Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Beauty Babe: Masterpiece Makeovers

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Masterpiece makeovers by Jacqui Morgan from Viva, January 1979.



furry furry II

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John Anthony ads, scanned from Viva, January 1979 (top) and December 1978 (bottom).



Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Power of Making

Below is another review that I have written for the Russian edition of Fashion Theory, this time on the Victoria and Albert Museum's current exhibtion, 'The Power of Making,' which is on view until 2 January 2012.

Ideas of craft and textiles/ fashion are inextricably linked. While the connection between the hand and the garment has become increasingly divided through mass production and factory work, the long history of hand-production still informs clothing today. Small scale bespoke and dressmaking establishments continue to use traditional methods, and there has been resurgence in interest in hand-sewing, knitting and other craft techniques in the West in recent years. An interesting counterpoint to this interest in craft and heritage is a thread of inquiry into how to combine craft with technology, to suit our current world while not disconnecting us from our past. A current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, The Power of Making, concentrates on both traditional and innovative methods of production being used by artists and designers at the moment. A broad range of artisans are included in the exhibition, with every kind of object on view from a leather saddle to hand-built bikes to a 10 foot gorilla made of wire hangers that greets visitors at the entrance (David Mach’s King Silver, 2011).

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The entrance to 'The Power of Making, with David Mach’s King Silver on the left. © V&A images

Put on in conjunction with the British Crafts Counsel, the tagline for this exhibition is ‘How People Make Amazing Things’ and is about “the breadth and depth of craft’s presence in modern life. The featured objects have been selected to highlight both age-old skills and contemporary techniques… Each exhibit demonstrates refined craftsmanship, meticulous control or ingenious application.” Divided into five loose sections — Types of making, Learning a skill, In the zone, Making new knowledge and Thinking by making — the objects displayed in each are varied but share certain attributes. The labels for each object include not just the materials but also all of the techniques that went into their development and production, from wearable electronics engineering to weaving and mechatronics. Across the sections there are a variety of pieces that are in some way connected to textiles or fashion, either directly (a garment), through a technique, or through an included element. On the right side of the room there is a grouping of five pieces of clothing, including a Sandra Backlund navy short-sleeve hand-knitted dress (2008) whose sculptural form is derived from the human skeleton.

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Knitted dress by Sandra Backlund. © John Scarisbrick.

Next to this are two traditional hats (2010) from James Lock & Co., a London firm who have been in business since 1676, as well as the Bio-Suit extra vehicular activity spacesuit ensemble (2002-11), designed by Professor Dava J. Newman at MIT using “sophisticated aerospace engineering, industrial design and patterning skills.” Proving that clothing and design are in a constant state of evolution — so much so that new materials and techniques are developed to suit the pace of change — this grouping also illustrates how broad the requirements and necessity of different types of dress is. Also on display are a few pieces by well-known, high-end ready-to-wear designers. Alexander McQueen’s iconic ‘Armadillo’ shoes (2009) are removed from their historical context and re-evaluated as a collaborative effort by over 100 people. The Fendi baguette, which kickstarted the ‘It Bag’ trend of the late 1990s and early 2000s, is resituated in between craft and mass-production through a limited edition needlework kit (2010) that includes a woven raffia bag, embroidery thread and needles for the creation of a completely personalized purse.

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Anemone hat, designed by Sylvia Fletcher for James Lock & Co. © James Lock & co Ltd.

Of the greatest interest are the pieces that use textile techniques for innovative and novel ends, such as Peter Butcher’s beautiful embroidered surgical implants — the polyester suture thread is machine embroidered into complex, snowflake-like shapes that are implanted under the skin and which provide the surgeon with multiple attachment points for replacing lost tissue. Next to this implant is a ring by Nora Fok of hand-knit nylon monofilament in the shape of a cornflower. Both items are re-appropriating techniques for new ideas, a theme that many of the pieces on view have in common. The incorporation of new techniques into fashion can be seen in both the ‘Woolfiller’ repairing fibre and ‘Fabrican’ spray-on dress. ‘Woolfiller’, created by Dutch designer Heleen Klopper, repairs holes in wool garments by binding them with wool felt — this process can create completely new garments through the use of other colours with an almost patchwork effect. Manuel Torres developed ‘Fabrican’, a spray-on fabric made of cross-linked fibres that cling to each other, while a student at the Royal College of Art. Combining such disparate processes as chemical engineering, particle technology, design and spraying, Torres created a completely new product that has hundreds of possible applications. Some pieces on view are less useful but still illustrate the obsessive and passionate tendencies of an artisan completely immersed in their craft. Susie MacMurray’s ‘Widow’ dress is made of leather pierced by hand, over seven months, with 100,000 adamantine dressmaker pins. The porcupine-like garment is sharp and heavy, more sculpture than clothing.

