Inside the Archive at Central Saint Martins

Earlier this month, our ADH members had the opportunity to visit the Museum and Study Collection at Central Saint Martins. The collection contains work produced by staff and students, both past and present, documenting Central Saint Martins’ (CSM) rich history. The collection also holds donated items for use in their teaching collections that provide inspiration and information of art, design and fashion histories. ADH members were shown a number of items by the collection’s curator, Anna Buruma.

The collection holds the work of textile designer, Joyce Clissold; whose examples of work we were shown. When she died in 1982, her estate gave everything that was in her workshop to institutional collections, and Central Saint Martins was one of the lucky recipients. We were shown examples of her printing blocks including the small designs on cotton reels that were used to make each of her printed fabrics unique. As well as one of her dye books, that was clearly well used in the workshop with almost every page splashed with dye. There were also garments with her printed designs, including a mustard coloured felted wool cloth jacket with an autumn leave/Huntsmen design and a 1930s jacket back piece with a floral leaf pattern on a gold and white brocade fabric. Another item Clissold item in the collection was a 1932-3 carrier bag for her shop ‘Footprints’. With documentation of Clissold’s printing methods, the garments she made and even the bagthe purchased items were taken home in, this portion of the archive is a wonderful resource for researching the textile designer.

Next up, were the notebooks, journals, drawings of Norah Waugh. Of course, many of the faces in the room lit up at the sound of the well-known name in costume construction and historical dress. The collection reveals Waugh’s passion and dedication to her subject with numerous entries showing her research and sketches of garments as well as drafts for her book. As a lecturer at CSM in historical costume, her work continues to be key to many theatre costume designers.

A piece that made the room gasp, was the collections prized possession. This was the Alexander McQueen Spring 2005 collection leather jacket. The jacket exemplifies McQueen’s design process of deciding where to place applique and embroidery detailing on the final design. It has paper ‘test prints’ and leather trims simply taped to the garment using clear tape as well as red sharpie drawn lines to indicate changes in the shape of the jacket and where the edging should be placed. As a former MA fashion student in the 1990s and an inspirational designer to many fashion students McQueen’s fashion is a high pointof the collection.

Overall, the pieces presented to the ADH members during the tour were truly inspiring. They provide a valuable source of inspiration for future research projects and are evidence of the importance of collections in dress history research.

Fashioned from Nature Exhibition Review

When the fashion-industry is the second highest contributor to pollution, the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition comes at an incredibly important time.

The ground floor showcases a plethora of beautiful garments with seemingly questionable ethics at the heart of their production. Discussed are the overexploitation of natural resources used since the 1600s, from mass produced silk and wool to the skinning of beavers for fur and whale hunting for bones. There are informative audio visuals next to a number of the display cases and maps that highlight place of manufacture and trade routes of goods. These interpretative techniques add another layer of narrative, emphasisingthat this exhibition is not just about fashion; it is about the economic and cultural context in which these objects come from and the effects these fashion systems have on the natural world.  Although touching on the incredibly poignant subject of animal trade, the V&A’s curator Edwina Ehrman has brought to light the horrors in the most sympathetic way. In a low light case to prevent deterioration, several feathered head ornaments from the 19th century lie next to a white dress embellished with iridescent beetle wings. We see how closely beauty and vulgarity are intertwined.

Cases are also dedicated to a variety of fine 17th century needlework with artistically embroidered insects, birdsand floral arrangements, 18th century fans printed with botanical studies and late 19thcentury artificial flowers on headbands. Attention to detail was given to the mounts on which these headbands sit, with cleverly produced shadows representative of a head. Exciting touches like this make the exhibition a real success.

Similar to the last V&A fashion blockbuster ‘Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion’, the first floor instantly transports the viewer back to the 20th – 21st century. It is brighter and the fashions more familiar. The upstairs is dedicated to a sustainable future, with poignant visual reminders of the effects the ever-growing fashion industry has on the planet. Three large projections of the ice caps melting sit just to the side of what appears to be a protest ring, where wooden stands hold slogan t-shirts that are anti-animal testing and pro-sustainability. This section has been thoughtfully curated and as such, easily conveys this important message.

Other show stoppers include a Jean Paul Gaultier faux leopard print dress made of thousands of intricately laced beads from 1954. We learn that 2017 was a big year for innovative and sustainable materials from the likes of Diana Schurer and Stella McCartney. Included is a tunic made of Microsilks, a genetically modified yeast/sugar spun to mimic the silks of spiders, Mycelium trousers, which are made of the underground root structure of mushrooms, and a dress made of grass roots.

The first floor encourages us to consider where we buy our clothes from and how we can make more ethical decisions on purchasing habits. Although historically environmental concerns have not always been at the heart of fashion manufacturing, the visitors are reminded that new technologies for a more sustainable future are already in production. This exhibition conveys sensitive subject matters in an insightful way, projecting a sense of determination for change onto its viewers.

My Spring Semester Internship at The Costume Institute

As a recipient of The Madeleine Ginsburg Grant, I was able to undertake a curatorial internship in The Costume Institute. On my first day, I met with my supervisor in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (The Met) cavernous Great Hall. Vases of flowers bloomed through the space, which was especially bustling for a weekday in late winter. After briefly chatting with my supervisor, a research associate within The Costume Institute, I was led downstairs to the department where I would be working.

