Monday, November 25, 2013

Edward Steichen & Art Deco Fashion

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Model wearing a black tulle headdress by Suzanne Talbot and a brocade coat with a black fur collar 1925

Now that the spring racing carnival is over, I am left scratching my head for topics to post on. But as I did take the opportunity to go the current exhibition at the Victorian National Gallery last Wednesday I'll give you a short review of what was on offer .

I know I have written that I am not interested in fashion, but this is not strictly true, as in my younger days I loved old clothes, and even today I can appreciate beautiful fabrics and stylish costumes.

As Art Deco is my favourite style,  I just had to go along to the exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, which features the photography of Edward Steichen, photographer to the beautiful and famous in the 1920s and 30s. He was the official photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair, and is renowned, not only for portraits, but also fashion photography.

As well as photographs there was a display of  garments from the period, and I am here to attest that they were all stunning, both in design and manufacture.

If you consider the  girls in their frocks and fascinators during the spring racing carnival, their clothes are dull and uninspiring compared to the stylish creations of the 1920s and 30s.  The gowns of the Jazz Age were designed to party in, the skirts cut in such a way that they flared, sparkled and swang when dancing. The fabrics were gorgeous: silk, velvet and spangles combined to create glamour and also provide comfort and freedom of movement.

Back in the 1960s you could still find 1920s and 30s dresses in op shops, but they’re scarce these days. I used to have a couple of beautifully cut crepe dresses and also a black dress with gold lace which could date back to the Jazz Age. The below picture is of me pretending to be a vampire or something at a Space Age Books party, wearing said costume.

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As for the photographs, there were 200 of them to look at. Steichen was very particular about the lighting of his subjects and he was a master at it. There was a short film of Steichen at work in his studio, photographing a dancer, which was interesting to watch. He used gelatine plates for his photos, and had a trained technician standing by to quickly insert and extract the plates in a primitive “burst” mode to capture the dancer’s movements.

I found the exhibition to be interesting and absorbing, and well worth going to see.

To finish this post here’s one of Edward Steichen’s iconic photographs – of Gloria Swanson.

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Gloria Swanson 1934

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