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«University of Huddersfield Repository Almond, Kevin You have to suffer for Fashion Original Citation Almond, Kevin (2009) You have to suffer for ...»

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Sarah Broadbent’s copper corset (pics 6, 7) is a pure fashion statement piece. It is obviously not a practical fashion garment. It is also extremely uncomfortable and cumbersome to wear. The metal is cold and harsh against the skin and there is also the physiological fear that the metal could wound or tear. Sarah had considered this in manufacture, as the inside seams where heat solded and therefore smooth. It’s an excellent example of a fashion garment made from a non conventional material and is in the spirit of iconic fashion garments such as Issey Miyake’s plastic corset (pic 8). A calico toile was made and fitted initially. The metal pieces were cut from the finished pattern and heat solded together. The inside of the garment is unlined or padded, making it more uncomfortable when worn next to naked flesh. Statement pieces such as these are produced by designers and shown on the catwalk. These are pieces that won’t necessarily sell, but are designed to attract press and media attention for the collection.

A deconstruction of the work of more theatrical designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier or Alexander Mc Queen reveals this philosophy. Whilst not a corset, the Jean Paul Gaultier, Cyba Punk jacket from 1994 (pics 9), is an interesting example from the Victoria and Albert archives. The jacket, like the corset defines the breasts and waist line. The base fabric is from cotton canvas but the design incorporates wire, metal and plastic. The breast area is cut out and filled with the metal cup. Again this is an attention grabbing catwalk piece but is difficult and cumbersome to wear.

The neoprene jacket from Rebecca Coleman’s collection (pics 27, 28, 29), seeks to distort and deconstruct the natural lines of the body with


seaming and a juxtaposition of straight and curved lines that juts the silhouette out over the waist. The inspiration for her designs came from a group design project that asked the students to select three garments from a second hand shop. The students had to deconstruct and reconstruct these garments on a dress stand in order to assemble an inspirational piece from which to design a fashion collection for a targeted market. The jacket is made from neoprene which is a spongy, flexible fabric that holds it shape easily. The shape is also maintained by the silver tape used to decorate and reinforce the seaming. Deconstruction of the conventional methods of the manufacture of garments became fashionable in the 1990’s with designers such as Comme De Garcons and Martin Margeila. Frayed edges and seams, garments made to look inside out and in the case of Comme De Garcons distortion of the natural shape of the body, were de rigor. Rebecca’s jacket is much in the spirit of some of Comme De Garcons work.

There were various interesting examples of garments incorporating abstract and hap hazard seaming at the V and A. Two toile’s from Charles James from the 1970’s (pics 32, 33, 34) demonstrate the designer’s architectural engineering. His garments were described as being ‘A built environment, constructed on principles of abstraction but substantiated by ample materials, that the woman wearing becomes curiously self sufficient as well.’ (Martin R, 1997, p,5) The dress was bias cut, with twisted seams. It is asymmetric, as it is one shouldered with a cape extending from the other shoulder. The calico toile is also a great opportunity to examine the technical thought process of a designer who was not only a fanatical perfectionist but who;

‘Saw the female form as an armature on which to fashion sculpture, not just cover with clothes.’ (Coleman, E from Martin, R, 1997, p182) The Vivienne Westwood twisted seam dress in wool from 1982 (pics 35, 36), is in a similar spirit however the soft wool gives a more supple drape and feel to the juxtaposed lines of its construction. The seams twist around the body and sleeves and form an asymmetric drape on the left side of the dress that distorts the shape. In contrast the hem is levelled straight.

Melanie Suffill’s Bump Dress (pics 10), in grey felt exaggerates the contours of the female body in order to accentuate its womanliness and curves. It makes a particular statement about curvaceous ness, but emphasises womanliness rather than the erotic.

Again, this type of dress is designed to make a statement when worn and is very much akin to the work of designers such as Georgina Godley and Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons. In 1997 Rei Kawakubo produced a controversial collection that placed shaped pads or bumps on unexpected areas of the body (pic 11). It presented a new and thought provoking silhouette that was light and relatively easy to wear. It was manufactured from polyester and nylon knit with a light polyester fill. The collection was used by a dance troop where;

‘The somewhat unnerving ‘bumps’ that would appear to inhibit the body’s movement instead introduce an upholstered security to the dancers propulsive turns.’ Koda, 2003, p113).

