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We are now four months into 2019 - have you noticed an influx of coral hues in your social media feed, fashion editorials, or latest tech gadgets? Announced last December, the 2019 Color of the Year ‘ Living Coral’ (officially known as PANTONE 16-1546) “embraces us with warmth and nourishment”[1] while “symbolizing our innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits.”[2] A color uniquely linked to nature, Living Coral celebrates beauty found in the outdoors, while also reminding consumers of the importance of environmental preservation; though the color sparks positivity, the latest research shows that about one-fifth of the world’s coral reefs have been lost or damaged.[3]In fact, several design houses, including Tiffany and Company, have vowed to stop working with the endangered resource, and international trade regulations restrict the exportation of red coral harvested after 1969.[4]

Claude Monet, "Impression, Soleil Levant," 1872, courtesy of the Musée Marmottan Monet

Ironically, rather than representing nature’s vulnerability, coral was once worn to protect children and ward off evil in ancient Rome.[5] It has been used for centuries as a prized gemstone for jewelry, from Victorian carved cameos to Art Deco pendants, rings, and hair combs; in Native American jewelry, coral symbolizes “success and social prominence.”[6] And what would Impressionist paintings be without vibrant coral sunsets and plants? Nineteenth century artists used iron-oxide cadmium pigments to achieve the rich, saturated hues for their work - an improvement on the vermillion and minium (“red lead”) pigments used by their predecessors, and certainly safer than the ancient mineral realgar, which contained toxic levels of arsenic.[7]

Evening Gown
Paquin, Paris, Winter 1912
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection
FIDM Museum Purchase: Funds generously donated by Disney Worldwide, 2017.5.55AB  

Pantone’s Color of the Year is selected by the for-profit Color Institute after analyzing current trends in a variety of industries, such as entertainment, art, fashion and design, travel, technology, and even socio-political events. A brief look at the FIDM Museum Collection shows that coral has been in fashion long before Pantone deemed it the official color of 2019; in our storage, Gianni Versace's bold Miami coral lives alongside the silky coral of a couture Paquin evening gown. Here, we're sharing a few of our favorite coral objects with you - treasures indeed, no matter the year!

Evening Gown
Paquin, Paris, Winter 1912
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection
FIDM Museum Purchase: Funds generously donated by Disney Worldwide, 2017.5.55AB  

Lamé and silk evening coat
Jeanne Lanvin, Summer 1931
FIDM Museum Purchase: Funds generously donated by Barbara Bundy
2010.37.2   

Straw panama hat
Gianni Versace, Spring/Summer 1989 
Gift of Joan Worth in memory of Marvin Worth, V2006.890.1280  

Printed silk crepe fabric swatch
1915-1930
Gift of Robert Fortunoff, 99.274.48  

Day dress with ties
Claire McCardell, 1950s
Gift of Joan Beer Damask and Donald Damask, S2016.1250.10

Silk net cap with taffeta ribbon trim, c. 1845
Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection
FIDM Museum Purchase: Funds generously donated by Linda & Steven Plochocki
2018.5.33  

Cocktail dress, 1950s
Gift of an Anonymous Donor, S2004.40.2  

 

[1] “Pantone 16=1546 Living Coral Introduction,” Pantone Website: https://www.pantone.com/color-intelligence/color-of-the-year/color-of-the-year-2019

[2] Ibid.

[3] According to The World Counts environmental website: http://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/ocean_ecosystem_facts/coral_reef_destruction_facts

[4] Abigail R. Esman, “The Soft Call of Coral,” The New York Times, March 14, 2016: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/fashion/jewelry-coral.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jeffrey Bacon, “Native American Use of Coral in Jewelry,” T. Skies Website, August 20, 2015: https://tskies.com/native-american-use-of-coral-in-jewelry/

[7] Jacqui Palumbo, “A Brief History of Living Coral, Pantone’s Color of the Year,” Artsy.com, December 5, 2018: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-history-living-coral-pantones-color-year

 

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Our recent exhibition Majesty & Mystery: Saving a Napoléonic Court Gown introduced visitors to the magnificent royal court of Napoléon Bonaparte and Empress Joséphine. The gold and silver splendor seen in the court ensemble on display (currently the focus of our Operation 1804 fundraising campaign) was a marked contrast to the evening dress also shown in the gallery; this fine white muslin creation perfectly illustrated the shift towards simplicity in early 1800s fashion.

"Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress," 1783
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (French, 1755 - 1842)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Even before the Revolution, French fashion was gradually embracing more streamlined silhouettes and humble fabrics. Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s 1783 portrait of Marie Antoinette captured the monarch wearing her infamous ‘chemise à la reine,’ a layered white muslin frock that represented the queen’s love of the countryside and her idealized view of peasant life. Though the painting subsequently caused a public outcry because the queen’s attire so resembled an undergarment, members of high society eagerly adopted the gown’s looser style and lightweight fabric. Post-Revolution, this simplified silhouette morphed once again as society looked to the Democratic ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, resulting in fashions that emulated marble statues and Ionic columns. White, semi-sheer, form-fitting gowns with high waistlines directly under the bust were now worn over pale slips, echoing the casually draped garments of ancient civilizations.

Muslin evening dress, c. 1803
FIDM Museum Purchase
2009.5.6

These stark dresses became the perfect canvases to show-off accessories such as fine cashmere paisley shawls, unique headwear, and of course, eye-catching shoes. The slender cut of skirts ensured that shoes would certainly be visible, thus emphasizing the need for brightly colored and beautifully trimmed footwear.

Kid leather shoes, c. 1800
FIDM Museum Purchase
2017.5.123AB

From the 1790s to the 1830s, women’s shoes underwent a drastic transition from ornately buckled Louis-heeled pumps to lightweight flat slippers. The 1805 pair featured in our Majesty & Mystery exhibition represent a midway point of that transition: the Louis heel has drastically lowered into an Italian heel, a shortened style that extends further under the arch of the shoe. The toes are quite pointed, another indicator of this transitional period, with a long vamp (the area between the opening of the shoe and the tip of the toe) and rounded thoatline. This pair is made of kid leather - a popular material for shoes at the beginning of the 19th century - in a cheerful lemon yellow, one of many bright colors used for shoes that would peek out from underneath a slim skirt. Decorative white embroidery and ribbon trim add a final touch of visual interest.  

'Paris Dress', January 1805, The Lady's Magazine. Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery.

