Today’s post is courtesy of a reader named Kari. She recently purchased the scarf below. It’s called “Manhattan Medley”, and was printed by Wesley Simpson and designed by an artist named Cobelle. Intrigued by the label, she decided to investigate the origins and came across my blog.
Wesley Simpson (1903-1975) was an American textile manufacturer who was responsible for bringing many artist-designed textiles to the market after World War II. During the Great Depression, Simpson established his own business as a textile converter. This means that designs were produced in-house or via freelance artists, and then the actual printing was contracted to outside factories. Simpson was the chief stylist of his company, which came to be known as Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics, Inc. The company operated from 1932 to 1950.
In the year’s directly following the war, the art market boomed as communication and trade between the U.S and Europe was restored. The economy improved, and the rationing of basic commodities ceased. Consumers wanted new, colorful additions to their wardrobes. Simpson offered moderately priced fabrics and scarves designed by many European artists of fill the demands for European flair and artistry in the fashion market.
Kari’s scarf features small sketches of neighborhoods and iconic scenes typical of Manhattan: the Statue of Liberty, strangers locking eyes in the street, buses, parades, the architecture of the city itself. In the lower right corner, the scarf is signed “Cobelle”.
This is the signature of the French artist Charles Cobelle (1902-1994). Cobelle was a painter and lithographer, who studied with Marc Chagall and apprenticed in the studio of Raul Dufy. He lived and worked in Paris until the 1920s, and made his way to America before World War II. He is best known for his depictions of cityscapes.
Arc de Triomphe by Charles Cobelle , c. 1970. Image courtesy of Artnet.com
What I find so sweet Cobelle’s work are how the loose lines, the punctuating dots and dashes, and small scribbles unfold into a recognizable scene. The use of color is also brightly hued and runs outside of the lines, giving the viewer an impression how the scene changes over time.
Montmartre – Paris by Charles Cobelle. Image courtesy of Artnet.com
After the war, Cobelle realized significant commercial success with his Parisian-infused style. He also illustrated for fashion magazines, created pottery patterns for kitchenware, and was commissioned for murals throughout the U.S.
Kari’s scarf is a great example of Cobelle’s work and Wesley Simpson’s knack for collaboration. Many thanks to Kari for sharing her beautiful images of her scarf for today’s post.
Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago. So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration? This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries. Paintings, prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera. Photography was problematic for several decades after this. Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907. Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.
Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century. Prices went down. The process became better and faster. Color photography was soon possible. Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations. As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials. Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers to their the art departments.
Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover. Photo by Edward Steichen. Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right: November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover. Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.
World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography. The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film. Illustrations continued through the war. Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items. Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.
Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948. Image courtesy of Indulgy. Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim. 1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”. This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war. Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles. The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments. This was initially met with some resistance. Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments. Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era. (New to my site? You should read my previous post,Rene Gruau.)
Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947. Image courtesy of Design Museum. Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947. Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
the use of negative space throughout the composition
sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers. It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York. Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
Left: Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress. Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.
Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters. During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company. In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films. She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.
Left: Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956. Image courtesy of Gracie Bird. Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose. Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alenson lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum). Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
Left: Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956. Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers. Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose. Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly. Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance languages from Stanford before switching to illustration. She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window. Image courtesy of A Lovely Being. Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of December’s Grace.
Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window. Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.
Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window. Image courtesy of A Lovely Being. Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.
As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction. The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.
Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954. Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze. Right: Sketch by Edith Head. Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Triadic Ballet Costumes made at the German design school Bauhaus. These costumes transformed the dancers into geometric forms that leapt around the stage. As I was looking at all of the images of the Triadic Ballet, I came across another brilliant costume designer: Kazimir Malevich.
Fat man costume design for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malvich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Kazimir Malevich (1879 – 1935) was a Russian-born abstract painter. He is most known for starting the art movement Suprematism. Malevich conceived the idea of Suprematism around 1913, which focuses on basic geometric forms painted in a limited range of colors. Malevich believed that the true power of art was it’s ability to evoke emotion in the viewer. By using simple geometric forms, there was no way for political or social meanings to be imparted on the work of art.
Death to Wallpaper by Kazimir Malevich. Image courtesy of Art Might.
