Saturday, 26 August 2017

High Days and Holidays at Totnes Fashion and Textile Museum Review

Totnes Fashion and Textile Museum’s annual exhibition this year focuses on holiday and leisure wear from the Edwardian period to the present day. As always the exhibition showcases a variety of objects in their archive whilst sticking to a central theme. The museum has three large cases which section the exhibition into three parts: travel wear, beach and leisure wear and evening and entertainment. 

The first case looks at travel wear, with garments ranging from the Victorian through to the 1970’s. The accompanying text discusses how clothes for travel changed over the years; from more formal dress, to that which is comfortable for long journeys. Outfits were chosen to reflect the changes in transport for travelling to holidays, for example the growing popularity of the motorcar in the 20’s, which saw a shift to looser fashions. I particularly liked the outfit for this period (pictured) the navy coat clearly of middle -eastern influence, the caption in the catalogue informs us the embroidery could have been Palestinian and bought on a previous holiday abroad. There was also an example of a holiday outfit worn in the time of utility, the dress and coat would have required clothing coupons to buy them. 
Dress for Travel through the Ages
Detail of Possible Palestinian Embroidery on a 1920's coat
Close up of 1940's Utility Coat and Dress
The second case, much larger was split into two halves; the first, clothes worn for leisure while on holidays, exploring the changing styles of beach and swimwear. While the far end of the case showcased pieces for evening events and parties. There were several good examples of 50’s day wear; including a Horrockses dress and c.1954 four piece set of skirt, boned strapless top and jacket/shirt in printed cotton in cool floral colours. I could imagine it being worn by a young woman on a day trip to the seaside. Layed out on the floor were examples of swimwear through the ages; from an 1885 bathing suit to more retro examples from the 50’s including a floral fitted top and knicker combo and modern pieces. Other outfits showcased in this section included Tennis dresses from 1933 and 1905, promenade and tea dresses. 
1950's Cotton Horrockses Dress and Floral Suit
Close up of the dress and Jacket of a 1950's Floral Suit. Very chic and modern.
1950's Peplum Bathing Top and Knickers
1885 Bathing Suit
In the other half of the case were some stunning examples of evening glamour and in turn evidence that dressing for dinner was a much bigger affair in the past. Two standout pieces are an 1878 gown with a sumptuous bustle, clearly a piece to show her status, with its intricate details of pleating and ruffles. The catalogue informs us this level of detail in dress became more popular at this time due to greater access to sewing machines. The other stand out piece for me was a bronze silk satin 1910 dress in the style of those by Paul Poiret. The waist is so tiny; it’s amazing to think how small people were over 100 years ago. Another beautiful outfit was a 1925 ensemble intended for going out to dinner. The sparkling lime green dress and plush fur coat projecting notions of wealth and luxury, she was clearly an important lady of society! In comparison to these pieces though, the examples of modern dinner dress are nowhere near as flamboyant: represented in 90’s formal evening and early 2000’s cruise wear. Like in the 20’s modern styles still have a sparkle but are much more casual silhouettes, with loose smocks, blouses, skirts and jackets.
1911 Paul Poiret Style Bronze Dress
Detail of Paul Poiret Style Dress
1878 Gown with pleated bustle. Background examples of 1990's cruise wear
1925 Opera Ensemble with fur coat and lime green beaded dress
The third case is devoted to clothes suitable for entertaining; be that afternoon tea, a dinner party, or formal soiree. Particularly standout pieces were an 1840’s cotton dress, usually worn at a dinner with friends. The pleating on the v shaped neckline was exquisitely precise along with the pipped waist seam and cartridge pleating. Perhaps the most understated piece in the case, it stands out for its technical details. 
Exquisite Pleating on an 1840's cotton tea dress
In contrast there are plenty of luxurious beaded creations: including a splendid 20’s cocktail dress with gold satiny shawl, oozing sensual decadence its rich colours evocative of the Art Deco art movement. While another has a royal connection; a black velvet and sequin gown (c.1900) worn by Marie Corelli, the Price of Wales (Edward VII) favourite author. One of my favourites was a simple blue and white polka dot nylon dress worn with a white fur jacket, the nylon fabric would have made it easier to pack as it doesn’t crease easily. The link between travel and clothes is again demonstrated in this final case of clothes worn for the most important occasions, in turn tying the whole exhibition together. This was communicated rather innovatively in the last object in the exhibition. A gold and cream 1886 dress constructed in two parts of bodice and skirt a new invention at the time which made it easier to pack a lady’s dresses and would then be worn at a country house dinner. It showcased how fashion for festivities has always been designed with frivolity and function in mind.  
1920's Art Deco style Cocktail Dress
Evening Dress worn by Marie Corelli (c.1900)
Blue nylon Polka Dot dress with fur jacket
1886 Country House evening dress with separate bodice and skirt
To conclude a clever exhibition that showcases some lovely examples of fashions through the ages from high fashion to the everyday and in turn through the sartorial depictions reflects how travel, tastes and activities have changed and developed alongside.  


