Have you heard about Europeana Fashion yet? It’s an attempt to the take the fashion-related collections from a number of European museums and put them into one big database. Sounds cool right? Well it is!
Speaking of auctions, as I did in my last post, reminded me that I occasionally like to troll through auction sites for images. It’s a great way to find new-to-you portraits and sculpture, and sometimes even extant clothing.
Here’s a few things that I’ve found lately that I liked — almost all 18th century, of course! Because that’s how I roll.
Be afraid. Be very, VERY afraid. For I have decided that it’s time to perform at Dickens Fair, something I haven’t done for a number of years. And while previously I played scum, this time around I’m joining the Adventurers’ Club, who portray real historical people — the intelligentsia of Victorian England.
When it comes to costume/fashion history books, I am a sucker. Even though I work in a university library, I still need to own ALL THE BOOKS! With that in mind, here are some recently published and forthcoming books that I am excited about. (It feels like it’s been a while since there’s been a decent number of costume books to be excited about, so, yay!)
Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV: Intepreting the Art of Elegance — I literally just purchased this one, and I can’t wait until it shows up. I’ve only dabbled in 17th century costume, but it forms a basis of the ongoing research I’ve been doing on Turkish influence on 18th century fashion, so I’m looking forward to both reading their analysis and hopefully seeing some fashion prints that are new to me. It was just published at the beginning of this month. From the book’s description,
“Between 1678 and 1710, Parisian presses printed hundreds of images of elegantly attired men and women dressed in the latest mode, and posed to display every detail of their clothing and accessories. Long used to illustrate dress of the period, these fashion prints have been taken at face value and used uncritically. Drawing on perspectives from art history, costume history, French literature, museum conservation and theatrical costuming, the essays in this volume explore what the prints represent and what they reveal about fashion and culture in the seventeenth century. With more than one hundred illustrations, Fashion Prints in the Age of Louis XIV constitutes not only an innovative analysis of fashion engravings, but also one of the most comprehensive collections of seventeenth-century fashion images available in print.”
Style and Satire: Fashion in Print 1777-1927 is from the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is all I need to know. Plus, as well know, satires and caricatures can be such great sources for fashion history — see, for example, my article on 18th century rumps! Also just released.
“From the sky-high coiffures of Marie Antoinette to Victorian hoop skirts, from the sheer gowns of Pride and Prejudice era to the flat-chested 1920s flapper, Style and Satire tells the story of European fashion and its most extreme trends through lavish fashion plates and the glorious satirical prints they inspired. Beautifully printed, hand-colored fashion plates first appeared in magazines and for sale individually in the late 18th century. At the same time (and often by the same artists), satirical prints gloried in the absurdities of fashion, presenting an alternative, often humorously exaggerated, vision of the fashionable ideal. Both forms were a product of the same print market, and both documented modern life. Lavishly illustrated, Style and Satire presents a witty and original history of fashion trends.”
Gilded New York: Design, Fashion, and Society — I’m going to NYC in late October, and this is one of the exhibitions I’m really excited to see. I went through a phase of reading about all of the Gilded Age heiresses who went to England (like Consuelo Vanderbilt), so I’ve got a soft spot for the whole late 19th century New York high society thang. I’ll definitely report on the exhibit once I’ve seen it!
“The Gilded Years of the late nineteenth century were a vital and glamorous era in New York City as families of great fortune sought to demonstrate their new position by building vast Fifth Avenue mansions filled with precious objects and important painting collections and hosting elaborate fetes and balls. This is the moment of Mrs. Astor’s “Four Hundred,” the rise of the Vanderbilts and Morgans, Maison Worth, Tiffany & Co., Duveen, and Allard. Concurrently these families became New York’s first cultural philanthropists, supporting the fledgling Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera, among many institutions founded during this period. A collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York, Gilded New York examines the social and cultural history of these years, focusing on interior design and decorative arts, fashion and jewelry, and the publications that were the progenitors of today’s shelter magazines.”
The House of Worth: Portrait of an Archive — I’d love to hear from anyone who has purchased this one. It sounds amazing — images from the House of Worth archive at the V&A, with details about designs and fabrics. However, I see in the reviews that most of the images are in black & white, which doesn’t sound as exciting. Has anyone seen this? What did you think?
“Legendary British-born designer Charles Frederick Worth (1825–1895), with enormous talent for design and promotion, built his fashion house into an empire during the last quarter of the 19th century—the first business of its kind with global reach. His company, through his heirs, endured until 1952, when his great-grandson retired. Profusely illustrated, this astonishing book explores Worth’s success in the realm of haute couture after 1890. Hundreds of photographs selected from the V&A’s unique archive of more than 7,000 official house records capture the Worth style and offer valuable insights into the daily routine at Maison Worth in Paris. Images and text tell the intriguing story of these creations, providing historical context and describing Worth’s international clientele of elegant women of wealth and power.”
