Dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of fashion from an academic perspective, the quarterly journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture views fashion as a cultural phenomenon, offering the reader a wide range of articles by leading Western and Russian specialists, as well as classical texts on fashion theory. From the history of dress and design to body practices; from the work of well-known designers to issues around consumption in fashion; from beauty and the fashionable figure through the ages to fashion journalism, fashion and PR, fashion and city life, art and fashion, fashion and photography — Fashion Theory covers it all.
This issue’s Dress section looks at accessories.
Simon Bliss’s essay “L’Intelligence de la Parure”: Notes on Jewelry-Wearing in the 1920s discusses jewelry-wearing in France, Britain and America in the 1920s. Bliss considers the changing attitudes to wearing and thinking about jewelry that came about after the end of the First World War, including what jewelry was, what it meant to the wearer and how it was represented and ‘performed’.
The Body section this time around takes a peek at underwear, continuing the theme from Issue 38.
Bella Shapiro contributes Openwork and Ladies’ Lingerie: The Aesthetics, Ideology and Technology of Machine-Made Underwear Decoration from the Sixteenth Century to Our Day. The author looks at the history of machine lace-making as one of the forms of lingerie decoration, beginning with the late sixteenth century, when the first stocking frame knitting machine was invented. The seventeenth century saw the practice grow more popular and widespread in Europe. The author then looks at the art of machine-made openwork through comparing the two leading industries in this area, the English and the French. The article examines all the main stages in the evolution of machine-made lace, tracing its role in the decoration of the various types of lingerie popular at different times. Shapiro looks in particular at how machine-made lace has attempted to imitate the handmade version, gradually replacing it following the industrialization of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The twentieth century brought a search for new materials and technologies for machine-made lingerie decoration. The modern-day history of lace lingerie decoration is examined in the light of the three main functions of underwear: hygienic, erotic and corrective.
In Lingerie and Advertising: The Male and Female Viewpoints, Yulia Demidenko delves into the advertising of underwear and uncovers a whole range of stereotypes. Upon closer examination many of these prove to be false, whilst others have in recent years seen a series of drastic changes, mainly due to shifting gender roles. Demidenko tracks the evolution of lingerie advertising from the middle of the nineteenth century to our time, moving from the modest phrases in 1840s ladies magazines to the posters of the 2000s with their tousled girls in provocative poses. The article also looks at the role of cinema and technological development in the promotion of the latest lingerie styles. From the 1930s to the 1990s, stars regularly undressed in the movies, demonstrating their trendy bras and slips. The feminist battle against gender discrimination has prompted a search for new forms and techniques in advertising, a far cry from the original concepts of aestheticism and eroticism.
Natalia Lebina offers Clothes for Freewheelers: Bathing Costumes and Trunks in the Everyday Lives of the Shestidesyatniki. Freewheeling (dikarstvo) - unofficial vacationing under one’s own steam was especially popular in the USSR in the 1950s and 1960s, during the reforms of Nikita Khrushchev. In this fascinating piece, Lebina looks at the clothing, material aspect of the new body practices associated with this leisure activity. Freewheelers, or dikari, bore testimony to the democratization of everyday life in the country. Under Stalin, the highly organized and regulated vacation regimen of medical resorts and sanatoria did not encourage beach-goers to pay particular attention to body presentation. The shifting political situation that followed Stalin’s death brought about a new spirit of openness in public bathing spots, which in turn provoked a need for special bathing clothes. The bathing costumes and trunks which in the 1950s and 1960s became obligatory garments in the wardrobe of all Shestidesyatniks (the Sixties generation - Russians born in the 1920s and early 1930s) reflected the contemporary fashion trends in the West also.
This issue’s Culture section is all about costume on stage and in film. In Costume on the European Stage: Historical Truth and Artistic Licence, Olga Nikitina turns to the history of stage costume in Western European theatre from the late sixteenth to the nineteenth century. At the outset of this period, the visual side of public and street performances, strongly influenced by Commedia dell’arte, was developing in parallel with opera and ballet, which were emerging as forms of court entertainment. Following the advent of the box-set with its new technical possibilities, and with professional artists and architects coming to work on costumes and stage design, opera and ballet became independent forms of dramatic art. By the end of the seventeenth century, thanks to the court ballets in which Louis XIV of France and his courtiers took part, the tradition of ballet and opera productions had become firmly entrenched. This also included costume, which was expected to be ornate and recognizable. The most popular form of costume emulated king’s dress, having a clear outline and a fixed set of attributes. Used onstage for over a hundred years, it later became something of a theatrical curiosity, almost a cliché. Unwieldy design and outdated theatrical etiquette eventually prompted choreographers to modify dance costumes, and the French Revolution brought about changes in costume for dramatic productions. Gradually, artists working with theatres came to be seen as co-authors in the plays. Seldom seen onstage before the early nineteenth century, historically accurate costume true to the period and location in question began to be consciously used around the time of English actor-managers such as Edmund Kean, Charles Kemble and Henry Irving. It was considered an important tool in creating the right atmosphere and producing the required emotional effect in Shakespeare plays. This line of development in theatre costume continued in the twentieth century.
