Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Watteau to Degas: French Drawings at the Frick Museum

Jean-Honore Fragonard  Le Calendrier des vieillards, c. 1780
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over black chalk underdrawing
Frits Lugt Collection

Sometimes I wonder if I might have previously lived in 18th Century France because my fascination for that time period seems to know no bounds. Although I have a deep appreciation of contemporary art, my heart still skips a beat when I stand in front of artwork by the masters of the 18th century like Boucher and Fragonard.  And while the exhibition of drawings from the Frits Lugt Collection currently on at the Frick Museum in New York is not confined to artists from the 18th century, it was those images that made me swoon. The skill with which Fragonard and Boucher exhibit in these small drawings is extraordinary. A few simple lines can express so much life! And while it may appear on the surface just to be a pretty picture, a closer look often reveals the beginning of a narrative (something that I'm trying to incorporate into my own work). This show of exquisite drawings also includes works by Watteau, Degas, Morisot, and Ingres among others continues through to January 10, 2010.

Frick Museum
1 East 70th Street, New York

Monday, December 14, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe Abstracts at the Whitney Museum

Georgia O'Keeffe will never be considered a fashion icon but she was a woman who knew her mind and had a distinctive sense of style. Looking at photographs of her in her minimalist black clothing, her sense of independence and vitality is evident. She was ahead of her time, both in her style of dress and her artwork.

In 1915, Georgia O'Keeffe leaped into abstraction using charcoal as the medium for her first experiments. These drawings are the best place to begin your tour of the 125 abstract paintings, drawings, watercolours and sculptures by Georgia O'Keeffe now on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Music in Pink and Blue Number 2, Georgia O'Keeffe
I've always admired the sensual forms and deft handling of colour that defines much of O'Keeffe's work, but hearing the artist's voice on the audio guide accompanying the exhibition added much to the experience. She said that she used abstraction to explore her thoughts and emotions and asserted that her work was not sexual imagery but about feelings. This is a must see show before it closes on January 17, 2010.

Georgia O'Keeffe Abstractions
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York
September 17, 2009 - January 17, 2010

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Contemporary Drawing at the MOMA New York

Amelie Von Wulffen copyright 2009

To better understand the state of contemporary drawing practice, I visited the show "Compass in Hand: Selections from The Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection" now on at the MOMA. Curator Christian Rattemeyer selected from this collection of 2500 drawings to present several hundred works. Contemporary artists from around the world are represented but are mostly clustered from New York, LA, UK, and Germany. Divided into abstraction and figuration, the work illustrates the fact that artists have stepped outside the traditional definition of drawing on paper to include the use of unconventional media, with many incorporating collage and appropriated images into their work. Really, anything goes these days!!

My favourite pair of images were by Elizabeth Peyton and David Hockney. Although somewhat traditional in style compared to what was on display elsewhere, the simplicity and elegance of their line was captivating to me. Another image that still haunts me is an emaciated horse and rider created out of cigarettes, although I cannot recall the name of the artist.

This exhibition is beautifully hung and there is lots of space to stand back and appreciate the work. If you are interested in contemporary drawing practice, this show is well worth a visit. And if you cannot make it to the MOMA before the show closes on January 4, 2009, the MOMA website includes an enlightening video with the curator.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tim Burton Show at the MOMA

I went to the Tim Burton show at the MOMA hoping that I'd be inspired by the dark and quirky elements of his work. Sadly, this show has been squeezed into one of the smallest galleries in the museum and it was difficult to get close enough or to linger long enough to appreciate much of his work. Although the entrance was supposed to be time-ticketed, the attendants at the entrance were not checking tickets. As a result,  the gallery was packed to the rafters with people, many of whom had children in tow. I had my sketchbook with me but there was no chance to pull it out, because it was a battle to get near the work as it was.

With 700 examples of Burtons drawings, paintings, photographs, storyboards, puppets, macquettes, costumes, film clips and other material, I did gain a new appreciation for Tim Burton's skill as a multi-talented artist. I exited the gallery hoping that my favourite illustrations would be contained in the accompanying exhibition catalogue but they were not and I left empty-handed. If you go to the Tim Burton show, it is probably best to go as early in the day as possible so you can actually see and enjoy the work on display.

Tim Burton

MOMA New York, 11 West 53rd Street
November 22, 2009 - April 26, 2010

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Retrospective Bust of a Woman by Salvador Dali at the MOMA

Tucked away in a corner on the fourth floor of the MOMA (in the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Painting and Sculpture Gallery) is this delightful sculpture called Retrospective Bust of a Woman by Salvador Dali. The accompanying exhibition tag describes the sculpture as follows: [It] "not only presents a woman as an object but explicitly as one to be consumed. A long phallic baguette crowns her head, cobs of corn dangle round her neck, and ants swarm along her forehead as if getting crumbs." Maybe it is just me, but I see Marie Antoinette during the Flour Wars.

This is one of a small grouping of surrealist sculptures on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York until January 4, 2010 in an exhibition entitled "The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection" curated by Anne Amland assisted by Veronica Roberts.

I lingered over these sculptures drinking in their quirky and often humourous point of view. Also on display is the infamous fur-lined tea cup by Meret Oppenheim and Taglioni's Jewel Casket by Joseph Cornell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Last Week to See enveloppes du corps by Lorene Bourgeois

Before I begin my posts about my art and fashion adventures in New York, I'd like to highlight a must-see show of exquisitely rendered drawings by Lorene Bourgeois that will be closing at the Glendon Gallery in Toronto on Saturday, December 12.

