Saturday, May 30, 2009

Postcards from Paris - Arc de Triomphe

La place de l'Etoile, devenue place Charles -de-Gaulle et l'Arc de Triomphe

Twelve avenues radiate from the Arc de Triomphe, the customary starting point for victory celebrations and parades in Paris. This 50 metre high monumental building was conceived by Napolean after his greatest military victory the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Having promised his men that "You shall go home beneath triumphal arches", the first stone was laid the following year and work was completed in 1836 after many delays and disruptions (including Napolean's fall from power).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Postcards from Paris - The Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur

La Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, Paris
35 Rue adu Chevalier de la Barre, 75018
Bascilica open 6 am - 11 pm daily

When Prussia invaded France in 1870, two Catholic businessmen made a private religious vow to build a church dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ if Paris was spared. Despite the lengthy siege of the city, the two men survived. Their project was taken up by Archbishop Guibert of Paris and work began in 1875 to Paul Abadie's Romano-Byzantine designs. The bascilica was completed in 1914 but consecration was forestalled until 1919 due to the war.

The Basilica, which is located in the artist's mecca of Montemartre, contains exquisite stained glass windows, a colossal mosaic of Christ in the chancel vault, a statue of Jone of Arc and many other religious treasures.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Postcards from Paris - Musee d'Orsay

Fin d'arabesque, 1876-1877 Edgar Degas

Musee d'Orsay

St-Germain des Pres
01 40 49 49 78

The Musee d'Orsay is home to the arts of 1848 to 1914 and includes many works that originally came from the Louvre. Opened in 1986, 47 years after it closed as a mainline railroad station, the Musee d'Orsay has an outstanding collection of Impressionist art, including many of my favourite Impressionist paintings by Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot and Fantin-Latour.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Postcards from Paris: Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame de Paris

The first stone of this Gothic masterpiece on the Ile de la Cite was laid by Pope Alexander III in 1163 on the site of a Roman temple. Completed 170 years later, the Notre-Dame is remarkable for the spectacular flying buttresses on the east end and beautiful stained glass Rose windows on the south and west facade. Works by important sculptors adorn the cathedral including Jean Ravy's old choir screen carvings, Nicolas Coustou's Pieta and Antoine Coysevox's Louis XIV statue.

During the French Revolution, the cathedral was ransacked, religion banned, and the church changed into a temple for the Cult of Reason. At one point it was even used as a wine store!

Napolean restored the cathedral and religion in 1804 and was crowned here, as were many kings and emperors.
Le Sacre de Napoleon 1st, detail de Josephine, 1806-1807 Louis David (1748-1825)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Postcards from Paris - Musee du Louvre

La Venus de Milo - La Jaconde - La Victoire de Samothrace

Musee du Louvre
Tuilleries Quarter
Open 9 am - 6 pm Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday)
Free first Sunday of the month

The Musee du Louvre is home to one of the largest and most important art collections in the world. This vast museum, which began as a medieval fortress in the late 12th century, includes collections of:
European Painting 1200 - 1850
European Sculpture 1100-1850
Oriental antiquities
Egyptian antiquities
Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities
Arts of Islam, Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas
Objects d'art (decorative arts like jewelry, furniture, tapestries)

Most people come to the Louvre to see the infamous Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) by Leonardo da Vinci, 1504 and never take time to see the many treasures in the Louvre. Sometimes I've been the only person in the galleries containing objects d'art. But is there any less artistry in this exquisite tapestry Eros and Psyche (c.1770)?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review: Versailles, A Biography of a Palace

There is a lot of myth associated with Versailles. This book tells the real story behind this legendary palace and is a juicy read.

In anticipation of my trip there, I read this book and I am very glad that I did. Now I know that what a tourist sees today is quite different from what actually existed during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. Each King made extensive alterations to the palace and since then there have been many more alterations.

For example, there used to be extra floors around the inner courtyards with some facades eventually reaching six stories. Both Louis XV and Louis XVI found privacy, fresh air and panoramic views from their rooftop rooms. These extra floors were described by Napolean's architect as courtyards "burdened with structures with no order or symmetry, their roofs or terraces piled on top of each other, making a real labyrinth from which the rainwater runs off with difficulty." (page 175) The removal of these top floors is an "irreparable loss for royal history".

