Art for Fashion’s sake!

LEONOR Fini, the avant-garde artist who Christian Dior exhibited in the gallery he ran in early 1930s France, before becoming a Fashion designer, is the inspiration behind his label’s current haute couture collection.

Surrealism and the dreams of women are appropriate for Dior’s new Maestra, Maria Grazia Chiuri’s 2018 Spring designs.  Chiuri is said to be fascinated by how Fini used clothes and extravagant headdresses to “produce” her identity.

“She used her image to be regal and powerful. Surrealism speaks about dreams and the unconscious, and often about women’s bodies. It’s very close to fashion,” Chiuri tells us.

She is using Surrealist symbolism—the black-and-white checkerboard runway, and the bird cages and faux plaster casts suspended over it, to frame her collection. Stephen Jones delicate eye masks are in homage to Peggy Guggenheim. Guggenheim also  exhibited Fini in her 1943 show, ‘Exhibition of 31 Women Artists.’

Speaking of the difficulty women have to be taken seriously, Chiuri comments on why solemn black is chosen by designers and the MeToo campaigners. However her feminism allows her to move on, “We have to think about dreaming,” she suggests. “In a way, it [haute couture] is our business. But if you never dream, you don’t think that something negative can change.”

We need to talk about beauty! A tribute to a man I didn’t meet.

THERE is no slick sign for genius or beauty so Peter Chang is described as a 21st century Fabergé.  His output is far away from the Russian craftsmen’s creations as is possible to imagine.  They did both make objects which could be worn on the body.  Fabergés,’ from gems and precious metals for the Russian Imperial family; Chang’s, out of found materials for Fashion models!

I might have met Peter Chang.  My friend Anita Clarke, part of the Art scene in Liverpool from his days in the city, knew him and told me of his death, this month, at the age of 72. He was one of the Liverpool artists involved in Pop Art and Music in the 60s and 70s.

Chang’s fabrics were modern, his creations avant garde;  his skills ancient, painstaking.  Transforming tiny fragments of brightly coloured acrylic into intricate, immaculate curved brooches or bangles; spiralling, organic shapes with the odd fin, horn or pompom, is long, hard, and, it transpired, dangerous work.

He never used much in the way of machinery, believing he had more control with the hand, using planes, rasps, needle files, sandpaper and polish. However, his technique of building up layers of resin and, over years before masks were common, breathing in the fumes, damaged his lungs, a tragic price for his fabulous work.

PeterChang

Chang trained as both sculptor and printmaker. After a first degree in art and graphic design at Liverpool from 1963-66, he left for Paris to study printmaking at the famous Hayter Printmaking Atelier, followed by a postgraduate degree in sculpture and printmaking at The Slade, London.  After years working on sculptural projects, interiors and furniture design, he turned to jewellery in the late 1970s, first making earrings for his wife, Barbara Santos-Shaw, head of printed textiles at Glasgow School of Art.

Outlandish, outrageous, extravagant, witty and bizarre; his influences from Pop Art visible but with the sense of opulence from Art in China and Japan. He was the shy genius whose smaller works might take 400 hours to make.

1987Braacelet

A Chang bracelet on display, from 1987, the decade which saw Rifat Ozbek including the artist’s glorious pieces in his spectacular catwalk shows.

As a top rank international artist, Chang’s work is in the collection of museums in Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, China, Hawaii, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, in New York’s Metropolitan, the Smithsonian, Musee des Arts Decoratifs Montreal, Graves Art Gallery Sheffield, British Council, National Museum of Scotland. Widely collected in America, he was awarded the 1995 Jerwood Prize for “lasting significance and daring brilliance”

 

Peter Chang has said, “Object-making is a non-verbal attempt at balancing the intellect with the intuitive,” leaving the rest of us to conjure with ideas of beauty and genius.  This may go someway towards explaining his mysterious gift for magical transformations through art and technique.   “Like all fine art, Peter Chang’s work provokes an intense physical response: a compulsion to touch, a need to smile and wonder. His unique objects also project an unusual wit and humour”, says Alyson Pollard, curator of Metalwork and Glass at the National Museums Liverpool.  He once told her, “I like to incorporate a bit of fun: spice it up. People take things too seriously.”

The day after his death, art transporters collected work to ship to Rome where his show opened on November 14 at the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XX1 Secolo.

 

The death of maestro Azzedine Alaïa

¨ Fashion will last forever. It will exist always. It will exist in its own way in each era. I live in the moment. It’s interesting to know the old methods. But you have to live in the present moment. ¨Azzedine Alaia

Alaïa, the French Tunisian artist has died at his home in Paris. He is thought of as a sculptor rather than a designer, although his muse and inspiration came from a lasting love of Fashion.

He was enchanted by the way clothes looked, reading ‘Vogue’ as a boy. By pretending to be older than he was, he attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis, where he studied sculpture, and began working as a dressmaker before moving to Paris in 1957, at first as a tailleur for Dior, then with Guy Laroche and later Thierry Mugler.

Writing of his death, at the age of 77, the French weekly, Le Point, tells of his ‘prodigious talent,’ and Fashion’s ‘insatiable appetite for his designs;’ making him popular for decades. And how his skills at cutting allowed ‘idiosyncratic takes on classic silhouettes,’ for his designs to become the ‘aspirational zenith for many’.

He opened his first atelier in his Rue de Bellechasse apartment in the late 1970s, from which he dressed his private clientele, which included Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Louise Lévêque de Vilmorin and Greta Garbo.

In 1980 he produced his first ready-to-wear collection, which was championed by the then doyennes of fashion, Melka Tréanton of Depeche Mode and Nicole Crassat of French Elle, who both regularly featured his work in their respective magazines.

By 1988 there were Alaïa boutiques in Beverly Hills and New York. He was dubbed the “King of Cling” by Suzy Menkes! During the mid-’90s Alaïa partially retired from the fashion scene  after the death of his twin sister. He continued to cater for a private clientele and enjoyed success with his ready-to-wear lines.

Alaia

Seen holding his two Yorkshire terriers, Patapouf and Wabo, Alaia  is pictured walking in a Paris street with model Frederique van der Wal, wearing his creation, a black leather zippered dress.  (Don’t you adore her see-through pumps?)

Alaïa was the subject of a major retrospective at Rome’s illustrious Villa Borghese, Couture/Sculpture in 2015.  Three decades of his gowns were shown with masterpieces by respected artists, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Titian. He is celebrated as the inventor of ‘body-con,’ and his work does not suffer from being compared to these earlier Italian masters.

Disobedient Bodies!

TODAY we caught JW Anderson’s exhibition, ‘Disobedient Bodies,’ at the Barbara Hepworth, Wakefield. Very soon I shall be sending off for one of his jumpers but I need to tell you a little story first!!

Anderson has curated an eclectic show making exciting links between styles we currently wear close to our hearts and body shapes from works by Hepworth and Henry Moore, his favourites I’m told.

Then something happened. A two year old girl in tasteful pink, walking confidently between exhibits, suddenly caught sight of my top! She cried out twice, making a slight terrified sound! I said to her father, a step behind her, “My Vivienne Westwood’s frightened her!” We both laughed. It’s good to know the old girl can still hack it!

Hepworth

Below Anderson’s international Loewe collection next to Barbara Hepworth plasters. Children are encouraged to play with giant knitwear hanging 20feet in the air and students are invited to design their own ranges, shown next to Issey Miyake models. And everywhere happy  babies, toddlers and absorbed teenagers, mostly unaware of frightening punk clowns displayed on avid art lovers!

Loewe_Hanro

A Suitable Case for Treatment

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.

I’m not a cougar but Christopher Breward’s latest book celebrating the glorious and everyday charms of ‘The Suit,’ makes me see how a predatory woman might feel!

On many of the pages I fall in love again and again!

Breward sets the suit in its commanding history as an important marker inspiring new ways of looking at the power-hungry, the lover, the elegant, through their lives at home, in trade, on travel and in the movies.

The suit has survived hardly modified over generations, worn by men and women, ‘politicians, estate agents, bankers, rabbis, courtroom defendants, wedding grooms’.

The author’s own wedding outfit, now in the V&A, was worn for a civil partnership ceremony  with James Brook on 18 August 2006.  Christopher’s from Kilgour on Saville Row with Jasper Conran shirt, while James’ tailored wool-blend pinstripe by Timothy Everest, for Marks and Spencer are included in the museum’s collections, reflecting the suit’s enduring appeal.

Taking his lead from Adolf Loos, the Modernist ‘suitophile’ who compared the garment to a classical temple, Breward considers its form, function and style across the decades. Thinking ‘the smart flashiness of the soldier’s get-up takes us only so far in understanding the evolution of the modern suit,’ he encourages us to consider the dinginess of English cities when ‘darkness inevitably rubbed off on the man’s suit and its status in everyday life.’

Romping through the centuries he notes how working men’s solid woollen jackets and trousers stood for stronger values than a nineteenth century clerk’s off-the-peg garb, although it it did represent technological advances.

Turning to advice given for successful dressing, he shows how pundits had often suggested conservative, appropriate, two pieces to make a statement, as  novel alternative modes of dress were appearing. In the midst of the flowery Hippies in the 70s and Punk-Goths in the 80s, the monochrome model survived in the service of industry and commerce.

When nepotism and old school ties were superseded by strategic and technological brilliance, as open routes to  lucrative City jobs, the suit became more valuable than ever as a leveller in the market place. Men’s retailers know that the price of a suit is geared to match exactly a week’s wage. So from the 80s on, from the high street to Savile Row, customers would be spending between £2,000 and £10,000 to be kitted out.

When the global crash came in 2008, it had been heralded by informal dress into the worlds of banking and high finance in the 90s and 2000s; seeming to reflect immorality and the rise of greed. Disgraced workers were seen leaving their offices uniformly wearing pastel sportswear on television news channels!

City slickers and bar bound lawyers insist the suit is a sign of distinction and power in the professions despite calls to dress down or man-up for our digital age.  Breward, now a tweeds and jeans-wearing academic, hopes the suit will persist for hundreds more years; for as long as the civilised values it represents are around.

Glass coaches, diamond tiaras and blue jeans

Cinema Fashionista

Fashion’s power probably reached its zenith when Kate Middleton married the heir to the British dynastic throne of the United Kingdom in April 2011.  Prince William had fallen in love with her, it is said, as she paraded down the catwalk at a charity Fashion show in their shared university town of St. Andrew’s, near Edinburgh, in Scotland.  The signs of the harem had transmitted themselves to the virile young royal.

There is a Cinderella quality to this story and clothes played their part towards this happy ending.  Not that Kate Middleton had set many fires, or brushed many hearths, but she now  rides in glass coaches and wears diamond tiaras.

Her days at boarding school mixing with the Home Counties crowd, and Sloane Rangers set, put her on the right track. She’s an interesting mix of American preppy and English Burberry.  Her love of the outdoors means she is…

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Gathering Moss…

A match made in Britain...
A match made in Britain…

A debate on Kate Moss stirs strange passions.  Young women either love or, a few conservative detractors, hate her.  British ‘Vogue’ in May is ecstatic over the continuing success of our British Fashion models, whether from the landed gentry or the street.

Moss, featured on the cover, is placed with other contemporary model successes and the long-running story of the Brits as a ‘punk nation!’

For Harrods and House of Fraser in 'Grazia'
For Harrods and House of Fraser in ‘Grazia’

Writer Chloe Fox says, “we’re constantly challenging notions of beauty. Kate Phelan, the stylist and ‘Vogue’ contributing editor believes, “Our cultural heritage is hugely influential. We constantly challenge the norm and the fashion industry wants to harness that spirit.”

Kate Moss has hit the zeitgeist over decades, a heroin waif in the eighties, the face of London in the 1990s, high street sensation Topshop, and currently for Kering’s wild boy, Alexander McQueen.

A Business of Fashion story which is really a best kept secret is how the international Fashion industry has come to rely on her neat body, outsider ID and perpendicular cheek bones.

She has been modelling for the rising Italian star Liu.Jo since 2011, from when its already stratospheric success has continued, doubling its number of employees worldwide each year.  With La Moss as their ‘face’ they sell across the classes, from city department stores and on-line, to Europe, the far and near East and Russia.

Celebrating the Italian Fashion show opening at the V&A, this week, Colin McDowell, making the important point that it’s really all about the fabrics and the clothes, puts Italian Fashion’s centuries long success down to its heritage and pride-in-making.

A curious anomaly could be that it’s a British teenage rebel performer who is now at the heart of its continuing fascino.

First published in ‘What Would Roland Barthes say?”