In her show enveloppes du corps, Lorene Bourgeois explores cloth as a second skin in that it "accompanies us from birth to death; we are surrounded in it and we are shrouded in it." To read more, check out Yael Brotman's review on the Loop Gallery Blog here

 Glendon Gallery Installation by Lorene Bourgeois, 2009

 Glendon Gallery Installation by Lorene Bourgeois 2009

Glendon Gallery is part of the bilingual Glendon College campus of York University and is located at 2775 Bayview Avenue (Lawrence and Avenue) in Toronto. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday from 12 to 3 pm, and on the closing day Saturday, December 12th, the gallery will be open from 11 am to 5 pm with the artist in attendance. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend in New York

I am just back from a long weekend in New York.  I attended the American Style Symposium at FIT where I also viewed the American Beauty and the Day to Night exhibitions. Plus I managed to squeeze in visits to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) for the Tim Burton show and the Contemporary Drawing show, the Whitney Museum of American Art to see the Georgia O'Keefe abstracts, and the Frick Museum to see the drawings by Watteau, Degas and Boucher. It was four days filled with art and fashion and I'll be posting about these exhibitions in the coming weeks (in between catching up on my regular life, striking my show at Launch Projects, birthday celebrations and Christmas shopping). Happy Holidays everyone!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Profile of an Artist: Noel Palomo-Lovinski

Noel Palomo-Lovinski is the artist behind Confessions and the Sense of Self at Kent State University Museum.  In this question and answer format post, I have interviewed Noel about her work.

1. What is your background and education?

I have a BFA in fashion design from Parsons the New School for Design, an MA in Visual Culture from New York University and an MFA in Textiles from Kent State University. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor in the Kent State Fashion and Merchandising department. I have done a lot of freelance work and worked at places like DKNY, Episode and Anne Crimmins.

2. Are textiles your primary form of artwork or do you do other forms of art as well?

My background is in fashion design so drawing and illustration are major parts of my design process. They do not result in a final art piece though. I am not currently represented by a gallery.

3. How long were you working on the Confessions project?

I have been working on this subject area since 2003.

4.  What did you find most surprising about the confessions that you read?

The most surprising aspect was how universal so many of them were and how different image can be from reality.

5.  What is your next project?

I haven't gotten there yet but I would like to perhaps explore more sculptural aspects in connection to fabric and, of course, confessions.

6.  Where do you find in inspiration for your work?

I read a lot. I hear a lot of issues brought up with other women I know that mirror my own concerns and I start to see patterns.

7.  Who is your favourite fashion desginer?

I have many but I greatly admire the work of Hussein Chalayan, Rei Kawakubo, and Alexander McQueen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Confessions and the Sense of Self: Works by Noel Palomo-Lovinski


In the exhibition Confessions and the Sense of Self at Kent State University Museum, Noel Palomo-Lovinski has explored the themes of women's roles and self image. She has designed and created clothing  layered with meaning through shape, texture, fabric and embellishment that as a whole functions as sculpture. Anonymous confessions by women were obtained through public websites and used as design elements in portraying the "tension that exists between the enduring archetype of the caring female and the nature of such contradictory confessions".

Using dress as a visual metaphor for identity, the exhibitions include:
I Feel Great!
All Tied Up in Knots
Hold It In
Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety
Twisted Sister
Levels of Confession
Mother Love
Camouflaged Confessions
Suck Punch
Family and Friends

I was particularly taken with I Feel Great! and Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety and Noel kindly gave me permission to show images of these works. 
I Feel Great! by Noel Palomo-Lovinski 

I Feel Great! (Detail Shot) 

Noel wrote that "Polite conversation often includes the rhetorical question 'How are you doing?' The expected response is 'Fine; great, how are you?' The under-layer of the dress is candid confessions in red; the top layer exhibits expected responses. The muzzle signifies a suppression of blunt or truthful thoughts."

Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Noel Palomo-Lovinski

Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (Detail Shot)

About this work, Noel wrote "In our current society women are often expected to be a type of superwoman, ambitiously working in a career, be a loving and patient mother, expert housekeeper and true partner in her marital relationship. There are several websites that are devoted to confessions from women who are not able to cope with the demands that they feel from society, their families, their partners and employers. They seek advice, comfort or just use the websites as a sounding board for their anxieties."

I encourage you to check out the entire exhibition here. Noel Palomo-Lovinski's hauntingly beautiful work is a fusion of fashion, art and sculpture.

Confessions and the Sense of Self: Works by Noel Palomo-Lovinski
Kent State University Museum
Rockwell Hall
Kent Ohio
Phone: 330-672-3450

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What's on My Fashion Calendar for December

I never thought I'd want to go to Ohio but December is the last chance to see Confessions and the Sense of Self: Works by Noel Palmomo-Lovinski at Kent State University Museum. In this provocative exhibition, Noel Palomo-Lovinski has used dress as a medium for expressing the tension that many women feel in their roles as wives, mothers, sisters, friends. Taking quotes from several confessional websites and applying them to clothing in a variety of decorative embellishments, texture and pattern, the artist has translated women's internal conflicts in striking visual forms. I'll be posting works from this exhibition and an artist profile of Noel Palmomo-Lovinski later this week.

Opening December 3, 2009 is the exhibition Night and Day at FIT in New York. Curated by Molly Sorkin, associate curator of Costume, this show examines how the rules that dictate appropriate dress for women have changed over the past 250 years. Featuring over 100 day and evening garments displayed in chronological order to illustrate how conventions for appropriate dress have changed, the exhibition includes the work of Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and other designers.

December 4th and 5th will be full days at the Fashion Institute of Technology where I'll be participating in the American Style symposium. Featuring speakers such as Dr. Valerie Steele, Nina Garcia, Patrician Mears (curator of the American Beauty exhibition at FIT), Dr. Alexandra Palmer (curator of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum) and other fashion scholars, this two-day symposium should be a promising source of material for future posts.

I was too busy to attend the November 19th opening of the new show at the Bata Shoe Museum From Renaissance: Chopines to Baroque Heels. This exhibition features rare and extreme forms of footwear including a pair of Venetian chopines from the 16th century that have pedestals over 50 cm (about 25 inches) in height. These towering chopines from the Fondazione Musei Civici de Venezia will never again be displayed after the September 2010 closing of the show.

Sunday, December 6th is the last day to see my work at the Stepping Stones show at the Launch Projects Gallery in Toronto. 

December is always a hectic month for me - with my birthday and preparations for the holidays all crammed into a few short weeks. But I won't complain, because I love being busy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fashion Magazine Origami

Fashion Magazine Origami (Process Experiment) by Ingrid Mida 2009

From what I can tell, most artists seem to work in one of two ways:
1. conceive a finished piece of artwork in their mind and execute it
2. work through a process to develop an artwork

I'm one of the people that sees a completely finished artwork in my mind's eye. I've even had dreams about the finished installation in museums no less!! The problem is that sometimes my vision has inhibited the exploration of my full creative potential.

To explore the other (dark!) side, I've been playing with process-based experiments. What that really means is taking an object and doing something to it without a preconceived idea of what it will look like in the end. This is not my preferred way of working and I've had to force myself to do it. But the results have been interesting to say the least. Who would have thought that fashion magazines could be anything other than fodder for the recycling bin?

What type of artist are you?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Recollections of Leonard, Hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette

I am reading the Recollections of Leonard, Hairdresser to Queen Marie-Antoinette, Translated from the French by E. Jules Meras, published by Greening and Co. Ltd., London in 1912. Leonard Autie came to Paris in 1769 his innovations in head-dresses quickly made him the favourite of Queen Marie Antoinette. With his connections to the Queen, Leonard became the "king" of society hairdressers and is credited with Le Pouff. These two little artworks (3x5 in size) are inspired by Leonard's work.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Revolutionary Fashion I

Revolutionary Fashion I by Ingrid Mida 2009  Mixed media artwork 10x10 with hand embroidery and beading

Engaging in playful explorations of my creativity and invoking my sense of humour has become an important part of my artistic practice in the past few months. This has helped me make leaps into unexplored territory (which has kind of been like jumping off a cliff!).  Revolutionary Fashion I is one such leap which is currently on display at Launch Projects Gallery. I don't want to say much about it because I hope you'll share your reactions with me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New Directions in Sculpture continued

Vanitas I, Paper Sculpture by Ingrid Mida 2009

In Vanitas I, I have created a circular sculpture out of fashion magazines inspired by the shape of a crinoline or hoop skirt from 1860. Emerging from the form are the airbrushed illusions of the ideal woman - tall and thin,  dressed and coiffed to perfection  - a largely unattainable standard of beauty that fuels the big business of fashion.

The sculpture is entitled Vanitas I after the latin "vanitas vanitatum" meaning the emptiness associated with earthly life and the transient nature of vanity. This theme, which also has biblical references in the Ecclesiastes "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity", has served as inspiration and thematic premise for many artists, including 17th century Dutch still life paintings. The title seemed highly appropriate given the nature of vanity in the world of contemporary fashion magazines.

This particular sculpture is in the window of Launch Projects and if you happen to be driving or walking by 404 Adelaide Street West in Toronto, you can see it without even going inside. It looks particularly striking at night.

I know this art work is not commercially viable but it feels right! I think it is provocative and compelling.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Directions in Sculpture

The Sound of Paper by Ingrid Mida  Paper Sculpture (10 inch diameter) copyright 2009

The Sound of Paper (Detail Shot) 
Paper Sculpture by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

If you've been wondering why my blog posts have been somewhat irregular in the past three months, it was in part because I have been working hard to take my artwork to another level, to layer in deeper meaning and make it more contemporary.

This book work called The Sound of Paper takes inspiration from the shape of a crinoline as well as my research into the history of feminism. While it may appear to be simply the silhouettes of women dressed in 17th century clothing who are emerging from the pages of the book, it also has a deeper layer of meaning in honour of French writer Francois Poullain de la Barre who rejected the principle that a person's sex determined the capacity for learning in a paper entitled "On the Equality of the Two Sexes" in 1673.

I'm participating in a group show that opens tomorrow at the Launch Projects Gallery in Toronto and will be posting more of this new work on both my blog and my website. I look forward to hearing your reactions!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Profile of an Artist: Samuel Thomas

Samuel Thomas,  a member of the Lower Cayuga Band of the Iroquois Nation, is a self-taught artist who incorporates traditional Iroquois embossed (three-dimensional) beading and symbolism in his pieces. Over the past 27 years, he has received over 90 national and international awards for his work and has pieces in permanent collections of many museums in the United States and Canada, including the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Sam initially learned to work with leather and discovered bead work when he wanted to embellish his leather pieces. He began to research and revitalize traditional bead work techniques and found his calling in this intricate art. Sam incorporates traditional Iroquois design, symbolism and teachings into his contemporary pieces which typically include the strawberry and hummingbird as his personal identity markers. The strawberry is an important fruit to the Iroquois people, as one of the five sacred gifts that Sky Woman brought to the earth when she fell through a hole left by the uprooting of the celestial tree in the sky world as well as having medicinal properties. The hummingbird is a contemporary motif representing the balance between good and evil.

Samuel Thomas's projects have spanned the globe. In 2003, he received several grants including an Ontario Arts Council grant and a Canada Council grant to collaborate with African artists to create a six foot tall beaded tree of peace, a "visual representation of cross-cultural peace and unity". While in Africa, Thomas worked with indigenous peoples and artists to learn their almost extinct beading techniques, document their heritage and conduct collaborative workshops.  This project was based on the traditional Iroquoian teaching of peace and unity in which a white pine tree was uprooted and all weapons of war were placed into the pit with the tree re-planted on top to become the Great Tree of Peace. It was told that the roots of the Great Tree spread in all directions of Mother Earth and that anyone seeking peace and protection under the Great Tree can follow the roots back to their source to find peace. Each element of the tree was carefully considered as to its underlying meaning. For example, there are fifty branches to represent the fifty original chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy, fifty strawberries to symbolize cleansing and renewal, and an eagle perched on top to watch for danger and protect the people. Even the East Africans bead winding process called Mutilima is representative of the continuous winding symbolizing the continuity of life.  The Great Tree of Peace was unveiled at the United Nations headquarters on May 15, 2007.

More recently, Samuel Thomas traveled to places of sacred power as Stonehenge, the Temple of Delphi in Greece, the Egyptian Pyramids, Kenya, and our own Niagara Falls. While at these places of power, Samuel Thomas used them as sources of inspiration for bead work pieces created on site. The result of this work will be unveiled at the Grimsby Museum in December 2009.

This humble artist has created incredibly powerful work that celebrates the traditions of his people while furthering the cause of peace and harmony through the world. He does not have his own website and neither is he interested in publicity. Nevertheless, he is both a great artist and a great man and that is the reason I wanted to acknowledge his very important work.

To see a few more examples of Samuel Thomas' beautiful beadwork, visit Bear Paw Keepsakes on-line or visit the Grimsby Museum in Ontario (December 10, 2009 to March 2010).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beading Workshop with Samuel Thomas

Hand-beaded Strawberry by Ingrid Mida (under direction of Samuel Thomas) 2009

To the Iroquois people, the strawberry is one of the most important fruits because it has powerful healing properties. As well, the ripening of the strawberry is symbolic of spring's defeat of winter. As I listened to artist Samuel Thomas talk about the symbolism behind his work, I felt in awe of this talented man who for the last 26 years has presented lectures, demonstrations and workshops to revive Iroquois embossed (three-dimensional) beadwork.

During a one-hour workshop (part of the Embellishment Canadian Style symposium at the Royal Ontario Museum) last Saturday, I created this beaded strawberry under Samuel Thomas's patient direction. The materials were left-overs from Samuel's latest project which involved visits to such sacred places as Stonehenge, the Egyptian pyramids, and Niagara Falls. The red wool of the strawberry came from his Stonehenge project, while the gold beads, sand (used for filler) and the thread came from his Egypt project. This is one powerful amulet!

The work from Samuel Thomas' journey to sacred places will be on display at the Grimsby Museum in Ontario from December 10, 2009 to March 2010. And even though Samuel doesn't have a website and didn't seem very interested in publicity, I plan to write up a profile of this accomplished and important artist.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dior Book Giveaway Winner Announced

Thank you to all who entered the draw to win an autographed copy of Dior: A New Look, A New Enterprise (1947-57) by Dr. Alexandra Palmer. How I wish I could offer each of my loyal followers a prize for your readership and support. If it is any consolation, the book is available on Amazon and Chapters-Indigo at a pre-publication sale price.

Congratulations goes to Allie at the blog History-Fiction Chick! Allie please email me at to claim your prize.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Author Profile: Alexandra Palmer

Alexandra Palmer, the author of Dior: A New Look, A New Enterprise 1947-1957, is the Senior Curator of Costumes and Textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Her research as a costume and textile historian focuses on the history of western textiles and fashionable dress with an emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries.

Alexandra has a BA in Art History from the University of Toronto (1979), a MA in History of Costume and Textiles from NY University (1981) and a Phd in Design History from the University of Brighton, England (1995).

Dr. Palmer is the Clio award winning author of Couture and Commerce: The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s (2001). As well, she authored Fashion: A Canadian Perspective (2004), Old Clothes, New Looks: Second Hand Fashion (2005) and contributed to numerous exhibition catalogues and books including:The Golden Age: Haute Couture 1947-1957, The Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2007), PaperClothes, Benaki Museum Athens (2007), Un Secolo di Moda (2004), Villa Medici, Rome.

This busy mother of two boys also is a professor of Fine Art History of University of Toronto, an adjunct professor for the Graduate Programme in Art History at York University and the exhibition editor for Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture.

Dr. Palmer is currently working on curating an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum planned for 2011 on Christian Dior.

