Regional differences, socio-economic and political factors, cultural variations, and climate all had a direct effect on clothing choices for those who lived throughout the expansive Silk Roads areas. Scholars, aristocrats, government officials, craftsmen, and farmers adopted a manner of dress appropriate for their immediate environment in medieval Central Asia. Although sparse, historical information regarding dress in the Eastern Islamic lands was usually provided by writers, geographers, and travelers. Differences in the style, finish, and quantity of materials were apparent in clothing of the rich and poor. During this time, Khurasan was a renowned center for silk, wool, and cotton textiles, while Nishapur was noted for its cotton cloth, scarves, and turbans that were often exported to Iraq and Egypt. In some societies, felt was used to make cloaks, saddlecloths, and rain hats. Moreover, the fur of sables, grey squirrels, ermines, and other animals were essential materials for garments, for the Mongols, the Turks of the steppes, as well as dignitaries in Persia. Similar to present day, Mongols in the 13th century wore a soft material belt wrapped tightly around the waist. This served as an unstiffened corset, helping to maintain posture while horse riding during long journeys.
The oldest piece of silk from this region originated in the Samanid period, and was woven for a ruler in Khurasan. The transnational fluidity of ideas, concepts, and savoir-faire is evident with the presentation of articles from Khurasan to the Harun al-Rashid (786-809) court in Bagdad. These tribute items included silk clothing, white robes, and head coverings, amongst others. Individuals belonging to a higher social class often wore clothing made of silk, wool, and expensive furs, while those of the lower classes would possibly use heavy outer coats made from dog or goatskins, lined with linen or cotton. Mongol women wore long trousers under their sack-like garments, and tall, basket-like hats covered with a piece of cloth. Married women wore a type of kaftan (“nemreg”) that was wide and slit in front down to the ground. During the ninth century, wealthy merchants often wore the “taylasan” (a head-shawl whose end did not fall below the chin). However, the lower classes did not wear this garment. Cooks wore garments resembling boiler suits, traders and artisans wore loose-fitting garments, and farmers wore thick cotton dresses with colorful turbans. “Muhtasibs” (municipal inspectors) monitored the state and cleanliness of dress. Most towns had their textile specialties, such as “mulham”, the half-silk cloth of Merv. Bukhara, with its famed weaving factories, produced various kinds of silk cloth, known as “Bukhari”. This fabric was heavy, strong, and often bought in large quantities by international communities.
Cloth-making required specific skills, such as the ability to process the hides, manufacture thread, and a knowledge of stitching techniques. Products obtained from livestock remained the primary raw material of the craft industries. Sheep’s wool was used to manufacture felt, while belts, harnesses, headgear, clothing, and footwear were made from the skins of domesticated livestock. In nomadic societies, herders generally only made items that met immediate requirements related to climate, lifestyle, and transience, such as “bogtogs”, or headdresses. Although successors of Genghis Khan wore gold-woven robes, sometimes embellished with precious jewels, pearls, and gold, previous dress had consisted mainly of animal skins. Sack-like garments that were loose on the left side, and tied at the shoulder on the right side, were common. The “deli”, a robe with seamless shoulders, is an example. Although the concept remains the same, “delis”, as well as many other garments from the Silk Roads that date from the 10th to 13th centuries, have continued to evolve and gain complexity, while maintaining their unique characteristics.
Although intercultural exchanges involving tea developed between European ports, such as those in Portugal, and the Far East from 16th century onwards, tea-drinking is believed to have it origins rooted in southern Asia, dating to the Han period. It was first used as a medicinal elixir concocted from untreated green leaves. However, by the T’ang period, tea was enjoyed as a refreshing beverage, prepared from leaves that had been moistened and formed into a dense mold. Anecdotes dating to the 8th century reveal how the city of Chang-an had a flourishing number of tea shops, and many touted the health benefits of tea rather than wine.
These intercultural exchanges were the direct result of the expansive network of maritime and land routes that explorers, missionaries, physicians actively travelled across. By embarking on such journeys, they were also able to transmit elements of Western culture to the Far East, which were later transformed and reconceptualized by those regions, according to their specific aesthetic preferences. As a result of this transnational fluidity between diverse regions and populations along the Silk Roads, significant sociocultural imprints and innovative developments related to tea consumption eventually appeared in the West. Such activity permitted the free flow of ideas, goods, and concepts – the effects of which are still experienced internationally throughout contemporary society.
