Ornament Bookshelf 36.3
Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Barbara Belle Sloan2013 Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe: A History in Layers. Fowler Museum Textile Series/Distributed by University of Washington Press: 276 pp., hardcover $60.00, also available at the Fowler Museum Store, University of California Los Angeles.
With fascinating essays by Barber and Sloan, Resplendent Dress is also enriched by the writings of Joyce Corbett (on the embroiderer’s art), Elsie Dunin (music and dance in a Croatian village, as well as festive dress of the Romani in Skopje) and Charlotte Jirousek (Ottoman influence in Balkan dress). The book also has expertly rendered photographs by Don Cole. Prepared to accompany the exhibition currently showing at the Fowler through July 14, 2013, the book beautifully displays the more than fifty ensembles and accessories drawn from the twelve represented countries of Southeastern Europe selected from the Fowler collection. This region has developed some of the most elaborate and diverse traditions of dress and it has exerted strong social, cultural and political influences on its peoples given its long periods of dominance by others, most notably the Ottoman Empire. Dating from the nineteenth- to twentieth centuries, the book discusses the weaving, sewing and embroidering of festive dress, codifying a woman’s marital status, religion, wealth, and textile skills.
Professor Emerita of Archaeology and Linguistics for Occidental College, Elizabeth Wayland Barber discusses the importance of the fringe in Southeastern Europe, a symbolic element drawn from the string skirt emanating from the Paleolithic age. The famous “Venus figures” show females wearing the string skirt considered to be a marker of fertility. Barber writes that the “message of the fringes was sacrosanct” and the string skirt has lasted for more than twenty thousand years. In dress it has changed and developed over time undergoing gradual transformations into an apron, the final visible layer on a female costume or as a decorative fringe for a sash or onto sleeves.
ss and co-curator to Barber for the exhibition, Barbara Belle Sloan contributes a thoughtful, poignant essay based on four stories from Albania, Montenegro, the Czech Republic, and Serbia. It is a lesson in how these festive relics of dress and people’s memories of the past manage to survive, continuing to impart meaning and dignity, even though the garments and the people who wore them are no longer part of their former homes and countries, often because of war and poverty, and their migrations to hopefully safer and more prosperous places.
Carolyn L. E. Benesh
Gloria Groom (editor). 2012 Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity. Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press: 336 pp., hardcover $65.00.
This catalogue—published to accompany a major exhibition in Paris, New York and Chicago—stands alone as a collection of essays by scholars and curators in a wide variety of disciplines, including some seemingly unrelated to fashion and Impressionist painting. Meditations on Parisian architecture and urban geography illustrate how “the ambiguous relationships and social mingling made possible by the city’s recently widened boulevards and intersections” epitomized modernity in the second half of the nineteenth century. Ever-changing fashion mirrored the variable rhythms of city life; minor adjustments to hats, hairstyles, trimmings, and silhouettes corresponded to continual, rapid shifts in the city’s social and physical landscape.
Elizabeth Anne McCauley illuminates the photographic contexts and sources of Impressionist portraiture. While photography purported to depict unvarnished reality, it actually distorted fashion; photographers discouraged sitters from wearing bold patterns, excessive jewelry, and certain colors, however popular they might have been. But photographs remained an important channel for disseminating fashion trends. With its standardized pose and costume, Monet’s portrait of Madame Gaudibert may well have been inspired by a carte de visite.
Philippe Thiébaut explores the Impressionists’ treatment of men’s fashions, which Baudelaire called “the outer skin of the modern hero.” Aileen Ribeiro points out that the limited palette, range of garments, and choice of textiles available to men belied the complexities of British-inflected tailoring, not to mention facial hair and essential accessories: gloves, canes, tobacco, and top hats, which were neither practical nor aesthetically pleasing. “In a sense this was the point of the top hat,” Ribeiro writes. “It was an art to wear it with a certain style and self-confident authority.”
Heidi Brevik-Zender detects a “sartorial turn” in nineteenth-century literature; many of the great novelists and poets of the period moonlighted as fashion journalists. Françoise Tétart-Vittu contributes a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at fashion production, distinguishing between fashion plates and industrial art. Key canvases are singled out for focused sidebars, notably Valerie Steele’s analysis of Manet’s Nana and Groom’s of Degas’ At the Milliner’s.
Impressionism and fashion are such popular subjects that it is perhaps understandable that the authors assume some familiarity with them on the reader’s part. This is not Impressionism 101, or Crinolines for Dummies. The book lacks a glossary and an introduction outlining key themes, figures, and events; the Salon des Refusés is not mentioned until page 53. There is some overlap among authors, which, along with the choppy layout, makes it hard to tell where one essay ends and the next begins. However, readers will be swept along by the book’s lavish images, including an illustrated timeline and comprehensive checklist. As the selection of objects varied at each of the three venues, this is the rare exhibition catalogue that is not only as good as being there, but even better.
Sandy Black 2012 Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft. V&A Publishing/Distributed by Abrams: 240 pp., hardcover $60.00.
For such an ancient and widely practiced technique, the origins and etymology of knitting are surprisingly murky. A highly portable technique using minimal tools, knitting has developed countless regional characteristics over the centuries. Given the vast geographic and temporal scope of the subject, a comprehensive history of knitting may never be written, but this book comes close.
Most of the objects pictured are drawn from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s collection; this is not a criticism, as its breadth is as impressive as its quality. However, this is primarily a history of knitting in the West, and specifically in Great Britain—a reflection of both the collection’s strengths and the historic importance of that country’s woolen industry.
The oldest surviving knitted garments in the V&A are Coptic socks from the second to fifth centuries. Nothing survives from the sixth to the eleventh centuries; the fragile fibers have biodegraded. But the collection is rich in Tudor knitted caps, mostly dug out of the banks of the Thames. Well-known objects like the virtuoso eighteenth-century knitted petticoat and Queen Victoria’s silk stockings—with the royal crest and inventory number worked into them—are joined by little-seen curiosities, such as a Berlin wool apron and an extraordinary pair of pantaloons from the 1780s, frame-knitted to look like breeches and jockey boots.
The book is not chronological, but divided into four thematic sections covering knitting’s early history, technology, home knitting, and fashion through objects as diverse as Fair Isle sweaters, Victorian beaded bags, liturgical gloves, and bathing suits. Illustrated sidebars explore knitting tools, patterns, and the evolution of socks from ancient times to the present.
Home knitting has gone in and out of fashion, often dictated by the availability of machine-made alternatives. After peaking in the make-do-and-mend climate of World War II, it was hopelessly square by the 1960s; a brief revival in the early 1980s was crushed by the fashion for power dressing, the antithesis of soft, slouchy knits. Home knitting is currently enjoying a resurgence, with the emphasis on its social aspects; rather than a practical or solitary pastime, it is now valued as something to do or share with friends, and it tends to have a political and/or humorous slant, as epitomized by the yarn bombing trend.
Black emphasizes fashion over industry or craft. She credits Coco Chanel with “the start of ‘sweater dressing.’ ” Schiaparelli’s 1927 trompe l’oeil bow sweater—donated to the museum by the designer herself—graces the book’s cover. Black guides the reader from Bill Gibb’s painterly, handmade knits to the timeless patterns of Missoni—“arguably the most important name in total knitwear dressing”—to Issey Miyake’s game-changing, computer engineered A-POC line. She brings history right up to date with Ugg’s “Cardy” boots and runway looks from Proenza Schouler and Alexander McQueen.
The book includes a concise glossary and bibliography, plus a helpful, illustrated timeline of major developments in knitting technology. Though meticulously researched, it is readable and beautifully illustrated, worth buying for the pictures alone. There is plenty here to interest and inspire both the casual knitter and the historian.
Our upcoming issue 36.3 contains
Smithsonian Craft Show
Women Working Words-Facèré
Some of Our Popular Articles