Like so many other military staples before it, the trenchcoat has successfully gone from the front lines to the front row, building an interesting history in form, fabric, and fan base in the process. In “The Trench Book” (Assouline), journalist and historian Nick Foulkes dissects the garment that has been loved by officers, gentlemen, and flashers since the mid-nineteenth century. Here, the author gets personal about his topic, stressing that “anyone who is interested in dressing well must be interested in the trench.”
Where did your love affair with the trenchcoat begin?
?I’ve always been interested in smart clothes. I liked to watch old films just to see what the men were wearing. When I was going to school there were jumble sales where you could find really great old suits and trenches. You could buy them very cheaply in those days—and you could fit a half bottle of spirits in the pockets and no one would notice! So I had this amazing wardrobe that was made on Savile Row and cost nothing.
When were the golden years for the trench?
It seems wrong to talk about trench warfare as a golden age, as there was so much killing, but that’s when I think it was at its best. And in “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, a 1943 film directed by Powell and Pressburger. That for me is the perfect trench. I quite like the 1850′s as an era as well, so that would be number two on my list. At that point, it was not exactly a trench, but an Aquascutum coat with a military function. And then there’s always Peter Sellers [as Inspector Clouseau].
Why do you think trenchcoats have stood the test of time—and continue to be reinterpreted by designers every season?
One reason is that they last a really long time. They’re meant to be indestructible, which makes them the ultimate environmentally friendly coat—the use they get being recycled by so many different owners! They’re also immensely practical. Plus, military clothing always influences fashion. You put this thing on and you feel powerful. It looks good on anyone, irrespective of physique. In a trench, men feel like a swaggering officer, and there’s little better than a woman wearing one that’s tightly belted.
Who’s your trench icon?
Many people think of Humphrey Bogart but I’m afraid I’m going have to stick with good ol’ Colonel Blimp.
What do you think all of the designer interpretations of this classic?
The trench has survived to become a fashion icon because it functions as a spare-parts bin for designers who can look at it in its original form and say, “Ooh, I’ll take that detail and incorporate it into my own design.” Which ensures that it will survive for future generations.
Alain Benoist’s “Facade” magazine, the now defunct publication that chronicled international personalities (Andy Warhol, Grace Jones) and Paris nightlife in the era of La Palace—think a French version of “Interview”—is getting its own exhibit. Starting on October 8 and running through the 18th, blown-up images from the cultish mag will be on display at the Passage du Désir gallery. “Facade” published only a handful of issues between 1976 and 1983, but its legend lives on; Colette, for example, included the pub in its From the Street to the Night show, which opened on Monday night. The shop is also selling an extremely limited-edition box set—only seven—of the “Facade” Window Case, a transparent case containing issues 1 through 14, with prices ranging from $7,000 to $30,000, depending on the set’s number in the print run. And that’s not all: We’ve heard rumors that a “Facade” number 15 is in the works.
“I call it ‘Crack Dance’,” Bianca Casady says of a psychedelic collage she’s made with images of a unicorn and drug paraphernalia, which, starting tonight, will be on display at Deitch Projects along with myriad other medium-spanning pieces of her own creation. In her first solo show and what is essentially her visual art coming-out party, one half of CocoRosie (which she fronts with her sister, Sierra) is showing off her less famous artistic talents. “It’s really a survey of self expression,” Deitch director Nicola Vassell says of Lil Girl Slim: “Cosmic Willingness” Pipe Dreamz A Revelation, which will be up for two weeks, culminating in a live CocoRosie performance on October 19. Casady may not have the kind of résumé that is usually a prerequisite to art stardom, but somehow the “ten-year fragmented trail” that led to the show makes one seem unnecessary.
Most people only know you for your music. How long have you been involved in the visual arts?
I’ve been doing this my whole life, really, definitely longer than music. Writing, doing fashion, drawing pictures. Music has really been an entry point for all of my other art.
So you’ve tried your hand at pretty much everything. Are all of these things represented in the exhibit?
I feel like every medium in art is happening here. And I don’t feel like it’s chaotic. It’s just like the way it happens in real life—you see color, two-dimensional objects, trees. It’s like walking down the street, just a little more extreme, like a hyperreal-life scenario.
Is doing a live show at the end of the project part of creating this “hyperreal-life scenario?”
I felt like performing inside the space was the final stage of making it come to life. I approached it the same way I do my own living space. Whenever I move, I immediately customize my space. Everything that is happening is very personal.
