The news of Karl Lagerfeld’s passing came on the heels of another project that occupied most of my time so I had promised my readers to give him a good send off in due time. Well, here it is and I hope it does him justice. Enjoy!
This is Karl Lagerfeld:
And this is Karl Lagerfeld:
And this is Karl Lagerfeld:
And This Too, is Karl Lagerfeld:
Portrait of Harvey Weinstein by Karl Lagerfeld
And so was This:
But He Will Ultimately Be Remembered For This:
From his final collection for Chanel
In the spring of 1982, I was in my final semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology, when it was announced in Women’s Wear Daily that Karl Lagerfeld had been appointed to take over as Design Director at the venerable House of Chanel. It echoed like a thunderclap throughout Seventh Avenue. The breaking news was also announced at the beginning of my Fashion Illustration class which was taught by another legend in the Industry: the late Harvey Boyd.
Professor Boyd was quite an intense individual who never shied from sharing his opinion. After sharing the news, he began questioning us about what the implications would be, when this edgy designer commandeered this Fashion Warhorse. Keep in mind that first, Karl was not French (the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture was very xenophobic) and second many of the established Fashion Houses were still being run by their namesakes, ie: the House of Givenchy was still being run by Hubert and Saint Laurent by Yves, just to give an example. So it was a risky move to bring in an outsider who was already well established elsewhere.
So we young dilettantes bandied about speculating what his first collection would look like until finally Professor Boyd announced: “I want the class to create a series of illustrations of what Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel. The inspiration will be Chanel meets May West” with the caveat: “And if anyone shows me a picture of an hourglass figure in a tweed suit, they will be expelled from my class!” A tall order if there ever was one.
I’ll never know where he got the inspiration for this, maybe he had a back channel to old Karl and the design crew at Chanel (after all Professor Boyd was pretty well connected). Or perhaps this was something that he pulled out of his hat. But know this: I think he touched on the basic concept of Lagerfeld’s vision. It was his mutability. His ability to adapt and merge completely unrelated ideas to suit his client’s needs while making it totally his own.
There are a lot of detractors who say that “There is no Lagerfeld Style”, well of course not! Lagerfeld spent most of his career freelancing for other fashion houses while occasionally stepping out with his own namesake collection. During the course of his profession he designed for the Houses of Fendi, Chloe, Tommy Hilfiger, Patou on and on. So much so that WWD labeled him “Fashion’s Busiest Freelancer”. But it was with the House of Chanel that he really took off. His innovations and presentations breathed new life into the dormant Couture Studio. His designs were so groundbreaking that WWD christened him with a new title: “Kaiser Karl’. And it stuck. Just like Howard Stern fancied himself the “King of All Media”, Kaiser Karl deserved this well earned nickname. He was not just a Fashion Designer, he was also a photographer, a painter, a writer, a video game character (Grand Theft Auto), a film director and a book publisher (yes, really). He truly was a Renaissance Man on the scale of David Bowie.
The “Death in Venice” Cruise Collection 2010 click on link below to watch
With great fame and accomplishments came great critics and detractors. He was accused of being a misogynist, of hating women, because of his remarks about singer Adele’s weight. Or his feud with Ines de la Fressange because she was chosen by the French government to be the new “Marianne”. But I call out to those critics to answer this: It was Karl who hired supermodels like Stella Tennant and Jasmine Le Bon to work his runway shows when both women were well into there 50’s. Other designers would consider them to be one the hill, but not Karl; He knew the importance of catering to his bread and butter client: The well heeled middle aged woman.
It was Karl who appointed his two successors shortly before his death: Virginie Viard for Chanel and Silvia Venturini for Fendi. Both women, women who had been his creative collaborators for over 30 years. Who is the misogynist now? OK, so maybe he said that Adele had a beautiful face and voice but that it was a pity she was overweight. I’m sure he’s not the only one who shared this opinion. Besides, two out of three is not bad!
Although Karl Lagerfeld and Coco Chanel never met, they were creative soulmates. Both dabbled in costume design (Coco for “Le Train Bleu” and Karl for the cult classic “Maitresse”) and both where masterminds at taking the process of creating a couture collection to a whole new level. Coco Chanel liked to tie in her collections with a destination, Karl took it one step further and brought the fashion to the destination. Case in point his “Death in Venice” collection on the Lido Beach, the “Paris Bombay Collection” and my personal favorite: Chanel Resort in Havana, Cuba. All the time fusing the unique conceits of each culture while maintaining the integrity of the design concepts of the House of Chanel.
Most importantly was Karl’s ability to laugh at himself. Case in point being Mick Jagger’s hilarious spoof of him on SNL. Rumor has it that Karl laughed last and loudest.
Karl, worked tirelessly till the end, keeping his health problems to himself. His death came as a shock for most people because he was one of those larger than life figures who, like Bowie or Elizabeth Taylor, one thinks will live forever.
So in closing we will not say “Goodbye” but instead “Auf Wiedersehen”.
Because the literal translation of “Auf Wiedersehen” from German is not goodbye, but “see you later”. And in truth you will never leave us Kaiser Karl, Your body of work and your legacy will live on forever to serve as an inspiration to us lesser mortals.
