3 posts tagged "Colleen Hill"
I can’t deny it, I love lingerie. I do. I have drawers full of the stuff—saucy bras, basques, corsets, skivvies, you name it. I usually buy my extravagant unmentionables on a whim—not for some romantic occasion—and I’ve never given it a second thought. So naturally, I was very excited when The Museum at FIT announced its current exhibition, Exposed: A History of Lingerie (on view until November 15). However, the news of the show broke at a time when a new wave of feminism seemed to be at the center of most of my conversations. Prada’s feminist Spring ’14 was in stores (“I want to inspire women to struggle,” Miuccia Prada told Tim Blanks after her powerful show), as was Rick Owens’ sporty Spring range, which was presented on muscular American step dancers. And, of course, there was Anja Rubik’s Free the Nipple campaign, as well as the fight against Instagram to allow women to proudly display their breasts without being banished from the social platform. So after pondering all of the above, I, a woman who considers herself to be a feminist, suddenly thought, Good God, I’m a terrible hypocrite for loving sexy, lacy lingerie.
To be sure, there’s something empowering about secretly donning ornate underwear and thigh-high stockings beneath my boxy Comme des Garçons frocks. But lingerie is often thought of as appealing to the male gaze. And you can’t tell me that crotch-less panties, sheer lace bras, and little satin onesies weren’t produced with the male viewer—or at least sex—in mind. Is the case of my lingerie the same? Do I love it only because I’ve been trained to love it by watching old Sophia Loren films and reading too many magazines? Can I be a feminist and embrace delicate underpinnings?
“Absolutely,” offered Colleen Hill, the curator behind the FIT show, which includes everything from 18th-century corsets to Hanky Pankys.”I think that nowadays, particularly since we have options—we’re not forced into wearing a corset or a push-up bra or anything that may have been somewhat more dictated in the past. You can absolutely love to wear basically any item of clothing for yourself and be a feminist.”
Let’s explore those corsets and things of the past. Something about a garment that suffocates a woman—often to the point of fainting—in order to enhance her bust and taper her waist seems pretty antifeminist to me. But perhaps that’s because the corset could be qualified as antifeminine. That is to say, it was originally designed for men. “Men had been wearing corsets for hundreds of years before women,” explained Carlis Pistol, the go-to couture corset-maker for everyone from Oprah to Sarah Jessica Parker. “It started in the medieval period, and when the 16th century came along, they began making corsets for women. I think women were looking for a new silhouette, and in wearing corsets, it showed that women could do what men could do.” Wait, so does that make the corset the ultimate feminist garment?
According to Hill, corsets were often worn for medical reasons (actually, one of the sexiest corsets in the show, a bright red number from 1889, above, was marketed as a health corset), particularly to correct one’s posture. Because of that, they were initially quite plain. “They were modest garments—a lot of them during the 19th century were just white or black or brown. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that you start to see colors and decorative elements,” said Hill. It was at that time, too, that “the idea of beautiful undergarments in relation to a happy marriage began to be talked about a lot more.”
There it is. The shift. The point when men took away our lovely lingerie. It wasn’t until the mid 1970s that Chantal Thomass, the queen of contemporary French lingerie, brought back the concept of decorative underthings for her, not him (below, right). “It was actually really unfashionable at the time,” said Hill of Thomass’ more traditional styles. Indeed, Thomass’ aesthetic was a strict departure from the ’60s feminist movement’s “burn the bra” mentality. In fact, when Thomass introduced her line, the unstructured “no-bra bra”—a sheer brassiere designed by Rudi Gernreich, the same man responsible for the monokini—was all the rage (below, left). But in the end, Thomass prevailed (and her brand still exists today). “I think by the 1980s, this idea that you could embrace this really feminine style of lingerie as a way to please yourself as a woman was finally accepted,” Hill added.
“In the ’60s, women were like, ‘I’m tired. I’m not even going to wear a bra. I don’t want to feel like I have to be a slave—like I’m bound,” said Jennifer Zuccarini, a Victoria’s Secret alum who cofounded Kiki de Montparnasse before launching her current lingerie label, Fleur du Mal. “Then you get to the ’80s, when fashion was all about lingerie. It was like [women] really took it back. We made it our own, and that was very empowering.”
