Certain old clothes

What’s the allure of fashion? For me, oddly, it shares something with engineering: there are tasks to be accomplished, aims to be met; I can admire seeing how those things are done and what extra qualities, of subtlety or flair or extravagance, are displayed in the doing. In a way, fashion exerts the appeal of the nonessential. From another angle, that’s all wrong, because markers of status and power, of individual and group identity, aren’t at all unimportant, though we might sometimes wish that status and power themselves mattered less. But I don’t mean to go into it here. I want only to mention, for readers who might otherwise have missed it, that a recent New Yorker contained a report on a cache of dresses by Callot Soeurs. Perhaps you know the name, along with those of Paul Poiret and Madeleine Vionnet; perhaps not. (I’m at a loss to explain why I do.) In any case, if you’re susceptible to the romance of certain old clothes, to borrow the title of an early Henry James story, I suggest you turn here and read the short text by Jessamyn Hatcher, which is accompanied by a few (too few) tantalizing, almost tangibly textured photographs by Pari Dukovic.


3 thoughts on “Certain old clothes

  1. Very interesting, both your thoughts on fashion and the article they introduce. I have several histories of fashion that I used to use for ideas when jury-rigging costumes for the tiny productions of a tiny opera company I sang in; the books all discussed the relationship of fashions to the history and culture they came from, and the importance of clothing used as a marker and enforcer of social class.

    And although I have been occasionally dismayed at all the space and funds and time the Met Museum has devoted in latter years to exhibitions of fashion designers’ work, some of those exhibitions have been worthwhile; for my money, usually the ones of the old designers, put in historical context. This is one cache I would not mind seeing at the Met someday!


  2. Thank for your thoughts, Jane. In working up this note, I discovered, but didn’t end up saying, that the Metropolitan Museum owns at least one piece by Callot Soeurs, which you can see here. At first glance, it seems rather old-fashioned, but it does date from the years before the Great War; take a look at the close-up of the sequin work, though.


  3. Good stuff! Mentions the Eastern influence, with ref to Japan and ukiyo-e, but there was also a fascination with Near Eastern dress, at least, Paul Poiret did pieces that reflected that. (He also threw a famous 1001 Nights party with himself dressed as the Sultan and his wife and muse as Scheherezade. There’s a photo of them in costume in Michael and Ariane Batterberry’s Mirror, Mirror: A Social History of Fashion. Fabulous book if you like that kind of thing.


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