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


Present Imperfect: Disorderly Apparel Reconfigured at Fashion Space Gallery

The delayed 'Part Two' of the Fashion Museum day trip review is focused on the current exhibition at the Fashion Space Gallery. 

This space is within the John Princes Street campus of London College of Fashion. Despite being a stone's throw away from Oxford Circus - it is situated kind of behind Zara, and near the huge H&M on the corner - I believe it is arguably one of the lesser known fashion exhibit spaces in London. Which is a shame, as it is free to visit, and strives to have innovative displays throughout the year. 

About four years ago I went to the Fashion Space Gallery to see "Coco Chanel: A New Portrait by Marion Pike" and shamefully I hadn't been back since. Not for lack of interest, as the exhibitions in the last four years sound amazing - from Simon Costing's Impossible Catwalk Shows, to Warpaint: Alexander McQueen and Make-up, and not forgetting Museum of Transology (which fortunately is now in Brighton and I will not miss it this time). I just simply forget that it is there. I've been to Oxford Street numerous times in the past four years. In fact, last summer I was interning in the H&M press office / showroom for 5 weeks, and didn't once pop in during a lunch break. 

However, the current exhibition, Present Imperfect: Disorderly Apparel Reconfigured, really caught my eye as a recent Fashion History Graduate about to embark on my post-grad studies in History of Design and Material Culture. 

Entering the space, visitors are faced with a definition reading the following:

Present1 Imperfect2
1. Disorderly apparel reconfigured
2. A playful project that tested the principal elements of exhibiting fashion: object, body, text, installation. A conversation between exhibition-maker Jeffrey Horsley and curator Amy de la Haye inspired by apparel which is damaged, worn-out or perished.
Object: fragile apparel framed by modular structures
Body: proposals that allude to the human form
Text: playing with format to express actual and associative narratives
Installation: configured as gallery and studio space to share working processes

Alongside this were some post cards, which I assumed were free to take - so I did. The postcards shows closeups of the garments, illustrations of the bespoke display cabinets and other fascinating images from around the exhibition space. 

The layout and structure of the exhibition was different to what I had expected, but ended up being what I loved most about it. I was aware that the pieces on display were going to be in a less-than-perfect condition. Horsley and de la Haye use 'Disorderly Apparel' to describe items that are badly damaged. Items that would usually be overlooked within a museum archive or collection, partly due to the costly and timely nature of restoration of garments, and equally in part to the fact that badly damaged garments do not take well to been mounted on a mannequin. This means that most museum costume and fashion collections have pieces that will never be shown to the public, and may lay dormant amongst acid-free tissue paper until they eventually perish beyond repair. 
This exhibition, however, took several fragile items and made them the focus of the exhibition. From a pair of burnt Victorian leather gloves, to a century old shattered silk evening dress by the once leading London Couture House Redfern, to the more contemporary leather jacket template by Alexander McQueen, each piece of display were in varying degrees of decay. 
What fascinated me the most was the backdrop of photocopied notes, annotated pages of books and ideas adorning the walls, each relevant to their nearest garment. Whilst this working process is usually kept behind the scenes, Horsley and de la Haye explain their decision in the following:
Text is a routine method for interpretation and engagement. Present Imperfect playfully subverted the conventions of text panel and label. Narratives – actual and associative – such as time, transience and trauma are suggested as possible themes for finding meaning.
In order to share working processes and reveal multiple alternative narratives, the installation was configured as gallery and studio space. An intention is to highlight that within the evolution of any exhibition numerous choices and ideas are explored, rejected and chosen.
In my opinion, the garments played a lesser role in this exhibition, and the process and planning displayed surrounding them took the forefront. Although I can appreciate the importance of the object in telling a narrative - I spent several months of my bachelors focused on, and learning about, object based theorists such as Lou Taylor -  I was far more interested in the behind the scenes processes that are involved in making an exhibition. Seeing the curators scribbles and ideas laid out in front of me was far more exhilarating than simply looking at a garment and reading a text panel. 
My only point of contention would be that, aside from those inherently interested in museology, fashion history or curation, it may not appeal to many others. For example, a group of teenage girls came into the, honestly, quite small space when Sarah and I were there and their confusion was palpable. After taking a few pictures, including some selfies, and not reading a single piece of paper on the walls, they left, turning the wrong way in what I can only assume was the search for more - of which there was not. Seconds later they walked past again, having realised that this room was the only part of the exhibition, and left, presumably to fulfil their sartorial needs on Oxford Circus. Although it is great that teenage girls are actively seeking out fashion museums, as I previously mentioned the Fashion Space Gallery is almost a 'if you know, you know' type venue, I felt this particular exhibition may not have appealed to the kind of Fashion Exhibition they were after, or used to.  
However, as Fashion Historians and aspiring curators of dress, Sarah and I loved it! I certainly left feeling inspired and more knowledgeable in the field of exhibition making. As much as you can read a textbook about how to put together an exhibition, seeing the scribbled notes and messy minds of Horsley and de la Haye ignited my desire to enter this field even more.