Thursday, May 7, 2015

Interview with Fashion Victims Author Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell

Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell recently published her first book, Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. After looking through this lavish text, I wanted to know a bit more about how this book came together. What is the story behind the story? Find out in my exclusive interview below!


Can you tell me a bit about the process of writing this book. How did you first come up with the idea for the content? Were there any interesting places that your research took you?

There have been a lot of good books on eighteenth-century fashion, but most of them cover just that: the whole eighteenth century, from 1700 to 1799, as if fashion followed a linear progression with a beginning, middle, and end. The Louis XVI period--from 1774 to 1793--was so different from everything that came before and after, socially and sartorially. I felt like it deserved a book of its own. Partly because of the French Revolution and partly because of the nature of fashion and collecting, objects from the period have ended up all over the place. My research took me to France, of course, but it also took me to museums and archives in Sweden, Canada, England, Scotland, and Austria. If I'd had the time and funding, I would have added Russia and Portugal to that list. The strangest place I found myself was the ornithology department of the Royal Ontario Museum, where a specialist helped me identify the feathers embroidered on a robe parée supposedly made for Marie-Antoinette with the help of a vast collection of dead birds.


One of the joys of looking through museum collections and archives is discovering hidden treasure that you didn’t know of which really help your research. Were there any of those moments?

So many of those moments! The hardest part is knowing when to stop, because there's always going to be another amazing portrait or document or garment lurking somewhere if you just keep looking. One that stands out is the Revolutionary waistcoat in LACMA's collection; I came across it very late in my research and now I can't imagine the book without it. There's a Figaro costume at FIDM that I wish I'd included, but I didn't know about it until too late. Sometimes you have to publish first in order to find these things; there's an alms purse in the book that I was able to have photographed at the last minute because a curator friend read my article on alms purses in PieceWork and realized she had one in her collection! It's the only one I've ever seen that has a solid provenance; they're usually cataloged as gambling purses, because they're identical except in how they were used. 


What were some of the challenges and rewards of publishing a book?

I loved every minute of the research and writing process, but the road to publication was slow and frustrating. Something I've learned is to start with the images and work backwards. You don't want to get to the end of writing a book or an article and then discover you can't use the images you need, because the publisher is only going to let you have three illustrations or because the rights are unavailable or unaffordable. I learned a lot, however, and I could not be happier with the way the book turned out in the end.

(For more information on Dr. Chrisman-Campbell's publishing journey, click here!)


There are many books written about this period in history, including a wide range of fashion history texts. What do you think makes your book stand out?

I'm a stickler for primary sources. There are a lot of fun myths about Marie-Antoinette floating around, but the truth is far more interesting, and you have to go back to eyewitness accounts to find it. Anything written in aftermath of the Revolution tends to be revisionist history. Also, I think I'm the first person to look at the French émigré fashion industry, which was hugely important to the development of European fashion in the 1790s and early 1800s. Finally, my book has 220 illustrations! I made a conscious effort to include a balance of paintings, prints, fashion plates, and objects, including textiles and decorative arts as well as garments and accessories. Many of them have never been published before.


What is the biggest myth about Marie Antoinette that you’d like dispelled?

She probably never wore a ship on her head, but if she had, it would not have been controversial at all! Personally, I don't think she was as much of an innovator as she's been given credit for. Although I'm generally sympathetic to her, I find her a bit boring; women like Rose Bertin and the stylish Duchesse de Chartes were the true trendsetters. Marie-Antoinette was a little like Princess Diana: young, pretty, rich, and extremely famous, but not exactly cutting-edge in her fashion choices. As queen, she couldn't afford to be. Even her riskiest fashion statement, a chemise gown with a straw hat, had been worn by Madame Du Barry two years earlier.


When people ask me why I love the eighteenth century so much I never know where to start. So I’ve ended up just saying “The wand chooses the wizard” to avoid a five hour speech on why the eighteenth century is my great passion in life. So, with the knowledge that this is an impossible question to answer, why do you love the eighteenth century?

I love your answer! I could name a hundred reasons, but I think it all boils down to the irresistible allure of big hair and puffy shirts and skirts. It's the most extreme, inventive, over-the-top period in fashion history; it's the Formula One of fashion.


If you lived in the late eighteenth century, what fashion trend would you embrace with relish? For me, it’s putting ships on my head!

I've done that, and I don't even live in the late eighteenth century! The coiffure à la Belle Poule is practically a character in my book; I'm obsessed with it. And I'd have the biggest hoop petticoat in town. I love how women took up so much more space back then. It made them impossible to ignore.


Do you have any pet periods of history?

For the past few years I've been working on American fashion of the 1960s and 70s, and it's a whole different kind of research, with entirely new types of source material--including oral histories, sketches, photographs, and even film--as well as new challenges. It's a fascinating period that has a lot in common with the eighteenth century in terms of massive political and social upheaval reflected in fashion.


What’s next for you? Can you write a million more books please?

