Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion

Archive for the ‘Fashion and Identity’ Category

January 26th, 2014 by Monica Murgia

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration, Part II

Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago.  So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration?  This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries.  Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera.  Photography was problematic for several decades after this.  Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
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Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907.  Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century.  Prices went down.  The process became better and faster.  Color photography was soon possible.  Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations.  As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials.  Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.

 

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Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover.  Photo by Edward Steichen.  Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right:  November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover.  Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.

World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography.  The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film.  Illustrations continued through the war.  Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items.  Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948.  Image courtesy of Indulgy.  Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948.  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim.  1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”.  This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war.  Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles.  The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments.  This was initially met with some resistance.  Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments.  Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947.  Image courtesy of Design Museum.  Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947.  Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
  • stark outlines
  • the use of negative space throughout the composition
  • sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
  • curvilinear compositions
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers.  It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York.  Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.  Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.

Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters.  During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company.  In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films.  She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.

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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Gracie Bird.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum).  Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly.  Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration.  She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume.  Image courtesy of December’s Grace.

Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window.  Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.

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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.

As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction.  The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.

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Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.  Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze.  Right:  Sketch by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.

November 12th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Augusta Auctions, Part II

After work, I passed by Augusta Auctions preview of tomorrow’s New York sale.  Tomorrow at noon, 422 swoon-worthy lots will go on the block.  Sometimes people ask me how I amass my personal collection.  Once you really delve into a specialty, like American couture or a weak spot for Lanvin-Castillo, you begin to make all kinds of discoveries.  Like a vintage store in Houston.  Or a kindred spirit with an amazing blog.  You start to develop all sorts of relationships when you share your interests with other people.  Earlier this year, I took my fashion forecasting class to see the April sale preview offered by Augusta Auctions.  I can assure you that if you are a serious fashion collector, this auction is a must attend.

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Lot 282: Paco Rabanne Coat & Helmet, c. 1965-67.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

Everyone should attend at least one auction in their life.  Bidding on a coveted item is a unique experience.  It’s a lot like gambling or playing the stock market.  It’s a mix of adrenaline, sweat, fear, and lust.  Questions flurry your mind and you only have seconds to make a decision: What if someone outbids you?  How much is too much?  What is the real or perceived value of the item?  Is it a solid investment?  Your mind is in overdrive and the auctioneer is crooning to get a higher price.  You’re all of the sudden unsure what hurts more, your purse strings or your heartstrings.

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Lot 77: James Galanos Silk Day Dress, c. 1955.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

Augusta Auctions always has really amazing pieces.  Much of this is because they represent museums.  Museums have limited storage space.  They can only store so many objects safely.  New acquisitions and donations mean that space dwindles.  Curators can either re-organize the storage environment, or decide to edit the collection.  (De-accessioning is when the museum decides to remove items from their collection and sell them on the market.)

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Lot 376: 19th Century Matador Cape.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

The de-accessioning process is what makes the auction so fun.  There is such a rich variety of objects available for purchase.  I was absolutely over the moon for this 19th Century matador cape.  It was a faded light sage green satin with gold gilt raised embroidery.  While signs of wear were apparent, it was such a beautiful piece.

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The 1920s were well-represented.  There must have been two dozen beaded flapper dresses.  They were in such great shape they could be worn out on the town today.
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Magazines from the time period were also on display.

 

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Another beaded dress I couldn’t take my eyes off of was this Edwardian ballgown.  Beaded objects generally need to be stored flat because of their weight.  The weight of the beads can tear the fabric over time.
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Lot 308: Gold Beaded Ballgown, c. 1908.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
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And the rest of the images are just items I thought were beautiful.  Take a look.  (And if you’d like to bid on anything, register for the auction on Live Auctioneers.  Good luck!)
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Lot 189: British Consul’s Court Bicorn, c. 1799.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
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Lot 118: Two Brimmed Cloches, 1930s.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
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Dress by James Galanos.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.
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Various Hermes Scarves.  Image courtesy of Augusta Auctions.

 

 

 

November 4th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration

Pennsylvania always seems to produce fashion icons.  I know so many stylish, entrepreneurial women from this state.  The Michener Museum is celebrating one of Pennsylvania’s most famous fashion icon, Grace Kelly (1929-1982).  The exhibition From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon is running from October 28th, 2013 – January 26th, 2014.
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Illustration of Grace Kelly’s  Wedding Day, 1956.  Illustration by Helen Rose.  Image Courtesy of Patterned History.

