Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cindy Sherman's Ugly Fashion

I have always been drawn to female artists, not in the least because, frankly, there aren't enough. The male artist, as well as the male gaze, has long dominated art and fashion, with the great exception of Coco Chanel. The woman was long destined to take on the role of 'muse' or 'model'.
Cindy Sherman defies this fact and is undoubtedly one of the most famous photographers of the last century. In her work she comments on the position of the woman in the art world. Her 'Untitled Film Stills' series, which she produced between 1977 and 1980evokes the atmosphere of the black and white film without explicitly copying a particular movie. She takes on the persona of female figures, who are not seldom engaging in domestic activities.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21 , 1978
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #3 , 1977

In addition to this clear affinity with the cinematic medium, Sherman also centered on the connection of paintings from the pre-modern art tradition with the postmodern world. In the series History Portraits (1989 - 1990) Sherman has photographed herself in the style of the traditional painters.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled, 1989

Using props to replace human body parts, the artist gets inside the character portrayed. This is the moment that Sherman's work starts to get unsettling, even creepy.
Also in these works, the image of the woman is critically defined. This happens for example in Untitled #228 in 1990. Here Sherman portrays herself as the biblical character Judith who holds the severed head of Holofernes.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #228, 1990

 This theme reflects a certain feminism. The woman in this story is indeed depicted as a pious heroine who saves her people from foreign dominationThis is an exceptional theme in the Bible, where the woman is usually depicted as the fruit of all sins. 

Dozens of books have been written about Cindy Sherman's oeuvre, but the thing that gets overlooked quit often is her affinity with fashion. 
Her fashion series of 1983 caused a stirr. Sherman was asked to do a series of advertisements for the Dianne B. store. These photographs appeared in Interview Magazine.  

Cindy Sherman for Interview Magazine, 1983
The pictures that resulted from Sherman's efforts can be described as the antithesis of conventional fashion photography like that of Richard Avedon. The female persona is displayed as imperfect, distorted, psychologically challenged and worn down. The poses appear uncomfortable, clumsy and even silly. The clothes have lost their shape and are unflattering. I interpret this as a feminist way of pushing the boundaries of what is considered to be the perfect female body.

In 1993 Sherman repeated this act with pictures for Harper's Bazaar. 

Cindy Sherman for Harper's Bazaar, 1993

To me these look much more 'fashion' and can be compared to some alternative contemporary fashion editorials. In the nineties however, this imagery was considered innovative and even provocative.

In 1994 she collaborated with Rei Kawakubo, providing advertisement material for the fall/winter 1994 collection of Comme des Garçons. The views of this fashion label coincided with Sherman's look on photography.

Cindy Sherman for Comme des Garçons, 1994

  In 2006, she worked on advertisements for designer Marc Jacobs with fashion photographer Juergen Teller.

Cindy Sherman and Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs, 2006

Notice again the poses that are not usually used in fashion photography. The construction of this picture resembles that of a family portrait.

In 2008, she made a series for Balenciaga. Once again the characters look old, tired and out of place.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (Balenciaga), 2008

In 2011 cosmetic company M.A.C. acquired Sherman as the face and photographer for the fall line. The three images of the campaign depict three different colorpalets. Sherman transforms into a clown, a vulgar heiress and an angel-faced cheerleader. Not exactly what you have in mind when thinking of a make-up add.

Cindy Sherman for M.A.C., fall 2011
Although Cindy Sherman's road can't be reduced to a feminist battle, you could say that in this add Sherman's voice was heard. By replacing the young perfect model with a female artist, who's well in her fifties, but above all raising fashion advertizing to the level of free art, liberates not only women but also fashion photography.

Imperfection in fashion photography is on the rise. Unfortunately this still happens too scarcely and stays limited to the alternative magazines.

I give my vote to art, theater and (limited) ugliness in my mags!

The Mere Alchemist 

Cindy Sherman's work
Museum of Modern Art in NY :A retrospective of Cindy Sherman runs now till the 11th of June 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Printed Art: From Hiëronymus Bosch To Carven

Prints in fashion are used to embellish fabrics, to convey a feeling or a message, to lend a design more detail or provide a close link with sources of inspiration. Fabric printing has been done for over 2500 years. Originally used to mimic other more expensive fabrics, paint was applied on clothing. Not much later whole designs drawn from nature were used to decorate dresses and other textiles. The flower print, still very popular, was born in this period. Some of the finest examples you can now admire during the expo 'Living Fashion' held in the Antwerp Fashion Museum.