Fox, J., Totnes Fashion and Textile Museum 2017. High Days and Holidays. 16th May - 29th September  2017. Totnes: Totnes Fashion ad Textile Museum.

Diana – Her Fashion Story Review

Diana, Her Fashion Story chronicles the role of the late princess exploring her development from shy debutante to a confidant woman, who used her status to bring attention to taboo social issues and in many ways shaped the modern monarchy.  

The first room centers on her clothes in the early years of her marriage and engagement; the shy romantic Diana who loved frills and ruffles. A dress designed by Regamus for a Ball at Althorp House is the first dress you see as you enter the exhibition, the starting point of her journey. Also in the cabinet is the pink dress Diana wore for her official portrait in 1987 again promoting her fairy tale 1980’s princess aesthetic with the full skirt, princess line bodice and chic wrap around collar. Contrasted against these two pieces are a couple of her later dresses including a white pleated almost Grecian style dress she wore to a ballet in Rio de Janerio in 91’ . The development in style is apparent, the later dresses being much more fitted over her hips and more sophisticatedly elegant in pale greys, creams and soft silk organza in contrast to the crisp silk taffeta and tulle net of her early marriage. 
Reagamus Dress
Official Portrait Dress
Rio Ballet 91' Dress

That isn’t to say the princess couldn’t also be dramatic in her dress sense the next room bought your attention to her love of the arts and theatre in particular. Set in the cabinet with complementary scenery as if to evoke a theatre stage, were two of her theatrically inspired dresses. One of my personal favourite garments on display was a copy of a striking flamenco inspired dress Diana wore to a ball in Spain (with one black and one red glove).

The dress had an unusual finish on the hem; with the net skirt appearing to be edged with black binding. I particularly loved the theatricality of this piece it felt quite fun and dramatic, intended to get people talking. 
That’s something I felt strongly walking through the exhibition; Diana knew how to use clothes to make a statement particularly as she grew into her role of a royal she started to create a language through her clothes, always striking the right note. 

This was displayed clearly in the next room, the main heart of the exhibition; celebrating the height of her influence and admiration through a collection of her most striking and iconic evening dresses worn for state occasions and visits. Apart from anything else, I was in awe of their exquisite finishes and details. Highlights included the white beaded ‘Elvis dress’ the beading is absolutely beautiful so perfectly done. It is also the dress that gives you the best sense of how tall she was as it is displayed on a mannequin with a neck. 

While most were mounted so as the dress appears to stand on its own, hollow of a body but more on that later.  Another favourite was a red silk velvet jacket and dress suit, worn in 1990 and 92’ the jacket features eye catching beading of roses on the tailcoat and sleeves. Similarly to the flamenco dress I loved the uniqueness in the design. The iconic Travolta dress was unfortunately a little hard to see in detail due to the low levels of lighting in the gallery however the elegant style of the design is not diminished. My last standout piece was an ivory silk dress designed by Catherine Walker worn on a visit to Saudi Arabia. The silk crepe dress was embellished with beaded falcons, the national symbol of the country. The beading was so exquisite, a work of pure craftsmanship and the design reflective of the Princesses care to honour host nations in her dress. It is these dresses that feel most personal, in many ways they don’t follow the trends of fashion at the time they are a much more personal visual dialogue, created for specific occasions and to project very nuanced characteristics of the Princess.  In some ways they do reflect aesthetics of 80’s and 90’s fashions but they also feel quite timeless. 
Silk Velvet Embroidered Tailcoat Suit (1990/92')
Saudia Arabia Dress
Beaded Falcons Detailing

In the same room as the gowns was a small square cabinet showcasing three outfits she wore as day wear. One of these was the only piece in the exhibition not worn for official engagements, but for a trip to the shops. The other two suits from day engagements. They helped to communicate the more informal Diana and illustrated her role as a working royal, keen to bring attention to often controversial causes as illustrated in the short film playing on the projection screen in front of the cabinet. These outfits reflected how her style choices have shaped the modern monarchy’s approach to dressing for the public; from not wearing gloves, and hats when meeting children to her smart but plain suit choices, projecting an image of approachability not seen before. 

Smart but Approachable

It is clear Diana worked closely with designers and had a lot of input in her outfit’s designs. This was illustrated by the notes she made on design sketches of various outfit designs by designers such as Bellville Sassoon and Roland Klein. However I also found them inspirational from an illustration perspective, with the quite minimalist use of colour and line used to create shape, light and shade of fabric. I also loved how these elements created a sense of movement to the clothes.
Roland Klein
Bellville Sassoon
The final room showcases the dresses worn in the photographs from the famous Mario Testino photoshoot, taken after Diana’s’ divorce from the Prince of Wales. The room has a very different visual language to the others, it is much brighter and the central cylindrical case, soft lighting and subtle colours of the dresses created a calming sense of serenity. The diamante buttons and beads twinkled as her glowing face shone out from the photographs behind, communicating her newfound freedom and happiness.  The dresses in this room showcased a Diana crafting a new identity from her past through the colours and cut of her clothes. With the more neutral colour palette, lower cut necklines and sleeveless styles of all five dresses they projected the image of a woman embracing a new chapter in life.
In contrast, the dresses felt quite ghostlike in the way they were displayed; as if floating in the air creating Diana’s feminine tall elegant frame.  I found myself marvelling at the beautiful clothes, the exquisite construction but also feeling melancholy, knowing they are missing the person that wore them with so much personality and purpose. This was particularly felt in the final room where the dresses are all sleeveless; the lack of arms particularly enforces the lack of person to bring them to life. Coupled with their context in her life, as symbols of her new freedom, they are tainted with sadness, knowing we never got to see how this new chapter and new look would have developed. 
A display of her perhaps her most iconic dresses from the Mario Testino photoshoot
The diamante buttons twinkled in the soft light of the final room
Beading Detail of one of her dresses
A Diana Refashioned and Reborn
The exhibition is many things: it is a showcase of couture design and modern historical fashion but is more than this; it is also a personal story of one woman’s growth and maturity in the public eye from a shy girl to a confidant impactful royal.  In my view Diana’s clothes are more than fashion; they are more akin to costume design; as although they reflect fashions of the time they were designed for her, to make nuanced statements about her character, beliefs, presence.  This is the embodiment of costume design.  Catherine Walker described her clothes for Diana as her ‘royal uniform’ and Jasper Conran described Walkers relationship with Diana as a designer ‘who would concentrate on her’. This is evident in Walkers designs that flattered her tall frame well and emphasized her warmth, diplomacy and compassion through her designs. Her clothes tell of both a unique time in British fashion and the woman who wore them.
A truly fascinating exhibition that gives a very personal insight into the late Princess, with a gorgeous display of her dresses, constructed to the highest standard. The workmanship is incredible; from the beading to the pleating and hand finishes the exhibition displays a dazzling range of couture craftsmanship. It is also a great insight into high fashion of the 1980’s and 90’s. Well worth a visit!

Diana – Her Fashion Story., Kensington Palace 2017, Curator Deidre Murphy

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Inside a Costume Hire House: Bristol Costume Services

Spread across two floors Bristol Costume Services houses an array of costumes from the medieval to the modern day for men and women. Period costume from ancient to the 19th century is on the first floor and 20th century costume is on the second floor along with ‘light entertainment’ costume such as those used for pantomime, burlesque etc.

It is a vast place so as you can imagine I only saw a tiny snap shot of what they have in the two hours I was there. I mainly used the trip (with my university course) as a chance to research costumes that related to my latest project, a 1980’s outfit with an 18th century twist, in the jacket style . Therefore I firstly looked for 1980’s suit jackets and late 18th century caraco bodices. I was able to find several jackets and three bodices.