Emmanuelle Dirix’s article Birds of Paradise: Feathers, Fetishism and Costume in Classical Hollywood aims to investigate the reasons for the prolific use of feathers in 1930s Hollywood costume. Instead of positioning them merely as a spectacular tool of glamour in the Golden Age, it focuses on feathers as a form of material culture and specifically on their fetishistic nature in order to pose an alternative explanation for their sartorial popularity in a decade marked by the introduction of the Production/Hays Code. The author attempts to demonstrate that by shifting the methodological emphasis on feathers from object to subject, we open up an autonomous narrative for the material that would be missed when focussing only on its contextual reading. This in turn potentially offers a new dimension as to their use, in particular as a metaphor for female sexuality and therefore as a vehicle for reading 1930s cinematic sexuality.
Elizabeth Fischer offers Jewelry and Fashion, a Cross between the Eternal and the Ephemeral, originally published as Bijou et Mode, Chassé-Croisé entre Eternel et Ephémère in Revue Historique Vaudoise, 123/2015, special issue on Fashion in Switzerland. Jewelry and dress enjoy very different life spans – ‘diamonds are forever’, whereas dress is made of perishable materials and subject to the whims of fashion. Both, however, are necessary elements in the play of social appearances. For centuries precious jewels, intimately linked to dress, were the preserve of the elite, worn as patrimonial symbols of rank, prestige and antiquity of lineage. The major social and industrial shifts of the nineteenth century profoundly changed the manufacture, materials and market of Jewelry. The trappings of the new wealth of businessmen and industrialists increasingly rivaled the prized ornaments of the long-standing aristocracy, while a growing affluent middle class aspired to new kinds of Jewelry. To meet these various demands, jewelers used cheaper gems and materials, like steel and coloured paste. The gradual simplification of dress and democratization of fashion during the twentieth century marked the rise of costume Jewelry and of all types of non-precious ornamentation for dress. Gabrielle Chanel’s 1926 little black dress is considered one of the starting points of modern fashion. It could be suited to any occasion and time of day simply by dressing it up or down with Jewelry. Chanel boldly mixed precious and costume Jewelry, thus putting the focus on aesthetic function as signifier of taste rather than indicator of rank, fortune and status. Ornament and beauty weren’t equated with preciousness anymore. Jewelry, especially costume Jewelry, entered the category of accessories that included shoes, gloves, hats, fans, canes, parasols, etc. In this way, as chief adornment of modern dress, Jewelry, far from being accessory, was deemed absolutely necessary. Furthermore, Chanel freed Jewelry from its centuries-old bond with a woman’s dependence on a man, as either legitimate spouse or kept woman. In combining fake and real jewels, she consciously charted the way for women to appropriate Jewelry as a personal and chosen expression of taste and statement of identity, just like any other accessory, heralding modern consumer practices. The hippie revolution brought two major changes in Western dress. The body was suddenly very much revealed, and men adopted some feminine traits, among them the wearing of Jewelry hitherto reserved for women, such as necklaces, bracelets and earrings. The masculine adoption of Jewelry further confirmed its transfer to the field of accessories.
Today, other parts of the body have become even more exposed. It isn’t just a question of more skin exposure, as modern clothing out of synthetic materials is much more figure-hugging than ever. The body now isn’t so much clothed as adorned, adorned with accessories. This has ushered in new types of ornaments, applied directly to the skin. Tattooing and piercing have existed since antiquity, but for centuries were used as discriminating signs, for specific groups at the margins of society. They became particularly visible with the punk movement, as signs of rebellion against the establishment, before being taken up by the mainstream. The fashion industry used this type of skin decoration to create shock waves on the catwalk and in advertisements. With its adoption as an ornament by younger generations, piercing no longer has rebellious connotations. It’s used to highlight specific parts of the body and add a kinetic dimension.