I also gained a deeper understanding of what actually happened in Versailles from many perspectives including the traditions of ceremony, protocol, entertainment, dress, as well as fascinating details of how the thousands of support staff lived and worked the behind the scenes. Organized in a thematic rather than a sequential fashion, the book is not your typical boring history book and although it is not specifically about Marie Antoinette, she is mentioned often. This book is both entertaining and easy to read.

"Mentioned here for its sheer oddity, finally, is the use of the palace galleries by Louis XVI's brother, the clever and exquisitely polite comte de Provence, to stalk his sister-in-law, Marie-Antoinette, for who he burned with confused feelings. In the 1780s, when the prince was lodged in the Superintendency, he used to patrol the south wing's first-floor gallery in the hope of encountering "Rhodopovna," his code name for the queen, on her way to see her children, also lodged at the far end of the south wing. Halfway down the gallery with her footman, the queen would suddenly find her brother-in-law issuing from a side staircase, his prize for this subterfuge a few moments in her company and the chance to kiss her hand." (page 112)

If you are planning a trip to Versailles or want to read some scintilating facts about pre-revolutionary France, read this book. (By the way, Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion, What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution, wrote the back cover blurb.)

Title: Versailles
Author: Tony Spawford
Publisher: St. Martin's Press, New York (2008)
Category: Non-fiction, history
Number of Pages: 254 (304 including endnotes)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vintage Postcards from Versailles

Versailles, le Parterre nord
(the north flower beds)

The gardens of Versailles were formally styled into regular patterns of paths, groves, hedges and flower beds, pools of water and fountains.

After Marie Antoinette's husband became King, she undertook a redesign of the gardens of Versailles, making the Petit Trianon into her personal oasis of beauty and privacy. To read more about Marie Antoinette and her passion for gardening, please see my book review of "Marie-Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles" on April 7, 2009.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vintage Postcards from Versailles

Le Panorama de Versailles

The Sun King, Louis XIV, made Versailles into the centre of political power in France during his reign. Originally a modest hunting lodge, Chateau de Versailles grew as a series of envelopes enfolding the original building, whose low brick wall is still visible in the centre. Evenutally, Versailles became the largest palace in Europe and was able to house 20,000 people at a time.

In 1838, an English visitor by the name of William Talmadge wrote: "The place is vast beyond all English imagination: one can hardly conceive it according to its purpose as a place of residence."

01 30 83 78 00
Open 9am - 5 pm daily (summer hours until 6 pm)

P.S. This postcard was sent to me by my mother who visited Versailles about 25 years ago.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Photographs of Versailles at Musee d'art Contemporain de Montreal

Robert Polidori, Versailles, Salles d'Afrique, Portrait of Louis XVI by Callet #2, 2007

If you cannot make it to Versailles with me tomorrow, might I suggest a trip to see the retrospective of Robert Polidori's work which opens today at the Musee d'Art Contemporain de Montreal.

Polidori, who was born in Montreal, is known for his exquisite photographs of places of historical importance. He has photographed such locations as Versailles, Havana, Chernobyl and New Orleans (after the flood). In photographs that seem larger than life and filled with breath-taking detail, Polidori evokes memory and the haunting beauty of decay.

The exposition at the Musee d'Art Contemporain de Montreal is on from May 22 to September 7, 2009 and includes sixty works from the artist's principal series.

I had the pleasure of seeing Polidori's magnificent photographs of Versailles at the Nicolas Metivier Gallery in November 2008 (and wrote about it in a post on November 13, 2009). The exquisite beauty of the images has stayed with me.

I have pre-ordered Polidori's book called "Transitional States" which will be released on June 30, 2009. In this book, Polidori's charts 25 years of the conservation project at Versailles.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Cutting Edge at the Textile Museum of Canada

Man's coat and vest, England 1760-1780
Collection of the Textile Museum of Canada
Photo by Ingrid Mida

Although the Textile Museum of Canada wasn't on my bucket list of museums, it is an under-appreciated treasure. Comprising two floors, The Textile Museum has more floor space than many larger museum facilities. Its exhibitions change several times a year and are thoughtfully curated. Even better, the garments and textiles on display are not behind glass so one can get really close to examine details closely (although I was tempted to touch, I respected the signage and did not!)

Currently on display is The Cutting Edge curated by Patricia Bentley. This exhibition focuses on the shape of a garment and what it signifies. Garments from the museum's collection are featured alongside contemporary fashion and artwork.

I especially appreciated the detailed descriptions of each garment that included drawings of the patterns for cutting the fabric.

