torstai 9. tammikuuta 2014

Léon Bakst

Ballets Russes is an essential in history of performing arts. The legendary ballet company was so popular at the time it started a trend of Russian folklore. The company toured around the world between 1909 and 1929. Ballets Russes is culmination of style and artistic ideas of the time period. The group is remarkable for many of it's contributions:

For introducing the famously high standards of classical ballet in Russia for western Europe.
For combining eastern tradition of storytelling with classical ballet.
For sensational superstars of dance such as Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova
 (and the sensational dessert named after her)
For raising status of male dancers, who had been overlooked in dance. 

And for me personally the most important thing; the way to approach a performance as an artistic entirety which was was born from seamless coalition between artist of different fields. The composers, choreographers and dancers would work together with the designers, who also were famous for their work. The stage- and costume design was not subordinate to dance or music. It was inseparable part of the performance and equally contemporary as other elements of the performance.

The group's artistic director Sergei Diaghilev came from St. Petersburg upper class social elite and was introduced to a group of artists known as Nevsky Pickwickians through his cousin in 1890. Ballets Russes was his vision, and he would use his contacts in the art scene as well as in the social elite to create the company. In Ballets Russes most contemporary artists and designers of the period (Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Picasso, Matisse, Chanel...) would come together along with the most talented Russian choreographers and dancers.

Painter Léon Bakst was an original member of the Nevsky Pickwickians group and one of the most influential designers of Ballets Russes. Ballets Rousses redefined the dance costume. Bakst ballet costumes rejected the pretty and fluffy tulle dresses to empathize the expression and movement. Personally for me these Bakst designs are important because I think they represent what costume design is about: expression, not decoration. These designs are very corporal, full of movement, and yet they express the nature of the character as well as the overall concept of the performance. It's hard to believe these come from 1910's

L'apres-midi du faune 1912
Narcisse, 1911 
La Perí, 1911
Le Dieu Bleu 1912

Schehrazade, 1910

La Legendu du Joseph, 1914

Narcisse, 1911

Cléopatra 1909
La Fiancée, 1912

maanantai 6. tammikuuta 2014

About normality

I dislike the terms gay and lesbian. As a costume designer to portrait a character defined this way, would make me feel slight discomfort. The terms gay and lesbian are problematic because the person is being defined through a sexual desire - as if persons expression of gender and sexuality was expected to be certain way. Yes, sometimes we need to work with stereotypes (or do we?), but one hast to be extremely sensible and definitely up to date with them.

Instead I prefer the term queer. To me, the term queer is more about person’s social (and political) position and not so much about certain manner of self expression.

Subcultures are related to certain times and places. They change. People of different generations and cultures grow up influenced by different images, and so construct their ideas of the culture and their personal identities different ways. Towards the end of 2000’s the queer appears to have developed into an umbrella term for any kind of otherness related to sexual orientation or gender expression. The people who willingly or unconsciously step out of the norm may or may not have something in common in terms of behavior or fashion. In other words the “queer style” is challenging to define since it’s not a homogenic subculture with standard codes and norms. It’s generally just being somewhere outside. How contemporary!

Still, there is definitely a tradition of queerness in culture and fashion.

Sometimes I wonder if subcultures exist at all. Perhaps its only a discourse, a way to structure certain phenomenons. Perhaps the sociologic theory is accurate, that the mainstream culture and subculture are not opposites, but the mainstream is constructed of endless subcultures. So, everyone has their own subcultural box and yet, is it something that actually exist or is it only in your head? Talk about subcultures feels nostalgic, as if you're longing for someplace that's lost forever.

So, the fashion. High fashion has always been dominated by homosexual designers. The performative nature of it has traditionally been appealing environment for outsiders of social norms, as well as show business has been, but it does not necessarily make fashion queer. In converse, fashion is commercial and often particularly gender conscious. Especially high fashion has tendency to empathize the female beauty and normative sexuality and fade out presence of alternative gender experiences and sexualities. The female body seems to be a type of fetish (perhaps the male body too), and this, in my opinion, is in contradiction with the ideas of gender and sexuality we have today, as well as diversity of the people in the street, and most importantly the complexity of the experience of the individual.

Film and theatre show representations of human sexuality. People interact with other people; most times they love someone. In the story there's usually a beautiful woman and a handsome man. Their sexual behaviour has been written to their appearances; the beautiful woman and the handsome man are expected attract each other, the man is expected to be active in relation to the woman, who is innocent (if her hair is blonde), or passionate (if her hair is dark).

The story of beautiful people’s sexuality has been repeated countless numbers of times. Policies that are repeated time after time become a norm, and what is left outside becomes and exception. But in the end, real people are complex and complexity is human. In my opinion there are no exceptions, there's just diversity. Just because most people do something, it does not make it normal. Beauty and normality are conceptual, and need constant updating.

sunnuntai 5. tammikuuta 2014

Balenciaga silhouette

As Hattie Carnegie's designs (last night's post) are super elegant (when talking about 1950's fashion, 'elegant' is the obvious choice of word), they are rather conservative. They represent the ideal of the elegant woman - an elegant American woman in 1950's in particular. However, the image of the beautiful female body is related to time and culture.

Spanish (Basque) born designer Cristóbal Balenciaga was a celebrated designer soon after he opened his fashion house in Paris in 1937 and he remained a superstar of fashion until his death in 1972. His designs were always innovative and original, but his most remarkable contributions for fashion came after the World War II. As The Dior's New look squeezed the female body back to exaggeratedly feminine, bee-waisted form, Balenciaga responded with more linear and loose silhouette.

These designs take my breath away. I think their sense of elegance and sophistication are beyond fashion trends, even today some of them look contemporary. Especially I like these wide shouldered coats. I think they correspond more to the ideas about the female body today.

I think these designs prove that elegance and femininity are conceptual. It so much more than only emphasizing feminine body parts or dressing up to appear pretty. Balenciaga's influence on in fashion is tremendous. His work seems to reflect the change of female body image especially in the post-war time period; his 1960's designs even anticipate the coming of the mini dress.









lauantai 4. tammikuuta 2014

Hattie Carnegie

Hattie Carnegie (1880 - 1956) is a famous name perhaps only to people intrigued by fashion history, but after checking out what it's said about her in Wikipedia and several fashion blogs, I find her a very interesting designer. A came across her name by accident reading an article about famous Hollywood costume Designer Jean Luis who, before his success in Hollywood worked for Hattie Carnegie's fashion house.

Austrian born American Carnegie's story is the perfect american dream. Carnegie was an influential character in the fashion world of her time and managed to create a successful fashion business and grow her name to be synonymous to good taste. Unlike most designer, she was not a dressmaker or seamstress. She started as milliner (a hatmaker) and never sewed as seam in her life. Instead she had an incomparable sense of style and business.

Carnegie's designs were considered elegant, but perhaps her biggest contributions to the word of fashion are related to the fashion industry. She introduced high quality ready-to-wear clothes accessible to anybody who could afford it. Her clothes were sold in her made-to-measure boutique but also in warehouses all around the United States. So far the most famous fashion designers had been accessible only for the privileged clientele, but Carnegie would study European high fashion turning it into Carnegie designs that could be produced in large quantities. The brand was enriched with lines of elegant casual wear and costume jewelry.

I think a creative process is always about being influenced by something. In other words it's borrowing, copying and stealing. How one works with existing material is what matters. By re-organizing material and adding your own interpretation you create something unique. Personally I prefer local and I don't think everything needs be accessible to anyone (like strawberries in January) but mass production in itself does not decrease the value of the design.

Her most famous design is known as the Carnagie-suit; characteristic to the 1950's narrow-wasted blazer worn with a long pencil skirt. The look bares clear resemblance to Dior's famous new look (even though it existed some years before), and it's considered 100% American.

I love Trivia! Young Lucille Ball modeled for  Carnegie in 1930's before her acting career

perjantai 27. joulukuuta 2013

Technicolor fantasy

The color palette of technicolor dance films of the 1940's and early 1950's are amazing. The costumes and sets were fabricated in Hollywood. To imagine the amount of handicraft and needlework required to build up a scene. Tiny pixelated youtube picture don't make justice to it, it should be seen on silver screen. The musical in my opinion is underrated genre. In it's visual grandeur it is as close to fine arts as a movie can be.

Besides the world would be a better place if people would tap dance more.

torstai 26. joulukuuta 2013

The sketch and the costume

Some nice samples of illustrative power of the sketch. And sure a bit of classic Hollywood glamour.

Design by Frankie Evans for "Francine Evans"
Liza Minelli in New York, New York (1977)

Costume design by Edith Head for "Lisa Carol Fremont"

Grace Kelly in Rare Window (1954)
Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950)

Another design by Edith Head for "Margo Channing"

Costume design by Walter Plunkett for "Julie LaVerne"
Ava Gardner in Showboat (1951)

Design By Tim Burton for "Edward Scissorhands"

Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhand (1990)
Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Design by William Travilla for "Lorelei Lee"