Starting with the 18th century bodices I examined the practical features of the garments, to gain a better understanding of the standard of production used in theatre costume making. The combinations of fastenings used in the three different examples of bodice were really insightful: one bodice was fastened with giant poppers as well as hook and bar tape for extra security. Another had hook and bars sewn on individual but alternated the sides the components were sewn on to. One wasn’t lined, perhaps to make the costumes more washable. However one was lined and sweat patches were sewn under the armholes to protect the silk fabric lining. The third one was only half lined on the tail coat style draped panel. This was probably because it was very full and long and may have shown on the underside.
Hooks and Bars and Poppers
Hooks and pars are sewn on alternative sides each pair for a more secure fasten.
Sweat patches preserve the fine silk lining
From a design perspective they were also inspirational. My design incorporates a peplum that forms into two points. Each of the three bodices had interesting examples of similar effects. One created a sharp point at the centre back by adding an extra pointed panel; this folds in when lying straight, by I reckon would splay out over a bum roll/full skirt. The second created a short flared peplum using box pleats; this doesn’t create any sort of point but would create a nice fit and flare line. 
The third bodice was fitted with a stomacher front panel which then flares out into a full almost tailcoat style shape at the back. This is cut in panels to create the very full shape. It was a very heavy garment because there was so much fabric in the back panel. The exaggerated, oversized collar and panelling suggested to me it had been a comical costume, also reflected in the fabric, and binding. The strong royal blue buttons and binding infer it was for a confidant character, the colour combination’s producing a bold striking design. I was also interested in the placement of the stripe pattern: the front and back panels in particular I felt was cut in an attractive way. However they didn’t match the stipes on the bodice/peplum waist seam, which would have improved the costume.  

I also needed to research 1980’s suit jackets so also went up to the 2nd floor to look at their 80’s stock. The 2nd floor I wouldn’t say is as ordered as the 1st. there is no lighting, and it is difficult to see the costumes if you are in the centre of the room so have to take everything over to the windows to see it properly. I mainly wanted to look at 1980’s jackets to examine their construction, Such as the size of shoulder pads and lining construction.

Whereas all the period stuff has clearly been made, their 20th century stock is mostly vintage clothing from the various periods. The jackets I looked at were vintage pieces from Jigsaw, Hobbs, Jacques Vert to name a few. From examining several pieces I was able to identify some key construction features: all have a 2 inch pleat in the centre back of the lining for ease, and the thickness of shoulder pads vary from approximately 6cm – 3cm. I also found a really nice pencil skirt, part of a two piece suit; it had a flattering waistband shape and placement of darts on the skirt back. 
As well as finding costumes to inform my research I also just looked around generally at the different stock. They have a vast selection of unusual pieces. From exquisite examples of fabric manipulation as seen on 18th century bodices and beautiful scalloped edged flouncy sleeves. To illustrious ethnic and embroidered fabrics used in Tudor dresses, capes and other exotic garments. I also came a across a rather unusual set of headdresses including a massive fairy-tale castle, the Titanic and landmarks of Europe they were very wacky and eclectic indeed. 
Some other highlights included the breaking down section which apparently includes some of the costumes used on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies film and had a selection of mainly period costumes, that had been in some cases near destroyed; such as the bodice below which had been shredded and ripped within an inch of its life.
It would have been interesting to know if these pieces were once newly made costumes that had just become worn/damaged overtime so were chosen to be broken down or were made to be used as broken down costumes. The last highlight was a rather unusual medieval cape, which appeared to have been made of incredibly thick and weighty canvas and then painted with a design. If this could be done with slightly less heavy fabric, I feel it could be a really unusual way of creating medieval costumes where fabrics are difficult to source if you have a very specific motif that needed to be created. 
Facts and Figures

BCS charge £45 per week for a full costume (BCS define a full costume as a dress, petticoat, cape, hat, shoes. However they did say a dress and petticoat may also be considered a full costume in some circumstances)

Consecutive weeks would be charged at £22 pounds.

They don’t charge per item but as a complete outfit

They bought up Bristol Old Vic’s store and BBC Wales store when they sold their stock.

Sometimes they will offer to produce costumes but on condition that BCS keep the costumes for their stock.

I hope this gives you some idea of the wide ranging selection in style Bristol Costume Services has to offer. If you are looking to hire for a show I am sure you will find something to suit your needs, there is a great selection and it is well made especially as much of their stock has come from other wardrobe departments.