Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Futuristic Fashion of Pierre Cardin



Back in the summer when I was deciding whether or not to go to New York this fall, I saw that the Brooklyn Museum was having a retrospective of the designs of Pierre Cardin, and that made up my mind.   I love Cardin's futuristic clothing, so to have an opportunity to view it in person was not to be passed up.  The verdict?  The show is definitely worth a visit.

Pietro Cardin was born in Italy in 1922, and in 1924, his family moved to France to escape fascism.   One of Cardin's various part-time jobs included one with a local tailor, and at the age of 18, he left home to pursue his dream of becoming a couturier.  His apprenticeship with a tailor in Vichy was interrupted for wartime service. After the war, he moved to Paris and worked as a tailor for Maison Paquin, followed by a stop at Elsa Schiaparelli's atelier, and finally landing a job as the first employee at Christian Dior's new fashion house in 1946.   In 1950, he left Dior and started his own Pierre Cardin company which created costumes for European masquerade balls.


The coat in the above photo was part of Cardin's earliest collection, in 1952, which was an immediate success.  The original coat and suit designs in the collection were praised for the cut, inventiveness, generous use of fabric and attention to detail.

The exhibit includes 170 pieces, including both contemporary and historical haute couture, accessories, photographs, videos, furniture and home decor.  The majority of the items are displayed in groupings around a particular theme. 

 

Innovative Materials

Cardin has been quoted as saying "When I design a dress, I don't design it around a woman's body, I design the dress, and then put the woman inside it".  This is certainly true for many of the piece in the show.   His childhood fascination with the American and Soviet Space programs inspired him to experiment with unconventional materials and shapes to create sculptural, space-age designs.
  

The dresses above are examples of the innovative materials Cardin used in his designs.  The dress on the far right is from a 1968 collection of 3-D molded dresses made from Cardine, the designer's own Dynel fabric.  Cardin also used vinyl (left) and plexiglass (center) as dressmaking materials.


L:  Bandeau and skirt made of vinyl and plastic from 1968;  R:"porthole" dress made from wool crepe and silver leather, also from 1968

 

Geometric Shapes


Throughout his career, Cardin's interest in geometry has shown up in his designs.  His most frequently used shape is the circle.  He also began working with the parabola (technically, a symmetrically mirrored U-shape) in the 1950's.   

L: cocktail dress with "parabolic" cap sleeves from 1990; R: suit with "parabolic" sleeve detail on jacket from 1991

The use of stretch fabrics and hoops allowed for amplified parabolic shapes in Cardin's designs.  Some of Cardin's "Parabolic" fashions collapse flat and are easily packed

L: velvet evening gown from 2010 embellished with painted styrofoam balls; R: satin "pendulums" form the skirt of the dress from 2019

four pairs of linen men's pants from 1972, two of which incorporate a circle shape and a "target" design

 L: two-piece suit from 2015; centre: cocktail dress from 2013; R: outfit from 2018

Cardin's designs from the last decade (as seen in the above photo) show that his love of circles persists.

 shelving unit (no year), "circle" coat from 1988, "Balance" lamp from 1977

The exhibit contained a few pieces of Cardin's furniture designs.  He used traditional woodworking and lacquer techniques to create handmade cabinets, tables, dressers, and chairs which he described as "Couture Furniture".  The circular shelving unit in the photo above is a stunning example of his striking designs which, like his clothing, often incorporated a circular motif.

 

Unisex Dressing

 

 Designs from Cardin's "Cosmocorps" collection

Cardin and other Western designers such as Rudi Gernreich began showing gender-neutral collections in the 1960's.  Cardin's "Cosmocorps" collection from 1964 was his earliest experimentation with unisex dressing. The base garment was a black body stocking over which was then layered neck pieces, vests, codpieces, skirts, tunics, belts and aprons.  Fashion forward men like Truman Capote, Salvador Dali and Rudi Gernreich worn the suit designs.

"Parabolic" jumpsuit from 2010

Suit from "Cosmocorps" featuring the rolled collar and decorative zippers that appeared frequently in that collection

 Bold Shoulders

A revival of the "bold shoulder" began in the 1970's as other elements of men's suits (lapels, ties) also grew wider.  Cardin's extreme shoulder silhouettes gave the wearers the appearance of a superhero.