"A garment is a mathematical puzzle with only one solution. Once it is designed, it has to be cut out and assembled in a certain way. A garment is also a carrier of a culture's paradigms, beliefs and attitudes. You would not think that something that can be strictly utilitarian at one end of a spectrum and supremely frivolous at the other end has usch potency for people's lives, but the truth is that clothes make the man - and the woman."

Girl's jacket, Netherlands 1760
Collection of the Textile Museum of Canada
Photo by Ingrid Mida

Coat pirpini (sleeveless coat), Greece 1800-1900
Collection of the Textile Museum of Canada
Photo by Ingrid Mida, 2009

Textile Museum of Canada

55 Centre Avenue (St. Patrick subway)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Seeing Through Clothes

This is a book for serious scholars of fashion or art. If that does not describe you, stop reading now! However, if you want to immerse yourself into the meaning of clothing as portrayed through works of art, then read on.

Seeing Through Clothes is concerned with the interconnection between clothes worn in real life and clothes portrayed in works of art. "With clothes as with art, it is the picture itself, not the aspects of culture or personality it reveals, that demands the attention first and appeals directly to the imagination through the eye. Because they share in the perpetually idealizing vision of art, clothes must be seen and studied as paintings are seen and studied -- not primarily as cultural by-products or personal expressions but as connected links in a creative tradition of image-making." (page xvi)

This book, densely packed with original ideas and analysis, is comprised of 5 chapters, each of which could be a book, in and of itself.

Drapery traces the visionary history of fabric through its portrayal in paintings and sculptures. "Fabric is thought to decorate and beautify, not only because of its direct appeal but because it has been shown to do so in an incredible variety of works of art since the remotest antiquity." (page 2)

The chapter on Nudity traces the meaning of the unclothed or partially clothed figure in works of art. The clothing we wear carries significant meaning and the absence of clothing in turn shares this same complexity. "Nakedness is not a customary but rather an assumed state, common to all but natural to none, except on significantly marked occasions. These may be ritual, theatrical, or domestic, but they are always special, no matter how frequent." (page 84)

In Undress, Hollander explores the idea that the suggestion of partially removed clothing creates an intensified erotic force in works of art. "In art the body without its clothes is a pale shadow of its clothed self. But the body shown either partially nude or closely accompanied by cloth and clothing can carry a more complex message about itself and its dress. The dialectic of clothes and body is more sharply focused when both appear." (page 236)

In Costume, the conventions of costume in theatre, ballet, opera and film are examined. "The history of theatrical costume shows that the first purpose of dressing for theatrical events is to catch the eye with something unusual." (page 239)

In Dress, the idea that dress is a form of visual art, with changes in what is considered fashionable dress being accomplished through filters of artistic convention (ie, photography, film or portraiture). "And the difference between the way clothes now look (at any given time) and the way they used to look is made most clear to the eye through changes in the style of their pictorial respresentation -- including styles of photography and cinematography. Dressing is always picture making, with reference to actual pictures that indicate how the clothes are to be perceived." (page 311)

In Mirrors, Hollander considers the interrelationship between mirrors and images. By looking in the mirror, we create a self-portrait by which we measure our looks against images that we have seen (in painting, photography and other media). "People look at their clothes in mirrors to see how they fit into the common visual scheme or indeed to make themselves fit in." (page 417)

Seeing through Clothes is illustrated with extensive black and white images of the works of art that Hollander uses to support her arguments. When I first opened this book, I was disappointed by the quality of printing and put it aside, not aware of the wealth of information inside. Eye candy it is not. This is brain candy! With original thought and weighty analysis, this book requires very careful and thoughtful reading. In fact, I probably should read it again.

Title: Seeing Through Clothes
Author: Anne Hollander
Publisher: University of California Press, Berkeley (Paperback version 1993)
(Originally published by Viking Press in 1973)
Category: Non-fiction - Costume in art; Costume history
Price: US$28.95 Canada $36.50
Number of Pages: 504

P.S. I've also ordered Anne Hollander's other book Feeding the Eye but I expect it will take me a while to get through it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Museums of Costume and Textiles

Evening dress of silk organza with an underdress of silk taffeta and organza
(by Jacques Heim Paris, France, 1959)
Victoria & Albert Museum Costume Collection

Evening Dress of Hand embroidered machine-made net Britian 1817-1818
Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

May 18th is International Museum Day! Change up your routine, absorb a little culture and visit your local museum this weekend.

