Looking Back on Fashioning Fashion

March 25, 2011

This Sunday marks the last day of Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, which features men’s, women’s, and children’s garments from the Age of Enlightenment to World War I. The content of the exhibition comes from our own permanent collection, and much of it from a major acquisition we made in 2008. This week’s personal recollection from Hylan Booker (who knew we had a couturier in our midst?) and dancer Jean Claude Wouters’ Fashioning Fashion-inspired performance were the last in a long run of great blog posts we’ve run on Unframed about Fashioning Fashion. With so many people involved in assembling this exhibition—curators, conservators, designers, and more—Unframed has been the beneficiary of a rich and diverse number of blog posts about the objects in the show. Before the exhibition closes, we thought we’d look back on some of the great stories Fashioning Fashion has brought to light. (Never mind the many more stories told in the exhibition catalogue!)

Man's Vest, France, 1789-1794, 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

First there were the artists and fashion-world luminaries who responded in one way or another to the show:


Dress, probably India for the Western market, c. 1800, with Shawl, Kashmir, India, c. 1810, Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Collection

Fashioning Fashion was apparently a fun exhibition to prep for, as a few behind-the-scenes posts made clear:

Woman's Dress Ensemble, Portugal, c. 1845, 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

No one seems to have had as much fun as our conservators in preparing the costumes for exhibition.

S. Tuttle Hat & Cap Manufacturer, Man's Top Hat, 1840-1860, 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

And of course there were the stories behind some of the costumes themselves:

  • Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell looked at a woman’s tennis dress from 1885—an enemy to athleticism if ever I’ve seen one.
  • Catherine McLean and Charlotte Eng told the fascinating story of where the phrase “mad as a hatter” came from—mercury poisoning.

Finally, there was our gift to you: if you liked the patterns on view in Fashioning Fashion, and you know your way around costume design, we made patterns from the show available for free download. We talked with Thomas John Bernard, a theatrical costume designer and professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who worked with the curators to create the patterns, about the project. (And one more thing, though not from the blog: the great online kids’ game developed especially for Fashioining Fashion.)

It’s been a thrill and a pleasure to see this show on view in the Resnick Pavilion for the last few months, and to see it met with so much enthusiasm from visitors and staff alike. If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’ve got just a few more days to see it before it’s gone.

Scott Tennent

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

Living in the House of Worth

March 23, 2011

Fashion history is intrinsically embedded in art history—a history that is dressed and located in my imagination as romanticized paintings, colonial adventures and discoveries, intellectual dramas and poets’ dreamy musings. Embedded in my stark memory are the famed paniers captured in Velazquez’s Maids of Honor; Rococo’s fluid grandeur in Watteau’s swinging lovers’ tryst within a profusion of silk, flowers, and leaves; Gainsborough’s portraits in lush chinoiserie fabrics; Neoclassicism’s perfect Roman and Greek aesthetics idealized in Ingres’ portraits. And yet the most personal of these images of cloth is the famed “first” couturier, Charles Fredrick Worth, whose silk cut voided velvet Kimono-like coat, on view through Sunday in Fashioning Fashion, elicited reams of memories for me. It is not often one can be so directly be connected to an historical event or person; but this is my reality.


Worth (house of), Woman’s Opera Coat, 1910–1911, gift of Mrs. Kerckhoff Young

Fashioning Fashion is for me the most personally affecting exhibit in this museum has mounted, now or ever. 111 years after the founding of the House by Charles Frederick Worth in 1857, I, Hylan Booker, became the head designer of this famous London couture establishment on Grovenor St. West 1. The first black couturier in Europe! Having won the year before the much sought-after Yardley Award as the leading British Designer of 1967, I could safely say it paved the way to this fabulous appointment.

Dress by Hylan Booker, 1969

What Fashioning Fashion so ravishingly makes real through the full cultural forces of technology and its small but equally forceful sheer extravagance, is the power of appearance. The one sure thing in the blood of fashion is the evanescent vanity and the love affair with the “look.” Crafting this melodrama, women are made to embody ideas for desire; the chameleon’s captivating magic, “the muse,” that inspires designers to dream.

Reflecting on my time with the House of Worth, the most striking thing was the time itself. The 1960s were hot and sexy, and Swinging London was the coolest place in the universe—vivacious, vivid, and vital. It feels like everything that we experience now was being born at that very moment. The spirit of women really defined this sense of liberation with a freedom not seen since the 1920s, although far more complex and assured. Here the short skirt, the tights, bobbed hair, and the pill would cut them off from the past as never before. Unknowingly, we were the future. With our own intoxicating background music of the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Kinks, Jimmy Hendrix, and so many more, a self-reflecting universe seen through Pop art was complete. It was a glorious, uniquely transient moment! And we were the agents, the vanguard, possessing a standard we were somehow expected to maintain. I was the product of the Royal College of Art, as were many of the designers and artists at the time such as David Hockney, R. B. Kitaj, and the Kings Road style maker, Ossie Clark. England was bursting with artistic energy.

If fashion is constantly turning toward its own visions, as Fashioning Fashion so elegantly suggests, than the mood for the earlier Victorian grandeur, that perfect “House of Worth” haute couture look, became my moment in 1999. Suddenly this air, this mood, had evolved a new sensibility—a feeling for a forgotten sense of pomp and circumstance that the great ball gowns of the Romantic Age so naturally represented.  For my couture collection for that year, 1845–1865 was the perfect attitude for my romance of fashioning fashion.

Woman’s Dress (robe à transformation), France, c. 1865, 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

Dress by Hylan Booker, 1999

 Hylan Booker

Designed Dining: The Ellen Palevsky Cup Collection at LACMA

March 21, 2011

In developing the design for Ray’s, LACMA’s newest restaurant, Renzo Piano envisioned simple modernist architecture imbued with the character of its surroundings.  Nature, urban spaces, the strength of LACMA’s art collection and the modernist pursuit of incorporating beautiful things into everyday life form the backdrop of the dining experience. The furniture and fabrics reflect the classic midcentury style of designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, whose work is in LACMA’s collection. You’ll also notice teacups on display in the restaurant—part of the extraordinary Ellen Palevsky Cup Collection of over 150 cups spanning 1850–1950.

Teacup installation at Ray's

Many of these cups were produced by studio artists and by companies that employed the leading designers of the period, some based in California cities, including Los Angeles. Here is a peek at just a few of these cups.

Josef Franz Maria Hoffmann, designer; Wiener Porzellanfabrik Augarten, manufacturer, Teacup and Saucer, 1929, gift of Max Palevsky

Echoing the energy of LACMA’s architectural elements painted “Renzo Red,” Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann’s boldly designed red and black teacup and saucer represent the force of the Vienna Secession, a late nineteenth-century design movement that sought to replace poorly manufactured, lackluster domestic objects with functional designs of beauty that were handcrafted with quality and yet still fulfilled the need for both utility and affordability. Hoffmann, a Secessionist founder, went on to establish the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) in 1903 and stated that “usefulness is our first requirement, and our strength has to lie in good proportions and materials well handled.” This colony of workshops produced impeccably crafted, everyday objects that Hoffmann asserted were “to be measured by the same yardstick as that of the painter and the sculptor.” Hoffmann also believed in a release from historic design, stating, “To the age its art, to art its freedom.” These words underscore his belief that art need not copy the past but rather reflect present-day styles. Freed from historical constraints, Hoffmann abstracted his designs into simple geometric forms.

Keith Day Pearce Murray, designer; Wedgwood, manufacturer, “Annular” Cup and Saucer, c. 1934, gift of Max Palevsky

With the turn of the century in 1900, the profession of designer was recognized as distinct from that of an artist, and designers looked upon themselves as capable of creating functional objects with aesthetic integrity that improved quality of life. Inspired by a visit to the 1925 “Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes” held in Paris, Murray designed a line of modern glassware that attracted the attention of Josiah Wedgwood V, managing director of Wedgwood from 1930 to 1968, who invited him to design for the company. Murray first collaborated with a team of designers that developed the “Annular” service, a line characterized by its distinctively modernist style, featuring ridged architectural earthenware bodies in matte glazes. Murray went on to create a series of functional vessels with simple and elegant forms with a thoroughly modern aesthetic; his elegant designs were popular throughout Europe and gained him the status of a renowned industrial designer. Due to the enduring popularity of Keith Murray’s designs, they remained in production throughout World War II and formed a large part of the Wedgwood catalogue of glazes and shapes from 1940 to 1950.