I'd love to! I have a couple of books in progress, with no publication date in sight: one on a subject closely related to Fashion Victims and one not related at all. I will never get tired of the eighteenth century, but it's nice to visit other time periods once in a while. I also wrote an essay on Marie Antoinette's shoes for the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition catalog Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, which will be published in June. I'm an occasional contributor to TheAtlantic.com, Slate.com, and Ornament Magazine, and I just started writing the FIDM Museum blog.


Do you have any advice for aspiring fashion historians?

Join the Costume Society of America! It's a great way to keep up with new research, make connections, and make friends.


Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant, and educator for museums and universities around the world. She is a frequent contributor to books, scholarly journals, and magazines, as well as an experienced lecturer. Her areas of expertise include European fashion and textiles and French and British painting and decorative arts of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Review: Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette


Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell
Yale University Press


"Fashion, which its detractors have called slight, inconstant, fickle, and frivolous, is, however, fixed in its principles... We see how constant it is in seizing all remarkable events, adapting them, recording them in its annals, IMMORTALIZING them in memory."
~ Cabinet des modes, ou Les Modes nouvelles, 1786

"The dissemination of fashions follows the dissemination of ideas, and sometimes drives it."
~ Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell


Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette is the first book by fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. Lavishly illustrated and filled with fascinating information, this book is definitely a worthwhile investment for anyone who is interested in fashion history or the eighteenth century. Fashion Victims explores one of the most infamous periods in fashion history, the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the end of the eighteenth century. Chrisman-Campbell discusses the extravagant and inventive fashions which reigned supreme in the decades before the French Revolution, as well as the important role fashion took during the turbulent Revolutionary years. As the press release truthfully states, "The absorbing narrative demonstrates fashion’s crucial role as a visible and versatile medium for social commentary, and shows the glittering surface of 18th-century high society as well as its seedy underbelly."

Fashion Victims is divided into four main sections, "Court and City", "New and Novel", "Fashion and Fantasy", and "Revolution and Recovery". Within these sections is a comprehensive look at the French fashion industry, with all of it's quirks and inventiveness. We learn about the politics of fashion, the influence of the court, the rising domination of women within the fashion industry, and the myriad of popular fads which swept fashion and popular culture. This wealth of information is accompanied by large, full-color images of paintings, fashion plates and illustrations, and extant garments from the period. Fashion is by it's nature a visual medium, so the addition of so many images is particularly helpful in fully understanding all of the information presented.

It's difficult to pick a favorite part of this book, but I particularly enjoyed Part III: Fashion and Fantasy. This section starts with an excellent quote from the Magasin des modes nouvelles
"We have prepared, almost without thinking about it, materials for the historian who is bored with reading newspapers. She will find, in a hat, a monument to the conqueror of Grenada, a single ribbon will teach her that the nephew of Tipoo-Saïb crossed the seas to become acquainted with this France which kings visit." 
This quote not only perfectly summarizes what a rich historical source fashion can be, but also the importance and prevalence of topical trends in fashion. To the untrained eye much of fashion history seems like a lot of the same. But through little details such as the style of a hat or design on a ribbon, we can see that, just like today, fashion was constantly changing in response to what was happening in politics, the arts, the economy, technology, philosophy, and popular culture. This section of Fashion Victims decodes some of those small details, revealing a few of the myriad of trends which influenced style. The subsection "Fashions a l'Américaine" explores fashions influenced by the politics of the American Revolution in the 1770s and 1780s and famous Americans who visited France such as Benjamin Franklin. Another subsection, "Figaro and Fashion" looks at the extraordinary impact the 1784 play, Le Mariage de Figaro, by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais had on fashion.

There are many books on this period in history, and Fashion History stands up as a worthy addition to the canon. It is an excellent addition to the bookshelf for both the scholar and those with a more casual interest in history.


Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with author Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, coming next week!!

With many thanks to Yale University Press for the review copy of this book.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

MythBusters: Fashion History Edition

Myth: Fashionable eighteenth-century ladies shaved off their eyebrows and used false eyebrows made of mouse fur.

Grace Dalrymple Elliot by Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1778. Private Collection. Are those eyebrows made of mice?
This is a common myth about eighteenth-century beauty that I have read in many books, some reliable sources of fashion history information and some not. But, when doing historical research, it's always best to go back to the primary sources. Primary sources are sources of information produced in the actual time period, such as a letter, newspaper article, or painting. As this excellent article from The British Library shows, the primary source evidence for mouse-skin eyebrows is thin. The following are all the sources which mention mouse-skin eyebrows, arranged in chronological order.

A section from The Tender Husband, a comedic play by Richard Steele, 1707:

Mrs. Clerimont: The Ladies abroad used to call me Mrs. Titian, I was so famous for my colouring; but prithee. Wench, bring me my black eye-brows out of the next room.

Jenny: Madam, I have them in my hand.

Fainlove: It would be happy for all that are to see you today, if you could change your eyes too.