Here is my list of favourite museums that have collections of couture, costumes and/or textiles. I can attest that these museums are worth visiting!!

Victoria and Albert Museum
South Kensington, London, England
(Admission is free!!)

Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection
Kensington Palace, London, England

Musee de la Mode et du Textile Les Art Decoratifs
108 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France

The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fifth Avenue, New York City, USA

Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queen's Park Circle, Toronto, Canada

Textile Museum of Canada

55 Centre Street, Toronto, Canada

Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Canada
(Technically this shouldn't be on the list because this museum is dedicated to footwear, but what is fashion without beautiful shoes? The Bata Museum is a gem and a definite must-see!)

And here is my "bucket" list of museums with fashion and costume collections that I have yet to see:

Kyoto Costume Institute
103 Shichi-jo
Goshonouchi Minamimachi
Kyoto, Japan
(The next best thing to going to Japan would be to buy a copy of "Fashion: A History from the 18th to the 20th Century" in either the 2 volume hardcover or paperback version. This book is filled with exquisite photos of the Kyoto Costume Institute's extensive fashion collection.)

Powerhouse Museum

500 Harris Street
Sydney, Australia

Museo del Trajo
Avenida Juan de Herrera, 2
Madrid, Spain

Musees des Tissus et des Arts Decoratifs de Lyon

34 rue de la Charite
Lyon, France

Musee de la Mode de la Ville de Paris

10 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie
75116 Paris, France

Musee Christian Dior
Villa Les Rhumbs
50400 Granville, France

National Museums of Scotland

Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Gallery of Costume
Platt Hall, Manchester, England

Bath Museum of Costume
Bennet Street, Bath, England

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery
Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton, England

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Avenue of the Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, USA

Phoenix Art Museum

1625 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Kent State University Museum
Rockwell Hall, Kent, Ohio, USA

Los Angeles Country Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, California, USA

Friday, May 15, 2009

Toile de Jouy

Photo of Bedcoverings from 1785 from Quilts of Province by Kathryn Berenson

I am utterly besotted with Toile de Jouy, a printed cotton fabric with patterns of country scenes, characters or floral motifs that originated in France in the 18th century. This beautiful fabric traditionally came in red and white, blue and white or sepia and white.

The manufacturing and trade of toile de jouy made a fortune for Baron Christophe-Phillippe Oberkampf (1738-1815) who owned a factory in Jouy-en-Josas. His expertise in copper-plate and copper-roller printing allowed the creation of large-scale prints with scenic, allegorical and historical figures. Popular for bed coverings, drapery and furniture upholstery, this fabric was in high demand in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and was widely copied in France and England.

The Musée de la Toile de Jouy presents the history and technique of printed fabrics from 1760 to 1843 using drawings, models and materials such as the wooden blocks, copper plates, rollers, dyes and frames used in the process. There is also an impressive collection of the fabrics themselves in which the stylistic changes in taste and fashion can be seen through a range of designs. The factory itself closed down over 100 years ago but this lovely fabric still inspires designers and artists (including me).

I would dearly love to see this museum during my upcoming trip to Paris. Unfortunately, it is 19 km southeast of Paris and 4 miles southeast of Versailles. I'm not sure I'll be able to fit it into my jam-packed itinerary. If anyone has any suggestions on where to find fabric in Paris, I'd be ever so grateful if you could leave a comment!

Musee de Toile de Jouy
54 rue Charles de Gaule
Chateau de l'Eglantine
Jouy Les Loges
33 139 56 48 64

P.S. Happy 120th Birthday to The Eiffel Tower today! It is fascinating that this beloved icon was once considered an "odious column of bolted metal" and "the dishonour of Paris" when it was selected as the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Recycling Fashion

Photo from Quilts of Provence by Kathryn Berenson

Although recycling fashion is currently in vogue, this practice is hardly new. In the eighteenth century (and going back in time), the most valuable part of a garment was often the textile itself. Fabric was so expensive that it was reused many times over until it was worn and faded. And even then, it might still serve as the lining for other garments.

In the photo, a jupon (skirt) and caraco (short jacket) from about 1780 are displayed on the mannequin inside out allowing us to see the patching of worn spots or rips.

Another example of how a dress was refashioned is the dress attributed to Marie Antoinette owned by the Royal Ontario Museum. This lovely gown (believed to be from the atelier of Rose Bertin in 1780s) was recut and refashioned in the 1880s to suit the style of the time.

