Of Tutus and Other Things

National Ballet Tutu on display at the Design Exchange in Toronto
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2012
Where has the summer gone? I've been so busy that I feel like I've missed the lazy days of summer. And yet, I've never been happier -- working on editing the Ryerson Fashion Archives, illustrating an article for Selvedges Magazine and a myriad of other fashion related projects. They say that when your work is your passion, it is not work and that is definitely true in my case.

Recently I visited the exhibitions The Tutu Project and Designing the Ballet at the Design Exchange in Toronto. The tutus from the National Ballet Company on display in Designing the Ballet are exquisite, and there even are some sample tutus to try on.

But it is now time for me to take a pause and I'll be taking a computer holiday - stepping away from the screen, the mobile device etcetera, to spend focussed time with those that I love. I'll be back soon, refreshed and relaxed... Happy summer!

Fashion, A-Z at The Museum at FIT

The Museum at FIT is one of my favourite fashion museums. With over 50,000 garments and accessories in their collection, Director and Chief Curator Valerie Steele and her talented staff have one of the largest collections in the world to draw on and they use this archive to come up with something fresh and innovative on a regular basis. 

Fashion, A-Z, Part II could have been a yawn, but it was not. Featuring highlights from their enormous collection, the full spectrum of design approaches and talents is presented in the upstairs history gallery.

Several of my favourite sculptural garments from their collection were on display, including: The Charles James Tree dress from 1955 in dusty rose that stands as the penultimate body sculpture (pictured above); The Martin Margiela sleeveless jacket from sprint 1997 that evokes a mannequin; and, a Madame Gres abstracted triangular black silk faille evening dress from 1967 that asserts angularity and a mod-1960s vibe. 

Two designers that were previously unknown to me that I discovered in this exhibition included: a halter top and leggings from NOIR Spring 2009 by Peter Ingwersen which showed that sustainable design, fair trade practices, organic cotton can be turned into high fashion; and an ensemble constructed from five cardigan sweaters and pantyhose by XULY.Bet for FAll 1994. Sustainable practices can be exciting and fresh. 

What defies understanding is how this exciting museum of fashion can offer free admission to the public. It is always worth the trip to Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, and there will soon be a beautiful Taschen reference book featuring highlights of the FIT Museum

Fashioning the Object at the Art Institute of Chicago

In No Time Collection 2007, Hand-knitted Dress by Sandra Buckland, Image courtesy of the AIC

Fashioning the Object at the Art Institute of Chicago is an exhibition celebrating the innovative work of Bless, Boudicca, and Sandra Backlund. The practices of this group redefine fashion design into a conceptually based interdisciplinary process that sits on the intersection of art and fashion. Not driven by market forces, the work on display is intellectually engaging and exciting. 

The exhibition curator writes:  "Bless, Boudicca, and Backlund view fashion as a critical forum for dialogue and exchange, as well as an armature for understanding our place in the world. However, they endeavor to move beyond previous practices by drawing on an even greater spectrum of ideas inspired by disciplines as diverse as fine art, performance, design, and architecture to create work that responds to the social, political, and cultural environment and explores the creative process."

The exhibition is divided into three spaces which immerse the visitor into the work of the three designer groups. The first gallery features the work of Bless designers Desiree Heiss, who is based in Paris, and Ines Kaag of Berlin, who correspond daily through e-mail and Skype chats. The premise of their work is on the practice of altering or adding to existing objects to create new narratives, such as a hairbrush made of human hair - "like a jewelry case for hair".  The tactile qualities of this work invite touching and this is one of the few occasions when visitors are encouraged to do so. 

Bless Hair Brush, Image courtesy of the AIC

The second gallery is the largest and showcases the work of Boudicca founders Zowie Broach and Brian Kirkby. The video installations have a haunting narrative and highlight the “investigative rather than simply decorative” nature of the designers work. The video for their "Tornado Dress" can be viewed on YouTube here

The last gallery features the work of Sandra Backlund who creates ethereal knitwear to “consciously dress and undress parts of the body” in an effort to “highlight, distort, and transform the natural silhouette with clothes and accessories.” Delicate and armour-like at the same time, these garments transform the feminine shape into an artwork.