Dynamic exchanges and sociocultural developments concerning tea were often closely associated with everyday life, daily rituals, spirituality, and community. In some cases, consuming tea was even associated with the Taoist notions involving extraordinary psychic-spiritual and physical effects. Therefore, tea soon made an entrance into creative spheres, including poetry and literature. As a result, its popularity quickly rose throughout the Far East, with poets and artists writing about the pleasures of tea, tea customs, and traditions.
Thus, an aesthetic culture developed around tea-drinking, and achieved a considerable amount of notoriety, especially in medieval Japan in the 14th and 15th centuries. Artists such as Murata Shuko, Takeno Joo, and Sen Rikyu developed a particular approach that was characterized by the term “wabi”, or frugality. The art of the “wabi” tea ceremony, or “chado” (“the way of tea”), was borne out of a synthesis of various Japanese aesthetic and religious traditions. Over time, it continued to exert its influence on intercultural dialogue and exchanges. The art of tea was not only passed down through generations, but it was diffused to the West and across various continents. The powerful sociocultural elements embedded in tea were due to its ability to develop and solidify community bonds.
Tea was first exported from Macau through Malacca. It then passed from Manila to the Indian sub-continent before reaching the West. Cultures and regions around the world have continued to adapt the ubiquitous product according to their own societal norms. Similar to that of the Chinese culture, tea is often associated with pre-engagement rituals between a future bride and groom. The British and Dutch also incorporated the beverage into their lifestyles, where it developed connotations linked to hospitality, mutual understanding, local tradition, and community. Bento de Gois, Italian missionary, Sabatino de Ursis, and Italian cartographer, Matteo Ricci are examples of individuals during the 16th and 17th centuries who actively explored unknown regions in the Far East in order to gather knowledge, understanding, and appreciation. Their experiences abroad were later transmitted and incorporated into elements of western society and traditions.
Moreover, in the Portuguese language, “cha” is derived from the Cantonese pronunciation of the word, while “tha” and “tea” are derivatives of the Fukinese dialect. The transcendent power of tea as a beverage and renowned universal concept, is visibly translated in old teas salons on Rua Nova de El-Rei (also known as Avenida do Cinco de Outubro), as well as houses typical to Macau. These tea salons referenced Mediterranean urban structures, built around squares and cobblestoned streets, and were reminiscent of European cities. Thus, the transmission of tea to other regions of the world was possible due to the cultural significance it carried, both as a product and a concept. Positive connotations associated with tea and its benefits still exist in contemporary society, due to the active exchange of ideas, concepts, and goods along the Silk Roads, and beyond.
I met Russian artist Oleg Sheludyakov (b. 1971) while we were both living in Berlin, Germany several years ago. His gentle, unassuming nature complemented the intensity of his gaze, revealing a highly intuitive, introspective individual whose visual language matches his intellectualism. As a friend and avid supporter, I have followed his artistic journey and continue to remain inspired by his ability to evolve. The artist currently resides in Marseille, France. His work was recently part of the Yellow Butterfly Effect exhibition in his Siberian hometown of Novosibirsk, Russia.
I asked Sheludyakov to describe when he decided to embark on this particular journey, and it would seem that he was always destined to become a professional painter. In 1977 his parents enrolled him in Kaleidoscope Fine Art School for children. He recounted with nostalgia being completely enchanted by the ambiance of the atelier with its fresh smell of paint, life-like plaster models, magical paint brushes, colorful palettes, and a profusion of art history books – a veritable Paradise on Earth. It was during these formative years that Sheludyakov decided to embark on a non-traditional professional path.
The artist’s trajectory has been susceptible to frequent oscillations and shifts in forward momentum. However, it has never diverged far from its intended course. At the age of 17, he began his studies in architecture at the Novosibirsk Engineering Institute and later graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Humanities from Novosibirsk State University in 1995. He then studied monumental painting at Novosibirsk Fine Arts and Architectural Academy and drawing at the Fine Arts Academy in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Sheludyakov’s paintings clearly reflect his Russian sensibilities lightly dusted with French influences – a charming combination which reinforces the enigmatic nature of his work and clearly distinguishes him from other contemporary artists. Over the years, the prolific painter has capitalized on a vast artistic repertoire and solid work ethic. His work is deeply personal, reflecting profound intellectual and artistic growth.
The artist’s signature work reflects a very specific iconography and complex visual lexicon, with extensive references to his native Russia. He has masterfully implemented particular subjects, images, and applied techniques which faithfully appear as leitmotif. The nu féminin (female nudes), seaside and urban landscapes, nautical themes, music, animals and a profusion of cobalt blue throughout are primary examples.
With half of his international clientele preferring the nu féminin, Sheludyakov’s work is constantly evolving and reflects a deep appreciation of the female form. This fact intrigued me, and I was interested in the specific demographics of those who purchase his nu féminin. External variables such as age, nationality, and profession vary widely – from students to investment bankers. Sensitive to feminine beauty, Russians tend to be the most frequent buyers, followed by Germans, French, and Americans, who often purchase his most expensive works.
Subject, style, color palette, and technique afford a clear, visible translation of human emotion and themes. The vast spectrum may range from pure, gentle and harmonious to somber, expressive, and frenetic. With a large percentage of his work explicitly devoted to the creation of the nu féminin, I was curious as to origins of this admiration. His response was both philosophical and poetic. The artist believes very few things rival the ethereal beauty of this particular genre. He is careful to define beauty within the realm of abstract or conceptual theories. By respecting the boundaries between intangibility and physicality during the creative process, Sheludyakov is able to explore the origins of beauty, grace, femininity, elegance, harmony, and sensuality without restraint. The question remains as to how Sheludyakov chooses his models. Selection of nude models is surprisingly uncomplicated — acquaintances, friends, or family members, for example. It is simply a matter of identifying specific traits unique to each individual, and then accurately translating those traits into a cohesive image.
Sheludyakov only has one exception: professional models. Through experience, their body has become a logical, physical tool which remains distinctly detached from their authentic self. This ultimately limits emotional emancipation and decreases the possibility of unveiling the true, feminine essence. Although this degree of professionalism is highly admirable, the artist prefers the innocence of amateur models. Sheludyakov is known to be a prolific painter, so I asked about the duration of the entire process. He stated that creative processes vary from beginning to end. For example, the technical aspects of creating a nu féminin are somewhat similar to that of painting landscapes or producing images from the imagination.
However, the existential journey inherent to the production of a nu féminin is unrivalled due to lasting emotional bonds between subject and painter; painter and canvas. Commissioning live models facilitates the creative process by guiding line, form, and volume. It is important to remain vigilant so as to avoid producing flat, naturalistic work. Thus, understanding the difference between the physicality of form and a more profound, metaphysical side is essential.
The same holds true for landscapes. The immediate perception of colors, interpretation, and subsequent translation of experiences is more powerful during the plein-air painting process. Sheludyakov attempts to expedite the entire process in order to retain a certain freshness and spontaneity. For acrylic works, three to four days is sufficient. However, oil paintings require more finesse, averaging approximately ten days.
Once the paintings are finished, Sheludyakov lovingly releases them to the public with an open heart. When asked to define an exceptional painting, in general, the artist confidently stated that a true chef-d’oeuvre is the antithesis of indifference because it evokes admiration and encourages reflection. This type of work reaches deep emotional depths of the spectator and ultimately has the power to inspire others.
I recently obtained my third Master of Arts degree in Global Communications from the American University of Paris, and I have conducted extensive doctoral research about the effects of globalization on the Opéra national de Paris, so I was curious as to how the current international climate has personally affected Sheludyakov. It is evident that the globalized economy has transformed the art market, artists, and artistic production.
The notion of evolution is a salient topic which artists cannot ignore. Remaining in an isolated sphere is no longer a viable option or lucrative alternative. Sheludyakov is clearly aware of this paradigm shift in contemporary society and adopts a philosophical approach. Since creativity does not exist in a vacuum, artistic evolution is directly linked to inevitable transformation, active exploration, and ultimate change defined within the context of relevant sociocultural parameters – even if this approach may sometimes lead to an impasse.
Unfortunately, the sale of Sheludyakov paintings has suffered due to globalization and the inevitable democratization of the art market. Throughout the 1990’s until the early 2000’s, there was a strong appreciation for Russian contemporary artists. Since then, interest in Russian art has decreased significantly. In addition, the internet is saturated with artists of every genre, rendering it difficult to clearly differentiate one’s brand. Fortunately, Sheludyakov has maintained a close circle of faithful collectors and gallerists over the years. This is partially due to a resistance to short-term trends, increased online visibility that has been carefully nurtured, and complete confidence in the creative process.
Less is More: The Evolution of my Aesthetic Preferences
Universally accepted socio-cultural codes are inherently cross-generational. They have always existed, whether firmly stated, gently whispered, or clearly implied. Interest in the complex interrelationship between fashion, art, and society began very early and continue to evolve. Although I am from southern California, I have spent a significant amount of time living abroad learning how to adapt – and not assimilate – my own preferences to those of the culture that embraces me.
I am always eager to find a way to merge my interests into a cohesive, external shell that most accurately reflects my authentic self. The iconic Coco Chanel and Audrey Hepburn have always provided inspiration for me with their natural grace and understated elegance. I tend to agree with the renowned architect, Mies van der Rohe: “Less is More”.
Over the years, I have become more flexible and tastes have been gently transformed without sacrificing my fundamental values. Having lived in a multitude of international cities including Paris, Florence, Berlin, Toronto, and London, I have been fully immersed in other societies, appreciating the subtle nuances of cultural norms, linguistic codes, and acceptable attire while still protecting my core sensibilities. Therefore, I am always eager to find a way to merge those interests into a cohesive, external shell that most accurately reflects my authentic self.
When I am at home in southern California, I am encapsulated in a sunny world of cool, ocean breezes and beautiful, sandy beaches. Therefore, I tend to adopt a minimalistic approach. It is only appropriate that I slip into an airy sundress and sandals. However, working at the Opéra national de Paris – Palais Garnier, and now at Rémy Cointreau on Haussmann Boulevard in Paris, requires a more conservative approach with elements of controlled creativity.
Although I was raised in a family with strong ties to the Armed Forces, I ultimately attended a Quaker boarding school. The complex interrelationship between the individual, socially acceptable dress codes, and attitude were rather dramatic, to say the very least. At home, we fervently adhered to the old adage, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” in all aspects of life. There was no higher compliment than to be referred to as someone who was “neat and tidy”. Even now, I feel most comfortable in clothes that are easy to wear with simple, clean lines and monochromatic colors.
My adopted Quaker environment was diametrically opposed to strict military standards, both in lifestyle and ideology. Fashion was relatively non-existent, but individual expression, creativity, and curiosity were highly laudable traits. At first, I was uncertain about the unabashed enthusiasm that erupted over the mixing of fabrics, textures, colors, and proportions. I found myself questioning the taste and sanity of classmates and professors who seemed to have reached a soothing state of nirvana in their wrinkled trousers, colorful scarves, and comfortable Birkenstocks.
Karl Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture Spring Collection held at the Grand Palais Paris is January 2017 is an accurate reflection of my aesthetic preferences with the feminine silhouettes and cinched-in waists. The luxurious fabrics and embellishments elevate the ensembles. Yet, there is something quite conservative and inherently minimalistic about the heritage collection.
Trends have never peaked my curiosity, but the timelessness and enduring traits of an exceptional product never cease to inspire me. It has been a natural progression that has attracted me to internationally renowned French heritage brands which reflect discreet, understated elegance. Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel are clear examples of brands which value quality, excellence, and craftsmanship while providing effortless style.
Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun: Portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Courtly Life
Élisabeth Louise Vigée le Brun still remains a relatively unknown female artist belonging to the Age of Enlightenment despite having achieved many notable successes. Born in 1755 during the reign of Louis XV, Vigée le Brun was raised in a family of artists who introduced her to the world of painting and fine art. She is perhaps most renowned for her portraits of Marie-Antoinette. However, she was never fully celebrated in France until the 21st century when the Grand Palais devoted an entire exhibition to the artist and her work.
Vigée Le Brun’s idealized representations of the Queen offer an innocent, serene, and spiritual interpretation of courtly life while highlighting the essence of royalty. Marie-Antoinette en grand habit de cour (1778) was the artist’s first official portrait which shows the Queen en grand panier. She is dressed in a voluminous, luxurious, white satin gown with exquisite golden tassels and trimming as her gaze is averted to the right. Her intricate lace bodice with princess seams and three-quarter length sleeves is carefully adorned with white, satin bows. This whiteness mirrors the paleness of her translucent, white flesh. A sophisticated feather hat sits atop Marie-Antoinette’s elegant coiffure. The Queen’s stance is both intimidating and gracious as she poses in the corner of a stately room holding one pink rose. Her crown rests inconspicuously upon a purple cushion embroidered with golden fleur-de-lis. It is situated next to a vase of pale pink, purple, and white flowers.
During this time, 18th century women began to opt for the robe chemise in mousseline cotton which did not require an obtrusive panier. These simplified garments were designed from one piece of fabric. They were preferred for their comfort and ease of movement. Vigée Le Brun’s portrait of Marie-Antoinette, La reine vêtue d’une robe chemise, was shown at the 1783 Salon, an exhibition space for the Royal Academy. The Queen appears in a white, cotton “peasant dress” with a transparent, golden sash tied around her waist. Her relaxed curls are topped by a simple, straw-feathered hat with blue satin ribbon. She fixes her soft gaze upon the spectator as she arranges a simple bouquet of flowers in her delicate hands.
Despite its charm, the portrait was deemed inappropriate and offensive by many due to the severe informality of a dress meant to be worn in the privacy of one’s boudoir. It was soon replaced by Marie-Antoinette à la rose, showing the queen in more traditional courtly attire.
In 1785, Vigée Le Brun was commissioned to paint a monumental portrait of the Queen. The portrait was to highlight the maternal characteristics of the Queen by having her appear with her three children. Marie-Antoinette et ses enfants (1787) shows a serene, benevolent Queen comfortably seated in a chair. Her feet rest upon a green cushion embroidered with golden arabesques. These same arabesques are mirrored in the multicolored Persian rug. Marie-Antoinette is clothed in red, stately, full-length gown with plunging décolleté edged in delicate white lace. Atop her simple coiffeur sits a stylish, red hat with white feathers and blue satin ribbon. Her outward gaze is confident, yet tranquil, as she loving embraces a restless baby on her lap, clothed in a white cap and gown with blue sash.
A blond-haired daughter with cherubic features, dressed in a similar velvet red gown with satin bows in blue and gold, lovingly gazes upward as she wraps her arms around her mother’s right arm. The third child is also elegantly clothed in a red velvet pant suit with white lace collar and blue satin sash. This piercing blue is reflected in every figure’s eyes. The child stands proudly next to a royal bassinet heavily draped in a deep, forest-green satin. The ensemble of voluminously-clothed figures is prominently arranged in a pyramidal form. This is in direct contrast to strong vertical lines created by the architectural columns and wooden cabinet situated in the background.
Due to the success of Marie-Antoinette en grand habit de cour, Vigée Le Brun was invited to paint a series portraits of the Queen. By varying the accessories, clothing, poses, and environment, the artist successfully highlighted certain inimitable characteristics of the Marie-Antoinette’s complex personality. This included her natural grace, elegance, and confidence. Vigée Le Brun’s portraits of the Queen also provided clear, invaluable insight into sociocultural norms which were visibly reflected in the representation of acceptable courtly attire.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Inspiration for Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017
Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Haute Couture 2017 collection, held in January 2017 at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, was a study in elegance, femininity, and sophistication. The line visibly referenced Le Colin-Maillard (1754-1756), or Blind Man’s Bluff, an eighteenth-century chef-d’oeuvre by French painter, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Similar to Fragonard, who painted a variety of subjects including landscapes, genres, historical, grand interiors, portraits, mythological tales of Antiquity, Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture 2017 reflected the same level of diversity. The Chanel collection combined luxurious materials such as silk, satin, and chiffon. Long, lean silhouettes were created with cinched-in waists, high-waisted trousers, and gentle A-line skirts. The subdued color palette of cream, shades of pale pink and yellow, and beige were gently anchored with silver and gold accessories or ostentatiously highlighted with a profusion ruffles, feathers, paillettes, and embroidery.
Lagerfeld masterfully utilizes classic Chanel iconography primarily consisting of wool and tweed while cleverly implementing the same libertinage themes as Fragonard. The superfluous, licentious style was pervasive during the Enlightenment. Although viewed as blatantly hedonistic, romance, sensuality, and utopian pastoral scenes were artificially disguised as gallantry within the context of a modernized society. This ultimately created a complete fragmentation and detachment from its supposed sentiment. Le Colin-Maillard was Fragonard’s first foray into pastoral paintings. He utilizes a soft color palette including pink, blue, white, green, and yellow to evoke an erotically-charged, pastoral environment popular amongst the aristocracy. The scene evokes a lush, flowering pastoral scene framed by a soft blue sky. It is a flirtatious, sensual setting in which a young shepherdess wearing fashionable, rustic attire playfully peeks through the bandage covering her eyes, presumably placed there by her lover.
Lagerfeld borrows the elegant shepherdess of Fragonard’s Le Colin-Maillard and recontextualizes the figure as an haute-couture model. In both genres, she is the dominant, central figure. Positioned in a gentle contrapposto, the twenty-first century model and eighteenth-century shepherdess animate the scene/defilé with graceful, elegant movements. The voluminous fabric of Lily-Rose Depp’s pink, chiffon dress is illuminated by a soft, gentle light originating from above. Fragonard’s blond-haired heroine with undulating curls dons an unassuming straw hat tipped in pink, while those of Lagerfeld’s models sit atop sleek chignons.
Throughout the defilé, it is evident that Lagerfeld’s Chanel haute couture line is inspired by Le Colin-Maillard’s shepherdess juxtaposed with contemporary society. Her white, billowing, cotton sleeves mirror the whiteness of the eye bandage, as well as the undergarments covering her bosom. Delicate pink chiffon contrasts the grayish-blue silk undergarment extending to her ankles. This blue is mirrored in the shepherdess’s satin ribbon shoelaces. The delicate bunch of wildflowers tucked into her bosom, and the wispy ribbon which adorns her neck, encapsulate the romantic essence of Lagerfeld’s haute couture défilé.
The implementation of the chiaroscuro technique, strategically executed with mirrors and lights, provides strong visible juxtapositions between two distinct realms. A contrived, neoclassical/Art Déco sphere with glass pedestals and mirrored floors contrasts with romantic, luxurious colors, fabrics, and textures. The former being solid, weighted, and rigid; the latter being light, voluminous, and lush. This concept is evident with both Lagerfeld’s and Fragonard’s selection of materials, soft color palette, and positioning of architectural objects.
Similar to the painting, strong diagonals are formed during the défilé – created by light sources emanating from above. Vertical and horizontal divisions are distinct throughout Lagerfeld’s clever mise-en-scène which utilizes mirror refraction. Strong, architectural lines and obliques created by the glass pedestals and mirrored floors contrast the lushness created by the profusion ruffles, feathers, paillettes, and embroidery. Wildflowers, trees, ivy, and billowing fabric adorning Fragonard’s shepherdess create a utopian arrière-plan.
About Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Born in Grasse, Fragonard (1732-1806), or “Frago”, is one of the most influential painters of the eighteenth century, especially during the years preceding the French Revolution. Fragonard began his training as a painter with Jean-Baptiste Chardin and later with François Boucher. Soon thereafter, he was recipient of the Grand Prix award in 1752 which subsequently led to his acceptance into the Royal Academy of Painting in 1765. A series of important paintings were commissioned over the course of his lifetime including L’Aurore triumphant de la Nuit (1755), Le Verrou (1775), Le Jeu de la main chaude (1775), and Renaud entre dans la forêt (1761).
Author: Jewel K. Goode
Faroult, Guillaume. Album de l’exposition du Musée du Luxembourg. Fragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin. Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais, 2015.
Karl Lagerfeld and the Opéra national de Paris: A multi-sensorial, artistic collaboration
The haute couture ballet costumes and set design for George Balanchine’s Brahms-Schönberg Quartet were created by Karl Lagerfeld for the Opéra national de Paris. Renowned dancers Bart Cook and Maria Calegari served as the choreographers, and I acted as the cultural liaison and assistant to choreographers, artists, and directors. The luxurious costumes reflect an innovative, collaborative approach to fashion in the rapidly evolving globalized community. Moreover, they fully activate the five senses while providing elements of fantasy of a bygone era. For, “There will never be a world without fantasy, which expresses the unconscious unfulfilled” (S. Kaiser, 1997).
This is an essential point, since art, fashion, and culture inhabit the same multi-sensorial landscape. They represent a constantly evolving visual language which must be effectively transmitted to spectators. Inaugurated in 1875, the OnP formerly represented an elitist Parisian society. The institution was historically linked to utopian images of wealth, power, prestige, and elegance. Therefore, Lagerfeld’s costume designs for each of Balanchine’s four acts needed to the encapsulate the Zeitgeit of the OnP. That essence was effectively transmitted through a consistent visual theme involving textures, costume accessories, and classical ballet silhouettes. A muted color palette of white, pale pink, and crème-orange created a bold visual juxtaposition with the monochromatic interjection of black and white details and piping. Traditionally feminine elements and curvilinear shapes were visible with velvet headpieces and armbands, satin ribbons, tulle/chiffon tutus, and bejeweled caps. These contrasted the straight lines and geometrical shapes traditionally considered masculine.
Lagerfeld conceptualized various sketches which were inspired by the Vienna Secession, an artistic movement established in 1897. Costumes were skillfully constructed in the OnP couture atelier according to Lagerfeld’s initial artistic intentions, but still allowed for subsequent modifications and adjustments of material, fabric, and accessories. Thus, costumes were individually adapted to each ballet dancer, taking into consideration rigorous choreographic maneuvers. They also accounted for other variables including lighting, sound, and stage conditions. This resulted in the creation of regal, yet fashionable costumes which contributed to the multi-sensorial landscape while integrating an advanced degree of technological innovation and functionality.
Lagerfeld’s extensive research resulted in the creation of tailored men’s black and white suede waistcoats, as well as folklore-inspired, embroidered headdresses. The women’s costumes included black and white bodices with princess seams in satin and velvet attached to voluminous tutus constructed of pink, orange, and white tulle/chiffon. Use of luxurious fabrics and detailed embroidery created a sophisticated, glamorous environment of classic, understated elegance. It also alluded to a previous era where clothing was symbolic of an individual’s social status and morality – whether actual or contrived. Lagerfeld’s set design purposefully evoked an ancient palace adorned with heavy, gray, floor-length drapery. This contrasted the color palette and texture of the costumes. Such an atmosphere was meant to reference the waning splendor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Artistic collaborations between the French heritage institution and fashion have steadily increased in the globalized economy. The OnP has hosted a variety of cultural events and fashion shows such as Stella McCartney and Dries van Noten. Moreover, the OnP has collaborated with renowned fashion designers including Christian Lacroix for George Balanchine’s Le Palais de cristal, and Yves Saint-Laurent for Roland Petit’s Notre-Dame de Paris. Recently, it has begun collaborative efforts with contemporary, avant-garde fashion designers such as Iris van Herpen for Benjamin Millepied’s Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, Alessandro Sartori for Millepied’s La nuit s’achève, and Mary Katranzou for Justin Peck’s Entre chien et loup.
Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was born into an aristocratic and intellectual family at the Palazzo Corsini in Rome, Italy. The Italian-born French couturière is best known for the quality and originality of her work infused with vibrant colors, intricate embroidery, architectural elements, bold prints, and pronounced textures. Yves Saint Laurent once commented on Schiaparelli’s profound success as an Italian in Paris: “Elle a gifflé Paris, elle l’a ensorcelé, et en retour Paris est tombé amoureux d’elle” (Baxter-Wright, p. 27). She brought an Italian sensibility to French haute-couture with cleverness, whimsy, femininity, and expertise. In addition, artistic collaboration with others allowed Schiaparelli to skillfully implement innovative techniques, materials, and various genres into her idiosyncratic designs.
Schiaparelli was oftentimes regarded as an artist as much as a designer. Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel’s statement reflects this sense of artistry, “… cette artiste italienne qui fait des vêtements (Baxter-Wright, p. 71). Schiaparelli soon caught the attention of renowned fashion design Paul Poiret, as well as Gabrielle Picabia, wife of Dadaist painter Francis Picabia. Her early work produced at the atelier in rue de l’Université consisted of geometrical designs and was considerably more conservative than later years. By 1927, Schiaparelli was catapulted to success with the creation of a hand-knit sweater with a black and white trompe l’oeil motif. It was immediately deemed an “artistic masterpiece” by Vogue and launched her career. This eventually led to the opening of her atelier on 4, rue de la Paix, “Schiaparelli – Pour le Sport” with designs seamlessly blending haute-couture and sportswear.
Schiaparelli’s spirit of entrepreneurialship and business acumen were apparent very early, as she surrounded herself with creative talents including: Meret Oppenheimer, Alberto Giacometti, Lesage, Jean Schlumberger, Lina Baretti, Jean-Michel Frank, Roger Vivier, and Marcel Vertès, among many others. Schiaparelli was the first woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1934. This marked the beginning of Schiaparelli’s experimentation with jewelry design, various motifs, aerodynamic cuts, intricate embroidery, bold colors, and innovative materials such as Swarowsky crystals, rhodophane, and crushed rayon crepe. Rhodophane is a transparent and fragile material which appears like glass, while crushed rayon crepe resembles tree bark. Her fragrance “S” was launched in 1928. Soon thereafter, a collection of three perfumes, Souci, Salut, and Schiap, was created in 1934. Schiaparelli’s designs attracted strong, independent women, as well as famous customers such as Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Vivien Leigh, and Wallis Simpson, the future Duchess of Windsor. Her designs were lauded for celebrating, not neglecting, the feminine form with nipped-in tops, bold lines, and skirts to flatter the real woman. Schiaparelli once commented, “Il ne faut pas adapter le vêtement au corps, mais faire en sorte que le corps s’adapte au vêtement” (Baxter-Wright, p. 89). In 1932, the Couture House was known as “Schiaparelli – Pour le Sport, Pour le Ville, Pour le Soir”, and later moved into its current location Hôtel de Fontpertuis at 21 place Vendôme in 1935.
Schiaparelli was continually inspired by illustrations, architecture, fantasy, the Italian Commedia dell’Arte, and the theatricality of Surrealism. During this period, she often collaborated with artists. She and Salvador Dalì created several controversial pieces, including “Squelette” (Skeleton Dress, 1938), and “Homard” (Lobster Dress, 1937), a recurrent theme in Dalì’s work which often had sexual connotations. It features a large, blood-red lobster motif on a simple, white dress, strategically located between the thighs. “Larmes” (Tears Dress, 1938) is part of the “Cirque” collection inspired by Dalì’s “Trois jeunes femmes surréalistes tenant dans leurs bras les peaux d’un orchestra” (1936). Designed just before the outbreak of World War II, the silk crêpe dress was created as a “mourning dress”, accompanied by a long veil and tears in a trompe l’oeil motif. Schiaparelli states, “Quand les temps sont difficile, la mode est toujours outrancières” (Baxter-Wright, p. 79). Other notable collaborations were with Jean Cocteau, whose drawings were featured on many of her designs, René Magritte (for the fragrance bottle inspired by his “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” painting), and Man Ray throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Schiaparelli was able to skillfully translate the utopian, dreamlike state of Surrealist imagery into her innovative designs, and was the first to give her collections a theme. Some of the clothes from this period included, “Stop, Look, and Listen” (1935), “Paris in 1937” (1937), and “Music” (1937). “Zodiac”, “Pagan”, and “Circus” were all created in 1938, and “Commedia dell’Arte” was created shortly thereafter (1939). Schiaparelli also served as costume designer for various Hollywood films including “Every Day’s a Holiday” (1937) and “Moulin Rouge” (1952). Much of her success was due to an ability to conceptualize and execute a broad range of items including bathing suits, sportswear such as the jupe-culotte, evening gowns, wrap dresses, hats, jewelry, and perfume.
Perhaps most significant was the creation of her Shocking perfume and “shocking pink” trademark color in 1937. Commenting on the color, Schiaparelli once stated: “Une couleur qui donne la vie, la couleur de toute la lumière du monde, de tous les oiseaux et de tous les poisons du monde réunis, une couleur de la Chine de du Pérou, mais pas de l’Occident » Baxter-Wright, p. 48). The perfume bottle was designed by Leonor Fini, and represented a dressmaker mannequin referencing the physique of Mae West decorated with porcelain flowers and a velvet measuring tape. The Maison Schiaparelli proved to be an international success, and Elsa became the first European to receive the Nieman Marcus Award for services to fashion in 1940. However, this marked a period of decline for the House of Schiaparelli, and it was forced to close in 1954, the same year her autobiography, Shocking Life, was released.
Nearly fifty years later, the Schiaparelli archives and rights were acquired by Diego della Valle in 2006. Subsequently, the Maison Schiaparelli reopened at stately Hôtel Fontpertuis on 21, place Vendôme in 2012. As a tribute to the original founder, Christian Lacroix designed an haute-couture collection one year later. Soon thereafter, Farida Khelfa was appointed Ambassador, and Marco Zanini was appointed creative director in 2013. In January 2014, the Maison Schiaparelli successfully presented its first haute-couture show at Hôtel Fontpertuis since its 1954 closing. By re-contextualizing and reconfiguring particular elements, Zanini was able to capture the essence of Maison Schiaparelli – transforming it into a contemporary, yet timeless, brand with Italian-Parisian sensibilities. The Théâtre d’Elsa references 1930’s Parisian theatres. It is a chic, cosmopolitan realm encapsulated in elegance, splendor, and glory.
Designs consisting of bold, masculine silhouettes, tweeds, and tartans draped over full, opulent gowns made of shimmering rhodophane creates a sense of restrained elegance. However, there is also a strategic use of vibrant, saturated colors, and well as the trademark “shocking pink”. Flowing, luxurious fabrics, and the appearance of hand-painted prints on silk chiffon and organdy point to the complexity and detail of the couturière method. These pieces are carefully juxtaposed with structured capes with strong shoulders, bold, architectural shapes, and intricate embroidery reminiscent of Spanish boleros. Complex details and embroidery appearing on the back add another dimension to the idiosyncratic creations. Sparkling, oversized brooches consisting of pierced hearts, irises, suns, stars, padlocks, and the ES initials illuminate each colorful ensemble. The totality of the Fall/Winter 2015-2016 collection reflects a masterful re-interpretation and re-contextualization of Elsa Schiaparelli’s twentieth century designs by Marco Zanini.