A passe partout is a poly synonymic term that has at times been applied to: a character in the Jules Verne novel ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, a layer of matte cardboard inserted into a picture frame and the title of a French TV children’s show. A ‘Passe-Partout’ was also used to define a particular type of Victorian crinoline hoop worn during the 1860’s that has also been described as the ‘The Carriage Collapsible Caged Crinoline’. Let’s stick with the French term, it’s less wordy.
‘Passe Partout’ literally translates as ‘pass through anything’ and that was the purpose of this device; it allowed the wearer to gently squeeze their skirt with their arms, therefore collapsing the crinoline, which allowed them to safely step into a carriage, pass through a narrow doorway or just sit down comfortably without risking a broken neck.
At the beginning of the 19cc, women’s fashion had experienced a token liberation through the ‘Empire’ silhouettes that were made popular as a result of the French Revolution of the previous century. In an effort to purge all social and cultural affectations of the’ ‘Ancienne Regime’ that had been recently decapitated by this political upheaval. The new sensibility was to return to the ‘purist’ style of the Greeks and so ladies dresses began to resemble the diaphanous draped styles of the Greek and Roman statues discovered by Napoleon as he pillaged and plundered his way around Europe and the Middle East.
Unfortunately this ‘natural style was to be short-lived and eventually, as the 19cc progressed, skirts once again began to get ridiculously wider and wider. So much in fact that they posed a risk not only to the wearer but to the public at large. There were several well documented cases of ladies suffering a loss of their lives as a result of them tripping over their hoop skirts in an attempt to board a coach or use the stairs. Ironically, these extra wide hoop skirts were referred to as ‘cage crinolines’ and they definitely lived up to their namesake because they really did confine the movements of the wearer to the point that one careless move could kill them!
Sometime around the mid 1860’s some enterprising individual created a hoop which was rigged in such a way that enabled the wearer to ‘squeeze’ their shirt thereby allowing an ease of movement without endangering their lives. And thus, the ‘Jupon Passe Partout’ came into being.
This concept of the ‘rigged’ undergarment continued to experience popularity throughout the 19cc even as the silhouettes morphed into the ‘bustle’ and ‘tournure’ silhouettes of the late 19 and early 20th century Edwardian fashions.
Thankfully these confining symbols of female oppression began to wane and female silhouettes began to be liberated. Due in part to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement and World War 1 that included more women into the workplace, one began to see the development of the simple casual styles of the ‘Gibson Girl’ and eventually the complete liberation of the Flappers in the 1920’s.
One interesting trivia about this era was Coco Chanel, whose suits also liberated women from the confinement of the corset, was also, at the beginning of her career, adopted the styles of a ‘Gibson Girl’.
Congratulations to Colleen Atwood Oscar Winner for
Best Achievement in Costume Design
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’
I must confess that to being a bit disappointed in the award going to Ms Atwood. Don’t misunderstand, I am a big fan of her body of work, just that I was hoping that the awards would have gone to a newcomer instead of someone who has been perennially nominated and won the gold statuette five times. Considering the Best Picture debacle at the end of the ceremony, I am wondering if the tweeting accountant from Price Waterhouse handed the incorrect envelope more than once.
Well who knew? 2016 is almost a memory and the Awards Season is just around the corner. That can only mean that its time for the studios to release their ‘Oscar Worthy’ films and that of course means plenty of Costume Dramas for us to sink our teeth into. Let’s start by reviewing some of the major releases although there are tons more that time or space won’t allow me to cover. That will just have to wait for my annual newsletter ‘And the Winners Are..’ which is usually released right after the nominations.
So let’s begin with:
‘The Magnificent 7’
OK, so how many times are they going to recycle ‘7 Samurai’? Personally I prefer Akiro Kurosawa’s original but anything starring Denzel Washington deserves my attention. So here I would like to address the costumes designed by veteran Sharen Davis. Share already has some western cowboy credits having worked with Tarantino in ‘Django Unchained’, and in ‘Magnificent 7’ she does not disappoint; I liked how her use of muted colors to highlight the gang of seven was much like the samurai costumes in the original, but at the same time giving each character their own individual costuming conceit. For example, the Vincent D’Onofrio character’s almost elizabethan looking vest and Denzel’s black on black ensemble. Sharen Davies received an Oscar nomination for her costumes in ‘Django’, so let’s see if the fates smile down on her this awards season.
WOW! This is on my ‘must see’ list and I wish the film would hurry up and make its way out here. It’s not in general release yet, so I may have to drive out to Austin just to see it. ‘The Handmaiden’ is based on a novel by the same name and the story revolves around the relationship between a wealthy heiress and her personal maid. Ok so the story has been told before but not as it’s interpreted by Director Park Chan-woo. This erotic thriller is set in 1930’s Korea and presents luscious sets and costume combining western and eastern aesthetics. Costume Designer Sang-gyeong Jo creates the most exquisite ‘costume porn’ that I have ever seen since ‘The Cell’. So far, Jo has only collaborated on a few previous project with Park and I hope that this breakthrough movie serves as a stepping stone to bigger and greater things. The Envelope Please!
So far of all the films presented here, this has to be my personal favorite. Of course not having seen ‘The Handmaiden’, so that may change. In spite of the obnoxiously bad 3D, this movie was fun to watch and featured so many occult allusions that after the movie ended, I had to run home and brush up on my ‘Key of Solomon.’ But the costumes by Alexandra Byrne are what make the movie shine.Dr Strange’s Magical Cape alone is worth the price of admission and should get a nomination for ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role’. It’ll be the first time an article of clothing would receive that recognition and deservedly so. Bad puns aside, the Magic Cape is a ‘stand alone’ performance. Ms. Byrne is a veteran of the Marvel franchise, having designed costumes for ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Thor’. Good Job!
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’
The Harry Potter franchise returns and perennial Oscar nominee/winner Designer Colleen Atwood is in charge of the Costumes once again. Being that this is such a moneymaker for Warner Brothers, Ms. Atwood plays it safe in the wardrobe interpretation but there are some standouts like Seraphina Picquery’s lovely tunic pictured here. There is no doubt in my mind that Colleen Atwood will receive another Oscar nomination but whether she actually gets it is another story. I am keeping my fingers crossed for ‘The Handmaiden’ or ‘Dr. Strange’.
‘The Assassins Creed’
Welcome to the Spanish Inquisition! NOT! Finally, the video games make it to the big screen and like they used to say before the ‘Auto de Fe’, you can’t keep a good Borgia down. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon is a bit of a newcomer here, having started her career in showbiz as an actress but shifted her efforts to working behind the camera. I did a quick IMDB search for her and discovered that her first design effort was for ‘V for Vendetta’ which ostensibly makes her the mother of the Guy Fawkes mask! Who’da thunk it? Well, this broad has just earned my total RESPECT! Unfortunately no amount of string pulling with my contacts in the industry was able to get me a preview of ‘Assassins Creed’ so I guess that I will have to stand in line with all of the lesser mortals when this film goes into general release of December 21st.
This film is a parable on a ‘Post Dallas’ Jackie. Natalie Portman rocks the ‘Locust Valley Lockjaw’ accent playing the widowed First Lady trying to put her life in order following the assignation of her husband. First time designer for a major American film is French costume designer Madeline Fontaine who’s previous credits include ‘Amelie’ and ‘ Asterix at the Olympics’ (really). To her credit she did a good job replicating Jackie’s pink suit worn in Dallas, her widow’s weed’s for the Presidential funeral, telling Jackie’s story through her wardrobe. For the record, I would just like to clarify one thing here and now: Contemporary fashion pundits are saying that the pink suit she wore in Dallas was designed by Chanel. That is WRONG! The suit was actually a Chanel knock off designed by American Designer (and FIT professor emeritus, Pauline Trigere).
The actual worn by JKO is now locked away in the National archives where it will stay out of the public eye until the year 2103.
In this new release from Martin Scorcese, veteran production crew member Dante Ferretti, pulls double duty as both Production Designer AND Costume Designer. This is quite an undertaking for the average mortal. But he has done so in the past for other Scorsese projects such as ‘Kundun’. Looking at the publicity image provided by Paramount Studios, it’s safe to say that only an Italian can manage to make a Jesuit priest look sexy!
Do I smell an Oscar for any of these efforts?
We’ll see when the AMPAS nominations are announced on
January 24, 2017!
Till then, Happy Viewing!
But wait, there’s more!