I came to know Alexandra through my interest in the Patricia Harris Costume and Textiles Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum. I was honoured that she asked me to read through the final drafts of the Dior book and called upon my previous experiences in finance, publishing and fashion to provide comments on the book. Alex agreed to be interviewed for this post and her responses are shown below in italics.

1. How does this book differ from the other books on Dior?
My book looks at the company from a global perspective and relies heavily on the Dior archives in Paris.

2. What was the biggest surprise or revelation that you uncovered during your research?
I was surprised at how smart Monsieur Dior was in terms of design and business.

3. During the book launch party, you mentioned that other fashion houses do not have archives like Dior. Why do you think Dior kept such meticulous records compared to other designers?
The records are not meticulous but are extensive. The house of Dior has never moved its location and it has always had large statistics and business offices and staffing.

4. How many years did you spend researching and writing the book?
It took four years to write the book, because of the research and my many other duties.

5. Where and when will the book be available?
It is for presently for sale in the ROM bookshop and can also be ordered from Amazon, Indigo and the Victoria and Albert Museum website.

6. What is your favourite Dior ensemble or dress?
I cannot say that I have a favourite. All of Dior's creations are interesting for different reasons.

7. You mentioned coveting a Dior record case during the book launch. If you could have one Dior item for the ROM collection, what would it be?
I would love to have a wool late day or cocktail piece with brilliant cutting.

8. Will the book be translated into any other languages?
It may be translated into Spanish. I'm not really sure at this point.

Leave a comment if you wish to be entered in the draw for a copy of Alexandra Palmer's book on Dior. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, November 10, 2009.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dior Book Giveaway

What the book is About:
In spite of having no formal training in art or fashion design, Christian Dior became a revolutionary force in fashion almost immediately after opening his salon on February 12, 1947. Time magazine said "Never in the history of fashion had a single designer made such a revolution in his first showing". During the span of only ten years 1947-1957, Christian Dior created a profitable brand that still exerts its influence today. Although there are many books covering the work of Dior, none have really addressed the reasons behind the success of this global powerhouse in fashion.

In Dior, A New Look, A New Enterprise (1947-1957), Alexandra Palmer takes a detailed look at what it was "about the man, the business and the designs that made the name of Christian Dior the singularly best known of all his gifted contemporary couturiers" (page 6).

Although much has been written about Dior, Palmer's book is based on original research through the Dior archives in Paris and is richly illustrated with photographs, sketches, and fascinating tabulations, such as sales statistics by country and the best-selling Dior garments (the "Fords" of the collections).

The book consists of seven parts:
1. Introduction
2. The Early Years
3. A New House, A New Femininity
4. Couture Piracy, Protection and Litigation
5. The Christian Dior Boutique
6. Global Expansion and Licenses
7. The Celebrity Couturier, Diplomat and Artbiter of Taste

Title: Dior, A New Look, A New Enterprise (1947-57)
Author: Alexandra Palmer
Published by: V&A Publishing, 2009
Number of Pages: 128
Price: 19.99 English Pounds, $38 Canadian, US $20 prepublication sale price on Amazon

If you would like to win an autographed copy of this book, please leave a comment. If you would like two chances to win the book, please sign up as a follower and/or post a giveaway button on your blog. I will select a winner after my next post about the book which will be a brief interview with the author.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fashion Happenings in November

November 2, 2009 - It's Marie Antoinette's Birthday!!! Eat cake! And visit the blog History-Fiction Chick where my work is being featured today!

November 5, 2009 - The exhibition American Beauty opens at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

November 7, 2009 - Last day to see the Fashion & Politics exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

November 7, 2009 - Embellishment Canadian Style: Painted Skins, Beads, Cloth, Threads at the Royal Ontario Museum
9:15 am - 430 pm Learn about Fashionable Domestic Embroidery from Jennifer Salahub, Cloth in Canadian Quilts from Adrienne Hood, Storied Beadwork from Trudy Nicks, and Narrative Painting on Buffalo Robes from Arni Brownstone at the ROM's day long symposium on Canadian forms of Embellishment.

November 11, 2009 at 630 pm - Lecture on Style Alchemy with Carole Tanenbaum and Julia Grieve at the Textile Museum of Canada
Carole Tanenbaum will discuss her collection of vintage costume jewellery while Julia Grieve, founder of Preloved will speak about upcycyling, the practice of making something old new and valuable.

November 21, 2009 - Workshop on The Joy of Small Blocks (in Quilting) with Kinch & Storms in conjunction with the exhibition Kaleidoscope: Antique Quilts from the collection of Carole and Howard Tanenbaum at the Textile Museum of Canada

November 22, 2009 - The exhibition On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels opens today at the Bata Shoe Museum and features rare examples of fashionable footwear dating from 1500-1660.

So much to do and so little time!!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dior Book Launch Party at the ROM

Terry Benoit and Dr. Alexandra Palmer at the ROM Book Launch Party on October 30, 2009
Photo by Ingrid Mida

The launch party for Dr. Alexandra Palmer's new book on Dior was a hot ticket at the Royal Ontario Museum on Friday evening. I was stationed at the door to welcome guests and check their names on the list (someone described me as "the Rottweiler by the door"!) Attended by about 100 of Toronto's fashion scholars, followers and press, Dr. Palmer gave a presentation about Dior and also autographed copies of her book.

I snapped this photo of Terry Benoit, fellow blogger and all-round nice guy, with Dr. Palmer and her book but sadly forgot to ask for a photo myself!! Terry loaned several Dior items from his vintage collection to Dr. Palmer.

