Part 1 of 3.
I don’t usually ask this but please make sure to click the links provided below to see the other parts of this costume. Those links are either in bold (if you are on my blog format) or underlined (for those of us who like the dashboard function best). There were so many photos that I could not find the space to post them all and I promise that they are more than worth it!
I had a discussion with a guest the other day who said that fashion was not art. That it was merely “an article of clothing and that there was no skill put forth into the construction of the garment. It simply is or was.”
I set aside the fact that I am currently in my third year studying the construction of costuming and that I am interning in an 18th century Millinery shop (which requires the daily use of my thimble and the technical bits of my brain) and I had to focus on the word use. Was. Was? I can understand why one would assume that the fashion we wear each day might not seem like great works of art but the was had me intrigued.
I had pushed the conversation to the back of my mind but when I came across this gown on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s database my very first thought was Worth was an amazing artist. Then the conversation came back to me again and I started to think about the designers who have spoken to me. Whether it was from behind the panes of glass at an exhibition, from the pages of a book, or even from an online database. look at the great designers, like Emile Pingat and Charles Worth (who tie for my favorite Victorian masters), to the freedom and beauty of Lucile (who in my opinion largely dominates the Edwardian era, only occasionally bowing to Callot Soeurs, Paquin, and Doucet). Were they not artists?
I have always thought of them as artists, but then I began to wonder about the definition of “art”. The Google definition of art is as follows: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. I most certainly think that costume and fashion fall under that definition.
Then I thought that perhaps those who say that fashion is not art have not had the opportunity to see beyond the pieces of cloth that we just adorn our body with.
This gown is the most perfect demonstration of art, look at the detail of the day bodice balanced by the repetition of the pattern in the evening bodice. Not only that, but observe the gathers, the pintucks, the fringe and the sheer amount of technical detail that went into this piece. They are breathtaking. The skill and mastery that went into this gown demonstrates an almost genius-like comprehension on how texture and manipulation can be used in skilled hands to produce a profound artwork painted in a myriad of textiles and lace. It shows how the proper use of construction and decoration can emphasize the the beauty of the female silhouette. For example, look at how the lines of piping directly control the fall of the train. This gown does not softly whisper to me, it reverberates in joyous celebration as a representation of the complexity that was the Victorian Era.
Each one of those stitches are equivalent to the stroke of a paintbrush or to the hammer of the chisel.
It is my strong belief that Fashion deserves the recognition of being an integral part of the art world. If you were to be so cruel as to ask me to choose the side of art or fashion, I could not make the choice, for they are the same. I would tell you to keep your Great Masters. You may even have my beloved Gentileschi back, because, to me this gown is and always will be a masterpiece.
c. 1887 Met Red bengaline mantle, it’s waist length in back and nearly knee length at front.Just like a cape, it just wraps around the arms, but there is also an extra length of material at the front of the sleeve. It has been beaded with black jet and large spiral circles cover the front and back and around bottom. The collar frill is of horsehair lace
Red bengaline mantle, it’s waist length in back and nearly knee length at front.Just like a cape, it just wraps around the arms, but there is also an extra length of material at the front of the sleeve. It has been beaded with black jet and large spiral circles cover the front and back and around bottom. The collar frill is of horsehair lace