Eight Memorable Fashion Moments

By Cary O’dell

As we all know, fashion comes and…goes.  And, yet, for all its transitory properties, there comes along, once in a while, truly staggering, time-freezing incidents that forever impact not only the world of fashion, the world at large.  Fashion insiders like to give these rare occurrences the rather less-than-accurate label of “moments.”

Throughout modern fashion history there have been more than a few—the first time denim came down the runway, Halston’s introduction of ultrasuede, Galliano’s debut show (even before he joined Dior), Tom Ford’s arrival at Gucci.

And, yet, among them all, there remains a handful of times (whether we knew it at the time or not) when the world really did seem to stop and the fashion waters parted and some truly revolutionary was offered forth.

Below are, in no particular order and only in my humble opinion, fashion’s most memorable and important moments and “Moments.”

You are free to disagree….

Le smoking (1968)  by Yves Saint Laurent

YSL’s le smoking look, 1966

YSL’s le smoking look, 1966

Though incorporating elements of menswear into womenswear had been a staple of fashion dating back to Chanel’s opening of her first house in the early 1900’s and Marlene Dietrich in film in the 1930s, there was still something sleekly revolutionary when the great Yves Saint Laurent introduced his le smoking in 1966.  Inspired, obviously, by a man’s tuxedo but tailored to flatter a woman, le smoking was a new, instantly classical and stylish alternative to the “little black dress.”  At the time of its adoption, not everyone was onboard with this new masculine dressing.  Quite famously, in 1968, noted fashionista Nan Kemper was barred from entering a tony New York City eatery when she dared to show up in le smoking, complete with the jacket’s matching pants.  (Legend has it that she got around their dress code by whipping off her pants and just wearing the jacket which was just barely long enough.)  Since then, tux dressing has become a sexy and timeless trope when either paired with a white silk blouse underneath or worn over the nude.  Along with its chic elegance, le smoking also prefigured the era of androgyny that would later be so influential in music in the 1970s (think David Bowie) and 1980s (think Annie Lennox).

The Wrap Dress (1974) by Diane Von Furstenberg

The Wrap Dress, c. 1974

The Wrap Dress, c. 1974

The aristocratic looking and sounding Diane Von Furstenberg began designing clothes in 1970.  She began with a series of separates, skirts and tops, until one day she had the idea to join her wrap skirt with her signature blouse into one garment.  Made out of knitted jersey, Von Furstenberg’s first “wrap dress” appeared in 1974.  Easy to buy, fit and wear and available in a variety of colors and prints, the wrap dresses became instant best sellers; in her early days, Von Furstenberg could barely keep up with demand.  The extraordinary success of the dress has been credited to many factors.  Along with its ease and comfort, the dress was practical enough for the office but still quite feminine.  It was perfect for the new professional woman who, even if she wanted to mix it up with “the boys,” didn’t want to dress like one.  Furthermore, with more and more women delaying marriages, going to work and living on their own, self-sufficiency was the key.  The dress, put on from the back and fastened in the front, no longer required a woman to have someone around to “zip her up.”  In her memoir, “Diana:  A Signature Life,” Von Furstenberg also suggests that the dress played a role in the sexual revolution which reached its height in the 1970s:  with the garment, women could take it off as easily as they could put it on.  The dress, and its designer, became so omnipresent in the middle of the 1970s that both were featured on the cover of “Newsweek” in the summer of 1976.

Evening Gowns (c. 1952) by Charles James

Ball gowns By Charles James, photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1948

Ball gowns By Charles James, photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1948

Charles James is most, almost exclusively, renowned for his grand evening gowns.  They are like every Disney princesses’ greatest dream come to life.  The dresses often don’t even look sewn—just constructed by the placing and draping of great unbroken lengths of silk or satin.  The skirts are extravagantly full, the bodices tight, often appearing restricting.  They look extraordinary.  And their graceful movement and almost casual appearance belie the meticulous craftsmanship that went into their tailoring and infrastructure.  The American-born James showed his first collection in 1947.  He would go on to dress clients from Babe Paley to Millicent Rogers, each in superb, one-of-a-kind looks that transformed high fashion into high art.  Such voluminous use of fabric was nothing new in fashion—Mario Antoinette, anyone?—but what James did with it, and the silhouette he created in the process—created the template for a million later ball gowns, wedding dresses and prom night specials.

