Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Web of Fashion (Or what it is really like to attend Fashion Week)

LG Fashion Week Opening Night, Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
It is easy to get caught up in the glitter and glam of the fashion web. Being invited to attend a fashion show seems like the ultimate confirmation that one is part of a closed clique of the fashionable elite. And yet there is an underbelly to this world that rarely gets written about. And while I had a wonderful time at the opening of LG Fashion Week on Monday night, it also gave me pause to think.

Walking into an event like this, the red carpet looms not as a beacon of welcome but as the first test of whether or not one is fashionable enough to be photographed.  From that moment on, the test continues inside and does not end until the night is over. Every set of heavily made up eyes gives you the once over from head to toe, making instant assessments of whether your shoes, outfit and handbag are sufficiently fashionable. You can feel them passing judgement, even if no words cross their collagen-injected lips and it takes a high degree of self-confidence and a good sense of humour to endure the non-stop scrutiny. I laughed my way through it with several glasses of champagne, a free makeover by L'Oreal and photo ops with some cute male models.

The next threshold to cross is the show venue itself. One is assigned either a seat or section, depending on your status and importance to the designer. A gift may or may not await you, depending on whether you are considered swag worthy and depending on whether or not your bag has been pilfered by those around you. Even getting to your seat can be like crossing a minefield, requiring the dexterity of a gymnast and the graces of a diplomat to pass by those engaged in air kisses and who-is- fabulous-now conversations.

It's all a relief when the show begins.... The reason I came is to see the artistry of the designers I admire. And yet, not everyone is looking at the runway; some are looking at who is looking at them!!! All too soon it is over, in a blur.

It is not all bad, but it is work to attend a fashion show and write about it. Making sense of what I've seen, culling through the good, bad and the ugly to define the trends and colours takes effort and it is easy to be distracted by the fashionable firestorm around me.

In the end, I am glad that I can hover close to the web of fashion but have a strong enough sense of self to not get wrapped up in it. Taking an academic approach to fashion suits me well. It fuels my art practice and I actually enjoy the hours I spend in the ROM and University of Toronto libraries conducting research. I don't have to dress up for this but I do anyway as an expression of my personality. I might not be one of the fabulous few, but I like who I am.

P.S. To read another perspective on this event, read this post Cinderella at the Ball by my clever and witty friend and neighbour Annie.

Monday, March 28, 2011

LG Fashion Week 2011 Opening Night Gala

Finale Holt Renfrew Presents Can't Live without Canadian Fashion 2011
We Canadians are a humble people. Not given to loud swagger, we simply do our thing and mind our business. But damn it, we should be proud of the many talent Canadian designers in our midst. Tonight during Holt Renfrew's runway presentation called Can't Live without Canadian Fashion for the opening night of LG Fashion Week 2011, I was in awe of the huge talent in evidence. Many of the looks by labels such as Greta Constantine, Smythe, Lida Baday and Todd Lynn could have come from the runways of New York, London or Milan.

Fall-winter 2011 in Canada will be a season of cocooning with cowls, fur, and draping in abundance. The grays and blacks were punctuated by beautiful deep reds and bright olive greens. I  almost wish I could wear these fabulous looks right now as we await more spring like weather in Toronto.

Lida Baday FW 2011 at LG Fashion Week
This is an outfit I hope to wear to work or perhaps for my speech for the American Costume Society Mid-west Conference. Check out the cool olive green socks and heels! What an elegant way to avoid blisters and cold feet!

Smythe FW 2011 at LG Fashion Week
And I think I'll take this Smythe outfit for my next trip to Aspen.

Me walking the red carpet in a Lida Baday skirt at LG Fashion Week
I'm still reveling in the glow of all that fabulous fashion, champagne and swag. Not surprisingly, it will be tough to get up to go to work tomorrow! 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman

Mrs. Sarah Siddons, oil on canvas, c1785 by Thomas Gainsborough
National Gallery London

Although it may seem to be a contradiction of terms to describe an 18th century woman as "modern", this exhibition of paintings by Sir Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) at the San Diego Museum of Fine Art illuminates the painter's progressive ideas about women. One of the notable paintings on display is his portrait of his two daughters, Mary and Margaret, who both hold sketchbooks in their hands reflecting his ambition for them to have their own careers as artists and independent women.