Grace Kelly was from Philadelphia, and became a famous actress during the 1950s.   The exhibition traces the unique path Grace Kelly took from Philadelphia to Monaco, highlighting her personal style and journey toward becoming a princess in 1956.   Many wonderful objects are on loan from the Palace of Monaco and the Grimaldi Forum, including: letters, photographs, awards, couture fashion, film clips, playbills.

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Illustration of Grace Kelly’s Costume for High Society by Helen Rose.  Image Courtesy of Patterned History.

Throughout the month of November, the museum is offering lectures and workshops that explore Grace Kelly and the fashion of her era.  I will be giving a talk and workshop on Sunday, November 24th on fashion illustration from the 1940s-1960s.  Here is an abstract of the program:

Illustration was a major component of the fashion industry during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Everything from advertisements, magazine articles, to design concepts was the product of illustrators of the day. This lecture will explore the importance of fashion illustration during these three decades. A focus will be on analyzing the style and career of major illustrators Rene Gruau, Christian Berard, and others. Following the lecture, a workshop will be given on drawing the fashion figure. 
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Illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for Rear Window.  Illustration by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of C Sebastion.
We will take a closer look at major illustrators of the era, with special focus on those that created work for Grace Kelly.  New to my site?  You should read my previous post on fashion illustrator Rene Gruau
To purchase tickets, please visit: The Michener Museum
June 13th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Surrealist Legacy

Today’s post is another interview with a student.  Massiva has been writing her thesis on how the Surrealist movement impacted fashion design.  This is a topic I have been fascinated by, so I was really eager to see what she would ask me.  Her questions are really thought-provoking.
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  •  Do you think that the surrealist movement influences fashion even nowadays? 

Absolutely.  Surrealist elements have been incorporated into fashion since the movement started in the 1920s. I’d say it’s heyday for fashion designers and Surrealist collaborations was in the 1930s and 1940s, but it’s impact can be felt since.  The Postwar interest in Surrealism and fashion was definitely influenced by Wesley Simpson.  He was a New York textile converter that worked with French artists to create textile designs.  This was a way for painters to have an expanded market.  Not everyone can afford an oil painting by someone like Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte.  But a few yards of fabric designed by the artist was a brilliant way to incorporate art into everyday life, and at a price point that many people could afford.  I think recent interest in Surrealism and fashion has to do with the insight of curators like Dilys Blum (Philadelphia Museum of Art) as well as Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda (Metropolitan Museum of Art).  These curators really brought awareness of Surrealism and it’s impact on fashion with the exhibits Shocking! The Art & Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli and Schiaparelli  & Prada: Impossible Conversations, respectively.  These exhibits allowed a new generation to become familiar with Surrealism.  After these exhibits opened, there was a clear correlation of Surrealist elements showing up in contemporary fashion design.  Prada, Philip Treacy, Diane Von Furstenburg – they were just some of the numerous designers that referenced Surrealism in the past 5 years.   I think that we will continue to see Surrealism impacting fashion because it gives a certain shock value.  People want to be remembered, and that’s certainly easy if you’re wearing a gigantic lobster on your head.

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 Rhinestone encrusted lobster hat by  Philip Treacy, 2010
 

  • Do you think that art will carry on influencing fashion in the future? 
 Yes.  I think the two disciplines are intertwined.  In my mind, they are really extensions of one another.  You can’t really have fashion without art – prints on textiles, sketching new designs, draping fabric, pattern drafting – they all require an artist’s sensitivity to color, silhouette, and the medium used. To be done well, there has to be a mastery and artistry to designing fashion.  So many designers are impacted by artists because they share a similar sensitivity to color, beauty, and representing intangible ideas.  On the flip side, I think it is impossible to have a progression in art without changes in fashion.  To illustrate what I mean, look at the images below: 
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You don’t have to be an art historian to see the progression.  Art changes – it reflects the change in what is considered beautiful, how people dress, as well as innovations in techniques and materials.  It’s easy to date the paintings and art movements by how they depict clothing and the ideal silhouette.  So I think it’s a natural progression.  Future artists and designers will definitely impact each others work.
  • Dali has an important influence on the 20th century, do you think Dali is a visionary?