The Classic Chanel Suit (c. 1920) by Coco Chanel

A classic Chanel suit from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art., 1970s. metmuseum.org.

A classic Chanel suit from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art., 1970s. metmuseum.org.

No other designer in history has had a more profound impact on the way women dress than Coco Chanel.  She rescued women from the layer upon layer of Victorian dowdiness.  She streamlined their silhouette, she eliminated the corset, she introduced the idea of sportswear.  She even crafted the world’s greatest and most enduring designer fragrance.  But perhaps her greatest achievement was what has come to become called “The Chanel Suit.”  A bit boxy but still feminine, the classic suit is a skirt and jacket.  But Chanel’s genius is in the details.  A chain was originally embedded in the hem of the jacket to hold it in place even when the woman reaches above her head; the pockets on the outside o the jacket were handy for keys, a lip stick or cigarettes; and the back of each skirt is lined so that, no matter how often it is worn, no client ever “sits out” her skirt.  Made in jersey, tweed or quilted, the suits were comfortable yet extremely sturdy.  Chanel made them dressy by adding her famous trademarks—costume jewelry (gold chains and pearls), a two-toned shoe, brass buttons.  Since taking over as lead designer for the House of Chanel 30 years ago, Karl Lagerfeld has spun this core look off into a million variations.  Yet, in any incarnation, the basic suit remains modern looking and completely tasteful, something that can only be done when working from a starting point of such an incredible original achievement.

 

The “New Look” (1947) by Christian Dior

Dior’s “New Look,” 1947

Dior’s “New Look,” 1947

For fashion, it was the equivalent of the atom bomb.  Supposedly named by Carmel Snow, then the powerful editor of “Harper’s Bazaar,” Christian Dior’s luxe, wide skirt and cinched waist, which he debuted in 1947, put Paris fashion back on the map after the dark days of World War II occupation.  After more than a decade of utilitarian clothes and imposed frugality brought on by the war, Dior’s sumptuous, abundant use of fabric—sometimes yards of fabric–wrapped around the wearing in gores and cascades was alarming to the eye.  It restored luxury and a flirty femininity to women who had for too long been denied both.  Not everyone however was as taken with the style as the fashion flock.  In both France and the US, many greeted the New Look with alarm or even hostility—editorials about wastefulness were published in its wake, some wearers of the look were even attacked in the street.  In response, some designers purposely designed streamlined alternatives.  But it was not to be.  The New Look launched a new moment and resistance was futile.  The arrival of the New Look in ’47 catapulted Dior to the crest of fashion fame.  He was a legend by the end of this his first fashion show.

 

The Bikini (1946) by Jacques Heim and Louis Reard

The very first bikini, 1946

The very first bikini, 1946

If Dior and, earlier, Charles James each based their careers on ample bolts of cloth sumptuously unfurled, that was not the issue with the revolutionary bathing suit introduced by Heim, a fashion designer, and Reard, an engineer by training, in France in the early summer of 1946.  Though bikini-like garments can be seen depicted on the walls of ancient Roman villas and are in the evidence in the art of Pompeii, there was still, absolutely, something major about this bathing suit split in half and shrunken in size.  Certainly there was nothing before ever quite so revealing…certainly not worn outdoors and within polite society.  The bikini—which claimed its name from an atoll in the Marshall Island, the onetime location for nuclear bomb testing–was a daring look, yes, but it also is (and remains) something of a double-edged sword.  The bikini almost single-handedly introduced a sexual liberation and a sexism, a body-based pride (if you’ve got it, show it!) and a bit of body-based shame.  It laid the ground work for not only thousands of later flesh-revealing fashions but also for the fitness and exercise culture that would emerge almost immediately after and which still so strongly exists.  Perhaps Vreeland was right all along:  the bikini was the biggest thing since the atom bomb.

 

The Mini Skirt (c. 1955) by Mary Quant

Mary Quant in one of her own famous creations, c. 1964

Mary Quant in one of her own famous creations, c. 1964

Though it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the moment the mini was born, most fashion scholars credit its extended use and popularization to designer Mary Quant.  Quant was a Brit who made youth-oriented clothes and customized her first mini in the mid-1950s.  (One legend has it that the mini came about due to Quant’s limited finances—she could only afford to use so much fabric in each of her dress designs.)  However the mini arrived though it had a maxi effect.  Revealing that much leg was not what women—proper women!–were supposed to do.  Yet, the mini caught on by the 1960s and began being used by other designers including Courreges (who paired them with knee-high boots) and Yves Saint Laurent.  Suddenly, mod was the look.  And women, especially young women, were choosing how much they showed as they lived new more active lifestyles.  Though the mini fell out of fashion for a time in the 1970s as the midi, prairie skirts and feminism took over, the look returned, sometimes with irony attached, in the 1980s.  Today, they are a basic staple of nearly every woman’s wardrobe.

 

The Pouf Skirt (1988) by Christian Lacroix

Lacroix’s famous pouf, 1987

Lacroix’s famous pouf, 1987

It was the “pouf” heard around the world.  In 1986, French designer Christian Lacroix startled the fashion world with the debut of his lavish, puffy poof skirt.  Practically a return to the bustle of yore, the short skirt shapes were as extreme as the colors Lacroix chose for them.  They were “Dynasty” meets “Alice in Wonderland’s” Mad Tea Party.  And as if the grandiose silhouette itself wasn’t enough, Lacroix loved to embellish, toping his designs with lush embroideries, emphasized sleeves, and crazy contrasts of fabrics and prints.  And with time, they were the most sought-after looks on both sides of the Atlantic; everyone was wearing Lacroix.  But the pouf and some of Lacroix’s other trademarks did not always sit well some members of the fashion press.  Then “Vogue” editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella was a very vocal dissenter, accusing the designer of creating costumes, not clothes, and even being “anti-woman.”  Though still creating today, many believe Lacroix’s fashion moment has long since passed.  For better or worse, the Lacroix aesthetic has come to represent both the glories and the excesses of the 1980s and early ‘90s.

 

 

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Research Resource: GALLICA

Gallica is an invaluable online resource with an abundance of digitized French media, including fashion magazines such as Femina and Les Modes. Most material is keyword searchable, making it incredibly easy to locate information on your favorite designer or fashion house. Another plus, many of the images are high resolution! Start your searching here: http://gallica.bnf.fr

Some fashions from the May 1925 issue of Les Modes are featured below:

View the entire magazine here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k6106446p/f1.image

 

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On this day in fashion history… May 23, 1907



Getting ready for summer travel plans? How about taking some practical traveling advice from Vogue magazine, May 23, 1907:

“Whether an outing leads seaward or beckons towards hills and mountains, whether by rail or boat, by motor or coach, dress preparations for the traveler’s comfort and enjoyment are of the first consequence practically.”[i]

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 12.02.22 PMWhen this issue was published, Vogue was a bi-weekly society magazine targeted towards a sophisticated readership of both men and women. While the magazine had a particular emphasis on fashion, it also featured articles that would appeal to both sexes, including articles on interior design, sports, travel and a regular featured entitled “The Well Dressed Man” and “As Seen by Him.” It would not be until the magazine was purchased in 1909 by publishing magnate Condé Nast, that it would be transformed into the international powerhouse of fashion news that it is today.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 11.47.21 AM
This particular issue highlights the then-fashionable S-curve silhouette created by rigid steel boned corsetry. The corset created a dramatic silhouette often referred to as the “pouter pigeon” because of how it forced the bust to protrude forward and the hips back into a dramatic “S-curve.” It is hard to imagine wearing a corset today, but in 1907 the undergarment was de rigeur, worn by any respectable woman across the social spectrum. 

Interesting highlights from this issue include a “auto veil” from Paris, made for the still nascent transportation method of automobile riding, as well as charming ensembles intended for traveling, fishing and hunting. Any ideas for your summer wardrobe?

 

[i] “What She Wears,” Vogue, May 23, 1907, 832.

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On this day in fashion history…

On this day in fashion history, May 9, 1912, the first issue of poet Pierre Corrard’s luxury fashion almanac Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui (Fashion and manners of today) was published.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

Corrard was inspired to create the publication after observing three fashionable women on the beach: “All three were walking on the sand along the sea, and it looked like they were dancing,” Corrard wrote in the album’s Preface, “Their bodies were liberated from restraints and their dresses flourished. Each of their attitudes were worth immortalizing…three notes of color singing merrily in the tender light of evening.”[i] As a self-proclaimed “passionate admirer of women,” Corrard wanted to celebrate La Femme, and more specifically her fashionable clothing, as he believed the “Science of Fashion” was revelatory to the customs and manners of a society and thus an essential subject of study. With Modes et manières, Corrard intended to provide an annual documentation of fashion—and thus a Parisian woman’s life—as interpreted through the eyes of a single artist.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

For the inaugural issue of Modes et manières, Corrard employed the talents of fashion illustrator Georges Lepape. Lepape’s stylized renderings, which utilized flat two-dimensional space and bold blocks of color, were indicative of a new direction in fashion illustration that emphasized the emotive qualities of a garment over realistic detailing. It was a style inaugurated by illustrator Paul Iribe for Paul Poiret’s seminal fashion album Les Robes de Paul Poiret in 1908 and again in 1911, by Lepape’s own hand, in Les Choses de Paul Poiret. Lepape’s twelve magnetic renderings for Modes et manières are notably reminiscent of his work for Poiret: both works are printed in pochoir, a highly refined hand-stenciling technique, and both depict scenes of contemplative beauties in various states of leisure and languor. A caption by Corrard provides a witty narrative for each of Lepape’s illustrations, a relationship that would be maintained in all future incarnations of the publication which would similarly pair fashion and literature’s greatest luminaries: “The Painter celebrates the form and color, the Man of the verb expresses the idea,”[ii] wrote Corrard.

In total, eight albums of Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui were produced from 1912 to 1922, with a five-year hiatus due to World War One. All eight albums from the series can be found in the holdings of F.I.T.’s Gladys Marcus Library’s Department of Special Collections and FIT Archives and viewed by appointment only: http://www.fitnyc.edu/8412.asp.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

Illustration by Georges Lepape with text by Pierre Corrad from Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912.

 

[i] Pierre Corrard, Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui, Paris: Maquet, 1912, 1.

[ii] Ibid, 8.

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Clara Bow: The Rise and Fall of the Fashionable Flapper

It’s happening tomorrow! Join us for modesmodernity_front_revised3-31

Clara Bow: The Rise and Fall of the Fashionable Flapper

byDanielle Morrin

Bow, Clara (1928)  Paramount / The Kobal Collection

Bow, Clara (1928)
Paramount / The Kobal Collection

Clara Bow (1905-1965) became a Hollywood film star by the mid-1920s.  Bow was the embodiment of the decade’s zeitgeist, a “flapper,” a modern young woman pushing boundaries of expected feminine dress and manner, but her lifestyle, so modern at the time of her newly blossoming film career, became outdated as it progressed into the early 1930s.

In 1923, not long after winning Motion Picture Magazine’s Fame and Fortune contest, which led to a small part in Beyond the Rainbow (1922), Bow left the slums of Brooklyn for Hollywood. She plunged into the new way of life that included frequent reveling, living in the moment, and the free expression of sexuality involving many boyfriends and lovers rather than a single, protective husband.  Bow’s persona shone through her films, perhaps none more so than It (1927), which attracted masses of fans while solidifying her image as the ultimate flapper. Her short hemlines, untamed red bob, and variety of hats and flowing head scarves, both on and off screen, were influenced by the fashions of the time, but her star power also further influenced the flapper image itself.  Fans were attracted to Bow’s lively, carefree personality and her naturalistic, fluid approach to acting.  She was the silent screen It Girl– strikingly different from the actresses of previous generations.

As the Jazz Age gave way to the Great Depression, so too did the tastes of film audiences.  Once viewed as exciting on and off screen, Bow came to be seen as excessive, irresponsible, and altogether passé.   Paralleling the rise of “talkie” film technology during the early 1930s, these changes regenerated a new perspective on what it meant to be a modern woman.  Bow’s career spanned only 1922 through 1933, but during that time she made fifty-seven films, fifteen films in 1925 alone, and undoubtedly cemented a lasting impression within an eleven year period before her exciting, modern lifestyle turned obsolete. This paper will trace Clara Bow’s rise and fall as a modern emblem of the 1920s and examine the career and era of this once fashionable flapper woman.

