Aesthetic Dress & Reaction…

The Aesthetic Movement, and more specifically Aesthetic Dress, arose in response to the predominant fashions of the Victorian Era and as such, sought to replace challenged convention in advocating for less structured and confining fashions. Of course, as with all fashion movements, there’s always friction between competing trends and styles and this is captured somewhat subtly in this 1881 painting by William Powell Frith:

William Powell Frith, A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881

This painting is a somewhat of a who’s who of British society and many notable people are depicted:

The annotated version…

For our purposes, what’s notable are the two groups of people in the front wearing aesthetic dress. Oscar Wilde is included with the right aesthetic dress group, speaking about the artwork. Also, behind the right group is a group of men reacting negatively to Oscar and his group. The painting was meant to be a caricature in that Frith had little regard for aesthetic dress nor Oskar Wilde, one of the aesthetic movement’s most vocal advocates. Frith explains in My Autobiography and Reminiscences, Vol. 2 (pp. 256-27):

Seven years ago certain ladies delighted to display themselves at public gatherings in what are called aesthetic dresses; in some cases the costumes were pretty enough, in others they seemed to rival each other in ugliness of form and oddity of colour. There were — and still are, I believe — preachers of aestheticism in dress; but I think, and hope, that the preaching is much less effective than it used to be. The contrast between the really beautiful costumes of some of the lady habituées of our private view, and the eccentric garments of others, together with the opportunity offered for portraits of eminent persons, suggested a subject for a picture, and I hastened to avail myself of it. Beyond the desire of recording for posterity the aesthetic craze as regards dress, I wished to hit the folly of listening to self-elected critics in matters of taste, whether in dress or art. I therefore planned a group, consisting of a well known apostle of the beautiful, with a herd of eager worshippers surrounding him. He is supposed to be explaining his theories to willing ears, taking some picture on the Academy walls for his text. A group of well-known artists are watching the scene.

The motivation for making this painting could simply be attributed to his simple dislike of Oscar Wilde (often referred to as “the apostle of the beautiful”) but it also reveals a reaction towards aesthetic dress and the aesthetic movement whose ideas ran counter to the structured realist painting style that was predominant in Victorian Britain.  It certainly strikes us as modern readers as seemingly much ado about nothing- aesthetic dress was pretty innocuous and with it’s emphasis on unstructured movement, it did offer an alternative for women.

Liberty & Co., Day Dress, c. 1890s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1986.115.2)

Ultimately, what we found compelling here is that we see a trend and a reaction before us in an explicit way and it’s interesting to watch the conflict develop. As a fashion trend, aesthetic dress didn’t last long; fundamental changes in women’s wear was another 20 years or so off with visionaries such as Paul Poiret. However, it’s a good illustration of how fashion trends and their reactions are often rooted in cultural conflicts. We hope to explore these ideas some more in future posts.

What Is Old Is New (Again)…

In keeping with the Classical theme, below is this 1880s ballgown that’s attributed to Liberty & Co. :

Liberty & Co. (attributed), Ballgown, c. 1880s; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1985.155)

Three-Quarter Frontal View

While the V&A Museum dates this dress to the 1880s, we believe that this was most likely made sometime in the Mid-1880s based on the silhouette (although, as with all garment dating, we’re only making an educated guess). Constructed of a gold silk, this ballgown has a the bustle/train silhouette characteristic of the Mid-1880s while at the same time creating a style reminiscent of the Doric Chiton of Classical Greece:

With its free-flowing, ruffled folds, the ballgown’s fashion fabric gives the appearance of effortless draping. This is a somewhat of a departure to the norm where bodices, for both ballgowns and day wear, were tightly sculpted over a corset-created shell. However, in contrast to the Doric Chiton of Classical Greece, the 1880s interpretation by Liberty is a bit more controlled as can be seen with this interior view:

Interior view of the bodice.

The bodice’s interior construction is fairly typical of 1880s bodices with boning to maintain the bodice’s shape. In short, while this ballgown gives the appearance of flowing drapery, it’s just as controlled and structured as any other ballgown of the era. But, more importantly, the style is also reflects the Aesthetic Movement (aka Aestheticism), a trend that was growing during this era. One of the products of the Aestheticism was the advent of Aesthetic Dress, a dress style based on simplicity of line and rich fabrics that rejected the predominant structured fashion of the era created by the corset and bustle. Overall, the look was meant to be liberating and provide freedom of mobility.

