Monday, November 28, 2011

Pride Feels No Pain, Nor a Hobble Skirt

The first assignment for every second year student at the fashion academy is to accurately recreate a historical costume. We could choose any period up to the 1910's. A pity, I thought at first. You see, I've always had a weakness for the roaring 20's. I imagine it to be a time where women were liberated and acted out by throwing wild but distinguished parties and had an admirer on each arm (not to mention a closet full of exuberant hats and flapper dresses). 
Since it wasn't allowed to make a costume that originated from that time, I started to dig in to the decade that preceded it, the 1910's. 
I found out that the seed of not only the women's emancipation but also the liberation of the female body form lies in these ten years.
The tightly corseted body made way for a straighter and more natural body form. Though corsets were in use during the whole decade, they became looser and allowed more movement as time progressed. 

Evolution of Corset shapes. 1910-1919.
This evolution converged with the fight for women's vote by the suffragettes. 
The strange thing was, that while the ladies got more space to breathe (literally and figuratively), fashion constricted their legs in the form of the infamous 'hobble skirt'. The long skirt was so tight at the ankles, women could only take extremely small steps and would 'hobble' instead of walk. Some people spoke of it as an outrage and a ridiculous vanity. A number of caricatures were manufactured, mocking the fashion, but with the underlying goal to ridicule the emancipation of women. 

Caricature 1914.

When you consult news articles of the time though, you can understand why there was a lot of criticism on the tight skirt. A lot of accidents happened, some were even fatal.

Published in The New York Times on August 31st 1911.

In some cities, around 1912, trams and trolleys were even lowered to avoid any more accidents with women tripping over their skirts. The fashion didn't last very long though, and around 1915 the skirts became a lot fuller. 
Recently there were a few designers who took inspiration from this particular skirt shape. The amazing Nicola Formichetti featured the hobble skirt during his Mugler womenswear debut for the collection fall/winter 2011.  

Fall/Winter 2011 Mugler.
Fall/Winter 2011 Mugler.

Ralph Lauren showed us a more romantic spin on the skirt in his fall/winter collection of the same year. 

Fall/Winter 2011 Raplh Lauren
Fall/Winter 2011 Ralph Lauren.
But back to the production of my historical costume. I found a catalogue from the year 1914 and there I discovered this lovely dress.

Afternoon dress 1914

It consists of a hobble skirt in silk, a chiffon dress and a silk waistcoat. Apart from that there's the underwear, shoes and jewelry. On a trip to Cincinnati I found the most gorgeous early 20th century boots to go with my costume. 

 For the underwear I decided to make a corset and an cotton under dress. The corset was made with real antique metal boning and a metal busk at the front.

After making all the patterns for the dress, skirt and waistcoat, I had to stain my silk with coffee, to get a bit of a 'used' feel. Those were some scary moments when I dipped 80 euros worth of silk in a bath filled with cold coffee. I also did some decorating on the dress and sash in the back with ordinary acrylic paint. This is the final result.

 Right now, I'm working on my collection that will consist of four silhouettes. So: More to come!

Until then, dress in hobble skirts but watch your step!

The Mere Alchemist

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Interesting Body Part

"Are we having the time of our life?"

The answer that night at the Antwerp Lotto Arena was gradually formulated louder and more clear as the question was repeated over and over again by Guy Garvey, lead singer of the British band Elbow.

YES, we are.

At that moment it did feel like it. Standing in a crowd, you feel one with everybody there. All the differences dissolve until you're all just one giant heap of flesh waving its 12.000 arms and singing at the top of the same amount of lungs. And that beast enjoys the music with every pore. 
And no matter how many times you've experienced this, you truly realise: 
I will never re-live this moment. 

With the release of their latest album 'Build A Rocket Boys!', Elbow has affirmed their place among the great British musicians of their time. The band has been around for over fourteen years. Not seldom the first few albums of a band represent the height of their originality and authenticity. With Elbow however, I think that, apart from their debut album 'Asleep in the back', this one is one of their best yet. 'Build A Rocket Boys!' has a fluency and natural quality that makes me think that maybe Elbow is reaching their mature sound. 

Seeing the band live is well worth it. Their grandstand performance and high sing-along level lend them an American allure and makes for a spectacular concert. In other words, they do know how to put on a show. 
The screens that adorned the setting were adjusted to match the different songs and change accordingly. The string quartet accompanying the band throughout most of the performance contributed to the high sound quality. When they started the contagious ballad 'Mirrorball' a genuine mirrorball was lowered from the stage to immerse the concerthall in a flickering light. 

Mirrorball @ Lotto Arena Antwerpen, 6 november. Footage :Uschi Cop 

One of the heights of the evening was Garvey's short improvisation session and 'Grounds for Divorce' that followed after.

  Grounds for Divorce @ Lotto Arena Antwerpen, 6 november. Footage :Uschi Cop 

In contrast to all this spectacle, there was an intimate interlude in the form of an acoustic set that contained songs like 'The night will always win', 'The River' and 'Some Riot'. For me this was the most magical part of the concert.

The Night Will Always Win @ Lotto Arena Antwerpen, 6 november. Footage :Uschi Cop 

I leave you with my best remembrance of the set list. A lot of songs from their last two albums, too little of their earlier work. 