Pool Position by Sandra Backlund, Image courtesy of the AIC
I was enchanted and inspired by this exhibition of fashion as art. Intelligent, thoughtful and innovative are the words that come to mind. The exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago runs until September 13, 2012. For more information, visit the AIC website here.

Fashion Jewelry - Not All That Glitters Is Gold

Fashion Jewelry - Not All That Glitters Is Gold
They say that diamonds are girls' best friends, but in contemporary society, fashion jewelry seems to have replaced the diamonds. It has become a popular commodity available in everyone's budget, which is extensively used today to complement one's persona.

Jewelry, like clothes, has become a new way of expressing one's lifestyle. Whether you are a Goth who prefers wearing dark spiked jewelry along with your black attire or an ultra chic modern girl who loves sporting those mardi gras beads over an uber cute haute couture dress, fashion jewelery plays a quite indispensable part in today's female life, to an extent that it has become an extension to the way that you express yourselves.

An important point to note here is that men too have joined the bandwagon as they too like to accessorize themselves with fashion jewelry, something that was previously only a women's fad. Metrosexual men, who are known for being trendy, are the major reason for this shift in consumption. Male fashion accessories are just as easily available and are equally prominent too. This has further added to the market value for these products. Fashion jewelery has become such a popularized commodity that it makes a great and easy gift to pick, be it for your friends or relatives. You can pick it for their birthday, Christmas or just an expression of your growing love. Fashion jewelry undoubtedly makes for the best of gifts. It can be objectified into various types - rings, earnings, necklaces, bracelets, bracelet charms, lockets etc. It is usually made of a non-precious metals.

Fashion jewelry has made itself available for everyone's budget which has contributed to its growing success. It is sold from prices ranging from next to negligible to millions and is available at a little stall by a beach to high end malls and luxury boutiques. Its popularity is so high that several well reputed jewelry brands have begun retailing it. Its ability to present itself with such a great diversity has made it so lucrative. All kind of fashion jewelry is retailed across the market and everyone wants to be a part of this growing network of trendy individuals asserting the lifestyle they lead. Fashion jewelry today has become an indispensable product. It not only compliments one's look but anyone, who is accustomed to wearing it, also feels incomplete without it.

Back in the past, there were days when only real jewelry held any kind of social standing but now fashion jewelery products have come at par with the real jewelery, making them even more desirable. Seeing their favorite Hollywood celebrities and socialites using fashion jewelry has pushed its popularity. Fashion jewelry is used to complement the most exquisite of the dresses adorned by our favorite Hollywood divas and men sporting them with their best tux on the red carpet. Following the foot steps of their favorite actors and actresses, women and men from all financial backgrounds seek to possess those products in particular. Subsequently, affluent individual ends up buying the original exquisite pieces as opposed to the average joe who buys the fakes of the original designs.

Online Historic Costume Collections

In a click of a mouse, I can visit the historic and contemporary costume collections from around the world. Although some museums and university collections welcome visiting scholars, digitizing a collection reduces the handling of fragile garments and also offers everyone a chance to see garments that are not on display.  Here are my top picks of accessible collections (click on museum name for related link): 

Dior 1947 Bar Suit, Image Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute
Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Collection: The Met has over 35,000 costumes and accessories in their collection, with the earliest piece going back to the 15th century. This New York museum sets the gold standard for online digitized collections, providing multiple images and extensive descriptive information and provenance details for each item.

Victoria and Albert Museum Collections:  Although the storage and research facilities for this London based museum collection are currently being renovated (scheduled to reopen in October 2013),  the V&A website gives access to images from their extensive costume collection and also provides videos, articles, suggested books, and related material. An inviting and friendly website, the fashion related section is organized by period, with links to all related material available on the site. Like the Met, the information provided for each fashion item is extensive, including multiple viewpoints, photos of related accessories, marks and inscriptions and exhibition history. 