In the 1990s, Jewelry was used in spectacular ways to highlight fashion in catwalk shows. The visual impact created by stunning Jewelry brought the focus on the body and was often used to summarize the style of the designer in a kind of pictorial shorthand. In shows and advertisements, Jewelry has become a way of expanding the brand’s message. For the past 30 years, accessories have brought in the most income for high and low brands. In the hierarchical relationship between clothing, considered essential, and accessories, considered secondary, sales have tipped in favour of accessories. Jewelry is now in the fore, indispensable in the performance of fashion on the catwalk and in the street. Today, both young men and women have wholly adopted this culture of the accessory, wearing caps, earrings, chains, bracelets, sporting and indispensable electronic devices decorated with trinkets – another form of cheap Jewelry. Gold is now a colour, and has migrated from metal to sequins and spangles glittering on t-shirts and bags, or on wash-away tattoos, and the bling culture of rap and other musical and street cultures. The generalization of sparkling ornamentation high and low has blurred the ancient boundaries between the preciousness of a gem that will outline human beings, and the flashiness of a passing fad.
Mila Dvinyatina and Maria Terekhova present ‘Hang on to Your Hat! Russian Writers and Their Headgear: An Experiment in Cultural Semiotic Observation, a striking analysis of the symbolic, iconographic and associative links between writers’ hats and their brains. The hat as an element of dress is often used as a cultural metonymy for its wearer, offering ample opportunity for cultural study and for the unearthing of unexpected symbolical links, cultural mythologems and patterns. The authors attempt to examine the hat as a cultural artefact through its specific distinctive traits and connections with the somewhat unclear social stratum of writers. Putting female clothing habits aside, the authors focus entirely on male writers, presenting their findings in chronological order, from Pushkin’s times to our day. Their choice of authors is subjective, yet representative, including the most important and outstanding names in Russian and Soviet culture. For reference, Dvinyatina and Terekhova use drawings, oil portraits and photographs of the writers created during their lifetime, personal documents such as memoirs and letters, and the authors’ literary works. Using examples from popular, visual and vestimentary culture, the article offers synchronic and diachronic analytical parallels between studies.
Mila Dvinyatina’s Tarkovsky’s Sheepskin Coat represents an attempt to bring together the elevated and the material, the spiritual and the mundane, art and the everyday. Dvinyatina looks at the great film director’s personal dress code, examining his taste in clothes as a part of his multifaceted art. To help her in this task, she uses a wide range of photographs, as well as the accounts of contemporaries and memoirs of colleagues and relatives: a broad circle of very different people, some, members of the public, others famous, some who knew him closely, others who had only met him once. The image that emerges is of a man sensitive to fashion’s trends, sophisticated, demanding in terms of his aesthetic preferences and frequently transgressing the Soviet dress code. Paradoxically, Tarkovsky was at once a lover of simple, traditional folk styles, and an admirer of ultramodern Western trends, an aesthete and something of a dandy. The article is structured like Dovlatov’s Suitcase: items of special importance to Tarkovsky are allocated their own sections with subheadings. Dvinyatina pays particular attention to parental influence in Tarkovsky’s life, to his turbulent youth, spent in the post-war streets of Moscow, his Siberian gold-mining expedition, work on actors’ costumes, foreign trips and the difficulties that Tarkovsky experienced in his work in the USSR and as an émigré. Each item, Dvinyatina observes, could, for Tarkovsky, contain directly opposing semantic elements. So, his sheepskin coat is at once a simple, warm, traditional Russian garment for all seasons that he used in his everyday life, and a cinematic autograph of sorts, for instance, in The Mirror. It is also a significant element of costume in historical films about old Russia. The sheepskin in all its diverse roles indeed accompanied Tarkovsky throughout his entire life. It was an attribute of Western fashion: recall his colleagues from the iconic 1968 Polish film Everything for Sale, or the Hollywood producers of Starwars, caught on camera in sheepskin during filming. In 1960s – 1980s USSR, a sheepskin coat was a clear sign of belonging to the elite, demonstrative hard currency of sorts, a marker denoting social rise in a closed society. This article could likely become the first of a new series devoted to the dress codes of Russian writers and artists.