The database I will be usingisThe Museum System, more commonly known as TMS. TMS will allow for me to update the “Bibliography” section of individual items, which will be viewable online. When a visitor clicks on an object’s page, they will be able to not only to find out which publicationsdiscuss said object but will also have access to all necessary publication information, including page numbers. I will also scan these books and upload their pages to TMS, so that they will be viewable for intra-museum personnel.

Displaying Azzedine Alaïa’s Houpette Dress: Inside Arc and AzzedineAlaïa: The Couturier

Opening in May 2018, two fashion exhibitions, Inside Arc at the Fashion Space Gallery and AzzedineAlaïa: The couturier at the Design Museum (London), both of which exhibit a Azzedine Alaïa Houpette dress. However, the exhibitions have purposefully displayed the dress in different ways. In this post I will review the different uses of the garment in each exhibition because the curators have given differing meanings to the dress through their individual interpretation and display methods.

Both exhibitions display a light blue example of the dress, each varying in length and years. The dress is an example of Alaïa’s innovative and precisely engineered knitwear. Inspired by the master couturier Charles James, Alaïa used alternating strips of ‘Houppe’, a fabric made up of tufts of nylon threads that imitate the feel of swan down feathers. The design was intended to sculpt the wearer with varying tension that shapes the entire body.

Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion Exhibition Review

Initially curated by Sarah Schleuning from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia and Sue–an van der Zijpp and Mark Wilson from the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, and by Samantha Robinson from the Dallas Museum of Art, Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion presented seven years of the designer’s ingenious haute couture. The exhibition displayed43 ensembles from 15 collections, showcasing the exploratory nature of van Herpen’s design aesthetic, leaving visitors with a solid impression of her progressive vision.

The exhibition highlights the many ways in which van Herpen pushes the boundaries of technology and plays with new fabrication techniques and nontraditional materials. Based both in nature and in ideas of the contemporary world, Iris van Herpen’s work is often seen more as fine art than as fashionable dress. Her garments are typically shown in the museum space and are defined as the highest form of craftsmanship within the fashion industry. Each of van Herpen’s collections draws from the last, elevating concepts so that there is a firm string that keeps them together. Unconventional in material, van Herpen’s designs communicate an unmistakable exchange between the body, technology, and movement, which is harmonious and admirable.

Homemade Garments in Museum Collections: 1930s Hand–Knitted Bathing Suits

In the 1930s, there was a popularity for hand–knitted bathing suits, particularly the fashion for more streamline suits with halter neck and low–back designs that occurred with the health and beauty trends that made beach leisure attractive. Although it was cheaper to hand–knit one than purchase a machine–knitted suit, they were nonetheless notorious for being uncomfortable to wear as they would sag when wet and be sand–traps when dry. As garments they have a place in the history of knitting and interwar beachwear, yet only three examples were found across three museum collections in the South of England, where machine–knitted examples were often more abundant.This blog post will consider why hand–knitted bathing suits are not numerous in museum collections and discuss the individuality of the three hand–knitted bathing suits found.

There are two key reasons why few hand–knitted bathing suits survive in museum collections. The first is due to them being made from wool. Woollen garments have a poor survival rate due to their vulnerability of being damaged by moths. They also tend to be unravelled in times of need; with the 1930s having close proximity to the Second World War, many could have been unravelled in order to knit items for soldiers as part of the war effort. The second is due to how hand–knitted bathing suits were made by ordinary women in an everyday production of knitting clothes within the home and often for economic necessity. Fashion and design historian Cheryl Buckley argued that in the past museums have often privileged garments by named designers rather than those made within the home. This perceived hierarchy of textile items collected by museums could explain why only three examples of knitted bathing suits have been found in museum collections so far.

A Summer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

This summer I spent ten weeks interning at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) in the Costume and Textiles Department. However, thanks to the museum’s robust educational program, part of my time was spent meeting with the PMA’s various employees, and receiving tours of the institution’s storage and gallery space.

In the Costume and Textiles department, I developed a range of collections management skills. I learned how to vacuum and roll textiles, many of which were multiple yards long. I made custom padded hangers and helped measure hundreds of the museum’s collection of hats. All of these tasks meant that I spent many days in and out of the department’s impressive storage facilities. Going into storage was always a treat, as each visit exposed me to at least one object (if not several) that I had never seen before.

Measuring hundreds of women’s hats in the museum’s collection provided me with a comprehensive historic survey of this accessory. The hats in question ranged from late nineteenth century pieces, to mid–twentieth century sculptural pieces and beyond. This project also allowed me to gain further experience working in The Museum System, as the measurements we took needed to be digitally recorded in the museum’s database.  Throughout my time in the department, I also worked routinely in TMS to update object files pertaining to the museum’s collection of American samplers. The objects in question consistently displayed an astounding amount of skill and detail, considering that they were embroidered by young children. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this project was the genealogical research involved, which was necessary to verify who in fact had created each piece.

Throughout my time in the department, Kristina Haugland, The Le Vine Associate Curator of Costume and Textiles and Supervising Curator for the Study Room, was in the process of organizing two upcoming exhibitions, Fabulous Fashion: From Dior’s New Look to Now and Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal. Thanks to this fact, I had the opportunity to help dress mannequins for photography and exhibition, as well as gain first–hand insight into what goes into the final push to mount and exhibition.