Monday, November 29, 2010

The Date Has Been Set


The work is done. 
The date has been set.
The invites have been printed.
The press releases are ready.


All is Vanity
Loop Gallery, 1273 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Opening Reception Saturday, January 22, 2011  2-5 pm
Q&A Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 3 pm moderated by Lyla Rye

Friday, November 26, 2010

Le Code de la Mode

Dress codes today are almost non-existent but it was not so long ago that to be deemed fashionable, a woman had to make an enormous investment in time and money in her wardrobe.  In the 19th century, the books on etiquette often included several chapters on the topic of dress. Clothing was the way a society woman defined herself showing that the wearer had the time to devote to the many changes of costume required in a day and also had the financial means to do so.

Le Moniteur de la Mode, February 1879, pg 55
"A society woman who wants to be well dressed for all occasions at all times needs at least seven or eight toilettes per day: a morning dressing gown, a riding outfit, an elegant simple gown for lunch, a day dress if walking, an afternoon dress for visiting by carriage, a smart outfit to drive through the Bois de Boulogne, a gown for dinner, and a gala dress for evening or the theatre. There is nothing exaggerated about this, and it could be more complicated still at the beach, in summer, with bathing costumes, and in autumn and winter, with hunting and skating costumes, if she shares these wholesome activities with men." (Despaigne, Henri. Le Code de la mode, Paris, 1866, pg. 85)

For the "comme il faut" woman of the nineteenth century, "dress was a veritable science to which she devoted a third of her day." Attention also had to be paid to the codified progression of attire with simplicity and restraint expected for day dress and increased formality and opulence expected in the evening.

Society women hardly ever walked which is something that still seems to define the fashionable set today, given the dominance  and demand for unwearable high heels by the most fashionable shoemakers of our time (Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blanik et al).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Meaning of Clothing

"Clothing is to the body what education is to the mind. Clothing consists of similar elements for everyone, yet it varies according to the taste, attitude, order, care, elegance, and distinction everyone brings to it."
                                               Comtesse de Bassanville, Paris, 1859


Portrait of the Empress Eugenie dressed as Marie Antoinette by Franz Xaver Winterhaller, 1854, oil on canvas
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)
In the book Fashioning the Bourgeoisie, Phillipe Perrot compares the origin of clothing with the origin of language, both defined by vast unknowns and complexities. Both clothing and language happen "somewhere in geographical and social space." And while the purpose of clothing is typically thought to be protection, modesty and adornment, the variety of body coverings across time and cultures refutes that. He cites the example of the natives of Tierra del Fuego who remain nude to hunt in the snow.

Perrot asserts that it is "through dress that groups and individuals give themselves meaning." For example, articles of clothing like the equestrienne styled blazer or yoga pants, that originally served functions for hunting or sport, are worn today to signify other qualities like an aristocratic aura or sportiness.

"Sign or symbol, clothing affirms and reveals cleavages, hierarchies, and solidarities according to a code guaranteed and perpetuated by society and its institutions." (page 8, Fashioning the Bourgeoisie). Consider the elaborate dress codes of the 19th century in which lace and feathers were forbidden before noon and decolletage, too-ample skirts or showy jewels were in bad taste before evening. And women of a certain age had to forego "bright colors, elegant designs, the latest fashions, and graceful ornaments such as feathers, flowers and jewels." Stepping outside of these dictates left one subject to ridicule and scorn.

It seems to me that with the exception of a few professions like bankers and judges, and perhaps a few formal occasions like weddings, dress codes seem to have been largely abandoned. And even though almost anything goes, clothing still  signifies status and identity. The clues are a lot more subtle, manifesting in cut, quality of textile, fit and also in accessories, especially shoes and handbags. Perhaps that is why prestige labels are so coveted.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review: Fashioning the Bourgeois


If you have a a deep and abiding love of costume history and are able to find this book on the shelves of a library or in a book bin somewhere, don't hesitate to pick it up. It offers a fascinating analysis of the development of fashion in the nineteenth century, incorporating extensive quotations from primary sources of the period. Translated from the French, it is, in parts, dense and scholarly but well written and really quite accessible to both scholars and fashion history aficionados alike.