Having read and commented on a draft copy of the book for Dr. Palmer in advance of publication, I won't be writing a formal book review on my blog, but will be featuring the book in the coming weeks. I also have an autographed copy of the book for a give-away! Stay tuned.

Title: Dior
Author: Dr. Alexandra Palmer
Published by: V&A Publishing, London 2009
Number of Pages: 128 (softcover)

Friday, October 30, 2009

In High Fashion: Edward Steichen at the AGO

Catalogue Cover, Photograph of Actress Mary Heberden 1935 by Edward Steichen

The AGO is the one of the last stops of the exhibition "Edward Steichen: In High Fashion" which presents a collection of his black and white photographs from the Conde Nast archives 1923-1937. As the chief photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue during these years, Edward Steichen was instrumental in defining fashion photography and celebrity portraiture. Using light and shadow to delineate his subjects in striking backdrops, Steichen drew on his training as a painter to create arresting compositions of his subjects and is considered the "first truly modern fashion photographer".

I was entranced by the 200 Steichen photographs on display. Exquisite in their execution, the collection leaves no doubt as to Steichen's talent and sophisticated range. Although Steichen also made colour photographs, only black and white images are on display, giving the exhibition a clarity and elegance.

Given my own recent confusion as to the next steps in my artistic path, I found it interesting to learn that Steichen had been a painter before taking up photography. In spite of his successful shows at prestigious galleries as a painter, he had "serious misgivings about his talents with the brush" and was aware of "not having kept pace with the modern styles of painting." Walking away from a medium that he was comfortable with into the relatively new world of photography must have been a challenge to say the least.

The exhibition runs until January 3, 2010. Keep your AGO ticket and show it at the ROM to save 20% off general admission for the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibition.

317 Dundas Street West

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926-1933

John Sloan, a teacher at the Art Students League once advised Alexander Calder to not be afraid to borrow - "The great men, the most original borrowed from everybody....Little men just borrow from one person" and to "treat as irrelevant the question "What am I doing, is it art?"

This struck a chord with me when I visited the Alexander Calder exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (co-created by the Whitney Museum of American Art and Centre Pompidou Paris). I've been playing with wire in my studio, not knowing what I'm doing, not sure if what I'm making is art. And low and behold, someone else has already done it!

When I think of Alexander Calder, I associate his name with his abstract mobile works, modern and spare in their beauty. But what came before that - the Circus works and the wire sculptures - mesmerized me with their whimsy and sense of play. Wire forms created from the elemental lines that delineate all things (just the way I draw) create shadows and come to life. I was humbled and yet, at the same time, energized.

Of course, I had to buy the catalogue so that I could study Calder's work at my leisure. Created from humble materials, like wire, cork, fabric, thread and paint, Calder created a miniature circus that he animated himself during performances. It was utter magic!

I will have to go back to see this delightful exhibition again! I was simply blown away! Don't miss it!

Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926-1933

Art Gallery of Ontario
October 3, 2009 - January 10, 2010

Friday, October 23, 2009


Masquerade I, Mixed media on pink toile de jouey fabric with hand embroidery and beading
by Ingrid Mida, 2009 (12x12, partial image shown above)

Masquerade III, Mixed Media on Pink Toile de Jouey Fabric including hand embroidery and beading
by Ingrid Mida, 2009
(12x12, partial image shown above) SOLD

Masquerade II, Mixed Media on Pink Toile de Jouey Fabric with hand embroidery and beading
by Ingrid Mida, 2009
(12x12, partial image shown above)  SOLD

In support of October's Pink Campaign for Breast Cancer Research, I've created this series of mixed media works called Masquerade. Each piece retails for $150 (plus applicable taxes and shipping). One hundred dollars from each sale will be donated to Breast Cancer Research in honour of my friend Renee who has stage 4 breast cancer and writes the blog Circling my Head.

For more information about the Pink Campaign for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, please see their website at To see other blogs involved in the Pink Campaign, check out

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Crinolines in Contemporary Fashion

Elsa Shiaparelli's 1950 dress

In spite of its impracticality, the crinoline has occasionally resurfaced in contemporary fashion. In the post-war period, when traditional female roles were emphasized and female curves were celebrated, Elsa Schiaparelli, Balmain, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Yves Saint Laurent and others created gowns mirroring the influence of the bell-shaped skirts of the Second Empire.

More recently, designers have used the crinoline for inspiration. Vivienne Westwood designed a whole collection called the mini-Crini collection in 1987. John Galliano created a gown in black silk with a skirt nine feet wide in 1998 and Alexander McQueen created this spun-sugar-like shell reinforced by plastic in his 2000 collection for Givenchy.

Alexander McQueen for Givenchy Haute Couture, Spring-summer 2000

And check out this confection from the latest collection of Giles Deacon.

A crinoline is a beautiful object in and of itself and creates a striking sculptural effect. And those that chose to wear them, whether for bridal wear or a fancy dress ball, can swish about in their full skirts celebrating the timeless element of seduction created by a garment with a heightened sense of femininity.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Symbolism of the Crinoline

Fashion historians have ascribed different meanings to the enormous skirts of the mid-19th century, which was a period of significant male domination and gender differentiation. Men were considered "serious, active, strong and aggressive" and wore dark clothes with little ornamentation. Women were "frivolous, inactive, delicate and submissive" and wore clothing that inhibited their movement in light pastel colours, ribbons, lace and bows. In one sense, the crinoline symbolized female fertility like all fashions that expand the apparent size of the hips. In another aspect, the huge bell like skirt concealed women's sexuality in a cage and created a form of female imprisonment.