The Birds (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011)
The Bones of you (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
Mirrorball (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
Neat little rows (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011)
Grounds for divorce (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
The loneliness of a tower crane driver (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
The night will always win (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011)
The River (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011) 
Some Riot (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
Dear Friends (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011) 
Lippy Kids (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011)
Weather to Fly (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
Open Arms (Build a Rocket Boys! 2011) 

Starlings (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)
Station Approach (Leaders of the Free World 2005)
One Day like this (The Seldom Seen Kid 2008)

The Mere Alchemist

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dial H C for Fashion

When talking about fashion, the question I probably get asked the most is who my favorite designer is. That's probably because I often ramble on about the reasons why I love fashion, somehow names don't come up that easy. However, I do have an ultimate favorite: Hussein Chalayan. Don't bother trying to pronounce it right, in the world of fashion they understand who you're talking about when you utter a hesitant 'Hoessijn Galajan', believe me, I should know. 

You're talking about a designer who manages to bring together art and fashion in amazing creations. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Chalayan is, that he succeeds in commercializing his avant-garde collections.

Hussein Chalayan was born in 1970. Allthough his roots lie in the Turkish part of Nicosia, Cyprus, he moved with his parents to England in 1978. There, he studied at the famous Central Saint Martins in London. His graduate collection consisted of clothes he had buried in his yard and dug up again. This subversive action would proof to be characteristic of his vision on fashion.

One of his best fashion collections, in my opinion, was the spring-summer 2001, where the show took a surprising turn during the final when the models began smashing the glass dresses of their colleagues. 
Or how a fashion show can transform into a conceptual art performance in a matter of seconds.

Hussein Chalayan. Spring Summer 2001

His most recent exploit was the presentation of his spring-summer 2012 collection at the Paris Fashion week. As in some of his earlier shows he himself took part of the spectacle. This time as a waiter serving the models champagne. With these types of cameo appearances, he is starting to earn his name as the Hitchcock of fashion. This great cineaste appeared in 39 of his 52 surviving films. Just as Hitchcock, Chalayans personality is an important part of his work.

Hussein Chalayan. Spring Summer 2011
Hussein Chalayan. Spring Summer 2011

Chalayans importance has been underrated for a long time. Currently the artist is being honored by a retrospective of his work in Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Deservingly so. 
Regrettably I've not been able to go myself. But for the lucky ones who have planned a visit to La douce France, the exposition will run till December 11th of 2011.

I wish you a lot of creating, learning and living,

The Mere Alchemist

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Purposeful Shoe Fetishism

The overwhelming joy of giving them a home
The clean sole, untouched by the everyday dirt
The vague pain that numbs your toes, but at the same time gives a rare kind of comfort
The smell of unused leather

Yes, I am talking about new shoes.

This incomparable feeling gets a golden glow when the footwear in question comes with a birth certificate. 

Designer shoes. The word alone excites me.

Don't get me wrong, (regretfully) I am not the kind of girl that fills her shoe rack with Louboutins, Choos, Ferragamos and the like. I won't fool myself, the most important reason for this is my budget. I work three days a week to be able to pay my rent and school supplies. That's why I usually appease my cravings with second hand finds and nice enough middle segment shoes.  

Not this time.

Spotted: The nicest heels I'd ever seen. Perfect height, the heel in a beautiful sand color that contrasts with the pale suede used on the body of that magnificent object.

Price tag: Also magnificent. 

Guilty suspect: Fred de la Bretonière, a Dutch footwear designer who's been in the trade for over forty years. He began his company as a sole proprietor in Amsterdam in 1970. He's known for his craftsmanship, love for natural materials and knowledge of traditional techniques. Last year he even received an award from the Italian National Consort Santi Crispino e Crispiano.

The pair I had my eyes on was one from the 'Goldies collection'. These are less traditional in design than most of his other shoes and have a futuresque vintage feel about them.

The heel seems to be inserted and reminded me of the soviet constructivism of the 1920's and the futurism of the decade before that.
Study after Antonio Sant'Elia

El Lissitzki, Proun, 1922

I love the way the soft volume almost gets cut by the geometrical form which still stands on its own. 

So, because they were culturally substantiated and to support our northern neighbors I was forced to add them to my personal collection. Luckily I had a secret American Santa that helped me carry the financial burden.  

Till next time, I wish you all happy shoe hunting, whether it's with a heap of patience or a load of cash.

The Mere Alchemist

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Origin Of My Goldseeking

This is my answer to my life and world, that provide me with orders, opinions, facts and theories, that are often obsolete, sometimes valuable, but never my own.

When I was growing up, I thought I could be anyone, anything. I was a walking cliché: girl wants to be princess, dressed in pink and more than able to make her own decisions. Those decisions remained in the realm of choosing my own clothes and playthings. In typical Belgium autumn weather (aka pouring rain) I would insist on wearing my pink plastic sandals.  Twenty years later.. not much has changed.

I still want things to go my way, do things on my own. Although the princess-complex now appears in the form of high heeled shoes that I refuse to leave the house without  (although very unpractical) and endless dreaming of what possibilities lie ahead...and behind.

That dreaming has led me down the path of pursuing a passion...a passion that many people share with me.
I'm guilty of a passion for all pretty things. There I said it, flat out. I could say that an animated conversation on Belgian politics or studying science makes my heart beat faster, but eventually the truth will come out. 
As probably many of you, I find the ultimate satisfaction when I perceive something aesthetically pleasing, whether it be a perfectly constructed dress, food, a piece of artwork or a musical composition. I could go on and write a philosophical piece on Kant and the difference he discerned between real beauty and pleasing aesthetics, but as already stated: that is not where my purpose lies.

Why a blog then? I want to share with you, what I believe to be the most beautiful cultural expressions that cross my path. Along the way I have the humble aspiration that the designers, artists, musicians I bring to this tiny address on the world wide web, will amuse, intrigue and inspire you, but above all, add some more 'prettiness' to the lives of my beautiful friends.

For now I leave you with this promise,

The Mere Alchemist