When this book was first published in 1981 under the original French title Les Dessus et les Dessous de la bourgeoisie, the author Philippe Perrot exploded the myth "that it is futile for historians to study things that seem inconsequential and trivial" like fashion. Most intellectual work on clothing had been to that point done by sociologists or economists. This book lay the groundwork for a body of "cross-disciplinary historical study that is based on the assumption that few, if any, human artifacts are without meaning, in that they are first created by humans and then more-or-less profoundly shape the way we live".  (pg xii of the Preface by Richard Bienvenu).

Fashioning the Bourgeoisie is divided into eleven chapters:
I. Toward a History of Appearances
II. Clothing's Old and New Regimes
III. The Vestimentary Landscape of the Nineteenth Century
IV. Traditional Trades and the Rise of the Nineteenth Century
V. The Department Store and the Spread of Bourgeois Clothing
VI. New Pretentions, New Distinctions
VII. The Imperatives of Propreity
VIII. Deviations from the Norm
IX. Invisible Clothing
X. The Circulation of Fashions
XI. Conclusion

For me, the first chapter - which is on the meaning of clothing - resonated very deeply as I seek to understand the role of fashion in my art practice. Chapter VII on The Imperatives of Propriety is likewise bewitching in the detailed descriptions of the minute requirements for a fashionable woman's wardrobe. Invisible clothing, chapter IX, reveals the history of undergarments, including the corset and crinoline.

If I only owned one book about the 19th century, this would be the one.  Many of the things we take for granted - the availability of ready to wear clothing, the existence of department stores, the emergence of the fashion designer, and differentiation in dress - are rooted in the technical, industrial, commercial and social innovations that happened in the 19th century. I only have this book for a few more days before it has to go back to the stacks of the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.

P.S. Since writing this post, a reader pointed out that this book is actually available on Amazon. I'm not sure why I didn't check first. The library copy I have is so very old that I assumed it was out of print.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whodunit?

Cupid's Bounty
Pen and ink drawing, 5 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches
by Ingrid Mida 2010



I'm probably not supposed to reveal that I'm participating in OCAD's Whodunit show, but I couldn't resist sharing my little drawing with you. Too often people buy art, not because they love it, but because it is by a "famous" name. At the OCAD sale,  the name of the artist is not revealed until after you purchase it, so you have to buy it for love! All works are 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches and cost only $75. Lineups typically stretch around the block. Get there early if you have your heart set on a particular work.

Public Preview
Online November 17 to 20
Onsite at OCADU
November 17 — Noon to 6pm
NOV 18 & 19 — Noon to 8pm
Free admission

Public Art Sale
November 20 — 10am to 4pm
Free Admission

OCAD University, 100 McCaul Street, Toronto

Monday, November 15, 2010

Announcing the Winners!


Let's party!! It is time to announce the winners of my blog giveaway. I wish I could offer a token of my appreciation to all that participated. Thank you for your feedback. It really was a pleasure to read your comments.


The winner of a copy of the newly released French Essence by Vicki Archer is Janet of FrenchBlue.












The winner of the Coco Avant Chanel dvd is High Heeled Life.














And the winners of my art notecards are Nathalie of Dolce Dreams and Laura of The Beau Monde Gallery.

If you are a winner, please email me at your earliest convenience so that I can arrange shipping to you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shary Boyle at the AGO



Shary Boyle is one of the very few Toronto-born artists who can say that their work has been featured at the Art Gallery of Ontario. And rarer still are the accolades that have been written about this show in the press. It is refreshing since it often seems that Canadians are slow to celebrate the talent of our own. And Shary is a huge talent, embracing a variety of media including drawing, painting, sculpture, and installation to explore issues of gender, power relationships and the frightening nature of the everyday.