At the dawn of the new century, wealthy women received up-to-date fashion information from periodicals such as Journal des dames et des modes; despite the political upheaval, France remained the arbiter of taste. The French love of antiquity spread throughout European society as fashion journals proclaimed, “Coloured robes are now entirely laid aside, on the public walks white only is to be seen; no gaudy colour now offends the eye, the utmost neatness and simplicity prevail.” The fashion plates that graced the pages of these magazines illustrated how accessories brought the white gowns to life with pops of color. The above 1805 fashion plate from England's The Lady’s Magazine shows the latest “Paris Dress;” note the coordinating yellow slippers, gloves, and even the flowers adorning the bonnet...one can imagine the Museum’s shoes fitting right in with this stylish vignette!

"Portrait of Josephine, the Wife of Napoleon" 1801
François Gérard (French, 1770 - 1837)
Courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum

Though exceedingly more embellished than most gowns, the 1804 ensemble in Majesty & Mystery follows the contemporary silhouette of a low neckline, high waistline, and slim skirt - quite a departure from the extensive panniers seen in the 18th century. When she was not dressed for court, Empress Joséphine wore the diaphanous gowns so loved by her peers (albeit in the finest silk gauze with gold ribbon trim). Apparently the empress particularly enjoyed amassing accessories; it is said that she purchased custom slippers and bottines to match every ensemble in her wardrobe each season.

You can help us get one step closer to acquiring the exceedingly rare court gown shown in Majesty & Mystery by donating to Operation 1804, our fundraising campaign that also supports provenance research, object analysis, and a documentary detailing these processes. By donating denominations between $18.04 and $1,804—or even $18,040!—you will help to preserve this majestic piece of history and unravel the mystery of who wore it. Text ‘Josephine’ to 243725 to donate today! Or, contact FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones: kjones@FIDMmuseum.org

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It is always an honor hosting costume designer Mary Zophres at the FIDM Museum. The three-time Academy Award nominee, four-time BAFTA nominee, and Costume Designers Guild winner for Best Contemporary Costume Design (La La Land) joined us for an afternoon at the FIDM Museum prior to the opening of our Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition. Curator Kevin Jones showed Zophres a rare 1960s man's jumpsuit inspired by the space race, and afterwards she answered questions about designing for both First Man and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, for which she received her third Academy Award nomination.

Mary Zophres in the FIDM Museum Permanent Collection, viewing a 1966 man's jumpsuit

What are your impressions of the Ruben Torres jumpsuit?

This is perfect for First Man - it’s fashion inspired by the first trip to the moon! Originally, when they first started the space program, they put the astronauts in silver because it was from the lore and the TV shows - what the public thinks of. They have to get everybody’s approval and involvement in thinking it’s a good idea. How can we make this appealing? So they did it in silver. The silver suits were for Mercury [1958 - 1963]. After that they decided to make them white because they were going closer to the moon and the reflection was harmful. They needed something that would not bake - silver attracted the sun and white sort of bounces off.

Man's silver lamé jumpsuit
Rubin Torres, 1966
FIDM Museum Purchase, 2013.5.56

The seven Mercury astronauts, 1958-1963; photo courtesy of NASA

Did you go to NASA to do research for First Man?

We did. During prep we had a day trip to go down and take a look at everything and measure, but you’re not allowed to touch them. The X15 we did get to handle, but it was not at NASA - it was with a collector outside of Los Angeles. For that visit, we had gloves on but we could handle and touch and feel it. NASA was super cooperative, they loved the movie, but the suits are fragile now. They wanted to cooperate with us because they wanted us to get it right.

Neil’s Apollo 11 suit was being restored because they’re going to display it at the Air and Space Museum for the 50th anniversary of the mission. So his wasn’t there, but we had Buzz Aldrin’s and Michael Collins’. They’re slightly different: Collins stayed in the ship, so his suit was slightly different than the ones that go on the moon.

Mary Zophres and the replica Apollo 11 spacesuit used in First Man at the opening reception for the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition

What materials did you use for the spacesuits?

For Apollo we used Beta cloth; we had it woven for the film.

Where was it woven?

Western Costume helped us source it out, and so did NASA. It’s the same company that makes the fabric for NASA. Super, super expensive! The X15 fabric we also had made - we found something close, and that company did a special run for us. Also expensive but it was worth it.

Ryan Nagata made the X15 space suit for us. I started doing research for this film and I came upon his website. He used to make space suits as his hobby and now it’s turned into his career. He’s so good at it. He’s so knowledgeable about the space program it’s unbelievable. First we approached him about making all the suits for the film, but he’s a one man operation and it was not possible. But he made two Gemini suits for us and the X15. For the X15 we used real parts - it’s a beautifully made suit. He came with us to that collector to look at the original suit. We were striving for authenticity and he believed us. We provided the material and of course when we were making it we were back and forth from our shop to his shop, but in the end we rented it from him so he would own it. And we made the boots - Jitterbug is a boot maker in Canada. They ended up making all of our space boots.

Mary Zophres' costumes from First Man

Having worked with Damien Chazelle on La La Land and First Man, what were some of the differences?

None! It’s just the subject matter. He has the whole movie in his head and he’s so well prepared - he knows it beat by beat, but without being constricted about it. He’s open to ideas and rehearsal and spontaneous things happening. He’s very intense, but in the most loving way. He’s such a nice guy and works his butt off. You’re going to work as hard as he is. He’s very open, he’s completely available to all of his department heads, he’s really communicative.

On La La Land we sat down - it was me and the Production Designer - and we went through the movie page by page and designed it at the table, deciding to have all of these things coinciding color wise and thematically. On First Man, Damien went through the script page by page, but he put it online. He made a bible, an annotated version of the script, and he distributed it to everybody. So it was a more high tech version of that meeting we had had on La La Land, where he kept on having to repeat it to every department head. We told him how valuable that meeting was, so he took that and made it so he could give it to everybody and have an online version of it. I still have it on my computer because it’s fascinating. I had gone over it initially, but before we would start to film scenes I would look at it again. It was a little bit more fleshed out and like I said it wasn’t just verbal - it was something tangible that we could look at over and over again.

Detail of costume worn by Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man

How many times do you find that shooting schedules are switched around and suddenly you have to scramble? Is that a common occurrence?

Yes, but usually you’re not just doing one week ahead. I like to be six weeks ahead if possible. Sometimes you’re scrambling, that happens all the time because they’ll lose a location or somebody’s ill. You have to be prepared.

So then you must be prepping all the scenes at the same time, so you’re not unprepared for a scene that’s suddenly in front of you.

Right. There is one story from True Grit when we were caught off guard. There’s a character who comes pulling up in a bear costume; it’s taken from the book. That was such a weird thing, and the guy that they cast was gigantic. So we went to this tanner in Montana who was curing a giant bear, and it takes a long time. It’s a process that I don’t really understand to this day! We had ordered it in prep. Then it snowed, and they wanted snow for his scene and they didn’t want it for what was supposed to be shooting, so they decided to shoot the bear scene the next day. But it was still being cured in Montana! You learn from those kind of mistakes - I won’t ever do that again. I went to a taxidermist in Albuquerque and literally bought bearskin rugs. There were about five and I took all of them! We sewed them together the night before and we were sewing until four o’clock in the morning. But it ended up being fine.

Mary Zophres' Academy Award-nominated costumes from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Are the Coen brothers very specific about what they want to see in their costuming, or do they leave it to you to present them with your vision?

It’s a little bit of both. They’re not specific, but the way they write their script is that there’s something very specific about the character without saying ‘they’ve got this on.’ Their scripts are great - they’re just like reading a novel.

How often does the actor who has to wear the costume stop what you’re doing?

It depends on who is directing the film, to be honest with you. People are surprisingly well behaved.

On First Man there were a lot of cast and we had done so much research - we were entrenched in it. Actors would come to their fittings - some of them were day players, and some of them were there for two or three weeks of shooting. They trusted that you had already done this research, because sometimes they had just gotten the part, or they were on another film and didn’t have time to do their own research. Some of the astronauts had astronaut boot camp which was great for them, but they were looking at the people they were playing for the first time in our fitting room. They’d never worn sixties clothes before, so they trust you. I also think that the actor has to be the one that goes in front of the camera, so they need to feel it. If they don’t feel it, then the costume designer has not done their job. It’s a balance, but chances are if they’re not feeling it I’m not feeling it. You just keep trying trying trying until you get it right.

People who find their character in the fitting room - it’s the most fun part of my job. And 90% of actors are like that. It gives you goosebumps. Sometimes it’s in front of a big three-way mirror, sometimes it’s just a mirror from Target, but to have it happen in the fitting room is the best part.

Costume worn by Jonjo O’Neill as Thigpen in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Is there time period that you haven’t done in film yet that you would really look forward to doing?

I would love to something in the early 1800s or royal court setting. I would love to do earlier. I’ve done a couple of Westerns but I want to do something fancier. I did my first bustle dress in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and it was so fun doing the research and understanding the construction. Research is the best part of the beginning of the process, I think.

What’s the average time from when you sign the contract to the first day of filming?

It varies. I knew about First Man and Buster Scruggs eight months before I started, and I started doing the research in the fall. We started prepping Buster Scruggs in April and First Man in July, but I had started almost a year before that on both. But sometimes you’ll do something and you’ll start the next week! I find you’re rarely given enough time to do the research. A lot of times you’ll have eight weeks to prep, but you need all of it to do the prep. Nine times out of ten I try to do all my research and sketching before I start formal prep.

Costume worn by James Franco as The Cowboy in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

How do you determine what you’re going to build versus rent?

You start to learn that. You do a breakdown of the script, and you breakdown the character changes, and if something happens that requires a stunt or requires a double, then you know that chances are you’re going to have to make it, or you’re going to have to make a double. If it’s a contemporary movie then sometimes you shop a double. On First Man we didn’t know what we were going to make, but it just became evident. We knew we were going to make all the space suits, but for the civilian clothes, we tried to find what was authentic, and when we couldn’t find what we needed we started building.

On Buster Scruggs I knew ahead of time what I had to build. All the leads in the stories were built. Just because on a Western you always need a double, and it was so specific that we weren’t going to find it in rental houses. We did not make a double of Liam Neeson’s coat though - that was so big and and arduous that we only made one. We just took it off Liam and put it on the double!

FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones, Costume Designer Mary Zophres, and FIDM Museum Director Barbara Bundy

You can see costumes from First Man and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on display in the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition, open until April 13! Exhibition hours are Tuesday - Saturday, 10 am - 5 pm; note that the exhibition will close at 3 pm on April 13. 

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The FIDM Museum is excited to announce our Summer Internship Program is open for applications. Interns work closely with FIDM Museum staff and receive valuable hands-on training in museum practices. We are currently seeking talented and motivated graduate students to assist with a variety of projects.

The Museum offers two funded opportunities and several volunteer positions. All applicants should be currently enrolled in a graduate program in fashion history or museum studies; consideration will also be given to students beginning their graduate program in Fall 2019.

The Lori and Sal Santamaura Summer Study Grant is open to U.S. citizens. This Study Program will include a collections-based project, cataloging, research, and installation experience. Additionally, the student will have the opportunity to shadow each FIDM Museum staff member and participate in educational field trips to other local collections. They will work on a FIDM Museum collections-based research project of their choice; findings will be presented on the FIDM Museum Blog.

The Donald and Joan Damask Summer Study Grant is open to U.S. citizens. This opportunity focuses on collections management projects determined by collections staff. Additionally, a research project of the students’ choice will be presented on the FIDM Museum Blog.

Both the Santamaura and Damask Grants are eight weeks in duration over the summer months (35 hours per week during business hours; schedule to be arranged with supervisor) and consists of a $1,000 stipend; $500 will be paid to the student on their first day at the FIDM Museum, and the remaining $500 will be given on the day of their completed internship.

Volunteer internships (non-funded) are also available. Assignments may include exhibition installationresearchcataloging, or digitization. We accept students seeking academic credit; interns must make appropriate arrangements with their academic institution.  Summer interns must commit to working 35 hours per week for eight weeks.

Applications (cover letter and resumé) for internships are due April 1, 2019. Applications will be reviewed upon receipt, and qualifying applicants will be interviewed prior to beginning the program. Applicants will be considered for all internship opportunities. On your application, please inform the FIDM Museum if you cannot accept a non-funded internship.

To submit your application or for additional information, contact us via email: info@FIDMmuseum.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

FIDM Museum interns, volunteers, and staff at the 2018 Art of Television Costume Design exhibition opening

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Dark glasses, ponytail, and a crisp starched collar: even for those outside of the fashion industry, designer Karl Lagerfeld (1935 - 2019) was an immediately recognizable self-made icon. Known for his acerbic wit (quoted eagerly in the press) and irreverent attitude, Lagerfeld was the definition of a Renaissance man. His relentless curiosity and quest for knowledge, dedication to art and literature, and voracious collecting - the amassed books in one of his homes is said to have stretched over three miles long[1] - set him apart, but it was his innate understanding of culture and “ability to identify, articulate, and frequently anticipate changes in the zeitgeist”[2] that defined his spectacular career. Lagerfeld’s work for top fashion houses such as Chloé, Fendi, and Chanel proved his creative dexterity, and more importantly demonstrated how to keep fashion (and brand names) relevant over decades of collections: “If all the world changes, you have to change your designs, too.”[3]

Karl Lagerfeld on the Chanel Couture runway
S/S 1993
Photograph by Michel Arnaud
Gift of Arnaud Associates, SC2000.1095.1 

Born to a wealthy family in Hamburg, Germany, Lagerfeld often spoke of the influence his strong-willed mother had on his childhood. It was she who encouraged him to read and converse cleverly from a young age – by his account, his quick and forceful manner of speaking was a by-product of her impatience with listening to his youthful tales.[4] He was perpetually fascinated with fashion, and as a teenager moved to Paris to pursue the field; he got his start at age 21 when he won the 1954 International Wool Secretariat competition in the coat category (18 year old Yves Saint Laurent famously won the same year in the dress category). The competition led to Lagerfeld’s hiring at the couture house of Pierre Balmain, where he stayed for three years before moving to Jean Patou for five years.[5] Enticed by the refreshingly rebellious attitude of ready-to-wear in the 1960s, he left the world of couture to act as a freelance designer for youthful, chic brands including Krizia, Charles Jourdan, and Tiziani.

