Friday, May 24, 2013

Quick Review: Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

About a month ago the fates aligned, and I found myself with well-loved (and highly tolerant) friends, a free afternoon, and in New York City. I'd seen the special exhibit (currently travelling, but not coming to Boston, boo!) Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity advertised on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website, but didn't think I'd be able to go...and then I did! And it was AMAZING!

I've seen several exhibits (including the Alexander McQueen retrospective, which was incredible) in the space where the Met has the IFM exhibit housed, and whoever designs their layouts is a genius. It's always different, and always well-suited to the collection. IFM was quite simple, with galleries organized by themes in the art. The galleries themselves weren't decorated, which drew my eye quickly to the connections between the paintings and dresses on display. There were also several quotes by impressionists and related figures on the walls. Immediately when you enter you are presented with one such quote:

"the latest fashion...is absolutely necessary for a painting. It's what matters most." Manet, 1881

The collection of paintings is a treat, both as a lover of beauty in general and specifically as a lover of the impressionist movement. I was able to see previously-never-seen-in-real-life (having never been to the Musee d'Orsay) paintings by the famous (Monet, Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Tissot) and some lesser-knowns that I happen to adore (Bartholom√©, Caillebotte).

The Millinery Shop, Degas, 1882-1886 (this was one of my favorite paintings as a small child. It was part of a board game based on art auctioning that I loved. Seeing it in person for the first time was so cool! also HATS!!)
The exhibit itself is hugely fascinating, with threads that discuss the evolution and partnership of fashion, consumer culture, industrial technology, and aesthetics. I bought the exhibition book, so when I finally get around to reading it I'll try to write another post discussing the analysis in depth.

the gallery called "Consumer Culture" included several beautiful examples of factory-made garments (like the corsets pictured above--by the way, the far right was made locally in Worcester, MA!) paired with paintings, like one of Degas's dressing scenes (on the wall at right), which are my favorite Degas themes
One of the most exciting things about this exhibit as a costumer was the comparison between clothing and its representation in the paintings. Several of the dresses on display are the actual dresses worn by the subjects in the accompanying works. So cool!

In the Conservatory (Mme Bartholome), Bartholome, c.1881
summer dress worn by Mme Bartholome in the painting above, 1880. White cotton with printed purple patterns.
This example happened to be one of my favorites, both because I love the in-between-bustle/natural form period, and because it has purple polka dots and stripes! 
Seeing the transition of the patterns and styles from life to impressionist reinterpretations was really interesting, and also a helpful thing to think about when using images like this as inspiration for future projects. And I desperately want a late 1870s/early 1880s dress...not that I didn't already, but it always comes up again when I read Wharton, or look at paintings like these. It was also a great chance to get up close to details like embroidery and beading which aren't usually highlighted in impressionist work.
There were also a couple of dresses worn by the same model in multiple paintings by different artists, and noting the changes they made (turning sheer sleeves solid, for example) was really interesting. 

more comparisons in the "black dresses" gallery the jet beading on some of these was just painfully gorgeous.
Of course, my favorite part of the exhibit was the gallery called "En Plein Air" which is essentially French for "outside." Painting a subject (whether it be picnickers or water lillies) in nature was a large part of the impressionist movement, leading to an array of inspiring images of picnics, boating, and croquet games that make me long for white ensembles and parasols.
It just so happens the picnic season is starting, and I am so excited.

While I loved almost all the paintings in this gallery, there was one in particular I was excited to see--or rather, part of it.

the En Plein Air gallery, with the image sections in question at center back
Monet's Luncheon on the Grass was a life-sized capturing of what it means to spend a lazy, sunny, summer afternoon with friends. It was painted between 1865-1866, when Monet was forced to abandon the project due to lack of funds. According to his recollections from 1920 (you can read more at the Musee d'Orsay website), the giant canvas (it measured about 13 x 20 feet) was given by Monet to his landlord when he couldn't pay rent. The landlord rolled it up and out it in the basement, where the canvas experienced severe damage and molding.
In 1884 Monet was able to buy the painting back (or maybe just pay his back rent?), but it was too late. After removing the damaged areas, only three fragments of the original remained. Since then, the third has disappeared, leaving only the two sections I was able to see at the Met.