Mrs. Clerimont: Gallant enough -- no hang it, I'll wear these I have on...
A satirical poem by Matthew Prior, 1718:
HELEN was just dipt into bed
Her eye-brows on the toilet lay
Away the kitten with them fled
As fees belonging to her prey

For this misfortune careless Jane,
Assure yourself, was loudly rated
And madam, getting up again,
With her own hand the mouse-trap baited.

On little things, as sages write,
Depends our human joy or sorrows
If we don't catch a mouse to-night
Alas! no eyebrows for to-morrow.

A section from A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed by noted satirist Jonathan Swift, 1734:
Her eyebrows from a mouse's hide
Stuck on with art on either side,
Pulls off with care, and first displays 'em
Then in a play-books smoothly lays 'em.

A short section of an anonymous poem published in the London Daily Post in June 1736:
Or Nightly Traps insidious lay,
To catch new Eye-brows for the Day
The next primary source example mentioning mouse-skin eyebrows doesn't appear until 1782.

Satirical print dated June 18, 1782. In the collection of the British Museum.
This print shows two ladies arriving at a cosmetics shop. The sign on the door advertises the products within, including "Italian washes, Ivory teeth, Mouse Eye Brows, and the Best French Roush."

And that's it. Many beauty treatises were published in the eighteenth century with tips on hair care and recipes for cosmetics. One of the most famous today is The Toilet of Flora by Pierre-Joseph Buc'hoz, published in 1779. There were also several works written about wigmaking, cosmetics, and beauty. Finally, throughout the century satirists and critics lampooned women and their beauty practices. None of these sources (at least the ones we can access today) mention mouse-skin eyebrows. There are no tips for the application and storage of mouse-skin eyebrows in beauty manuals. There are no mentions of mouse-skin eyebrows in informational texts about the cosmetic industry. And, perhaps most tellingly, there are no accounts of women using mouse-skin eyebrows in satirical texts beyond the ones listed above. The satire industry was large and booming during the eighteenth century and it seems strange that, in all the texts and images poking fun at women and their artificiality, there are no mentions of mouse-skin eyebrows (once again, apart from what is listed above). That would seem to be an item ripe for satirizing.

How then to explain the few mentions of mouse-skin eyebrows listed above? The earliest mention is the scene from the play by Richard Steele where Mrs. Clerimont prepares herself for the day. It should be noted that this play is a comedy, meaning the characters are heightened for comedic effect. Mrs. Clerimont is insecure, stating just before the exchange quoted above:

"... Oh bless me Jenny, I am so plane [sic], I am afraid of myself -- I have not laid on half red [rouge- blush and lipstick] enough -- what a dogh-baked [sic] thing I was before I improved myself, and travelled for beauty -- however my face is prettily designed to day [sic]."

In this quote Mrs. Clerimont complains that she is, in reality, very ugly, and it is only through the improvements of cosmetics that she becomes a beauty. The character of Fainlove agrees, replying:

"Indeed, madam you begin to have so fine an hand, that you are younger every day than the other."

Here Fainlove compliments Mrs. Clerimont, telling her that she has become so talented at applying make up that she seems younger every day. In this context, Mrs. Clerimont is an object of ridicule and her use of mouse-skin eyebrows may just be one of her ridiculous methods of beautifying herself. They might just be unique eccentricities created for comedic value on the stage.

The other sources, such as the poem by Matthew Prior, have a similar purpose as Steele's play. They are meant to poke fun at the ridiculous methods women use to make themselves beautiful, and eyebrows made of mouse fur fit right in with that context. In Jonathan Swift's poem, his titular nymph is lampooned for a series of beauty failings. She has a "crystal eye", false teeth, and a flea-infested wig. She is clearly a caricature. After all, we don't use this poem as evidence that all women had false eyes and teeth.

However, just because there is no concrete evidence of mouse-skin eyebrows doesn't mean it wasn't a trend. Perhaps these satirical texts truly were referring to a fashion trend popular in the first decades of the century, which then faded from popularity. But the overwhelming lack of evidence places doubt on this conclusion.

Where does that leave this myth?

A Woman in Blue by Thomas Gainsborough, late 1770s-early 1780s. In the collection of The State Hermitage Museum. With some clipart additions of my own.

I have no definite conclusion. The evidence is thin, and I personally think that the use of mouse-skin eyebrows is unlikely, but with no definitive evidence I can't make a conclusion either way. Was Steele's play an influence on subsequent mentions of mouse-skin eyebrows? Was this some sort of recurring joke? I end with this Very Academic Statement: Clearly much more research needs to be done!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Embroidery Samples at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Any visitor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City should stop by Gallery 599 on their tour of the museum. It's a small gallery, to get there you simply descend a small flight of stairs tucked away in the back corner of one of the large medieval galleries. Gallery 599 is located by the door to the Ratti Textile Center, which houses all of the textiles in The Met's collections. A rotating exhibition showcasing small samplings of The Met's textiles is featured in the display cases surrounding the door to the Ratti Textile Center. It's a quick pitstop on your tour of the museum and always well worth a visit as you get to see some rarely viewed textile treasures.