FIT Museum Collection: FIT Museum currently has over 50,000 garments and accessories in its collection. Although they have pieces going back to the 18th century, their focus is on contemporary fashion and they seek to add new pieces that "make fashion history". They have an extensive online collection and are adding to that regularly.  FIT has a smaller study collection of approximately 1200 pieces that is accessible to students, faculty and visiting researchers.

Kent State University Museum: Kent State has one of the largest study collections in the world with over 40,000 pieces including historic pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries to the present. While only a small sampling of items have been digitized, this museum believes in accessibility and welcomes students, faculty and visiting researchers.

Drexel University Historic Costume Collection: An online collection featuring detail closeups and 360 degree views of 129 selected pieces from the collection. Of particular note are the photos related to the conservation of an 1885 gown by Charles Frederick Worth (link here).

Chicago History Museum Costume & Textiles Collection: This museum's costume collection includes over 50,000 costumes and textile artifacts from the mid-18th century to the present, and is one of the largest in the world. Recently launched, the digital collection features multiple views of nearly 400 costume and textile artifacts.

Fall Fashion Finds for 2012

Fall Fashion Finds for 2011As school holidays come to an end, we wave goodbye to the hot fashion pieces of summer 2012 and welcome in fall with its fresh styles, colors and accessories, sure to excite fashion divas everywhere. With fall coming up quickly, we are starting to see a wide range of fashion trends that can easily be worn straight through winter. With styles made up of a wide range of materials, colors and clothing items - the possibilities are endless.

Gone are the days of brown, black, and red tweed that were so definitive of past chilly seasons. Rather, the coming season allows for soft and subdued colors as well as bright mood-enhancing tones such as orange, red, and yellow. For those who want to go bright but do not want to go outlandish, burgundy or midnight blue are very elegant, strong options - especially for that all important affair that you have to attend, or for an empowered day at the office. Prints are also back with a bang - whether floral, polka dots, fruity images or something more retro - prints are definitely in for fall 2012. However you wear them, will give you that touch of feminine pizzazz. Just remember... prints are always better when broken with a monotone and neutral tone such as black or white belt, sash or pair of shoes and necklace.

This coming season sees a power play between the need for a masculine look, while remaining charmingly feminine. Manly shirts, suits, boots, and hats are must haves this coming season as women step out onto the streets of New York, London and Paris. Having said that, some designers have stood up for femininity! They have broken up the manly fashion pieces with some girly clothing items that have simply never looked so chic.

Whether choosing a manly or feminine look for a particular day, the designers have broken all boundaries and incorporated a wide range of materials, with a wide range of colors for the coming two seasons. Let's start with sexy leather, whether as one full outfit or combined with fake fur - could you think of a more sensational look?

Pleats and frills are also in, obviously for girls needing to feel feminine and flirty. A great look is to combine a neutral pleated skirt with an interesting print top for fashionable fun. Oh, and girls, just beware, minis are out while maxis and midis have stepped in. Calm down - for those thinking that their sexiness will have to take a step out for the door, think again! The right skirt, teemed with the right belt and shoes is just right for perfect, subtle, sexiness.

Interestingly, designers have also taken the idea of fetishes to a whole new level by giving us Fall and winter styles created on fetish and dominatrix themes. Are you bold enough for it?

As in past seasons of late, layering is another fashion must - as long as you're wearing the right layers. Try a sheer shirt with wide-legged pants for indoor wear, paired with a thin knit sweater for warmth and a coat for outside excursions.

Of course, boots are a must and cute winter hats provide that extra sense of fashion flare.

A final accessory-must for that complete trendy look is a pair of fashion frames - whether they're prescription eyeglasses or simple eyeglass frames fitted with a placebo lens. The colors of the season allow for fashionistas to really let loose and enjoy choosing fun and bold designs and colors from the wide range available online. What's more, online eyeglasses shopping is so affordable that you may even be able to really accessorize by buying a few pairs in different colors, to complete your every look, every day of the next two seasons.

