Tuesday, January 16, 2018

F is for Fortuny

Mariano Fortuny

Recently, well known mystery writer Sue Grafton died at the age of 77.  She titled her books with an alphabetic device – “A is for Alibi”, for example.  I borrowed her idea for several of my blogs.  Today,  “F is for Fortuny”.

Spanish-born textile and fashion designer Fortuny (1871-1949) studied many of the arts: painting, sculpture and photography. His interest in the effects of lighting led to creating stage sets for opera and the theater.  Between 1901 and 1934 he registered more than 20 inventions for stage lighting systems and machinery for the production of textiles.

His fascination with textiles came from his father’s collection of fabrics-including samples of antique materials- and his mother’s preference for the textures and colors of Morocco.

Attuned to all aspects of fabric printing he produced many of his own dyes and stencils, never using the exact design and color palette twice.  Most of his work was monochromatic-the most notable exceptions were block-printed or stenciled designs with gilt or silver pigments.  His material of choice was silk because of its quality, texture and variety of forms and his simple, classic designs were functional as well as non-restricting, which was far removed from the fitted gowns of his contemporaries. 

With doubt his most famous design (1907) was the Delphos dress, a simple, pleated, satin silk that he reproduced for over 40 years.  The finely pleated silk material was sewn in a cylindrical shape with holes for arms and head.  All dresses reached the floor, covering the feet.  An optional belt could be worn at the waist or under the bust.  These dresses were stored by being rolled lengthwise, twisted from both ends creating a coil and placed in a small hat box, which preserved the pleating.  He patented this pleating process in 1909, building a factory in 1922 which is still in operation today.

 Similar in design are these lamps created by Ayala Serfaty in 1984. They were made of hand-dyed, custom crushed Indian silk in a range of rich colors and neutrals and featured in an article “Leading Lights” by Polly Guerin in Art and Antiques magazine, June 2006.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The House of Givenchy

A Change at the Top

This year Clare Waight Keller, an English-born designer. was hired by Philippe Fortunato, chief executive of Givenchy, to become the first woman to hold the position of Artistic Director of women’s and men” ready-to-wear, haute couture and accessory collections.

Hubert de Givenchy  was a student of the Beaux-Arts, studying and working with other famous designers at a time when noted fashion houses  used their designs as  property of the “company”.  Young designers , in order to gain recognition,  began creating collections of their own and showing their collections at various venues much smaller in scale than the lavish “fashion week” showings offered by the “big” houses.

In 1952 Givenchy founded and launched a collection called “Les Separables”, the first designer to create luxury ready-to-wear. The collection received great acclaim from sources such as Vogue, NY times and Album du Figaro.  It was at this time when middle class buyers were demanding high quality and the same fashion aesthetic accorded to couture clothing, which was, of course, sold at a much greater price point.  Realizing the potential of this new purchasing market would change the face of international fashion as it was known at the time.  Fashion houses were being combined under the auspices of financial entrepreneurs, commonly called “kings”, and the pressure was now profit driven.

In 1969 the House of Givenchy developed a fashion line for men and further diversified with shoes, jewelry, table wear and upholstery and in !976 established their flagship store in New York on 5th Avenue. 

In 1988 Givenchy joined the powerful and influential LVMH (Louis Vitton, Moet and Hensley).

Hubert retired from  the company in 1995.

Interlink Books, Northampton, MA, 2014

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Celebrating Italian Design

A Tribute to Italian Design

While we were in Milan ( see my blog on  Milan fashion week) wandering and window shopping I spied the most awesome store front in the plaza across from the famous La Scala Opera House.  The first floor of a block-long building showed the interior of a high-end haberdashery shop.  Through the windows the public could see stacks of fabrics, masses of buttons, zippers and all manner of sewing accessories.  This display was so realistic that many people tried to enter the building.  I admit, I would have spent days and days within.  But, of course, none of this wonderment was real.  It was the most clever fa├žade celebrating  Italian  design.  There were other public displays to be found around the city featuring design in many areas.

This is another Italian Design display found in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  This ornate shopping arcade has a floor plan on the shape of a Latin cross.  Mosaics represent the continents of Asia, Europe, America and Africa and the glass and metal ceiling was the first in Italy to be structural rather than merely decorative.  This display, in front of the Prada flagship store, featured Italy’s great reputation as jewelers to the world.  Renaissance figures adorned billboard-sized panels, dressed in finery, and, of course, their fabulous jewels.  The jewels were showcased in three dimensions .

