The Gown of your Choice?

Like most of you, I await tonight's fashion parade down the red carpet with much anticipation. It must be a heady day for the Academy Award nominees as they get ready to look their best, especially for the lucky ones wearing custom designed gowns.

David McCaffrey and Wallis Guinta
 Photo by MIV Photography, 2011.

Being a huge fan of formal wear myself (was I born in the wrong century?), I have to say that I think that having a gown designed for me would be the ultimate fantasy.  But for Wallis Giunta, a mezzo-soprano from the Canadian Opera Company, custom designed gowns are just another part of her job. This artist, who has charmed critics with her "creamy voice and charismatic stage presence" was invited to join the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and will make her NYC recital debut in March in a program titled Spanish Gold: Songs of the Iberian Peninsula. She will be wearing a gown  of "flame coloured raw silk with black ruffles in the back, and an off-the-shoulder bustier top" designed by noted Canadian designer McCaffrey Haute Couture.

This collaboration between artist and designer was forged last October when McCaffrey offered to loan Giunta dresses for her upcoming recitals. Soon thereafter, Giunta sang with indie rock celebrities Broken Social Scene at the Canadian Opera Company's fundraising gala Operanation VII while wearing a voluminous white wedding gown for the event's Cinderella theme. Their next collaboration came in December when Guinta wore a 1940s silhouette gown in green for her recital for the Governor General in Ottawa. In between recitals and the upcoming premiere of the Robert Lepage-directed production of The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, Wallis Giunta will be featured modelling David McCaffrey's gowns in print and online ads.

Who would you wear if you could chose any designer to create a gown for you?

Inspiration and Process

A long time ago, an art teacher told me that it takes at least ten years of hard work to fully develop as an artist. At the time, I dismissed his comment, but as the years march on and I look back at where I've been and where I'm going, I now know he was right. It takes a lot of time, effort and work to find one's voice, to learn where to find new inspiration, and to understand process.

Zandra Rhodes, Crinoline Dress, 1973
Photo by Anthony Scoggins
As I delve deeper into the world of Zandra Rhodes, I think there is much to learn about her process as an artist and textile designer. The garments she creates are all about the textile, with lines and silhouettes that  highlight the textile. Looking at how she cuts the fabric, it is clearly evident that she maximizes the most beautiful features of the pattern and minimizes waste (reminding me of how it was done in the 18th century when cuts were minimized on the expensive and ornate fabrics).

Zandra Rhodes Sketchbook at the Mingei Museum
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011
But the process all begins with her sketchbook. Unlike many fashion designers, she does not sketch garments. Instead her black hard-covered sketchbooks document her travels around the world and record whatever caught her eye on any given day. The sketches include plants, flowers, ceramic tiles, architecture, cartoons, waves, sculptures, doodles, anything that interested her.  Her sketchbooks are the first and most important step in finding inspiration for her fabric designs and the reason the Zandra Rhodes label is so unique. The book Zandra Rhodes, a lifelong affair with textiles, includes pages from her sketchbook and illustrates the process of translating these sketches into patterns for fabric design. The book is the next best thing to seeing the exhibition at the Mingei.

As an artist myself, I have a sketchbook, actually there are at least five of various sizes and shapes on my desk right now, but my use of them has been sporadic at best. And even though I travel widely and often, they rarely get the use that they should because I've let myself be distracted by demands of my family, my job, my blog, my Blackberry, and a symphony of other stuff.




Zandra Rhodes: A Lifelong Affair with Textiles
Mingei Museum
1439 El Prado - on the Plaza de Panama, San Diego CA
P: 619-239-0003

Is Fashion an Art Form?

Garments from Zandra Rhodes Collection of 1986-87 Spanish Impressions Collection,
Photo by Anthony Scoggins 2010


Is fashion an art form? According to acclaimed fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, the answer is yes!

In a conversation with Alice Rawsthorn, a columnist for the NY Times, Zandra said "I think fashion is an art form - you might call it decorative or applied art as opposed to fine art, but what is the distinction? Because the same amount of artistic expression goes into clothes, a piece of pottery or a painting." (pg. 103, Fashion Theory: A Reader, Routledge, London, 2007). Rawsthorn argued otherwise - citing the practical purpose of clothing as the reason fashion is not a true art form.

It's probably no surprise that I agree with Zandra. Her work speaks for itself. Fashion and art are one.