The Votes are in and here are the nominees in a category that is very close to my heart: Best Achievement in Costume Design. This year the nominees are all veterans of the awards season. There are two former recipients and perennial nominees.
And the Winners Are 2019
Ruth E. Carter: Black Panther
Ruth E. Carter has been active since the early 80’s and her body of work encompasses the costumes of almost every film genre. A multiple Oscar nominee, she has worked with top notch directors such as Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay and Steven Spielberg. This body of work has reached its zenith with her innovative designs for the film “Black Panther”.
The genre of science fiction is one that I personally feel is unfairly over looked when it comes to recognition from The Academy. Not to disparage the other nominees, because their efforts also merit recognition. But, Oscar nominations tend to favor historical dramas and it always pains me when I see science fiction or fantasy films get passed over in that category. Because for a historical costume drama one only needs to look at a history book for the interpretation of the characters through design. But for a science fiction or fantasy film, the costume designer relies only on their imagination. And believe me, that can be a tall order. Francis Coppola said once that a costume designer tells the story through the wardrobe and when the story is purely hypothetical, that’s where real creative genius kicks in.
Mary Zophres: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Mary Zophres is also a multiple Oscar nominee and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is her 14th collaboration with the Coen Brothers. Their films all have “a look” about them and it’s obvious that the entire Art Department works very hard to create a cohesive vision. Like some of her previous efforts such as “The Big Lebowski”, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” displays all of the quirky costuming conceits associated the Coen Brothers films.
Here, the characters are defined by the costumes they wear. To quote Ms. Zophres: “This was like designing for six different leads with six different backgrounds”. She was particularly challenged in the creation of an amputee costume for one character. The character was not an amputee and the Coen Brothers do not always rely on CGI for special effects. So she cleverly created a shirt with four sleeves to give the illusion of being armless and allowing the actor to hide his limbs without resorting to “Cinema Verité”.
Alexandra Byrne: Mary, Queen of Scots
Alexandra Byrne, a former Oscar winner (Elizabeth, The Golden Age) and perennial nominee, brings a touch of fantasy to an equally fantastical film. I try to avoid movies dealing with the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth II. Mostly because of their inaccuracies. Yes, it’s a screenwriters wet dream to write a script featuring these two hellcats chewing up the scenery. The fact is they never met! And unfortunately this film steps into the same historical dog pile with the hems of the costumes dragging though.
I am not sure if the following fabric choice was due to budgetary and/or creative license, but all of the costumes were built from denim. A fabric that did not even exist at that time!. I applaud the Art Department by trying to be edgy, but honestly, it does not work. The use of this fabric as a base for all the costumes winds up giving the movie a dreary, monotonous look.
One last abuse of creative license with really has nothing to do with costumes but it’s something that always burns my toast: Yes, Mary Stuart was born in Scotland, yes, she was queen of this country. But her Mother (Marie de Guise) was French and Mary was sent to live at the French court at the age of 5, where she lived for 14 years. More than likely her first language would have been French. So why, why, why is she always portrayed speaking with a thick Scottish Burr? So if anything, she probably would have spoken English with a French accent, n’est-ce pas? Oh yes and Memo to the Hair & Makeup Department: Mary Stuart had brown eyes, not blue. Saoirse Ronan has lovely baby-blues and perhaps they wanted to match the denim.
In short, if this movie is awarded in this category, I will stab myself in the eye with a fork and broadcast it on this blog.
But I don’t want to waste this post by trashing her work. Alexandra Byrne also designed the costumes for the popular “Dr. Strange” for which she was passed over in 2016. This only reinforces my theory about the shortsightedness of the Academy and the way that science fiction and fantasy are ignored.
Sandy Powell: Mary Poppins Returns & The Favourite
Once again, Sandy Powell pulls double duty with a double nomination for “Mary Poppins Returns” & “The Favourite”. Statistically speaking, this double nomination will also increaseher chances to grab the statue, as was the case with her double whammy nomination in 2000 for “Velvet Goldmine” and “Shakespeare in Love” and then again in 2015 for “Carol” and “Cinderella”. She has won the prize for “Shakespeare in Love”, “The Aviator” and “The Young Victoria”.
In “Mary Poppins” she employs whimsical techniques such as hand painting the costumes for the CGI scenes in order to achieve a more even color palette. For “The Favourite” she relies on a muted palate to echo the elegant interiors of the baroque era.
Of all of this year’s nominees, she is probably the most accomplished. Sandy Powell is one of those creative artists whose creations are so visually powerful, that sometimes they can overpower the actor’s performance. I’m thinking specifically of Jonathon Rees-Meyers playing the “Bowie” role in “Velvet Goldmine”. Anyone who had the privilege to see Bowie perform in his lifetime knows that Bowie was a natural performer who wore his costumes with panache. In “Velvet Goldmine” is appeared as if the costumes were wearing Jonathan Rees Meyers. Thankfully, the strong performances of Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppeins” and the female Trifecta in “The Favourite” worked well with the beautiful costumes.
Sandy Powell’s creative inspiration sees her on the fast track to inherent the double crowns of the late Eiko Ishioka and Edith Head.
All Nominees are Winners but for my money the Oscar should go to:
Ruth E. Carter, “Black Panther”.
THEY WERE ROBBED!
“ A Wrinkle in Time”
Why was this movie not nominated?
The film showcases the beautiful femcentric designs of Paco Delgado.
Memo to the Academy:
Please get your collective heads out of your asses
It’s with tremendous pride that I announce, my award winning costume installation, “Titania Takes a Quantum Leap”, has been selected to be a part of the Venice Art Biennale. “Titania” is a multi media installation featuring alternative fabrications and LED technology. It was originally presented at the “Creatures and Models” conference in San Francisco, California. This juiced exhibit was sponsored by LucasFilm and judged by the senior art department heads at Industrial Light & Magic studios. “Titania Takes a Quantum Leap” was awarded Best in Category (Costumes) and “Best In Show.
“Titania” was also selected to be exhibited at the “Brave Destiny” group show at the WAH Gallery in New York City along with the works of Robert Venosa and Alex Gray.
Now “Titania” will take another “Quantum Leap” across the Atlantic where she will be a part of the prestigious Venice Art Biennale as a part of the “It’s Liquid” Group.
I will be completely honest: I have not yet seen the film “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new biopic about singer Freddie Mercury and the band Queen. Having been fortunate enough to have seen Queen in concert during the mid 70’s, I know that my opinion will be clouded by preconceptions and comparisons to the real deal. When I saw them in concert, it was at a relatively small venue that accommodated maybe 500 people as opposed to the later performance venues consisting of football stadiums that could fit 100,00 plus souls. It was a time when Freddie still sported that sexy shag hairdo that gave him the air of a sensuous Persian Prince and not the obnoxious crew cut and mustache which gave him the air of a convenience store employee working the night shift at 711 or a leather cruiser at the Catacomb Club of San Francisco.
But the story I am about to tell, no doubt transpired during this time; Since it was at this performance that Freddie was sporting onstage a fashion confection that was a result of a creative collaboration between himself and another product of London’s early 70’s glam scene: Fashion Designer Zhandra Rhodes.
Now a bit about Dame Zhandra first: She is one of these creative dynamos who moved back and forth seamlessly between the wearable art world and high society fashion. She was a textile artist who first came into the public consciousness by designing the engagement dress of Princess Anne (Charles’ Sister, Prince Harry’s Aunt). This was really quite an accomplishment at the time. Zhandra Rhodes was a product of London’s Swinging 60’s, while the Princess Royal still used her Mother the Queen’s couturier. So her choice of designers for the most important day of her life was nothing short of a youth quake and the result was an ethereal fashion fantasy which still holds up today.
From there Dame Zhandra went on to design costumes for early glam rock stars like Mark Bolan, then for operas, other royalty, celebrities etc etc. On personal note, I had briefly seen Ms Rhodes at an opening night performance of ‘Giocconda’ at the San Francisco Opera in 1979. She was wearing a lampshade on her head and her hair was dyed purple. Really. Quite a sight to behold. I had also seen several years later, her costumes for the San Diego Opera’a ‘The Magic Flute’. Her use of color and texture were a feast for the eyes but in no way upstaged Mozarts beautiful music.
But I digress: thanks to Dame Zhandra’s zig zagging professional trajectory, it was only natural that her path crossed with Freddie Mercury’s. According to her, it all began when the phone rang at her studio. It was Freddie saying that he and Queen guitarist Brian May needed costumes. They met up at her studio later that evening, where she had Freddie and Brian try on a variety of tops, having them moving about to get a feel for how the garments would translate onstage. Freddie was drawn to one particular gown which was meant to be a wedding dress for another client. He loved how the pleated fabric draped on his body as he moved. So Zhandra, in a thunderbolt of inspiration, took a pair of scissors to the waistline and Voila! The gown became a tunic and Freddie said yes to the dress!
Brian May also benefitted from Zhandra Rhodes’ sartorial creativity, she confected a very colorful custom painted tunic whose sleeves we engineered in such a way that it would not interfere with his virtuosic guitar playing. Thinking about this heady collaboration between these two iconic entities, it got me to think why she never collaborated with that other Glam Icon: David Bowie. I did a pretty extensive internet search with no results, so one can only speculate as to what might have been.
So yes, that night in 1976, in that small crowded theater in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to see Queen make their US debut. It was a blindingly theatrical show featuring strobe lights, special effects and of course, Freddie’s pleated tunic. Freddie had a stage presence almost like Bowie’s. According to Ms Rhodes, the tunic has since been banished into the costume food chain and is now experiencing a second life as a rental piece at an Oklahoma costume warehouse. Considering the way costumes are refurbished at those place, I fear that Freddie’s tunic is only a shadow of its former self and no longer viable.
But, Dame Zhandra did collaborate with “Bohemian Rhapsody” costume designer Julian Day, to reproduce the infamous tunic. She even reproduced several copies to be exhibited in theatre lobbies around the world. So please enjoy these images and perhaps now that I have published this post, I may actually go out and see the movie after all. Pre-conceptions optional!
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We are all familiar with the ubiquitous family of reality TV. But they were not the first set of siblings whose good looks and social connections made them fodder for social commentary and scandal. Back in the 17cc there existed a brood of Franco-Italian cousins and sisters whose comings and going would give the Kardashians a run for their money.