Other fashion historians have asserted that the crinoline was representative of how the bourgeois women adopted a "useful cloak of armour" to mediate the experience of modern city life. The enormous width of the skirt provided a barrier between the wearer and everyone else. This was important in a time in which increasing urbanization and industrialization led to more frequent contact with strangers. In that sense, the crinoline was a modest form of "protection".

In spite of being much maligned in the press, the mass manufacture of the cage crinoline became an important industry and the largest firm W.S. and E.H. Thomson had factories in England, France, Germany and the United States. Technical advances reduced the manufacturing costs and brought crinolines within the reach of all social levels.

As the popularity of the crinoline grew, it began to lose appeal among the fashionable set as they sought to differentiate themselves from the working class. In the mid-1860s, the crinoline began to shift to the back of the skirt, leaving the front skirt panel more or less straight. By 1868, the reinforcement of the skirt had slipped entirely to the back becoming a half-crinoline. By 1870, the crinoline disappeared altogether and was replaced with the bustle.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Crinoline Continued

Godey's Lady's Book Fashion Plate, September 1858

The cage crinoline allowed women to move their legs freely under the cage and was substantially cooler, lighter and more durable than the masses of petticoats that women previously wore to achieve the desired look. The highly structured form of the cage crinoline created a sort of "restless captive balloon" which swayed from side to side and could result in "a certain upward shooting of the skirt" which necessitated the wearing of bloomers and ankle boots.

With the endorsement of leading Parisian couturier Charles Frederick Worth, the crinoline hoop reached enormous proportions in the 1860s. Skirts were umbrella-like with circumferences as large as six feet around the hem. One of the most fashionable women of the time, Empress Eugenie, wife of Napolean III, was called the "Queen of the Crinoline". After seeing the play Les Toilettes Tapageuses in which the main character appeared in a giant crinoline held up by an "enormous steel cage", the Empress sent her maid "to obtain the measurements of the actress's showy dress."

Cage crinolines were hugely popular in spite of the fact that their exaggerated proportions made it impossible for two women to enter a room together or sit on the same sofa. There were also potential dangers since a woman did not know where the end of the skirt was. The buoyant skirt could catch fire from an open flame or candle or become entrapped in machinery. Fashion triumphed over safety and comfort and these enormous skirts were typically worn by all classes of women from 1856-1870.

Monday, October 5, 2009

An Introduction to The Cage Crinoline

Cage Crinoline (1860) made of wool and cotton with a spring-steel frame
Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum

As the skirts of the mid-nineteenth century ballooned in size, women wore numerous layers of petticoats to achieve the desired bell-like silhouette. The word crinoline was initially used to describe a petticoat cloth made of crin (French for horsehair) interwoven with lin (linen). After the 1850s, the word crinoline evolved to describe a "foundation garment composed of graduated steel or whalebone hoops that distended skirts and preserved their shape".

With innovations in the manufacture of steel, the introduction of the cage crinoline in 1856 allowed women to wear the fashionable wide skirts of the time without enduring the weight or warmth of multiple layers of petticoats. The news of this fashion innovation quickly spread through such publications as Godey's Lady's Book. In spite of the many difficulties and dangers caused by wearing enormous skirts, cage crinolines became hugely popular.

The crinoline was not the first time that fashion has emphasized a woman's hips. In Elizabethan times, the farthingale was worn, and in the 18th century, panniers created an expansive hip line. But in the middle of the 19th century, technology had advanced for the manufacture of low-cost flexible lightweight steel hoops to support the skirt structure. Unlike the previous hip expanding garments, the low cost of the cage crinoline made it accessible to all classes of women. Furthermore, improvements in looms and dyes in the textile industry and the invention of the sewing machine allowed the voluminous skirts supported by cage crinolines to be adopted by women of all social classes. For this reason, the cage crinoline has a significant place in fashion history.

Note: The above is an extract of a research paper that I wrote for a course in Fashion, Culture and Society at Ryerson University. I am fascinated with the crinoline because of its importance in fashion history as one of the first garments worn by all classes of woman and also because of its inherent sculptural qualities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vanity Fair Portraits 1913-2008

In a world where everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame, having one's portrait in Vanity Fair magazine seems to be the hallmark of celebrity. Originally called Dress and Vanity Fair at its launch in 1913 with the title shortened to Vanity Fair six months later, the magazine was a phenomenal success with its modern and bold approach. Writers included such luminaries as Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, and Noel Coward. Photographers such as Edward Steichen, Man Ray, and Cecil Beaton forged new ground in portraiture. The magazine took in more advertising than any other magazine within two years. Vanity Fair suspended publication in 1936 and was relaunched in 1983. Annie Leibovitz has been the magazine's chief photographer since 1983 and her photographs alone are a fascinating chronicle of modern celebrity and culture.

A retrospective exhibition of 150 celebrity portraits from Vanity Fair opened at the Royal Ontario Museum on the weekend. At a packed preview last week, I saw many familiar cover photos from the magazine including the pregnant Demi Moore by Annie Liebovitz, Julia Roberts by Herb Ritts and Princess Diana by Mario Testino . I marveled at these exquisite images and especially enjoyed seeing them without text marring the image and in large format instead of magazine size. I also appreciated the rare privilege of viewing the vintage photo collection of ethereal black and white photos of Louise Brooks, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Jean Harlowe, Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein.