Honestly, I think he was a little crazy :) He famously said things like: “I don’t do drugs. I  am drugs.” and “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”  But perhaps the chaos of his mind was what made him truly innovative.  He saw and experienced things that others didn’t.  I supposed that is what makes a visionary.

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  •  In your opinion, what would be Schiaparelli fashion house if it would not have been closed in 1954 ?
 I think Schiaparelli would have continued to push the envelope.  She liked being innovative and, well, shocking.  She was also extremely intelligent.  I remember reading that she once said: “Fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt.” If her house remained open, I think that statement would have guided every design she made.  The house would have interpreted political sentiments and facts as they were – however beautiful or ugly they may have been.  Maybe she is like Vivienne Westwood in this way. I think she would have delivered small bits of truth via her designs.
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  • You surely heard about that, what do you think of the idea of Diego Della Valle to relaunch Schiaparelli house and give it a second breath?

I have heard this before.  When I hear about these kinds of things, I try to push it to the back of my mind.  I like to view collections and exhibitions without any expectations.  It may be magnificent, it might not.  I’m sure there will be elements of interest.  If I had any advice to Diego Della Valle, it would be to read Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life.  If he is interested in relaunching her brand, I hope he takes the time to understand the way in which she perceived things.

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May 27th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Punk: Chaos to Couture

Prior to the opening of Punk: Chaos to Couture, there was quite a bit of buzz.  From what I gathered, a lot of people criticized the exhibition before they even saw it.  Strong criticism like this make me wary.  I like to make my own observations first.  So I was careful not to read anything about the show until I got a chance to take it in myself.

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Black leather lambskin with plastic & silver metal spikes and zippers by Christopher Bailey of Burberry, 2013.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’m a huge fan of Vivienne Westwood, so I assumed some of her work would be there.  Thankfully, it was!  Vivienne Westwood was dating a member of the Sex Pistols.  In the early 1970s, they opened a boutique on King’s Road.  The name changed several times, but  was most notably called Sex and later Seditionaries (1976-1980).  Westwood’s early designs were anti-establishment.  She purposely defiled popular culture images with graffiti, like the t-shirt below.  Many of the t-shirts openly referenced anarchy and communism.   She also incorporated fetish wear into her designs.
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“God Save the Queen” T-Shirt by Vivienne Westwood from Seditionaries, c. 1976-1980.
Most of the exhibit then focused on how punk trickled up and influenced luxury designers.

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The punk aesthetic can be seen in intentional rips and tears, hardware embellishments, and a sort of disheveled look.  Leather is always a nice finishing touch, too.  These two leather pieces really caught my attention.

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Ensembles by Balmain, 2011.

The skirt was my favorite part of the look.  Black and red leather covered in studs, intentionally shredded and pieced back together with safety pins.  While it has a DIY feel, work like this takes meticulous precision to complete.  Look at how the safety pins are placed so closely next to one another.

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As I moved through the galleries, I was really interested not only the details of the garments, but also how the space of the galleries had changed.  After noting how the designers distressed and embellished the garments, I focused on the design of the space.  The museum staff had cleverly used styrofoam which they carved  with graffiti and tags.  It was very faint, but visible in this columned gallery.

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Wedding Dress by Zandra Rhodes, 1977

I also started to see a correlation to other exhibits I’d see.  This jersey wedding dress by Zandra Rhodes reminded me a lot of what I had seen at Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced.  Burrows liked to use jersey and finished the edges with a zig zag stitch.  This kept the silhouette light, and made the edges wavy.

 

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Burrows called this the lettuce edge.  You can see how Zandra Rhodes used this same technique, but also used int for cut outs in the skirt.  Punctuated with crystals and chains, the jersey curls and waves around the body.  It’s attached to the satin bodice with safety pins.

 

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The construction details on this gown reminded me of staples.

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Recycling was another theme I loved.  I think it takes someone really creative to take discards and turn them into something fashionable.  This part of the exhibit was called Bricolage, which is taking random materials to create a work of art.  Bits of paper, envelopes, trash bags and other discarded objects were whipped up into the most inventive garments.  Others were made of fabrics treated to look like trash.

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Ensemble by John Galliano, 2001.

This ensemble by Galliano is actually cotton twill printed with a newspaper pattern.  Raffia, lurex, and scotch tape complete the look.

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But my favorite room was dedicated to graffiti fashion.

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Evening gown by Dolce Gabbana, 2008.

I’m fascinated with graffiti because it reclaims our right to art in daily life.  Art is generally the first to go with budget cuts in any organization – schools, corporations, the government.  It’s spontaneous, fun – and often temporary.

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Alexander McQueen’s performance dress was on display, too.  This dress was presented on stage, and the paint was sprayed in real time in front of the audience.

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Dress by Alexander McQueen, 1999.

Also on display was this dress by Vivienne Westwood.  It reminded me of Philip Guston’s later work.  (Guston was an abstract expressionist painter.  His later work was very cartoonish.  Have a look for yourself.)

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Dress by Vivienne Westwood, 2007.

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A Day’s Work by Philip Guston, 1970.   Image courtesy of Daily Artist.

 

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Dress by Vivienne Westwood, 2007.

I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t read any of the reviews before I went.  The DIY themes gave me lots of ideas how I’d like to customize my own wardrobe.  There will be updates when I get to these projects this summer.

Unless otherwise mentioned, all images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

April 15th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Forecasting Fashion

 

 

 

 

It’s been an intense week, so things have been quiet on my blog.  New classes, new students, presentations about The Stieg Collection.  Everything has been so much fun, but I’ve had little time to write.  I probably should be grading papers, but I wanted to write a post about my fashion forecasting class.

Much like it sounds, you can predict future fashions and trends if you know what to look for.  We look at different people, what motivates them to participate in fashion, innovations in textiles, trends in colors, and lots of other things.  What I like most about teaching this class is that I have to communicate how I see things.  Last week, I took my class on a field trip to do some trend spotting.  I have some ideas in my head already that fashion is going to become increasingly inspired by nature.

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Even in the city, you can see that people crave nature.  Plants line storefronts.  Colorful flowers and shrubs are displayed for purchase.  Food culture is becoming more focused on natural flavoring, organic produce, and saying “no” to genetically modified organisms.

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We also went to Brooklyn Charm, and I noticed a lot of jewelry that took cues from the natural environment.  Leaves, flowers, gems, crystals, geodes – everything pointed to the great outdoors.

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I couldn’t resist!  I got a few small charms for my own necklace.

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I saw some vintage clothing from the neighborhood we observed that had some great references, too.  I wanted to buy everything, but I was only observing.

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Leaves can be dressed up or down!

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And you can never go wrong with flowers.

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I started to see how people were already wearing this on the street.  Doesn’t it look sort of like the early 1970s?

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My thoughts were confirmed when I saw all the pictures from Coachella!  New York and California seem to agree some fashion points.  It’s a flower power revival, don’t you agree?

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Coachella 2013.  Image courtesy of Celeb Buzz.

February 3rd, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Batik: Cloth as Art

Batik is such a magical textile.  It’s a special way of dyeing cloth.  Wax is applied to the surface of a cloth to protect certain areas from the dye bath.  The cloth is dyed several times to achieve a rich, artistic surface.  It is traditionally done by hand, and takes a very long time.  Resistance and Splendor in Javanese Textiles is a small exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that explores this wax resist dyeing technique.

 

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So, for instance, let’s talk about the sarung above.  There are about 4 different dye colors.  Before the sarung was dipped in a red dye bath, all of the areas that were going to be a different color had to be covered in wax.  The wax prevents the dye from being absorbed in the fabric.  The cloth was dried, the wax removed, and the the process was repeated for the other colored dye baths.

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Batik is a traditional cloth from Indonesia.  There are many studios in Java that have historically produced batik cloth.  I wrote a lot about this in graduate school, and always admired how skillfully and artistically the cloth was decorated.  Some of my research is actually published in book  Encyclopedia of National Dress!  The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.  My mom (above) attended the show with me.  She knows how crazy I am about batik, but she had never seen any in person.

She was mesmerized by the level of detail in the cloth.

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One of the other aspects I love about Javanese textiles is that they are  spiritual objects.  Indonesia has a really rich and diverse religious community, but a large percentage is Hindu and Buddhist.  The cloth and how it is made is a representation of the universe (sort of like Tibetan sand mandalas).  

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The act of making these complex patterns is a sort of meditation.  Extreme care and mindfulness are needed, or else the design will not be executed properly.  The artists that make these clothes must be fully present in the moment of creating the cloth.

 

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Also, the colors of the dyes are a spiritual reference.  The traditional natural dyes indigo, brown, and white represent the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.    These three gods are a sacred trinity in Hinduism.  Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver, and Shiva is the destroyer.  You can start to see how traditional batik represents the larger idea of the universe, life, and death.

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 Most of the designs and motifs in batik show scenes from nature.  I think this really reinforces the spiritual element of the cloth.  It represents the impermanence of life.  Life changes.  It never stays the same.  Everything grows, changes forms, and eventually leaves the earth.

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Most Hindu and Buddhist art address these ideas.  Art from these spiritual traditions act as meditation tools.  They give viewers ways to understand and accept the greater truths and experience of life.  But most Buddhist and Hindu art is stationary and stays in one place.  Batik can be worn, and serve as a daily reminder of spirituality.

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All images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  If you liked these images, I’ll be posting more to my Facebook page.  Please check it out!

 

 

February 2nd, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Menswear: Trainspotting

Street style blogs are so great.  They are great visual chronicles of what’s going on in a specific city or town.   I’m not sure why I haven’t dedicated more posts to admiring other people’s style.

So today, I’m branching out and doing a street style recap.  Earlier in the week, I saw this stylish gentleman on the train.

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I wasn’t too sure about sneaky photo etiquette.  I really just wanted to “snap and run“, but it seemed sort of rude.  What would you think if you caught a random stranger taking your picture on the train?  The word creepy comes to mind…

So I decided to walk over and ask if I could photograph him.  Thankfully, after fumbling through my explanation of how I blog and what I was doing, Mauricio allowed me to take a few pictures.

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So here is what I like about his look:

The outfit is minimalist, which is classic and versatile.  The pieces are well-cut, crisp, and monochromatic.  Since the colors are muted, each piece can be mixed and matched in endless ways.  Minimalist pieces are a great way to expand your wardrobe because each one acts as a building block.

The accessories compliment the look without being overpowering.  The bag is vintage, which also gives the look a bit of originality.  Vintage finds are always a nice way to make your look authentic- it’s rare to find the same vintage piece twice!

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We only chatted briefly – 3 or 4 stops- but Mauricio recommends the following brands and stores:

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January 24th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Utah Tailoring Mills & The New Look

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Yesterday, I was at the Baum School of Art working on my cataloging project.  I’ve photographed and created a numbering system for over 100 outfits in the Stieg Collection.  This is a really important part of creating a fashion archive.  As I was checking that each garment had the right number, I kept getting distracted by this suit:

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Jane Stieg had her wardrobe custom made by the Utah Tailoring Mills from 1958 – 1968.  But this suit reminded me so much of Christian Dior’s New Look collection!  In 1947, Dior really revolutionized fashion.  Wartime restrictions during WWII had limited the amount of fabric used in individual garments.  Money was also tight for many people, so they simply had to “make do” with what they had.  Women altered and repaired their garments.  Hemlines were higher than in the 1930s to conserve fabric.  So when Dior introduced longer hemlines and full skirts, it caused an uproar.  Women were literally forced to buy new garments to keep up with trends.  After all, you can always shorten a skirt.  But making it longer usually won’t work.

 

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Bar Suit by Christian Dior, 1947. Image courtesy of The Jewelry Editor
The Bar Suit, above, was probably the most iconic piece from Dior’s 1947 collection.  Sloped, padded shoulders descend to a small, nipped in waist.  The coat then becomes full again and covers the hips – almost like a peplum.  The full, shin-length skirt is in a dark, contrasting color.
Jane’s suit was most likely made in 1958 or 1959, because it follows the silhouette of the New Look must more loosely.  Dior’s suits required numerous underpinnings to give it that sharp, sleek, and impossibly small torso.  Throughout the 1950s, women went on serious diets to try to achieve this ideal body.  Garments during this period were very structured, and very tiny!
Jane’s suit isn’t as structured, and has softer shoulders, too. It also doesn’t have a collar.  Her jacket does have a similar length, like Dior’s.  And the color combination is a nod to the Bar Suit, for sure!
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 The Met has a copy of the original Bar Suit in it’s collection (below).  They have great mannequins, and really emphasized what the outfit would have looked like on the body.  Jane’s suit (above) probably would have had a crinoline or tulle petticoat, which would have given it more shape.  The shot above is has no reinforcements, so it just hangs straight up and down.

 

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Bar Suit by Christian Dior, 1947. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And like Dior, Jane’s suit was custom made just for her based off of her measurements.