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In the Fashion Food Chain a “Knock Off” is the duplication of an existing design in a similar fabric. In this workshop you will learn how to create a pattern “knock off” from an existing garment. Do you have a certain article of clothing you love and wish you could have it in more colors? Now you will learn how! This is an all day workshop specifically for sewing enthusiasts who wish to take their skills to a whole other level. Click on the image to learn more! Can’t wait to click? No problem call me directly for information and registration: 832-652-9180. Hope you can join us!
I was so saddened to hear about the death of Prince. It seems like so many cultural icons are leaving us in such rapid succession that I thought it best to post this before another one bites the dust. News of his passing stirred up a memory from long ago. Back to a time when I made a brief but meaningful contribution to the fashion evolution of the Purple One.
It was 1991, I had recently moved to Los Angeles and was transitioning from a career in Fashion Design to my first love, Costumes Design. I found a job at a now defunct fabric store in West Hollywood called ‘Left Bank Fabrics’, a retailer that sold some of the most beautiful and expensive fabric ever and was patronized by some of the biggest names in Hollywood costume design. It was a great springboard job that helped me to make a lot of connections and gave me hands on learning into the creative process. My boss was a woman named Barbara who was a very interesting person to work for. Her only problem was that she was insane. Sadly it appeared that the entire crew of that establishment had drunk the same psychotropic kool-aid which made for some very tense moments on the job.
One fine day we received a letter from the creative director of Paisley Park Productions in Minnesota. The letter requested some fabric swatches for the development of costumes for their only client, with of course a focus on the color purple. The letter did not name the client and I am guessing the reason for that was that they assumed that we already knew who that client was;
Sadly, the ladies at Left Bank Fabrics did not have a clue who they were dealing with, because that letter from Paisley Park Productions languished on Barbara’s desk for days until one day I took an urgent call from Paisley Park inquiring about the status of the swatch request. This was in the days before internet ordering and transactions of this type were still being done in the old school methods of phone calls and letters. I remember having to explain to Barbara’s assistant that we were dealing with an Oscar winning artist with deep pockets. One who could open a whole new market for them. I think they found it hard to believe that anyone who was that important actually lived outside of Los Angeles.
So Barbara immediately delegated the swatch selection duty to her assistant who promptly passed the buck over to yours truly. A very common practice in that establishment, I might add. So of course I began to diligently cut swatches with a focus on the color purple while grumbling profanities under my breath. Not that I didn’t want to be selecting swatches for a costume that was going to be designed for Prince, but for the fact that I was having to do someone else’s job for a fraction of the salary.
But I digress.
After about an hours time of cutting almost every swatch of purple fabric in that place my eyes were drawn to bolt of lemon yellow Guipure lace fabric. This fabric was so hideously fuddy-duddy that even
Queen Elizabeth would think it was dowdy! It’s only salvation was that it had a paisley motif. So in a totally subversive gesture of subordination, I grabbed my scissors and cut a generous swatch to
send off to Minnesota. As I was labeling and preparing the items for shipping, someone in management noticed the swatch of yellow and barked:
“WAIT! THAT’S NOT PURPLE! Dont send it, they’re not gonna like it”.
In a sea of purple that yellow stuck out like a sore thumb. I made
the gesture of tossing out the swatch but the minute her back was turned I shoved it back in the
envelope and sealed it shut so that no one would notice this act of rebellion. The package was
henceforth sent off to Paisley Park Productions never to be heard from again.
After about another month of working at the place, I had grown tired of the baloney and politicking.
Having already made enough contacts in the industry, I was able to fly the coop to bigger and better
things. Eventually I heard through the gossip mill that Left Bank Fabrics had gone out of business
and that ‘Barbara’ had left the country stiffing the remaining employees of their final wages.
Way to go.
But wait, the story is not over!
It has a very ‘Happy Ending!’
Later that year I was watching the MTV Music Awards when they announced that Prince was about to perform.
LO and BEHOLD!
He jumped on to the stage wearing a jumpsuit made out of none other than the lemon yellow Guipure lace fabric!
And of course there was a strategic cut out in the buttocks area!
As I always say, if you are going to be exposing your back side, it is only appropriate that it’s done wearing lemon yellow Guipure lace! Only Prince (or his designer) could make something so unfashionable look so fashionable!
So there you have it. My minuscule contribution to Prince’s enormous fashion lexicon.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
To see his performance at those long ago awards show please click on the link below:
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