Handpainted 'Sits' Kimono, 1730-1760, Collectie Jacoba de Jonge
 Now, hundreds of years later, prints still play an important role in contemporary fashion. Most of these prints spring from the minds of designers but some are taken from existing iconic art works. Yves Saint Laurent was a pioneer in using a famous visual reference in a fashion show. I'm talking of course about the Mondrian dress, which quickly became an icon in itself. Not only the very graphic and strong print, but also the typical sixties cut of the design, makes that this little dress will always be considered a masterpiece of 60's pop-art.  

Yves Saint Laurent, 1965

Mondrian, Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930

With the Mondrian dress, YSL made a reference to the immensely popular artist Andy Warhol, who took banal, everyday objects and proclaimed them art. YSL reversed this theory and used a revered painting in a decorative way.
Not much later, Warhol's art was being used in dresses. The first was a paper dress using the typical Campbell Soup iconography, but several department stores began producing remakes of this dress. A case in point that commercialism bloomed in the 60's. 

Scott Paper, Warhol Soup Dress, 1966

Andy Warhol, Campbell Soup, 1962

The last few seasons, the tendency of literally taking artwork and putting it on the fabric is making a comeback. For the Spring/Summer Collection of 2012, Rodarte found inspiration in the dramatic life and art of Van Gogh.

Rodarte, S/S 2012

Van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888
This season, both Carven and Akris were persuaded by an artwork. My personal favorite is the dress inspired by 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' by Hiëronymus Bosch, who was like Mondrian and Van Gogh from the Low Countries.

Carven, F/W 2012
Hiëronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1490-1510
Akris' use of Franz Klines painting is less conspicuous because of the abstract nature of his art, nonetheless it's a literal adopting of the distinct lines.

Akris, F/W 2012

Franz Kline, Painting no. 7, 1952

Countless fashion collections are inspired by an art movement, an artist or one particular artwork, but almost always the source of inspiration is researched, interpreted, transformed and only then applied to the designs.  
These literal references, like presented here, are of a different nature. They are often used to transfer the iconic or mystical power of certain images to the design. Although I think the design itself is more valuable when sources are integrated in form and image rather than in print, literal references can be very powerful tools.

Appropriation or plagiarism: you decide.

The Mere Alchemist

Exposition 'Living Fashion' @ Momu Antwerpen : till 12th of August

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Belgium Adores Laura Marling

22 years old, beautiful and love connections with some of the most eligible bachelors of the alternative music scene. Laura Marling has everything going for her. Some might forget how gifted the young singer/songwriter is. I can assure you, this Monday evening in Brussels, in the cosy setting of the Ancienne Belgique, nobody could even doubt Marling's astounding talent.

The British musician was born in Reading, England in 1990. At the age of 5 she began playing the guitar and at only sixteen she became a part of the London folk scene. With famous friends like Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons, who drew inspiration from American folk, she had the chance to learn from the best.
She started with Noah and the Whale as a vocalist, where she grew closer to singer Charlie Fink.
When you rely on the music Laura and Charlie produced during this period, their love affair was rocky. In 2008 Marling left Fink for Marcus Mumford. The stunningly beautiful Noah and the Whale album 'The First Days of Spring'(2009) can be read as a heartfelt lament on their break up.
The Black Cab session where they play music together is one of my favorite videos. I love Fink's voice, it's a shame that the last Noah and the Whale album is so uninspired.

Black Cab Sessions: Charlie Fink: Give a Little Love, Laura Marling: Alas I Can not Swim, 2007

In 2008, when Marling was only nineteen her first album 'Alas I can not swim' came out, followed by 'I speak because I can' in 2010. They were both nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.  2011 saw the birth of her third and latest album 'A creature I don't know'.
In the same year she received the Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist.

In Brussels Laura opened with 'Just a Card' and some tracks from this last album. The first magical moment was the superb version of 'Blackberry stone'. One of my personal favorites.

Laura Marling, Blackberry Stone, march 19th, Ancienne Belgique Brussels.  video: Uschi Cop

This execution was exemplary for all her earlier work that she played that evening. She managed to take these known songs to a whole other level. Although I had heard every song at least a hundred times, it felt like I heard them for the first time.
This was also the case with the closing song 'I Speak Because I can'.

Laura Marling, I Speak Because I can, march 19th, Ancienne Belgique Brussels. video: Uschi Cop

Marling brought with her a great band which included a cellist who really contributed to the dramatic power of the performance, for example in the new single 'Sophia'.

Laura Marling, Blackberry Stone, march 19th, Ancienne Belgique Brussels. video: Uschi Cop

Last but not least I bring you the first listen to a new song by Marling.

Laura Marling, New Song (Once is Enough), march 19th, Ancienne Belgique Brussels. video: Uschi Cop

I leave you with the set list and links to my spotify account for all Laura Marling songs and the album The First Days of Spring by Noah and the Whale.


