Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.
The Exhibit Logo
I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.
The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:
“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.” These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!
But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:
This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”
Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”
The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.
Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”
The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:
Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!
No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:
I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:
Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!
After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.
The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!
There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.” But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.
“A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing” – Book Review and GIVEAWAY
Two of the most creative and stylish ladies I know in this global fashion sewing community, Sarah Gunn of Goodbye Valentino, and Julie Starr, have collaborated once again on a book dedicated to our craft. Their first book, The Tunic Bible, published by C&T Publishing, met with acclaim and well-deserved enthusiasm, establishing itself as the go-to standard for creating one-of-a-kind, flattering tunics. In A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing, Sarah and Julie broaden their focus to cover a range of styles, namely those that have stood the test of time and are considered “classics.”
I love the size of this book. At 9.5″ x 7.5″, it is easy to hold and use.
The book is very handily compartmentalized into 30 chosen styles, the “classics,” thoughtfully documented by Sarah and Julie. I would have loved to be privy to their brainstorming sessions on what styles to include in this list. There are the obvious ones, of course, such as the pencil skirt, the sheath dress, the shirtdress, and the French jacket. But they also cleverly identified some styles not always necessarily thought of as “classic.” But indeed, they are, and truly deserve their place in this book. Think Halter dress or top, Palazzo Pants, Jeans-style Jacket, and Menswear Pajamas! All these and more are included in this book.
Each chapter deals with one ”Classic” and its history and who, throughout the years, has worn it. Also included are sewing tips, fabric suggestions, and styling guidelines for each classic. Some of the chapters include a cautionary paragraph on how to avoid the “Frump Factor.” Simple changes like altering the hem length or wearing the appropriate shoes can change one of these classics from frumpy to fabulous. Pay attention to the authors’ suggestions because they know about what they are writing!
Here is just one example of tips and styling ideas included with each category.
Accompanying each chapter is also one of my favorite aspects of this book – a carefully chosen quote. I thought I had come across just about every quote about fashion and sewing that was ever spoken or written. But somehow, Sarah and Julie have discovered some real gems and placed them perfectly in the book. Take for example this quote by Winston Churchill included in the chapter for the pencil skirt: “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
Or consider this one by Georgio Armani in the chapter on the Bateau Neckline: “Elegance is not standing out, but being remembered.” As one who loves a bateau neckline precisely for its elegant appearance, I found this quote perfectly placed.
The center section of the book, nestled comfortably among the many chapters, is “the Classic Garment Gallery.” I was very flattered to be asked to contribute to this section, which is a compilation of classic styles sewn by “members” of the worldwide sewing community. Here you can see these classic styles modeled by the makers, and it is a marvel to take this all in. Yes, this is a section to return to again and again to get inspiration.
And speaking of inspiration, the absolutely delightful illustrations by Beth Briggs will not only captivate you, they will also provide you with styling ideas and concepts.
At the back of the book is a carefully considered list of Resources. Included are lists of Fabric Books; Fabric Vendors; Fabric Shopping Around the Globe; Trims, Tools, and Notions; Related Articles, Videos, and Online Classes; and Sewing Instruction and Alteration Books. No beginning or advanced devotee of fashion sewing should be without this list of Resources.
Well, no fashion sewing book is complete without a pattern, and I am happy to report that included with A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing is a multi-sized pattern for the Goodbye Valentino modern classic pencil skirt. There is nothing quite like a pencil skirt for a basic wardrobe component. This is a skirt to be made time and again, following the precise instructions included in the back of the book.
This is a sewing book, and as such, targets those of us whose passion is sewing our own fashions. However, there is much in this book which would be of value to anyone wishing to enhance or perfect her own style. Likewise, it should be inspirational to those just beginning to sew for themselves as well as those who just aspire to it! How perfect is this quote from Audrey Hepburn (page 161): “The most attractive accessory a woman has is confidence.” With this book in hand, you will both sew and dress with confidence and style.
And now, it is with great excitement that I am able to offer my readers a chance to win a copy of this book, compliments of C&T Publishing. Should the winner be a resident of the United States, he or she will receive a print copy of the book; an international winner will receive a digital copy of the book. For a chance to win, please leave a comment with this blog post no later than Sunday, December 8th at 12 noon, Eastern Standard Time. I will draw the winner late afternoon on Sunday, December 8th.
To read more reviews, and for more inspiration, please visit the following sites (dates indicate the day of review):
Dec 2 Lori VanMaanen
Blog – girlsinthegarden.com
Dec 3 Andrea Birkan
Instagram – @andreabirkan
Dec 4 Anita Morris
Blog – anitabydesign.com
Instagram – @anitabydesign
Dec 6 Alex Florea
Blog – sewrendipity.com
Instagram – @sewrendipity
Dec 7 Lucy VanDoorn
Blog – myloveaffairwithsewing.com
Instagram – @myloveaffairwithsewing
Dec 7 Cennetta Burwell
Blog – email@example.com
Instagram – @cennetta_burwell
Dec 8 Manju Nittala
Blog – sewmanju.com
Instagram – @sewmanju
Dec 8 Dorcas Ross
Instagram – @lonestarcouture
Filed under Book reviews, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized
Tagged as fashion sewing, quotes about fashion