Although the practice of recycling garments is probably what saved this dress, what a shame that we cannot see this dress in its original glory!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book Review: Quilts of Provence, The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking

I love beautiful textiles of all kinds. And even though I know very little about the art of quilting, I was captivated by this gem of a book "Quilts of Provence, The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking" by Kathryn Berenson.

A dear friend,who is a passionate quilter, lent it to me. She thought I would enjoy it because of the many photos of French 18th century quilted textiles. She was right! I now want to buy the book for myself and have even contemplated learning how to quilt! (If only I could take lessons from Tristan of Enchanted Revelry....sigh).

What I fell in love with were the all-white broderie de Marseille quilts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This form of quilting creates subtle plays of light and shadow on the surface of the textile with intricate patterns of stitching, incorporating cording and delicate stuffing into the stylized forms. According to the author "Knowlegeable French call these elegant works 'confections' and refer to the process of stitching them as 'embroidery from within'.

Quilted garments were prized for their beauty and warmth in 18th century France, and Provencal woman's social status was quickly determined by the quality of the stitching on her embroidered petticoat or jupon. Quilted short jackets and stays were also popular as were quilted garments for babies.

Arlesiene Aux Yeux Bleues by Antoine Raspal (1770)

This book is divided into seven chapters including:
Introduction to French Textiles and Quilting
The Needle Arts of Provence
Embroidery from Within
Provencal Colors, Provencal Patterns
On the World Stage
Continuing the Tradition
Quilting Projects

Also included are appendices on How to Care for and Display Quilts and Where to See and Buy French Quilts.

This book is a treasure for quilters, lovers of fashion history, and those passionate about anything French. Not only is it well-written in clear and precise prose, but there are lots of colour photographs to linger over, especially if you want/need to be transported to Provence.

Title: Quilts of Provence, The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking
Author: Kathryn Berenson
Publisher: Potter Craft, New York (1996 and 2007)
Category: Non-fiction, Quilting; Fashion History, Textiles
Number of Pages: 216
Price: US $45 Canada $56

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beauty in Art

Agnes Martin, Painter (1912-2004)

Is that all?

This is a question that continually pervades my consciousness. Maybe this perpetual state of existential angst is the reason that I am an artist. I am driven to create beauty and to find meaning in what I do.

In the world of contemporary art, art is expected to provoke a reaction. Shock value is prized above an aesthetic that is pleasing to the eye. Beautiful art is considered a sell-out for the sake of commerce. My art has been called "pretty" and "decorative" and is often dismissed before the deeper meaning behind what I make is considered.

In the past few weeks, I've wrestled with the question of whether I could create an artwork (for an invitational competition) that was ugly for the sake of provoking reaction in the viewer. It caused me many sleepless nights and considerable anguish, but in the end, beauty won out, even though the symbolism and deeper meaning were present in the piece.

Agnes Martin(1912-2004) achieved great renown with her abstract paintings of straight lines. Her quietly elegant paintings are owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other museums around the world. I found myself seeking consolation in her comments on art and beauty:

"Beauty and happiness and life are all the same and they are pervasive, unattached and abstract and they are our only concern. They are immeasurable, completely lacking in substance. They are perfect and sublime. This is the subject matter of art."

"When I think of art, I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. In our minds, there is an awareness of perfection."

What does beauty mean to you?
Can a beautiful work of art create a reaction?

P.S. Coincidentally, today Sallymandy at the Blue Kimono wrote about What is an Artist? .

Friday, May 8, 2009

Is This All?

Photograph by William Klein, Model Jean Shrimpton, Fashion: Dior, May 1963 Vogue

In 1963, Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique", inspiring women to reject stereotypical roles and seek creative and rewarding work outside the home. Recently I've been immersed in feminist literature in the hope that I can give depth and meaning to a piece of artwork that I've been invited to create.

There was one passage in "The Feminine Mystique" that incited a torrent of emotions in me:

"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night -- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question -- "Is this all?"

How does this make you feel?
Is it still a relevant question today?

