Why We Wore Black - Sartorial Solidarity at the Golden Globes 2018

It is not uncommon for the attire of the female attendees of award ceremonies to be equally criticised and celebrated. However, on 7th January 2018, the red carpet could have been mistaken for a funeral parade, awash with black in the form of velvet, lace, chiffon, silk and sequins. In a brilliant display of sartorial solidarity, the decision to wear black to the Golden Globes was a show of support for the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, highlighting the inequality in Hollywood and the imbalance of power. There is no denying the hierarchy of the white male in Hollywood. 

Although the donning of a black gown, as British Vogue graciously put, is "is hardly Herculean in its political engagement", there is much to be said of the #WhyWeWoreBlack, from the view point of this fashion historian, and female. 

Whilst it can be said that the wearing of black is not groundbreaking. Women, in fact, have been wearing black far longer than men, originating from the Victorian 'Cult of Mourning' and the etiquette of wearing black mourning attire. However, it is not the individual's decision to adopt the black dress that is important. Far more, it is the Simmelian impact of the collective. Very few attendees of the Golden Globes chose not to adhere to the black dress code. While each person had their individual motive for adorning themselves in black, some of which can be read here, the aim was ultimately to stand together in solidarity, as a collective of women, and men for that matter, against the inequality in Hollywood. 

My favourite quote about #WhyWeWearBlack came from Issa Rae:
"What I love about it is that it's not just wearing black to wear black. I keep saying that it is going to feel like a big funeral. But in a good way, it just feels like the death of old Hollywood"

Far from being a bland sea of black gowns, the #WhyWeWoreBlack encouraged creativity in my favourite colour. Fashion met with feminism, designers and red carpet couturiers were, evidently, all too keen to be seen supporting the movement. See below some of my particular highlights. 

 America Ferrera in Christian Siriano and Natalie Portman in Dior | Angelina Jolie in Atelier Versace | Christina Hendricks in Christian Siriano
 Claire Foy in Stella McCartney | Connie britton in Lingua Franca | Elisabeth Moss in Dior
 Meryl Street in Vera Wang with Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance | Michelle Pfeiffer in Dior | Nicola Kidman in Givenchy
Sarah Paulson in Calvin Klein | Tracee Ellis Ross in Marc Jacobs | Viola Davis in Brandon Maxwell


Linda Nochlin - Thank You

Linda Nochlin first came into my sphere of knowledge during AS Level History of Art. I was being taught by two extremely intelligent, and strongly feminist, teachers - which was amazing - and they were great advocates of Nochlin's writings on art. From here, it became common for me to quote 'As Nochlin states' in essays, and also in any discussions of art on academic, or social, levels. 

Her 1971 essay 'Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?' is an essay I revisit fairly often, considering I now study fashion more than Fine Art. Whilst her attention was focused largely on art, how it is commonly understood - painting, sculpture etc - I believe that many of her theories can also be applied to fashion and dress. (that is to argue against those who believe that fashion cannot be classes as art - to which I disagree)

In fact, it is only on reflection, that I realise how pivotal her work on the male gaze, and the female nude, were to my dissertation. I wrote about representations of women (models) as (often naked) corpses in fashion photography from 1965-1980 - exactly when Nochlin wrote this essay.  In particular: 

“The acceptance of woman as object of the desiring male gaze in the visual arts is so universal that for a woman to question or draw attention to this fact is to invite derision, to reveal herself as one who does not understand the sophisticated strategies of high culture and takes art "too literally," and is therefore unable to respond to aesthetic discourses. This is of course maintained within a world - a cultural and academic world - which is dominated by male power and, often unconscious, patriarchal attitudes. In Utopia - that is to say, in a world in which the power structure was such that both men and women equally could be represented clothed or unclothed in a variety of poses and positions without any subconscious implications of dominance or submission - in a world of total and, so to speak, unconscious equality, the female nude would not be problematic. In our world, it is.” 

Whilst her work is approaching 40 years since it was presented, very little has changed. The female nude is still used in all aspects of visual culture. It is so commonplace that it is rarely questioned. Arguably, Nochlin's seminal feminist work was expected to have a positive affect on the art world, and as Chris Kraus states, "she envisaged a revolution in consciousness that would not merely assimilate women into the existing order but change the order itself." Of course, certain views have changed, however, I believe we have a long road ahead in terms of equality in the visual arts and culture sector.

This idea of the male and female gaze, an area that Laura Mulvey has written extensively on, is something I am greatly interested in. Perhaps, the foundations for this interest were laid back in my 17 year old brain, due to Nochlin's brilliant theorising and comprehensible style. 

So, in honour of the death of a great writer and thinker, I want to say Thank You, Linda Nochlin. For inspiring me to constantly think about art in a different way.



At the beginning of September, I visited Perfume at Somerset House. Somerset House is one of my favourite spaces in London, not only for exhibitions, such as Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore or Time: Tattoo Art Today, but to browse the shops on site, or to have a coffee (or Prosecco) overlooking the Thames. I heard about this Perfume exhibition a while ago, in part due to my recent research into fragrance and fashion. 

I had no idea what this exhibition would entail. I was curious to see how they could curate an exhibition around scents and perfume. Whilst I understand how scents can enhance the museum experience, as there are strong connotations between scent and memory, I was still unsure how an exhibition based solely on the invisible would be curated. In fact, when I started my Masters course a few weeks ago, I saw on the timetable a week where we will explore Phenomonology, with lots of readings about the importance of the senses, in relation to museum and material culture - something I am really looking forward to learning more about!

Upon entering the exhibition space - which is one that I haven't visited before -  the exhibition began with a short 'history of' the modern perfume industry. Prior to my visit, I had some preconceived ideas of what may be included, and my instinct was right, with the inclusion of Shocking by Schiaparelli, Chanel No 5, and CK One, within the presentation of perfumes that are significant in the development of fragrance. Interestingly, many of them have a relationship with a fashion design house.

From here, visitors were encouraged to pick up a note card and pencil, before embarking on a scent journey through the rest of the space. Each room presented a different scent, in an atmosphere that reflected something about the fragrance; whether that was the notes within the fragrance, or the mood or inspiration it is meant to evoke in the smeller or wearer. Visitors are unaware of the brand, name or notes of the fragrance in each room. The room is presented to compliment the fragrance, so it was a real sensory experience, with the scent informing your view of the room and vice versa.

After every 5 rooms, we learnt more about each fragrance, including the name of the brand or designs, the name, the notes and the inspiration or story behind each fragrance. Below is an image from the room which I later discovered, held a Commes des Garçons unisex fragrance - which turned out to be my favourite scent from the show.

Apart from the above, other scents I liked included Incense: Avignon by Bertrand Dauchaufour and Purple Rain by Daniela Andrier. The former took me back to my Alter Serving days within the Catholic Church, evoking conflicting emotions of comfort - because it was familiar, whilst also being oppressive - because thats how growing up and being educated in the Catholic System has made me view it. The latter smelt familiar again, it reminded me of a product I've used before, perhaps from Lush. 

On the other hand, I discovered that I dislike a lot of fragrances and scents. I've always been drawn to more niche scents, smells that I cannot imagine other people wearing. I also have strong attachments to smells. For example, whenever I smell the aftershave of an ex boyfriend of mine on someone, I automatically get an involuntary wave of anger, that passes as quickly as it arrives. Therefore, it was no surprise that many of the scent in the exhibition did not take my fancy.

However, only one evoked a feeling of revolution from me, and upon discovering what it was trying to emulate, I understand why! Although it supposedly is the 'scent of sexual pleasure', with notes to replicate sweat, semen, blood etc, I felt absolutely no pleasure smelling this. Remember that we smelt these with no preconceived understanding of the scent. This particular scent was presented on what looked like bed sheets - which later made sense. I remember writing on my notes that it smelt 'clinical' and that it made me feel 'uncomfortable' - maybe my reaction says something about me, eh?

The exhibition ended with a laboratory style set up, where visitors were shown how notes and scents are layered to create a scent, which was really interesting to see (and smell)

Overall, Perfume really was a sort of journey, not just through the history and development of contemporary scents, but it was also a discovery of the importance of smell in sensory experience and really emphasised to me the relationship between the scent and memory. Most importantly though, it made me want to explore scent within the museum further, as going to see an exhibition is such a sensory experience. Most of the time, you are unable to touch the objects, and that tactile nature of clothing is hard to replicate behind glass, on a static mannequin. Therefore, I think the use of scent in the museum, could perhaps aim to assist visitors understand more about what they are viewing.

Although Perfume has now finished, I am already planning my next visit to Somerset House, to see the next fashion and photography exhibition, North: Fashioning identity, opening next month!


The Sartorial Smell

Recently, I've been musing the relationship between Fragrance and Fashion. In preparation for my Masters,  I have been trying to explore different books, essays and articles about curation and museum studies. Whilst volunteering at the Fashion and Textiles museum, I get the chance to read the books they stock in the Museum Shop when invigilating the Gallery or during quiet times in the shop., which is a huge help for academic preparation. One such book is a text I have briefly come across before, called Fashion and Museums: Theory and Practice. However, this time, I really absorbed more of the theory and notions presented in this book. I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter by Harold Koda and Jessica Glasscock, documenting the 'evolving history' of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I have been fortunate enough to visit twice - in one year may I add.
Dianna Vreeland at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 'The World of Balenciaga' exhibition, 1973

Whilst many museum and curation theorists and practitioners disliked, or at least disagreed with, the work of Diana Vreeland for the Met, I find her techniques really interesting. I find her style of curation interesting for many reasons, which I may or may not research further in my academic endeavours, however, what I read that became most intriguing, is that many of the things she introduced for fashion exhibitions, that at the time were faced with criticism, are still being used today, in both curation and commerce.

A page from 'The World of Balenciaga' exhibition book, 1973

In the 1973 exhibition held at the Met based, 'The World of Balenciaga', focused on, quite obviously, Cristobal Balenciaga, Vreeland placed empty bottles of Balenciaga's fragrance, Le Dix, were placed in the air conditioning units to scent the gallery space, in the theory that "nothing evoked the emotional connection of memory more than sound and smell'. [1]

Adverts for Balenciaga 'Le Dix' perfume 

Interestingly, the current exhibition at Fashion and Textiles Museum, 'The World of Anna Sui', is also scented - and uses the same title structure 'The World of...'. Both the downstairs and upstairs sections of the exhibition space are scented with two of Sui's whimsical fragrances. Similarly, music is a great part of the exhibition, with a curated playlist that plays throughout the space. Undoubtedly, many of the senses are fully engaged in this exhibition; sight, sound and smell. Although, it can be said, that without a careful watch, many guests also try to gain a sense of touch too - by touching the garments on display (this has led me to some research in the presence - and removal - of glass in a museum and how this chances the visitors experience. Watch this space).

I digress.

I would be interested, should I get the chance, to ask Dennis Nothdruft if there was any connection or inspiration drawn from Vreeland in the creation of this exhibition.

This relationship between the Sartorial and Scent developed into more general research about Fashion Houses and Fragrance, as seen on a Facebook post below:
Screenshot of the Facebook Post I wrote for the Fashion and Textiles Museum

Following all this research about fragrance, I visited the Perfume exhibition at Somerset House, but more about that next time....

[1] Harold Koda and Jessica Glasscock, Fashion and Museums: Theory and Practice, Chapter 1, page 28