The Mere Alchemist

Set list

Just a Card [A Creature I don't Know]
The Muse [A Creature I don't Know]
Salinas [A Creature I don't Know]
Don't Ask Me Why [A Creature I don't Know]
Blackberry Stone [I Speak Because I Can]
Alas I Can Not Swim [Alas I Can Not Swim]
Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) [I Speak Because I Can]
Dance Dance Dance (Cover Neil Young)
My Manic and I [Alas I Can Not Swim]
New Untitled Song (Once is Enough)
Alpha Shallows [I Speak Because I Can]
Ghosts [Alas I can not Swim]
My Friends [A Creature I don't Know]
Sophia [A Creature I don't Know]
Rambling Man [I Speak Because I Can]

I Speak Because I can [I Speak Because I Can]

Noah and the Whale - First days of spring
Laura Marling - All Albums

Monday, March 12, 2012

Highlights F/W 2012 Paris: The Belgian Special Edition

With over eighty shows, Paris Fashion Week is the world's most renowned fashion event. I found it difficult to choose just a couple of labels to review, but for me the Belgian designers were among the best. It wouldn't hurt the modest Belgians to be a bit more chauvinistic. That's why, proud as I am of our designers, I decided to do a special on the labels who represented our small country during this international gathering of fashion lovers. For next fall a certain minimalism could be discerned in the collections. Also the oversized trend really persists.

A.F. Vandevorst

A.F. Vandevorst, F/W 2012, Paris
'Le Film Noir' isn't far away in this brilliant collection by partners An Vandevorst and Filip Arickx. The black fedora hat has become a symbol of these dark detective movies which reached the height of their popularity in the 40's and originated from the German expressionists movement. Inspiration was also drawn from the German artist Joseph Beuys, who regularly wore similar head gear. The materials and colors used: grays, blacks, felt, rabbit skin are a reference to his art. The covering of the face has a direct link with his performance 'I like America and America likes me', where he spent 3 days locked in with a coyote. 

Joseph Beuys with rabbit, 1982
Joseph Beuys, I like America and America likes me, 1974
Vandevorst managed to bring together these elements and create a captivating show.

Haider Ackermann

Haider Ackermann, F/W 2012
Allthough Haider Ackermann isn't technically Belgian, I always include him in this category. He grew up in the Netherlands but studied at the Academy of Antwerp. Right now, he's being represented by the same Belgian management as Ann Demeulemeester. His collection was so amazing that I decided not to be fussy about the definition 'Belgian'.
This season Ackermann has really outdone himself. His signature draping made way for a more simple construction of the pieces. The result is an unconstrained elegance painted in a simply divine color palette. 

Cédric Charlier

Cédric Charlier, F/W 2012, Paris
Cédric Charlier lost his job as creative director of Cacharel last year, obviously it didn't stand in the way of his own collection blossoming. The pieces are very Belgian: classic quality tailoring with an edge. Very wearable, but I would love to see what Charlier is capable of when he shakes the shackles of the realistic.

Ann Demeulemeester

Ann Demeulemeester, F/W 2012, Paris
Ann Demeulemeester's distinctive style doesn't waver in this Fall collection. The designer picks up on the trend of oversized leather gloves but integrates them in the beautiful dresses. What amazes me is that the designer can stay true to this very characteristic warrior woman type, but always gives the crowd something new. That's what I call talent.

Dries van Noten

Dries Van Noten, F/W 2012, Paris
As always Van Noten awed the world with his magnificent collage prints. The colors were again splendid with punches of white, which made the whole collection lighter and easier to digest. High rised pants and oversized dresses with emphasis on a slightly lowered waist are reminiscent of the seventies. Lovely collection with some 'to die for pieces' like the shoes, what else did you expect from the Belgian master himself? 

Veronique Leroy

Veronique Leroy, F/W 2012, Paris
Over the last few years Veronique Leroy, as one of the least known Belgian designers, has really caught my eye. No different with this season, where I was pleasantly surprised by the youthful pieces and interesting proportions. Although the styling was a bit old fashioned, the clothes definitely struck the right chord. The combination of different materials and volumes looked incredibly interesting.

Anthony Vaccarello

Anthony Vaccarello, F/W 2012, Paris
'Bruxellois' Vaccarello doesn't make a secret of his Italian roots in this slick collection. Satin, gold and iridescent green make for a kind of glamour seldom seen in Belgian design. The most deserving was the contraposition of the sexy cut out tops and masculine suits. 

Now tell me us Belgians -'kiekenfretters', 'sinjoren', 'manenblussers', 'stroppendragers' and all the others- don't have a right to be proud of our fashion contribution. I'm curious about your opinion on these designers. Belgian or not, let me know which Belgian collection you like best and why. Spread the new Belgian pride!

The Mere Alchemist