Fashion and Art, Canadian Style

1. One's personality expressed in their clothing, “fashion personality.” 
2. One's nationality expressed in their clothing, “fashion nationality.”

—The Urban Dictionary

Today is Canada's 145th birthday and it seemed like the perfect day to post about Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art at the McMichael Gallery in Vaughan, Ontario. I've extracted parts from the press release below to present an overview of the show, and it is clear that this would have been the perfect venue for my beaded and embroidered hockey equipment from my recent show Constructions of Femininity at loop gallery.

“Fashionality” is a newly coined play on words that refers to the visual culture and semiotics of dress and adornment. Combining the words “fashion,” “personality,” and “nationality,” it signals the interplay between clothing, identity, and cultural affinity. Taking the idiom of dress as a starting point, Fashionality: Dress and Identity in Contemporary Canadian Art explores the use of apparel in the work of twenty-three contemporary Canadian artists. It considers the diverse ways in which the clothed body and the idiom of dress are employed as sources of inspiration, humour, and critique, and as sites for the exploration of issues of identity, hybridity, and self-expression. Not strictly about fashion, the exhibition explores the ways in which the subjectivities and identities of those living in Canada are expressed, deconstructed, and reconfigured, while raising some intriguing questions about the embodied Canadian subject.

The exhibition is divided into four themes. The first gallery embraces the acts of creation and recreation. Here the focus is on artists whose work foregrounds relationships with nature, apparel-making, sports, and social media. Of note here are items of protective hockey equipment which have been embellished by living honeybees, an act orchestrated by Winnipeg artist Aganetha Dyck. Another project involves 365 days worth of hand-made clothing which was the result of a year-long daily dressmaking project blogged by Vancouver artist and designer Natalie Purschwitz. Asserting that First Nations not be relegated to the narratives of a primitive past, Oji-Cree artist KC Adams makes computer bags from fur and leather, and applies indigenous beading techniques to iPod and iPad holders.

The consecutive gallery considers the life cycle, and focuses on ghostly apparitions and unworn garments. Pointing to the domestic "uniform," the south wall is resplendent with hundreds of brightly-hued transparent aprons assembled by Newfoundland artist Barb Hunt. Conversely, the north wall seems to be alive with hundreds of tiny woolen sweaters, knitted by Ontario-based artist Michele Karch-Ackerman and several volunteers, in commemoration of Canadian soldiers who fell in World War I. In between these two astonishing assemblages are a number of intriguing works that speak to the vagaries of domestic life, real and imagined histories, the feminine “mystique,” and the confines of masculine imperatives.

The third gallery centers upon that quintessential Western symbol of woman: the dress. A blast of colour and energy, paintings and photographs hung here exude a love of cloth, colour, texture, and movement. Nicole Dextras's remarkable photographs of frozen gowns appear to dance next to Barbara Pratt's immaculate painted homages to haute couture. Waiting in the wings is a column of Gathie Falk's shoe boxes containing twelve pairs of colourful papier mâché pumps, while one of Barb Hunt's black plasma-arc cut flat steel dresses leans on a nearby wall.

In the final gallery the visitor becomes part of a conversation about culture and gender. Showcased here are works by a number of artists who have turned to clothing to express their personal, political, and cultural identities. Stereotypical renderings of Indian chiefs and squaws, lumberjacks, fashion models, and beauty queens are deconstructed and reconfigured through kitsch, camp, and a decided roasting of Canada's colonial imperatives. Lori Blondeau's Cosmosquaw cover girl, Kent Monkman's High-Heeled Moccassins, and Janet Morton's absurdly oversized plaid lumberjack shirt (entitled Canadian Monument #2), strongly suggest that any typecasting of Canada's diverse demographic is long overdue for a makeover.

The exhibition runs until September 3, 2012. Happy Canada Day!

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