the ornament bookshelf
Chantal Trubert-Tollu, Francoise Tétart-Vittu, Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg, and Fabrice Olivieri. 2018. The House of Worth: The Birth of Haute Couture, 1858-1954. Thames & Hudson: 336 pp., hardbound $85.00.
“The name has a splendid sound, magnificent and luxurious, amplified by its meaning,” writes couturier Christian Lacroix in his foreword to this lavishly appointed English translation of 2017’s La maison Worth: Naissance de la haute couture, 1858-1954. “You could easily suppose that the name would lead inevitably to success.”
But don’t be fooled by the book’s sumptuous color illustrations of Worth gowns, including details, interiors and sketches, many of them never before published. What made Worth so successful was not his talent for dressmaking, but his genius for marketing. He was the first to put labels in his creations, like an artist signs his works. He was the first to stage fashion shows on live models; he also had body doubles for his best clients, who could model clothes with their precise measurements. He had sportswear and maternity departments, and a special salon designed to show clients how their ball gowns would look in gas lighting. The House of Worth formed alliances with jewelers like Cartier and, from the 1920s, produced perfumes and cosmetics.
Worth was also an astute businessman. The house had a secret code for pricing its wares, unintelligible to clients, and an equally complex system for cutting garments to minimize fabric waste and fittings. Born and raised in England, Worth employed English-speaking salesgirls and cultivated an international clientele from his salon on the rue de la Paix in Paris.
But this is the story of a house, not a man. Charles Frederick may be remembered as the “father of haute couture,” but he dies midway through this retrospective, in 1895. His sons Gaston and Jean-Philippe took over, followed by Gaston’s sons, Jacques and Jean-Charles. By this time, running the family firm had begun to feel like an obligation rather than a calling. Finally, the family business fell to Jacques’s sons, Maurice and Roger. Roger left in 1950; Maurice carried on with the help of his distant cousin Jean-Claude Pascal, a designer who also had a successful acting and singing career, winning the Eurovision song contest in 1961.
The house merged with Paquin in 1954, then closed for good in 1967; Maurice died in 1985. The house was revived in 1999 and actually exists today under the direction of designer Giovanni Bedin, a development the book discreetly ignores.
With its all-French team of authors—including Trubert-Tollu, Worth’s great-great-granddaughter—the book is a Gallic counterpoint to 2014’s The House of Worth: Portrait of an Archive, 1890-1914 by Amy de la Haye and Valerie D. Mendes, drawn from the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Worth archive. It includes a timeline, a “simplified” two-page family tree, and a list of perfumes. It’s a huge amount of information covering a vast time span, and, with four contributors, the content is uneven. The text is actually rather sparse and fawning, and the book sometimes reads like a collection of sidebars (on Worth’s country house, his silk suppliers, Second Empire costume balls, etc.) rather than a coherent narrative. The images of surviving gowns are stunning; annoyingly, however, one has to dig through the fine print of the photo credits to find out which collections they come from. Yet, even at eighty-five dollars, Worth is worth it for these images alone.
Booth Moore. 2018. American Runway: 75 Years of Fashion and the Front Row. Abrams: 252 pp., hardbound $65.00.
Part coffee-table tome, part overdue history of the American fashion industry, this glossy Vogue spread of a book by the fashion editor of the Hollywood Reporter, produced with the cooperation of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, tells the seventy-five-year-history of New York Fashion Week.
Like the industry it celebrates, it’s a slick mash-up of art and advertising; it’s surely no accident that the book has appeared at a critical juncture for Fashion Week, as more and more designers are abandoning traditional seasonal runway shows on live models for digital lookbooks and low-key “presentations” of buy-now-wear-now clothes. CFDA chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg, who wrote the preface to the book, suggested in 2013 that “someday designers might show their collections only digitally.”
Money is the driving factor behind this trend; the modern Fashion Week show is a one-night-only theatrical extravaganza complete with sets, lighting, costumes, makeup, a carefully curated soundtrack, and a cast of dozens of $1,000-per-day models, with many more minions toiling behind the scenes. The average cost per show is an estimated half a million dollars—prohibitive for emerging designers, and, in today’s uncertain market, a gamble even for established labels. At the same time, these shows are broadcast live around the world to the uninvited public on social media, meaning that their audience has grown exponentially. But that audience also wants the clothes right away, not when they appear in fashion magazines months later.
It hasn’t always been this way. New York Fashion Week—originally known as Press Week—was launched in 1943 by the fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert. With the once-dominant French fashion industry crippled by World War II, Lambert seized the opportunity to promote American designers to journalist and buyers from across the country, staging fashion shows like those regularly held by French couture houses in hotel ballrooms. Milan followed in 1958, trailed by Paris in 1973 and London in 1984.