Please share your thoughts and feelings.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Muse

Photo of Jean Shrimpton by Cecil Beaton, 1964

The gala opening of the exhibition "Model as Muse" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday night was a convergence of the glitterati of the worlds of fashion and Hollywood. Presiding over the event was Marc Jacobs and his co-chair Justin Timberlake who welcomed Anna Wintour, Madonna, Kate Moss, Anne Hathaway, Lauren Hutton.... (to see photos and videos of the gala, check out

Curated by Harold Koda and Kohle Yohannan, the exhibit explores the relationship between high fashion and the evolving ideals of beauty as portrayed in the iconic models of 1947-1997. Models featured in the exhibition include: Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Dovima, Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Twiggy, Jerry Hall, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Champbell and others.

To me, what is really interesting is not the models themselves but the concept of muse. What is a muse?

In classical mythology, muse refers to the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who presided over the arts:
Calliope (epic poetry)
Clio (history)
Erato (lyric poetry)
Euterpe (music)
Melpomene (tragedy)
Polyhymnia (religious music)
Terpischore (dance)
Thalia (comedy)
Urania (astronomy)

(I suppose since painting and sculpture are not included here, that my artwork must fall into the category of tragedy!!!)

In more common usage, a muse is someone (sometimes referred to as a goddess!!!) who has the power to inspire an artist.

For May's issue of Vogue, Hamlish Bowles interviewed Marc Jacobs on his creative process. Jacobs said that "A collection is just that -- a collection of thoughts, ideas, and experiences, trials and errors, editing and adding. It's something that unfolds." And for each collection, at some point in that process, a muse emerges. "So whether it is Kate Moss or Winona Ryder, it's the imperfection that I find so beautiful. The flaw, their Achilles heel, is as interesting as the perfection."

In the book "The Beautiful Fall, Fashion, Genius and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris", I learned that Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent relied heavily on their inner circle of favourite models and friends to inspire their creations. Lagerfeld was especially heartless in that he would use people until they no longer served his creative purposes. "The members of his shifting entouage were there to provide information, energy, laughter, ideas, and significantly, youth, and they were replaced when they no longer fulfilled these criteria" (page 310).

My muse is the goddess of fashion. As ephemeral as she may be, she is a wellspring of beauty and delight.

Who is your muse?

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's on in May

If I could travel around the world to see the latest exhibitions on fashion and style, these would be my stops in May.

In Toronto at the Bata Shoe Museum, the Chronicles of Riches: Treasures from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection continues through to November. This exhibit showcases rarely seen items including Napolean's black silk socks worn while he lingered in exile on St. Helena and a pair of fabulous chopines from Italy dated 1580-1620. These rarely seen silk velvet covered wooden platforms are ornamented with silver lace, tassels and ruched silk.

On Wednesday, May 6th, The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion opens in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This exhibition examines the evolving ideals of beauty in the world of high fashion and features iconic models of the 20th century and their roles in projecting and occasionally inspiring the fashions of their era. Haute couture and ready-to-wear fashions from 1947-1997 are displayed alongside photographs and video footage.

In London, one of my favourite museums The Victoria and Albert Museum, continues its spring exhibition called Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence. On display are magnificent examples of Baroque furniture, portraits, sculpture, tapestries and other object d'arts. This show examines all elements of the Baroque style which was one of the most opulent styles of the 17th and 18th Centuries.

The Costume Museum of Canada in Winnipeg has two exhibitions ongoing in May. The Wedding Dress showcases interesting and wild wedding outfits worn through the decades and Women of Style explores the fashion sense of 5 Winnipeg women.

In Toronto, on Wednesday, May 20th at 6:30 pm, Alison Matthews David, Assistant Professor of Fashion History and Theory at Ryerson University, will give a talk on Tailoring in the 18th and 19th Centuries at the Textile Museum of Canada. Ms. Matthews David is an eloquent speaker and I'm sad that I'll have to miss this event, because the next day, I'll be leaving for Paris!

While in France, I'll be visiting the exhibition Court Pomp & Royal Ceremonies, Court Dress in Europe 1650-1800 at Chateau de Versailles. For more information about this unparalleled display of court garments from the 17th and 18th centuries, please see my earlier post from April 9. I'll also be doing some other fashion and art related adventures in Paris, which may lead to some interesting articles and/or blog posts.

P.S. I've decided to import some of my book reviews of fashion related posts from Blog of a Bookworm onto this blog. Over the past six months, I've really narrowed my focus. As my art continues to gain exposure (today I found my work on a blog called Vintage and Chic from Spain!), two blogs is one too many!! Fashion is my passion and my muse.

