Saturday, September 29, 2012

Creative Process Journal: Dipping into the Archive

Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de modes 
Although design ideas can come from anywhere, historical archives can be rich sources of inspiration. Christian Dior reinterpreted period silhouettes throughout his career, taking inspiration from the eighteenth century pannier, the full-skirted, soft shouldered and narrow-waisted silhouette of France’s Second Empire period (1852-1870), the back fullness silhouette of the 1870s, the apron-like swag of the dresses of the 1880s, and the 1910 hobble skirt. Contemporary designers have also taken inspiration from history. Azzedine Alaia, Commes des Garçons, Maison Martin Margiela, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Nicholas Ghesquiere, Thierry Mugler, Yohji Yamamoto, Olivier Theyskens, and Karl Lagerfeld have all dipped into the past for inspiration as evidenced by the 2011 exhibition presented by Musée Galliera in Versailles: The 18th Century Back in Fashion.

Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de modes 
Balenciaga was also inspired by the past and accumulated a personal collection of historic garments, accessories, samples of lace and embroidery and books from the 18th and 19th century. In the recent exhibition Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de modes at the Musée Galliera in Paris, selected items from his personal archive were presented alongside his reinterpretations thereof. The items in his archive included a range of items from the nineteenth century such as dresses, collars, corsets, shawls, mantles, capes, as well as fashion plates, books and journals. This juxtaposition provided clear evidence of the links between the inspiration provided by history and the end result.  With minimal labelling, the key to the creation of these visual links for the visitor was the use of innovative display techniques, incorporating modular drawers with clear protective insets, which sit underneath cube-like metal vitrines. The drawers are stacked in fixed position, but open, suggesting links between adjacent pieces. For example, beaded and embroidered black capes and mantalets from the late nineteenth century are shown alongside a Balenciaga cape du soir from 1960, and a 1945 jacquette de soir. The shapes, colours and beading techniques are remarkably similar, and creating links through time and history. 

If there was the budget to display my choice of garments for the project Memories of a Dress in an exhibition, I would make use of acrylic vitrines to display some of the fragile, but hauntingly beautiful garments. Most of them are so fragile and so near the end of their object biography that they can never be mounted, and laying them flat in a clear box would both protect them and preserve them. But sadly, such a display would also have a limited time span since light helps accelerate the decay of the textile. 

As I mentioned in my review of the Cristóbal Balenciaga: Collectionneur de modes exhibition on Fashion Projects, the constraints and limitations can sometimes inspire creative solutions. In my case, my decision to make Memories of a Dress into a photo-based project will, in effect, stop time. Although these items will continue to decompose on their slow march to the end of their object biography, the photos will freeze time on that decay. This seems to resonate with my obsession with the evanescence of life and Roland Barthes writings in Camera Lucida when he said:

"It is because each photograph always contains this imperious sign of my future death that each one, however attached it seems to the excited world of the living, challenges each of us, one by one, outside of any generality (but not outside of any transcendence)" (97). 

Font, Lourdes. "Dior before Dior." West 86th, Bard Graduate Centre 18.1 (2011): 26-49. Print.

Martin, Richard. Christian Dior. Eds. Harold Koda and Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York,N.Y.). New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art ;|aNew Haven, CT :|bDistributed by Yale University Press, 1996. Print.

Mida, Ingrid. "Innovative Exhibition Design Strategies in the exhibition of Cristóbal Balenciaga and Comme des Garçons at musée Galliera". Fashion Projects Online Journal, September 29, 2012. 

Saillard, Olivier, Pascale Gorgnet-Ballesteros, and Laurent Cotta. The 18th Century Back in Fashion: Guide to the Exhibition and the Grand Trianon, 8 July - 9 October 2011. Paris: Musée Galliera, 2011. Print.

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