Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in chinoiserie (7)

Wednesday
Oct242018

Domestic Exchange

I haven’t posted a Foreign Exchange story for a long time, and that is sadly because I haven’t been travelling overseas for an equally long time, but this woeful tale has its beginnings in a foreign exchange swapped for another kind of exchange.

The story starts in Vietnam nearly ten years ago, where I had a kimono custom-made for me from sumptuous silk brocade. I took that robe home and wore it to death over ten years, wearing it almost every morning except on the hottest summer days.

The day eventually came when it dawned on me that the kimono was actually starting to look rather shabby. There were worn patches and frayed edges. In denial at the prospect of setting it aside, I decided to ignore this observation and kept on wearing the kimono for a while longer.

I’ve spoken before how ruthless I am about shabby shoes – once they start to look disreputable, I become relentlessly unsentimental and throw the offending shoes straight into the bin without a moment’s hesitation. This is not the case with favourite garments.

… it still hung on a hook in my bathroom where I could gaze upon it fondly and sigh reminiscently.

Eventually, I stopped wearing the kimono, but it still hung on a hook in my bathroom where I could gaze upon it fondly and sigh reminiscently.

One day in a fit of madness, I gathered my resolve and took it to my sister Blossom, who over the many years we have been sisters, has generously made and altered countless garments for me.

She – and her husband, an involved observer one afternoon as she and I examined a portion of my wardrobe that needed rescuing – both assured me that indeed the kimono was too shabby to wear any longer.

I’d had the idea that something could be made of the good pieces of fabric, and I made my revolutionary suggestion … A CUSHION!

I know, brutal – shocking even, all things considered; I did suffer some pangs for a while. But I figured if I had a cushion I would put it on my favourite armchair and lean against it every day, and thus extend the life of the kimono.

The cushion doesn’t match the rest of my interior décor at all, and my yellow gingham kimono, though cheery, is not in the slightest degree exotic, but I don’t regret the loss anymore. I actually have a large collection of vintage dressing gowns, and enjoy sometimes wearing a 60s rayon satin with a stylised floral pattern. (I don’t wear it often for my cat Mimi attacks me in rage when I do – I think because it’s too slippery in my lap for her liking – she’s very opinionated.)

Maybe I’ll go to South-East Asia again one day, and then I’ll have another one made.

Photos: June 2009, March 2018

Monday
Aug132018

Jade Rainbow

Many people are surprised to learn that jade comes in a rainbow of colours: lavender, red, orange, yellow, brown, white, black, and gray. After green, lavender is the most valuable, and black and red (as long as it has no brownish overtones) are also popular.

Jadeite, to give it its proper name, is a sodium and aluminium rich pyroxene, while the similarly coloured nephrite is a mineral of calcium, magnesium and iron. Nephrite is the native stone of China, with more than 5000 years of history in that culture, while jadeite was not introduced to China until the 1800s, by Burmese traders.

Nephrite jadeHow cute are these tiny jade figurines?Red jade is not considered as valuable as the prized green ‘imperial jade’, which is a vibrant emerald colour and almost transparent. Once, the royal court of China had a standing order for all imperial jade, and it is amongst the world’s most expensive gems.

Red jade: bangle from annaandjade.com; bowl from icollector.comTransparency is also highly valued, with the least desirable being completely opaque. I must be very contrary, because I deem the green common (you see so much of it, real and artificial), and I like opaque the best. Red is also one of my favourite colours.

When I was in Hong Kong many years ago, a carved jade bangle was on my wishlist, and accordingly I scoured the jewellers in one of the biggest markets for them. I was immediately drawn to this red bangle, attracted by its strong colour and weightiness. This type of jewellery cut from a single piece of rough stone is called a hololith, and results in a great deal of weight loss. For this reason hololiths cost more than several pieces joined together by precious-metal hinges.

Lavender jade: stone from soaprocks.com.au; carved jade and diamond bangle from katybriscoe.comIt is carved with dragons and flowers, and certainly was expensive! I didn’t dither too long making a decision however, as I knew I would be unlikely to find another, and certainly not a cheaper one. The bangle did not have a ring that matched exactly, but the one I purchased is carved with ornamental swirls. I don’t wear them all the time – scared that I’ll smash them! – but as on last Friday when I wore them last, I always enjoy them when I do.

Friday
May042018

Star Wars Day

Padmé Amidala, Queen of Naboo, would like to wish you Happy Star Wars Day! Granted, she doesn’t look very happy but lots of horrible things happened to her: (spoiler alert) her planet was being invaded, her husband turned into Darth Vader, and finally she died in childbirth.

I wore this costume, remarkably cobbled together from items of clothing I actually own, to my work’s Christmas party last year. I work at a theatre, so as you can imagine, most people go all-out for our annual dress-up and try to out-do one another with mostly stellar results. Every year we are given a theme, and last year it was ‘Out of this World’. I immediately decided on the Queen of Naboo, with one restriction laid on myself: to create the costume without spending any (or very little) money.