Flesh and Blood is the title of Shary Boyle's exhibition at the AGO which runs until December 5. Included in this exhibition are Shary's exquisite porcelain sculptures, haunting oil paintings, and subversive multi-media installations. Presented adjacent to the AGO's European Galleries, the juxtaposition of this work alongside old masters highlights the enormous talent of this young artist.

In her artist statement, she writes: "We must speak openly of the essential: the animals and women we have underestimated for so long, when will their reckoning be? Our burdens of self, the unshakable tendencies making a lifetime - weaving in and out of every relation. The ache of our bodies, sweet or painful. Violence and loneliness coursing through us all. Transient elegance like an offering. Our hunger for love and acceptance plays like a projection, forever interrupted by shadows."

Last year, I met Shary Boyle during an artist talk at the Toronto School of Art. Her singular devotion to her work is very evident in her description of a typical day at the studio where she often works 12 to 14 hours. Shary uses drawing as a part of her practice, often drawing from her imagination and using 8.5x11 photocopy paper, because it is "not precious".  She described the process of learning to make porcelain sculptures as somewhat accidental, having bought some self-drying clay to make miniature sculptures to help her through the experience of grieving after the suicide of a close friend,  Matthew David Stein. That tiny, meticulous, fragile sculpture was created just for herself, and led her to seek out porcelain sculpture as a means to express her ideas. These exquisite sculptures look beautiful from a distance, but on closer examination, reveal much more.

Cover of Otherworld Uprising by Shary Boyle, Conundum Press, 2008

The key piece of advice that I took away from meeting Shary was this. Shary said that an artist needs to "give yourself permission to understand your experience in the world, and know what is important and unique to you".  

Shary Boyle will be in the gallery at the AGO tomorrow, Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 130 pm to speak about her work. This show will close on December 5th and then will travel to Montreal's Galerie de l'UQAM from January 7 to February 12 and then on to Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery June 17 to August 21, 2011.

P.S. Although I will never come remotely close to the acclaim of this hugely talented artist, I did notice some uncanny parallels in my life to that of Shary Boyle's. We were both born in Scarborough, both crave solitude, both like to draw on un-precious bits of paper, both are multi-media artists, both obsessed with death and were both affected by Matthew David Stein (she knew him as a friend and I received the Matthew David Stein scholarship).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Savage Beauty by Alexander McQueen


Fall 2008 Collection of Alexander McQueen

The work of the late Lee Alexander McQueen will be the subject of the spring 2011 exhibition at the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This exhibition will celebrate McQueen’s contributions to fashion from his Central Saint Martins postgraduate collection in 1992 to his final runway presentation, which took place only weeks after his death in February 2010. Titled Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, the exhibition will celebrate the work of  McQueen in challenging and expanding the scope of fashion from mere beautiful clothes to a conceptual expression of culture, politics, and identity.

This exhibition will be on view from May 4 through July 31, 2011 and will be preceded on May 2 by The Costume Institute Gala Benefit. The evening’s Honorary Chairs are Fran├žois-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek, and the Co-Chairs will be Colin Firth, Stella McCartney, and Anna Wintour.

Here is an extract of the press release describing what will be on display:


The exhibition, in the Metropolitan Museum’s second-floor Cantor Galleries, will feature approximately 100 examples of Mr. McQueen’s work from his prolific 19- year career. Drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen Archive in London, with some pieces from the Givenchy Archive in Paris as well as private collections, signature designs including the bumster trouser, the kimono jacket, and the Origami frock coat will be on view. McQueen’s fashions often referenced the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1860s, 1880s, 1890s, and 1950s, but his technical ingenuity always imbued his designs with an innovative sensibility that kept him at the vanguard.


Galleries will showcase recurring themes and concepts in McQueen’s work beginning with “The Savage Mind” which will examine his subversion of traditional tailoring and dressmaking practices through displacement and deconstruction. “Romantic Gothic” will highlight McQueen’s narrative approach to fashion and illuminate his engagement with Romantic literary traditions such as death, decay, and darkness. It will also reveal the main characters of his collections, including femme fatales and anti-heroes such as pirates and highwaymen. “Romantic Nationalism” will look at McQueen’s fascination with the distant past, while “Romantic Exoticism” will examine his focus on distant places. “Romantic Primitivism” will explore McQueen’s engagement with the ideal of the “noble savage.”