Many of the other portraits on display are of women with notorious reputations including the beautiful cello-playing Anne Ford, the dancer Giovanna Bacceli, the infamous Duchess of Devonshire, and the courtesan Grace Dalrymple,  mistress to both of the French Duke of Orleans and the British Prince of Wales (the future George IV) and who also survived imprisonment in the Bastille during the French revolution. The exhibition highlights Gainsborough's depiction of these sitters as self-assured and "modern" women.

Not only was Gainsborough progressive in his portrayal of these women but his brushwork is a forerunner to impressionism. His loose painterly brushstrokes in the gowns worn by the sitters conveys a sense of movement and an underlying sense of the body within these larger than life portraits.

Mrs. Ann Ford, oil on canvas c.1760 by Thomas Gainsborough
Cincinnati Art Museum
I have to say that standing in the middle of the ten portraits by Gainsborough in this gallery is nothing short of glorious. The works come from a diverse group of museums including the National Gallery and the Tate in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Huntington in Los Angeles. Also on display are 18th century stays and two gowns from the Cincinnati Art Museum.

I was mesmerized by the story behind the portrait of Ann Ford (shown above). An accomplished cello player, she played the instrument "side-saddle" style because putting it between her legs would be unseemly. Being a cello player myself, I can attest to how difficult this would be. And yet, she played well enough to play concerts. In Gainsborough's portrait of Ann Ford, her cello sits in the background and he conveys the sparkle of her beauty and her accomplishments by adding crushed up glass blended into his oil paints for her dress.

Giovanna Baccelli, oil on canvas c1782 by Thomas Gainsborough
Tate London
The other painting that caught my eye as the portrait of the dancer Giovanna Baccelli (c1782). She is depicted in costume for the ballet Les Amans Surpris (The Surprised Lovers). Her yellow and blue robe a la polonaise is very much like the costume that I acquired from the Opera Atelier. Remember this post?The dresses are uncannily alike and I'm guessing that my costume was inspired by this painting by Gainsborough.

Thomas Gainsborough and The Modern Woman is on at the San Diego Museum of Fine Art until May 1, 2011. If you cannot get there, a beautiful exhibition catalogue is available.

The San Diego Museum of Art
1450 El Prado
Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92101

Photo credits: Images from the San Diego Museum of Fine Art.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pulp Fashion, the Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

Pulp Fashion at the Legion of Honor
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
The Legion of Honor, Museum of Fine Art is currently showing a retrospective exhibition of paper dress sculptures by Isabelle de Borchgrave. These recreations of costume, which have been inspired by paintings, photographs, museum archives, and literary works, are made entirely out of paper that is painted, manipulated and glued to mimic the look of fabric, lace, trim and gems. The exhibition presents a retrospective of Isabelle de Borchegrave's work as a paper artist over the past 15 years. Divided into six sections including a recreation of her studio, the exhibition is a marvel from beginning to end. . As well,  textiles and objects from the museum's collection have been displayed alongside adding historical references and context to her work.

Elizabethan gown by Isabelle de Borchegrave
 Photo: Andreas von Einsiedel
Papiers a la Mode includes Isabelle's earliest work which were created in collaboration with Canadian costume designer Rita Brown and previously exhibited in a show by that name. The gowns in this room include iconic pieces from costume history, including the Elizabethan gown shown above as well as gowns by Worth, Poiret and Chanel.

In White presents eight gowns constructed out of white paper to illustrate the changes in silhouette in women's fashions over history.

The Fortuny Room, which includes a recreation of an exhibition tent from the 1911 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in Paris,  was inspired by the work of the Spanish born fashion designer Fortuny. The tent is an exotic creation with a mystical sensibility that highlights Isabelle's great skill with paper and provides a total immersion into the Fortuny oeuvre.

The Medici Room which includes life-size recreations of the women and children of the Medici family was  based on historical paintings. Some of Isabelle's most extraordinary work is featured in this room. The eye-popping details of lace ruffs, jewelery and rich fabrics have been meticulously crafted and bring to life costumes that otherwise only exist in paintings.

Inspiration includes the recreation of five new costumes inspired by four paintings in the museum's collection. 

To see more photos and read a more detailed review of this exhibition, see my article in the online journal Fashion Projects.