America did not invent the runway show; that honor goes to Englishman-in-Paris Charles Frederick Worth, the so-called “Father of Haute Couture,” who introduced live “mannequin parades” to the mix in the late nineteenth century. The Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, founded in 1910, established a fixed calendar of fashion shows after World War I, to advertise French fashions to the media and foreign buyers, who paid for the right to produce licensed copies of Paris couture.
But the runway show as we know it today is an American creation. In the 1970s, the fashion designer—newly liberated from the “Garmento” system that kept the designer anonymous and behind the scenes—became a celebrity in his (or, increasingly, her) own right. Models, too, brought their public personas to work; the so-called “Battle of Versailles” of 1973 proved America’s dominance over France on the runway. The 1980s gave us the supermodel, and fashion houses hired big-name show producers, set designers, hairdressers, and makeup artists to show them off. The Fashion Week audience shifted from industry insiders to celebrity front rows. The new millennium brought the celebrity-as-designer, as stars like Kanye West and Sarah Jessica Parker entered the already crowded field. Today, Fashion Week is a place to be seen more than to see; those of us who are actually interested in the clothes can consume the shows online, in real time, anywhere in the world.
Moore was granted access to rare photos, backstage ephemera and CFDA member designers. But the photos often have little to do with the text, and the lengthy designer interviews are presented verbatim, with no commentary or interpretation. The past thirty years get far more coverage than the forty-five that preceded them. It gives the book the feeling of a scrapbook rather than a history book—or, perhaps, a time capsule. After all, in America, the runway may already be history.
Nanz Aaland. 2017. A Jeweler’s Guide to Apprenticeships. MJSA Press: 208 pp., softbound $29.50.
Whether it is the switch to online buying, the decline of jewelry and metalsmithing classes in college and universities and workshops for hobbyists, the increased cost of higher education, changing economic conditions/opportunities or the decreased number of retail jewelry stores, all these factors make it difficult now to acquire the skills and training necessary to become a professional jeweler.
While jewelry still predominates in the craft community, observation and communication with craft jewelers tell us how difficult it is for even top end jewelers to make a living. Even with a degree in metals/jewelry from an art jewelry oriented school, it is hard to make the transition to a working and self-sustaining jeweler.
An apprenticeship program, whether formal or informal, is an ideal way to gain entry into professional jewelry, where the skills of metalsmithing and business are both crucial. Unfortunately, there are really no formal apprenticeships in the U.S. for jewelers. Even informal apprenticeships depend on word of mouth or knowing a practicing craftsperson or working jeweler willing to take on such help. It is very apparent that an apprenticeship demands a high level of commitment from both sides of this type of agreement. For those with the skills and determination, it appears such training can be highly rewarding.
Author Nanz Aaland is a graduate of a university metal/jewelry curriculum, with a master’s under Mary Lee Hu, and with practice working in various jewelry firms. She has put together a very readable book, with good, practical advice and excellent illustrations, to guide both those seeking an apprenticeship and those who might offer such an opportunity. There is one interview with a jeweler who offered apprenticeships and a number of stories of successful apprenticeships. Large portions of the book deal with tool recognition/use, safety practices and a number of very detailed fabrication projects to both improve and test the advancing skills of the apprentice.
Anyone who seriously wants to become a jeweler or any jewelry organization that wants to recruit new, dedicated staff will want this very reasonably priced book.
Robert K. Liu
Julian Henderson. 2013. Ancient Glass. An Interdisciplinary Exploration. Cambridge University Press: 433 pp., softbound $56.00.
As the subtitle states, this book explores archaeological glass through technological, historical, geological, chemical, and cultural lenses. It is hefty in weight and equally heavy reading, not really meant to be read in the entirety but as needed for research or reference. Three of the twelve chapters define glass, its fluxes and its components, especially glass colorants. Seven of the chapters explore glass geographically, chronologically and compositionally. With the advent of reliable and usually nondestructive elemental and isotopic analyses, glass research underwent the same leap of progress as DNA/RNA research in biology.
The areas covered by these chapters include the Middle East, Europe, Southeast and East Asia, Africa, as well as Hellenistic, Roman and Islamic glasses. The eleventh chapter deals with the provenance of glass, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects. The importance of isotopic studies is thoroughly covered, and as well as the subjects of historic glass, trade in raw components, glass, recycled glass, and its finished products. Conclusions round out the final chapter.
Anyone familiar with the history of glass knows that beads, pendants and other small ornaments were the first glass products. Throughout the text, there are tantalizing references to the above subjects, but for those of us interested in glass ornaments, one has to dig for such information, and often the reader cannot easily reach conclusions, especially if one did not have access to the original literature discussed nor have a good understanding of the techniques. The appendix lists short descriptions of the current analytical techniques for glass, useful to the informed layperson due to the complexity of modern research methods.
While compositional analyses of glass is booming worldwide, especially in countries like China where glass did not get recognition until well into the late twentieth century, there are many areas that have not been researched for those interested in glass as adornments. One wishes that someone would study the composition of Roman face beads or recent Chinese glass. If you are seriously interested in ancient glass, this book should be in your library.
Robert K. Liu
Suzanne Gott, Kristyne S. Loughran, Betsy D. Quick, Leslie W. Rabine (Editors). 2017. African-Print Fashion Now!: A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style. Fowler Museum Textile Series No 14: 302 pp., softbound $45.00.
Produced with splashy style and verve, the catalogue to accompany UCLA Fowler Museum’s acclaimed traveling exhibition of the same name [currently at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art through August 12, 2018] offers a wide-ranging scholarly survey of the history, cultural and social significance, and emerging global future of African-print cloth and fashion. Indepth essays by the four co-curators/authors and an international group of contributors, supplemented by a wealth of references and research, make it an excellent resource for professionals and academics, and an engrossing introduction for general readers interested in textiles, fashion, African society, world trade, and the influence of urban music and the internet on popular wear.
In the late nineteenth century, European manufacturers began marketing machine-made cotton prints in West and Central Africa. The unmistakable bright colors and strong patterns were based on European imitations of Indonesian batiks, in turn originating in India. A convergence of faster industrial technology, missionaries (who taught sewing), and street vendors, national independence movements (a map would have helped here), and catering to local preferences led to the acceptance of trade goods as an everyday alternative to more highly valued, handwoven traditional textiles. Plentiful examples of patterns, historical photographs and images of present-day street scenes and fashions illustrate how African prints surged into popularity.
Two chapters explore the pre-eminence of the Dutch company Vlisco [see Ornament 39.4]. Thanks to a resin-resist, rather than wax-resist, dyeing process, Vlisco arose as the most coveted of all African-print cottons for its color saturation, quality and durability. The company shrewdly collected feedback from their network of traders about regional tastes, from which they developed thousands of new patterns. If a pattern received a “name,” referring to a proverb, political figure, or current event (airplanes or high heels) it was elevated to a cultural artifact; some of Vlisco’s named patterns have been in production for over a hundred years.
African women remain the force field behind what curator Suzanne Gott calls “grass-roots fashion.” Saundra Lang describes clothes shopping in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She selects a fabric first and takes it to a tailor or seamstress to sew into an outfit. Trends abound, but every choice she makes—even a sleeve shape—is her decision.
Rapid changes are now underway. IMF/World Bank programs have drastically cut the purchasing power of a majority of Africans; as a result, cheap Chinese prints are flooding the market. Younger people prefer bold contrasting colors worn in Western-style dresses and suits. Vlisco is repositioning itself as a luxury runway brand, coinciding with the advent of African fashion designers, while African prints are proliferating in the visual arts. The cosmopolitanism of African-print fashion is protean, and already arriving online near you.
Ashley Callahan, Annelies Mondi, Mary Hallam Pearse. 2018. Crafting History: Textiles, Metals and Ceramics at the University of Georgia. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia: 372 pp., softbound $40.00.
Through the Ornament features authored by independent scholar and curator Ashley Callahan, our staff has come to know much more about the craft artists who have so richly contributed to Georgia’s history. Based in the state, Callahan in this issue, for example, tells us about the little known work of Wiley Sanderson, primarily a photographer but also for a time a practitioner and teacher of jewelry. Callahan, Mondi and Hallam Pearse, not only authored this carefully researched volume but together recently curated the associated exhibition “Crafting History: Textiles, Metals and Ceramics at the University Georgia” at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens. It details how this public land-grant university came to offer courses in craft, beginning in the late 1920s. Over time, with more than two dozen professors each with their own individual visions and expertise, the school has impacted generations of students who have flowed through its programs. Yet while this is a great tribute to the University of Georgia’s local heritage and importance, it belongs in a much larger context as part of the growth and development of the contemporary studio craft movement in this country.
The book is a fascinating journey through the decades, each with their own characteristics, such as the war years in the 1940s when the G.I. Bill led to large increases in the number of students seeking higher education; the 1950s, when craft practitioners began to reflect a desire for respect similar to the fine arts, and exhibitions on craft started to popularize the art of the handmade; the 1960s, when craft fairs, galleries and exhibitions burgeoned, and the counter-cultural rejection of traditional forms began to morph into an embrace of experimental and divergent styles. Three chapters are titled Ceramics, Jewelry and Metalwork, and Fabric Design. These are much more personalized, including indepth profiles on Jerry Chappelle, Andy Nasisse, Ron Meyers, in ceramics; Bob Ebendorf, Gary Noffke, Rob Jackson, in jewelry and metalwork; Glen Kaufman, Ed Lambert and Ken Weaver in fabric design.
Carolyn L. E. Benesh