Five of McQueen’s landmark collections that explore his engagement with the Romantic sublime and the dialectics of beauty and horror will be interspersed among the galleries -- Dante (autumn/winter 1996-97), Number 13 (spring/ summer 1999), Voss (spring/summer 2001), Irere (spring/summer 2003), and Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010). “Cabinet of Curiosities” will include various atavistic and fetishized objects often produced with milliner Philip Treacy and jeweler Shaun Leane, longtime collaborators of McQueen’s. A separate screening room will display videos of McQueen’s renowned runway presentations. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Mystery of the Fashion Photograph

Dovima in an evening dress by Dior, Photo by Richard Avedon 1955

















Unlocking the mystery of a great fashion photograph is something that I'd like to better understand. I think I know it when I see one (like this one by Avedon), but is it a matter of opinion or is there something that great fashion photographs all share?

One of the chapters in the recently released Berg publication "Fashion in Fiction" is called "The Mystery of the Fashion Photograph" and was written by Margaret Maynard, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland. She poses these questions:
1. "What makes certain high-end photos eye-stopping, what gives them their strange thrill, their compelling intrigue, and why is this important?"
2. "What is it about some images that evoke in the viewer a desiring state of mind?"

 Like many scholarly works, I had to read between the lines to try and figure out the answers to these questions as the author does not clearly state her opinion. She references other people's opinions, but it is hard to clearly discern her point of view.  The other problem that I had with this book is that there are references to images but very few photos are included within the book. Describing an image is a lot different than seeing it. I had great difficulty understanding what this author considered to be a compelling fashion photograph based on her description of it. Even if the photo had been in black and white, it would, in an instant, convey what paragraphs of description cannot do. I found that to be a problematic issue in this chapter in particular and throughout the book.

Nevertheless, I think that this author defines a great fashion photograph to include a narrative or an open-ended drama, "specifically set up to lack a bounded point of view." (page 57) Furthermore, "the most interesting fashion images seem to obscure, even hide, their raison d'etre, their commercial links. Sometimes details of commercial or designer retailers are minute, relegated to the back of magazines or even absent. It is possible their absence energizes desire by strength of visual impulse." (page 61).

The author also links the text accompanying the photograph to the viewers engagement with it. "We need to acknowledge current multidimensional approaches to photography and current views of the complexity of verbal/visual tensions and intersections between photos and text that produce understanding. Barthes suggests that fashion images provoke fascination (1981a:17) but also that the presence of language acts to stay perception, thus cementing meaning as fashionable (Carter 2003:150)."


Cover of "Women" a book by Lillian Bassman 2009
It is probably evident from the passages that I've quoted that this book is meant for other fashion scholars. As someone who reads extensively, I appreciate writers who can take dense material and make it accessible to a broad audience. Without photos to accompany the text, I only have a vague sense of what the author might consider to be a compelling fashion photograph.

For me, a great fashion photograph has a strong graphic component, a sense of narrative and perhaps an element of surprise. My favourite fashion photographers are Richard Avendon, Irving Penn, Deborah Turbeville, and Lillian Bassman.

Do tell, what do you think makes for a great fashion photograph? And do you have a favourite fashion photographer?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Favourite Posts

I've so enjoyed hearing from all of you about your favourite posts. As the writer, I've taken great pleasure in trying to present a fresh and unbiased perspective on art, books, exhibitions, and other creative works that sit on the boundary between fashion and art. I've had a lot of time to reflect on what I've written here (having been quite ill this past month), and there are some clear favourites that I thought I'd share with you.