the remaining sections of Luncheon on the Grass, Monet, 1865-1866

The work shows a variety of women's day ensembles from the period: some are colored, some white, some sheer. There are fashionable hats and a woman without a hat (sitting on the blanket) which is much less common and therefore interesting. I also really like that the two women in the left panel are wearing skirts that have been gathered up for outdoor activities. This is a practice I've seen before, but I really like the coordinated underskirt on the gray dress. So pretty!

We followed up with a picnic of our own in Central Park (the first picnic of the season!), and I look forward to the picnics to come this summer. I need to make an 1860s day dress, and Monet's picnic images provide just the inspiration I was looking for.

Women in the Garden, Monet, 1866
If you're in the NYC area, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is closing this weekend, so hurry in! If you won't be able to see it, I highly recommend the book, both for its high quality images and analysis.

(all images in this post from the Met website. Thank you!)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Love Affair with Fitzgerald: Portrait Interlude

A quick review of Gatsby is coming! In the meantime, I wanted to share a few quick portraits I took before our performance at the Somerville Theater. As usual, thanks to Antonia, Quinn, and Julia for putting up with me and modeling!




Friday, May 10, 2013

Faking It: 1920s for the 19th c. Girl

Last night was the premier of The Great Gatsby, and it was so much fun! Getting a '20s look together is always weirdly time consuming for me, and so I was thinking about that last night when I was getting ready. The 1920s in general, but especially the highly stylish flappers, have a very distinct look: bobbed hair, finger waves, pouty lips, and big eyes.
Helen Kane, epitome of the flapper look

a kind of creepy 1920s card

Helen Costello, an actress for Warner Bros. studios c. 1928

unknown model--check out those finger waves!
I still need some practice at my flapper fabulousness, but I'm excited to prepare for the Prohibition Ball in July. What I've found is that if your hair is short looking--minimized somehow if it's long--and your makeup is right, the aesthetic translates pretty well. Even though I will never have a bob or cigarette, there are some tricks to pulling off a '20s facade when the occasion calls for it.

terrible webcam selfie! my '20s look: big round eyes, pouty lips, (faked)  bob, finger waves
goofing off before our performance at the Somerville Theatre
I didn't put together a tutorial, and to be honest I went sort of minimal with my makeup for the performance (charlestoning under stage lights + dark eye makeup = me as a sweaty, drippy mess...ew!), but here is a list of some of the points about the flapper look that can really make it work!

1. Minimize (but shape!) your hair
There are two major categories for flapper hair: round and a little frizzy or slick. Both are fake-able with long hair, it all depends on your hair texture and preferences.

a slick wave
a sleek straight bob
fabulous frizz
I went for frizz by teasing the top of my hair into the proper rounded shape and pinning it at the base of my head. Once that looked right, I pulled fistfuls of brushed-out curls (a boar bristle brush can't be beat for things like this!) to the bottom of my head (and a little higher as needed for artful arranging) and pinned them however I liked. Pulling calmer hair back into a low bun (or two), or braiding and tucking the braid under can create a close-to-the head look without drawing attention to the fact you have long hair.

2. Finger waves!
The "S" wave is a classic part of flapper hair, and length doesn't matter! It's all about framing the face (and rocking your part, side or center).



Doing real finger waves is tricky, but super awesome! I cheated--not that you can tell, because my hair is curly and therefore doesn't look much different from usual. I created fake waves by brushing hairspray through my hair and using a wide-barrel curling iron. Starting at the scalp, I put the front section of hair on each side around the barrel, just enough so that the clip could close on top, and help it there for a moment. Once it seemed sufficiently rounded, I moved down the hair and repeated the procedure every other 2 inches or so. Curling every other bit gave the rippled effect of the wave without actually fighting my hair into finger waves.