Embroidery sample for a man's suit, 1800–1815. French. Silk embroidery on silk velvet; L. 13 1/4 x W. 11 1/8 in. (33.7 x 28.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of The United Piece Dye Works, 1936 (36.90.15)

Currently on view in Gallery 599, from now until July 17th, is Elaborate Embroidery: Fabrics for Menswear Before 1815. As explained in the press release, "This installation features lengths of fabric for an unmade man's suit and waistcoat, as well as a selection of embroidery samples for fashionable menswear made between about 1760 and 1815."

While I was in graduate school I was lucky enough to intern in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Met, where I worked with a number of textiles housed in the Ratti Textile Center. This included about 99% of the embroidery samples in The Met's collection. There are hundreds and hundreds of them, and most are quite small and are rarely exhibited. So I was quite pleased to see that some are getting their moment in the spotlight in this small exhibition. Including the sample pictured above, which dates to 1800-1815 (Fun Fact: A picture I took of this sample is currently the background on my phone).

Just from this picture alone, you can see that this is a truly spectacular piece of craftsmanship. The detailed embroidery renders exquisitely detailed flowers as the main motif, and the white border features tiny and meticulous stitches which resemble lace. But just a picture doesn't tell the full story of this textile.

Embroidery sample for a man's suit, 1800–1815. French. Silk embroidery on silk velvet; L. 13 1/4 x W. 11 1/8 in. (33.7 x 28.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of The United Piece Dye Works, 1936 (36.90.15). Photo by Katy Werlin.

Look closely at the textile on which the embroidery is done (click the image for a bigger size if you need to). The pattern is made from three colors: a deep purple background surrounding flowers of orange and a lighter purple. What's difficult to see in the picture is that the deep purple background is actually a rich silk velvet. The flowers have been created while the textile was still on the loom. As it was being woven, small sections were woven without any pile (pile is what makes velvet fuzzy), revealing the base fabric underneath. This type of velvet is called voided velvet. The weave of this textile is incredibly complex, and clearly took a great deal of skill to manufacture. And on top of what is already an extraordinary piece of work, the detailed embroidery is added.

Note the dimensionality this mix of textures adds. The lustrous silk embroidery seems to float over the matte velvet. And the soft texture of the velvet contrasts with the slightly ridged pattern of the weave underneath, making the small orange and purple flower shapes pop. I have never run my fingers over this textile, but I imagine the mix of textures would be interesting to the touch as well.

I don't know if a full suit was ever created based on the design featured in this sample (If it had it would have been extremely expensive and luxurious!). Fortunately for all of us, at least this small sample has survived. It, and others like it, show us not only the luxury of menswear in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but also the extraordinary talent, creativity, and ingenuity of textile manufacturers in history. Many of their names are not known today, but their work lives on and is honored through the study and exhibiting of textiles such as these.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Coiffure à la [Fill in the Blank]

One of the most famous and persistent images of the eighteenth century is a woman with an enormous tall wig decorated with ribbons, feathers, and all manner of figurines. Known as the pouf, this tall hairstyle is often cited as a visual representation of the excess of the 18th century. But these tall hairstyles were not just an example of extreme elite fashion. Often times these hairstyles were an expression of patriotism, politics, and the latest trends in culture. Today we may express our personalities and taste by wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of our favorite band, sports team, or the flag of our country. In the late 18th century, aristocratic women did the same thing using their hair.

Anonymous, Coëffure à l’Indépendance ou le Triomphe de la liberté, c. 1778. In the collection of the Musée franco-américain du château de Blérancourt.

Probably the most famous of these coiffures [hairstyles] is the hairstyle featuring a model ship. These ship headdresses appear in numerous illustrations of the period and continue to influence contemporary fashion. I even donned one of them myself. In late 18th century France, these nautical headdresses were expressions of patriotism and political engagement. The first was the coiffure à la Belle Poule and celebrated a famous French naval victory against the British during the American Revolution. During the Battle of Ushant on July 27, 1778, the French ship Belle Poule badly damaged the British frigate Arethusa. To celebrate this victory for the cause of American independence and express French patriotism, women adorned their hair with small models of the Belle Poule. Other famous naval battles were similarly memorialized. The coiffure à la Frégate la Junon celebrated another famous French frigate, and the chapeaux [hat] à la Grenade and à la d'Estaing celebrated the French victory at the Battle of Granada led by Admiral d'Estaing.

Another politically inspired coiffure was the coiffure à l'inoculation which was commissioned by Marie Antoinette to celebrate the successful inoculation of Louis XVI against smallpox. While smallpox inoculations were common in Austria (Marie Antoinette's birthplace), they were less popular in France and Louis XV died of smallpox. Louis XVI was inoculated against the disease at the urging of Marie Antoinette but it was a risky move. Many were suspicious of the procedure, labeling it "dangerous", and urged the king not to go through with it. When Louis XVI was successfully inoculated and given a clean bill of health it was a major political victory for Marie Antoinette, and she celebrated her victory with a coiffure featuring the serpent belonging to Aesculapius, the Ancient Greek god of medicine, wrapped around an olive tree (symbolizing wisdom).

A coiffure au sentiment.

Other coiffures celebrated topical cultural themes or personal events. A coiffure au sentiment expressed a feeling while a coiffure à la circonstance celebrated an important event. The coiffure à l'Iphigénie celebrated the popular opera Iphigénie en Aulide (1774) by Christoph Willibald Gluck. In an age of global exploration and trade, the theme of the different ares of the globe was often represented in fashion and textiles. The coiffure à la Mappemonde was a hairstyle showing the five parts of the globe. The pastoral was also another extremely popular theme throughout the eighteenth century and many coiffures were commissioned with this theme in mind. A coiffure au jardiniere worn by Marie Antoinette featured a vegetable garden with carrots, radishes, artichokes, and even a head of cabbage. And the Duchesse de Choiseul once wore "a three-foot-high pouf that replicated a verdant garden, replete with flowers, grass, a bubbling stream, and a tiny windmill edged with jewels and powered by a clockwork mechanism that Louis XVI himself might have admired." Other coiffures were more personal. To celebrate the birth of her son, the Duchesse de Chartres wore a coiffure featuring her African page and pet parrot as well as a nursemaid nursing a newborn baby.

Satirical print showing a coiffure au jardiniere complete with the tiny figure of a man going for a stroll. "The Flower Garden" by Matthew Darly, May 1, 1777. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course these hairstyles were ripe for satirizing and many prints were published poking fun at these elaborate coiffures.

Satire of the chapeaux à la d'Estaing showing Admiral d'Estaing himself perched on a lady's head. Anonymous, La Nimphe … parée d’une Frisure à la Grenade sur laquelle elle porte son fameux marin au milieu de ses Triomphe, 1779. In the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

What would you don on your own coiffure?




Further Reading

Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly. "When Fashion Set Sail." Published on Worn Through, March 20, 2013.

Weber, Caroline. Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Exploring the Decades with Disney Princesses: Cinderella

Part 1: Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

As a fashion historian, I find that an interesting aspect of Disney is how the animated features serve as records of the visual culture of their day. The Disney Princesses, a successful sub-franchise launched by Disney in the late 1990s, are everywhere these days. They have not been without controversy, but they are certainly popular. They are also records of changing standards of beauty for women in the 20th century. This post series will discuss selected Disney Princesses, exploring how they embody the ideals of femininity of their time.

Cinderella from Cinderella (1950)


The next Disney Princess to arrive after Snow White was Cinderella, who appeared in a new animated musical released in 1950. Cinderella was Walt Disney studio's most successful animated feature film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and received three Academy Award nominations. The story was adapted from the Charles Perrault version of the fairy tail, first published in 1697. Preparation for the film began in 1948. Helene Stanley served as the live action model for Cinderella and acted out many of the sequences in the film which the animators then studied and translated into drawn animations (Fun Fact: Stanley also served as the live action model for Anastasia, one of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters).

Live action models being filmed and their animated counterparts.
But how does Cinderella's appearance reflect the aesthetics of the late 1940s and early 1950s? Simply look at fashion illustrations of the period and you'll see that Cinderella fits right in with the illustrated fashion models. As I discussed in my Snow White post, fashion illustrations are a great source for looking at ideals of beauty because a drawing can convey ideal aesthetics in a way a real human body cannot. Furthermore, fashion illustration also takes a cue from dominant artistic trends of the period, showing broader visual influences.

Far Left: 1949 Illustration from a pattern insert in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Source.
Far Right: Advertisement from 1949. 

While the setting of the film is ostensibly the late Victorian period, Cinderella is firmly a mid-20th-century beauty. She has a slim figure with a small bust, narrow hips, and a nipped in waist-- the ideal figure of the late 1940s/early 1950s woman. Her various dresses give the sense of a historic look while still fitting in with mid-century aesthetics. Her servant outfit has a form fitting top and narrow A-line skirt which falls to just below the knees, a look that fits right in with fashions of the day. Both of her ballgowns feature a form fitting bodice, slight emphasis on the shoulders, and a full skirt. The emphasis on wide, sculpted shoulders is a hallmark of women's fashion of the 1940s, which embraced more masculine styles. In the 1950s a more feminine silhouette took over, so with Cinderella we see a good illustration of the transition between these two aesthetics. 


Left: "Shades of Picasso" dress by Gilbert Adrian, 1944-45. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Right: Dior "Junon" dress, fall/winter 1949-50. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The full skirts of her ballgowns are also nods to women's fashions of the late 1940s/early 1950s. In America during World War II, restrictions were placed on how much fabric could be used for a woman's evening gown as the government needed to reserve fabric for use by the military. After the war ended in 1945, those restrictions were lifted and women's skirts ballooned out. Compare the two gowns above, one made during WWII (left) and one made during the period when Cinderella was being animated (right). And then compare them to the image of Cinderella's magical ballgown in the middle.

