Fashion History Talks! In conversation with Anna Yanofsky of The Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-1-03-50-pm

From ancient Coptic textiles to contemporary haute couture, the historic dress collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a treasure trove of culturally and historically significant pieces. I have spent hours browsing the seemingly endless online database (437,732 items have been digitized to date) and, while I have shared many pieces from the collection with you on my Instagram, there are thousands upon thousands of objects that I have yet to discover!  For most of us, browsing online is the closest we will ever get to examining these exquisite pieces up close. I can only imagine what it would be like to physically handle, examine and research this world-class collection. It is another fantasy entirely to get paid to do it. And yet for Anna Yanofsky, Collections Manager Assistant at the The Costume Institute, dreams really do come true.

The Costume Institute is the name for the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of more than 35,000 costumes and accessories representing “five continents and seven centuries of fashionable dress, regional costumes, and accessories for men, women, and children, from the fifteenth century to the present.” Anna has worked at the Institute since graduating (with me!) in 2012 with her Masters in Fashion and Textile Studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, but she has loved fashion ever since she was a young girl. Her passion for the subject is inspiring and I am excited to present her Fashion History Talks! below. Thank you Anna!

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-6-09-53-pm

This 18th century robe à la polonaise is one of Anna’s favorite garments in the Costume Institute at The Metropolitant Museum of Art where she works as a Collections Management Assistant.

Please provide readers with a description of your job and how it relates to the history of fashion and dress: My title is Collections Management Assistant in The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In my role I spend a lot of quality time with objects of all shapes, sizes, and kinds. The Collections Team is responsible for the proper storage and care of objects–which involves strategizing the placement of objects within the space we have available, and packing them archivally to suit their needs. Each object presents its own unique challenges based on its materials and structure. In addition we are constantly pulling and presenting pieces for curatorial viewings and conservation treatments.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-1-04-04-pm

Marion Cotillard in Christian Dior by Raf Simons. Photographed by Tim Walker for W Magazine, December 2012.

Why is the study of fashion history important to you? My professional dedication to the study of fashion history is born of a nascent obsession with fashion that I can never remember not having. I may have been the only 8-year-old watching Style with Elsa Klensch on weekend mornings and paying for my copies of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar with my wadded-up allowance (four dollars because I was in the fourth grade). Fashion magazines were my ticket to an alternate universe of beauty and style. In those magazines I was not only transported through editorials, but I was also reading about art, politics, and culture. As I advanced in my education, I realized that fashion history is the study of so many topics at once: world history, design, materials, technology, sociology, and much more. A fashion object or photograph can educate you fully and deeply about a moment in history, or a culture, or an economic principle. Fashion is an entry point into looking at the world around us in a more profound way. Also, it is accessible. We all get dressed. We all express our identity and place in time and space through the clothes we wear. We are all participating in fashion on some level.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-12-59-30-pm

Grès, Strapless evening dress (detail), Spring/Summer 1964,©Stéphane Piera/ Galleria/ Roger-Viollet from Another Magazine, September 12, 2012.

In your opinion, is fashion art? Some fashion is art; some is not. There are a select few designers who put ideas into clothing and treat fashion as a medium for conceptual communication. And then there are those who sell clothes in a more utilitarian way. Couture as it is traditionally constructed, with the highest attention to skilled craft, is undoubtedly artfully made–but even couture isn’t necessarily art. The complicating factor of this topic is always commerce. Clothes are made to be sold and worn and discarded for something newer and better each season. This leaves many with the perception of it as an impure artform, one created for profit rather than the expression of inspiration and creativity. However, when you see certain garments, there is little denying that they capture the essence of artistic creation as aptly as a painting or sculpture.

5987963796_7001cc10db_b

Madame Grès, photographed by Crespi for Femina, April 1949.

Favorite fashion designer, past and present: Just one? I’ll say that ever since I laid eyes on a garment by Madame Gres I have had an utter fashion history crush on her. The pleating of her dresses is simply extraordinary in person and symbolizes a Classicism

that is eternally chic. Her designs are powerful in such a feminine way. In spite of the flow of the yards of fabric she uses, the tight pleating creates a firm structure–to her bodices especially–that leave them with a protective, almost armor-like quality. The effect is totally dichotomous. She also had a career that spanned decades successfully (from the 1930s to the 1980s), with some of her most interesting designs emerging in the 1970s. I thought that Raf Simons’ interpretation of the Christian Dior aesthetic was so beautiful and modern while still respecting the history of the house. His most recent eponymous menswear collection featured photographs from the Robert Mapplethorpe archives in a very pleasing way. I am a sucker for a photographic print in textile form! I am excited to see how he can revive Calvin Klein.

mtqyodu4mzm1otu4mzq1ntaw

Cover of Teen Vogue photographed by Sean Thomas, December 2016.

If you could recommend one fashion or dress history related book to Art of Dress followers, what would it be? I know this isn’t a book, but subscribe to Teen Vogue! Their recent coverage of political and social issues has been so incredibly smart. I’ve heard a lot about how shocked people are by the fact that a fashion magazine–geared towards teenage girls, no less–could have such adept coverage of complex issues, but I’m not surprised. My consciousness was raised on fashion magazines. There is no exclusionary binary between a love of fashion and an interest in the complexities of the world. In fact, they are so much more related than people may initially think. A balance of beauty and brains are what we should all be encouraging in each other. Also, subscribing to quality content is so important in this moment. We need to financially support the sources we appreciate.

Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 6.48.28 PM.png

The No. 7 issue of the environmentally conscious publication A Green Beauty features Anna’s latest article on fast fashion and can be digitally downloaded here.