P.P.S. If you missed yesterday's tag line about the winners of the Random Acts of Kindness, they are:
Kelly of the Chic Geek
Renee of Circling my Head
Lucy of Enchanted by Josephine
Judith of Studio Judith

These lovely (and lucky) bloggers will receive a gift handmade by me in the next month or two. While I hope to post most of them before my trip to Paris, that might not happen as I'm also working on a tight deadline for an art submission. But good things come to those that wait!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fashion Dolls

As a little girl, I was enchanted by dolls. I only had two dolls to play with, but I also had a collection of dolls from around the world. Each time my father travelled for business, he would come home with a doll from the country that he visited. He took great delight in presenting the doll to me and I can still remember those moments in vivid detail.

Although today dolls are generally viewed as playthings, it wasn't always so. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, fashion dolls were used by dressmakers as a way of illustrating the latest styles to their potential clients. Dolls dressed in the latest Parisian styles were on display in fashionable shops along the rue Saint Honore and also sent monthly to London and to the courts of Europe. The dolls were considered "precious" and sometimes even had diplomatic immunity during times of war.

Although the most fashionable dolls originated from Paris, dolls were also made up in England and sent to the American colonies, where England was the dominant cultural influence.

The two wooden dolls shown in the photo are from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England and are known as Lord and Lady Clapham. (Although the Department of Textiles and Dress in the V&A has approximately forty dolls in their collection, only these two were on display when I visited in July 2008.) Dated from about 1695, Lord and Lady Clapham came complete with their accessories and the wooden chairs on which they sit.

Fashion dolls were popular until fashion plates and fashion journals became more established and widely accessible in the nineteenth century.

P.S. As a follow-up to Thursday's post about Aprons and Random Acts of Kindness, here is the list of winners:

Kelly of The Chic Geek
Judith of Studio Judith
Ms. Lucy of Enchanted by Josephine
Renee of Circling My Head

If you are a winner, please email me at

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Book Review: My French Life

Lately I haven't had as much time to read as I normally do and the pile of books beside my bed is getting higher. And yet, when I saw this book perched up high on a shelf in my favourite independent bookstore, I just knew that My French Life would be my next book.

The name of the author on the cover looked strangely familiar and it took me a few minutes to make the connection. Could this be the same Vicki Archer who writes a blog called "French Essence"????? It was!

As soon as I opened the cover, I felt like I was transported to the south of France with Vicki telling me the story of how she came to be the owner of a seventeenth-century property in Saint-Remy-de-Provence.

Reading this is a beautifully written book was an absolute delight. Vicki Archer has an elegant way with words, creating descriptions and scenes that are both captivating and charming.

"Each morning as I leave for the boulangerie I promise myself today is the day to avoid temptation. A block away and the smell of freshly baked bread is enough to weaken my resolve. Unsurprisingly my baguette order swells to include croissant, brioche and pain au raisin or pain au chocolate....When I hear Marie's Provencal accent importing, 'Un petit gout' (a tiny taste), and asking what else I would like ensuite, ensuite (next, next), I am lost." (page 94)

Not to be overlooked are the opulent photographs by Carla Coulson that accompany Vicki's story. They are exquisitely composed in black and white as well as colour. These magnificent photos have style, energy and joie de vive. In fact, I'd have to say it is one of the most beautiful books I've seen!

At the end of the book, Vicki provides lists from her French address book, including restaurants, fashion, books, hotels, antique markets and other places of interest. I'll be taking note of these addresses for my trip later in May as they are undoubtedly fabulous!

Title: My French Life
Author: Vicki Archer
Photographer: Carla Coulson
Publisher: Viking Studio, Penguin Group New York, 2006
Category: Non-fiction
Price: US$35, Canada $38

Santos Cage Dolls

On Thursday, I posted an image of an antique doll on a stand and Judith Thibeau of Studio Judith helped me identify what it was. This type of doll is called a Santos Cage Doll and is highly collectible.

Often found in Portuguese or Spanish communities, these dolls were used in Catholic religious processions and were often elaborately dressed in beautiful gowns and topped with golden crowns. These dolls would occupy a place of prominence in the home of a wealthy person or chapel. The cage could also be used as a sort of prayer shrine with objects placed inside the cage.

I am drawn to their spare and haunting elegance. After researching these dolls, I realized that the first one I purchased was likely a reproduction, but since I practically got her for free, I went back to the antique shop and bought the other one. I think the pair of them will be a new source of inspiration in my artistic practice. I might even have to create some elegant gowns for these lovely ladies.