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!

Benedetta Barzini

Benedetta Barzini photographed by Peter Knapp for the cover of Vogue Italia, September 1967
Vogue Italia, September 1967. Photo: Peter Knapp. Image: NYMag.

In honour of Labour Day, this models post is devoted to iconic model and political activist Benedetta Barzini.

Benedetta Barzini (b. 1943) grew up in Porto Santo Stefano and New York City. She worked as a model in New York for four years after being discovered by Diana Vreeland. Here she appears on the cover of Vogue Italia’s inaugural issue:

Benedetta Barzini on the cover of Italian Vogue's inaugural issue, November 1965
Vogue Italia & Novita, November 1965. Photo: Giampaolo Barbieri. Image: Vogue Italia.

Although Barzini returned to Italy to act, in the early 1970s she left acting and modelling to pursue Marxist-feminist teaching and political activism. She returned to modelling in the late 1980s. As of 2013 Barzini was a Professor of Fashion and Anthropology at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan. (Recent interview here.)

Donna Karan spring 1999 campaign photographed by Peter Lindbergh.
Donna Karan spring 1999 campaign. Photo: Peter Lindbergh. Models: Benedetta Barzini and Annie Morton.

Gianni Penati photographed Barzini for a spring 1965 Vogue Patterns editorial for Vogue magazine. The patterns are Vogue 1429 by Christian Dior and Vogue 6534:

Benedetta Barzini wearing Vogue pattern 1429 by Christian Dior in Moygashel linen photographed by Gianni Penati
Vogue 1429 by Christian Dior. Vogue, March 15, 1965. Photo: Gianni Penati.
Benedetta Barzini wearing Vogue 6534 dress in Vogue, March 1965 photographed by Gianni Penati
Vogue 6534 in Vogue, March 15, 1965. Photo: Gianni Penati.

Update: Barzini also appears in this McCall’s designer editorial. The patterns are McCall’s 8620 by Donald Brooks and McCall’s 8616 by Pauline Trigère:

Benedetta Barzini wears McCall's 8620 by Donald Brooks and McCall's 8616 by Pauline Trigère, Spring 1967
Benedetta Barzini wears McCall’s 8620 by Donald Brooks and McCall’s 8616 by Pauline Trigère, McCall’s Patterns, Spring 1967. Images: flickr.

I have seen only one Vogue pattern with Barzini on the envelope. In 1967, Len Steckler photographed her in Vogue 1775 by Chuck Howard, a pattern from the new Vogue Americana line:

Astrid Heeren and Benedetta Barzini model Vogue 1783 (Chester Weinberg) and Vogue 1775 (Chuck Howard), Vogue Pattern Book fall 1967
New Vogue Americana patterns, Vogue Pattern Book, Autumn 1967. Photos: Len Steckler. Models: Astrid Heeren and Benedetta Barzini.

Barzini was also featured on the cover of the Vogue Patterns catalogue for August 1967:

Benedetta Barzini in Vogue 1775 by Chester Weinberg - Vogue Patterns catalogue August 1967
Vogue Patterns catalogue, August 1967. Photo: Len Steckler. Image: Betsy Vintage.

Happy Labour Day, everyone!