Left: Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, 1944.
Right: Advertisement for Catalina Swimsuits in Seventeen Magazine, 1949. Source.

Cinderella's facial features also conform with mid-century ideals. She has shoulder length blonde hair and short, curled bangs, a fashionable hairstyle for the late 1940s. And her oval face, full lips, softly curved eyebrows, and almond-shaped eyes with full eyelashes are mirrored in the fashion illustrations of the period.

With Cinderella we see the very beginning of the 1950s. Our next Disney princess will look at the end of that decade-- stay tuned for Sleeping Beauty!

If you're interested in the historical influences of Cinderella's clothes, please check out this excellent post from the lovely ladies over at Frock Flicks!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

La Mode à la Girafe

La mode à la girafe translates to giraffe fashion, that is, fashion inspired by and celebrating giraffes. Or, in the case of late 1820s France, the fashion influence of one very famous giraffe.

Nicolas Hüet, Study of the Giraffe Given to Charles X by the Viceroy of Egypt, 1827. In the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum.

On October 23, 1826 a female giraffe arrived at the port of Marseilles. A gift from Muhammad Ali (1769-1849), the Viceroy of Egypt, to King Charles X of France (r. 1824-1830), this was the first living giraffe ever seen in France. Naturally such a strange and wonderful looking animal caused an enormous sensation. During her six month stay in Marseilles and along her journey to Paris, thousands of people came to view the curious creature. Renown zoologist Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire wrote that he "had to fight the crowds who rushed tumultuously at the animal." In Lyon, for example, over 30,000 people came to see her.

Jean-Jacques Feuchère, "Encore des Ridicules, No. 1,035: Les Girafes à la mode," c. 1826. In the collection of the Musée Carnavalet.

On June 30, 1827, the giraffe arrived in Paris to much fanfare and took up residence in the Jardin de Plantes, the world's first national menagerie. In the following months she would have an audience with the royal family, several important dignitaries, and be seen by hundreds of thousands of people. On July 12th, 1827 La Pandore reported that "the giraffe occupies all the public's attention; one talks of nothing else in the circles of the capital."

Henri-Daniel Plattel, Les Quartiers de Paris/Jardin des Plantes, c. 1827. In the collection of the Musée Carnavalet.

Naturally everyone wished to cash in on the giraffe craze. This one exotic animal inspired thousands of prints, sheet music, toys, pamphlets, and a play, and was used to sell fashion, textiles, wallpaper, ceramics, and even food. La mode à la girafe swept the nation! It should be noted that this giraffe was not the first exotic animal to inspire fashion. In 1749 there was the mode au rhinocéros [rhinoceros] and in 1786 there was the mode au zèbre [zebra].

Fashion plate from Les Journal des Dames et des Modes, July 8, 1827. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Yellow took on a new popularity. The Petit Courrier reported in September 1827 that "the color 'giraffe,' which is simply a kind of yellowish color, which one would have called café au lait a few years ago, is now often used for belts, workbags, and even for some dresses." And in October of the same year the Journal des Dames reported that the shade known as "belly of giraffe" was an extremely popular color. In general many fashion magazines described numerous items as being giraffe-yellow.


Detail of block-printed furnishing fabric, 1826-30. In the collection of the Musée de l'Impression sur Étoffes, Mulhouse.

It was not only the color of the giraffe that infiltrated fashion. Belt ribbons, bags, and fans were all decorated with images of giraffes and charms, pins, necklaces, cravat pins, bracelets, and cane toppers were all manufactured in the shape of a giraffe. Printed cottons, used for furnishing and dress, also bore the image of the famous animal.

Illustration from L'Art de mettre sa cravate de toutes le manières connues et usitées by Baron Émile de l'Empesé, c. 1827. In the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum.

Types of dress and even hair were inspired by the giraffe as well. Fashion historian Michele Majer describes sleeves à la girafe: "The fullness [of the sleeves] was partialy controlled by a strip of matching fabric wound twice around the arm from just above the elbow to the wrist." The coiffure à la girafe, although not much different than typical hairstyles of the day, was also mentioned in fashion periodicals. La mode à la girafe was not only for women. L'Art de mettre sa cravate de toutes le manières connues et usitées illustrated a cravat à la girafe which featured the knot placed low on the high collar and the ends hanging vertically, invoking the long neck of the giraffe.

An example of another object inspired by the giraffe-- a teapot and heater stand from c. 1827. In the collection of the Musée Carnavalet.

These are just a few of the hundreds of objects and fashion trends attributed to the giraffe. However, the story of this fashionable giraffe has a rather sad ending. As fads do, la mode à la girafe quickly passed away and newer sensations took its place. After the initial excitement of seeing such an exotic animal, most forgot about the giraffe and few came to visit her at the Jardin de Plantes. By 1830 she had completely faded into obscurity. She died in 1845.




Further Reading:

Allin, Michael. Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris. New York: Walker and Company, 1998.

