22 May 2013

What Women Wore - Joan of Arc and Disco Belles

We recently traveled to New York for a graduation and had fun time-traveling through fashion history...

From 19th century France we traveled to 1970's disco-era New York in an unusual show at the Museum of the City of New York highlighting the work of fashion designer Stephen Burrows, the first person of color to win a Coty Award, the fashion industry's Oscar.  The exhibit is up through July 28.

Mr. Burrows pioneered color-block designs, lettuce-edging of knit fabrics, and the use of metal grommets and trims, now so ubiquitous on handbags.

Jersey-knit dresses, 1970s.

Knit fabric with Lettuce-edge detail.

Dresses in berry colors, metallics and animal prints.

Fashion sketch, 1970s.

Dress with metal grommet trim, 1970's.

Knit fabric softens ceiling.
The ceiling of the exhibit room is softened with layers of draped white knit fabric, with, yes, a lettuce-edge. This was quite effective at making the rather stark space much more artifact-friendly. Less successful was the crystalline substance scattered on the low pedestals -  it was trying invoke the glitter of disco balls perhaps, but just looked odd.  Otherwise the exhibit is a lively multi-media affair.  Diane von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs clearly  reference the work of Mr. Burrows; perhaps they will lend a hand as he seeks to revive his label.

Light sculpture, museum lobby.

Joan of Arc, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, 1915.

Finally, we come to a woman wearing armor - who else but Joan of Arc.  She sits, sword upraised, astride a horse in Riverside Park, and jump-started the career of her artist, a woman sculptor named Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington. Mrs. Huntington did extensive research for this statue; the excerpt below is from http://newyorkcitystatues.com/joan-of-arc/

At the time the head of the armor department in the Metropolitan said no Joan had ever been done before that had the correct 15th century armor, which is a very plain armor and also very early armor so it was very difficult to get together a whole set of them. But he managed to at the Metropolitan and there was a young man that he knew who put on the armor and I photographed (him on) one of those imitation horses, wooden horses, they have. So that I could work from photographs because the armor itself was too valuable to take away to the studio or anything of that sort, you see. So with the photographs I was able to get the correct armor.
Personally I don’t see how Joan ever went into battle with that armor on, because I remember — I’ve forgotten the date now — but they had a big pageant in the old Madison Square Garden and they wanted a Joan to lead the procession. I’d done my Joan so they asked me if I wouldn’t do it. They knew I rode a horse, and we managed to get together a hired armor, not of the period but near as possible. I put it on and it was the most uncomfortable thing you ever could imagine to ride in. I don’t know how she ever managed to be active and go into battle with it because it was a very stiff, heavy, uncomfortable thing. I had to be lifted on the horse; I couldn’t get up otherwise.

So, in one trip we viewed  many modes of dress for women, depending on their role - warrior, disco belle, fashionable muse or scholar.