Sunday, 20 August 2017

Anna Sui at the Fashion and Textile Museum

As well as Balenciaga, my recent London trip involved going to lots of other exhibitions; A Handful of Dust at the Whitechapel Gallery, Chris Ofili at the National Gallery (thanks to Sue Carter for telling me about that one) and, erm, one on plywood (I know, I know, please don’t judge me!). But the only other one I’m going to post about is The World of Anna Sui at the Fashion and Textile Museum.

At the entrance

“The World of” is an appropriate title, because what really came across was the designer’s overall vision; an aesthetic which carried across all of the work on display, regardless of which collection it came from. The main hall was set out in the style of an Anna Sui boutique; black lacquered furniture, Tiffany-style lamps, Art Nouveau swirls, and mannequins with papier maché heads. There was even a fake palm tree from a catwalk show!

Boots and accessories in a lacquer cabinet

Lots of purple, red and black

The palm tree

The clothes were arranged into “Anna’s Archetypes”; characters or eras which represented the themes which have been present throughout her career.

'Punk', with 'Grunge' just visible on the left, and 'Mod' on the right

I loved the flowery headdress in 'Nomad'

'Retro', with a mostly 1940s look

Needless to say, I particularly like 'Retro', especially the hats!

Three different looks with straw, flowers and veiling


James Coviello designs all Anna Sui's hats

Suit in 'Androgyny'

I really liked this embroidered dress from the 'Mod' archetype, I was just sorry that so little of it was visible. My first embroidery project in primary school sewing was a design (and colours) very similar to this!

Embroidered shift dress

The upstairs display was more about accessories, and the design process.

Lion and Butterfly caps

A long display showed the mood boards which Sui creates for each group within a collection, alongside a completed outfit.

Mood boards

Two boards, with inspirations and fabric samples

With the exception of one case, the exhibits in the Balenciaga exhibition were almost all plain, and let the cut and the drape make the impact. Here however it was far more about embellished details. As ever with the Fashion and Textile Museum, the lack of glass meant that you could really get a good look at (and good photographs of) the pieces on display.

Bias strips on net and fabric flowers decorate this 2012 silk crepe de chine dress

I loved the clothes, but I must confess that I just couldn’t get on with the papier maché heads. Blame it on my north-west roots, but for me they were just too reminiscent of Frank Sidebottom, something which did not help the overall look at all! (I appreciate that this is a reference which will mean nothing to anyone outside a 50-mile radius of Timperley - or indeed, many people within a 50-mile radius of Timperley.)

I, too, had my hands to my face at times!

This aside, I really enjoyed the exhibition. Before it, I knew nothing about Anna Sui apart from the name, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm very glad I went to find out.

The World of Anna Sui runs until 1 October 2017.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Balenciaga at the V&A

I've been down to London for a few days, and part of the reason for the trip was to visit the Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A. Most fashion exhibitions at the V&A do not allow photography, and at the recent underwear exhibition even sketching was forbidden, but this time both were permitted. I took a lot of photographs - at one point I honestly thought that my camera was going to overheat and die - but for the sake of everyone's sanity I have edited it down to a sensible number.

The ground floor of the exhibition was all about Balenciaga's own work. It began by looking at the elements of his Spanish heritage which influenced his designs; regional dress, flamenco and bullfighting.

A selection of Balenciaga dresses showing Spanish influences

Unlike most designers, Balenciaga started with a fabric and let its properties dictate the design of the garment. 'Gazar' silk, which is lightweight but stiff, was created in 1958 and became a favourite fabric of his.

Lantern-sleeve silk gazar dress, 1968

There was a whole display of black dresses, including the one which appears of the cover of the catalogue, but I failed to get a decent photograph of them.

'Envelope' dress, 1967, and others

Much easier to photograph were the three outfits which were displayed in detail. These consisted of the original garment(s) on a rotating mannequin, a toile, X-ray images showing details of the construction, and original sketches and photographs.

Silk evening dress and cape, 1967

This dress was displayed inside-out to show the construction details. The edges are bound with silk tulle, and even the zip tape is covered with velvet to make it more comfortable to wear!

Silk gaberdine evening dress, 1963

I can't imagine that this was comfortable to wear, though. The billowing skirt front was achieved by tying the hem around each leg above the knee; the ties are just visible on the toile.

Silk taffeta evening dress, 1964

Talking of toiles; I loved this one for a suit, with the pattern of the fabric drawn on.

Calico toile, 1969-72

Balenciaga was trained in both dressmaking and tailoring, and I imagine that both must have come into play when designing this coat. A piece of ribbon runs inside the sleeve, and holds the elegantly draped pleats in place.

Wool evening coat, 1950

This suit was displayed along with tailoring equipment.

Suit, and tools of the trade

Although Balenciaga was based in Paris, he also ran a Spanish couture house called Eisa (from his mother's maiden name). This produced selected items from the Paris collections, and canny international clients bought their Balenciaga designs there, at a fraction of the cost of the Paris equivalents!