Favourite Artist Profile:
I've learned so much from other artists. Two of my favourite profiles include Lessons from Yves Saint Laurent and Lessons from Doris McCarthy




Favourite Book Review:
I always have a stack of books beside my bed and on my desk. I read in every spare moment and I've even plowed through some indecipherable Phd theses, trying to deepen my knowledge of costume history. And so it is always a pleasant surprise when a non-fiction book is written with a light-hand, making it a delight instead of a chore to read. Two books come to mind: The Anatomy of Fashion by Susan J. Vincent and The Courtiers by Lucy Worsley. And if the most beautiful book to cross my desk would have to be Fashioning Fashion by LACMA.



Favourite Author Interview
Over the years, I've done my share of author interviews and I have to say I always remember the authors who made me laugh. And even though Lucy Worsley has one of the most serious jobs around as curator of the Royal Historic Palaces, she has a wicked sense of humour.  Lucy even invited me for a private tour of the palaces followed by tea and cakes in Kensington. I was tempted to hop on a plane the very next day to take her up on it!






Favourite Exhibition:
Last May, I travelled to London to see three fashion related exhibitions, including The Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace, The Concise Dictionary of Dress at Blythe House, and Grace Kelly: Style Icon at the Victoria and Albert Museum. These were the first major exhibitions for which I had press status giving me access to materials that I would not otherwise have had. This material gave me a much deeper understanding and appreciation for the exhibits, particularly Artangel's presentation of The Concise Dictionary of Dress, in which no talking was allowed and for which there was no labeling of any kind. As a cross between a contemporary art installation and a fashion exhibition, it truly was ground breaking and with so few tickets available, it was an unforgettable experience.


Favourite Museum:
Although I am a huge fan of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum at FIT, the Bata Shoe Museum is tops for me. This is one of Toronto's finest gems with an extraordinary collection of footwear spanning centuries. With beautifully presented exhibitions that are rotated regularly, it is truly a Shoeaholic's Fantasy. And to make it even better, the curators and staff are as nice as they come.




Favourite Photo:
When I have a camera in hand, I generally like to take my time with lighting and set-up, striving to capture that perfect composition. Although I found it incredibly stressful at the time, two of my favourite photo-ops were ones where I had to work on the fly: photographing Angela Chen's show at Toronto Fashion Week in the spring and a performance of the Opera Atelier's School of Ballet. The light was poor and I could not use a flash. I did not know where people would be or what would happen next.



Favourite Post:
This is a tough one. When I first began this blog, I had great fun writing about Marie Antoinette and those posts continue to draw a large amount of traffic even today. But my favourite post has to be a quiz I created (which probably only a few people ever read) called Do you have Marie Antoinette Style?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Girl behind the Blog

Me at 18 by Ingrid Mida

I suppose I'm too old to call myself a girl, but I will probably always feel like I'm still 18, just as I was when this photo was taken. I look pretty much the same; people often tell me that I haven't changed a bit. I still wear my hair like this and there are a few more wrinkles around the eyes, and I weigh about ten pounds less than I did then, but otherwise I'm basically the same girl with big dreams. When this photo was taken during a photography workshop, I had just been accepted into architecture school and the world was my oyster. I did not yet know of disappointment, rejection, loss, or death. And even though I am far too familiar with all of those things now, I still believe that the best is yet to come.

My love of fashion has deep roots. I was 10 when I discovered Vogue magazine and from that point saved my hard earned allowance and baby-sitting money to buy the latest issue. It has been a singular passion that has fed my soul (and of course depleted my pocketbook). Although my closet now contains a range of designer labels, my studio uniform consists of jeans and a checked shirt with a cashmere sweater thrown over my shoulders (just like I wore when I was 18).

In my current role as Collection Coordinator of the Fashion Resource Centre in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University, I am working to edit and reestablish the collection as a premiere site of Canadian fashion. As a devotee of fashion, museology and material culture, I have my dream job.

I rarely write about myself on my blog. I like to write pieces with a bit of intellectual heft (so that my brain doesn't turn to mush) and I'm also cognizant of the fact that I'm married to a man who is deeply private. Plus I have two teenage sons who have inherited their dad's desire for anonymity. But perhaps it is time to share a little more about myself.