Let’s look at the similarities first so that we can better understand the comparison: Like the Kardashians these girls and one brother were part of a large extended family. They had a patriarch who enjoyed wearing dresses, although I must point out that the 17cc patriarch’s dresses were more ecclesiastical as opposed to Caitlyn’s designer gowns. Think moreCassocks & Miters as opposed to Dolce & Gabbana. Like the Kardashians, they were ubiquitous in every sense of the word. Their lives were the subject of tabloid gossip, often times re-enacted publicly in commedia dell’arte satires for the masses to enjoy. I am sure that if the videocam had existed back then, at least one of them would have wound up on a home made sex-tape.
The Mazarinettes, with their Southern Italian good looks made for a shift in what was considered a standard of beauty for the 17th cc. The same way that the Kardashian’s dark haired mediterranean beauty and voluptuous physiques created an impact on 21st cc sensibilities. Up until each respective clan made their appearance on the scene, the zeitgeist of both times was the frail/fair slender gamine. This brood made their impact on what was considered aesthetically acceptable centuries apart from the Kardashians. But I think that’s where the similarity ends and for my money, I think that the Mazarinettes story is much more compelling than their reality TV counter parts.
The girls earned their name from their Uncle, Cardinal Jules Mazarin who was the King Regent during the minority of LouisXIV and was later the chief counsel to the King once Louis was all grown up. Such influence made the Cardinal one of the most powerful men in France and as the cliche goes: It’s lonely at the top. So in order to address his need for companionship, the Cardinal decided to bring his family over from Italy and set his nieces up in pivotal positions throughout the royal houses of Europe, thereby increasing his sphere of influence. This was accomplished by arranging important political marriages along with sizable dowries and sometimes just downright pimping them out to important members of the Sun King’s court.
So let’s start out with how this Italian clan got their foothold on one of the most important royal courts of Europe.
Jules Mazarin himself was no slouch;In his early years he studied profusely at university and developed a talent for ingratiating himself to powerful and influential men. One of these being Cardinal Richelieu of France (yes, the same guy in the Monty Python skits). In those days men of modest means but noble lineage were able to climb their way up the social ladder through the church. Following the deaths of Richelieu, then Louis XIII, he proceeded to rule France through the regency of Anne of Austria, Louis XIV’s mother.
The rest, they say, is history. Cardinal Mazarin worked hard to secure his place in the French Court and as mentioned earlier, one of the means to his end was to bring in his comely nieces from Italy. The first batch to arrive were Marie, Hortense and Olympia. Followed by a few years later by Laure, Anne-Marie, Marie-Anne (not a typo) and a distant cousin Philipe-Jules. Thanks to the Cardinal being in good graces with Anne of Austria, the Queen Regent took this young brood under her wing and made sure that they were on equal footing as the Princes of the Blood.
Each one of these individuals has their own unique story but I think that the two most compelling were Hortense and Marie Mancini. For starters, the Mancini clan was able to trace their family lineage back to the Roman Empire via the Consul Lucius Hostilus Mancinus who fought Hannibal in one of the Punic Wars. The girl’s father, Baron Lorenzo Mancini was an alchemist who practiced astrology and necromancy. The mother was the sister of the Cardinal and was the one who requested that her daughters be sent to Versailles following the death of her husband under mysterious circumstances. It brings to mind another dark magician who met a tragic demise: Jack Parsons,but we need to save his story for another blog.
From their portraits one can see that these girls had a light in their eyes that captivates the viewer and undoubtedly had the same effect on the gentleman (and a few ladies) of the court. Marie Mancini’s story is the most poignant for having been the first “girlfriend” of a young Louis XIV. Thanks to her socializing with other Princes of the Blood, she was able to develop a “puppy love” relationship with the young Dauphin. So much so that youngLouis actually wanted to marry her. But neither her uncle the Cardinal nor Louis’ mother, Queen Regent Anne, were going to allow any of that; Both adults were interested in a more politically important alliance with another superpower at the time, so Louis wound up marrying the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain. No matter that Marie could trace her bloodline back to Ancient Rome! Neither the Queen Regent nor the Cardinal thought that Marie’s lineage was exalted enough to marry the future King of France. And so the cookie crumbles. However, in the end Marie wound up OK. Her uncle had secured a marriage with a guy named the Duke of Colonna who on his wedding night was surprised to find that his bride was still a virgin! It appeared that even though Marie had many admirers, they were all affairs of the mind.
Louis XIV, having had his lovers crush undone by the grownups, decided to console himself by entering into a romantic relationship with Marie’s sister: Hortense. Now this girl is definitely one for the books! Hortense was a girl of many talents and misadventures. After playing holler back girl to the Dauphin, she then took up with a political refugee from England who was exiled in the French court. A guy named Charles Stuart. Like Marie with Louis, Hortense fell head over heels for this young English swain. But this time her uncle thought that this penniless guy who had no prospects, was unworthy of his niece and so forbade the union. But then the fickle finger of fate saw Charles reinstated on the English throne as Charles II and the cardinal realized he made a mistake. He made a counter offer to Charles along with a handsome dowry if he would take back Hortense. But Charles had moved on, or so it appeared.