Majer, Michele. "La Mode à la girafe: Fashion, Culture, and Politics in Bourbon Restoration France." Studies in Decorative Arts 17:1 (Fall-Winter 2009-10): 123-161.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Historic Influence

(As always, click for full size.)
Left: Elizabeth Banks in Elie Saab Fall 2014 Couture
Top Right: Three robes a la francaise from the Kyoto Costume Institute
Bottom Right: Robe a la francaise, 1755-65, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fashion and New Technology

Fashion has always had a strong relationship with new technology. In the late eighteenth century, looms ran on punch cards to weave complex textile designs-- the very first computing technology. In the nineteenth century, the discovery of synthetic dyes allowed fabrics to take on bright, eye-popping colors. In the twentieth century, an enormous range of textiles made from synthetic materials, each with its own unique benefits, flushed the market. And in the twenty-first century, designers are using 3-D printers to create new and innovative designs.

Fashion has also always had strong ties with the media. New trends need to be disseminated around the world somehow, be it by illustrations, photographs, or film. These days we can log on to youtube and watch the latest runway shows instantly, but the relationship between film and fashion stretches much farther back in time.


Paul Poiret, c. 1913. From the Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-100840.

On October 7, 1913, the Chicago Tribune published an article titled "Poiret Startles Chicago Women." The article begins:

"Seven hundred of the best dressed women of Chicago viewed the oddities of the latest styles of Paul Poiret, 'the high priest of color and the master builder of gowns,' as they strutted across the cinematographic screen at the Blackstone hotel yesterday."

We like to think that videos of fashion shows are a newer invention, yet here were hundreds of women watching one in 1913! Film was still a relatively new technology in the early 1910s, and the movie making industry wouldn't really kick off until the 1920s. Yet it is clear that some were already seeing film's potential. It's fitting that the fashion show on view to the women of Chicago that October day showcased the designs of Paul Poiret, a designer known for his innovation, boldness, and modernity. As the Tribune described Poiret's designs, "The women in the pictures were garbed in raiment wonderful, peculiar, and individual."

A Poiret evening gown, c. 1914. From the Library of Congress. LC-USZ62-85524.

The article continues:
"The spectators gave due attention to each gown, criticizing, studying, praising, wondering. There was ample opportunity for study, for some of the gowns were exhibited several times before the final reel had wound itself up.

"Perhaps the article that brought forth the most exclamations was a huge muff. A circular piece of white ermine ran around the front of it and as the wearer came closer into the camera's focus the comment grew.

"'What is that white circle?' 'Looks like a life preserver.' "No. it's [sic] an automobile tire.' Then the model stood perfectly still and the seven hundred laughed. It was ventured that seven hundred black muffs with white ermine circles will be worn in Chicago this winter.

"There were also a few colored slides showing Poiret's color combinations-- women in blue serge and green trimming, in scarlet and black, in purple and white, in pink with an overdress of white, and in other shades that caused several dressmakers a few gasps of delight."

Some of the restrictions of early film technology are mentioned. The lack of color (later compensated for with colored slides) and low definition left some women slightly confused as to what they were seeing. I love one woman's guess that perhaps Poiret had incorporated a car tire into his design.

I love this article for many reasons. Its description of Poiret's collection is an excellent resource. It highlights how technological advances were used to disseminate fashion information. It reflects the exciting sense of innovation and modernity that colored the twentieth century. But above all it connects us to the people of the past. These women, who lived 101 years ago, are sitting with their friends and commenting on a video of the latest fashions, just as we comment on videos on youtube today. I've written about how I love fashion history because it so closely connects us to the people of the past, and this article is the perfect example.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Past and the Future: Two Court Presentation Gowns from the Chicago History Museum

In my work as curatorial assistant at the Chicago History Museum I was fortunate enough to study two beautiful court presentation gowns from the 1920s. I blogged about those dresses and the ritual of the court presentation on the Chicago History Museum Blog. But I also thought there was a bigger story to be told, and so I continue the story of these two gowns here on The Fashion Historian.

Court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin.

Court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin.
The first gown was worn by Mary Dudley Kenna when she was presented at the Court of St. James on June 10, 1926. It was designed by Jacques Doucet for the House of Doucet.

Court presentation gown and train, Edward Molyneux, 1928. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Spencer. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1962.464a-d. Photo by Katy Werlin.
The second gown was worn by Mrs. Frederick L. Spencer, née Helen Hurley, in the spring of 1928. It was designed by Edward Molyneux. To see images of both women in their court gowns, please refer to my post on the Chicago History Museum Blog.

Detail of court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin.
Both of these gowns exhibit an extraordinary technical mastery, as can be seen by the detail images peppered throughout this post. But what I find most fascinating is the contrast these two gowns present-- one representing the romanticism of a bygone age, the other representing the sleek modernity of a new era.

Detail of court presentation gown and train, Edward Molyneux, 1928. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Spencer. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1962.464a-d. Photo by Katy Werlin.
Both gowns are well within the aesthetics of their respective designers. But just who were Jacques Doucet and Edward Molyneux?

