This is the very first issue of Vintage Magazine, and it is tempting to judge it by the cover. I was seduced by the huge watercolour Marie Antoinette and bold purple lettering radiating simplicity and beauty from the printed page. Since conventional wisdom dissuades us from judging books by their covers, I decided to take a closer look. Vintage is driven by editor Ivy Baer Sherman, who was inspired by the short-lived Flair Magazine that ran from 1950-51. Using different papers, inks and surprise elements in the layout, it attempts to recapture Flair’s absurdly artful presentation, which included die cuts and foldouts.
The articles are not only fashion-centric, for the publication aims to study the “impact of history on our present culture.” That said, I was more interested in the essay on Ferragamo than the one about Ferraris (about which I am not entirely surprised). The fashion-related pieces include musings on Barbie, a short history of hairstyles (with a flipbook feature) and an essay on Ferragamo’s invention of the wedge. The writing is interesting and provides some good synopses, but never takes a definitive stance. While it’s clear that Salvatore Ferragamo was forward thinking in developing the wedge (no less than a paragraph is spent namedropping his clients), the piece never seems to move beyond an inventory of material innovations.
Lingerie has certain connotations. As a kid growing up in ’80s it meant pink, frilly, high-cut panties and a lilac satin and lace thing called a teddy that I found while nosing around in my mum’s drawer. Nothing epitomized lingerie more than Fredrick’s of Hollywood, whose catalogue you’d sometimes find in the magazine piles of doctor’s offices. This idea of the provocative, pink, frilly bombshell continues today, especially in North America with brands like La Senza and Victoria’s Secret still catering to that specific ideal.
In Contemporary Lingerie Design Katie Dominy challenges these ideas of contemporary lingerie by looking at international labels that approach the work from a design perspective. As she states in her introduction, designer lingerie is a luxury item, and this is what she focuses on here. Nothing is Victoria’s Secret about this book, unless you count the occasional Swarovski crystal or panty jewelry (which, yes, exists even in the upper-echelons of underwear).
The format of the book is straightforward—each designer (or design team, in some cases) is introduced with a short paragraph in which they explain how they got into the business. The rest is written in a simple Q&A style with questions that vary little from designer to designer, covering topics like inspiration, fabric selection and favourite collections.
After a while these answers start to echo one another and the especially dull opening question, “Who is the [insert brand name here] woman?” had this reviewer glazing over (you can only read “romantic, sexy, modern—basically, she’s me” so many times).
Bonnie English wants to teach you Fashion 101 (minus the student fees and late night study sessions) and she aims to “unravel the complications and contradictions behind stylistic change in order to chart the history of modern fashion.”
A senior lecturer in Art Theory at the Queensland College of Art, English has created a very respectable academic treatment of the last century of fashion. She begins her narrative with Louis XIV, predecessor of metrosexuals everywhere, and extends her analysis into globalized contemporary fashion, with everything from Comme des Garçons to Laura Ashley prints in between. What is most notable about the content of this volume is the way English handles her broad topic; there are some powerful fashion images in this book, but this is no pretty coffee table accessory. English selects unique subjects within fashion for each chapter and zeroes in to prevent a deluge of meaningless and broad historical summaries.
“Swimsuits” by Sonia Delaunay (1928)
In keeping with its moniker, most would consider the pieces selected for “Fashion No-no” anything but wearable. (Much to the dismay of the preteen girls who strayed from their class trip to see fashion!)
Instead of couture, we’re offered six reactions to environment, form, and how it all relates to the female body. Curator Paola Poletto, a new media and design professional, reigned in such amorphous ideas by choosing pieces that expressed the most varied points of view. In Traveler’s Tale, Sarah Dorkenwald and Ruth Spitzer printed images from domestic life (coffee percolator, a chair) alongside fuzzy, dream-like ones (a sinking ship?) onto large pieces of fabric meant to “affix to the body,” thereby invoking the notion of carrying – and of being – all the stuff of our life.
The Girl in the Wood Frock, Andrea Ling’s adaptation of a fairy tale (A girl escapes her father/husband by floating away in a river wearing a wood frock. She is saved by a prince, but must remain in the dress.) defies the implicit constrictions of a wooden dress by turning the tale on its head. In the accompanying photographs, the dress is presented in motion; the “girl” jumps and dances while wearing the object of her imprisonment. The dress is beautiful – three nest-like forms made from strips of black cherry veneer attach to a mini-dress made of pressed wool felt. It’s more like a cocoon than a cage.
Joanna Berzowka’s Skorpions are white “dresses” that use a shape-memory alloy called Nitinol to organically move and change on the body. Berzowka emphasizes the parasitic nature of Skorpions, though thematically, they resonate more when considered for their protective and chameleon-like qualities.
One misstep in “Fashion No-no” was the inclusion of Linda Imai’s Purses. Imai used unconventional materials – dog hair, aluminium pop tabs, and recycled plastic – to assemble eight bags. The idea of separating the object from its traditional use is an interesting one; however, Hilly Yeung’s shoes in Objects to Die For nailed this idea by removing designer shoes from their pedestals and presenting them simply and accessibly in crisp white paper.
That said, “Fashion No-no” presents a diverse discussion on form, often concluding with the artist reappropriating and subverting traditional feminine ideals from around the world (see Annie Thompson’s Les Madamoiselles). Since there are so few fashion exhibitions in Toronto, “Fashion No-no” is well worth it for anyone itching for a little social commentary with their design.
January 24 – March 8
York Quay Centre, Visual Arts Exhibitions
235 Queens Quay West, Toronto