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'The Power of Making.' © V&A images

It is doubtful that an artist or designer could visit this exhibition without being inspired. Even the objects that seem to have little connection to fashion and textiles are displayed in such a manner — in a context of ‘anything goes’ — that it is impossible not to wonder how they could be incorporated with clothing production. How can portable, desktop 3D printers, such as the Up! Printer (Delta Micro Factory Corporation, 2010), be used in fashion? The Eggbot Robot–art Kit (Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman for Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, 2010), a machine that allows you to paint on anything spherical, is open-source and specifically designed in order to be hacked. With products such as these readily available it seems inevitable that they will begin to be used in unexpected ways, which will likely lead to new fabrics and production techniques. With the inclusion of two films that delve deeper into the actual process of ‘making’, this exhibition provides a broad and successful look at the complex interplays of what that term means today.

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The E-Shoe (high-heeled shoe guitar), designed by Chicks on Speed with Max Kibardin. © Chicks on Speed


All text © Laura Helms 2011.

Sur L'Ecran Noir de Marie-France

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Photos of Marie-France Pisier by Dominique Issermann from Playboy France, June 1979.

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Monday, 28 November 2011

At Work: Diane Von Furstenberg, 1983

For a creative woman in the fashion and cosmetics business, an image of exotic luxury expresses the personal taste of the chief executive and the multi-million dollar company she directs.

The word sensuous rarely springs to mind in the design of executive offices, but in a rare instance, as in the headquarters of fashion/cosmetics designer Diane Von Furstenberg, it seems appropriate. The client told the designers, The Switzer Group, that she wanted a mixture of transatlantic ocean liner and Esther Williams movie, and it is precisely that blend of exotic elegance and theatricality that makes there spaces work as a reflection of office image.

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The reception area sets the color theme for the offices. Its unusual round desk is banded in signature colors of pink, mauve and pale turquoise. Behind the receptionist, an orchid painting clues the visitor into the company logo. Orchids are also quilted into the fabric covering the banquettes. Satin pillows are tossed informally on this seating. Overhead, the mauve-painted dropped ceiling gives the illusion of reflecting the purple carpet.

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Von Furstenberg had strong views about expressing her individual tastes and style. As might be expected, the most personal room is her own office. It is the inner sanctum of a creative, tireless businesswoman, and it shows that characteristic vividly. The Art Nouveau desk and a pair of Art Deco armchairs were gifts from family and friends. The wall behind the desk is a sort of visual laboratory, cluttered with clippings, photographs, sketches and other creative catalysts. White floor-length draperies at the windows contribute to the "soft office" luxury ambiance.

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View of the windows leading to an outdoor terrace outside Diane Von Furstenberg's private office.

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The cosmetics showroom is the most formal of the office spaces. It is an exercise in Deco sensuality. Rounded corners, pale colors and smooth surfaces combine to form the perfect setting for the display of a very fashionable line of cosmetics and beauty-care items. This feeling is reinforced by the display fixtures and the showroom doors, with their curving handles and portholes (shades of the luxury liner).

Eight elegant armchairs upholstered in white are grouped around a soft-edged conference table - an inviting arena for discussing the beauty business.


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The subtle play of colors includes the ubiquitous pale mauve and purple, with an ice cream striped satin fabric used to upholster a banquette. This is set off with a mirrored wall behind it and mirrored tiles on the ceiling, to give an impression of height and depth.

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A more relaxed theatrical tone is established in the conference room, where banquettes and chairs are arranged in an area perfectly appropriate to the introduction of new fashion lines and other products. Merchandise is on display on a metal framework and lit with theatrical spotlights for maximum effect. The transatlantic motif is continued in the lights on each side of the windows, which are from an ocean liner.


Scanned from Designers' Workplaces by Beverly Russell, 1983.

This is so my dream office come to life.

Cat Lady

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Painting by A. Reiss, scanned from Viva, December 1975.



Sunday, 27 November 2011

Clothes for the Money Spinners

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Editorial by Henry Clarke from Vogue UK, September 15, 1972.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Well, I'm living on dreams and chains

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Editorial by But-Sou Lai from Stiletto32, A/W 2011.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Eye Candy: Tight Pants

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Photos by Olivier Ferrand from Playgirl, May 1979.

furry furry

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Photos by Arthur Elgort. Scanned from Vogue UK, September 15, 1971.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

How the French get into the Holiday Spirit

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Ad scanned from Playboy, December 1979.