The Cardinal continued to drive a hard bargain in the attempts to marry his favorite niece off to other influential heads of Europe but alas, striking out every time. The fact that Hortense was a bit of a party girl who enjoyed flirtations with both men and women did not help to bolster her cause. However, the Cardinal (and Hortense) finally managed to bag an up and coming aristocrat who was also the richest man in Europe. Enter Charles de La Porte de La Meilleraye. This mouthful was not only the richest man in France but he was also a nephew of the late Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin’s first mentor.
So on the surface though it appeared to be a good match, it proved to be anything but. Eight days after her wedding, Uncle Jules died, leaving Hortense a vast chunk of the family fortune, now making HER one of the riches people in France. Unfortunately what would have looked like a fortuitous circumstance would unravel into a nightmare for poor Hortense. That’s because her husband, Armand, was conservative, repressed, reactionary and cruel. Think of someone who was a cross between OJ Simpson and Ted Bundy and you get the picture. He was a total foil to Hortense’s vivacious, popular personality. I am not even going to list here the misogynistic actions of this creep. Just google his name if you want to know more.
But our heroine, Hortense would have none of this and immediately flew into the arms of another-woman. Can you blame her? It was another French aristocrat by the name of Sidonie de Courcelles. They were both only sixteen! So you would think her husband would find this amusing but no, he wound up locking them both up together in a convent where they continued their affair. This time wearing nun’s habits no doubt. Bad move dude on the part of De La Porte if you ask me.
So thus began a convoluted sexual odyssey for our heroine. She escaped from France disguised as a man and would continue to rely on cross dressing whenever she needed to make a quick get away. During her exile in England, she took up again with here old flame, Charles II AND one of his daughters. Anne, Countess of Sussex was her name. Hortense’s relationship with Anne was so volatile that they actually once settled a score with a public fencing match in the middle of St James’ park wearing only their nighties! Much to the delight of the gentlemen strolling through the park. The only comparison I can think of would be if Meghan Markle and Katherine Middleton engaged in a mud wrestling match in the middle of the Serpentine at Kensington Park. That’s the level of scandal we are referring to. Hollywood where are you?
Somewhere along the way she reconnected with her other sister Marie ( who was also miserable in her marriage albeit not as badly as poor Hortense). For awhile the two sisters lived in the court of the Sun King under his protection. The girls began shuttling around between the capitals of Europe in an effort to escape the claws of psycho Hubby Armand. It should be noted that in every city where these girls sought refuge, their homes would be transformed into Salons offering a venue for popular artists and writers of the time. But alas, Mr Personality kept rearing his ugly head and making poor Hortense’s life a living hell.
Later on Hortense would have an affair with Louis I of Monaco (yes, a Grimaldi whose descendant married Grace Kelly) and so on and so on. She lived out the rest of her years in England under the protection of subsequent monarchs and engaging in the profligate lifestyle to which she had become accustomed, until her death in 1699.But as the saying goes, there is no rest for the wicked and upon her death, hubby from hell reappeared and had her body exhumed so that he could take it back to France. So that she could be given a proper burial? Noooo…..boys and girls. So that he could keep the decomposing corpse by his side as he traveled through France. Yep, until royal decree demanded that he finally bury her.
Some relationships are hard to shake but this is ridiculous!
The rest of the “Mazarinettes” lived flamboyant lifestyles and also caused scandal throughout the courts of Europe. But their antics paled in comparison to those of Hortense and Marie. Thanks to their Uncle’s machinations and the sizable dowries he bequethed, the girls were able to secure some good catches. Their husband’s names reads like a history book of who’s who in the 17cc. I focused mainly on the two Mancini sisters because their lives were so unbelievable. Being that this is a costume blog, I also wanted to focus one the court costumes of Hortense. Since she was the one with the high profile lifestyle, she became a bit of a Fashion Plate and this sensibility was obviously reflected in her style of dressing as shown in the pictures posted here.
The Early Baroque/Restoration period was a transitional one in every sense of the word. Almost every costume conceit imaginable was represented on the style of dress. And you can see the transitory nature of this period in the different styles of dress worn by Hortense. In her earlier portraits you can see here trussed up in ribbons from the late Italian Renaissance and from there she goes to exposing a nipple which was a typical conceit of the French Mannerist painting style. In Louis’ court you see her in a very elaborate riding gear ready to engage in ‘La Chase’ with the Sun King. Finally there are the later ’swooning gowns’ of the Restoration court of Charles II. These dresses gave the wearer a ‘disheveled’ appearance with the bodice pulled down to almost exposing a nipple. Yes, these gowns were engineered to fall right off the body at a moments notice in order to facilitate an intimate trust with his majesty whoever he or she may be.
Another highlight of my visit to the David Bowie Is exhibit was the fact that the Brooklyn Museum is also home to the iconic installation by Judy Chicago called ‘The Dinner Party’. This groundbreaking example of feminist art had been on my bucket list since its debut in 1979. Since it’s premiere, the art piece made the rounds of all the famous museums of the world and somehow I would always keep missing it. In 2002, the installation finally found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum, so being that it coincided with the DBI exhibition I was doubly motivated to attend.
