25 August 2014

Anne Hollander and Tom Tierney and costume history

Woman in Blue, Henri Matisse, 1937, from Fabric of Vision.

Two leading lights in the world of textile history died last month.  Anne Hollander, an independent scholar and curator, studied the role of costume (the art world's  portmanteau for apparel) in art throughout history.  Ms. Hollander, in her many books, analyzed how artists, as disparate as sculptors in ancient Greece and the 20th-century British painter Lucian Freud, used clothing and drapery to convey meaning. She pioneered the serious study of fashion and clothing; prior to her work "It [fashion] had this taint of a women's-page subject" stated Judy Thurman, a New Yorker writer quoted in Ms. Hollander's New York Times obituary.

Given that clothing and accessories are freighted with immense symbolism, it seems obvious now that the depiction of apparel - clothing which can signal status, wealth and power, among other characteristics - would seem an obvious focus of study, but this was not always so. A major corrective to this oversight arrived with the 2002 exhibit Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting, curated by Ms. Hollander for Britain's National Gallery.

Exhibition catalog.

Ms. Hollander wrote about robes, tailcoats, veils and dresses; Tom Tierney drew them.  Dover books have sold over 4 million copies of his paper doll books, reason enough to sit up and take notice even if the books themselves weren't so charming and, due to his meticulous research, so informative. If you can't get to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mr. Tierney's books will help scratch the fashion itch. You can even see Kate Middleton in her unmentionables - evidently things have loosened up at Buck House - in the officially sanctioned William & Kate paper doll book.

Selection of Dover paper doll books by Tom Tierney.

The phrase "making history come alive" is over-used but nevertheless genuinely describes the utility of Mr. Tierney's books, which can flesh out the opulence  of Tudor England - Henry VIII and his wives - or demonstrate just what Jane Austen meant when she wrote about pelisses and spencer jackets.

Finally, a book about someone very much still with us, Queen Elizabeth II - Dressing the Queen: the Jubilee Wardrobe. As a public figure the Queen must dress the part and has a dedicated and talented wardrobe staff, marshaled by Head Dresser Angela Kelly. This book gives a glimpse of the process for preparing the Queen's wardrobe for the Jubilee Year. Yes, the volume celebrates hereditary rank and privilege, like any reporting on the royal family, although I happen to think the Queen gives good value for money. One tidbit is that, to avoid any unfortunate accidents, small weights are sewn into the hems of some garments.  The images below are taken from the book.

Blue outfit with sleeve detail, worn to Armed Forces Muster, 2012.

Service of Thanksgiving, St. Paul's Cathedral. 

The planning and craftsmanship involved is impressive; protocol plays a role too; during a trip to Ireland, the Queen wore a green suit and hat for an open-car procession. For the opening of the Olympics, two identical peach dresses were made in secret; one worn by a stunt double parachuting into Olympic stadium and one for the Queen, who appeared on the podium with hardly a feather out of place after her apparent sky-dive.  As I said, good value for money.

Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe. ISBN 978 1 905686 74 2

Anne Hollander wrote many books, among them:
Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting. ISBN  1 85709 907 9
Moving Pictures. ISBN 0 394 57400 1
Feeding the Eye. ISBN 0 374 28201 3

Tom Tierney's books are available at the Dover site and many bookstores.