Danielle J. Morrin received her B.P.S. in Fashion Merchandising from Marist College and interned at Winterthur Museum before coming to FIT.  She is focusing on Curatorial Studies but has also completed Advanced Conservation I.  She has interned in the Curatorial Dept. at Museum at FIT, as a collections management/archive intern with The Wardrobe and Calvin Klein, and in Collections Management Dept. in the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This spring she was one of the curators of the student-run exhibition Beyond Rebellion: Fashioning the Biker Jacket, and is interning with the Costume Institute in the Curatorial Department.
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Modesty in Fashion: Dress Reform in Modern Orthodox Judaism

Tomorrow is the symposium held by the students of the Fashion and Textiles Studies program at FIT. Here is another fascinating paper that will be presented, this time by Paula Sim, a contributor to this blog. We hope to see you there. The event is free and open to the public.

modesmodernity_front_revised3-31

 Modesty in Fashion: Dress Reform in Modern Orthodox Judaism

By Paula M. Sim

Jewish dress codes prohibit women from wearing flashy attire and tight silhouettes in order to discourage the male gaze.The entire torso, shoulders, and upper arms must be covered, with the utmost care given to conceal the collarbone and elbows. Skirts rather than pants are required in order to avoid accentuation of the thighs and must be long enough to hide the knees.For further coverage, tights should be worn at all times. These body parts are considered erotic and must remain covered at all time unless in privacy with her husband. Married women are required to cover their hair following a separate complex system of guidelines. Although men follow their own set of laws concerning dress, it is a display of religion rather than a gesture of modesty. While the Talmud, the written Jewish law, commands modesty in appearance and conduct, these specific restrictions are an unwritten set of standards that are subject to interpretation by all Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews assert positive value to interacting with contemporary society and blend religious values with secular culture. I will examine a few ways in which modernity manifests in Jewish women’s dress.

Two Chabad Lubavitch sisters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn dress-up like their religious friends the Satmar from Williamsburg, also in Brooklyn to make fun of them for the Jewish carnival, the festivity of Purim. April 2013, Brooklyn, New York. Photograph from the book Daughters of The King, by  Federica Valabrega. Published by BurnBooks on November, 2013

Two Chabad Lubavitch sisters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn dress-up like their religious friends the Satmar from Williamsburg, also in Brooklyn to make fun of them for the Jewish carnival, the festivity of Purim. April 2013, Brooklyn, New York. Photograph from the book Daughters of The King, by Federica Valabrega. Published by BurnBooks on November, 2013

 

 

 

 

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A Well Controlled Body: Constructing The New American Woman of Fashion 1900-1940

Two more days…. Saturday is the annual symposium of the Fashion and Textiles Studies program at FIT. Here is one more paper that will be presented. We hope to see you there. The event is free and open to the public.

modesmodernity_front_revised3-31

A Well Controlled Body: Constructing The New American Woman of Fashion 1900-1940

By Virginia Wilking

Josephine Baker 1930 Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Josephine Baker 1930
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Although women of the modern age enjoy greater freedom and more options than their nineteenth century counterparts they are also under more pressure as cultural forces have made the female body into the focus for much of the social change of the twentieth century.

In this paper I explore the ways in which the body in motion captured the essence of modern life. Images of three influential women during the early decades of the twentieth century will illustrate the importance of movement as it related to modern fashion and the ideal form: Isadora Duncan, Josephine Baker and Joan Crawford. While each woman’s story is uniquely her own, they share one common theme: the relationship of the way their body looks– its size and shape, sexual attractiveness, its exposure both dressed and undressed – to a modern consumer culture where the body has become inextricably linked to personal identity and self worth. To explore the changing ideals and judgments about women’s bodies in the modern age I use the writings and imagery found in cinema, photographs and popular publications as core evidence.

 

Virginia Wilking graduated from Boston University with a BA in cultural anthropology and gender studies. During her time in the program at FIT, she has worked on archival projects for designers Reed Krakoff, Narciso Rodriguez and, most recently, the Ralph Lauren Library. Her thesis will focus on religious dress restrictions within the Muslim fashion community.
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