But what about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, where supermodels strut down a runway wearing next to nothing? Where does that fit into lingerie’s girl-power narrative? “That’s a tough one,” Zuccarini told me. “It is male-oriented. And you know, there’s a conversation about women wanting to see real women…I don’t necessarily buy into that. I want to see an idealized version of something. That’s why I like fashion. And there’s something about those supermodels and the image Victoria’s Secret puts out there that women do like. They continue to shop there—it’s the most successful lingerie brand ever created. So the show definitely appeals to men, but VS is a company led by women, and when I was there, no one ever said, ‘Are guys going to like this?’ It wasn’t even part of the conversation.”
Even so, one has to consider that the popularity of the Vicki Secret show among male viewers is just another example of women either consciously or subconsciously wearing lingerie for men. “Women love lingerie because it embraces their bodies and makes them feel good about themselves,” said Pistol. “It’s a celebration of your own body. You feel strong with it on. It’s not that women wear it for men—it’s about making yourself feel good.” But the corset-maker also raised an interesting point about ladies who do buy lingerie to impress a gentleman. “The happiness of the woman is still believable if she’s doing it for a man. It makes the woman happy, but other people are able to appreciate it as well.” Hill had some similar theories as to women’s adoration of luxe underwear. “I think lingerie tends to be some of the most beautiful clothing. When we get up in the morning, we are presenting ourselves to the world. But knowing that you’re wearing something special underneath, even if it’s not going to be seen by anyone, that’s beautiful and special. It sets the tone for the day.” For her part, Zuccarini (whose designers are pictured below) wears a little something special under her work-ready clothes on a daily basis. “I mean, I’m not wearing a garter belt every day, but everything I have is pretty nice,” she laughed. “There’s something emotional about lingerie—it inspires an emotional response and there’s almost an impulsive need to buy it. I think most real lingerie enthusiasts buy it for themselves. They get something from wearing it. And why wouldn’t you want to wear something beautiful under your clothing?” she reasoned.
You know, despite all the expert opinions, I was, until the tail end of this journey, on the fence as to whether one could be a feminist and a lingerie lover. I wasn’t convinced that I adored wearing lingerie for any other reason than, since youth, movies, magazines, and TV ads brainwashed me to believe that lingerie was an instant and necessary sexuality enhancer. So I asked my mother, a deeply chic, incredibly modest woman who happens to be my personal style icon, what she thought. She’s been in the hospital for the last few weeks, and her only response was, “Oh, Kate. That reminds me. Can you go and pick me up some nice things to wear under my gown?” So I did (nothing too risqué—she’s my mother, after all). When I returned from my shopping excursion (during which I bought something for myself, too, obviously), she smiled the biggest smile. I had my answer. Whether or not it’s made with males in mind, today’s women own their lingerie. It’s ours. We can do with it and wear it as we please. And now, I love lingerie a little bit more.
It’s a funny thing, the connection between protection and clothing. On the most basic level, jackets, trousers, glasses, hats, et al. defend us from the elements. But sometimes, it’s the most superfluous accouterment that can make us feel invincible. Such is the case, to some extent, with V. Stiviano, the mistress of disgraced racist Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and her iridescent visors. No doubt you’ve seen photographs of her donning the accessory out and about in L.A. following the scandal in which Sterling forbade her from publicizing her friendships with black people. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, Stiviano conceded that the full-face visors, which she owns in a myriad of hues, make it “easier to mask the pain.” Fair enough. And it’s not as though she’s the first visible public figure to hide behind headgear—you’d be hard-pressed to find a celebrity, mid-scandal or not, who hasn’t shielded themselves from prying eyes via giant sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, hooded sweatshirts, or the like. But visage-enveloping visors are indeed an extreme—second only, perhaps, to the deeply bizarre black mask Leonardo DiCaprio sported at last year’s Venice Biennale. (Nothing says “under-the-radar” like channeling Darth Vader.)
“In the past, wearing things like visors or veils was more out of modesty, or maybe a sense of propriety,” explained The Museum at FIT’s associate curator of accessories, Colleen Hill. She cites the large-brimmed “poke” bonnets of the 1830s as an example. “In my opinion, they were an item of propriety. Not only did they shield the woman’s face from the sun, but they also provided a sense of security,” she told Style.com. “Today, [something like a visor], for celebrities in particular, acts as a psychological veil. Even if it’s something that’s transparent, it does create that little bit of a barrier. Making eye contact is such a personal thing, I think that is part of [face coverings'] appeal.”
Thanks to her shield, Stiviano has essentially been hiding from swarms of paparazzi in plain sight. But what’s funny is that while she’s sporting these visors as an invisibility cloak of sorts, they only make her more conspicuous. To wit, she’s more infamous now than before she broke out the accessory. And apparently, her Daft Punkian method of pseudo-protection has ignited somewhat of a visor boom. “We sold out this morning, and we’re waiting on a new shipment,” offered Gingie McLeod, the founder of Tribeca’s SaintChic store and label, which produces and carries Stiviano’s new staple, aptly dubbed the Paparazzi Visor. “They’re actually designed for tennis and hiking—for function. But people have been calling nonstop asking if this is the V. Stiviano visor and if it will cover their whole face or if anyone will be able to see them.” Before the craze began, McLeod had sold only four of the accessories.
Surely, Stiviano wasn’t aiming to start a trend with her quasi-disguise (or heck, maybe she was, though I seriously considered shelving my Chanel 2.55 after seeing a photo of her carrying a similar style). And certainly, part of this newfound visor obsession is in jest. (McLeod told us she just got a call from someone throwing a Stiviano-themed party.) But in truth, this perplexing “don’t look at me but do” mode of dressing has deep roots. Investigating visors alone, you might look back to Pierre Cardin or Paco Rabanne’s futuristic plastic shields from the 1960s, featured in numerous fashion shoots. More recently, there was Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga’s giant Spring ’12 visor (inspired by an archival 1967 Balenciaga wedding hat), which completely covered the face and eyes. However, those who wore it, like Anna Dello Russo, attracted hoards of street-style paps. Same goes for Alexander McQueen’s mammoth Fall ’12 shades. Maison Martin Margiela’s couture masks should also be considered here: On the runway, they create a sense of uniform anonymity, yet on the street, they allow one to hide in style. But do MMM mask fans like Lady Gaga or Kanye West really want us to look away from their haute veils? Unlikely, particularly since West often wears his onstage. More than a striking visual, it has been interpreted as his commentary on fame, and it seems apt for someone who is both more open and uncensored than most celebrities and yet also a man of mystery.
Perhaps the trend is a sign of the times—not unlike our social media avatars, these outré shields afford us the opportunity to put ourselves out there without any risk of full-frontal exposure. They’re a superficial cushion—a buffer between the wearer and the outside world. Or maybe they’re just an ever-so-slightly less obvious plea for attention than the selfie. If that’s the case, let’s hope for a total transition—I’d rather look at an off-the-wall mask than an ill-angled iPhone snap any day.
Part Two of the sweeping Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology’s exhibit Fashion, A-Z opened at noon today. At this morning’s preview, editors, who trekked through the dreary mist, were cheered up by the sights of famous ball gowns and sparkling cocktail attire. “I’m always wowed by Charles James,” said the exhibit’s co-curator Jennifer Farley. She was nodding to a strapless silk taffeta gown the color of a dusty rose (pictured), from the actress Lisa Kirk, that could have doubled for sculpture. “I’ve heard that he was difficult to work with, but he was a perfectionist,” Farley added.
James, of course, was not alone in his technical feats. In contrast to Part One of the exhibition (originally called The Great Designers: Part One), Farley and Colleen Hill showcased some of the big American names, like a jewel-encrusted Ralph Lauren long-sleeved gown, a black and ivory chiffon red-carpet number by Hollywood costume designer Irene Lentz, and a purple silk jersey Norman Norell stunner from 1965, glittering with sequins that had been hand-sewn and reinforced individually. “To think there was that kind of quality in ready-to-wear,” Farley wondered aloud.
Of the 60-plus looks, there were also neat tie-ins. In one section, there was a short-sleeved dress by Pierre Balmain. Further into the exhibit, Balmain’s mentor Edward Molyneux was represented. And for runway fans, there were current pieces as well, which might inspire nostalgia. In wide white and blue striped silk, a Raf Simons for Jil Sander floor-length dress from Spring 2011 was modern and sporty, which contrasted with an unforgettable Chantilly lace black ball gown by Olivier Theykens for Rochas directly across the walkway. The romantic nighttime look, from the Spring 2004 collection, is sure to elicit some sighs.
Fashion A-Z, Part Two at the Museum at FIT, Seventh Ave. at 27th St. On view May 23 to November 10.