3. Round wide eyes

This is a spectrum. Fake lashes (as long as they are even all the way across, and not thicker on the outside--this will make a "cat eye" shape) can work here, but are unnecessary. Dark shadow is good, but only if you want it. There are three important parts:
               (A) Line the top lid with black liner from inner corner to lid edge against the lash line. You can also stop a little before the outer corner to preserve a perfectly round shape.
               (B) Line the bottom inner lid edge (above your bottom lashes) with white liner. This makes your eyes look bigger, brighter, and a little dewy.
               (C) Line the bottom outer lid (below your bottom lashes) with black liner. I was using liquid so I went pretty thin, but going a little thicker (or tracing over your line in dark powder) is great too.

4. Pouty dark lips


Most of the reference images for the period are black and white or sepia, so it's hard to tell what lipstick color to choose. However, there are some clues:

"kissproof" lipstick, looking pretty red
her lips look pink
and her lips look dark
It really comes down to a matter of preference. I tend to lean towards deeper reds and almost purples for '20s because I associate bright red so much with the 1950s and 1960s, and I wear it all the time. I also just like the way dark colors work as a counterbalance to dark eyes, creating that trifecta of dark makeup on a plain face that so reminds me of the flapper look.
Regardless of the color, the shape of '20s lips isn't just a natural mouth. Aim for a pronounced "bow" in your top lip and a smaller lower lip that is very full only in the center. I achieve this with stick concealer: spread concealer around your mouth and over the outer edges of your lips, blending towards your inner lips. Then use liner or the outside edge of the lipstick to trace the shape you want--an overdrawn top bow and full top lip (or less, depending on your feelings) with an underdrawn (I start to come in way early) bottom lip that is your whole lip only at the center bottom--then fill in with lipstick. Voila! A perfect pout!

5. Accessorize!

It was fashionable to wear hair accessories across the forehead or bangs instead of on top, like a headband. I think it's super dumb, but it is the easiest way to look like a flapper. I used some string sequins that i had on hand, but the possibilities are endless.

a simple band
all the bling, '20s style
6. Attitude
Really, it's all about the attitude. I am much more of a goof, and therefore tend to go for the Helen Kane look, but draw some inspiration from these bada** ladies.

Josephine  Baker
Zelda Fitzgerald
the Minneapolis Park Board girls' rifle team
Clara Bow
Bonnie Elizabeth Parker
(of Bonnie and Clyde)
one more Josephine Baker, because she is THE COOLEST

and Betty Boop! Wait...what?
Helen Kane: the "Boop-boop-a-doop" girl! (aka, Betty Boop)
I don't typically do tips/tutorial posts, so I hope this was helpful! If nothing else, be inspired to flapper it up if you go to see The Great Gatsby this weekend.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Return to My Love Affair with Fitzgerald: Gatsby pt1

Tonight the Baz Luhrman adpatation of The Great Gatsby is opening with a premier showing, beginning with some dances of the 1920s performed by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.

kicking up at the Gatsby Ball in Newport last summer

I do not expect the movie to be accurate, but I am really excited about it--Fitzgerald, to me, is a master of the wild parties of the Jazz Age, and I do expect that to come out in the film. While I read and enjoyed Gatsby, my real affection is for Fitzgerald's short stories. I've written some previous posts about his collection Tales from the Jazz Age, which you can find here. I haven't finished reading his earlier collection, Flappers and Philosophers, but it contains "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," which may include my favorite description of 20s dancing ever.

"it is well known among ladies over thirty-five that when the younger set dance in the summer-time it is with the very worst intentions in the world, and if they are not bombarded with stony eyes stray couples will dance weird barbaric interludes in the corners, and the more popular, more dangerous, girls will sometimes be kissed in the parked limousines of unsuspecting dowagers."


While tonight is a performance, I do plan to dance "with the very worst of intentions" at CVD's Prohibition Ball in July. In the meantime, if you aren't also dashing off to see Gatsby this evening, here is the most recent trailer and a cute behind-the-scenes look at the menswear: