About Time: Fashion and Duration

Iris van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984). Dress, fall/winter 2012–13 haute couture. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Iris van Herpen, in honor of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.185). Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978). Ball Gown, 1951. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Coulson, 1964 (2009.300.1311). Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
Dresses by Iris van Herpen and Charles James, 2012 and 1951. Photos © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Costume Institute.

The PatternVault blog turns nine today! It’s been a pleasure writing about vintage fashion for you, for almost a decade.

Speaking of the passage of time, this year’s major Costume Institute show, About Time: Fashion and Duration, also considers questions of style and temporality.

Planned to mark the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 150th anniversary, the spring-summer exhibit has been postponed to open on October 29, 2020 (closing February 7, 2021). Luckily, thanks to Yale University Press, the exhibition catalogue is available to purchase, or preview online.

Book cover for About Time: Fashion & Duration by Andrew Bolton, 2020
Andrew Bolton, About Time: Fashion & Duration (Metropolitan Museum of Art 2020) Design: Joseph Logan and Anamaria Morris. Image: Yale / Google Books.

The preview — and exquisite black-and-white photography by Nicholas Alan Cope — gives a taste of the garments selected for the now-postponed exhibition. Curator Andrew Bolton pairs Drecoll with Rick Owens, and a WW1 Red Cross uniform with current-season Margiela by Galliano.

Dinner dress by Christoph Drecoll, ca. 1912. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
Dinner dress by Christoph Drecoll, ca. 1912. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Yale / Google Books.
Rick Owens Fall/Winter 2007-8. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
Rick Owens Fall/Winter 2007-8. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Yale / Google Books.
American Red Cross uniform, 1918. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
American Red Cross uniform, 1918. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Yale / Google Books.
John Galliano for Martin Margiela Spring 2020. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
John Galliano for Martin Margiela Spring 2020. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Yale / Google Books.

As I noted on Twitter, About Time also includes a look at the McQueen dress that is SHOWstudio’s latest Design Download.

Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2020. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2020. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Yale / Google Books.
Detail, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2020. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope
Detail, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2020. Photo © Nicholas Alan Cope. Image: Yale / Google Books.

Happy blogiversary to me, and happy sesquicentennial to the Met!

Early Sixties Chinoiserie

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000)
Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) Image: WWD.

This year’s big Costume Institute exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass, broke the attendance record previously set by Savage Beauty in 2011 to become the Met’s most-visited costume exhibit. (See WWD.) Andrew Bolton’s catalogue, illustrated with original photography by Platon, is available from Yale University Press.

Andrew Bolton, China: Through the Looking Glass. Fashion, Film, Art (2015) Image: Yale / Google Books.

One of the show’s major draws was Wong Kar-wai’s art direction, with styling by William Chang Suk-ping. (See Rosemary Feitelberg, “Chinese Arts Examined at the Met” or read the press release here.) Like Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men and mid-century American dress, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004), with costume design by William Chang, have virtually defined the image of mid-century Hong Kong fashion.

It’s possible to find vintage sewing patterns showing a Chinese influence, especially cheongsam patterns, from about the 1950s on. The earliest Vogue patterns I’ve found that show a Chinese influence date to the early 1960s.

Two circa 1962 Vogue patterns I’ve had in the shop got me thinking about early ’60s Chinoiserie. One is for a cheongsam and pants, the other for a cocktail dress and sheer cape or ‘Ming’ stole:

1960s cheongsam and pants pattern - Vogue 5571
Vogue 5571 (c. 1962) Cheongsam and slim pants. Image: PatternVault shop.
1960s Ming stole and dress pattern - Vogue 5648
Vogue 5648 (c. 1962) Cocktail dress with ‘Ming’ cape stole. Image: PatternVault shop.

Interestingly, although Vogue 5571 is clearly a pattern for a cheongsam or qipao, the envelope text says nothing to identify the garment as Chinese. Vogue 5648, on the other hand, calls its voluminous coverup a ‘Ming’ stole—a garment for which I can find no evidence whatsoever.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is known for its voluminous clothing. Vogue 5648’s Ming stole has deep, two-piece sleeves and back fullness released from gathers at the neckline. Here’s the back view:

Back views, Vogue 5648 dress and Ming stole
Back views for Vogue 5648 (c. 1962)

The back neckline detail recalls this Balenciaga evening wrap featured in an earlier Costume Institute exhibit, Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress:

1950s pink Balenciaga evening wrap in the collection of the Costume Institute
Balenciaga evening wrap, 1954-55. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By contrast, the instantly recognizable cheongsam or qipao is a product of the modern period, a hybrid garment with a complex history traceable to Manchu dress in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Vogue Patterns’ mid-century Chinoiserie seems inseparable from the context of the Cold War. In 1962, it had been just over a decade since Mao’s 1949 proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. The Hollywood films Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) had helped popularize the cheongsam in the West with their depictions of love affairs between an American man and a qipao-clad Chinese woman in mid-century Hong Kong.

Poster for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing Jennifer Jones wearing a cheongsam
Jennifer Jones wears a cheongsam on the poster for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) Image: Wikipedia.
Poster for The World of Suzie Wong starring Nancy Kwan
Nancy Kwan wears a cheongsam (upper left) on the poster for The World of Suzie Wong (1960) Image: IMdB.
Nancy Kwan on the cover of Life magazine, October 24, 1960. Photo: Bert Stern for Paramount Pictures. Image: Google Books.

For more on the cheongsam/qipao see Juanjuan Wu, “Reinvented Identity: The Qipao and Tang-Style Jacket,” chapter 6 of Chinese Fashion: From Mao to Now (Berg 2009).

For discussion of the exhibit see Holland Cotter, “In ‘China: Through the Looking Glass,’ Eastern Culture Meets Western Fashion” and Susie Bubble, “Through the Chinese Looking Glass.”

Happy Labour Day, everyone!