“Under Suprematism, I understand the primacy of pure feeling in creative art. To the Suprematist, the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling, as such, quite apart from the environment in which it is called forth.”
I stumbled across a really interesting, cogently written blog called Freelancer Frank. Essentially, he explained how Malevich was very interested in Bauhaus and their progressive fusion of art, design, and industrialism. Malevich traveled to Germany to meet with several of the Bauhaus instructors. This meeting was fruitful, and resulted in the publication of Malevich’s Suprematist manifesto, The Non-Objective World.
Victory Over the Sun. Costumes by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Photo by Tom Caravaglia. Image courtesy of BAM Blog.
It was fun to learn about Malevich, particularly because his venture into costume design preceded most of his major paintings. His first costuming job was for the Russian Futurist opera, Victory Over the Sun. Malevich was also responsible for the set design. As you can see, the costumes are very geometric, making the performers look like chess pieces.
Attentive worker costume design for Victory Over the Sun by Kasimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
The costumes are Malevich’s first Suprematist work. You can see how each of the garments are comprised of distinct geometric shapes. There is the use of black and white, with pops of brightly hued colors.
Coward costume design for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Sportsman costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings
After looking at the costume sketches, it was easy to see the correlation between Malevich’s later paintings. The above costumes had angular panels of blue, white, yellow, and black fabric. Three years later, Malevich made the Suprematist oil painting below – which has the same color pallet.
Supremus No. 58 by Kazimir Malevich, 1916. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
There are so many fantastic parallels between the costumes for Victory Over the Sun and Malevich’s later paintings. Take a look:
The Enemy costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
The New Man costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevich, c. 1916. Image courtesy of Kootatian.
Reciter costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Supremist No. 18 by Kasimir Malevich, 1915. Image courtesy of All Paintings.
Singer costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Athlete of the Future costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Untitled by Kazimir Malevich, 1915. Image courtesy of iBiblio.
Someone Wicked costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Many & One costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Book Cover design by Kazimir Malevich for Nikolai Punin, 1920. Image courtesy of MoMA.
The Undertaker by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Suprematist Variation & Proportions of Color by Kazimir Malevich. Image courtesy of Wahoo Art.
Also noteworthy is that many of Malevich started to use shapes to replace the faces of the figures. This was a common theme in many Surrealist paintings, a movement that started in the 1920s. (New to my blog? You should read my previous posts on Surrealist art & fashion.)
The Athlete of the Future by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Red Cross on a Black Circle by Kazimir Malevich, c. 1921. Image courtesy of It Is Snowing.
Soldier costume for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Turkish Soldier costumes for Victory Over the Sun by Kazimir Malevich, 1913. Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.
Throughout his career, Malevich continued to design costumes and textiles, something I’m curious to investigate more.
While finding images for yesterday’s post on Franz Kline, I came across this photo of Steve Martin. He is standing in front of Rue, a painting by Kline.
Photo of Steve Martin in front of Rue by Franz Kline. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Steve Martin owned this painting sometime in the late 1970s. He said that: “he had always wanted to be part of it”. The photo is Martin’s attempt at realizing this goal. A white suit and gloves are covered in black paint, mimicking Rue:
This seems to be a question on everyone’s mind. Arguably, fashion has been the orphaned child of the art world. While appreciated or noted, fashion still is deemed a frivolity and not an art. This was most likely caused by fashion’s origins. Prior to 1860, design was in the hands of the consumer, who would have garments made by a dressmaker. This changed with Charles Frederick Worth.
Liberator of the Fashion Designer:
What distinguished Worth from his couture colleagues was his attempt to link fashion to art. He sketched designs and made collections, which was unusual for this period. Dresses were ordered from a dressmaker, according to the desire of the client. Nothing was ready-to-wear, and the idea of dictating fashion to customers was unheard of. Worth was a pioneer of dictating fashions by the use of sketches and introducing collections that were inspired by his trips to museums and galleries.
Sketching? What’s that you said? Trips to museums and galleries for inspiration? Hmm, this sounds kind of artistic!
Worth did not, however, create slavish reproductions of period styles; instead, as is usual with revival style, he selected elements from different sources, and often different period, and fused them together into new and contemporary garments. (Jiminez, Leventon, 18).
