Friday File

Happy Friday! My apologies for writing here less often lately. My evenings have become a bit busier. Also, I’m rededicating myself to exercising regularly — I signed up for Zumba and am getting back into strength training. This means I have less time to write after work, or I collapse in exhaustion when I get home.

On Monday I attended a documentary screening that I co-organized. If you have the opportunity to see “Men of the Cloth,” don’t miss it. It’s a captivating look at the lives of master tailors and their dedication to the craft.

Also, last night I got a haircut with a new stylist, Dae. He didn’t do anything dramatic to my hair, but I really liked what he had to say about developing a relationship with his clients. I felt like he really listened to me and that my hair was in good hands.

And now for some great links:

gowns by Charles James at the Met’s exhibition preview, photo by Hannah Thomson, from

Are you ready for Monday’s Met Gala 2014, which celebrates the opening of “Charles James: Beyond Fashion?” I’ll be watching online.

Fashion designer Patrick Kelly is the subject of a retrospective exhibition opening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this Sunday.

Great news!

I don’t follow celebrity relationships, but I greatly enjoyed this open letter to George Clooney’s fiancée. She is one accomplished woman.

Do you read The Gentlewoman? I’ve been meaning to subscribe since it launched in 2010.

Just discovered The Courtauld Institute of Art’s new fashion history blog.

Friday File

Happy Friday! I admit I am ready for Spring Break next week, even if it means I still have to work. I had a lot of class visits in the Fashion Study Collection this week plus a donor visit. I need a rest from lecturing, even if that means getting some monotonous cataloging done at my desk. Is there something you do at work that is commonly thought of as boring but you actually enjoy (at least from time to time)?

Aside from work, I’m looking forward to the Marc Le Bihan trunk show at Robin Richman this weekend. His spring/summer collection and pre-sale fall/winter collection will be 15% off, and there is a cocktail reception tonight.

Now, the best links of the week:

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has smart, funny, and compelling thoughts on gender, feminism, and Africa and she’s stylish as all heck. Her Ted talk is incredible. I need to get my hands on her books. Someone get this woman a bigger platform immediately!

My good friend Liz is headed to the National Stationary Show. And her business, Betsy Ann Paper, needs a little help with a Kickstarter. If you love beautifully crafted stationary, you will want to back this. The rewards are stellar!

I’m planning to sit down with my iPad this weekend and read through the New York Times special section on Museums, which was published earlier in the week.

We need to do something to better support female fashion designers in the United States. The following section, reported as industry culture, makes me rage: “Over the past six months, I’d estimate that nearly a dozen publicists and designers have mentioned to me that it’s more difficult to sell an editor on a female designer. To them, the hierarchy goes like this: straight men first, gay men second, women third.”

I would visit a Museum of Food and Drinks.

I can’t wait until the Yves Saint Laurent movie comes out (June 25)! Also, I’m clutching my pearls over so many original garments worn in the film.

Rena Tom wrote a great piece that muses over handcraft versus machine craft.

Designer L’Wren Scott was found dead on Monday, which was ruled a suicide. Cathy Horyn wrote a personal reflection about Scott’s life and her relationship with the deceased designer.

The Monuments Men

I’ve been on a movie kick lately, and last night I saw The Monuments Men, which opened this weekend. There are few movies more up my alley — a period movie about art historians saving art in Europe? Sign me up. I knew I’d love it purely based on its premise.

If you don’t know the storyline, a group of art historians, architects, and artists go to the WWII front to track down art looted by the Nazis. No, it’s not an Oscar winner and there are some hokey moments, but overall it’s very enjoyable. The cast is filled with heavy hitters — George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, and John Goodman.

And it is a story that is important to share. Art and historical looting happens all over the world. War and civil unrest are often used as cover to steal some of humanity’s greatest treasures. One of the best lines in the movie goes, “You can wipe out a generation of people. You can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still come back. But if you destroy their achievements, and their history, then it’s like they never existed.”

Actual 'monuments man' James Rorimer, with notepad, supervises American GIs in May 1945, National Archives and Records Administration via AP / Monuments Foundation for the Preservation of Art of Dallas

Of course movies are often more glamorous than real life. If you are interested in reading about the true story, I highly recommend this overview by the Smithsonian and a NPR piece with additional stories of the Monuments Men. The Met created a self-guided tour of artwork currently on display that was saved by the Monuments Men. And don’t miss the New York Times story about the women in the Monuments Men!

Even though you’ll find discrepancies between the real story and the movie, I hope The Monuments Men does well in theaters. I think it’s important for as many people as possible to see it to appreciate that war causes more damage than most people realize. Art and historical looting and the destruction of state archives are still major problems today. Art and artifact theft was and continues to be a problem in the Middle East, the heart of civilization, which increased due to American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Arab Spring, artifacts were stolen from archeological sites across Egypt and from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. And with the wave of violent protests in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the last week, reports say that the Ottoman archives in Sarajevo are lost from a fire set by protesters.

As they say, history repeats itself. But hopefully a movie like The Monuments Men can draw attention to the brave men and women who risked their lives to repatriate WWII-looted art and more people will have their eyes on issues like this in the future.

The Real Anna Karenina

The new adaptation of Anna Karenina came out two weekends ago. Costumed by Jacqueline Durran, the film strays wildly from what people wore during the 1870s, in which the book was set. Durran has admitted she didn’t try for an authentic adaptation, encouraged by director Joe Wright, and her inspiration came from 1950s Dior couture.

Forgive me a moment while I shudder. The modern jewelry, very low neckline, very narrow sleeves, and messy hair above are all based on 20th century fashions.

Anyway, maybe you’re curious what this film would look like if artistic liberties weren’t so off base from the true clothing of that period. So here I present to you a brief overview of the 1870s.

Let’s begin with the undergarments. First, a lady would have worn a chemise closest to the body and a corset over it. On top of the corset would have been a corset cover. On bottom, a cage crinoline or bustle would add fullness specifically to the back of the skirt (instead of fullness all the way around the skirt like during previous decades).

cage crinoline, 1870s | bustle, 1870s, both from Metropolitan Museum of Art

petticoat, 1870s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Over the cage or bustle would have been a petticoat. Note the room — extra folds of fabric — at the rear to accommodate the bustle while the front is flat.

For day, the dresses above and below would have been quite appropriate. The dress above dates from the early 1870s, near the start of Anna Karenina, while the dress below would have been from the mid to late 1870s, the latter part of the story.

dinner dress, late 1870s, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

I am simply smitten with this stunning red dinner dress from the late 1870s. See how narrow the dress appears from the front while the rear of the dress has a large bustle and a bit of train. This narrowing of the skirt on the sides happened throughout the course of the 1870s.

ball gown, 1876, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

For evening, women would have showed off more skin in a ball gown (but not as much as the film would have you believe). Lower décolletage and off the shoulder sleeves would have been common. Both the white and red gowns here would have been stunning in their day.

ball gown, c. 1875, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

hat, by William Charles Brown, c. 1870 | hat, 1870s, both from Metropolitan Museum of Art

To top it all off, a hat would have been appropriate for day, or a woman could pick a pretty bonnet for day or evening.

bonnet, c. 1871 | bonnet, c. 1870, both from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Too Early, by James Tissot, 1873 from Guildhall Art Gallery

So how did these ensembles all come together? It’s worth looking at artistic renderings by painters of the period to see how women might have looked. Above is a famous painting, Too Early, by James Tissot painted in 1873. Here we see women with large bustled gowns (fullness in back), bonnets, gloves, and fans waiting for the rest of the party to arrive.

Evening, by James Tissot, 1878, from Musee d'Orsay | The Warrior's Daughter, c 1878, from City of Manchester Art Galleries

And later in the decade, James Tissot captures the ball in 1878 in Evening and outerwear in about 1878 in The Warrior’s Daughter or The Convalescent.

Lastly, it’s rare to find a photograph of a woman in evening wear from the 1870s, but I was able to find this great image of Princess Pauline of Waldeck and Pyrmont by Gösta Florman. Here you can see the very most accurate depiction of the 1870s — her tight chignon hairstyle, off the shoulder sleeves, low neckline that shows the tiniest bit of cleavage, and a large bustle with flat skirt front.

Stylizing Gatsby

The Great Gatsby movie trailer is out, and I’m suddenly confused. I thought we were getting a 1920s period film, but apparently not.

Instead it looks like one of those stylized, postmodern films. Which means it has potential to go either way. It’s from the same producers and director as Moulin Rouge! (I hated) and the Romeo + Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (I loved). Something akin to Sin City, but not quite as aggressively styled as that film.

Interestingly, Baz Luhrmann, the director, directed the eight short films for the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Met.

To be clear, I can tell from the trailer that these costumes are not period accurate. They all look like contemporary fashion interpreting 1920s Halloween costumes. The hair and makeup look like they’re from the present day. The architecture and interior design look much too contemporary to even pretend to be from the 20s. The colors are a bit too bright and the sparkle is a bit too computer generated.

As for the acting, I’m a bit let down by this first look. I imagined Leo with prohibition-like swagger, but I don’t see that here. And Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan seemed like good casting to me, but she doesn’t seem to have to mastered Daisy’s charms. Hopefully it’s just that this trailer doesn’t capture the actors fully realizing their roles, instead of disappointing performances.

I think I could wrap my head around this version of The Great Gatsby if the film never came right out and said “this is the 1920s.” If they just pretend it’s a roaring ambiguous-moment-in-time-that-never-happened, it might work. But in the trailer’s opening seconds the voiceover tells us it’s 1922. Ugh.

So what do you think? Do you like postmodern film that mashes up time periods and styles for effect? Or do you think classics should stay true to their origin?

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.

Exhibition File – Art of Motion Picture Costume Design

If you will be in Los Angeles this month, don’t miss the “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Galleries. The exhibition features more than 100 costumes from 20 films released in 2011. The show closes on April 28, so don’t wait!

Exhibition Hours: 10-5 Tuesday through Saturday
Admission: free