Mr. Selfridge Is Back

Are you watching Mr. Selfridge? In the United States, PBS just started season two, and I’m thoroughly sucked in. It’s basically a period soap opera, akin the Downton Abbey, but set in the city instead of the country.

If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Selfridge, it’s about the London department store. Season one introduced us the American Harry Selfridge as he moves to London in 1908, butts heads with the British over his revolutionary retail concepts, and unveils his concept of modernity. Feminism, the emergence of makeup, and various celebrities both real and fictional are all key plot points.

The show relies on an ensemble cast full of amusing characters. There’s a little bit of an upstairs/downstairs theme going on. First you have the lowly shop girl who has ambition and a spark of creativity with her brother who works in the loading dock. The store’s management features heavily, including the Frenchman who is in charge of window displays and the chief of staff who is in a complicated romantic relationship with the head of accessories. And then you have the rich who shop at the store, financially back it, and socialize with Selfridge’s family.

And the costumes — well the costumes are great. They aren’t 100% historically accurate, but the show is a bit of a fantasy and over the top, so, appropriately, the costumes are too. Maybe it’s hypocritical of me to give this show a pass, but somehow it works for me.

Season two jumps to 1914, advancing many of the characters’ lives in interesting directions. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I love how they are developing the story line. War is on the horizon, and trade unions are rising. And the relationships between the characters are all deepening. Everyone reaps what they sow from the previous season, both for better and worse.

If you need to catch up, season one is available on Amazon Instant Video (free if you have a Prime account!) or on iTunes. And PBS is only two episodes deep into season two, which is available on its website.

Tell me if you are watching! Who is your favorite character? Personally Agnes Towler and Henri Leclair were my favorites in season one, but I’ve got a growing affection for Kitty and Gordon Selfridge in season two.

P.S. No spoilers in the comments please!

New Fashion One-Oh-One Post

Sorry for my silence, but I’ve got something to share. My second Fashion One-Oh-One post on Raincoast Creative Salon is up today! Go on and read about Fortuny and his Delphos gown.

Exhibition File – Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy

image from Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy, from Queen Sofía Spanish Institute

Throughout the fashion historical cannon, there are few artists and designers like Fortuny. He was one of a kind and years ahead of his peers when it came to women’s fashion.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, known simply as Fortuny, founded his couture house in 1906. He radically reinvented the silhouette, favoring designs that mimicked Greek styles and shunned the corset. His most famous gowns were the Delphos gowns, seen below on the left and middle mannequins. They are entirely made of delicately pleated silk and are a marvel to behold. No one has figured out exactly what method Fortuny used to create his pleated masterpieces.

An exhibition at the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute looks deep into Fortuny’s work and his familial sources of inspiration. Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy aims to contextualize Fortuny’s work amongst his matrilineal and paternal heritage. Both sides of his family have important roles in art history — his mother’s side is full of artists, curators, and collectors and his father was the Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny y Marsal.

Fortuny’s textiles, fashion designs, paintings, lithographs, and photographs are exhibited along side the work of his father and mother’s family to show how strong of an influence his ancestors played on his work.

Fortuny y Madrazo: An Artistic Legacy sounds really fascinating to me. It runs until March 30.

Address: Queen Sofía Spanish Institute, 684 Park Avenue, New York, New York
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10-6, Friday 10-8, Saturday 10-5
Admission: members $10, non-members $15, students and seniors $5

Winter Black

fashion plate from 1910-1913, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

It’s snowing again in Chicago. I hate to whine about the weather constantly, but my commute is growing exceedingly tiresome as I slug through slush puddles and get blasted by high speed winds each day.

Of course I never look as chic as the woman in this illustration does, but I do like her black winter ensemble. She’s in black from head to toe in preparation to battle the elements just like I am. Or maybe she’s just in mourning about summer. Ah, maybe that’s the real reason us northerners wear so much black in the winter.

But I think the real lesson in this illustration is that I need a muff of my own.

Modernizing the Lawn Fete

The place to see and be seen seems to be Governors Island in New York this weekend. For the seventh year, Michael and Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra are throwing a Jazz Age Lawn Party.

I’ve never been, but this party seems to be getting bigger every year — at least if New York Times and blog coverage is to be believed. This year there are actually two weekend-long parties on June 16-17 and August 18-19. So at least you have another weekend to join the fete if this one doesn’t work out with your schedule.

Lawn parties on Governors Island are nothing new. I found these lovely images from the 1900s in the Library of Congress’ online catalog.

Garden Party, Governor's Island, 1911 published by Bain News Service

Don’t you want to be friends with the bohemians above?

Garden Party Wear, 1920s, c. 1925, credit Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

So what should you wear to the Jazz Age Lawn Party if you are in or near NYC? Take a cue from the ladies and gents in the c. 1925 photograph above. A loose chiffon dress with a dropped waist paired with a wide brimmed hat or cloche will be lovely if you are of the feminine persuasion. A straw boater and a three piece suit is fitting for a masculine look.

Have fun and report back! Hopefully I’ll figure out a way to go next year.

Reliving Titanic Through Fashion History

detail of dress by Paul Poiret, 1910-11 from The Kyoto Costume Institute

The 1910s are one of my favorite decades of dress. With all the attention on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it seems everywhere I look online there’s been a story featuring what people on the ship or their contemporaries wore.

evening dress by the House of Worth, 1910 | evening dress, 1909-11 both from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And I do admit that I watched Titanic, the 1997 Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio version, yesterday. I am pleased that I didn’t stoop to going to see it in 3D though. I was in 8th grade when the movie was released, and it was a huge deal to almost everyone my age back then. Now it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure movie for me, but I do realize how cliche it was to watch on the very day of the anniversary.

But back to the fashion of the period. The beauty of the clothing from the teens rests in the details and the colors. The way clothing was constructed rapidly changes after the teens. The beautiful tucks and pleats, embroidery and lace, sequins, and other elements just aren’t the same a few decades later. There’s something so quietly beautiful in the delicateness of the fabrics and the styling, especially in the early years of the 1910s.

detail of dress, 1913-15 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The teens were part of a transitional period from restrictive dress to clothing that allowed for a wider range of movement. Women’s suffrage and participation in sports played a large part in the shift, and the tastes of American women impacted what styles designers in Europe produced.

female tennis players, 1910-15, photo from logicstock llc

So it’s not a big surprise to me that people are taking an interest in the clothing of the 1910s on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking. Dress studies is gaining importance as people realize it helps tell new stories about history. By looking at the clothing people wore on the ship, we have a new connection to that moment. And the clothing of this period is so lovely, that it’s hard not to be a bit fascinated by it.