Zandra Rhodes was born in 1940 and her mother was a fitter for the Paris fashion House of Worth. Zandra studied printed textile design at The Royal College of Art in London and was a pioneer in the use of printed textiles as an intrinsic part of the garments she created. She opened her first shop in London in 1967 and was nicknamed the "Princess of Punk" after her 1977 collection which incorporated holes and beaded safety pins.  Zandra is renowned for her use of bold prints, feminine patterns and theatrical use of colour, not to mention her signature pink hairdo. She has created garments for many celebrities including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Isabella Blow, Helen Mirren and Sarah Jessica Parker. In the last few years, she has designed sets and costumes for the opera. Her work is included in many museum collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Royal Ontario Museum.
Installation shot of Punk garments by Zandra Rhodes, 1977-78.
Photo by Anthony Scoggins 2010
The Mingei Museum in San Diego is currently showing a retrospective of Zandra Rhodes work called A Lifelong Affair with Textiles which features garments from the 1960s through the 1980s.  The pieces reveal her process, approach to shape, color, technique and worldwide influences, and are complemented by textiles and objects from the Museum’s collection to emphasize the varied cultural sources of her creations.  The exhibition, which continues through April 3, 2011, has previously been seen in London, Italy, Australia, and Mexico City.
Zandra Rhodes Title Wall, Photo by Anthony Scoggins 2010

Zandra Rhodes will be speaking at the Mingei Museum on Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 7-8 pm in conversation with Nicolas Reveles, The Geisei Director of Education and Outreach for the San Diego Opera.

Mingei Museum
1439 El Prado - on the Plaza de Panama
San Diego CA 92101
P: 619-239-0003
F: 619-239-0605
E: mingei@mingei.org

Photo credits: The photos for this post were provided courtesy of the Mingei Museum and subject to copyright.

How do you define success?

My show "All is Vanity"at Loop Gallery has come down and the month long roller coaster ride is coming to an end.

Opening reception All is Vanity 2011

People have asked "was the show a success?" and I don't know how to answer that.  Is success measured in sales? accolades? media coverage?  I sat down and wrote out my wildest art show fantasies:

1. The director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Matthew Teitelbaum, would come to the opening.
2. My work would attract the attention of the critics and be published in the national newspaper declaring my work "Best of".
3. I would have a tv interview.
4. At least one piece of my work would be purchased by a corporate collection.
5. The show would sell out.

Opening reception All is Vanity, 2011

While it seems to be a list of impossibilities, all of these things have actually happened to me at one point or another during my art career. And while I recognize the improbability of such events recurring, how do I then define whether or not the show was a success?

Oscar Wilde once said "When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money." But, defining one's success as an artist in terms of money is a losing proposition, especially during a recession.  And so this week, I reread the book Art Fear, Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. While the authors offer no easy answers, they do point out "that courting approval, even that of peers, puts a dangerous amount of power in the hands of the audience. Worse yet, the audience is seldom in a position to grant (or withhold) approval on the one issue that really counts - namely, whether or not you're making progress in your work. They're in a good position to comment on how they've moved (or challenged or entertained) by the finished product, but have little knowledge or interest in your process. Audience comes later. The only pure communication is between you and your work." (pg 47)

Having a gallery show is akin to standing naked in a room of strangers, friends and family. I survived that, did the Artsync tv interview, was asked to speak at the American Costume Society conference about art and fashion, and I made progress in my work by producing hauntingly beautiful images that conveyed a narrative. What comes next, I'm not really sure. But there are times that I don't care what the definition of success is and just want to be a ski bunny.

Snowmass Mountain 2011

19th Century Day Dresses

Woman's day dress, USA c.1826-1834
ROM 975.241.18 A-B (Gift of Mrs. Henry P. Kendall)
Photo by ROM Staff under copyright

In "Striking and Innovative Printed Fashions in the 19th Century" at the Royal Ontario Museum's Patricia Harris Gallery of Textiles & Costume, a selection of beautiful 19th century day dresses are currently on display. In the photo above, a woman's cotton day dress and belt (c.1826-34) illustrates the 19th century technical innovations achieved in printing fashionable textiles. According to Dr. Alexandra Palmer, senior curator, the "inventive manufacturers enticed consumers by combining hand and mechanical printing techniques, thereby creating new colours and patterns. The resultant fashions using the latest scientific inventions in textile production clearly signified modernity."


19th Century Dresses on display at the ROM
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011

The display at the ROM includes these printed cotton gowns from the 19th century as well as charming examples of children's wear of the time.

According to the chapter Of the Choice of Clothing in the book The Lady's Stratagem, there were very defined rules for what was considered fashionable and appropriate attire in the 19th century.

"When at home, you should always be dressed neatly and respectably enough to go out or visit your friends without having to put on any thing except your gloves, shawl and hat; but dress without any affectation. If you clothing is over-trimmed or appears to hamper daily occupations, it might perhaps be even more ridiculous than if it were too common. Wear pretty prunella shoes; very white cotton stockings; a gown of gingham, a beautiful calico, or merino according to the season, suitably trimmed; a belt without ribaund loops; a collerette or fichu de lingere; a very neat coiffure en cheveux; and finally, if you have a great deal to do, a black silk apron. Such is the costume which is proper for a woman in her home. Gowns of silk, muslin, and other such materials, unless you have a very considerable fortune, bespeak vanity and indolence. In my opinion, a young woman's attire should be a constant testiomy of modesty, order and industry." (page 186)


The First Fashion Blogger: Barbara Johnson's Album of Fashion


Although fashion blogs seem to be a relatively recent phenomena, the act of documenting one's selections of clothing and fabric choices goes back as far as the 18th century. Barbara Johnson, a  well-off Englishwoman from a clerical family, made detailed notes about her wardrobe for the period 1760-1823. Her album includes a detailed description of each garment, fabric swatches, information about cost and trimmings as well as clipped pocketbook engravings (plates that preceded the illustrated fashion journals) with the styles of the day. Her album survives today in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was reproduced into book format in 1987 because it is too fragile to be handled.

Even as a reproduction, this album is important for several reasons. According to Madeleine Ginsburg, assistant curator at the V&A Museum,  "the album is unique for the length of time it covers, for the practical details and the hints it gives of the circumstances of her long and fashion-conscious life." (Essay on "Barbara Johnson and Fashion" by Madeline Ginsburg, pg. 18 from the book.)


Not only does this album reflect the changes in silhouette and style over time, it also mirrors the graceful aging of a woman who knew was appropriate for her figure. Stylish to the end, her choices of fabric, silhouette and trims reflect her status as an elegant and respected woman.

Also notable in the album are her frequent purchases of mourning dress. Apparently, 18th century mourning requirements were as strict as in the Victorian age with three periods of mourning, categorized by degree. First degree required the most sombre dress in fabrics without colour, either in black or white, without sheen and with little or no trimmings and plain white accessories. Over time, the requirements relaxed but the mourning period was typically at least a year and was adopted after the deaths of family, close friends and in certain cases for the deaths of members of the Royal Family.

This book is a fascinating archive of fashion history for the period 1754-1832 and an important resource for fashion scholars and bloggers alike.

Title: Barbara Johnson's Album of Fashions and Fabrics
Edited by: Natalie Rothstein
Published by: Thames and Hudson, 1987
Number of Pages: 208

Inspired by Lillian Bassman

It's a Cinch: Carman by Lillian Bassman, New York Harper's Bazaar, 1951
John Galliano once described Lillian Bassman's photographs as "painterly strokes of light". Her use of abstraction, dynamic composition, and manipulation of exposure in her photographs of women are hallmarks of her signature style. Lillian Bassman was a leading fashion photographer for magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar from the 1940s through the 1960s. In more recent years, she has photographed campaigns for Galliano, Neiman Marcus, New York Times Magazine, among others.



In 2009, the book Lillian Bassman Women was published featuring 150 of her best images. It was a little over a year ago that I discovered Lillian's work and wrote a post about her book. Since I'm not much of a techie, it was her example that encouraged me to finally master Photoshop and take advantage of its incredible power to manipulate images to a painterly effect. If she could master Photoshop at the age of 84, then it didn't seem like I had any excuse not to follow her lead!

I recently discovered the Slate Gallery Guide listing for the first show of Lillian Bassman's work in Canada which opens on Thursday, February 10th at the Izzy Gallery. This show called Women features eleven works of this iconic fashion photographer and runs until Thursday, March 3rd.


Ere we shall meet again
by Ingrid Mida 2010
At my most recent exhibition of work All is Vanity (at Loop Gallery until February 13, 2011),  my photos were compared to to Bassman's, a comparison that I felt honoured by. When I wrote my artist statement for the show, I included photographers Cindy Sherman, Sarah Moon and Deborah Turbeville as having inspired me when I should have put Lillian Bassman's name at the top of the list!

Clothing as Canvas by Jean Paul Gaultier

Virgin with Child and Angels by Jean Fouquet 1450
 (Painting in collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp)

In 1450, artist Jean Fouquet painted an eroticized version of the Madonna with her breast exposed in his painting "Virgin with Child and Angels".  Believed to be based on Agn├Ęs Sorel, a favoured and beautiful mistress of King Charles VII, this painting must have raised some controversy in its time.


In 1994, fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, no stranger to controversy himself, used Fouquet's image to create the fabric for this transparent and form fitting man's t-shirt and woman's dress. 

Man's T-shirt 2001.128.9 and Woman's Dress 999.113.3.1
by Jean Paul Gaultier 1994 (Photo by ROM staff)

Art and fashion become one in these garments with the clothing acting as canvas. According to Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the ROM, these garments question "our historic and current understanding of fashion, gender and the body, as well as the role of religious painting."  Look at the positioning of the Madonna on the man's t-shirt compared to the positioning of the image on the woman's dress (back and front have similar placement). 