So Worth was selecting works of art as inspiration, deconstructing them, and re-contextualizing there elements in a different medium in fashion. I think we’re onto something here.
Under Worth, Parisian fashion was transformed into the epicenter of Haute Couture. Haute Couture designs are distinguished as made-to-measure, one-of-a-kind garments made from luxurious fabrics, and sewn and adorned with extreme attention to detail.
Worth Evening Gown, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Worth’s fame was centered on his fashioning of the Court of the Second Empire. The commencement of Worth’s career as an international couturier started with the patronage of Princess Pauline de Metternich, an Austrian princess married to an Ambassador to the French court.
Princess Metternich by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Metternich was close friends with the Empress Eugenie and an admired figure. (Quick recap of the era: it was the Second Empire. Meaning that Napoleon III was in power. Shortly after the marriage of Napoleon III to Eugenie de Montijo, a court was formed and the demand for fashion was ushered in.) Worth aspired to make her a gown as a method to be exposed to court. Worth’s wife brought a collection of sketches to Metternich, from which she ordered two dresses. Once Metternich wore the dresses to court, Worth became a craze.
Empress Eugenie and Her Ladies in Waiting (all in Worth!) by Winterhalter
So with some influential backing, positive cash flow, and creative freedom, Worth was determined to establish himself as an artist. As we already know, Worth was dictating the fashions with 4 themed shows a year. He was also the first to use live mannequins to show the clothing. (Hmm, I’m sensing fashion shows are the equivalent to art exhibitions.)
Next, Worth started directly inserting his signature on each piece, aka labeling.
Hey, don’t artists sign their works?
Later, Paul Poiret worked at the House of Worth (although after Worth’s death – his sons took over) and absorbed the artistic ideology. Poiret stated:
I am an artist, not a dressmaker.
Poiret with mannequin
At work on his own label, Poiret went a step further. He titled his garments instead of numbering them, like most couturiers did at the time. Poiret moved away from the corseted body, and explored unusual, unrelated elements in his designs. Here we see the lampshade dress.
Lampshade Tunic Dress, 1913
Back to the matter at hand. It seems that fashion designers work in the following ways:
Start with an inspiration source. (Usually a work of art)
Deconstruct elements of the inspiration source
Reconstruct these elements in a different media to create a new form
Exhibit (Fashion show)
Wait, why would someone say fashion isn’t art? Maybe I need to check what the definition of art is. Here’s what the all-powerful Wikipedia says:
Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.
Maybe we should look at some of the reasons other people think that fashion isn’t art
1) An important reason for fashion not having attained the same recognition as other forms of art is that there are traditions for serious criticism within the visual arts, music, literature, and film, while this is almost totally absent from fashion. (Svendsen, 93)
It is true that most fashion magazines don’t criticize designers in editorials. The criticism is far more subversive than that. If a designer isn’t in the fashion magazine, the editor has already deemed the designer to be unworthy of mention. The ultimate form of criticism in the fashion world is to be completely ignored. Page prices in Vogue are upwards of $5,000. Would you waste $5,000 talking about something you didn‘t like? And BTW, you may just want to watch The September Issue. You’ll see just how critical fashion magazines can be.
2) Genuine fashion must be functional and, therefore can only be classified as applied art or craft. If a garment is not wearable, it is not fashion. But it just might be art. (Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune)
Say what? There has been a movemenet in contemporary art focused on usability. Example? Look at this sculpture/container. Is it art? Yes. Is it fuctional? Yes. I think Ms. Menkes idea is flawed because functionality is a design quality that art has now moved towards.
This post could go on and on, but I’d like to end with a contemporary fashion designer that blends art, fashion, and functionality like no other: Hussein Chalayan.
Cyprus born Chalayan studied fashion design in England. He made his big debut with a collection called The Tangent Flows. He made clothes, buried them in his yard, and dug them up again. Here’s a picture:
The Tangent Flows Collection, close-up
Wow, someone wearing it!
Please watch this video:
I loved the coffee table skirt. Furnish your home and wardrobe in one easy step (ok, maybe two steps to put it on).
While Chalayan is a master of fashion construction, did you notice how much emphasis he puts on exhibition, installation, and social commentary? Did the work elicit an emotional reaction from you? Did you feel something? Anything? Well then, my friend, it is fashion as art.