L - R:"American Football" suit from 1980, coat and turtleneck from 1991, "Origami Suit" from 1981

Cardin's men's leather jackets featured "American Football" shoulders (above left) and his first trip to China in 1978 inspired a coat with shoulders imitating the shape of Chinese pagodas, and  "origami shoulders" with complex fabric folding.

"Origami Suit" from 1981

"Computer" jacket from 1981 with intricately pleated back

Accessories

Accessories were an important element of Cardin's designs.  Hats were created to accompany most daywear looks, and those outfits that did not include hats often incorporated over-sized plastic sunglasses or masks made of leather and clear plastic.  The exhibit featured several pieces of enormous silver metal neckpieces from the late 1960's which could be worn today.

Articulated necklace from 1969

 Evening dress with metal collar, 1968, shown next to a photo of model Penelope Tree wearing same dress

leather and plastic masks from 1982

L - R:  Two examples of red leather and metal shoes from 1967, along with a patent leather and metal pair from 1969

Statement metal and leather belt (no year given)

The Wall of Hats

The hat was an important element in Cardin's silhouettes.  In the 1960's he introduced new shapes such as the helmet and "halo" (worn with the 1968 "Cardine" dress).  His hat designs in the 80's and 90's often obscured part of the wearer's face, suggesting armour, hijabs or burkas.  Later shapes were often large in scale, and whimsical or surreal in shape.

One of Cardin's more recent surreal hat designs


In the late 1960's, Cardin began to license his name to a series of products to be sold in department store chains in England, Germany, Japan and Argentina.  This was an unusual thing for a couture designer to do at that time, and to ensure that the quality of the goods remained high, Cardin's company employed managers who supervised the design and manufacturing process.  Each product had a visible Pierre Cardin logo.  Over the years, his logo would appear on over 850 licenses, in over 110 boutiques around the world.  The success of his licensed products gave him creative freedom in his couture designs and allowed him to pursue other interests, such as the purchase of Maxim's Restaurant in Paris.   He even got into car design beginning in 1969; in 1981 he redesigned the Cadillac Eldorado Evolution, which featured virgin wool carpeting, mahogany and walnut dash, hand-tooled leather seats and a thirty-layer lacquer paint finish similar to that of his "Couture Furniture".


Cardin, captured above by photographer Michel Boutefeu in 1982, with his three "Golden Thimble" awards which were given to French couturiers.   He was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 1983, and in 1992 Cardin became the only designer to be given a seat in the Academie des Beaux-Arts.  Cardin is 97 years old, and still working.

Over all, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit, but I would have liked to have seen a few more pieces from the 1960's, and I thought the labels describing individual pieces were very small, contained minimal information, and were often hard to locate.    Cardin's day wear looks were definitely more interesting in terms of colour and shape then the evening wear looks that were included in the retrospective.

an evening gown from 2017 definitely lacked the youthful, modern charm of his day wear

I'll leave you with a photo of myself, and my exhibit companion, Jean (one half of the Idiosyncratic Fashionistas) in front of the hat wall.....

I'm wearing a vintage velvet and silk Oscar de la Renta tunic dress I found at a thrift store 

Jean in not-so-basic black accessorized with leopard print headpiece


Pierre Cardin:  Future Fashion is on at the Brooklyn Museum until 
January 5th, 2020  

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hail To The Queen (of CanLIt)


Queen Margaret, of course

 

 
Photo by Tim Walker - source

Canadian author Margaret Atwood is everywhere these days, including the New York Times, and the Sunday Times (UK), which featured the fabulous photo above.  The publication of her 17th novel, The Testaments,  a sequel to her 1985 dystopian bestseller, The Handmaid's Tale, has made her the current media darling.   Never mind that she's also written 15 other novels, 8 books of short fiction, 15 books of poetry, 10 works of non-fiction, 2 graphic novels and 7 books for children.

When I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing English teacher, Mrs. Tiffin, who believed that Canadian writers were every bit as talented and engaging, if not as famous, as those from the United States.   Mrs. Tiffin had been Alice Munro's English teacher, (another much-loved and lauded Canadian author) when Munro attended the same high school in Wingham, Ontario, 30 years before me.  It was in Mrs. Tiffin's class that we were introduced to the writing of Margaret Lawrence, Timothy Findley, and Margaret Atwood.  Because I enjoyed English class the most of all my courses, and did well in it, I decided to make it my degree major when I attended University.  There I was able to take a class that focused on Canadian literature, and I remember discovering Margaret Atwood's poetry, including "The Journals of Susanna Moodie".  The poem that made the biggest impression on me is probably her shortest, but says everything about Atwood's wit and sensibility in only 4 lines:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye 

It is still a favourite of mine, and for the early part of my adult life, pretty much summed up how I felt about relationships. 

I discovered a love for the writings of other Canadian authors, such as Robertson Davies, Timothy Findley and the aforementioned Alice Munro, whose works still hold a place of honour on my bookshelves.  But I had never read a voice like Margaret Atwood's before.  "The Edible Woman" may not have been the easiest choice for my introduction to Atwood's novels; it was certainly one of the strangest books I had read up until that point in my life, but I was immediately drawn to the dark humour and surreal plotline.  As a budding young feminist, I liked that she centered her narratives around female characters who were trying to figure out their place in the world, and in their relationships with men, which was basically what I was trying to do at that point in my life.

 
    
That is indeed me in the photo above, wearing a beige sweater (!!??), getting my copy of Lady Oracle signed by Ms. Atwood when she visited Western University in the early 80's.

As I read more of Atwood's novels, my admiration of her grew and I became a true fangirl.   On one visit to Toronto in the 1980's, as I was walking down Queen Street West (which was the hip hangout for musicians, writers and other artists back then) and I spied  Atwood sitting at a table through the window of Le Select Bistro.  I wasn't planning on having lunch, but I marched right in there and got a table close to hers from where I proceeded to eavesdrop on her conversation while trying not to stare at her too much.  Unfortunately, I couldn't hear much of the conversation she was having with her lunch companion, but just being in such close proximity with one of my favourite authors was thrill enough.

At one point I have owned almost every book she has written, but through several purges of my bookshelf, I've whittled my collection down to the ones below.
  

I still have my pristine, first edition copy of The Handmaid's Tale, given to me as a gift by my then room mate.   In 1985 when it was published, critics reviews were mixed.   New York Times book critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote the following:

"...it is a political tract deploring nuclear energy, environmental waste, and antifeminist attitudes
But it so much more than that - a taut thriller, a psychological study, a play on words. It has a sense of humor about itself, as well as an ambivalence toward even its worst villains, who aren't revealed as such until the very end. Best of all, it holds out the possibility of redemption. After all, the Handmaid is also a writer. She has written this book. She may have survived"

But it was also dismissed as "undistinguished" and "ordinary" in the same newspaper by writer Mary McCarthy:

“The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale is undistinguished in a double sense, ordinary if not glaringly so, but also indistinguishable from what one supposes would be Margaret Atwood’s normal way of expressing herself in the circumstances. This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.” 

Since that time The Handmaid's Tale has become a frequently studied classic of dystopian fiction, and in the era of Trump it has taken on a new cultural resonance.  It has been made into a film, and in 2017 was adapted into a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss as the Handmaid Offred.  And now, Atwood has published a sequel, titled, The Testaments.  

What a difference 35 years make; the release of The Testaments was a literary event.  Atwood launched the book with a sold-out live event at London’s National Theater that was broadcast at around 1,000 cinemas around the world.  Fans lined up for blocks at the midnight of its release, the reviews have been uniformly positive, interviews with Atwood have appeared in every major media outlet (including a fantastic photo shoot with legendary British fashion photographer Tim Walker for the Sunday Times) and the novel has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.  On a sad note, Ms. Atwood's longtime partner, author Graeme Gibson, passed away while accompanying Atwood on her current book tour.

Personally, I'm thrilled that Atwood is being treated like the Canadian Literary Queen she is - long may she reign.