Pulp Fashion, the Art of Isabelle de Borchegrave continues its run at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco until June 5, 2011. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Palace of Art on the Pacific

Portrait of Anne, Vicountess Townsend by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Collection of the Legion of Honor
Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2011
Perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco is a palatial museum called the Legion of Honor. Home to an extraordinary collection of paintings and decorative objects from the 17th to 20th century, this Louvre-like palace and grounds is host to a retrospective exhibition by the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave.

Courtyard of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco
Photo by Ingrid Mida copyright 2011
Although I went out to the museum to see Isabelle de Borchegrave's paper dress sculptures, the museum itself was so noteworthy that I thought it deserved a separate post. With a dazzling collection of paintings and decorative objects and set on expansive grounds, I was decidedly content to spend the entire day there. At one point, I felt a little bit like I was stepping back in time to the 18th century when I encountered Marie Antoinette's canape a la ture (sofa).

Queen Marie Antoinette's sofa in the Legion of Honor
Photo by Ingrid Mida copyright 2011
This royal sofa, which was originally gilded, was commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette for a niche in her apartments in the palace of Versailles. It subsequently was owned by the King's sister, Madame Elizabeth, who replaced the gilding with the more up-to-date neoclassical scheme of white and gold. It was sold during the French revolution to Gouverneur Morris, American Ambassador to France at the time.

Portrait of Hycaninthe Gabrielle Roland by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun
Collection of the Legion of Honor
Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2011
This museum is home to an astonishing number of 18th century masterworks including Fragonard, Boucher and Watteau as well as Marie Antoinette's favourite portrait painter, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun. Not limited to this period, there are also galleries with more contemporary works by Renoir, Rodin, Picasso and other artists.

If you find yourself hankering for Paris but live on the west coast of the USA, this museum is the next best thing! My next post will be about the Legion of Honor's special exhibition called Pulp Fashion, the Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave. 

Pulp Fashion Poster at the Legion of Honor
Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2011

Legion of Honor, Museum of Fine Art San Francisco
100 34th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 750-3677

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Yohji Yamamoto and the Crinoline

Yohji Yamamoto Fall/winter 2011
Crinolines seem to resurface periodically in contemporary fashion. Their exaggerated proportions and sculptural properties take on a decidedly modern twist in Yohji Yamamoto's Fall/Winter 2011 collection. And the apocalyptic hairdos almost seem to foretell the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Yohji Yamamoto Fall/Winter 2011

Yohji Yamamoto, Fall/winter 2011

Yohji Yamamoto Fall/winter 2011

These women are not languishing Victorian wallflowers. Instead the effect is strikingly powerful and modern. Seeing this riff on crinolines makes me want to wear one. I wish I could hop across the pond to see the retrospective of Yohji Yamamoto's work which opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on March 12, 2011. 

To see more examples of crinolines in contemporary fashion, see this earlier post here

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Affair with Textiles

The Dress Installation shot by Anthony Scoggins
Zandra Rhodes at the Mingei Museum
Architect Mies Van de Rohe once said "God is in the details." This quote came to mind when I toured the Zandra Rhodes exhibition at the Mingei Museum the other day and studied the garments up close. There were so many exquisite details that are just not visible in photos. Hand-rolled hems, delicate beading, intricate patterning, ornate stitching, and precise tucks are barely visible. These beautiful details are the hallmarks of work that is done with passion.
Details of The Dress 73/44 by Zandra Rhodes
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
Whimsical accessories complete the look. Isn't this hat zany?

Hat to accompany The Dress by Zandra Rhodes
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
This waistcoat in creamy silk with a quilted silk yoke is from 1970 but just as hip today. Note the V-shape of the body formed by the edge of the print and brown cock feathers emphasizing the tasseled fringes.

Chevron Shawl Waistcoat, 1970 Style 70/9
Zandra Rhodes Installation at the Mingei Museum
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
And would this outfit be as complete without the matching stockings?

Zandra Rhodes Printed Tights 1970
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
Zandra's deep love of travel and influence of other cultures is clearly evident in her work. Garments inspired by Mexico, India, Africa and other cultures are included in the show. As well, the juxtaposition of items from the Mingei Museum's collections, including Chinese baby hats, kimonos, ceremonial coats, and other textiles, layers in another dimension to this retrospective and adds an element of timeless and universal beauty to her work.
Punk dress 1978 and Dinosaur Coat 1971
Zandra Rhodes at the Mingei Museum

Installation Shot Color Gallery
Zandra Rhodes at the Mingei Museum
In the adjacent gallery, an exhibition of costumes and folk art objects from Romania are displayed in a show called Between East and West, Folk Art Treasures of Romania. I was told that Zandra spent some time there. Maybe we'll see a Romanian themed show from her in one of her upcoming collections.

Zandra Rhodes, A Lifelong Affair with Textiles, is on display at the Mingei Museum until April 3, 2011. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Out of the crate: Fashioning Fashion at LACMA

Timeline Installation photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
There are only a matter of weeks left to see The Fashioning Fashion exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This extraordinary display of garments and accessories spanning 1700 to 1915 is unparalleled in its importance to fashion history due to its breath, its quality and the excellent condition of the pieces. Included in the nearly 160 examples of fashionable dress, undergarments and accessories are a number of extremely rare pieces. And while the exhibition catalogue Fashioning Fashion illustrates each and every garment in the collection in lavish photographs, there is really nothing like being there to fully appreciate the workmanship in these garments and accessories.

Timeline Installation Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
This collection was purchased in its entirety from two dealers who had each separately amassed collections of historic textiles and dress for more than 25 years. They wanted their combined collection go to a single museum. Director Michael Govan said "After seeing these rare objects, it was clear that we should bring the collection to Los Angeles, as my first major collecting initiatives after arriving at LACMA. This acquisition has catapulted the museum's holdings of European costume to the highest category of quality."

Lady's chemise, panier and corset 1750-1780 LACMA
Photo by Ingrid Mida
The heavy gray box-like structures displaying the garments initially seemed to detract from the delicate beauty of the garments on exhibit. But then I recognized the allusion to the garments emerging from shipping crates. The "crates" are painted gray like the neutral backdrops that costumes are typically photographed against in a museum. Raised up on platforms, the crates elevate the displays to allow easy viewing by all. And on occasion, their layout allows a playful peak at what is yet to come. Close to the ceiling of the gallery, the red lettering of the FashioningFashion labels add a punch of colour to the cavernous space and seem to reference the red steel beams of the building directly across from the Resnick Pavilion. In the end, I concluded that the contrast of the modern installation with the historic fashion pieces was a very clever thing to do and oh so LA.

Tailoring installation, LACMA photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
The white mannequins and paper wigs create neutral forms which focus the viewer's attention on the clothes and not the carrier, although some of the garments are suspended by wires with invisible mannequin forms (another allusion to modernity perhaps?)

Men's Waistcoats 18th century France, LACMA Installation photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
Normally it is easy for me to pick out a favourite garment from an exhibition but this time I fell in love with all of it. The extraordinary workmanship and beauty of the garments on display make it impossible to choose just one. So rare is it that a museum puts its entire collection on display that this is a once in a lifetime event.  I hope it stays burned into my memory.

Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915
Closes March 27, 2011
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wiltshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA, 90036

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rodarte: States of Matter at the Museum of Contemporary Art

Photo by Autumn de Wilde
Suspended like butterflies caught in mid-flight, the breath-taking creations of the Kate and Laura Mulleavy of the Rodarte label are presented as sculptures in an exhibition that opened on Friday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.  Rodarte: States of Matter includes selections from the designers White Collection (Fall 2010), Black Collection from Spring 2010,  Red Collection (2008) as well as the Odile/Black Swan tutus worn in the movie The Black Swan directed by Darren Araanofsky.

The Mulleavy sisters are known for their unconventional choice of materials like gauze or cotton cheesecloth as well as their process oriented design involving burning, stretching, weaving, and dying before garment assembly. Their creations under the Rodarte label present a mix of hard/soft and ugly/beautiful elements.

Photo by Autumn de Wilde
This exhibition at the MOCA Pacific Design Centre in West Hollywood was designed by runway producer Alexandre de Betak, who is also a long-time collaborator with the Mulleavys. Each garment sits on a poured resign mannequin form which is largely invisible to the viewer but creates the illusion of a body. Suspended by wires from the ceiling, the dresses and tutus have a haunting presence. Several of the tutus also spin gently giving the illusion of a ghost ballerina doing pirouettes.