Glasgow Museums: Seventeenth-Century Costumes has been on my wishlist for a while now, and at $22 I really should just buy it, because, 17th century! I am super excited that it sounds like they’re planning to publish more books about their costume collection. One reviewer clarifies that the book features mostly “Waistcoats, coifs, bags, hats, gloves” with a focus on “surface embellishments.”
“Rich silks embellished with needlework were used to create expensive, high quality garments, affordable only for the wealthy. Yet their very exclusivity, has meant that few items have lasted through the centuries, many having fallen victim to reuse and re-cycling as other garments and household items. Several rare and beautiful pieces do however survive in Glasgow Museums’ collections. This book is the first in the series of publications about Glasgow Museums’ European Costume collection. Designed to appeal to costume and embroidery enthusiasts and social historians alike, it features new photography and the fruits of recent research, revealing the intricate details of exquisite embroidery.”
The Impossible Wardrobe: Highlights from Three Centuries of French Fashion at the Galliera Museum. The Musee Galliera has a huge, amazing costume collection on the level of the V&A. However, they don’t show a permanent collection; they only do special exhibitions. So I’m really excited to see what gets featured in this book. I saw the Modes en Miroir exhibit (which was about 18th century fashion in France and the Netherlands), and it was really amazing. So I have high hopes! Note that this doesn’t come out until January 2015.
Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette — Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell has published a number of scholarly articles on 18th century dress that are seriously fabulous, plus she’s contributed to a number of books and exhibitions (including LACMA’s Fashioning Fashion). Plus, most of my academic research is in late 18th century French fashion. So, I am THRILLED that she is coming out with this book. THRILLED. And I’m not happy about having to wait until April 2015 for it to come out!
“This engrossing book chronicles one of the most exciting, controversial, and extravagant periods in the history of fashion: the reign of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in 18th-century France. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell offers a carefully researched glimpse into the turbulent era’s sophisticated and largely female-dominated fashion industry, which produced courtly finery as well as promoted a thriving secondhand clothing market outside the royal circle. She discusses in depth the exceptionally imaginative and uninhibited styles of the period immediately before the French Revolution, and also explores fashion’s surprising influence on the course of the Revolution itself. 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 presents a compelling anthology of trends, manners, and personalities from the era, accompanied by gorgeous fashion plates, portraits, and photographs of rare surviving garments. Drawing upon documentary evidence, previously unpublished archival sources, and new information about aristocrats, politicians, and celebrities, this book is an unmatched study of French fashion in the late 18th century, providing astonishing insight, a gripping story, and stylish inspiration.”
The conversation on my movie review of Amadeus sparked an interesting discussion about early inspirations for costuming, and Lylassandra said, “I would LOVE a blog post about which movies (and other experiences) first inspired your love of costuming.” I think the “other experiences” is worth chatting about, but that’s enough to be another post… but sure, I’d love to yammer about early costume movies!
Of course, the first thing I did was go through my movie reviews and some online lists of costume movies to try to remember which ones had an impact on me. I’ll confess right here that I was born in 1974, so I was probably too young to see Amadeus or Dangerous Liaisons when they first came out.
The first thing that came to mind was all of the not-quite-there inspirations, so the beginning of this post might seem a little flimsy, but then I’ll get to the knocked-me-over ones at the end, so stick with it!
For sure, Gone With the Wind was an early one. I remember my mother buying me a VHS boxed set, and I definitely watched it a number of times. I remember LOVING the huge crinoline skirts, but being frustrated by all the short sleeves and weirdly 1890s elements in what should have been the bustle years. And I was too young to think Rhett Butler was terribly attractive (he just seemed kind of greasy), and I thought Ashley was super annoying. So it was always a less than satisfying watch! I will say that I hadn’t watched this for years, when about a year ago our local art deco movie theater showed it. I went to see it and apparently I am now the right age to appreciate Rhett Butler, because HOT DAMN! I was swooning!
I’m sure I didn’t see My Brilliant Career (1979) when it first came out, since I would have been about 5, but I must have seen it when I was relatively young because it is one that has always stuck with me… probably more so for the extremely literate and fascinating main character, but also for her ugly duckling-ness. I remember being fascinated that she COULD go a different route… This is a movie I think too few people have seen. If you at all like strong heroines and complex stories, WATCH THIS.