Photo by Tim Walker - source


Sunday, July 21, 2019

What's Your Creative Legacy?


Some of you may remember that in January I participated in a two-week online creative challenge hosted by artist Brooke Shaden (you can read about it here).   I enjoyed it enough that when she advertised on her website that she was doing a Promoting Passion lecture tour, which had a stop in Vancouver during the time I would be there, I immediately signed up.  The tour was sponsored by Sony, which allowed for Shaden to set the early registration fee at a very affordable $50 (the registration fee later increased to $70). The brief description below is from the event materials:

"Focusing on intense community connection and inspiration to create more authentic and impactful art, the lecture tour will bring together artists to jumpstart their creative ambitions.  Lectures and workshops focus on how to live a passionate life by turning your passion into a career, how to create more meaningful art for yourself and others, how to find confidence in your craft, and more"

Upon first reading it sounds a bit intimidating, and I wondered if everyone else attending would be "serious" artists.  As it turned out, the majority of the 35 or so attendees were women in their 20's and 30's, and there were some for whom photography was a profession, others, a means of creative expression, and a few who didn't bring a camera with them at all. 

Shaden is a warm and encouraging person, and very generous with sharing the process behind her art.  She greeted each participant with a hug, which was a lovely way to start the day.  First up were a few group exercises that were designed to take us out of our comfort zone and connect with the other people in the room.   Have you ever stood a foot apart from a stranger, facing each other, and stared into each other's eyes for a full minute?  Until that point, I hadn't, and it's definitely not easy; I had to fight the urge to look away after about 30 seconds.

This was followed by a lecture from Shaden that addressed the topic of Legacy, and what stops us from leaving a creative legacy.  If "Legacy" is the message you want to leave behind, art is the messenger.  We examined the excuses we make to ourselves (and others) for not creating, and what is the narrative we tell ourselves about our creative abilities.  There was a lot of food for thought, and it encouraged some self-reflection on what I had to offer as an artist (or creative), and what words do I use to describe myself - are they positive and kind, or do I focus on comparison and fear of failure? She encouraged us to trust that what we had to offer was worthwhile, and pointed out that "believing you are insignificant is easy, as it takes away your autonomy and responsibility".

After lunch, and a talk by accomplished sports and lifestyle photographer Erin Hogue, came the hands-on part of the day. 

Brooke Shaden (left) and photographer Erin Hogue

We had two models to photograph; first up was Niki (wearing the white dress above), a plain backdrop, a book, and some loose pages.   Shaden set up the original idea, and we were encouraged to give posing suggestions.  It was challenging to jockey for a good shooting position with 30 other people but in the end, after a bit of editing at home, I ended up with the two photos below...



Then we moved on to the hotel pool, with model Chelsea.  Initially, Shaden got in the pool with her to hold a backdrop (you can see her head peeking out on the left), but that became unwieldy so after we all had a chance to get some shots she left Chelsea to her own devices.

Chelsea earned major kudos from us for her patience, and excellent posing skills, especially considering she was immersed in a pool while wearing in a long dress.

For this photo, all I did was alter the colour hue a bit

Shaden brought an old magnifying glass to use as a prop

I had fun playing with creative filters on photos of Chelsea floating in the middle of the pool

The two photos below were created using the "plastic" filter, and I liked the effect it has on the water.  It definitely made the photos look more like paintings, which I was very happy with.




It's said that "comparison is the thief of joy" so I'm kind of glad I haven't seen anyone else's photos from the day.   Initially I had hoped the event might provide an opportunity to make some connections with other creative people, but everyone seemed focussed on their own journey and less interested in networking.  Still,  it was a creatively fulfilling and inspiring day, and I came away with some photos I liked, and feeling motivated to spend more time on creative pursuits.   With so many terrible things that are happening in the world, in addition to the stress of our own lives,  it is important to not lose touch with our creative side, whether for you that means brainstorming new ways to re-cycle the glut of plastic that is choking our planet, sewing clothing for ourselves, creating stories to entertain our children, trying a new recipe, or taking a photo of your dog.  It's the thing that feeds our soul when the outside world asks too much of us, and gives back too little.