Detail of court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin.
Mary's gown was designed by Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) for the House of Doucet. The House of Doucet was founded in 1817 by Antoine Doucet (1795-1866), Jacques' grandfather. Originally the house supplied lingerie, lace, and embroideries, a fitting beginning for a house that would come to represent a delicate, feminine aesthetic. In the early 1840s the house was established on the Rue de la Paix, one of the most important couture streets in Paris. Jacques himself was born there in 1853 and officially joined in the house in 1874. The House of Doucet was one of the largest couture houses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and some of the great couturiers of the twentieth century worked for Doucet including Paul Poiret (worked for Doucet from 1896-1900) and Madeleine Vionnet (worked for Doucet from 1907-1912). However, the firm never truly recovered from the ravages of World War I. It merged with a lesser couture house, Doueillet, in 1924, and closed altogether in 1932.

Detail of court presentation gown and train, Edward Molyneux, 1928. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Spencer. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1962.464a-d. Photo by Katy Werlin.
Captain Edward Molyneux (1891-1974) was born in London and served as a captain in the British army during World War I. He also worked for couturier Lucile in London before opening his own couture house in Paris in 1919. The House of Molyneux was an enormous success and branches were soon opened in Monte Carlo, Cannes, and London. Twentieth-century couturier Pierre Balmain apprenticed at the House of Molyneux, describing it in his 1964 memoirs, My Years and Seasons, as a "temple of subdued elegance... [where] the world's well-dressed women wore the inimitable two-pieces and tailored suits with pleated skirts, bearing the label of Molyneux."

Detail of court presentation gown and train, Jacques Doucet, 1926. Gift of Miss Mary Dudley Kenna. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1965.380a-e. Photo by Katy Werlin.
The aesthetic of Jacques Doucet is colored by delicacy, romanticism, femininity, and a strong historical influence. Doucet himself was a great collector of 18th century art and his designs show the influence of the rococo aesthetic. Floral motifs and lace were particularly popular in his designs. 

Mary's court presentation ensemble is certainly a fitting example of the Doucet aesthetic. The cut of the gown is in the fashionable 1920s style-- loose fitting and with a dropped waist. And yet the full, gathered skirt suggests the styles of a previous era. A sense of romance and whimsey, recalling the light aesthetic of the Edwardian period (1901-1910), is conveyed by the appliqued floral motif on both the gown and train. Soft velvets and satins are expertly stitched and gathered to create soft flowers which rest lightly in an embroidered basket. There is a playful whimsey as a few flowers and buds fall gracefully from the slightly tipped basket. Overall this dress conveys a sense of soft, delicate femininity. Compare it with the Doucet gowns below, from the early 1900s:


Afternoon dress, Jacques Doucet, 1900-1903. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2009.300.579ab.

Ball gown, Jacques Doucet, c. 1902. In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2009.300.3309ab.
The same soft femininity of these two gowns from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is adapted to 1920s fashion in Mary's court presentation gown.

Detail of court presentation gown and train, Edward Molyneux, 1928. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Spencer. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1962.464a-d. Photo by Katy Werlin.
In contrast to the historic romanticism of Doucet's aesthetic, the look of the House of Molyneux was all about modernity. Molyneux designs embodied the elegant and slim aesthetic of the 1920s and 1930s. His designs were restrained and avoided excess decoration, showing the influence of his military background and English heritage. Molyneux loved clean lines, and his designs were streamlined and fluid, taking inspiration from the new Art Deco style of architecture and design.

Helen's court presentation ensemble is the perfect example of this. The design is simple and clean, with lean, extenuated teardrop shapes made from concentric rows of pearls and crystals. All of these design aspects are hallmarks of the Art Deco movement. The dress itself is cut in a simple, narrow tube shape, embracing the most modern style of dress. Compare the design of Helen's dress with the Art Deco architecture below:


The Chrysler Building in Manhattan, NY. Designed by William Van Alen and constructed from 1928-1930.

Ornamental ironwork designed by Edgar Brandt for the Cheney Silk building in Manhattan, NY (now the Madison Belmont Building). Built from 1924-1925. Photo by Daniel E. Russell.
As you can see, Helen's dress fits right in with the sleek and modern style of Art Deco.

Molyneux designer label visible on the underside of the headdress associated with the gown. Court presentation gown and train, Edward Molyneux, 1928. Gift of Mrs. Frederick L. Spencer. In the collection of the Chicago History Museum. 1962.464a-d. Photo by Katy Werlin.
And so in these two dresses we see both the convergence of the past, the present, and the future. In Mary's dress Doucet adapts the delicate romanticism of the Edwardian aesthetic into the cleaner lines of the 1920s, while still maintaining a youthful, feminine charm. In Helen's dress Molyneux embraces the design of the future, adapting the ultra-modern Art Deco aesthetic into a trim gown that speaks of a new world.

The choice of these two designers most likely speaks to the personality of each woman. Perhaps Mary was more old fashioned and whimsical, while Helen embraced the new modern age. Each of these dresses gives us a glimpse of the women who wore them in an exciting era of change.