Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style


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Entries in couture (27)


Fashion Plates

If you have ever wondered why the photography on this fashion journal looks a certain way, or if there was any inspiration behind the artwork, here it is: antique fashion plates!

The look of SNAP was not a premeditated decision, but evolved out of necessity. Helping out a former colleague with a university project, I wrote and illustrated two stories on sustainable fashion for her. It all happened very, very quickly, and I had to take the photographs in my apartment with no background but a folding screen draped with a calico dropsheet, and I was the model to boot.

Nor did I have any photographic lighting, so to combat the yellow apartment lighting and dodgy shadows, I developed a style that deliberately emulated the illustrated look of fashion plates with strong outlines and tinted back colours.

In magazines, illustrations gave way to photography of course, and the publishing industry suffered a loss. Of course, there has been a slow revival of fashion illustration, and it has become more like art than merely graphic communication, which is all to the good.

However, there is great beauty in these antique fashion engravings, isn’t there? They look delightfully quaint. I also love how the figures have been taken out of their natural context, and stand against a plain background with no, or very few, props – just like a modern studio photography shoot. They inspire me more than ever.

Scroll down for more, including a Regency man attired in very high-waisted trousers!


Je ne sais quoi

The Blue Hat, published in Femina, 1949Last year I visited the Christian Dior exhibition in Melbourne, which was quite spectacular. It was interesting comparing the styles of each of the designers who have headed the House of Dior.

They all like to say that while they have their own signature style, they wish to honour the spirit of the house, but I’m not sure if any of them really are completely successful in that respect. Of course fashion must move with the times, but Monsieur Christian Dior simply had that je ne sais quoi that is really epitomised in the illustrations of that other master, René Gruau, in these postcards bought in the exhibition shop.

Absolute perfection – that’s what it is.

Drawing for perfume advertising image, 1963


Grecian Draping

Two notions come to my mind on hearing the word ‘goddess’: Ancient Greek deities, and screen sirens of the Hollywood’s golden era. Both are evocative of unearthly or extraordinary beauty, creatures with the power to utterly charm and bewitch ordinary mortals.

Thus the ‘goddess gown’ is associated with the garments of the Ancient Greeks – chiton, peplos, and tunic – as well as the sweeping 1930s gowns worn by the likes of Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer, and Rita Hayworth.

Greek clothing was very simply cut. The loose-fitting and free-flowing chiton, worn by both men and women, was basically two rectangles of fabric joined at the shoulders and sides. Lengths and additional shapes – such as circles or triangles – varied, while different looks were achieved through arrangements that created elegant draping. The most common fabrics were linen and wool. Additional decoration came in the form of pleating, embroidery, belts and jewellery. The result was a style of dress that both revealed and concealed the human figure.

Jean Harlow, in a gown by costumier Adrian; designed for the film Dinner at EightBy contrast, the goddess gowns of the stars of Hollywood’s golden years were slender and form fitting, especially in the bodice, and were often backless. Cuts were more sophisticated; linen and wool had been replaced with silk and lamé. But they still had the yards of fabric, the columnar fluidity, complex pleating, and asymmetric draping in common with the Ancient Greeks who inspired them. Where before Paris had lead fashion, now Hollywood began to take over in the popular imagination; many of these fantasy gowns were designed by the famous costumier, Adrian.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi. It’s no wonder these silver screen stars were named for the sirens of Greek mythology, who lured sailors to death with their seductive singing.

Madame Grès (1903–1993) and Madeleine Vionnet (1876–1975) were both French fashion designers who were proponents of Grecian dress.

Grès’s minimalist gowns were wrapped and draped in the most masterful way – that she was trained in sculpture is obvious when one looks at her designs. One of her gowns could take up to 300 hours to create, with pleats sewn by hand, and the cloth draped so that the body shaped the dress – far longer than the Ancient Greeks one imagines.