I definitely watched and rewatched Far and Away (1992) a number of times, mostly because it was a historical romance. I always thought it was cheesy, and I’ve always been irritated by Tom Cruise and loved Nicole Kidman. The costume era wasn’t one that really thrilled me, but again, romance! History! Costumes! Hey, I was just graduating high school…
Other ones I specifically remember are:
- Orlando (1992) — I think the artiness of it confused me, but I loved the huge white 18th century dress:
- Age of Innocence (1993) was visually and costume-wise stunning, although the overwhelming theme of restraint made it less-than-perfect to me. I do remember thinking that I could NEVER make a costume as fabulous and complex as the bustle gowns worn in the ball scene.
- Interview With a Vampire (1994) had some great elements but Tom Cruise was a big wet blanket on the whole thing, and there weren’t enough (grown up) female characters featured for me. I did love Madeleine’s dress:
- Queen Margot (1994) got a little too rambly and depressing in the second half, and I had done enough renfaire to know that all the slutty no-chemise/partlets and open bodices weren’t correct… but I’ve always loved her redheaded lady-in-waiting’s look (okay, mostly the hair):
- I definitely remember seeing Little Women (1994) in the theater and loving it — I’ve loved the book since I was a kid, and reread it multiple times — but it’s not really a shiny movie. The highlights were Meg March’s dressed up ballgown, and adult Amy’s bustle dresses:
- Portrait of a Lady (1996) blew me away costume-wise, but again, a depressing story that I probably wasn’t old enough to really appreciate. I would very much like to take a walk in the rain in a bustle gown along with Isabel Archer and Madame Merle.
So what DID do it for me? What imprinted fundamentally on my consciousness? Hands down, it has to be Merchant/Ivory.
I saw Jefferson in Paris (1995) IN Paris, on my very first trip to France. I had been studying abroad in Scotland for a semester, and afterwards I did a whirlwind two weeks in Western Europe with a college friend. We arrived in Paris and relatively early on, wandered down the Champs-Elysees and saw posters for a costume movie, and I was sold. I remember LOVING everything about the French characters, but of course, the film tries (with only limited success) to explore some darker elements, and that limited success dampened things for me a bit. But dear god, the lushness of the costumes — not just great dresses, but great wigs! Hats (shout out to Mela Hoyt-Heydon, who I think made them)! Accessories! Amazing locations! It was an era I didn’t really know or have much chance to encounter, but probably my love of the 18th century dates from this movie. If only the movie had been focused on Maria Cosway, I think I’d die and go to heaven. Greta Scaachi is an amazing actress, and those shots of her in the Opera scene — just, whoa. (That’s a real fantasy of mine, going to the opera in 18th century costume, but of course I’d want everyone to be in 18th century costume!). I also think (looks-wise) that their casting of Marie-Antoinette is probably as close to the real thing as we’ll ever get. And I modeled my first Lumieres character on the small character of Adrienne de Lafayette (bottom picture).
But more than anything, I think Howards End (1992) and, even more, A Room With a View (1985), were the early epitomes of Amazing Costume Movies. Particularly Room — I wanted (and still want) to dive into that world and just stay there. No matter that it’s not really a costume era that makes my toes curl, but it has Travel! Romance! Humor! Tweedy English locations! “Old world” Italian locations! Stiff upper lips! Intimate family scenes! I love so much about both movies as movies — interesting stories, complex characters, etc. But the costumes in particular were SO well done. They weren’t just gorgeous, they were gorgeous AND lived in. I felt like these were real people living real lives in real clothes, they hadn’t just grabbed something off the theater costume shop rack and put it on. The hair. The accessories. The underpinnings. The hats. The veils. I think it’s the casual day wear that gets me even more than the fancy evening stuff. I love seeing Charlotte walking in her suit. Lucy playing badminton in her blouse and skirt. Mom cutting the roses in the wind and being irritated by Charlotte. Cecil reading terrible fiction (is he not the epitome of PONCY?) while Lucy tries to ignore George. Charlotte and Eleanor sitting in the poppies, while Charlotte hints at some past amours in exotic Shropshire. Eleanor striding about Florence, taking no guff. Every time I go to Florence, I have to go to the various piazzas where they shot, especially the fountain where they tried to revive the dead guy.
And now I can’t remember who it was, but I do recall bonding with someone when we agreed that we’d both tried to get our hair to look like the Italian girl who gets kicked out of the carriage:
Howards End is also up there, although not quite as high (no Italy, no happy romantic ending). I adore the country locations in particular — the bluebells, the Howards End house itself. All the same things about the costuming grabs me — how detailed and ornate and yet lived in it all feels. This is an era that I do like more than the pouter pigeon, and Margaret’s engagement party and lunch suit in particular are the ones I love. Again, just a world I would love to dive into.
It’s funny, because Edwardian never was and (probably) never will be a key costume era for me. But seeing these worlds come to life so vividly, and seeing historical costumes that were really clothes, just blew me away.
So, what about you? What were the formative costume movies for you?
Have you seen the trailers for three exciting costume movies that are coming soon?
The Invisible Woman trailer — Charles Dickens’s (Ralph Fiennes) relationship with his mistress (Felicity Jones). Altho I find mid-Victorian a total snooze, the costumes look very accurate. Costumes designed by Michael O’Connor. Coming to the UK in February 2014, US will probably be sometime after that.
Maleficent teaser trailer (only a teaser, but it looks great!) — the story of Sleeping Beauty told from the evil fairy’s perspective, starring Angelina Jolie. Costumes by Anna B. Sheppard. Will be released in May 2014.
Belle trailer — the one I’m most excited about! Based on a true story, about a mixed race girl who grows up with an aristocratic English family in the 18th c. Costumes by Anushia Nieradzik. Also coming in May 2014.
Wondering what other costume movies are in production/coming soon? Check out my Upcoming Movies page.
It’s been a crazy busy fall, what with work being busy plus TONS of Bella Donna performances. Which accounts for my lack of posting around here, plus any court dress emails I haven’t responded to!
I did make something new, crazy me. Bella Donna performs every year at the PEERS Vampire Ball, a fabulous event that is always right after Halloween. It’s in a gorgeous hall and everyone brings out their gothy/historical best costumes. We generally do two song sets of vampiric songs — we rewrite a lot of our English 16th & 18th c. songs into vampire lyrics, and this year we performed Thousand Years by Christina Perri (used in the most recent Twilight movie) and Love Song for a Vampire by Annie Lennox (from the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie).
Usually we all wear whatever we’re in the mood for, but this year Karen had the crazy idea that we should do a group costume and go as the various characters from the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula movie (the one directed by Coppola). This was relatively crazy given how busy we all were, but it was such a good idea, and some of us had things already on hand that would work…
I went as one of the three brides of Dracula, along with Shawna and Tara. Shawna and I bought ivory and gold cotton saris from Utsav Fashion, and I whipped them both into basic dresses. For Shawna’s, we copied the dress worn by the redheaded bride in the movie; for mine, I just futzed until I liked it.
Here’s the inspiration:
Part of what made the costume seem do-able was that it was so simple, but of course you know me and hair — if it doesn’t have complicated hair, then I’m not interested! So I immediately decided I wanted Monica Belluci’s fabulous high/braided hairstyle with cool headdress and veil. So I bought a REALLY long wig and a bunch of half-braided pieces in a slightly darker color than I normally wear and got to work. Things were going smoothly until I had to go on a work trip and left my bag that had all the braided hair, the headdress, my jewelry pliers, and my IPAD in a taxi. I WAS SO PEEVED. Multiple phone calls later, no bag, and I had to reorder all of that stuff. Oh, plus the GORGEOUS vintage fan I was about to restore. I am still the most bummed about that.
After that crisis… I made a wire form for the high portion of the wig, and then handsewed individual braids to it. You’re thinking this sounds like it took a lot of time. Yep! I finally had to give up and accept that the back would be covered by the veil (a length of silk/metallic organza), and just bobby pin/roughly sew the braid ends down in back. The headdress was made from various jewelry findings from Fire Mountain, plus a vintage Indian bullion applique.
So that, plus some custom-made fangs (yay! I’ve wanted some forever!) and jewelry, and we ended up looking like this:
I also managed to talk my husband Michael into coming (he loves Halloween, but the last few years he’s flaked out on this event). To join in the group, he wanted to go as Renfield:
I told him I could make his straightjacket for him, but he’d have to iron all the pleats into place because I didn’t have time to do it myself. He bought the fabric, dyed it, and did all the pleating, and then I draped the straightjacket and hack sewed it together (thankfully it didn’t need to fit well or look well made!). He then spent hours distressing it in the backyard while I napped! Karen helped him achieve crazy hair, and he looked pretty great even tho we weren’t able to find him any good glasses:
Beyond that, we had Jenn as Mina in a gorgeous red bustle ballgown that she banged out the week before the ball, Karen as Lucy in her orange wafting-through-the-garden ensemble, Paul as young/hot Dracula, and Liam as Van Helsing. All in all, I’m impressed what we came up with, and bonus — I think the colors on the singing group worked really well together, three of us in ivory/gold and the other two in orange and red!
You can see all of my pictures from that evening on Flickr, if you’re so inclined.