November 26th, 2012 by Monica Murgia

Defining Couture

Couture is a word that is used extremely loosely today.  The word seems to pop up everywhere, describing everything from sweatpants to footwear.  Couture has entered the daily lexicon in a way that is much different than it’s original meaning. Last year, I explored this idea in an article I wrote for Type F:
Historically, haute couture was made to measure and hand sewn for each individual customer. This requires the customer to return for several fittings to perfect the fit of the gown. In France, the term “haute couture” is protected by law under the French Ministry of Industry. Any designers wanting to advertise their garments as haute couture must be members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Think of it as the couture police. The syndicate ensures each member designs made-to-order for private clients who must have at least one private fitting; has a workshop in Paris with a minimum of 15 full-time employees and presents seasonal collections in Paris that include at least 35 ensembles split between day wear and evening wear. In America, the term couture is not protected by any governing body. Many U.S. based companies use the term couture loosely to promote their brands. 
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Couture is commonly misused to describe garments because custom made clothing is a dying art.  America was always a great producer of ready-to-wear.  Ready-to-wear described garments that are mass produced in factories.  Any alterations for individual fit are made after purchasing the garments in the store.  This was really America’s specialty until World War II, since Paris held the monopoly on style.  Many garment manufacturers and design houses simply attended the Paris fashion shows to make copies of the styles.  During the war, news of Paris fashion dwindled and American designers were able to use their own creativity in garment construction.

 

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The details in the construction is what separates couture from ready-to-wear.  The extra effort and expense in crafting a custom made garment might not be readily scene.  At first glance, you can discern something special about the garment.  But it takes careful examination to notice all the care that goes into couture.  I spend a lot of time marveling at the techniques employed by The Utah Tailoring Mills.  The fabrics are of the utmost quality.  Special darts give the garment a perfect fit.  The seams are matched perfectly.  Small seed pearls are sewn on by hand.  Beautiful self belts terminate in small, weighted bell-shaped tassels.
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And if you’re lucky enough to look, you’ll notice that the inside of the garment is as carefully and perfectly constructed as the outside.  Details like this would be too costly to execute in ready-to-wear.
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All images are from The Stieg Collection, courtesy of The Baum School of Art.

 

November 18th, 2012 by Monica Murgia

Significant Others: Sonia & Robert Delaunay

During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I started reading Significant Others: Creativity & Intimate Partnership. This book is a series of essays that explores the relationships of great artists.  It is an attempt to understand how gender, creativity, and partnership influence art.  Writing and painting take place in a sort of isolation, the privacy of a studio or home.  But what happens when to great writers or artists form a relationship?  How does this collaboration that happens behind closed doors affect the creative process? Can they both be geniuses?  Or is on person just an enabler of genius?

 

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Sonia and Robert Delaunay.  Image courtesy of Penny Fabricart

 

I immediately started with chapter two, Living Simultaneously: Sonia and Robert Delaunay.  This couple interested me several years ago.  When I taught in LA, I introduced the concept of synesthesia to my students to stimulate their creativity.  I can’t couldn’t help but wonder if artist and fashion designer Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) had synesthesia.  Sonia, along with her husband, painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), developed a color theory called simultaneity – the sensation of movement when contrasting colors are placed side by side.  She also referred to her garments from the 1920s as robe poemes, or dress poems.

 

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Sonia Delaunay.  Skirt, Tissu simultané no. 186, France, ca. 1926; block printed wool jersey.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.

 

The essay by Whitney Chadwick really puts the time period and the relationship between these two creative forces into perspective.  The 1910s were years dominated by the search for modernity in all its forms.  This was as a decade when “the new” was pursued in all areas: the fashionable ideal began to relax, art became more abstract, and urban life allowed ideas and theories to circulate easily.  Paris was one of the great urban capitals of this decade, and the city where Sonia and Robert met in 1908.
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Rhythm by Robert Delaunay, 1912.  Image courtesy of wikipaintings.

 

Both were painters and influenced each other greatly.  Each exhibited their work in galleries, and actively participated in the art scene during the time.  Robert was also interested in the academic aspects of art, and later developed theories to explain his work.  However, in 1909 Sonia switched mediums and began creating quilts, embroideries, and clothing.

 

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Sonia Delaunay.  Design C53, France, 1924; gouache and pencil.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.

 

What I find so interesting is that, despite completely different media and approaches, the Delaunays created similar works.  It seems to me that their relationship was mutually productive and enriching.  Sonia would create the “fabric” of their home environment: clothing, curtains, lampshades, quilts and Robert would paint and theorize about their methods of creation.  They each contributed to inspiring the other.  This is mostly because while they had similar goals, they had different perspectives.  Chadwick explains:

“However indebted Robert may have been to Sonia’s more spontaneous and uninhibited expression of color – of she to his years of studying and analyzing form – they both understood their sources quite differently.” 

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Simultaneous Windows on the City, 1912, by Robert Delaunay,

 

Robert’s approach to creating and painting was very scientific.  He constantly sought out theories and justifications for his use of color and form.  Sonia was able to translate sensations into creative form very easily because of her training, but never sought to formally explain her art.

 

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Sonia Delaunay.  Design 951bis, fabric samples, France, 1929; printed silk.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.

 

The reading sent me on a spiral of looking up each of their works.  Their use of color and form is similar, yet distinct.  I find it so interesting to see how their work obviously parallels.  They both shared the aesthetic vision of simultaneity.  Where they differed was their ideal audience.  Robert wanted to remain an academic painter in the salon, while Sonia believed art should be accessible to everyone and took it to the street.

 

 
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Circular Forms (Formes circulaires), 1930. Oil on canvas, 50 3/4 x 76 3/4 inches (128.9 x 194.9 cm). Image courtesy of  the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection  49.1184
 
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Sonia Delaunay.  Design 1317, working drawing, France, 1934; colorprint, pencil, and ink on paper.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.
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Rhythme: Robert Delaunay, 1938. Image by SandrineT, 28 April 2009 August 2010 (Musee d’Art Moderne, Paris) Image courtesy of Tom Clark.
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Sonia Delaunay.  Scarf, produced by Liberty’s of London, France, ca. 1967; printed silk voile.  Image courtesy of  Studio & Garden.
I think the difference in perspective and desired audience allowed the Delaunays relationship to remain positive.  Instead of directly competing with each other, they inspired one another.  They created a stimulating and creative environment.  They were both able to express themselves though diverse media, and somehow blend them together.  A great example of this domestic and creative harmony is the image below.  It’s a portrait of Tristan Tzara, painted by Robert, wearing one of Sonia’s scarves.

 

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Portrait of Tristan Tzara by Robert Delaunay, 1923.  Image courtesy of  Wearable Art.

 






November 14th, 2012 by Monica Murgia

Jewelry for Men

Writing about menswear has started many new conversations.  I had no idea just how much men think about style.  A simple conversation with my best friend turned into me interrogating him for 2 hours about clothing, accessories, and his shopping habits.  He lamented his difficulties in finding stylish accessories, and just how far and few in between accessories for men really are.  “Well, I should write a Top Ten Men’s Accessories post!“, I exclaimed.  He laughed, and said “You’ll probably get stuck at some odd number like 7“.  We started listing, and he asked me what I thought about jewelry for men.  Honestly?  I wasn’t sure.

 

I don’t wear much jewelry myself, so it was difficult for me to answer.  Jewelry, when done right, adds such a great accent to an outfit.  If overdone, too much jewelry looks gaudy.  I thought about it for the next few days.

Then, I met up with my friend Pete.  We were catching up at the bar, and I noticed his mala necklace.  How cool!

 

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Mala beads are traditionally used for meditation.  Quieting the mind in meditation can be really difficult.  Mala beads seek to make the process easier.   By taking the necklace in your hand, you move from bead to bead in rhythm with the breath and remember a mantra.  (A mantra is a word or expression used to keep the mind focused.)  Each mala necklace has 108 beads.

 

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Example of how mala beads are used during meditation.  Image courtesy of Amrit Yoga.

 

 

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The quality of Pete’s mala necklace was really great.  There were carved turquoise beads with an interesting combination of red and white.  I asked him where he bought it.  His friend owns the Tibet Gallery - located in Boulder, Colorado.  They import jewelry and other items directly from Tibet.  They also have an online store, so you can shop with them.

I definitely like this look!  It’s simple, elegant, and meaningful.  Not to mention a conversation starter.

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Mala necklaces are great examples of jewelry for men done right.  I also like really like the necklace above, available at The Tibet Gallery.