You just never know what you might encounter.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Italian Fashion Week- Milan

Milan Fashion Week

We recently returned from a short trip to Italy, beginning with Milan during Fashion Week.  Milan, capital of the Lombardy region in northern Italy which stretches from the Alps bordering Switzerland to the flat plain of the river Po, is both the financial and fashion capital of Italy.  A fashion design rival of both New York and Paris, Milan hosted more than 60 fashion shows and more than 80 presentations with  800 showrooms throughout the city.  “This is an Italian city of progress and change” stated “King” Giorgio Armani.

Before a glimpse at the fashions for spring, 2028, let’s take a walk through the so-called “fashion quadrilateral” ( Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni. And Via sant’Andrea). Flagship stores from Armani to Versache  along with many independent boutiques offer a window-shoppers dream.  The one word I thought of as I viewed the fall and winter displays was “texture”.  Designs were often of several fabrics, heavily textured (some bulky).  The addition of animal furs ( and hair) both faux and real  added additional layers which, at times appeared to be in their natural state.  Long rovings of slightly curly fleece-like material hung from the waist or hem of garments.  (I called this the “wet English sheep-dog look”)  Other trimmings were fine textured, obviously synthetic and highly colored, Even handbags could not escape this furry look.



But you did not have to spend your Euros in the up-scale establishments, as the market stalls offered much cheaper versions.

The promise of Spring was similar but slightly more refined.  Plaids and checks from head to toe and multicolored jackets worn with cowboy boots.  But there was also shimmer and glitz with Armani’s shiny black suits and iridescent fabrics from Gucci.  But fear not, fringe was still shown , now floating on the hemline of long dresses.

Though those of us who do not walk the red carpets , do not greet heads of state, nor jet around the world with valets to care for their wardrobes can still appreciate these outpourings of fashion creativity.  The “trickle-down effect” soon reaches the ready-to-wear consumers and don’t we all want to be in fashion?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Spider Silk Sweater

Spider Silk

On the outside of the patio door to my office is a huge spider web.  I would say about 18 inches in diameter and tethered  to various hanging baskets.  The spider responsible is an enormous orange garden spider who appears occasionally in the center of the web, otherwise I don’t know where it resides, which, I admit makes me nervous when I’m outside.  I don’t like spiders at all, but “Goldie” is living outside and her web is so delicate and intricate that I find myself looking at it often.

                                            fabric swatch   American, cotton, c 1930

Many years ago I was writing an introductory course on Textile History  (Textiles 101, if you will) and prepared a lecture on little-known animal fibers.  Several animals produce silk filaments, of course Bombyx mori is the most notable, but certain mollusks, insects, as well as my “unfriends” the arachnids. 

According to the Roman poet, Ovid, Arachne was widely noted for her weaving skills and challenged the goddess Athena to a contest, which, apparently she won hands-down.  Now Athena was never known to be a gracious loser and in a rage of envy destroyed Arachne’s beautiful tapestry.  In despair, Arachne tried to hang herself , but was transformed by Athena into a spider.

As silk producers, arachnids ( nearly 300 million years ago) far preceded the silk “worm”.
The physical properties are very impressive.  Different species produce silk of varying characteristics.  Spider attachment discs are made of a strong glue to secure the draglines and framelines.  Certain species produce a dragline silk that is stronger by weight to steel, surpassing Kevlar.  This excellent tensile strength has been suggested that a pencil thick strand of silk could stop a 747 in flight., and its elasticity is superior to Nylon.  Some silks are good insulators, while some absorb water, and some are water resistant.  The reason insects, when in contact with a web, cannot escape their demise is as special silken thread called “cribellate” which forms a fine sticky mat combed atop the more substantial silk tract. 

Historically, several cultures have used spider silk medicinally , as well as for fishing nets  There have been attempts to use the silk for textiles in the early 1700’s but the care of the living spiders proved too difficult.  Speaking of difficult, in the 1800’s spider silk was reeled directly from harnessed spiders.  The military has long investigated spider silk for strong lightweight materials.

DuPont’s advertisement in the Scientific American of July 1996 tells that they were studying these biopolymer structures of spider webs by using recombinant DNA technology.  I had not heard more about this research until several years ago while attending a Textile Society conference, I met a retired chemist who had worked for DuPont.  She told me a fellow chemist had resurrected these studies.  So maybe, we shall see spider filament for use in textiles.

For me, a spider silk  sweater, NO WAY!!!!