Photo by Autumn de Wilde

On the second level gallery, a light installation adds another level of interest as the gowns are suspended over layers of fluorescent tubes that change in colour and intensity in a looped light show that goes from soft and pretty to hard and flashy. This is particularly effective for the grouping of gowns from the Red Collection that includes the bloodied tutu from the final scene in the Black Swan when the entire display takes on a blood-red countenance. But the light show is distracting for visitors that simply want to appreciate the sculptural qualities of the garments because the sequencing is so rapid and the cycle so short that it feels like there are only seconds to get a proper look under normal lighting conditions. And I sort of wished that there was music (perhaps the music from Swan Lake) to hide the loud fan and the clicking noises of the light show.

Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
Being able to see these gowns up close made the trek out to this gallery worth the effort. It almost seemed as if the Rodarte gowns were made by fairy sprites as there are no visible seams or points of attachment. Ethereal in their beauty, they are truly works of art.

Rodarte: States of Matter
March 4, 2011 to June 5, 2011
Museum of Contemporary Art, Pacific Design Centre
West Hollywood, California

Photos of Rodarte installation by Autumn de Wilde from the MOCA website

Friday, March 4, 2011

Postcards of my travels

I've been burning the candle at both ends... So much so that my brain hurts and I seem to be incapable of stringing a coherent thought together. The timing was unfortunate as today I gave a talk on art and fashion at Ryerson University and felt like I stumbled my way through it. I'm craving sunshine and sleep this weekend, neither of which are on the agenda so I thought I'd travel back in time with my postcard collection. Here are some of my favourites  with links to the posts I wrote at the time.

From the Viktor and Rolf Retrospective at the Barbicon, London 2008
Viktor & Rolf Hana doll 2008
From Bedtime Story, Autumn/winter 2008-09
Photo by Peter Stigler

From the Chanel Mobile Art Container in New York Central Park, 2008
Sophie Calle for Chanel-Mobile Art 2008

From the YSL Retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal

YSL Wedding Dress, spring-summer 1969
Photo by Diane Michals

Femme Debout, rue de doi, vers 1742
by Francois Boucher
Happy weekend!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What's on the Fashion Calendar for March?

The worlds of fashion and art have collided and there seem to be an unprecedented number of promising exhibitions on the calendar.

Worth Evening Gown and shoe by Isabelle de Borchgrave 2004
Photo by Andreas von Einsiedel
Courtesy of the Legion of Honor

Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave recently opened at the Legion of Honor Museum of Fine Arts in San Francisco. In this exhibition, over 60 paper sculptures from the studio of Isabelle de Borchgrave depict the history of costume. Taking inspiration from paintings, photographs, sketches and museum collections, this artist paints and manipulates paper to look like fabric, which is then styled into the dress silhouettes of the past.  I recall seeing her work in a show called Papier a la Mode at the Royal Ontario Museum  and I've been a fan ever since. In fact, I often revisit her exquisite work inside the beautiful book Paper Illusions, The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave. 

In Los Angeles, the Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915 exhibition at LACMA will close at the end of the month. This exhibition examines the changes in fashionable dress over a period of  two hundred years and considers the evolution in textiles, tailoring techniques, and trimmings in the presentation of the museum's relatively recent acquisition of a major European collection. With an incredibly beautiful book filled with breath-taking photos, I'm almost breathless with anticipation at finally getting there.

Also in Los Angeles is the unpretentious FIDM museum where there is an exhibition of  the 19th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design . The Academy award winning costumes from Alice in Wonderland by Collen Atwood are included in the exhibition as are costumes from The Kings' Speech, The Kids are Alright, The Tempest and other movies from 2010.

Installation shot of Punk Garments, 1977-78
From Zandra Rhodes: a life in textiles
Photo by Anthony Scoggins
Courtesy of the Mingei Museum
And of course, there is the exhibition of Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Affair with Textiles at the Mingei Museum. This iconic textile artist, fashion designer and costumer will be speaking about her opera costume and set design work on March 19th in San Diego.

Textiles are the first step of the process of creation for designer Yoji Yamamoto.  He once said "Fabric is everything". Using a variety of traditional Japanese techniques and other more common weaves such as gabardine and tweed, Yamamoto has all his fabrics made in Japan to his own specifications. He became internationally renowned for his unconventional designs that incorporate unusual pattern cutting and often seem oversized, unfinished, non-gender specific, or constructed out of non-traditional fabrics like felt or neoprene.  Yoji Yamamoto retrospective at Victoria and Albert Museum opens March 12.

So many places to be, so little time....