This is one of those installations that is so spiritual and so moving, it felt like I was visiting the Sistine Chapel or some other holy place of great importance. The story of this work is virtual dinner party attended by important women who had been overlooked by history. Each setting represented one of these women and on the tiled floor where written in swirling letters the names of other women who were somehow related to the invitee. For example below the place setting for the author Mary Wollstonecraft was the name of her daughter Mary Shelley.
Although Judy Chicago was a classically trained artist with an MFA from UCLA, she desired that this particular work of art be created using materials and techniques traditionally and condescendingly referred to as “Women’s Work”. Sewing, embroidery, pottery, weaving were used to create each place setting in a beautiful presentation. Ironically, these skills are still looked down upon by the patriarchal mindset of the art world and it is something that I have personally experienced in my career as a designer. Its always been my opinion that if women were mechanics and men were seamstresses, a pair of jeans would set you back 30k while an automobile would be sold for clearance at Walmart for $19.99! So kudos to Judy for elevating these skills to a high art form that is respected and appreciated. The irony was not lost on me as I took in the exhibit that in another room in the same building they were honoring the costume makers who helped to create the persona of David Bowie.
This opus started as a labor of love for Judy, she was inspired to create art that would not only honor the memory of these forgotten women but to also, as mentioned previously, elevate women’s skills that had been relegated to the category of ‘crafts’, to the realm of fine art. It was a process that took years to create, thanks to the efforts of 400 volunteers who worked tirelessly to create this epic. When it finally premiered in 1979, it was universally panned: one misogynistic wind bag (who also happened to be a well known art critic whose name will not be mentioned) crudely dismissed it as “vaginas on a plate”. After the show closed she was $30,000 in debt and the laughing stock of the art world. But out of every crucifixion comes a great resurrection and over time the installation began to tour all over the world to mounting critical acclaim. Until it finally found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum.
Each dinner setting features the name of the guest and her plate is in the shape of a vulva. Like the vulva, each plate is unique and no two are alike as are the richly embroidered table cloths underneath. The guests include actual historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Margaret Sanger, but also mythical ones such as the Primordial Goddess and Kali. I honestly wish that I could show pictures of each and every one of those place settings because of their unique beauty and detail, but alas, after my altercation with the security guards and the Bowie exhibit, I was trying to stay on my best behavior.
I have highlighted some of guests who resonated with me personally. But I encourage all of those reading this to take the time to see this exhibit and bring a daughter, a sister, a mother. They will thank you for it. In the mean time you can find out more about the exhibit by clicking the link here.
A few more guests:
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Finally made to the Holy Grail for all Bowie fans. The closing week of the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. This all encompassing exhibit has been touring the world since its premiere at the Victoria & Albert Museum 5 years ago. The fact that it only made two pit stops in the United States speaks volumes to The Thin White Duke’s worldwide appeal. This particular blog entry is of such a deeply personal nature, that I have procrastinated forever in posting this.
In spite of the fact that the presentation was disorganized and overcrowded, it was the content of the exhibit that overcame any drawbacks resulting from the ineptitude of the Brooklyn Museum. After all, we are talking Bowie here, and we all know that he was a ‘Mortal with potential of a Superman’. And I don’t want to totally trash the museum either; to their credit they did resolve some of my concerns. But according to one of my sources at the museum, even they acknowledged that they had gotten in over their heads with this exhibit.
David surrounded himself with the best talent: the best designers, the best directors, the best musicians. Talent that matched, but never surpassed his own. The show was a comprehensive overview of his collaborations as a performer, artist, writer, painter. Bowie the Artist. The shear breadth of his artistic accomplishments is overwhelming. Since this is a costume blog, the main focus will be his costumes. However I am including samples of his other facets because otherwise it would not do him justice.
I should start out with this caveat: there where no photos allowed in the exhibit so these pictures where taken clandestinely and at great personal risk. My apologies in advance for the poor quality of some of the images. In fact at one point when I was attempting to take a picture, a hand appeared in front of the lens belonging to an angry security guard who demanded that I stop on pain of banishment from the museum and confiscation of my pictures. So there was A LOT I could not capture: His costume from when he appeared on Broadway in “Elephant Man”, the Bauhaus costume from his “Saturday Night Live” appearance, the Kabuki cape designed by Kansai Yamamoto. And so on.
My attempt here is to present his costumes and how they would have been worn within the context of his performance. As mentioned earlier, David collaborated with the top creative talent and as a costumer and technician myself, I was in awe over the beauty and detail of his clothing. The delicacy of the tailoring conceits and the detail of the embellishments are incredible. It’s hard to believe that the enormity of the effort that went into creating a garment that was often times intended to be worn only once.
The first time I saw Bowie perform was in the “1980 Floor Show” which was broadcast in the USA on the “Midnight Special” TV series. It was a Rock’n’Roll cabaret with dancers, costumes, a guest appearance by singer Marianne Faithful and everyone’s favorite trans model Amanda Lear, who took time away from her duties as Salvador Dali’s muse in order to serve as MC for the show. Not a bad line up.
This production was the most blindingly theatrical presentation that my 16 year old eyes had ever seen. The originality of the costumes inspired me to grab a pencil and sketch pad. Aladdin Sane’s Thunderbolt of Enlightenment struck my brain causing a deluge of creative juices to start flowing and as I result I was sketching costumes furiously through the entire show. How’s that for inspiration?