 *First image of model Cara Delivigne in Christian Dior Haute Couture by Raf Simons. Photographed by Tim Walker and styled by Edward Enninful for W Magazine, December 2013.

Fashion History Talks! In conversation with Angela Mombers of Walking Through History

14917033_1825253397711131_2346811363220591409_o

It is one thing to study fashion history, but it is another entirely to recreate and wear it. And yet that is the everyday reality for Walking Through History‘s Angela Mombers, whose impeccably-crafted, historically-based designs have captured the hearts and imaginations of fashion lovers the world over. From a 15th century Burgundian hennin to the regal attire of Queen Elizabeth I to an 1880s bustle gown, Angela’s portfolio spans the expanse of men and women’s fashion history, no historical dress too great for her to recreate for herself or the dashing Jasper. And recreate she does, with the highest level of skill and craftsmanship: each piece is painstakingly hand-finished, if not entirely hand sewn. The Art of Dress recently had the pleasure of interviewing Angela, who provided some insight into her passion for bringing fashion history to life.

 

12108859_1678536435716162_2004574344700496103_n

Left: Wool tapestry at the MET Museum, c. 1440-50, South Netherlandish. Right: c. 1450 reproduction of a hennin and c. 1500 gown by Angela Mombers.                                          Photograph by Jimmy Purimahuwa.

Why is the study of fashion history important to you? Historic clothing was made with the highest level of craftsmanship, that nowadays can only be found in couture. I love to study old paintings and (photos of) existing antique garments from museums, to see how garments are constructed and built up, what’s worn underneath, how it’s lined and interlined, how the clothing evolved through the years, which class is wearing which garments, materials, colors etc etc.

1620-isabel-de-borbon-reina_med

Angela looks to primary source material when beginning a new project, such as this painting of Isabel de Bourbon, Queen of Spain, c. 1620.

And the more I learn about it, the more my hands are itching to reproduce all this beauty. Usually when I make a reconstruction of a garment, I already have an idea of what kind of garment this will be. I get my inspiration from paintings, visiting museums, reading books and seeing the work of other costume makers. Then I dive into the subject, trying to find anything I can on similar dresses, same period, same country, same class. I try to find images or paintings of the backside of garments, pictures of museum pieces, for example the V&A and Janet Arnold provide great images of the inner side of garments. I look for the similarities between all these images, what was common and clearly in fashion? After this I look for historical patterns of the dress. I usually work out several patterns, just because I am curious about the differences. If I can’t find any patterns, I draft them myself. When the patterns are ready I make one or several muslins, until I am happy about the fit and shape. Only after this (now usually 3 weeks have passed), I start cutting into the real fabrics.

13691180_1776795065890298_367576702372485271_o

Angela often provides her followers with step-by-step instructions about how to recreate the pieces she makes, such as this 17th century ruff.

I use a lot of vintage and antique fabrics and trims. Old velvet curtains, antique laces, or I cut up vintage garments. Anything that looks authentic. I use the sewing machine for most inner and invisible seams. All visible stitches are usually done by hand. I also attach the trims and stitch the lining by hand. On average I spend about 2 months ( = c. 200 hours) on one costume. This is including the underwear and the accessories like hats, bags, collars and sashes.

15110388_1831822103720927_2681877201122322860_o

Angela in her c. 1620 Isabel de Bourbon costume. Photograph by Jimmy Purimahuwa.

In your opinion, is fashion art? Hmm art, it depends. I think some designers (I am not talking about modern clothing) definitely dared to step away from the usual designs and came up with new ideas that changed fashion forever, for example Paul Poiret. To me his work is art. But for most historic clothing I would rather talk about craftsmanship. Not sure if it can be called art. Like Worth, the craftsmanship in his designs is exceptional.

12717294_1719452524957886_8571595969790950950_n

Jasper posing with the character that inspired his costume. Painting by Bartholomeus van der Helst: “The Compagnie of Captain Roelof Bicker and Lieutenant Jan Michielsz. Blaeuw”, 1642 and in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.

Favorite fashion designer, past and present: My favorite eras are the 16th and 17th century. Unfortunately little is known about designers from these days. Some tailors are known, but not designers. So I would say, Charles Frederick Worth would be my favorite designer. His dresses possess and out of this world beauty.

10481722_1596429723926834_5779334286849307150_o

It took Angela almost three months to create this c. 1872 bustle gown, embroidered with one thousand hand-cut, hand-sewn beetle wings. Photograph by Erwin van den Eijkhof.

If you could recommend one fashion or dress history related book to Art of Dress followers, what would it be? Definitely the books from Janet Arnold. They contain so much detailed information and on top of that patterns, so you can recreate the garments yourself. She wrote 4 books, each book covers an entire period (one book covers all info regarding smocks, collars, cuffs etc) and they are indispensable for anyone who is interested in the subject. For corsets I recommend the pattern book of Norah Waugh. This one is fantastic.

img_20160626_102452

Angela as Queen Elizabeth I. Photograph by Henk van Rijssen.

This is only a small sampling of Angela’s work, which you can find in more detail on Walking Through History’s Facebook and Instagram accounts: http://www.walkingthroughhistory.com  and http://www.instagram.com/walking_through_history. There you will find the process of each piece well-documented, from research to pattern making to sewing to photographs of the final garments!

Thank you for sharing your love and passion for fashion history with us Angela!

14940041_1827117400858064_6267737806413633888_o

Angela and Jasper as Philip I of Castille (Philip the Handsome, 1478-1506) and Joanna of Castile (Joanna the Mad, 1479-1555). Photograph by Rob van der Laan.