Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Entries in couture (30)

Monday
Mar062017

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

Monday
Feb132017

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

Friday
Feb032017

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?

Wednesday
Oct052016

Sumptuous Stripes

James Galanos evening dress, 1955. From Fashion: The Whole Story, by Marnie Fogg (Thames & Hudson, 2013)If you knew how much I love stripes, particularly red and white ones, you would not be surprised to read that I nearly fainted with delight when I flipped a page in a book and saw this evening dress. It is from 1955, by American designer James Galanos (1924–).

This graceful gown is made from printed silk chiffon; note the nautical influence in the bathing suit style bodice and the insouciant knot in the overskirt. It is replicating a displaced middy collar. The term ‘middy’ derives from ‘midshipman’, a student at a naval academy, and is used to describe a sailor collar.

How I would love to swan around on the open sea in this!

~

From Fashion: The Whole Story, edited by Marnie Fogg (Thames & Hudson, 2013).

James Galanos evening dress, 1955. From Fashion: The Whole Story, by Marnie Fogg (Thames & Hudson, 2013)

Tuesday
Jun142016

Gaultier’s Wonderland

Odyssey (nautical striped and mermaid themes)

The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier
From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk

Ahead of my forthcoming visit to the NGV’s exhibition 200 Years of Australian Fashion in a couple of weekends, I suddenly remembered I had never reported on the extraordinary exhibit of Jean-Paul Gaultier’s oeuvre that showed in Melbourne in October 2014–February 2015: The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier.

I don’t think I’ve ever before seen such a mind-blowing array of fashion! When I opened the folder of images my heart literally fluttered with excitement as once more I beheld that French visionary’s work. On Sunday I saw the excellent and fascinating documentary, The First Monday in May, the man himself declared (as did Karl Lagerfeld) that he didn’t consider himself an ‘artist’, but simply a designer [of a commercial enterprise]. I don’t know … I think I may beg to differ! Some fashion certainly is ordinary and practical or even pedestrian, but some designers take it to such a high level that their skill and vision is comparable to art.

Punk Cancan (intricately woven leather boots)The travelling exhibition featured over 140 pieces of Gaultier’s work, from his first dress created in 1971 to his latest haute couture and prêt-a-porter collections, as well as costumes and gowns worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Kylie Minogue and Nicole Kidman, and the famous cone-bra lingerie sported by Madonna.

The exhibition design was wonderful and brought the garments to life in seven rooms, each designed to showcase different themes in Gaultier’s work: Odyssey, The Boudoir, Punk Cancan, Skin Deep, Metropolis, Urban Jungle and Muses (you can read about them here). Some of the mannequins had animated faces projected on them (amusing and eerie); there was a moving catwalk and enormous graffiti murals in Punk Cancan; an incredible hall of mirrors in Metropolis; and sculptural effects using stretched white fabric with shapes pushed through in the final Muses room. The audio-visual guide was also excellent, providing much additional information.

Overall, the exquisite detail and construction (and deconstruction) of so many of the garments impressed me the most …

Metropolis (a jaw-dropping, floor-length feather headdress)I asked myself what I might consider my favourite pieces, and I would be hard-pressed to choose. Overall, the exquisite detail and construction (and deconstruction) of so many of the garments impressed me the most: beading, embroidery, delicate lace, intricately woven leather-work – all just so amazing. Not to mention the wonders of Gaultier’s imagination. I did find that I happened to take a lot of photographs of each of the all-white outfits, which does show a clear preference of mine. The Skin Deep (red-lit) section was the smallest, and many of the garments were displayed on a second level, so it was impossible to see them up close – fetishistic gear is probably not my favourite style anyway!

Urban Jungle (an extraordinary headdress made from antique Spanish mantilla combs)Urban JungleI took nearly 200 photos, but I have managed to edit them down to 130 in a gallery that will give you a great overview of all there was to see. I am looking forward to the Australian Fashion exhibition, so stay tuned for a report – and a big gallery no doubt – in a few weeks time! In the meantime, enjoy viewing Jean-Paul Gaultier’s breathtaking work.

Muse (if memory serves me correctly, this was a gown worn by Nicole Kidman