Are there any unifying undercurrents, any themes, that run through your life and consequently through the show as well?
It’s a playground for controversy. I guess that’s the overlying thread. With lots of religious iconography and a lot of symbols of a different era braiding together, just like in CocoRosie’s lyrics. It’s a lot about finding fantasy in everyday items—things that typically struggle with each other, things that can be really hostile, are presented in a beautiful way.
You have no formal training, so you’re basically self-taught, right?
My mother is an artist and was also a teacher. And I was a very early dropout who was given a lot of freedom—she gave me my own section of her studio, so I felt very nurtured. But I was very uneducated, so I refrained from joining the art world.
So why choose to join it now?
I really just walk through doors in a very faded way—not accidentally but intuitively. And this door just kind of flew open. Music has been a mysterious porthole for me.
Why did you choose to make music your thing when you obviously have so much talent in so many different areas?
Music and fashion were the only areas I felt free to enter the media and not have to encounter all of the hierarchy and elitism of the art world. Fashion has always been my primary form of expression—I’ve been working with vinyl, sequins, and sewing machines since I was 12. I got to dollar stores all over the world in an attempt to understand my own myth, which is in constant flux. The idea of working on your self-image has always been my first step and one of the strong aspects of CocoRosie. I’m constantly challenging myself.
Most people prefer to avoid mice, rats, and other rodents. Not Polly Morgan. She makes them into art. The British artist takes the traditional craft of taxidermy and, with the addition of Champagne glasses and miniature chandeliers, renders it chic enough for fans like Kate Moss to display in their living rooms. We talked to the artist as she got ready for her new exhibit, Exquisite Corpse, which opens today at Trinity Church on London’s Marylebone Road and will be up until October 19. To schedule an appointment to view the show, call 011-44-778-879-5435. To see more of Morgan’s work, go to www.pollymorgan.co.uk.
How is your work different from traditional taxidermy?
Traditional taxidermy tends to mimic the natural habitat of a creature, whereas mine takes it out of its usual context. I think things viewed in their natural context aren’t often “seen”—for example, when we look for something that’s right in front of our noses and can’t find it because it’s always there. We’re far more likely to notice a can of beans in the bathroom than we are in the kitchen cupboard.
Does changing the context of the artwork make it more endearing?
When I put a rat in a Champagne glass, people said it was beautiful, and it was bought by a self-confessed rat hater!
So, yes, then. But you also explore more complex ideas in your art than you’d expect from the usual fox-on-a-log scene.
Taxidermy has traditionally been all about reanimating or resurrecting a corpse. My work is often about freezing the time between death and decomposition. In that short space of time the eyes, ears, feathers, etc. all become redundant, and before they disintegrate and become part of something else entirely, they are nothing but an ornament. I find something touching about that, and by using taxidermy to preserve animals in that moment, it’s something that can be contemplated longer than usual.
How do you get the animals you use?
From friends with cats, from the side of the road—my mother lives in the country and she and her friends are always picking things up for me. Occasionally from pet shops or from people who own aviaries. The longer I’ve been doing it, the more people have come to associate me with dead animals, which means I get quite a lot of offers!
Is there a theme to Exquisite Corpse?
Life and death are about the only things I ever think about, work-wise. It’s either sex or death in art, and I’m definitely more interested in the latter where my work’s concerned. I’m so horrified by death that perhaps I’m trying to see the beauty in it.
There’s a new mag in town. Husband-and-wife team Alex Freund and Lisa Mosko (he’s a photographer, she’s a stylist and writer; they’ve contributed to publications such as Surface, The New York Times Magazine, and Tokion) have launched Gravure, a biannual journal that will spotlight fashion, art, and culture, with a corresponding Web site going online at noon today. “We’re calling it a ‘multimedia happening,’ ” said Mosko of the two-pronged launch. “We like the idea of opposite technologies. We wanted a Web aspect to the publication, but on the other hand, communication has become very throwaway, so we also wanted a nostalgic component, something more precious, with a tactile quality.” The first issue features the work of Ellen von Unwerth, Marcelo Krasilcic, designer and stylist Victoria Bartlett, and Frankie Rayder directed by Alisa Lipsitt. What it doesn’t feature is ads, and while the couple hasn’t ruled them out, they’re only going to consider ones that match Gravure‘s refined look.