Vadim Mikhailin’s The Girl with the Basin: Material Code in Yuly Raisman’s Film ‘What If It’s Love?’ analyzes a single scene from Raisman’s 1961 movie. This important work subsequently gave rise to an entire new genre, the late Soviet school film. By focusing on one of the material codes at work in this picture (Raisman employed it in other films also), Mikhailin uses it as a key, better to understand the new language put forward by the cinema of the Thaw. This language supposed an entirely new, non-Stalinist model of propaganda. In 1961, Yuly Raisman had just released his masterpiece of Thaw-time cinematic propaganda, The Communist. The picture was intended to shift viewers’ sympathies towards the new historical narrative which legitimized the communist project afresh using Leninist norms, abandoned under Stalin. At first glance, viewers of What If It’s Love? might suspect Raisman of radically changing his views and moving into the territory of sharp social critique. This is not so, however. Just like its predecessor, What If It’s Love? aims squarely to support the new, Thaw-time version of the communist project, albeit using a very different method to get the message across. Social critique is not here an aim in itself, but rather an element of a complex multilayered system geared to quite the opposite goal, that of promoting the new version of the Soviet project.
In this issue’s In Focus column, we offer Larisa Kolesnikova’s Lilya Brik Haute Couture. This article presents the first analysis of this topic in the context of the history of fashion. Kolesnikova draws on the memoirs of contemporaries, Brik’s correspondence with her sister Elsa Triolet, photographs from the State Mayakovsky Museum collection, some of which have never previously been published, and photos from the collection of fashion historian Alexander Vasiliev. The article brings to light little-known facts from Triolet’s work as a designer in Paris houses of fashion and from Brik’s experience as a model for the First Soviet Atelier of Fashion. Like her sister, Lilya Brik was known to design clothing from time to time and was friendly with Yves Saint Laurent, who made clothes for her. Kolesnikova’s article looks at how Lilya Brik developed her image. As Vyacheslav Zaitsev has remarked, ‘she remained a stylish woman until the end of her life.’
In the Practice of Fashion column, Galina Orlova offers Theatre as Strength of Materials, an interview with the chief designer of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Electrotheatre Anastasia Nefedova.
In the Museum Business column, Maria Terekhova presents Historical Lingerie from the Nineteenth and First Half of the Twentieth Century: her review of the collection belonging to Anton Priymak.
In the Books section, Irina Solomatina reviews Julia Twigg’s Fashion and Age (London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013) in An Unfashionable Age: On the Role of Ageing in the System of Fashion.
Olga Kolpakova offers The Bathing Suit as Transgression, her thoughts on Christine Schmidt’s The Swimsuit Fashion from Poolside to Catwalk (London; New York: Berg, 2012).
The Growing Bibliography of Sneakers by Ekaterina Kulinicheva takes a look at Yuniya Kawamura’s Sneakers: Fashion, Gender, and Subculture (London, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).
Galina Orlova offers The Dramaturgy of the User’s Graphic Interface: From Manifesto to Textbook, her review of Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre (2nd edition, New Jersey: Addison-Wesley, 2013).
In this issue’s Events section, Anya Kurennaya takes a look at ‘Isaac Mizrahi. An Unruly History’ at the Jewish Museum, New York (18 March – 7 August 2016), and shares her impressions in The Worlds of Isaac Mizrahi.
Ekaterina Kulinicheva offers American Nylon for a Soviet Star at a French Festival and Other Stories, her review of ‘Cinema and Fashion. Dresses of Well-Known Film Actresses from Alexander Vasiliev’s Foundation’ at the Optics Pavilion of Moscow’s VDNKh Exhibition Centre (29 April – 14 August 2016).
Tatiana Vedeneyeva’s Fashion and Art takes a look at ‘Bellissima. L'Italia dell'Alta Moda 1945-1968’ at the Villa Reale, Monza, Italy (24 September 2015 – 10 January 2016), and at ‘SerpentiForm. Arte, Gioielleria, Design’ at Rome’s Museo di Roma, Palazzo Braschi (10 March – 8 May 2016).
In The One Thousand and One Nights of Léon Bakst, Irina Sirotkina reviews ‘Léon Bakst. In Honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Artist’s Birth’ at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow (8 June – 4 September 2016).
Ellen McIntyre offers The Colour of Fashion, her take on ‘Missoni, Art, Colour’ at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum (6 May – 4 September 2016).
Irina Sirotkina offers The Effect of Avant-Garde, a review of ‘The Effect of Time: The Influence of the Russian Avant-Garde on Modern Fashion’ at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, Moscow (30 June – 4 September 2016).
Maria Terekhova shares Erté-Deco: When the Artist Equals the Style, her thoughts on ‘Erté, Art Deco Genius: The Return to St. Petersburg’ at the Twelve-Column Hall of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (22 June – 18 September 2016).
Irina Solomatina’s What They Teach at the Royal Academy observes a new cohort of students graduate from the Royal Academy of Arts in Belgium’s Antwerp (10-11 June 2016).