I knew the most difficult part to recreate would be the hair, and after very little searching for Geisha-style wigs I quickly discovered what a paucity of options there were on offer. I decided that I would have to be creative.

While I left that on the backburner, I turned my attention to the other parts of the costume. You might have thought the headdress would be a stumbling block, but that was easy – naturally I had an enormous feathered hat (once featured in Australian Vogue magazine in the 90s) on hand.

You might have thought the headdress would be a stumbling block, but that was easy …

As for the rest: the gorgeous Chinese silk lace blouse was a recent purchase in a thrift store, and the vintage kimono was a souvenir I had bought in Vietnam many years ago from an antique store. The leather obi I bought new when obis were all the rage in mainstream fashion a decade or two ago.

Two vintage silk skirts layered provided the sumptuousness of Queen Amidala’s wardrobe, and were also purchases from thrift stores. The shot-silk blue skirt is probably 80s, and the red skirt (beautifully constructed) is I think a 70s number. Underneath I wore white socks and black leather ballet flats.

Queen Amidala’s makeup is iconic, and immediately pulls the whole ensemble together – that’s where I spent a small portion of my $15 total, on white face makeup. As for the wig: I decided to utilise a pair of black wool tights, stuffed with polyester hobby filler (the other portion of my spending) and twisted into a fanciful shape. I tried ordinary opaque tights, but the lighter fibres proved to be transparent, so I had to bring out the big guns. The wig is quite heavy and clumsy, and the hat precariously balanced, but good enough for the few hours of a costume party. (That’s when a queenly deportment comes in handy – no slouching!)

I caused a sensation at the office party; one of the most amusing aspects was having to move sideways through the crowds, lest I took someone’s eye out with my hat! There was also a couple of Darth Vaders and a Boba Fett, so there was plenty of opportunity for Imperial high jinks.

May the Fourth be with you!

Photos: Yesterday

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Scroll down for some party pics.

Getting ready in the office bathroom (you can see the rear view in the mirror). Queen Amidala always looks so solemn, but her planet IS being invaded after all!Oh, Anakin! How could you!? Apparently I don't know my own strength – I actually nearly strangled poor Darth. Luckily he was forgiving, or maybe that was the sparkling wine.

Monday
Mar192018

Shanghai Silk

I am a total sucker for anything embroidered. It draws my hand irresistibly like a magpie to shiny things. (I also love shiny things.) This vintage 1960s, exquisitely decorated silk blouse, one of two I own, was embroidered by hand in Shanghai.

The real heyday for such embroidered garments were the 1950s and 60s, when the label ‘Made in China’ did not have the connotations it does today. The labels on both my blouses are written in English as well as Chinese, indicating that they were made for the tourist market. Perhaps they were unwanted souvenirs, for neither look worn.

Embroidery and most other needlework arts are believed to have originated in the Orient and Middle East. Paintings and pictures on sculpture illustrating embroidery with silk thread, precious stones and pearls indicate that Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 BC – no wonder this example is so fine: they’ve been practising a long time! Elaborate embroidery on garments, household goods and religious artefacts has been a mark of wealth and status in many cultures since.

Just look at this detail!While the Industrial Revolution brought machines that replaced hands, and made embroidery more accessible for the masses, freehand embroidery has never died out, and its fineness cannot be contested when it is laid side-by-side with a cheap, mass-produced item. One can only marvel at the skill and patience needed for such fine needlework.

I am lucky enough to own a short-sleeved silk blouse embroidered in a similar style, as well as two other plainer Chinese silk blouses. All of them were found in the same Salvos store on separate occasions. I always wonder: Who gets rid of these beautiful things?

Vintage lovers will also be familiar with the beaded and sequined knits of the same era, and detailed beaded evening bags, most of which declare Hong Kong as the origin – look out for more on these in coming days.

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I am also wearing a modern silk skirt by Carolyn Taylor, and belt by Alannah Hill.

Photos: March 2018

Sunday
Jan262014

Australian Sunday

Australia Day is a day a little fraught by race issues in truth, but today I’ve chosen to focus on something a little more positive, spending my day making art. Yesterday I had my hair cut into a classic 1920s bob, and wanted to take advantage of my beautifully styled hair before I wash it, and wreck it all in my cack-handed attempts to mimic my hair stylist’s skill.

Women with Fans, 1930, by Thea ProctorThe Rose, c1928, by Thea ProctorSo, inspired by the striking prints of early twentieth century Australian artist Thea Proctor (1879–1966) – who was in turn inspired by Japanese woodblocks – I donned some Oriental garb, lashings of kohl and lounged on my bed. Here are the results.

I hope you all have had a wonderful Australia Day dear Snapettes (or an equally lovely ordinary Sunday). Kisses.

Read more about Thea Proctor here