My path to becoming an artist and writer is a bit of a circuitous one. I wrote poems, songs and stories as a child and copied drawings by Michelangelo on discarded envelopes. My father and an older brother loved photography and I too spent many hours in our homemade darkroom in the basement. Our house was always filled with music as my parents loved the opera and I learned to play the piano and clarinet. I made all my clothes until I was 23, only giving it up when I no longer had the time. Although I began my university studies in architecture, I switched programs when I realized that how cyclical the profession could be. As a girl who needed to pay her way, I did not want to be a waitress after seven years of university education and instead I earned a BA in Economics and then a masters degree from the University of Waterloo. After a number of years working as a consultant, my passion for the written word started calling to me and I took a position as an executive with a Toronto daily newspaper. It got me close to the action but I was not quite close enough. When the opportunity arose and when I wanted more flexibility in my life to be with my children, I threw caution to the wind and tried my hand at freelance writing and editing. I was still taking photos and drawing in the margins, but not as a career.

It wasn't until my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease that I realized that I would not have forever to follow my passions. This was less than two years after my father had died of complications of Parkinson's disease, trapped in the prison of his body, unable to speak or swallow. Even though my grandmother lived in good health until she was 98, my mother was only 68 when her life changed irrevocably. It was the very next day that I picked up a paintbrush and began again as an artist. I've studied art, photography, and costume history at Ontario College of Art, Ryerson University, George Brown College, University of Toronto and Toronto School of Art. In a way, I'm a bit of a course junkie, taking great delight in learning something new.

Over the years, there have been ups and downs. Learning to face rejection and the whims of the art marketplace has been tough. I've had some wild successes - like selling out my first gallery show, having the director of the AGO attend my opening, and having a prestigious Canadian law firm buy one of my pieces. But there have also been huge disappointments with embarrassing rejections, long stretches that I've been unable to produce, see my way or sell my work. I think this blog has helped me to weather those patches with a ready outlet for my creative energy. For that reason, I am grateful to all of you who come back to visit me here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Marie Antoinette's Birthday and Blog Giveaway

Marie Antoinette in Riding Costume by Antoine Vestier, 1778
Today marks Marie Antoinette's birthday as well as the two year anniversary of Fashion is my Muse (or pretty close to it). It has been an adventure beyond my wildest dreams. Blogging has expanded my horizons as both an artist and a writer and I'm thrilled to have made so many delightful friends along the way.

After 350 posts, I look back and marvel at the opportunities that have come my way, the books I've read, the exhibtions I've seen, and the people I've met - all under the premise of entertaining and enriching my audience which now approximates 20,000 visitors a month.

At the beginning, my niavity was plainly evident. I didn't watermark my photos and soon discovered them on sites all over the internet. And it took me more than six months before I even knew about site counters!! There have been times when, I've been tempted to walk away from it. But the blog seems to have a life of its own and my loyal fans and followers have kept me going.

It is in the spirit of friendship and celebration that I would like to offer a giveaway to my readers. The prizes include:
1. A copy of Vicki Archer and Carla Coulson's book French Essence: Beauty, Style and Ambience which will be released in the USA on November 11, 2010 and shipped directly to the winner from Amazon. (I admire their work so much and wanted to show my support. Plus, I know many of you have been patiently awaiting this release!). 
French Essence: Ambience, Beauty, and Style in Provence 

2. A copy of Coco avant Chanel dvd with Audrey Tautou
Coco Before Chanel


3. Notecards featuring my Red dress series illustrations

Please tell me your favourite post or type of post (book reviews, exhibition reviews, history of dress, examples of my art work) from the last two years and you could win one of the prizes. You do not have to have a blog but you must include an email address so I can contact you if you win. If you are already a follower, please remind me of that and you get an extra chance to win. Blog links, tweeting, and sharing on Facebook all add extra chances to win.

The giveaway closes on November 15th and winners will be announced the following day.