Perfect for any Thanksgiving parties tonight!

Night Stars

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Editorial by Norman Parkinson from Vogue UK, December 1972.

For everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today, I hope you are having a wonderful day with the people you love- and that you are truly taking stock of everything we have to be thankful for. Even though this a day more commonly associated with gluttony than fashion, I'm dressing up in something equally as fabulous as the pieces above- it has been so gloomy and rainy in New York the past few days that a little sparkle goes a long way to brightening moods.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Beauty Babe: From the Beginnings of Time

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Photo by Clive Arrowsmith from Vogue UK, December 1971.

YSL, 1985

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YSL Rive Gauche ads, photographed by Helmut Newton, scanned from Vogue UK, October 1985.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990

Below is a review of the Victoria and Albert's current exhibition, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990, which I spoke about briefly yesterday. This review was written for the Russian edition of the academic journal, Fashion Theory, but I thought I would post this here now as I'm sure most of you are not well versed in Russian.


In its bid to be seen as the “world’s greatest museum of art and design,” the Victoria and Albert Museum often takes on the role of the ‘definer’ of design history, choosing to mount exhibitions that set perceptions of genres and movements. Just as their exhibition on Art Nouveau in the early 1960s resuscitated and marked the boundaries of that movement, so too does their current exhibition, Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990, attempt to do so for one of the more controversial periods in design history. Beloved by some and hated by many, postmodernism affected every aspect of design and lifestyle in the West and is still the predominant influence today. By setting the period of 1970 to 1990, the curators are to some degree defining what could be called ‘High Postmodernism,’ which they say is “an unstable mix of the theatrical and theoretical, the movement defies definition.”

Alessandro Mendini, destruction of Lassù chair, 1974. © Atelier Mendini/ Image courtesy CSAC-Universita' di Parma

Lacking such clear attributes as modernism and other movements before it, the V & A tries to define postmodernism in opposition to its antecedents — as nihilistic and colourful compared to modernism’s utopian clarity. The design of the exhibition establishes this difference from the beginning, with the wall text printed on an orange plexi lightbox and a wallpaper of little black squiggles on white covering the walls of the first room. The first object, Alessandro Mendini’s Destruction of the Monumento da Casa (Household Monument) (1974), is an enlarged photograph of his ritualistic burning of a Modernist chair — literally destroying the past — and is positioned opposite a wall-size blow-up of a photo of the dynamiting of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis in 1972, which was considered by Charles Jencks, the pre-eminent authority on postmodernism, as the death of modernism. This first room focuses on Italian artists and designers who at the beginning of the 1970s looked to American pop culture for inspiration, which would become one of the most important components of postmodern design.

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The replica of Charles Jenck’s Cape Cod Garagia Rotunda studio (1976-7) in the background.

Architecture was the first art form where postmodernism was developed and analysed on a broad scale, and the next few rooms cover the inspiration (the Las Vegas strip, historicism) and the outcomes, including almost life-size scale replicas of Charles Jenck’s Cape Cod Garagia Rotunda studio (1976-7) and Hans Hollein’s façade from the 1980 Venice Biennale.

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Hans Hollein’s façade, with columns representing the history of architecture, from the 1980 Venice Biennale.

Theory and philosophy were critical to the development of postmodernism, and are an integral component of it, yet this exhibition, likely for the benefit of the general public, sidesteps almost all mention of it. Postmodernism is viewed in this manner as a purely aesthetic movement, unattached to broader socio-cultural events and philosophical debates. Claude Lévi-Strauss’ definition of bricoleur is briefly explained in regards to bricolage, the cut ‘n’ paste technique that combines diverse references, before attention is turned to look at the dystopian worldview associated with some strains of postmodernism. A reaction to the utopia of modernism, this theme is most clearly seen in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), which is shown on a large screen.

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A Vivienne Westwood outfit from Punkature (s/s 1983) with a skirt printed with images from Blade Runner.

Below the film are the first two fashion pieces in the exhibition — a Vivienne Westwood rag-bag ensemble from Punkature (S/S 1983) and an early Rei Kawakubo for Commes des Garcons jumper and skirt (1982) that is described as ‘post-holocaust fashion.’

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Memphis Group designs.

From the apocalypse to the bright, colourful world of the Memphis Group, the difference between these two rooms could not be starker. Filled with the geometric, multicolored furniture and housewares by the group, the following room visually echoes their aim to occupy a “a state of waste, of disciplinary, dimensional and conceptual indifference.” Unlike anything that had been produced before, the work of Memphis (established in 1981) and their predecessor Alchymia (1978) is the joyful representation of postmodernism — colors and references combined in an almost absurd way. The sole garment in this room is a remarkable dress by Memphis associate, Cinzia Ruggeri, in homage to Lévi-Strauss with a ziggurat shaped asymmetric skirt and collar (A/W 1983-84), carefully displayed on a mannequin with matching asymmetric hair and makeup.