Two Eisa dresses

The Paris premises included two millinery ateliers, and the exhibition included a display of Balenciaga hats. Sadly the lighting was too low for many of the photographs to come out well.

Sketchbook of hat designs, 1963-5

Balenciaga was strict about how his clothes should be worn; this pillbox hat for example was meant to be worn on the top of the head. Its owner, Gloria Guinness, clearly had other ideas.

Leather pillbox hat, 1962

The next case contained a number of amazingly embellished garments.

Embellishment with painting, feathers, embroidery and beads

The white and pink evening coat was made up first, and then beaded. The organza base was dip-dyed, to add to the colour gradation.

Lesage beading sample for the evening coat above right, 1967

This dress for the, ahem, remarkably-proportioned Viscountess Lambton was made differently. The eight panels which make up the dress were marked out on the fabric before the embroidery was done. This meant that no time was wasted embroidering fabric which wouldn't be used. If you look closely you can just see the horizontal bust darts in the centre two sections, but the embroidery is positioned so cleverly that they are almost invisible.

Wild silk cocktail dress with embroidery by Lesage, 1960-2

This dress of hand-painted silk was my favourite thing in the entire exhibition. I loved everything about it; the neckline, the bow, the positioning of the blue flowers on the bodice to be symmetrical but not rigidly so, the way that the yellow and pale blue flowers on the ends of the bow are matched on the respective sleeves. Sigh.

Painted silk dress, 1955-6

The upstairs section of the exhibition looked at Balenciaga's influence; both directly and as a design legacy.

Suits by Balenciaga, 1951 (left) and Gvasalia for Balenciaga, 2016 (right)

Emanuel Ungaro was apprenticed to Balenciaga, and later set up on his own.

Wool gabardine day dress, Ungaro, 1966

Hubert de Givenchy was mentored by Balenciaga, and when the latter closed his house in 1968, he referred most of his clients to his protégé.

Feathered evening dress, Givenchy, 1960

Oscar de la Renta worked briefly at Eisa.

Embroidered silk organza dress, Oscar de la Renta, 2015

Finally, a selection of pieces by designers with no direct link to Balenciaga showed how his ideas continue to influence fashion today.

Rei Kawakubo, Molly Goddard and Delpozo

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, runs until Sunday 18th February 2018.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Hats in Vogue (patterns)

I’ve been doing lots more hatmaking* at Hat Works recently, but as I haven’t yet finished any of my creations, it will be a while until I blog about them.

When I was deciding which blocks to use at the fabulous Summer School (three whole days of hatmaking - bliss!) it struck me that I’m becoming more adventurous in my choices. Partly this is down to experience; initially it’s hard to envisage what a finished hat will look like just by holding a lump of carved wood above your head. But I think it’s also partly down to seeing hats with complete outfits on vintage pattern envelopes.

For years hats featured heavily in pattern illustrations, only disappearing as hat-wearing became less common. Patterns for blouses and more casual clothing such as housecoats were hat-free, but with dresses and suits a hat was almost essential. In fact, so many of my vintage patterns feature hats in their illustrations that for this post I decided to look only at Vogue patterns.

What follows is a very picture-heavy post; so make yourself comfortable, and prepare to enjoy lots of hatting goodness!

Naturally outdoor clothing such as these capes would be worn with a hat.


There may have been a war on, and hats may have been expensive and hard to come by, but Vogue Patterns clearly saw no reason to let standards slip.

1940 (left) and 1942 (centre and right)

Post-war, hats were definitely back. From large (and carried) . . .


. . . to small . . .


. . . to medium-sized and veiled.


Occasionally, the odd hat-free illustration began to appear (although being without gloves for a formal occasion was clearly unthinkable).


But hats were still the norm.


Designer patterns seem to have featured especially extravagant creations, in both drawing and photograph.


I particularly like this example (although I imagine it would be very hard to make!).


There is a block very similar to this shape in the Hat Works collection. Unfortunately it's a bit small for me.


At first glance, this Vogue Basic Design appears to be hat-free.


But the illustration continues on the envelope back.

Not one but two hat examples

In the early 1960s hats still appeared in illustrations.


But the increasingly bouffant hairstyles which also featured just don't look compatible with hat-wearing.


Not that this troubled the 'young fashionables', or perhaps the hat was chosen to accommodate the hair. I love the way the previous owner of this pattern has experimented with different crown shapes!


A beehive-shaped crown seemed to be the solution on this pattern as well (with a illustration "Photographed in Rome").


Massive halo brims were obviously also a feature of the late 1960s.


They weren't just a flight of fancy by the illustrator, either. Blocking this hat must have been very hard work.


By the early 1970s, more pattern illustrations were hat-free. Not all of them, though.


But by the late 1970s even designer patterns, which tended to be more formal, often did not feature hats in either the photograph or the illustration.


And by the 1980s pattern envelopes were back where this post began, with hats only appearing with outdoor clothes.


* - It is indeed hatmaking, because I am making hats from scratch. My step-great-grandmother, Granny T, and my great-aunt, were all milliners however, because they were trimming hats which had already been made.