Evening ensemble on display in Capturing the Catwalk (2018)
Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé, S/S 1984
FIDM Museum Purchase
2009.5.8A-C

It was at Chloé, a French house known for its romantic, bohemian aesthetic, that Lagerfeld learned to become “the shape-shifter”[6] – a designer capable of adjusting his collections to suit the cultural climate. Art nouveau references alternated with outrageous trompe l’oeil surrealist embellishment (as seen in his final S/S 1984 collection, an homage to dressmaking). After working with the house for a decade, Lagerfeld was named the head designer in 1974, a position he held until 1983 – though he returned for a brief period in the mid-nineties to inject his signature brazenness back into the brand. His mantra at Chloé, and perhaps throughout his career, was that “Fashion does not have to prove that it is serious. It is the proof that intelligent frivolity can be something creative and positive.”[7] In the meantime, Lagerfeld had maintained a close relationship with the Italian house Fendi since 1965; he was still designing as Creative Director at the time of his death. Lagerfeld was responsible for creating Fendi’s signature “FF” logo, foreshadowing his frequent use of the interlocking double C’s during his time at Chanel. He has said that the double F’s stood for Fendi Fun, Fendi Fur, or Fun Fur, depending on the interview – either way, the logo was undoubtedly a nod to Lagerfeld and Fendi’s inventive (if controversial) use of fur in ready-to-wear.

Evening ensemble
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, 1994-1997
Gift of Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale
S2010.116.1A-D

Cocktail dress on display in Capturing the Catwalk (2018)
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, 1985
FIDM Museum Purchase: Funds generously donated by Barbara Bundy
2006.37.4

Of course, it was Lagerfeld’s time at Chanel that truly launched his name into fashion stardom and made him a celebrity in his own right. Thanks to Lagerfeld’s masterful reinvention, it’s often forgotten that the renowned French house struggled to find its footing after the death of its founder in 1971 – so much so that Lagerfeld claims he was warned against taking the helm of the then-tired and outdated brand when the position was offered to him. Yet he saw potential in Chanel’s ‘les elements eternels,’[8] the iconography associated with the house since its inception: tweed, quilted bags, the camellia, braided trim, chains, two-toned shoes, black and white, costume jewelry, and those quintessential interlocking C’s introduced by Madame Chanel herself. In the three and a half decades that followed Lagerfeld’s 1983 appointment, it became clear that his particular mix of impertinence, whimsy, and cultural awareness was the perfect answer to reviving the revered house. There is arguably no other designer who could have interpreted Chanel’s symbolism in a way that both honored and subverted its origins. As more young designers took the reins of venerated fashion houses throughout the 80s and 90s, inspiration from a brand’s history became expected – Tom Ford at Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen at Givenchy, John Galliano at Dior – yet it was Lagerfeld who perfected it and continued to exercise it (profitably) throughout his tenure. In his mind, “Tradition is something you have to handle carefully, because it can kill you. Respect was never creative.”[9]

Chanel catalog
S/S 1991
Gift of Dorothy Washington Sorensen
SC2010.1110.416

Chanel catalog
F/W 2014-2015
Gift of Barbara Bundy
SC2014.37.5

Lagerfeld’s tactics successfully marketed the brand to a younger audience, who now clamored for anything with a Chanel logo. Lagerfeld’s street-style references included “punk, surfer, hip-hop, biker, and fetish fashions,”[10] all executed in the context of Chanel’s visual lexicon. He thoroughly embraced celebrity culture, and was an early adapter of technology – particularly social media. The over-the-top runway presentations, each more extravagant than the next, took advantage of the instantaneous dissemination of images on the internet.[11] The main hall of the Grand Palais was transformed completely into Chanel-branded supermarkets, carousels, airplanes, beaches, brasseries, icebergs, rocket ships – and for his final posthumous show, an alpine Swiss village. Nothing was too outlandish to capture the public’s attention.  

Lagerfeld for Chanel accessories on display in Capturing the Catwalk (2018). From left: earrings, S/S 1988, FIDM Museum Purchase, 2005.5.68AB; bracelet, S/S 1933, Gift of Dorothy Washington Sorensen, 2010.1110.73; moon boots, F/W 1993-1994, FIDM Museum Purchase, 2014.5.49A-D.

That isn’t to say Lagerfeld did not respect the artistry and skill required of elite dress-making. His couture collections celebrated the talent of the house’s legendary ateliers. In the 1980s, under the subsidiary Paraffection, Chanel began purchasing several small Parisian métiers de couture to save them from extinction and continue the legacy of craftsmanship.[12] Lagerfeld then showcased the output of the workshops – dedicated to embroidery, featherwork, pleating, lace, millinery, jewelry, shoes, gloves, and more – in Chanel’s lavish Métiers d’Art fashion shows.

Evening jacket
S/S 1991
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel
Gift of Steven & Linda Plochocki
2009.899.2

In the fast-paced world of fashion, Lagerfeld was one of the few designers immune to collection fatigue; at the time of his death he was still creating up to 14 collections per year for Fendi, Chanel, and his eponymous brand Karl Lagerfeld, which he launched in 1984. When asked how he was able to “to speak the languages of many different brands at the same time,”[13] Lagerfeld responded that each brand brought out different versions of his design instinct[14] - and as for creative exhaustion, he maintained that “ideas come to you when you work.”[15] On top of his fashion commitments, he pursued his passion for photography, often capturing his own advertising campaigns; decorated his homes in a succession of Art Deco, 18th century, and futuristic themes; and even wrote a diet book after his dramatic weight loss in 2001. Despite his unforgiving schedule, Lagerfeld never took his profession too seriously: “Please don’t say I work hard…Nobody is forced to do this job, and if they don’t like it they should do another one. People buy dresses to be happy, not to hear about somebody who suffered over a piece of taffeta.”[16]

Lagerfeld on the Karl Lagerfeld runway
F/W 1994-1995
Photograph by Michel Arnaud
Gift of Arnaud Associates, SC2000.1095.1 

A self-described caricature, Lagerfeld was an active participant in the creation of his status as a fashion icon. The legacy he will leave the fashion world is unlike that of Balenciaga, Dior, or even Chanel herself. Instead, "he transformed the way in which fashion operates and the way in which people relate to it."[17] Rather than introducing a revolutionary silhouette or design concept, he reimagined how the public could interface with fashion - and what they wanted from it. His designs consistently provided relevancy and status.[18] Lagerfeld moved forward relentlessly, always pursuing the next idea without expectation: “I have no idea of the future, never, ever. That’s what I like about fashion. It’s paradise now.”[19]

 

[1] Fraser Kennedy, “The Impresario: Imperial Splendors,” Vogue (Sept 1, 2004): 708-824.

