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Alexandra

For a Body Nobody Ever Had -- fashion and aesthetics

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Not directly dance-related, but this article in today's New York Times should get some feathres flying:

For a Body That Nobody Ever Had

"EXTREME BEAUTY: The Body Transformed" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute may be the ultimate fashion survey. It is at once a celebration and an indictment of fashion. It

reveals both the artistry and the perversity of

fashion designers. It demonstrates the powerful pull and aesthetic coherence created by ideals of physical beauty. Yet, because these ideals tend to concern the fairer sex, the show also exposes their linkto misogyny and self-loathing."

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/07/arts/design/07SMIT.html

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I read the article too, Alexandra. It was hard not to notice the piece with that stunning but uncomfortable looking blue dress alongside it. That's a show I'm definitely going to see.

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Once again, I'm soooo jealous. I would love to see that exhibit. Maybe they'll do a book.

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Don't be too jealous, the fashion institute is in the basement of the Met, their installations are horrid, and I'm sure the show makes better copy than viewing.

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As someone who has worked in costume shops most of my professional life, viewing costumes in a basement is a familiar and usual experience. And I don't remember the installations being that bad when I used to go regularly as a college student. It does not surprise me that costumes would be an after thought as an art form. I struggle against that stereotype all the time.

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The last few exhibits I have attended have not been horrid at all. This one is the first flight of a very talented, very experienced new director of the Institute and the review was most encouraging! I am happy to say that the show runs through mid-March.... (I just returned tonight from a buying trip and wasn't able to attend.) The emphasis is on the body as a vehicle for aesthetic transformation--it looks very, very interesting---

and LMCtech is right--costumers are used to operating in subterranean levels, doing our own peculiar forms of transformation wink.gif Actually, this show is more fashion than costumes, per se.....the exhibition catalogue is supposedly very well done.

[ December 07, 2001: Message edited by: Juliet ]

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I will of course defer to other views, other tastes, "De gustibus non disputandum est."

The Constume Institute, notwithstanding the above disclaimer, is (in my opinionated opinion) 7th Avenues dubious contribution to the MET. An entity dedicated to the dubious proposition that fashion deserves the treatment of "high" art. In this vein we have also recently seen the Guggenheim mount a retrospective on none other than that great modern artist, Georgio Armani. That followed the Guggenheim's other blockbuster show: "The Art of the Motorcycle" (which, by the way, included a workshop featuring Ethan Stiefel). I also remember the MET's show featuring Jackie Kennedy's wardrobe, clearly of equal weight with the Pyramid of Giza and Aristotle Contempating the Bust of Homer!

I'm an enfant terrible on this subject, I know. In fact, few things are more revealing about the aesthetic and culture of an era than its dress. Culture all hangs together -- the flowing Roman fashions of Madame de Recamier's period in the Napoleonic empire, for example, are all of a piece with its other aesthetics, its ideas, its archeticture and its painting. Home furnishings and decoration are also extremely revealing in this connection. I suppose that the MET is a wide enough context to include this. But Georgio Armani at the Guggenheim -- that I just can't stomach.

[ December 08, 2001: Message edited by: Michael1 ]

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This is of course where a costume designer and builder will differ.

I have always been more interested in the skill and talent it takes to make and design textile objects that serve a function than a painting which serves none. Part of that is because it is a genre that I understand because I work in it. I think beautifully crafted articles of clothing, be they ancient or off of last weeks runway show, ARE art, and deserve a place in the museums of the world.

We are entering the oft debated realm of "art" vs. "craft". There is no resolution, I think. Some will agree with you, Michael, and some with me, and that is great ( I love a good debate). I only wish to be given the option of seeing great clothes in a formal non-retail setting. There is of course no arena for that here in SF and I so rarely get to New York. And that is why I'm jealous.

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The other day Iman was interviewed on the "Today" show with respect to her new book. The book is a collection of photos and essays written by different people. One of the points Iman stressed in the interview was how sad it was that there is so much emphasis placed on the external body leading to a terrible crisis of confidence among the vast majority of women who cannot hope to have the perfect exterior of a fashion model. She confessed that even she had succumbed to having to live up to an image she couldn't fulfil naturally - she admitted to having had breast implants.

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One of the depressing things about the emphasis on a particular look in women is that it makes even the physical aristocrats among us feel bad about themselves. Well, I guess it's an improvement over foot binding.

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I find it interesting that we all talk about body image and the gross things done to conform to fashion like it is a new thing. A retrospective like this shows me that this isn't a new thing. We've been doing this to ourselves for centuries. You'd think we'd learn...

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So why do we do it? Because male designers/photographers/magazine editors/publicists think women should look a certain way? (Men have had some ridiculous-looking fashions, but they haven't had to wear anything positively unhealthy since high-heels for men in the 17th c.) Women have been corseted to the point where they couldn't breathe and could barely hold themselves upright uncorseted. Women have been "forced" to wear shoes that give them a lot of pain AND ruined their feet and possibly helping to cause them to have major problems walking in old age. Women have been forced to starve themselves or (as now) to exercise rigorously to work off every meal they eat. Women have been forced to undergo painful surgery to correct the 'flaws' of genetics. (Even Iman did this.)

If it's not the fault of the designers, etc., is it the fault of the women themselves for slavishly following fashion?

I think the "powers" have decreed that an imperfect woman is not going to make a perfect mate, so men are hypercritical of any flaw they perceive in a woman. If she isn't perfect then she's not going to make a perfect wife/mother/vessel to carry on his genes.

I know that this sounds like a gross exaggeration, but I have a fashion-conscious colleague who attended a medical convention with her then-boyfriend at a luxurious hotel. One day while waiting for an elevator to take her to their room, she was stopped by a man who told her that she was a "very attractive woman" but it was "too bad that her appearance was spoiled" by a broken fingernail (which had just happened - and she was actually on her way to fix it). She exploded! But this is indicative of the way at least some men view women.

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Not only men, felursus. Similar comments can and have be heard from women to women (and I suppose, from women to men, and men to men - at least I have no reason to think otherwise). There are fools, and slaves of fashion, in both genders, and in all social classes. Sexual attraction of course pays a role, but it goes both ways, and women are not at all in a passive role in that.

Maybe in some cultures, or in ours in the history, it might have been men who told women what to do and how to dress. But in the modern world I, as a woman, think that I should feel ashamed of myself if I blamed "the men" for my follies and quirks. I am free to choose, and it's my fault if I don't choose as I know to be right.

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felursus, I think in many ways it's the women who are more to "blame" than the men are.

Most of the great paintings have full figured women, the kind with curves. It's women who have bought the fashions that sometimes the men create and we still do.

Some women still wear "corset" types to create the hourglass they want. The high heels, they hurt like heck, but my job doesn't require me to wear them, but sometimes I like to.

There will always be "weight" issues, but that all comes down to self acceptance, which is why I think we see this shift towards the yoga movement of finding self, albeit through wearing Christy Turlingtons new fashions!

If we look at ballet in this respect, we have a large group of women squeezing themselves into corset like costumes and wearing shoes even worse than heels!

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Calliope, while I don't wish to suggest that men are responsible for everything bad that happens to women or that women have no autonomy, it is a fact that these images of women we're discussing result from women conforming to men's visions of how they should look and be and act and not vice versa. Alas.

In the same vein, Robert Gottlieb turns from ballet to the brassiere, in his review of a new book on the history of the bra, for the Observer:

http://www.observer.com/pages/book2.asp

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I don't know, is it really a fact that women conformed to men's ideas?

Let's take the corset. I believe the ancestory of it dates back to the Greeks and it was used as a support to the weak muscles of women's lower backs when they carried things.

It transitioned primarily during Elizabethian times into more of a fashion. With women competing for a more cinched waist than that of her neighbor.

Heels, I think most women wear them to appear taller or have the calf look longer.

Maybe I missed the point of the posts, but I don't think you can overly blame one sex or another, but we women have certainly pushed for some of the fashion we now have.

If we talk about body image. That's a self issue. I know people think that if you look at a model, you want to be that thin, but I don't think that's overwhelmingly the case. That arguement is no different than violence in movies or video games. The views come from something far deeper inside a person's psyche. I'm getting a bit off course...

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And then, of course, there were the Men's Stays for 18th and 19th-century fine gentlemen to present the proper silhouette. They continued to wear them, if you consult old Sears catalogues well into the 1930s, and longer, gradually replacing the name "Men's girdle" with "back brace". wink.gif

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