Wednesday, October 19, 2011

It all started with Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette's Dress (Property of the Royal Ontario Museum)
Life is funny. If someone had told me that one day I'd be interviewing curators and that people in New York would be talking about a speech I'd given on the topic of Fashion and Art, I would have laughed at the improbability of it all. And yet, that is now my reality and it is all because of a dress.....

Back in 2008, I was new to blogging. All I knew at that point was that I wanted to write about fashion, art and books. It was a slow beginning. And then one day, I saw a dress at the Royal Ontario Museum that may have been worn by Marie Antoinette. It is probably the only such dress in existence and is believed to have survived because it was customary for royalty to give away their clothing after the season. The dress had been altered in the 19th century and was purchased by the ROM in 1925 by the ROM's first director, Charles Trick Currelly, from an antiques dealer in London, England.  I became obsessed with this dress and wanted to understand what it might have looked like before it was altered (actually I'm stilll obsessed with this dress and will soon begin to post about a creative project inspired by that dress).  I started reading everything I could about Marie Antoinette and 18th century dress and discovered a whole world of fashion scholarship that I had not even known existed. By immersing myself in the topic, I taught myself costume history. (The one thing I learned from my first master's degree was how to teach myself anything although I have since taken courses in costume history). And although fashion had been my muse in my art practice for several years before this juncture, I also began to make replicas of period dress in paper, in fabric and in mesh. I attended lectures and exhibitions about costumes and textiles. As I gained knowledge, I began to write about what I saw - at first for my blog, then for newsletters and then for journals and now for my masters of fashion thesis.

There was a time when I worked in finance that I had an unshakable confidence in what I was doing. They called me the Blonde Barracuda - probably because I was fearless in speaking my mind. But when I left that career to care for my sick little boy and tend to my dying father, my self confidence evaporated. It seemed that people no longer were interested in what I had to say because I was a stay at home mother.... And even after I forged a new career as a photographer and then as an artist, something still didn't fit. As much as I enjoyed the process of creation, I did not feel intellectually engaged or challenged as an artist and my days in the studio were too solitary. But what this immersion in art has done is helped me to understand the common visual vocabulary and processes shared by both art and fashion.

After attending the Costume Society of America mid-west conference last weekend, I feel like I have found my people... I speak the language of fashion academia and I'll be reshaping my speech into an article to submit for publication. Who knows maybe one day I'll actually be brave enough to actually talk to Hamish Bowles and Anna Wintour ....

P.S. I received permission from Valerie Steele and Harold Koda to publish the transcripts of our conversations on fashion and art on Fashion Projects.