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The 'Strike a Pose' section.

The influence of postmodernism on dress is more closely looked at in the next section, Strike a Pose, a room of multi-level scaffolding and platforms, reminiscent of Blade Runner— including two costumes from the film. Analysing the close connection between performers, their outfits and postmodernism, this room displays an assortment of costumes from musicians, singers and dancers, alongside videos and photographs of their performances. Through their deconstruction and reconstruction of their identities through costume, performers such as Klaus Nomi and David Byrne of the Talking Heads created innovative visual languages that complemented their avant-garde music, while Jean-Paul Goude’s creation of Grace Jones’ persona as a savage, androgynous Amazon — through carefully constructed photographic imagery and videos — can be seen as the ultimate construction of a postmodern identity. His Constructivist maternity dress for her (made in conjunction with the illustrator, Antonio Lopez, in 1979), a sculptural form of intersecting geometric planes of brightly coloured felt and cardboard, is mounted on a mannequin far above the visitors heads, promoting the idea that she is the ‘high priestess of postmodernism,’ as mentioned on the label.

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Maternity dress for Grace Jones, by Jean-Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez (1979). © Jean-Paul Goude

Equally interesting, but less well known, are pieces like Leigh Bowery’s costume designs for Michael Clark’s dance performance, Because We Must (1987, filmed in 1989 by Charles Atlas), which combine 17th century inspired crewel embroidery with pink sequins and gimp-like masks. Also on view are a costume from Ōno Kazuo, the Japanese avant-garde dancer, and several from the Armitage Ballet, designed by well-known artists including David Salle and Jeff Koons. Large screens mounted at different levels on the scaffolding alternate clips from music videos by Nomi, Jones and Talking Heads; almost bombarding the senses with the frenetic nature of postmodernism.

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Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing no.20. Design by April Greiman in collaboration with Jayme Odgers, Sept/Nov 1979 religion issue edited by Leonard Koren.

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Power, Corruption & Lies album cover for New Order, by Peter Saville (1983) © Peter Saville.

Magazines and the graphic arts were an ideal vehicle for postmodernism’s use of fragmentation and quotation, and in the 1980s The Face and i-D helped to transmit these design ideas to more people. Album covers, particularly for post-punk bands such as Joy Division and New Order, were also representative of this particularly postmodern phenomenon, where there was no difference between art and commerce. The use of postmodernism as a means to sell (posters, etc) leads into the last major section of the exhibition, simply titled ‘Money,’ where postmodernism becomes the commodity in itself. Karl Lagerfeld’s sequin reworking of a classic Chanel jacket (1991) is positioned directly after Warhol’s Dollar Sign print (1987), and is followed by sketches and models of some of the more over-the-top buildings constructed in the boom years of the late 1980s. As postmodern designers began to partner with more mass-market producers — selling teapots and other household goods to all price points — they became complicit in their success and their demise. The amalgamation of references were viewed as pastiche and became antiquated as soon as the markets started to fall, with anything classic and traditional seen as a safer bet — “postmodernism collapsed under the weigh of its own success” and became so mainstream and omnipresent that a backlash was inevitable.

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Jenny Holzer's billboard in Times Square, 1982.

Finishing up with a few late 1980s artistic reactions to the movement and a small room screening New Order’s video for Bizarre Love Triangle (1986), this exhibition covers most aspects of postmodern design and will likely help many visitors understand it aesthetically. Focusing primarily on the decorative arts and architecture, fashion is seen here almost solely in the context of performance, yet postmodernism’s influence on fashion, and dress in general, was monumental — by throwing out the rules, postmodernism shifted our ideas on what, when and why we dress the way we do and allowed for the mass proliferation of different contemporaneous styles that we have today. From a fashion perspective, this exhibition would benefit from both more high-end designer pieces as well as cheaper mass-market garments that might aid the museum visitors in relating to postmodernism on a more personal level, by displaying something similar to what they might have worn in the 1980s while also explaining where it came from and the design aesthetics that inspired its creation. The final text of the exhibition announces, “we are all postmodern now”; a statement that is difficult to disagree with in light of the patchworking of historical and cultural themes on the runway and in stores, and a statement whose importance will hopefully be understood more clearly following this retrospective.




   
Text by Laura McLaws Helms, 2011. Images 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are from the VAM image library, while 3, 4 and 10 were taken by me on my iPhone.

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