Installation shot Patricia Harris Gallery of Costume and Textiles at the ROM
Photo by ROM staff 2011
These two garments are currently on display in the Patricia Harris Gallery of Costumes and Textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

Photo credits: All photos provided by the Royal Ontario Museum and are subject to copyright. 

Clothing as Canvas

The phenomena of the paper dress is something that has long intrigued and inspired me. First introduced to the market in 1966 as a novelty item by the Scott Paper Company, paper dresses were an instant hit.  Released from the narrow constricts of what was considered acceptable attire in an era of sexual and workplace revolution, women quickly adopted the freedom of these cheap and sexy paper dresses. I've written many posts about the paper dress in the past, and was delighted to discover that The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto has several on display in their Jennifer Ivey Bannock Exhibit on the fourth floor.


Time Magazine dress, Printed paper designed by Walter Lefmann and Ron de Vito
USA 1967 Gift of Time International of Canada Ltd.
ROM 967.77 (Photo by ROM staff)
According to Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Senior Curator Senior Curator Textiles & Costume at the ROM "the newest display entitled Clothing as Canvas presents paper fashions that emulate textiles and fashion and textiles that copy printed paper from the 1940s to the present." 

Besides the striking Time Magazine dress, I was drawn to a paper gown created by Toronto designer Ruth Dukas in 1967 for a gala event in support of the National Ballet of Canada. The volunteer committee asked several fashion designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Courreges, Pucci and Geoffrey Beene to create paper dresses for the evening's event and auction. The Ruth Dukas dress (shown below) is made of painted paper, glued on cloth flowers and sequins. If I hadn't been told that it was paper, I would have guessed that it was cotton.

Evening gown by Ruth Dukas 1967
Printed paper, glued on cloth flowers and sequins
ROM 968.200A, Gift of the National Ballet of Canada
Also on display are textiles that look like paper including a silk knit dress designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior ready to wear 2000-2001. The fabric of this dress is printed to look like a fictional Dior newspaper with reviews and commentary on his collection and was worn and donated to the ROM by Torontonian Kara Alloway. The printed textile of the Dior dress echoes a scarf created by Elsa Schiaparelli from the 1940s (which is also on display). Given my background in newspaper publishing, I lingered for a long time in front of these items - so long in fact, that the security guard nervously hovered close by until I left the gallery.

John Galliano for Dior, 2000-2001 Ready to Wear ROM2002.39.1 Photo by ROM staff
Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario
416-586-8000
www.rom.on.ca

Photo credits: All photos were provided by the ROM and are subject to copyright.

Amsterdam International Fashion Week AW11: SuperTrash

Parlour Games with Proust

Photo of Marcel Proust
Lately it has been me, me, me on my blog which is something that literary giant Marcel Proust would abhor. And even though I vowed to take his lessons of living to heart in my recent post, I could not resist sharing with you an amusing parlour game that Proust used to play with his friends after a dinner party.

Vanity Fair has an online version of this game in which you answer the questions and your answers are matched to celebrities. But if you'd rather just play with me, here are the questions and my answers. I strongly advise drinking a glass of wine or two before you play!

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A weekend away with my husband in Paris or London

2. What is your greatest fear?
Dying of Parkinson's disease in which I am trapped inside the prison of my body, like my father did and like my mother soon will 

3. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Marie Antoinette

4. Which living person do you most admire?
Artist Cindy Sherman because she took what she feared the most and made a career out of it

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
A desire for validation of my work

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of manners

7. What is your greatest extravagence?
Fashion and books

8. On what occasion do you lie?
To avoid hurting someone's feelings

9. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My hair

10. When and where were you happiest?
 In this moment

11. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To have more self confidence about my work

12. If you could change one thing about your family what would it be?
That we saw each other more often

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
 Learning to find joy within the moment even through difficult times

14. If you died and came back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
 A tree

15. What is your most treasured possession?
 Photos of my husband and boys

16. What do you regard as the lowest depths of misery?
Time spent with people who complain

17. Who are your heroes in real life?
 My husband

18. What is it that you most dislike?
 Lack of courtesy 

19. How would you like to die?
 In my sleep

20. What is your motto?
This too shall pass


In the online Vanity Fair version, my answers most closely matched Joan Didion (88%), author of the book The Year of Magical Thinking.  I was a little surprised by this at first, but then I read a reviewer's comments about my show All is Vanity.

Among the myriad of associations elicited by your images was Joan Didion's 'The Year of Magical Thinking' (written by Didion following the death of her husband and daughter). Ingrid's images are a true interpretation of the magical thinking we all experience following the loss of someone dear to us. The images resonate and to me, are universal. (To read DF Krouskie's entire review, read the loop gallery blog here.)

If you do the survey, please share your answers!
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