The costumes for this show were showcased in their own particular vitrine. They now only had David’s costume but the one worn by guitarist Mick Ronson. Mick is often overshadowed by Bowie’s supernova, but let’s not forget that he had a hand in the creation of the man, before Ziggy broke up the band.
The first time I actually saw Bowie perform live onstage, in the flesh, was for the ’Thin White Duke Tour’ also called the ‘Isolar Tour’ on February 6, 1976 in San Francisco. To say that it was an out of body experience would be an understatement because I was completely consumed byhis presence. I am not the first person to say this. The energy and charisma he exuded onstage was something every performer can only dream of achieving. It was a true out of body experience. Un-psychotropically enhanced.
The concert began with a screening of the surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’. The cinematic collaboration between Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel best known for the close up of a girl’s eye being sliced open by a razor blade. When this happened the screams of horror from the audience was deafening! As the film came to its conclusion, the projection screen rose and the band began to play the intro to ‘Station to Station’, eventually a spotlight popped on our guy as the sang the lyrics about his return. Not knowing what kind of fashion statement he would make, he was dressed in black and white which went well with the stark fluorescent lighting.
The ‘Thin White Duke Tour’ was the most amazing piece of theatre I had ever seen up until then. Having out done the ‘The 1980 Floor Show’.
Feeling fully recovered from my out of Bowie-body experience, I decided that this concert was something that must be repeated’.So I hoped into my Ford Pinto (don’t laugh, it WAS 1976) and drove down to L.A. to catch the show again at the venerable L.A. Forum. This time I was able to relax and enjoy the show. Gloating with delight hearing the audience’s shrieks when the girl’s eye was slashed in the opening film. No more out of body experiences this time. I was just an observer. As expected Bowie delivered another out of this world performance.
So fast forward to the 80’s and by now I was a college student living in New York. ’Scary Monsters’ was constantly spinning on my turn table (kids, if you don’t know what that is, Google it). The third and last time I saw Bowie perform live was on Broadway in ‘Elephant Man’ and needless to say, it was the most amazing piece of theatre I had seen up until then. Only Bowie can out do Bowie., so all his previous opera.What a performance! He opted out on the prosthetic makeup and chose to use his body language and voice to convey the pathos of the lead character.
My college and my apartment were both located in the Chelsea district of Manhattan and in a stroke of Kafkaesque synchronicity, so was Bowie’s. According to a friend who had it on good authority that our Hero had a loft somewhere south of West 23rd St, so we took it upon ourselves to case every single single building in the vicinity until we came upon one building around West 20th @ 9th avenue that yielded results. We were reading the names on the mailboxes and one of the tenants went by the name: “Bewley Brothers Music”. Ya Think?! Eureka!
We stood in front of the mailbox pondering our next move: Should we ring the door bell? What if he answers? What if he invites us up? What do we say to him? This reverie of ‘what ifs’ was rudely interrupted by the booming voice of a very irate doorman: “Had it ever occurred to you kids that he may be going in and out the back door?!” Well, these two junior stalkers in training made a dash out the door to the back alleyway of the building but to no avail; we were unequivocally asked to leave the premises by the same irate doorman.
I lived in the Chelsea district for several more years and as time passed I became one of those blasé jaded New Yorkers who is not impressed by celebrity. Yes, I did spot him once or twice in passing and my heart would jump ever so slightly. But I was determined to stay in ‘Blasé New Yorker Mode’.To the point where one day I was grocery shopping at the local A&P supermarket and as I was browsing the produce department, I could see out of the corner of my eye that someone was trying to take my shopping cart. Without turning my head I grabbed the cart away from the interloper and shouted in my most nasally Manhattanese “That’s MY cart”. I heard a crisp British accented male voice mutter “Oh sorry” as he slipped away. Yes, The Thin White Duke was a grocery cart thief!
As time progressed, I moved on to other musical styles and to other cities. I hadn’t purchased a Bowie album or even listened to his music in years. I was vaguely amused by my younger relatives fascination with him and was pleasantly surprised to find one of my nieces apartment covered with Bowie poster when I visited her one Thanksgiving. But when I heard the news of his transition on January 10, 2016, it all came flashing back to me. The Stars did look very different after that. Tears would not stop flowing. Every time his name was mentioned, my eyes would water up. In fact I’m in a bit of a ‘Weepy Devotchka’ mode right now as I type this.The impact that he had on my life, my choices and values was something that cannot be quantified. In many ways he saved my life, lifting me out of the mundane and the cruel to a realm that was both sacred and sublime.
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Beautiful Jessica Harper, Miss Hooters of Houston 2018 scores a home run in her sexy costume at the Hooters International Pageant in Charlotte, NC.
Jessica contacted me after she found my website through an organic search. She had just been awarded the Miss Hooters of Houston Title and was all set to go and represent our fair city at the headquarters of the well known sports bar. Jessica already had a great idea that her costume should represent the beauty and resiliency of the city and I am grateful that she let me run with her idea!
As mentioned, her costume was to represent the strong points of the city. In particular the survival of the city in the aftermath of the terrible flooding from Hurricane Harvey and the silver lining of the Astros baseball team winning the World Series over the LA Dodgers. In addition, since this was to be a corporate event, I needed to be mindful of the selection of colors and specifications as it relates to corporate branding.