There are no surprises in this exhibition. For me, the exhibition suggested that portraiture can be as much about the photographer as it is about the person being photographed. Given that Annie Leibovitz has dominated the pages of the modern Vanity Fair, the exhibition is, in a large part, about her. That in and of itself is not a bad thing given the depth of her talent, but it does suggest that we've defined modern celebrity through the lens of her camera.

Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario Canada
September 26, 2009 to January 3, 2010

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lessons from Isabel Toledo

Photo of Isabel Toledo by Ruven Afandor

In a world that often measures success by fame, I find it utterly refreshing to discover that Isabel Toledo walks her own path. She pursues her own goals, does not follow the trends, and does not show at Fashion Week. She does not consider herself an artist or designer, and prefers to describe herself as a "seamstress" since she loves "the technique of sewing more than anything else." How radical and how original!

Being in a reflective mood about my own work, I've taken to heart some of the lessons I learned from reading the book "Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out" by Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears.

1. Be true to yourself.
Unlike most fashion designers, Isabel Toledo does not sketch. She conceives of a garment in her mind and works to manipulate fabric to realize her vision. Her husband, Ruben Toledo, an artist and fashion illustrator, will sketch that vision for her based on her description and continues to sketch for her as the garment takes form.

The strikingly original clothing that comes from Isabel Toledo's studio does not follow trends. She once said "My inspiration this season was having no inspiration. I just worked and it came from the function. It's not as easy as having a concept".

Typically, fashion designers have to have a huge commercial enterprise to be considered successful. Isabel Toledo's small atelier of about twenty workers produce only about 300 finely crafted garments per season.

2. Acclaim is not a measure of success.
At various points in her career, Isabel Toledo has been heralded as "New York's best new designer" (New York Talk), "one of America's 7 rising stars of fashion" (Vogue), "most inventive designers of the under-30 generation" (NY Times). However, the Fall 1989 collection was dismissed by WWD as an "artsy horror show". Other collections have been described as "quirky" and "cultish". In her own words, Isabel says she prefers to fly "under the radar."

3. Setbacks are inevitable.
In 2005, Isabel Toledo was one of ten finalists for the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund award, but "to the shock of observers", Isabel lost and was not even chosen as a runner-up.

In 2006, it appeared that Isabel Toledo was on the cusp of financial security and success when she was hired as the new creative director of Anne Klein. In spite of rave reviews and strong sales for her debut collection in 2007, the changes in management at Jones Apparel Group resulted in the brand being discontinued and Isabel received a pink slip.

In spite of these public failures, "Toledo does not view herself as an unknown entity or an underdog." She continues to walk her own path, swimming against the tide of fashion.

4. Have a sense of humour.
Looking at the photograph of Isabel above and seeing some of the surrealist type of designs that Isabel Toledo has created over her career (including one fabulous hair clip with eyes to convey "eyes at at the back of one's head"), I would have to hazard a guess that Isabel has a sense of humour. This probably served her well in the many setbacks she faced, keeping her grounded and laughing at the absurdity of life!

Perhaps Glenda Bailey, editor-in-chief- of Harper's Bazaar, said it best:

"Isabel Toledo is a lover of order - who finds inspiration in anarchy. She is a mathematical genius - who makes it look like magic. She is a pragmatist - who creates the clothes that dreams are made of. Isabel's work is more than fashion and it's more than life. Perhaps that's because, to Isabel, art and fashion are life. And no one makes life look better."

The show "Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out" at the Fashion Institute of Technology closes on Saturday, September 26, 2009.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Review: Isabel Toledo, Fashion from the Inside Out

Title: Isabel Toledo, Fashion from the Inside Out
Authors: Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears
Publisher: Yale University Press in association with FIT (New York) 2009
Category: Non-fiction (Fashion)
Number of Pages: 250

Designer Isabel Toledo was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Museum at FIT this summer (June 17 through September 26, 2009). Having attended the exhibition a few weeks ago (during my blogging hiatus), I was blown away by the huge talent of this largely unheralded designer. Her sculptural fashion designs must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Nevertheless, the high quality of the exhibition made me lust after the accompanying book.

Isabel Toledo, From the Inside Out, was co-written by Valerie Steele and Patricia Mears. Steele tells Toledo's story, from her Cuban roots through her ups and downs as a fashion designer to the triumphant day when Michelle Obama wore an Isabel Toledo ensemble to her husband's inauguration. In the second half of the book, Mears presents an analysis of the thematic designs in the exhibition including: Suspension, Liquid Architecture, Shadow, Shape, Manipulated Surfaces, and Organic Geometry.

Illustrated with exquisite photographs, this book is not just a pretty picture book. Both Steele and Mears write thoughtful, comprehensive and well-written analyses of Toledo and her work. I also gained a new appreciation for Isabel Toledo's designs. The integrity with which she approaches her designs, ignoring trends and the fashion cycle to instead embracing her own artistic vision, made me wish I had access to her clothing in Toronto. This is the kind of book that I'll look at and reread many times, especially when I'm short of inspiration.

P.S. If you can make it to the exhibition before it closes next weekend, you won't be disappointed!!

Isabel Toledo, Fashion from the Inside Out
June 17th - September 26th, 2009

The Museum at FIT
Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
New York City, 10001-5992