Showing posts with label fashion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fashion. Show all posts

Thursday, April 20, 2017

THE ORIGIN OF THE FASHION INDUSTRY


Who are these immaculately dressed women, and why are they dressed differently than everyone else? I think you'll find the answer interesting. Do you want to hear more? 

Well, fashion has been with us a long time but it only kicked into high gear and became a whole industry in fairly modern times, beginning maybe in France in the 1860s.  Before then dressmakers and fabric people would be invited to houses of the rich and plied their wares there. 

 Somewhere in the 1860s a dressmaker got the idea that the practice of waiting for the rich to call was fraught with uncertainty and a little advertising might help. 


Since direct advertising was considered low class the clothiers would pay models to wear the new fashions to status events like the races (as in the photo at the very top) and trans-Atlantic travel. The models would be discreet, taking care to speak only when spoken to and to refer questions to their sponsors.


Okay, now here's the interesting part. Over time the clothiers  realized that some models got a lot more attention than others so they began choosing their models carefully.  Employers started to select for charisma.  Not only that but they-tailor made the clothes and hairstyles to fit the model exactly.  I refer not only to accurate linear measurements but to something much more.


To maximize the model's impact the dress she wore was made specifically for her and no other.  Her skin and hair color, the unique way she liked to walk and sit, even her height, psychology, mannerisms and regional biases were taken into account. 



The effect when the model appeared in public was devastating. Viewers were awe-stricken. The girl appeared like a goddess. She was perfection itself. Not even the rich were used to such careful attention by a battery of experts.  Of course clients could expect to get only approximations of what the models wore but the powerful first impression had its effect.



Well, the fashion industry grew and grew and influenced art, theater, publishing, product design, retailing and the whole modernist enterprise. People who regard fashion as frivolous should consider what a boost it's been to the world economy and culture. 


Anyway, the industry no doubt inspired a great deal of idealism. Remember, this was the era of French Impressionism and of the gift of the Statue of Liberty to America. What silent screen star Gloria Swanson said about the early film industry no doubt applied to fashion as well. Early film people believed that cinema could change the world and usher in a new golden age. They believed the new emphasis on aesthetics and culture would end war and so, I believe, did the fashion people.


When World War One broke out one Parisian fashion house bundled up its dresses and smuggled their live models to America. The models were as important as the dresses because theirs was the art of the killer first impression.  Many of them braved the U-boats because they believed they were saving civilization. 

Well, fashion isn't my subject so I'll have to move on. What will stay with me though, is the idea of a new medium based on the impact of a powerful first impression. What an interesting thought!

  

Saturday, April 08, 2017

ART SCHOOL PLASTER CASTS

Every art school used to have a huge collection of white plaster casts. Some still do. White allowed the student to see shadows more clearly and shadows are a lot of what pulls a composition together and suggests drama.

I'm writing this to suggest that we expand that collection a little bit to include a few colored mannequin heads. Mannequins don't have the same educational value as classical busts but the best ones are nice and cartoony and are often a good way to drive home a few basic lessons about what to emphasize on a face.  What are those lessons? Read on.


Most of the old flapper-era female mannequins favored clear, sharp, Catherine Hepburn-type chins.



Real women on the other hand, often had weak chins, and would probably have preferred to emphasize their eyes. That wasn't so easy to do. According to an article I read the older kinds of eye makeup had problems with dry spatter and required constant touch ups. More about eyes later. 


Back to sharp chins. They show to best advantage when the head is tilted back. That reinforces the haughty, aristocratic image that fashion likes to convey.


 Somewhere along the line a long, vertical mannequin faces were introduced. I think of it as a modified Asiatic look but you can find African masks that look a bit like that.


 The sharp chin never went out of style, though. It got new life when it was combined with the forward-thrusting muzzle. Here the whole bottom half of the face is pushed out. It's a very cartoony look.

For a while bulbous foreheads were in. How that started I can't even guess.


The big game changer was the invention of non-spatter eye make-up.  That changed everything. It allowed for an emphasis on the eyes rather than the chin and that led the mannequin makers to tilt the head down.


Thin faces give greater eye emphasis so the wall-eyed, wide-angle, thin look took over.


Mens mannequins were less influenced by beauty products. About the only major face product change in my lifetime was the use of shampoo to replace bar soap in the washing of mens' hair. Shampoo made straight hair possible and wavy hair models disappeared. Chin emphasis persisted, though.


We men also liked the ultra-manly J. C. Leyendecker look. Later came the Arnold Schwarzenegger look.


The Arnold look receded and the nice guy next door look (above) took over. That was followed by the Urban Hipster look, which is what we have now.

I'll end with the observation that the hippies were never represented in the mannequin world. They had disdain for fashion and the fashion world retaliated by snubbing them. Fascinating, eh?