Melanie’s dress by contrast appears heavy and rather unwieldy. She experimented with various fabrics and methods of manufacture. She initially made the garment in neoprene but settled on felt, as it was light and the fibres are felted together, making it pliable enough to hold its shape. The padded shapes are very heavy and need to be applied to the body first, before wearing the dress. It makes the process of dressing for the wearer time consuming and burdensome. The Comme Des Garcons clothes are more thought through and have utilised high tech fabrics and experimented with pad techniques that are applied to the dress as a whole. Unfortunately there were no significant examples of a bump dress in the Victoria and Albert Museum archives. The Georgina Godley dress from 1987 (pic 12), was the only example from a designer with a similar approach. The hem of her silk jersey dress is boned with ridgeline and is vaguely disturbing as it seems to constantly move and is asymmetric. By contrast the Hobble style dress from 1912 (pics 13, 14), was very interesting. The top is interfaced with heavier cotton sateen in ruffles which even though irritating to wear creates the pigeon chest silhouette, fashionable in that period, which is essentially a large curved chest.

The fluidity of jersey creates an aura of Grecian drapery in Emma Roebuck’s heavy silver jersey dress (pics 46,47,48). Designers have often plundered ancient Greece and Rome for design ideas. The original Greek and Roman tunic, was essentially a square of fabric with a hole in the middle. When placed over the head the fabric fell in drapes around the body. The ancient Greeks even went to the extreme of dampening the fabric in order to accentuate the drapery.

‘ The voluminous imperial toga needed particular care both in the draping and the wearing, otherwise it could easily become careless and undignified.’ Ribeiro (1986), p23) Close examination of the work of Madame Gres, Vionnet and Vivienne Westwood reveals their appreciation of such drapery and its integration in to many of their designs. Emma’s dress is essentially two tubes of fabric that when hung on the body fall in to folds that flatter and conceal body shape. With movement the fabric changes shape and in turns reveals and conceals different parts of the body and in so doing emphasises areas of the body previously not considered flattering, such as the side of the bust.

The Madame Gres dress (pics 49, 50,51), examined in the V and A is a black wool jersey afternoon dress from 1957. It is a draped and folded dress that crosses over at the front to a draped fastening on the left hip. It has short cape sleeves and a low cross over neckline. The drape in this dress is very different to Emma Roebuck’s in that it seems very considered. Whereas Emma’s dress relies on how the fabric hangs on the body as it moves, the Madame Gres dress is controlled because the drape is held at a fixed point.

The drape is still fluid and relies on the considerable technical skill and experience of the designer.

Madame Gres was famous for her Grecian gowns directly inspired by Grecian drapery, ‘Her pleated gowns are a modern distillation of classicism.’ (Mears, P 2007 p31) This 1950’s dress is particularly interesting because it demonstrates how the designer managed to adapt her aesthetic to contemporary trends. The fluidity of the 1957 dress is cut to flow over the inner reinforcement in garments of the 1950’s and would have been worn over a body held together by a girdle.

The lines of the shoulder and the arm have had considerable metamorphous in fashion. Padded, pleated, gathered, hooped, puffed, shapes have been distorted and exaggerated to flatter and provoke cynics.

Broad sleeves will diminish the whole body, even the hips to a more cylindrical shape, their scale can give the illusion of a tiny waist. To inflate sleeves designers have looked for techniques in artisan trades and in advanced technologies. Supports have been worn as underpinnings or incorporated in to the structure of sleeves, down filled pillows, shapes with ribs of wire or cone making, lantern like forms. Shoulder pads have been built and sculpted as patterns have been curved and slashed in order to accommodate shape.

