Notes and research
How textiles relate to the body
- Two primary concerns when developing textiles into wearable garments: what are their aesthetic and functional qualities?
- Cost, production possibilities, and ethical and sustainability concerns also need to be accounted for.
- Aesthetic considerations = “look and feel” within a specific intended context (for example, evening wear (function may be minimally important here, especially when you consider “statement fashion,” such as event outfits worn by someone like Lady Gaga or Björk, for example), sportswear (function takes priority over fashion, comfort and technical aspects of textile are emphasized) or knitwear (I tend to think first of warmth, but knits often connote a “cozy”– or even “Hygge”– aesthetic which may be driven more by aesthetic or budgetary concerns).
- Aesthetic qualities of a garment are more obvious than functional qualities, and are also highly subjective; we don’t all like the same things, and– ever more– we are free to interpret “dress codes” like “formal” or “casual chic” or even “black tie” in a way that reflects our individuality.
- Functional considerations = comfort, durability and protection-driven. This is especially the case when clothing is designed for extreme uses or environments: construction overalls or an Antarctic trek.
- Individual expression and judgement is of less significance in this context: “a garment either is or isn’t appropriate for its intended function.”
- A particular textile’s qualities inform the garment it becomes. Successful garment design often embraces/is influenced by a textile’s specific qualities.
- Considerations include:
- Decoration (ie: sequins)
- Texture (ie: smooth or rough)
- Is determined both by how a garment is cut, but also by the softness, firmness, fluidity of the textile used.
- Is the shape of a garment (I’m thinking of haute-couture brand Balenciaga and ready-to-wear label Cos) determining the outline of the form
- Is also informed by the proportion, scale, balance, flow and composition of the shape in relation to the body.
Silhouette, as expressed by Maiko Takeda
The above slideshow images are taken from Maiko Takeda website [accessed 3 May 2018]. Stills, as presented on the artist’s site, are from the Atmospheric Reentry collection (2013) and a project where the artist designed pieces for Icelandic singer/performer Björk.
I was unfamiliar with the work of Takeda, and with the meaning of the word “millinery” (Oxford Living Dictionary defintion: women’s hats) prior to this exercise but her work is fascinating. While it seems she’s most (recently) known for her 2013 collection, Atmospheric Reentry, comprised predominantly of plastic, spiky, combination-alien-sea-creature-like headpieces (which often conceal or obscure the face to varying degrees and certainly reflect radical aesthetic, as opposed to functional, tastes), I was particularly taken with the aptly-named Cinematography collection (2009-2010, pictured below). Both collections explore and play with the body’s relationship to– and ability to cast or create– silhouette and shadow.
The themes explored by these two very different collections is interesting to consider. Cinematography seems to play with how accessories can act upon human bodies as projectors of another (and, naturally, cinematic) “reality”. Here, familiar symbols of feminine/feminize beauty (roses, feline masks, made-up eyes) are projected onto the skin like animated tattoos.
Less my style but certainly thought-provoking, the Atmospheric Reentry collection disrupts what it means to have a human shape: accessories from this collection so obscure the shape/silhouette of the wearer that they may no longer appear human, or only partially so (their bodies remain recognizable). Naturally, these accessories wouldn’t fall into what I categorize as textiles, but I think that points to how technology has really changed the process and materials with which we can make things nowadays.
This collection made me think of a drawing tutorial I did where the teaching artist pointed out that the shape/silhouette of things is, to the human brain, the most important indication of what a thing is. And of course, with the head being the location where such expressive (also attracting and attaching) features as eyes, mouth, and hair are situated, to literally lose sight of an individual’s facial features is disorienting, and, I think, a bit repelling. Instead of enhancing the beauty of the wearer, these pieces are enhanced by the wearer, come to life as they assume but also obscure the wearer’s own shape. While they don’t play into any conventional idea of what makes humans (or women) more beautiful, there is something undeniably beautiful about Takeda’s work. I like how she seems to take inspiration from nature even as she creates something totally unnatural.
These works/pieces seem to reflect a possible android future we haven’t quite entered yet, but whose manifestation we might begin to imagine. And maybe, as our tastes evolve, so too will our attachments to notions of “natural beauty.” She’s also playing in a really interesting way with traditional notions of feminine beauty, and its so fitting that a pop culture rebel-artist like Björk would embrace such a powerful, energetic expression.
- Addresses how the garment creates space around the body.
- Volume created through weight and thickness of textile/fabric
- Heavy or stiff fabrics take up more space when folded and draped around contours of body
- Lighter, thinner fabrics can produce more subtle volumes, which may lie flatter or closer to the body. They may also be layered to build volume or emphasize certain places
Although its difficult to separate silhouette from volume when thinking about a garment, I (who admittedly know little about brands) always think of Balenciaga when I think about volume, as the brand plays dramatically with areas where a woman’s body curves naturally, as above, and doesn’t shy away from extreme contrasts.
Drape and movement
- Drape describes how fabric or garment hangs, which is determined by design but especially by qualities of fabric: structure, weight, thickness, weave, softness, fluidity, rigidity…
- Drape is created through use of extra fabric to build folds, gathers, pleats…
We looked at the work of (fashion, among other things) photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon:
The above slideshow is comprised of (favorite) images from the Richard Avedon Foundation’s “The Work” page [accessed 4 May 2018]. I was thrilled to discover his work, as I love portrait and fashion photography and he has a way of bringing out the beauty of his model at the same time as evoking the movement and characteristics/”personality” of the garments they’re wearing. You can really see the influence his work (particularly its energy and dynamism) had on a lot of contemporary fashion photography/documentation.
- http://wwd.com/business-news/media/irving-penn-dies-at-92-2338018/ [accessed 4 May 2018]
- https://www.moma.org/collection/works/128627 [accessed 4 May 2018]
- https://www.avedonfoundation.org/the-work/ [accessed 4 May 2018]
Research point: Image sources indicated in captions; all sites accessed 4 May 2018, unless otherwise indicated.
I love both these images, from the Versace Spring/Summer 1993 campaign. To me, the photographer homes in on two essential characteristics of the textiles/garments he’s showcasing: the use of fun, really vibrant colors and (floral) motifs, and the graceful fluidity, ease of movement (dancing, crouching down) the garment allows.
Avedon successfully communicates ease of movement by photographing the models in dynamic poses (in the throes of movement) that demonstrate how the fabric behaves when pulled, bunched, draped, or blown. The models are photographed in an unnatural, all-white setting, standing upon what looks to be white sand. The direct light under which they were photographed casts soft, undulating shadows on this pillowy surface, emphasizing once again the fluidity of both the models’ and the fabric’s movements, and simultaneously allowing the bright colors and motifs of the garments to really stand out. The expressions and tension expressed between the models in the first photo put a tonal emphasis on drama, whereas the Evangelista photo is more about fun, comfort and communicating a quality of energy.
In the above photographs, Testino photographs two models in similar contexts (walking side-by-side along a busy, presumably Manhattan, street) but wearing different garments. What he seems to emphasize here is these garments’ capacity (and the idea that it might be important/desirable) to make one stand out, without necessarily trying too hard.
What I notice in both photographs (and this is where the photographer’s intention, more so than the designer’s, comes into play) is the way the models’ outfits seem to complement and contrast one another. For example, in the photo on the left, it’s not the color of the garments but their very different textures that are emphasized: one model is wrapped glamorously in a belted fur coat (conveying softness and luxury), while the other wears a metallic dress with short puff sleeves and sequins all over (connoting a boldness, a willingness to take risks, stand out). Despite the fanciness of the models’ dress– especially in light of the non-specific urban context– their casual, hands-in-pocket swagger (one of the girls adopts a deliberately boyish stance/expression in both photos), rock-chic makeup and mussed hair convey a sense of casual, easeful elegance– almost as if you might “throw on” one of these get-ups as you rush to meet your friends for Sunday brunch, or on your way to buy a messy hot-dog. At the same time, the fact that these women are dressed this way, with purposeful expressions, on an urban sidewalk, conveys a desire to attract attention, to be seen. Ultimately, I think that’s what these garments offer the wearer: comfort isn’t as important as looking fantastic and setting oneself apart in any/every situation.
Although this message (about the importance of standing out at the same time as appearing effortless) is true for the second image (at right) featuring the same models in the same context, the viewer–thanks to the full-color, enlarged photo– is given more information about the garments themselves. Rather than emphasizing the tone/energy of the brand (as in the first photo), here we are made to appreciate elements of tension and contrast in the garments. In the garment to the left, worn by the more androgynous model, Testino has emphasized the way a structured bodice, bold black straps, and a bright under-layer of yellow tulle bring fun flair and a rock-and-roll edge to an otherwise classic ballerina and ultra-feminine baby-pink tulle-layered dress. The yellow dress worn by the second model is designed to emphasize feminine curves (breasts, shoulders, hips) and movement. The hands-in-pockets swagger of the model brings the look down a notch, and– again– bold color combined with rock-chic makeup and attitude (plus the playful pattern peeking out from the high slit in the leg) emphasize a cool, easy “street-vibe” glamour.
I’d never heard of Sarah Moon and a quick glimpse through her work and unique style made me want to read more. Sarah Moon became known as a fashion photographer sometime in the 1970s. She is very interested in the expression of color and consistently achieves a strange, ephemeral effect in her photography. Figures are typically blurred or appear to be photographed in a strange or hazy light.
Links to two light articles that offered some insights into her approach follow:
- https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/frocks-and-fantasy-the-photographs-of-sarah-moon-966704.html [accessed 7 May 2018]
- https://www.vogue.com/article/sarah-moon-fashion-photographer-new-book [accessed 7 May 2018]
Slideshow images above are from the Giorgio Armani SS18 Campaign by Sarah Moon. Source: http://www.apartpublications.com/non-classe/giorgio-armani-ss18-campaign-by-sarah-moon/ [accessed 8 May 2018]
I selected the photos above because they reflect Moon’s recent work, at the same time as revealing how consistent she’s been with a particular style over the decades. What’s clear in the images above is that this is an artist very interested in the expression of mood. Whereas Testino contrasts the garments with their (nondescript, urban) setting to draw attention to them, Moon seeks to identify and match the mood and color of the garments to the setting within which they are photographed. The models bodies and postures are framed by color blocks in the backdrop, almost as if we’re looking at a painting. The artist’s hand is felt here; this isn’t a “candid” shot of two well-dressed beauties galavanting along the boulevard. It’s an expression of a mood, and I think that mood is what’s being expressed/conveyed about the garments. While the side-by-side photos of the woman are clearly emphasizing how the garments’ vibrant colors and patterns juxtapose with the fludity and softness of the fabric, the photos of the man are also– perhaps surprisingly– emphasizing a palette: soft grays and browns; soft, light fabrics that move easily and elegantly.
I am interested in the work of David Lachapelle because he has a unique style of creating strange fantasy worlds. Most of his work (from what I’ve perused online) doesn’t appeal to me (it isn’t subtle or natural, goes too far in all categories: too fantastic, too surreal, too dark and disturbing, too literally hypersexual…) but I am curious to see how his style and apparent interests informed his take on fashion pre-2006. In particular, it’s hard for me to imagine how his style could allow for an emphasis on anything other than itself.
I read the following articles to get more information:
- https://www.forbes.com/sites/yjeanmundelsalle/2014/09/19/david-lachapelle-from-fashion-photography-to-fine-art/#c77f6bc2023f [accessed 9 May 2018]
- https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/feb/19/david-lachapelle-interview-fashion-photography [accessed 9 May 2018]
After hearing it referenced several times, I was interested to have a peak at Lachapelle’s final fashion editorial for Vogue Italy, called “The Disaster Series,” which got him into a bit of trouble as its publication coincided with Hurricane Katrina and was seen as insensitive and exploitative.
Some images from the shoot (accessed via Fashiontography: The Disaster Series by David Lachapelle, accessed 9 May 2018) follow:
I actually love these photos (I discovered more diversity and subtler messaging as I did more research on Lachapelle’s work and approach to art) but they do represent a more challenging set of fashion photos: here, garments are part of a curated, surreal landscape and so much is happening in each image. That being said, it seems to me natural that eyes scanning a page for information rest naturally on human figures, which help us to make sense of and/or contextualize what’s going on. The human figures in the above photos are women– leggy models, more specifically– clad in absurd outfits and appearing strangely unperturbed given the destroyed and/or burning houses in the not-so-distant background. There is a narrative of disaster and general collapse at play, so how do these futuristic and/or decidedly not ready-to-wear garments stand out? In a way, it’s the total frivolity and preposterous nature of even considering fashion and beauty in the midst of disaster that threatens families and livelihoods that brings the garments to the fore. The juxtaposition is jarring, but undeniably interesting. There’s also the desire to set one’s sight on beauty when so much is ugly (hence, the expression “a sight for sore eyes”).
In the image of the woman (who seems to be wearing a ruffled pillow as a hat) carrying a plump baby in her arms as they set their sights away from their dilapidated house and yard, Lachapelle emphasizes the odd luxuriousness of her ensemble: a thick, cherry-red quilted robe reminiscent of both a large comforter and Santa Claus is draped around her and falls to her ankles. A silky cream-colored camisole and textured tights are contrasted with more of that cherry-red: satin bikini-style panties and high-heeled sling-backs. The eye is drawn to the rich vibrancy of the color red here, and the pillow-like voluminousness of that garment.
Color and volume are also the focal points in the image of the two Barbie-like women in candy-pink tutus and polka-dot bralettes. Again, its the juxtaposition of these two utterly oblivious blondes (mothers?)– with actual children playing in the dirt beside them– and the color that adorns them (all-over, cotton-candy pink) that captures our eye and focuses it on what they’re wearing. A house burns behind them, dirt and rubbish literally surround them, yet they remain immaculate, glowing in their doll-like beauty.
In a final image, a woman clad all in white stands out as particularly beautiful, pure, against a more tainted white background. While the absence of color is more remarkable here, Lachapelle doesn’t miss the opportunity to profit to draw attention to strange beauty by juxtaposing it with dystopian destruction.
I enjoy fashion photography, but it has a negative impact on my sense of self-worth as a woman, so I deliberately avoid fashion magazines, except on very rare occasion. I specify this to explain the almost total ignorance I brought to this research exercise. As I delved more into the world of fashion photography, I noticed that there don’t seem to be nearly as many women behind the camera. This seemed to me an interesting variation on an artistic theme: women’s (nude or nearly-nude, sexualized) bodies are and have been far more represented through art history and (now) in photography, and yet men (and the heterosexual male gaze) are far more often those privileged enough to make art but also (seen and known) choices about how to portray, dress, position and represent those bodies. Thinking about this led me to set my sights on tracking down the work of at least one additional female fashion photographer, and I was interested by the work of Corinne Day, who, once accused of glamorizing/idealizing a kind-of “heroin chic” beauty (here, I’m thinking of imagery reminiscent of the iconic Calvin Klein ads of the mid-1990s, where Kate Moss made her modeling debut), brought the “waif look”
Sources I consulted include:
- https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/aug/31/corinne-day-obituary [accessed 9 May 2018]
- https://www.corinneday.co.uk/fashion/ [accessed 9 May 2018]
I was particularly interested in the Day’s work from the 90s, to see if I could trace some of her influence on how fashion and feminine/masculine beauty were represented in magazines, for example, to my own notions at that time of what beautiful was. I’m particularly interested in this moment because this was a time in my life (adolescence) where I was particularly interested in fashion and beauty trends and incredibly susceptible to how I (an athletic, preppy middle-class anybody in the Canadian suburbs) compared to world-weary, waif-thin “heroin-chic” supermodels. They looked like I never could/would, and not particularly happy, yet they struck me as impossibly sexy, and feeling that way was especially desirable to me. In other words, the marketing worked!
I compiled a series of images (taken from the fashion section of Day’s website, accessed 9 May 2018) that interested me, and reflect a grungy, at once glamorous and frightening editorial world that seems to have powerfully influenced the fashion world at large.
It was more interesting for me to explore what exactly Day’s style of photography might have popularized or rendered banal in fashion photography. In a way, the images above make me think of what the world observed happening to Amy Winehouse: fame, addiction, a lack of love/support and pressure to perform even when she wasn’t well took their toll and ultimately destroyed her. Somehow, the world watched her stumbling and was able to glamorize what was happening until the damage was irreversible. What’s interesting in Day’s work is how difficult it is to separate what’s real from what’s staged.
In any event, it seems to me that what her photography sells is an attitude, possibly a lifestyle. While I think her intention was to reveal people as they were, her version of “heroin chic” evolved to what we now call, and ultimately glamorize as “hot mess.” The notion underlying the imagery is that you can look great/sexy/attractive/strangely glamorous while messing up your life and/or making bad decisions. I don’t suppose this was Day’s intention, but this seems to be how popular culture has internalized the “look” and model-type that she popularized.
The images above were sourced at this page [accessed 10 May 2018] on Day’s site, and offer a glimpse into Day’s more traditional/accessible editorial work. Looking at these images, I see how she uses the most minimalist background (here, the model stands out against an all-white background) to emphasize the volume and silhouette of the garments. The choice of black-and-white printing is effective for two images: in one, the reduced tonality shows off the sheen of the fabric, emphasizing how light hits it, and the volume of the garment’s design (which contrasts with the model’s long lines/lack of curves). In the two color photos, Day emphasizes the sleek glamour and clean silhouette of an all-black strapless gown. This emphasis is achieved by photographing the very long and thin model from the side, in a shrinking, demure– as opposed to expansive or strong– posture. Also, the photograph shows how beautifully, softly, the garment’s fabric pools and trails behind the model. That pooling, combined with the peculiar triangular hat, has the effect of further elongating lines that are already stretched. In the close-up photo of the red, purple and black mini-dress, the model is photographed from the side so as to show off the sculptural nature of the giant tie wrapped around her. It’s almost like the model is being offered as a present; you just need to tug at the giant black ribbon wrapped around her and the garment might slip off. The look is delicate, fragile, but the dress looks luxurious and expensive because of the structure conveyed by the way the bow stands erect, and the satiny richness of the purple and red are highlighted and deepened by the way the light hits each fold.