Friday, September 02, 2016

30S AND 40S FASHION

Right now fashion favors the thin, skin-hugging, emo-influenced look, but amazingly it also favors...or at least tolerates...the opposite (above): the luxurious, wrinkly, over-size, sort of designer baggy look. Baggy's the wrong word but I don't know what else to call it. 


I'm not talking about the baggy that skateboarders wore. I'm talking about something with design and good fabric...something like Hepburn is wearing in the picture above. It looks great. It may never go out of style....a true classic.


That goes for men's fashions, too. Men's suits looked great in the 30s. We should dress like that now.


The 40s look was even better. The shoulders were padded so that every guy looked manly, like Superman, and the pants were wide so you could jitterbug in them.


Not every set of threads was equal, though. There was the upturned sharp-shoulder look, which I find detestable.  The too heavy slacks in those suits drooped like weighted drapes.


Zoot suits were part of this period, and they were hilarious, but covering that would require another post.


Friday, April 22, 2016

THE LATEST FASHION

The tiny house movement appears to be here to stay. Even people with money to spend want houses that are thin and cramped.

Thin exteriors could bring about a civil war in the home design industry. Minimalism still dominates interior design and that requires big, empty spaces. The only way to reconcile these two opposing philosophies is to have a house with only one big room that combines all functions. In a room like the one above you would eat off the sofa and take a shower in the planter. 


It looks like the interior faction is going to be on the losing side. That's too bad because there's been some minimalist innovations that even a maximalist like me can get behind. I kinda like interiors like the one above, though they might be better suited for offices than homes.  



The hot furniture designer now is Tom Dixon. That's his work above. He likes the digital look. I dunno. It's not my taste.


The table above might work if it could be made sturdy.


But really...flat surface table design is so...yesterday. Maybe the tables to come won't be tables at all. They'll be contrivances that make it appear that the plates and cups are floating.


Minimal dining utensils, naturally.

I notice that blob-shaped day-glow sneakers are all the rage now.

Since car design follows shoe design that means near future cars will be day-glow blobs also.

I used to think mens t-shirt fashions were here to stay, but a new formalism seems to be right around the corner.


Tight suit jackets with long sleeves will make what's in your closet obsolete.


Way above the ankle pants have been here for a while.


And women's fashions...that's a subject for another post.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

DIANA VREELAND: HARPER'S BAZAAR EDITOR


That's Diana Vreeland above, the editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue in their peak years from 1936 to 1944 when those magazines were undergoing a Golden Age. Theory Corner owes a lot to her influence, although I almost never read her magazines, and I only discovered her name a couple of weeks ago. 

My connection with her comes from the magazine editors she might have influenced, and who in turn influenced me: Harold Hayes (Esquire), Hugh Hefner (Playboy) and  Harvey Kurtzman (Mad).


I discovered Vreeland while researching Horst, the photographer. Horst credits Vreeland and Alexey Brodovitch with introducing Surrealism (above) to American women's magazines.



She had a vision that fashion photography could be elegant and lighthearted at the same time.  


She favored models (above) with personality. 


She also had a taste for the mystical and eerie, as in this photo (above) by Cecil Beaton. It reminds me of the female vampires in the film, "Dracula."



Her photo essays frequently told a story, or rather they suggested a possible story which the reader was invited to construct. Her dramatic models were often thoughtful and in the throws of moral choice. The photo above is by Dahl-Wolfe.


Most impressive, in my opinion, was how she inspired the great photographers she worked with. The examples above and below are from a photo shoot she commissioned, where the models were to pose in furs in far away Japan. For any other fashion magazine that would be a simple matter of photographing models in front of temples. Not so for Vreeland. She wanted more.



Vreeland wanted an indescribable fantasy that exceeded what was possible in the real world. To underline the unreality of it, she chose models who were incredibly tall and lean and, in the case of the man, philosophical. The shoot took place on a plain field of snow-covered black volcanic pebbles...no temples, no cherry trees.


I'm guessing that this approach influenced Hugh Hefner whose fantasies were equally audacious and unreal. 


This is a room in Vreeland's apartment. Haw! I wonder what her husband thought of it.  It's right out of her outrageous "Why Don't You...?" column in the 30s Harper's Bazaar.  


I'll end with the unlikely story of how Vreeland got the job at Harpers. After all, she was an indifferent student in high school, she never went to college, she had no experience in publishing, and she was considered plain-looking by her friends and family.

She got it because she had the good fortune to social dance at a night spot where Harper's editor Carmel Snow was in attendance. Snow was the rare executive who realized that her business was operating far beneath its potential and needed fresh blood. In Vreeland, a total stranger up to then, she saw someone who was passionate, theatrical, charismatic, poised, well-dressed, danced well, etc., etc.

Snow offered Vreeland the job of fashion editor the very next day on the condition that Vreeland work her way up through the ranks, albeit on a fast track. The rest was history.

Interesting, eh?


BTW: There's some nice books about Vreeland, but the one essential thing to see is the documentary film: "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel."