A Dancer Responds to Fashioning Fashion

March 24, 2011

 

Jean Claude Wouters, in his studio.

As we bid adieu to Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, we have one more noteworthy tribute to the sleeper hit of the Resnick Pavilion inaugural season. Jean Claude Wouters, a dancer and artist—whose wife, a fashion journalist, covered the show for the French press—once took part in a ballet in Brussels in which he wore a crinoline very much like those that give structure to some of the garments in our exhibition. Exhibition curators Sharon Takeda and Kaye Spilker invited Wouters to revisit the crinoline and its relationship to the body in a series of exploratory movements, performed in the Resnick Pavilion and documented here.

Jean Claude talked about the experience:

I performed with a crinoline when I was 24. Thirty years later, you can imagine! The body, everything changed.

The crinoline being round creates a trajectory like that of the orbital lines of the planets. I moved first to the east, then the west, then the north, then the south.

I was blindfolded. I didn’t want for the people to see my face, it is like a mask. I wanted to be like a sign in a space, my body and the crinoline – it’s not about the human expression. At the same time being blindfolded, I had to feel the space with my skin and body. It’s like letting yourself fall into the water, to be totally immersed in the space.

I had two black Japanese pebbles in each hand. The sound you hear is the pebbles. That’s why I make certain gestures with my hands. I was making my own music, through the reverberation of the sound in that huge space of the Resnick Pavilion.

I am no longer a dancer and I do not pretend to be one. It had to be very honest and of course human, clumsy, a normal person in a particular situation. At the same time, it felt daring, being a fifty year-old man, in a crinoline, barefoot in a museum, in front of someone filming. It’s something you would not do! But what is a crinoline, how do you move with a crinoline, impose movement on the crinoline? For sure, I wanted to do something with no thought. If I was one of my friends who is a dancer or choreographer by profession, it would have been organized and well-conceived in advance. Me, I came like a crazy wild madman; I have no craziness in me, but it was this kind of thing, like Antonin Artaud, or like Tatsumi Hijikata (initiator of Japanese butoh).

There is a phrase from Wittgenstein that I like very much – I translate it this way: “The human body is the most accurate image we can have of the human soul.”

I also think of this story: in a colloquium on religion, there was a Shinto priest. An American professor asked him, “But ultimately, what is your theology?” The Shinto priest thought about it for a moment, then said, “I think we don’t have theology; we dance.” Dance is a way of being alive, moving, being aware of your surroundings. We all dance all day in this way.

Amy Heibel


The Stockings Were Hung in the Exhibition with Care

December 22, 2010

Pair of Woman’s Stockings, Europe, 1700–1725, purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein and Michael and Ellen Michelson, with additional funding from the Costume Council, the Edgerton Foundation, Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore and Richard Wayne

It’s hard to believe that these flashy, red hose on display in Fashioning Fashion were modestly kept hidden under ladies’ skirts. We can see how they were worn from the racy work of the eighteenth-century English artist William Hogarth.

William Hogarth, plate three from A Rake’s Progress (detail), 1735, Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Horace Oakley, 1921.340

 

William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress: 3. The Rake at the Rose-Tavern, 1734, courtesy Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

LACMA’s stockings, as beautiful as they are, showed signs of their 300-year-old age. They had holes and several long unsightly runs in the knit that were in need of treatment. To address the problem, I proposed re-looping the knit to close up the runs.

Detail of runs

With such a fine gauge knit (approximately 10 stitches per centimeter by 12 rows per centimeter), I used a magnifier, a 0.75 millimeter crochet hook, and size ‘0’ entomological pins for the “operation.” The various yarns were sorted and the knit pattern was re-established. Surprisingly, the cream-colored yarns were very deteriorated, so new threads were added to stabilize the knitted structure.

At work

Detail of the procedure

The back seams tell us that the stockings were first knitted flat on a frame and later seamed.

Before...

...and after

Fastening the delicate stockings to the wall of their display case involved a variety of fastening techniques. We looped silk ribbon around the knee areas to suggest garters. Our mountmaker constructed several unobtrusive supports to hold the weight of the stockings. Look closely at the toes, arch and ankles.

Safely hung, the stockings are ready for Santa—or at least for holiday visitors.

Detail of socks on display mount

Susan R. Schmalz, Associate Textile Conservator, LACMA


Fashioning Fashion in Vogue

September 20, 2010

One day over the summer, André Leon Talley stopped by for a visit. He and Michael Govan visited the lab where curators and conservators were hard at work preparing Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915, which opens on October 2 in the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. On the spot, Talley decided to shoot a selection of costumes beneath the Tony Smith sculpture in the Ahmanson Building for the September issue of Vogue. Editor Lisa Love soon arrived on the scene. Here’s what she had to say about the collection.

Amy Heibel


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