The Doric Chiton of Classical Greece offered a lot more freedom of movement than what most Victorians were ready for…

While Aesthetic Dress’s objectives did not reach full fruition to much later (as with such designers as Paul Poiret), this represented a start. It must be noted that Liberty and Company was one of the leading proponents of Aesthetic Dress, starting production on a line of dresses in 1884. Finally, we’d like to note that this ballgown design is interesting in that it looks back to a much earlier time while at the same time offering something fresh and thus it offers another design choice for anyone interested in replicating styles from the 1880s.

A Trip To The V&A Museum, Part 2

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And now on to the high point of our visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum (besides the bookstore 🙂 ). While there were a number of interesting garments, here are a few that caught our eye. First up is this excellent example of a Mid-Bustle Era princess line dress:

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This one is often cited as a good example of Mid-Bustle Era style. Here are some better pictures from the V&A website:

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

Day Dress, c. 1870 – 1880; V&A Museum (CIRC.606-1962)

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

Rear View

Here are some closer views:

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

Day Dress Princess Line V&A 1870 - 1880

One of the most striking features of this dress is the ruched ivory silk front along with the ruching and knife pleating along the rear hem. The net-covered blue Jacquard silk fabric provides an interesting color counterpoint that makes for a nicely unified design.

Next is this 1885 cotton print day dress:

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And here are a few more views:

Day Dress 1885

Day Dress, 1885; V&A Museum (T.7&A-1926)

Day Dress 1885

Side Profile

 

This dress is a good example of the Mid-1880s day dress and it captures the styles of the era quite nicely with a minimum of trim and detail.

Here’s some of the other interesting garments that were on display:

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Bustle Pad

This bustle pad is often seen in Pinterest and in various costume books. It’s functional simplicity at its best.

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Bodice Interior

This bodice interior gives a nice view “under the hood” of a late Victorian bodice. All the seams are finished either by pinking or whip stitched along the edges. Boning has been carefully installed as well as a petersham belt for added stability and shape.

And outside of the late 19th Century were these items of interest:

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Above is an Mid 19th Century French pannier dress. Although it’s not obvious from the picture, this dress was roughly 8 feet wide or so and built for a very small person, say in the 5’3″ to 5’5″ range.

Next is this ribbon corset from circa 1895:

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Finally, there’s the iconic “wine glass dress” designed by Elsa Schiaparelli:

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Evening coat Place of origin: London (made) Date:1937 (made) Materials and Techniques: Silk jersey, with gold thread and silk embroidery and applied decoration in silk

Is it a wine glass or two people? You be the judge. 🙂

Overall, it was a very illuminating visit and it was nice to see some of the garments that I have only seen in books up to this point. In the next post, we’ll tie everything together with some commentary so stay tuned…. 🙂

To be continued…

A Trip To The V&A Museum, Part 1

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First up on our list of “must sees” is the Victoria and Albert Museum. After a long restful sleep and pausing for breakfast, we sallied forth up Cromwell Road towards the museum. It was a relatively short walk and we got an opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of early morning London on a weekday. Compared to Los Angeles, there was heavy foot traffic and it seems that everyone was on their way somewhere (it also seems that that nobody every sleeps in London- the town is constantly on the move).

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We decided that our best opportunity to view the museum would be if we got there just as it opened and as things turned out, that was a very wise idea. It seems that most, if not all, of the museums in London open at 10 am so it pays to plan accordingly. General Admission to the V&A is free although they do charge for most of the special exhibits.

To avoid the crowds, once the museum opened we made a beeline for the farther reaches of the building where we pretty much had the exhibit areas to ourselves for the good part of an hour. First stop was an area devoted to the Arts and Crafts Movement:

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of pictures here but it was interesting to see some of the major sources of fashion inspiration during the late 19th Century. Here’s some example of graphics that were influenced by the movement:

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Unfortunately, the pictures don’t do justice to the wealth of displays to include complete reconstructions of rooms such as this:

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Of course, as a byproduct of the Arts and Crafts Movement was the Aesthetic Dress Movement, a movement that arose in reaction to the structured fashions of the late Victorian Eras. Drawing on Medieval and Renaissance fashions along with Japanese and Chinese fashion influences, aesthetic dress sought to return dress to loose, free-flowing forms, unrestrained by corsetry and elaborate underpinnings. Here’s just one example on display:

Aesthetic Dress Movement

Unfortunately, the room configuration and the glass cover didn’t help the picture-taking any but lucky for us, here are a couple more images from the V&A Museum website that should help show off the details (note, I don’t believe that the placard in the above picture is for this dress):

Aesthetic Dress Movement

Liberty & Co., London, Tea Gown, c. 1894; V&A Museum (T.56-1976)

Aesthetic Dress Movement

Here’s a second example on display:

Aesthetic Dress Movement

Once again, we have the same challenges in getting a good look at the garment but fortunately, we have some better images from the V&A website:

Aesthetic Dress Movement c. 1905

Forma, Dress, c. 1905; V&A Museum (CIRC.638&A-1964)

Aesthetic Dress Movement c. 1905

 

When compared to the prevailing styles of the early 1900s, the two above examples of Aesthetic dress provide a sharp contrast and it could be argued that they were the precursor to the Nouveau Directoire and Classical Greece-inspired styles that were to emerge on to the fashion scene in 1908-09. Stay tuned for more…. 🙂

To be continued….

 

Design Elements – Color Sets The Mood

One of the key elements in fashion design is color and late 19th Century fashion design is no exception. The design process may vary between individual designers but no matter who they are, they all have to consider what colors they’re going to use in their designs. The selection of colors is dependent on the season (though not always) and as such, tend to follow nature. Today, heavy weight is given to predicting what colors will be popular with fashion consumers because this influences the color and types of fabrics that design houses will order for their new lines; a multi-million dollar industry has been created around predicting what colors will be in for the following year with Pantone being the leading firm because of it setting color standards for a variety of industries.. The following color palettes from Pantone give a good illustration of this:

First we have the palette for Fall 2017:

PANTONE Fashion Color Report Fall 2017, New York

Most of the colors are deep, darker earth tones with a neutral gray mixed in reflecting shorter, darker days, leaves turning and the dying off of plant life in anticipation of winter. Nest, here’s the palette for Spring 2018:

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In the above palette for 2018, the colors tend to be lighter, reflecting the increasingly longer days, more sunny weather, and new growth of plants and foliage.

However, before we go on, let me emphasize that color trend predicting is a somewhat subjective and as such, it doesn’t always follow strict rules and as such, it’s more of an approximation today than it was during the 19th Century. Here are two examples from the late 19th Century:

As with other designers, consideration of color makes up a good part of the design process and it’s one of the first steps in the design process. For us, colors fall under three major categories: Fall, Winter, and Spring/Summer. At the same time, we also consider what sort of a garment we’re designing: ball gown, day dress, reception dress, etc. Also, we consider where it’s primarily going to be worn: outside, indoors, indoors at night (e.g., ball room, stage, etc.). Once those questions are answered, we can then proceed with more specific color selections. If the garment is to be worn during the daytime and outside, we tend to first use nature as the first starting point for inspiration.

To illustrate this, let’s consider our Camille picnic dress design. When we originally conceived of it, we were looking for a day dress that could be worn at an outdoor event in the Spring or Summer such as a picnic. The Mid-Bustle Era has always been a favorite with us, so we decided that the style would derive from that period. From there, we determined our color palette, drawing inspiration from the Impressionist painters and Claude Monet in particular. But even more specifically, we wanted to emphasize the Spring with its fresh vegetation and explosion of lighter green colors combined with occasional pops of red or violet and towards that end, Monet’s garden at Giverny was the perfect source of inspiration.

After some online photo research, here’s what we came up with:

Karin Camille Mood Board Spring 2016

Ultimately, the decision was made to go with a bright chartreuse as the primary color based on the greenery found at Giverny that’s portrayed with in Monet’s paintings as well as actual photographs such as this one:

Giverny Monet

Giverny Today

Below are a few more illustrations of the final Camille picnic dress just to give an idea of how the color was ultimately brought to life:

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

Karin Camille Picnic Dress Impressionist

Karin Camille Picnic Dress

From a color theory standpoint, the colors that we ultimately used for the Camille picnic dress were: chartreuse (both pale and bright), pale champagne gold (on the lower sleeves), and yellow-orange (the fringed trim running on the skirt front):

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Finally, if viewed on the color wheel, you will notice that they are all analogous colors that are located next to each on the wheel:

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We hope you’ve enjoyed that this post has helped give you some insight into just one of the many elements that go into making a Lily Absinthe design. Stay tuned for more!