‘From a technical, perspective, the padded shoulder was useful, since the extended shoulder line required an associated widening of the pattern piece.’ (Koda 2003 p38) The shoulder padded look has been a recurrent trend in fashion since the 1930’s. Hugely exaggerated shoulders were seen in the 1940’s and 1980’s popularised by the glamorous wardrobes of film stars Joan Crawford and Joan Collins respectably. The 1990’s saw severe shoulders in the work of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood whose double breasted power suit (pics 59,60,61), in the V and A, demonstrates its method of manufacture. Dating from 1995, it is made from cotton/viscose. A huge shoulder pad that has been tailor made to fit the pattern. The pad kicks from the armhole seam by nearly 4 centimetres and is rounded. The shape is maintained by three centre metre darts curved into the sleeve head. The jacket is a supreme example of the padded shoulder, suggesting domination and a powerful sexiness. In contrast to this an Adrian jacket from 1949 (pic 62), was examined, this had shoulder padding but no hip padding. Adrian is interesting in this context as he was the costume designer for MGM Studios in Hollywood. His collaboration with the film star Joan Crawford resulted in the classic shoulder pad look we know today. As Crawford had naturally wide, almost Amazonian shoulders the pair decided to exaggerate them with padding in many of her film costumes. The look became synominous with her image.

The V and A jacket whilst being padded and boxy was produced at the height of the New Look, when a more natural rounded shoulder had become fashionable, its therefore not perhaps the best example of exaggerated shoulder padding but is interesting to compare with the Westwood jacket.

Putting volume into the silhouette of a garment can radically alter the size and shape of the body. This can look effective but requires great poise in order to carry it off. There were some amazing examples of volume in the Victoria and Albert Museum archives, particularly in the work of Balenciaga who was renowned for;

‘His immaculate technique and restrained purity of form.’ (Jouve, M,A,1997 p9).

It is particularly noteworthy that Balenciaga created shape and volume by exploring the inherent possibilities of the fabric as opposed to stiffening it or constructing shape beneath it. This is evident in his amazing evening cape from 1963 (pics 15,16). The garment reveals some of the couturiers particular dressmaking methods. It is made from a double layer of silk gazaar to give it body. The designer used very large seams of approximately 8cms at the waist. The seam was then turned down in order to kick out the gathers and exaggerate the volume. Equally the 8cm hem is substantial enough to hold out and emphasise the volume of the garment. The large seams cannot be viewed as waste of fabric but demonstrate the possibilities of the fabric, as opposed to experimenting with other construction methods, that would need to have been applied to the garment. Also noteworthy is the fact that much of the garment is put together by hand, employing skilled couture dressmaking techniques. This technique was again evident in the black wool sack back dress from 1959 (pics 17,18). The large 6cms seam was pressed downwards to kick out the pleat and the large pocket bags also give volume. The extra thick seam down the front of the dress is also very large and helps the dress to hang. It is difficult to encourage students to really exaggerate volume and over sizing in garments. Victoria Tynan’s collection of Empire line dresses (pics 19), would have benefited from a study of these particular techniques. Her garments attempt to introduce a large volume of fabric by gathering the skirt into the Empire waist line. The finished garments although strong in their use of textile embellishment suggest meanness in their volume, almost as if the student was afraid to slash huge swathes of fabric into the skirt. The use of larger seams would also have helped to really kick the skirt out at the waist.

The recent exhibition ‘The Golden Age of Couture’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum highlighted fashion in London and Paris between the years 1947 to 1957. This was the period of the New Look introduced by Christian Dior in 1947. This collection was significant because it radically altered the fashionable female silhouette. The shape promoted was rounded and curvaceous with sloping un-padded shoulders, tiny waists and curved hips. As Christian Dior said;

‘I designed clothes for flower – like women, with rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, and hand – span waists above enormous spreading skirts. (Wilcox 2007, p,39).

The silhouette was achieved with artifice and patience. A video at the exhibition, demonstrated a woman in her underwear putting on padding to wear beneath her garments. She wore an elasticised ‘waspie’ to reduce her waist, then applied padding to her hips by attaching shaped pieces of material that had been heavily padded, to sit under her garments.

The girdle became a popular form of body modification in the 1950’s but was abandoned in the late 1960’s as fashion promoted a more natural body shape. In recent decades control pants and body stockings have become popular, worn under garments to tame the body into a desired shape.

‘Control pants are obviously the modern version of distorting the body’ (F.Thompson Bridal Wear, 2007).

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