Gown by Madame Grès, 1940; ph George Platt LynesGown by Madeleine Vionnet, 1933; ph George Hoyningen-HueneVionnet is known for popularising, if not inventing, the bias cut to create sleek and flattering dresses that skimmed the body languidly. Her gowns were soft, floating freely, and did not distort the natural curves of a woman’s body. She used more unusual fabrics for women’s clothing in the 20s and 30s, such as crepe de chine, gabardine and satin, and always ordered two yards extra for each dress to accommodate the draping.

Both Grès and Vionnet have continued to inspire fashion designers to the present day.

Today, we still see the classic goddess gown on our screen stars, but it is also a favourite style of wedding dress (one of the few occasions when ordinary mortals don floor-length gowns), as an alternative to the classic 50s-style princess gown of strapless-boned-bodice-and-big-skirt ilk. … And above all other days, one should feel like a goddess on one’s own wedding day.

Key Characteristics

•  columnar, bias-but
•  fluid draping
•  pleating
•  asymmetry
•  floor-length

Fashion Note

My very simple grey jersey goddess gown is by English label Karen Millen, and features characteristic asymmetry, draping, and an interesting cut to the back.

Photos: January 2014

Scroll down for more images. Links have been provided where available.

Bette DavisCarole LombardGowns by Madeleine VionnetGown by Madame GrèsNorma ShearerGown by Madeleine VionnetRita Hayworth


Fine Feathers

I am suspicious of unnecessary embellishments. I regard bows with a jaundiced eye most of the time, and only occasionally accept them. However, I love pompoms in all their guises, and also tassels. Sometimes embellishments acquire a new lustre when they pass from tastefulness, safely skate over twee, and enter a new over-the-top realm of sheer and utter ridiculousness where they become, simply, AWESOME.

Such is this Yves Saint Laurent dress (A/W 2008–09). It is covered, smothered, in a gazillion feathered spangled tassels that jiggle with every wiggle; you couldn’t quibble: it’s irresistible; collectable!

This is a fun, new twist on a black and white dress to ruffle a few feathers. It’s extraordinarily frivolous and full of joie de vivre. The feathers are like a more tactile rendition of polka dots. In fact, I’m just dotty for it!

Page from British Vogue, December 2008


What Would Coco Think?

These astonishingly ugly shoes by Chanel are so hideous they belong on the fat feet of Cinderella’s sisters. Particularly the clunky, clumsy hessian bag mules with the abomination of a cheap token flower nailed on the side. I’ll go one further and say these monstrosities belong on the hooves of Shrek’s troll wife. Or is that being unfair to Princess Fiona?

The other pair is almost as frightful. From the heel they are solid, staid cream Mary-Jane hybrids that unexpectedly finish in a delicate thong. Why, why? The balance is all wrong! When would you sport such odious footwear?

Clearly the original owner did not sport them anywhere, as they remain in pristine condition straight from the bandbox. She chose instead to donate them to a Salvos op shop – a charity thrift store – and just look at what they had the temerity to charge for them!

These astonishingly ugly shoes by Chanel are so hideous they belong on the fat feet of Cinderella’s sisters.

I take issue with the staff of charity stores who show zero discernment when pricing items. Cheap high street stores such as Zara are often racked with ‘designer’ items, while actual designer items are either priced ridiculously highly if they are well-known, or at a pittance if they are obscure (although I shouldn’t complain about the latter). The quality of the design and materials is often ill-considered.

I actually mentioned these shoes in the comment section of one of Salvos Stores’ Instagram images, and I was pleased that one of their marketing team contacted me about them within an hour. They clearly were not happy that these shoes had been priced so high and intended to send an area manager to the store in question – which is certainly maintaining good PR.

My sister Star spotted these shoes and sent the snaps to me last September. I did search online for them, wondering if the hideous mules were genuine, but it seems they were. Unfortunately I’ve lost the urls, but I recall one blogger reviewer who was scathing of them, anda second who fell in love with them and bought them, finding it difficult to choose between colours.

I must admit I am not a big fan of Lagerfeld’s Chanel, finding a lot of his output horribly frou-frou and twee (not, ahem, tweed). Considering her oft-quoted maxim of taking one thing off before she left the house, I often wonder what would Coco think of it?