[2] Andrew Bolton, “(Post)Modernity: Chanel and Lagerfeld,” Chanel (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005): 34-37.

[3] Kathleen Madden, “Vogue’s View: Lagerfeld: On His Own,” Vogue  (May 1, 1984): 294.

[4] Vanessa Friedman, “Karl Lagerfeld, Designer Who Defined Luxury Fashion, Is Dead,” The New York Times (Feb 1, 2019): https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/19/obituaries/karl-lagerfeld-dead.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bolton, “Chanel and Lagerfeld,” Chanel , 34-37.

[8] Kennedy, “Imperial Splendors,” Vogue (Sept 1, 2004): 708-824.

[9] Madden, “Lagerfeld: On His Own,” Vogue  (May 1, 1984): 294.

[10] Bolton, “Chanel and Lagerfeld,” Chanel , 34-37.

[11] Friedman, “Karl Lagerfeld,” The New York Times (Feb 1, 2019)

[12] Robin Mellery-Pratt, “Chanel, the Saviour of Savoir-Faire,” Business of Fashion (April 19, 2015): https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/voices/discussions/how-can-traditional-craftsmanship-survive-in-the-modern-world/chanel-saviour-savoir-faire

[13] Friedman, “Karl Lagerfeld,” The New York Times (Feb 1, 2019)

[14] Madden, “Lagerfeld: On His Own,” Vogue  (May 1, 1984): 294.

[15] Friedman, “Karl Lagerfeld,” The New York Times (Feb 1, 2019)

[16] Ibid.

[17] Robin Givhan, “Karl Lagerfeld Didn’t Have a Signature Design – But He Invented a New Kind of Designer,” The Washington Post (Feb 19, 2019): https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/karl-lagerfeld-didnt-have-a-signature-design--but-he-invented-a-new-kind-of-designer/2019/02/19/334b4f9e-344c-11e9-854a-7a14d7fec96a_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f040f6a0bc68

[18] Ibid.

[19] Kennedy, “Imperial Splendors,” Vogue (Sept 1, 2004): 708-824.

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The FIDM Museum Fashion Council is integral to the day-to-day operation of our institution. Because of the Museum's commitment to providing free admission, we rely on the group to support important acquisitions for the Permanent Collection - including our latest project, Operation 1804. Fashion Council's fundraising activities, hands-on volunteer hours, and educational events not only enrich the Collection, but also fulfill the Museum's mission and benefit our fashion community. In fact, in 2018, Fashion Council members contributed over 4,282 total volunteer hours and raised nearly $209,000 in both financial and in-kind donations. As a non-profit organization, we truly could not exist without their incredible dedication!

Fashion Council Members in the Majesty & Mystery exhibition, L to R: Associate Curator Christina Johnson, Fashion Council Chair Mima Ransom, Curator Kevin Jones, Fashion Council Members Linda Knoth and Jeannine Abraham

Now, it's time to kick off Fashion Council's 2019 calendar with one of our favorite events: The Royal Tea! Join us on Friday, March 8 at 12 pm for this highly anticipated annual gathering. Held outside in an elegant tent, the afternoon is a chance to meet new friends who share a love fashion history, enjoy a delicious and proper English tea, and experience two FIDM Museum exhibitions, The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design and Majesty & Mystery: Saving a Napoleonic Court Gown. After presentations from our Curator and Museum Associate, you'll take a private tour of both exhibitions. All proceeds benefit Operation 1804 and our proposed acquisition of a rare Napoleonic court gown! 

See the invitation below for more information; to purchase a ticket, click here. Polish your crown and dust off your orb and scepter - we look forward to hosting you for a royally good time!

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February is a special time of year for the FIDM Museum; our gallery transforms into another universe, with cowboys and rock stars, queens and superheros, stylish con artists and brave activists representing a year in film costume design. For the 2019 exhibition, now in its 27th year, we've focused on how costume designers create an entire visual world from scratch - from the leading actor to the thousands of extras, each wardrobe decision helps to immerse the audience into a new reality. It is the job of costume designers and their teams to dream, design, and execute the wardrobe for each world, no matter the time period, physical setting, or film genre.

The exhibition also highlights the costume design process from start to finish. As you wander through the gallery, see how designers costume a character with sketches, mood boards, and reference photos on tablets available to browse. Behind-the-scenes videos for a selection of films further delve into the complicated process of building a universe of screen. Once again, we are thrilled to include all five nominees for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design: Sandy Powell (Mary Poppins Returns and The Favourite), Ruth Carter (Black Panther), Alexandra Byrne (Mary Queen of Scots) and Mary Zophres (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). 

As always, the exhibition is free and open to the public from February 5 - April 12; note that the Museum is closed on Friday, February 15. Extra motivation to attend in the first week: the one-of-a-kind replica spacesuit created for Ryan Gosling's Neil Armstrong in First Man (costume designer Mary Zophres) will only be in the gallery for one week - make sure to visit before February 9 to see this impressive suit in person! Stay tuned throughout the run of the exhibition as we announce our schedule of events - you won't want to miss seeing your favorite costume designer speak in person!

Every costume in the exhibition represents an exciting contribution to the craft of costume design - in this exhibition, blockbuster fan favorites and small art house films alike are equally valued for the designer's creative vision. Scroll down for a peek inside the gallery, as well as a glimpse into our opening night reception on February 2.

Welcome to the 27th annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition!

Mary Zophres, Academy Award nominated costume designer for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Zophres stands in front of the space suit from her film First Man (on display for one week only!)

Mary Vogt, costume designer for Crazy Rich Asians

Gucci loafers worn by Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians

Members of the Black Design Collective with Ruth Carter, Academy Award nominee for Black Panther: TJ Walker, Ruth Carter, Angela Dean, and Kevan Hall (FIDM Alum)

Detail of Warrior Falls scene costume worn by Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia in Black Panther

FIDM Museum Director Barbara Bundy, Curator Kevin Jones, and Creative Director Peter Lam

Erin Benach, costume designer for A Star is Born

Detail of Aquaman suit worn by Jason Momoa, costume designer Kym Barrett

Mark Bridges with his 2018 Academy Award winning costume from Phantom Thread

Detail of hat worn by Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns, costume designer Sandy Powell

Guests enjoy the sketch wall in the 27th annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition 

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Recently, the FIDM Museum had the honor of hosting Academy-Award winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne for a behind-the-scenes tour of our gallery and Collections storage. In between marveling at Empress Josephine and admiring a rare 16th century petticoat front, we asked Alexandra about her impressive work on the film Mary Queen of Scots – which we are thrilled to include in the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition, opening February 6, 2019. Learn about her unique choice to outfit the cast in denim, and how this project compares to her two other Queen Elizabeth films, Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

FIDM Museum Curator Kevin Jones, costume designer Alexandra Byrne, and FIDM Museum Director, Barbara Bundy

What led you to the decision to costume the entire film in denim?

Partly it was budget. I knew we needed to make everything that could be worked in a factory situation easily, so you go to the denim factories. And I wanted the men to be sexy - denim has a very easily translatable language and it’s a fabric that gets better with wear. For Mary’s story, it was a pragmatic reason: the denim decoration of her clothes is to do with the dirt and the wear.

I really didn’t want a film that was ‘here comes another queen in another frock.’ I think I’ve done that. And it wasn’t that story. So then it became very interesting to limit your menu and have one fabric that you are manipulating to tell your story. The first thing we did was to make an Elizabethan doublet in denim, and that was a moment because it was horrible! It was the worst kind of ‘costumey’ costume and I went…okay, take a breath. It was quite a moment, and I thought oh this is wrong, this isn’t going to work. And then I did take a breath and I worked out that we carry so much denim language in our heads, we have so much preconception of denim. It had to be a blend of ancient and modern. I had to learn how to use introduce modern denim language into the Elizabethan era to achieve the immediacy I wanted, but to still give it a period credibility. And that was fascinating because it meant that you couldn’t draw it. You just had to prototype it. Because it was literally just constantly the juxtaposition and the balancing of that information. So if you put orange top stitching in, is that too much? Does that work? With Saoirse [Ronan, playing Queen Mary] the first thing we did was build a fitting toile. We did it in denim - I thought ‘we might as well dive into this!’

How did using denim bring a sense modernity to the film?

The main challenge I felt was to make the men look sexy. Elizabethan is not a sexy period for men. So denim lends itself to that. And it’s such a different story from the two Elizabeth films [I’ve previously done]. I wanted clothes that had an immediacy today but still credible for queens of the period, and I wanted a fabric that got better with wear, because they didn’t have dry cleaners. I suppose what took me to it is those clothes would have been like our jeans; when you take them off, they’re three-dimensional, they’ve molded to your body. So I wanted something that didn’t have that costume quality. Something that would get better and better.

Alexandra Byrne examines a c. 1804 court gown possibly belonging to Empress Josephine in the exhibition Majesty and Mystery: Saving a Napoleonic Court Gown 

What did the rest of the crew – director, producer, etc. – think of the denim direction of the costumes?

Because our time frame was so tight, they liked the idea - but I was using words to describe visuals, and I didn’t know whether they really understood what I meant. There is a time lag of making toiles and prototypes that are sufficiently advanced enough that you can show, because there is so much to learn. There’s no point in showing something that’s only halfway there in your mind - they are not going to understand where you want to take it. So it’s about how you communicate that information. We pushed ahead and did some fitting toiles just for the generic crowd because their costumes go to the factories the soonest. I didn’t draw anything because it was so organic to develop it. I helped myself by using my middle son as my fitting model, who is very good looking with long hair – and I think he sold it well!

It was [production company] Working Title, and I’ve done two Elizabeth films with them. [Co-chairman] Tim Bevan had confidence in me. And I think that helped. If I’d been going into an entirely new company I think it would have been a harder battle.

This story is so different, it needed to be done in a different way. I didn’t want to redo Golden Age. I’ve done that. This is the reality – we’re going to be shooting in Scotland in rain and mud and hail. If we rent costumes, you’re going to pay ten times over in loss and damage for something that doesn’t look great in the first place. If you look at the fabrics that we used on Golden Age, the fabric alone would be 3,000 dollars for a dress. We couldn’t do that, we had to do it another way.

The budget is always a bit of a slugout. Sometimes I think you just have to stand your ground. At that point I was so excited about the idea and I didn’t know how else we could do it. How can you do armies that are going to be falling in the river, covered in mud – how do you put boots on that many people if you’re not stylizing to make them? There aren’t enough period boots to even fit!

So you had shoe makers as well?

We made everything. All of the extras, everything – 16 weeks out from shooting. A lot of it was made in a factory in Poland and a factory in Leicester, they did all the denim. And they did such a good job. The factory in Poland makes military uniforms and I’ve used them before. They’ve never done period and they were very excited to get a new string to their bow. They were formally a denim factory.

Curator Kevin Jones shows Alexandra Byrne a c. 1575 embroidered petticoat front from the FIDM Museum Collection

Embroidered petticoat front, c. 1575
FIDM Museum Purchase
2016.5.133

What kind of denim did you use for the film, and how did you achieve such distinct textures and colors?

We used every kind of denim imaginable! We used stretch denim, we used factory surface denim – our budget was seriously tight. We dyed the fabric; I think by limiting the palette, when you then use color its very strong. For Elizabeth’s clothes, we found a silk cotton blend we could dye one color. So we dyed and printed it. We embellished the denim with embroidery, topstitch, pintucks – everything.

Did you recreate any of the famous portraits of the queens in denim?

When I’m recreating a painting then I step out of the denim. Those are very specific moments that are used for a time lapse. We need to skip forward twenty-five years - Elizabeth walks around three sides of her cloister; she goes from when she meets Mary in an orange denim riding outfit which is referenced in the Darnley portrait, exactly the year that they met. Then we go from that into the Darnley portrait, and around the corner into the Sieve portrait.

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Today we're delving into the FIDM Museum's Operation 1804 project with Associate Curator Christina Johnson. Read on for Christina's interpretation of this important undertaking.

*************************************************************************************************************

Associate Curator Christina Johnson with the train portion of the Napoléonic court ensemble

Some people might believe that curators who work with historic materials are obsessed with the past. After all, we do spend quite a bit of time with objects made a generation (or more!) before we were even born. I believe the most significant contribution a curator can make is aligned entirely with the future—ensuring the objects in their stewardship (and the corresponding research) are preserved for generations to come. That is our intention with “Operation 1804,” the fundraising effort to acquire a rare three-piece Napoléonic court bodice, skirt, and train with provenance linked to Empress Joséphine of France (Quick ‘Cliffs Notes’ review--1804 refers to the year of her husband Napoléon’s coronation). The FIDM Museum has introduced the project with the exhibition Majesty and Mystery: Saving a Napoléonic Court Gown, currently in our History Gallery.

Taking measurements of the skirt

Our curatorial team gives quite a bit of thought to any long-term undertaking, especially one that we need to fundraise for. Why should our institution acquire this ensemble? To give the official (and perhaps dry) answer, according to our policies, the FIDM Museum is charged with collecting “objects with outstanding design merit,” defined as: having 1)“dynamic visual appeal;” 2) “being an excellent example of an era, culture, or a designer’s work; and 3) “having meaningful artistic and social significance.”[i]  This artifact certainly meets the criteria.

The ensemble is also an unprecedented opportunity to conduct an object-based study focused on a clothing type that seldom survives. There are only a handful of royal court gowns from this era held by American institutions; I know of no other similar artifact worn by Empress Joséphine preserved in the United States. Partly, this is because of the expense of materials. Precious metals were often removed from textiles—especially once a regime had ended—and melted down to be reused. Also, the First Empire-era fad of combining yards of delicate silk net with heavy metal embroidery didn’t bode well with the objects’ longevity. So much was destroyed.  Today, during a time of pressing social justice causes, it’s possible we will receive questions about why the clothing of the rich and royal should be purchased and preserved for posterity. I’ll counter with another question—what about the many artisans who made these objects? As we think about the full extent of societal history, just as many people who are not remembered by name in the history books have been immortalized in the making of elite dress such as this, including skilled embroiderers, seamstresses, and other tradespeople. In acquiring the ensemble, we aim to discover more about their world, too.

Research underway

I’d like to describe how Curator Kevin Jones and I are approaching the research for this project. After spending a fair amount of time with our coworkers  “oohing and awing,” we got to work. I begin by immersing myself in any topic I study. This includes compiling an extensive bibliography of books and papers to consult (sometimes with the help of a graduate student intern or a knowledgeable volunteer), and more importantly, I make the time to read them! I also search out experts already studying the subject matter and review their work. We’ll be reaching out to other scholars once the ensemble is purchased, as I’m a firm believer that a collaborative approach between curators, historians, makers, and innovators produces the best results in our field. It’s immensely helpful that institutions are adding more resources to their online collections databases each day. Not only does this help with amassing related visual and written evidence, it also certainly saves time and funds to conduct preliminary research at my desk instead of hopping on a plane bound for days spent at French archives.

The bodice

But for all that is available online, you just can’t ignore the fact that looking at a few photos of an object is nothing compared to spending quality time with it. Analyzing stitches and pinholes, utilizing microscopy, observing wear marks—these are vital activities for any thorough object-based analysis. I’ve found that the most intriguing objects elicit the most comments and queries. Let’s take the bodice for example. Was it originally attached to the skirt, or was it separated for storage purposes during Joséphine’s era, or even later? How exactly was it attached to the skirt during wear? Pins? Basting stitches? Trim is missing from the front bodice and came to us in a small bag. What can we learn about the embroidery techniques? Will it be possible to understand the original methods and placement? And what does the bodice tell us about the physical size of the wearer and her deportment? Looking at the bodice and consulting written sources for corroboration should reveal answers. Does this match in size to other gowns with Empress Joséphine provenance? In the future, we do plan to conduct in-person research at institutions holding examples from her wardrobe and other women’s Napoléonic court attire for comparison. The FIDM Museum aims to display this ensemble in our Gallery after its long-term research and conservation project is complete; we will also publish an article detailing discoveries and produce documentary film footage about the adventure.

Christina with Josephine - Vimeo

Christina with Josephine from FIDM Museum on Vimeo.

I’ll end with a video of yours truly seeing the ensemble in person for the first time. I came in to take a look on a Saturday afternoon, because I just couldn’t wait another day until the start of the official workweek. Kevin filmed me as I walked through Museum storage and encountered the piece on the table (it takes a moment for me to open the door, I couldn’t hear him well). The digital photos I had previously seen don’t do the glistening treasure justice. It was certainly a joyous moment for me—not only because of its beauty and link to history, but because I was excited to know it was the start of a really engaging venture. As one of the curators of the FIDM Museum, it is my intention that individuals who attend our exhibitions, read our publications, or even connect with us on social media find joy and meaning in those moments. I know this ensemble will elicit wonder and enjoyment (and probably intrigue) from future scholars, enthusiasts, and students. And that’s really the most important reason why we’re doing all we can to acquire it.

If you would like to make a donation to the FIDM Museum’s “Operation 1804,” click here, or simply text 'Josephine' to 243725.

 

[i] FIDM Museum Institutional Collecting Policy & Plan, rev. 2017

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FIDM Museum Blog by Fidm Museum - 6M ago

“There is a new ‘wrinkle’ in dresses. As a matter of fact, they are all wrinkles, for they are made from the pretty crêpe tissue paper…”[1]

The use of paper in fashion has a long history, spanning centuries and civilizations across the globe. Yet the introduction of crêpe tissue paper in the late 19th century sparked a new interest in the endless possibilities of this fabric-like fiber. Already a popular material for making artificial flowers and home décor, tissue paper was first given its machine-made crinkle by an English manufacturing company in the late 1880s.[2] Massachusetts paper goods company Dennison Manufacturing added imported crêpe paper in a vivid array of colors to their list of offerings around 1892; the company eventually went on to produce their own crêpe paper lines in 1914.[3] Recognizing the artistic promise of tissue and crêpe paper, Dennison’s created a specialized Art Department that provided in-store craft demonstrations and published instructional pamphlets.

Booklet
How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes
Dennison Manufacturing Co., 1925
Gift of Ron Bernstein, SC2011.1145.2

By the turn of the century, crêpe paper became a fashionable material for all manner of crafts: dressing table accessories for the boudoir, cotillion favors, lampshades, and party décor. Harper’s Bazaar touted the ease of braiding crêpe paper to make sturdy accessories like sewing bags and even bedroom slippers.[4] The magazine also recommended a more unusual use: adding a sheet of rose crêpe paper to the wash to restore the color of a faded pink blouse![5]

Girl's crêpe paper flower costume in Art and Decoration in Crepe and Tissue Paper, Dennison Manufacturing Co., 1917, via hathitrust.org.

The novelty material was similar to a woven textile such as cotton gauze or silk georgette, allowing the possibility that “any pretty evening frock can be copied in the crêpe.”[6] Consumers quickly realized crêpe paper was strong enough to fashion fans, hats, parasols, bags, and even garments; it was particularly suitable for fancy dress ensembles, as the wearer could make an outlandish costume for a fraction of the cost. Starting in the 1890s and continuing throughout the early 20th century, crêpe paper costume parties for both adults and children became a popular amusement.[7]

Child's fancy dress costume: dress and fan
Crêpe paper, 1920s
Gift of Steven Porterfield, SC2014.897.27AB

Child's fancy dress costume: dress and hat
Crêpe paper, c. 1910-1915
Gift of Manlove Family, 2006.870.37AB

Children’s fancy dress parties, inspired by the masquerade balls adults had participated in for centuries, were introduced in the mid-19th century, and rose in popularity after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert held a costume party for their children in 1859.[8] Butterflies, harlequins, fairies, storybook characters, and animals were well-loved choices, but for little girls the flower was a perennial favorite. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar included drawings and instructions on how to make charming roses, lilies, or poppies out of crêpe, and Dennison’s Manufacturing Co. continued to release annual booklets with crêpe costume patterns. The assembly was fairly straightforward, as crêpe paper was strong enough to be sewn directly onto a fitted muslin slip that formed the base of the costume. Crêpe’s unique texture gave a realistic appearance to skirts made of layered petals, demonstrating “what wonders may be accomplished with paper.”[9]

Child's fancy dress costume
Crêpe paper and fabric flowers, 1920-1925
Gift of Jay E. Hampel, 2008.801.2

Flower costumes from How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes
Dennison Manufacturing Co., 1925
Gift of Ron Bernstein, SC2011.1145.2

Of course, crêpe was not used exclusively for costumes. A c. 1897 girl’s dress in the FIDM Museum Collection reflects a fashionable children’s style made with crêpe paper sewn to a cotton underdress. At first glance, it is nearly impossible to tell that the garment is paper – the printed pattern of violets on cream crêpe adds to the fabric-like appearance. Though difficult to maintain over multiple wears, a child’s garment would eventually be outgrown; crêpe was a clever solution to providing new frocks at an affordable price.[10]

Girl's dress
Crêpe paper and cotton, c. 1897
Gift of Steven Porterfield, 2007.897.3

Printed crêpe paper selections in Art and Decoration in Crepe and Tissue Paper, Dennison Manufacturing Co., 1917, via hathitrust.org.

The low price point of crêpe paper led to its resurgence as a stylish material for accessories in the 1930s. During the global economic depression, women turned to inexpensive accessories to update and enliven their wardrobes when new garments could not be purchased or sewn.[11] Newspapers advising savvy readers on how to stay fashionable on a budget celebrated the “practical and wearable”[12] attributes of twisted crêpe paper, which promised to hold up in the rain, survive a strong scrub brush, and give the appearance of expensive straw. Outfits were bestowed new life with a crocheted crêpe paper hat, jabot, handbag, or belt – so thrifty and easy to make, readers were encouraged to whip up “one for each dress.”[13]

Crocheted crêpe paper hats. Left: Los Angeles Times, April 9, 1935 (A9), Right: Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1936 (A8)

The ingenuity of depression-era fashion continued into the 1940s during WWII, as the scarcity of materials and government-mandated fabric restrictions encouraged creativity in clothing. Much like the 1930s, fashion advice focused on adding accessories to liven up a tired ensemble, with hats in particular being “the best source for a bit of wartime novelty.”[14] The Parisians had long set the bar for exquisite millinery, producing styles that inspired the rest of the world every season; now, their skills were put to the test as shortages abounded in their occupied city. Not to be deterred, milliners used every cast-off scrap to create innovative headwear – maintaining the elegance and integrity of Parisian fashion became an act of subtle defiance against their intruders.[15] Wood-shavings, twine, newspaper and yes, even crêpe paper became viable resources to construct a new chapeau, such as the 1942 black bowl-shaped crêpe hat in the FIDM Museum Collection by French milliner Rose Valois (active 1927 – 1970). The hat's natural fiber - often the only material available - and woven pattern follow similar Rose Valois designs from the same period. The millinery house, founded by three women, had a unique connection to the war; not only did they set to work making caps for the nurses of the American Hospital in 1939,[16] but one of its original partners, Vera Leigh, left the business to join Britain’s Special Operations Executive in 1940.[17]

Hat
Crêpe paper
Rose Valois, French
FIDM Museum Purchase, 2003.5.33

"Rose Valois natural fiber hat"
Illustration by Roger Rouffiange, 1942
Palais Galliera, 1980.55.14.64

From fancy dress frivolities to economical accessories, novelty party décor to defiant wartime resourcefulness, the 130 year history of crêpe paper has produced creative fashion at its finest. As designers continue to experiment with the unique qualities of crêpe paper, the prediction of a 1894 newspaper article promoting the benefits of the new material rings true: “Necessity is no longer the best mother of invention. Ingenuity has usurped the throne.”[18]

 

 

[1] Eleanor Dumfries, “Paper Frocks: Pretty Fancy Dresses Made of the Improved Crepe Paper,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1894, 20.

[2] Seventy-Five Years: 1844-1919 (Framingham: Dennison Manufacturing Company, 1920), 45. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=bc.ark:/13960/t84j1b084;view=1up;seq=1

[3] Ibid.

[4] M.B. de Rennes, “Gifts of Braided Crepe Paper,” Harper’s Bazar, December 1912, 616.

[5] “Pin-Money Frocks,” Harper’s Bazar, April 1916, 77.

[6] Dumfries, “Paper Frocks,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1894, 20

[7] “A Crepe-Paper Party,” Harper’s Bazar, July 17, 1897, 596.

[8] “Fashion Plate - Fancy Ball Dresses for Children,” V&A Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O36454/fancy-ball-dresses-for-children-fashion-plate-unknown/.

[9] “Seen in the Shops,” Vogue, February 12, 1910, 18.

[10] Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson, Fabulous (Los Angeles: FIDM Museum Press, 2011), 143.

[11] Colleen Hill, “Great Chic from Little Details Grows: Women’s Accessories in the 1930s,” in Elegance in an Age of Crisis, eds. Patricia Mears and G Bruce Boyer (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2014), 223.

[12] “Crocheting Hats with Crepe Paper,” The Washington Post, August 11, 1933, 9.

[13] “Gifts to be Made at Home Range from Smart Knitted Dresses to Box Pillows,” The Washington Post, November 19, 1933, AM10.

[14] Jonathan Walford, Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008), 97.

[15] Jones and Johnson, Fabulous, 211.

[16] "The Pulse of Fashion," Haper’s Bazaar, November 1939, 49.

[17] Anne Sebba, Les Parisiennes: Resistance, Collaboration, and the Women of Paris Under Nazi Occupation (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017), 167.

[18] Dumfries, “Paper Frocks,” Los Angeles Times, November 25, 1894, 20

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