So as you can see from the picture, there were specific guidelines as far as the dimensions for both the Hooters and Astros logos. Both organizations were very generous in their furnishing the official specs for my personal use in reproduction. The original intent was to manipulate in photoshop to create a pattern. But alas, there were challenges ahead: My late model high end Mac decided that this would be a great time to crash and burn and unfortunately there was not enough time to take it into the Apple store to be revived at the Genius Bar. This meant that all of the corporate branding needed to be created manually. Thank goodness for my Art degree!
It’s all good and in the end her costume was completed on time and under budget, The MacBook was able to be revived by a Genius and Jessica was a star at the International Pageant. Please enjoy the rest of the pictures showing Jessica during her fittings and hanging out backstage with some of the other contestants.
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Fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a wild post!
Edith Head was one of Hollywood’s most enduring costume designers. While not as innovative as some of her other contemporaries like Adrian or Rambova, she distinguished herself by delivering good product that pleased both actors and directors alike. This resulted in a record breaking 35 Oscar nominations for which she won no less than 8 Academy Awards. Edith Head is responsible for creating many of the iconic looks that we now identify as ‘ Old Hollywood Glamour’. Having dressed the likes of Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Kim Novak, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor, the list goes on and on. She once said ‘If it’s a Paramount film I probably designed it.’
One of her most curious collaborations was designing the costumes for Gloria Swanson in ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Curious because Edith had begun her career at Paramount (Then called the Laskey Studios) not only as a sketch artist but also as the wardrobe girl whose main job was to wash out Miss Swanson’s lingerie. At the time Gloria was the studio’s biggest star and Edith was basically a no body. Fast forward some 40 years later and now she was in charge of creating the look for what was to be Gloria Swanson’s big ‘comeback’ movie. The irony was not lost on Edith and it was something she reflected upon in her later years.
Thanks to her steadfast professionalism, she continued to work long after many of her contemporaries had retired and even long after her passing she was immortalized as the character ‘Edna Mode’ in ‘The Incredibles’ and as a Google Doodle! She was even part of the Universal Studios Tour where she and her costume shop where part of the attractions!
But Edith had her fun and dishy side as well. In her biography ‘Edith Head’s Hollywood’ she complains ad infinitum about having to deal with the ego of director Cecil B. DeMille with whom she collaborated on over 10 films, referring to him as ‘A conceited old goat with small hands’. Ouch! She was asked once if the rumors were true that Mae West was really a man, her response was: ‘I have seen her without a stitch and she’s all woman. No man can have a body like that!’ Touché. And Kim Novak was on the receiving end of this little zinger: ‘Dressing Kim Novak for her role in ‘Vertigo’ put to the test all my training in psychology.’Yikes!
Ms Head was scheduled to be a guest speaker while I was a student at F.I.T.. I remember being so exited to actually be seeing this Hollywood legend in the flesh, discussing her distinguished career. Unfortunately it was announced, right before the lights went on that Ms Head was unwell and would not be appearing that day. So instead we were treated to a fashion show of some of here most iconic looks with models wearing Grace Kelly’s ballgown from ’To Catch a Thief’ and Kim Novak’s exquisitely tailored grey suit from ‘Vertigo’, Bette’ Davis’ topaz satin party dress from ‘All About Eve’ and a whole lot more. Sadly, it was announced a few days later that she had passed away. She never let her public down even to the end. Please enjoy these highlights from her best known films.
Recent updates to my Gallery Page:
The Costumes by Antonia Gallery page has been updated so now you can see an overview of what has been keeping me busy all this time. Please click on the image to see images and videos from Super Bowl LI, Toddlers with Tiaras, Fantasy Weddings, CosPlay and a whole lot more.
So, not ready to order a costume? No problem, learn how to make one instead! Private sewing lessons are once again available at a discounted rate of 10%. Ot you can give the gift of creativity by purchasing a Gift Certificate for a loved one. Just enter the code ’sewcooltenpercent’ at checkout.
‘The Envelope Please’
Congratulations to Mark Bridges for winning the Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design for ‘Phantom Thread’ AND winning a jet ski for the shortest acceptance speech. Obviously Mr Bridges is a man of few words. What can be cooler? Winning an Oscar or riding a jet ski with Dame Helen Mirren?
(Because we save the best for last!)
It is my distinct honor to share the news of this upcoming exhibit at the HR Giger Museum in Gruyere, Switzerland by my dear friend and mentor Martina Hoffmann and her late husband Robert Venosa. H R Giger, was best known as the creator of the ‘Alien’ monster from the film of the same name and for which he was awarded an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The theme of the exhibit is ‘Transmutations’ and I think it is only fitting to include this with the theme of the newsletter. I hope that my friends reading this who live in Geneva and its environs will be able to attend this most auspicious event.
Martina Hoffmann, along with being a superb painter is also a superb fashion designer who created the one of a kind ‘Goddess Belts’ and amazingly sublimated ready to wear. You can see more of Martina’s designs by clicking here: https://www.martinahoffmann.com/boutique
or visiting her website below.
Please click on the imageto be directed to the Giger Museum Website.
For more information about the artists please visit their websites: