Gucci Garden - Florence

On a recent whistle-stop tour of Italy, covering Rome, Florence and Venice, it was imperative for me, as a fledgling fashion historian and costume curation aficionado, to seek out museums or exhibitions of costume during my travels. Using www.fashionandtextilesmuseum.com to discover where I could visit to fulfil my sartorial fascination, led me to the Gucci Garden.  

Gucci Garden is situated above the brands shop in Palazzo della Mercanzia, which first opening in 2011 to house the Gucci Museo. This site has long served as a shrine to the documenting for the Florentine fashion brand, founded in 1921. However, earlier in 2018, it reopened after a redesign to transform it to the current Gucci Garden. Set over 3 floors, Gucci Garden was conceived by creative director Alessandro Michele, aims to be a multi-functional space to showcase highlights of Gucci's designs.

The Gucci Garden Galleria spans across 2 floors of the historic building, in a series of rooms that embrace "history, objects, anecdotes and geography". With examples covering the nearing 100 years of the brand, the space tells the story of the house with a multi-media display combining clothing, accessories, videos, artwork, documents and drawings curated by Michele and Maria Luisa Frisa - who is also the head of BA Fashion Designs and Multimedia Arts at Iuav University, Venice. 

Complimenting the display of the brands identity and history are several exhibition spaces are two new rooms dedicated to artists and temporary exhibitions including a cinema room and currently, an homage to Bjork who wore bespoke Gucci creations for her 2017 video for 'The Gate', pictured above. 

There is a complex  dialogue regarding the commercialisation of curation, and whether this can affect the integrity of the exhibition. That being said, it is well-known that many of the sell-out exhibitions of fashion are in association with, or sponsored by, large fashion houses. Valerie Steele notes that:

"Designer exhibitions can obviously be self-serving, but it should also be emphasized that these exhibitions can play an important role in assessing the contributions of particular individuals. In addition to the “blockbuster” shows on superstar designers, there have been numerous exhibitions on a wide range of less famous designers. Although some designers have considerable insight into their own work and their sources of inspiration, others are conspicuously self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing. Many designers seem completely unable to edit their work, and will try to cram in as many dresses as is physically possible. At their worst, designers can behave like prima donnas, treating curators like servants and museums like department stores. At their best, however, designers can collaborate with curators to create exhibitions that neither could have conceived alone" 
Valerie Steele (2008) Museum Quality: The Rise of the Fashion Exhibition, Fashion Theory, 12:1, 7-30, DOI: 10.2752/175174108X268127

However, Steele refers to the designer exhibition within an institution, which Gucci Garden Galleria is not. Gucci Garden is a purpose built space that encompasses an archive, an exhibition space, a retail space and a restaurant. Their agenda is appears to be transparent - as the Gucci Garden Galleria is above a retail space, therefore there is the underlying assumption that commerce is central. Alessandro Michele said "I'm trying to make fashion accessible, not only whether or not you have money". Gucci Garden's retail space allows customers to buy into the brand not only though their ready-to-wear fashion, but also through cushions which according to Vogue are "relatively inexpensive compared to Michele's ready-to-wear and jewellery." Similarly, entry to the Gucci Garden Galleria is 8 Euro, although if you are a student entry is free. Also, on our visit, we paid our entry, went to the Galleria and then left, without looking at the 'gift shop' retail space. This decision was not met with disapproval. Therefore, Michele's quest to make Gucci accessible appears to be successful at Gucci Garden. 

Overal, Gucci Garden is an area which cleverly combines commerce, curation, and culinary experience in the brands Florence origins. It displays a collection of historic and contemporary pieces in innovative and visually pleasing, aesthetic settings alongside multimedia techniques to convey the heritage nature of the brand, with a nod to the Florentine love of craftsmanship that is present in the House's artisan workmanship, but acknowledges that to survive, it must move forward into the future.  


The Violet Hour

SHOWstudio: 1914 Now - The Violet Hour: Amy de la Haye / Katerina Athanasopoulou

A very large part of my decision to study Fashion History, despite loving to write, is to explore, and experiment with, new methods and mediums to display, curate and present historic fashion. Whether this is in form of digital museums, such as the previous subject of a post here on Nouvelle Noire; the Google Art and Culture App, or new innovative techniques, I think it is highly important that fashion exhibitions and the presentation of fashion history is not confined only to the static mannequins within a museum setting. 

Therefore, when I came across the above video, it felt so refreshing to see a beautifully directed short film combining cinematography with animation depicting not only fashion history, in the form of an early twentieth century tea gown, but also cultural and social history, which arguably are not mutually  exclusive. That is to say, I believe that the clothing of a certain period can give provide an understanding of the socioeconomic and cultural climate of the same period, and to not analyse clothing as a part of an exploration of any given period is to inaccurately represent this period. 

A collaborative project between SHOWstudio, pioneering fashion film platform, the esteemed fashion curator, Amy de la Haye and director and animator, Katerina Athanasopoulou, 'The Violet Hour', positions the violet tea dress in its World War 1 setting, literally bringing the dress to life using animation and music to engage the senses. One of the biggest problems faced by curators and exhibition maker, is animating the inanimate. Whilst mannequins are integral in the display of dress, it can be hard to see the items for anything other than the ghost of the owner, especially when placed on a motionless, emotionless mannequin. I once read something suggesting that the 'fashion museum is the graveyard of clothes' (source unknown - which is something I am frustratingly trying to locate!) and I can, to some extent, agree with this. 

However, discovering new methods to engage people with the fascinating sartorial stories presented in these artefacts is one of my main inspirations to study in this field, and aspirations once I enter the field professionally. 


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.