Morris B. Sanders, designer; Gladding, McBean and Company, manufacturer, “Metropolitan” Cup and Saucer, c. 1950, gift of Max Palevsky

A little closer to home, the architect and industrial designer Morris Sanders developed the “Metropolitan” line of ceramics for California-based Gladding, McBean and Company, which still continues its operations in Lincoln, located in the metropolitan area of Sacramento. Established in 1875, the company thrived, producing ornamental garden pottery, chimney pipes, architectural terra cotta facades, and clay tile, including that which covers the roofs at Stanford University—the firm continues to provide the institution with roof tiles for campus additions. 

Otto Natzler and Gertrud Amon Natzler, Cup and Saucer, c. 1942, gift of Max Palevsky

The turn of the twentieth century brought about two significant changes in American studio ceramic production.  Ceramics came to be seen as a purely aesthetic art form that did not necessarily need to be functional.  With this change of purpose came the emergence of the studio potter, who was involved in all phases of production including clay preparation, shaping, decorating, glaze formulation, glazing, and firing.  As the focus shifted from commercial production to the idea of potter as artist, accredited schools implemented ceramics education programs that stressed a balance of technical proficiency and an aesthetic that unified form, ornamentation, and glaze.  Studio potters experimented freely. They were also stylistically influenced by Asian ceramic traditions, the English Arts and Crafts movement, and modernist European styles.  Countering the calculated precision of machine-made ceramics, the studio potter embraced the evidence of the artist’s hand upon a unique creation. By the mid-twentieth century, American ceramics had developed along many lines and expanded in multiple directions to create works representing America’s diverse culture and reflecting the energy that the country’s leading ceramicists brought to the art form.  

Fleeing their native Vienna as the Nazi forces advanced toward Austria, studio potters Otto and Gertrud Natzler arrived in America with their potter’s wheel, kiln, and little else. They set up a studio in Los Angeles and their work was shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Science, History and Art in the same year. The Natzlers’ ability to persevere and succeed with little training and few assets fueled what would become a nearly forty-year collaboration that combined Gertrud’s elegant and classically formed ceramic vessels with Otto’s multifaceted glaze formulations and firing techniques.  With less than a year of training, Otto describes the couple’s beginning years: “Our lack of knowledge went hand in hand with a lack of inhibitions.”  Their continual experimentation with materials and methods led to wafer-thin vessels that glow with vibrantly hued glazes.

Elizabeth Williams, Marylin B. and Calvin B. Gross Associate Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

This Weekend at LACMA: Critics’ Week Film Series, Photography Lecture, Sundays Live

March 18, 2011

You’re running out of opportunities to see Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915;  the exhibition closes next weekend. Larry Fink: Hollywood, 2000–2009  is also just a couple of weeks away from closing, so this might be the perfect weekend to catch both. Also on view are two exhibitions which opened just last week—Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the Collection and Vija Celmins: Television and Disaster, 1964–1966.

Our latest weekend film series celebrates the annual Critics’ Week, which runs in conjunction with Cannes each year. Critics’ Week has been going since 1962, and the six films chosen for our series come from the event’s earliest and more recent years. Tonight the series begins with Jacques Audiard’s first film, Regarde les homes tomber (See How They Fall); as Kenneth Turan writes, seeing it tonight at LACMA is a “rarer-than-rare opportunity.”  This is followed by Hiroshi Teshigahara’s “documentary-fantasy” Pitfall, from 1962.

Tomorrow night the series continues with Gaspar Noé’s debut feature, the quite violent I Stand Alone (no one under 18 allowed), followed by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s mesmerizingly restrained Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, which features long, uninterrupted performances of the composer’s music.

On Saturday photographers Gil Garcetti and David DiMichele will give a free talk about their photographic process. Their work is currently on view in the museum’s Art Rental & Sales Gallery.   

David DiMichele, Pseudodocumentation: Hose Drawing

Sunday night the weekend closes out with a free concert from pianist Andrew Brownell, who performs works by Clementi, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Scott Tennent

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