the sculpted figures were designed to be dressed with real clothing, like ancient devotional dress mannequins.

Taking a closer look at the garments and textiles represented I wondered whether the real artefacts exist.  Would the exhibition have been improved by the inclusion of actual textile artefacts? Perhaps not, but here we can have a look at what your virtual curator found to satisfy the urge.

The pillow which Christ's head lays in this sculpture by Gregorio Fernandez (1625-30) is embellished with blackwork embroidery, a technique which the Spanish were reknowned for in the 17th century. 

Sculpture of St. Francis in Ecstasy (1663) by Pedro de Mena and The Robe of the Theotokos  (presently kept in a museum in Zugdidi, Georgia). Although it is a Greek example, the shape and texture of the garment are very similar.

This mens' shirt from 17th century Spain, although not a religious garment is a rare surviving example of clothing from the period and also bears similarity of texture and fabrication to the ecclesiastical wear displayed in the exhibition.

This sculpture of St. Francis Borgia (c. 1624) by Montanes and Pacheco is an imagen de vestir, a mannequin dressed in a cassock that would have also been dress in elaborate garments for religious occasions. The painted cloth gives the semblance of soft black leather.  Perhaps this piece will inspire some fashion designers, and we may see cassock coats processing down the runways before long!

For more information on the exhibition visit the National Gallery's website, where you can learn more about the works on display and view a video introduction by curator Xavier Bray.  

The Allure of Decay

A few years ago, shortly after the beginning of the new year, an acquaintance surprised me by offering that his New Year's Resolution was to avoid being attracted by decay.  This alarming but considered decision struck me as nearly blasphemous. How could one avoid an aesthetic affinity for ruined castles, or the whole of Venice, or the colours of rust and patina? Moreover how could I imagine resisting the allure of the exquisite decay of clothing and textiles? Threadbare cotton velvet? Discoloured table linens? Fraying beadwork? Shattered silk?

Well, to each his own.  At the time, I didn't actually know what shattered silk was. In terms of costume artefacts it is synonymous with death. Once diagnosed with a case of shattered silk, a dress will never likely be exhibited, or even seen. Shattered silk: Irreversible, irreparable and yet, irresistible.  

An example of shattering on a 17th century embroidery from the Liverpool Museum

Although this blog will most often celebrate the preservation and exhibition of dress and textiles, those barely surviving but still mesmerising pieces are sources of inspiration nonetheless. When the opportunity arises to feature and share images of garments afflicted by time and touch, it will be seized. Consider it a New Year's resolution.

For more information on textile conservation and the effects of shattered silk see Alexandra Palmers article 'A bomb in the collection: researching and exhibiting early 20th-century fashion' published in The Future of the 20th Century: Collecting, Interpreting and Conserving Modern Materials (2006).