Monday, June 24, 2013

Paris Fashioin Exhibits: Summer 2013


Early this summer, visitors to Paris will find two exhibitions relating to costume history with free admission. The larger exhibit, Paris Haute Couture, is currently showing at the Hôtel de Ville and it takes up a full large exposition room. This exhibition begins with a visual story about the history of the couture system, mounted along a narrow hallway. This breaks out into a large hall where the gowns are displayed in glass boxes, one or two dresses per box. These boxes allow for viewing from all sides, and they are arranged in two staggered rows. The garments shown are not displayed in chronological order, or by designer. Rather, items shown together are supposed to have a style relationship. There are mannikins down the both sides of this hall, with fuller ball gowns along one side aisle, and mostly suits and dresses in black and white down the other aisle.

Having a free costume exhibit in a city where tourists are seeking opportunities to ‘do something’ has its negative effects in this case. Perhaps half of the viewers when I went were not fully interested in the subject or even understood what they were seeing. While it is a great idea to make fashion available to everyone, it's frustrating to those of us who are truly interested to have exhibition swamped with viewers who have nothing better to do with their afternoon.

I am not a fan of glass box displays. With dark lighting bouncing off of the glass it is difficult to see most items clearly. Description titles and labels for this exhibit are mounted on one side, so when viewing from the 'back' there aren't information labels visible for the gowns.

Overall, while the gowns were wonderful, and it was interesting to see them close enough to spot distinctive construction and pattern techniques like a big zipper across the front of a Gres Grecian gown, the show seemed to lack the luster of other recent exhibitions that I have seen here in the US such as the Balenciaga and YSL exhibits at the deYoung in San Francisco.

I found the exhibition catalog book better than the show since it contains all of the visuals seen in the display in excellent photographs. When it comes to exhibit design, this show is an example of the exhibit design overpowering the items it displayed. Somewhat confusing, dark and reflective glass doesn’t help us to see these gowns well. The fuller gowns were displayed in the open, while the black suits were hidden under the overhead ramp. Overall, the exhibition disjointed and lacked a cohesive sense of content and flow. Without a strong chronological format or designer reference, the garment selection and order of display created confusion, not enlightenment.


A few blocks away, a small jewel of an exhibit, Face-Dos-Profile, is also seen for free. This is the recent exhibition at the Galerie du Crédit Municipal in the Marais. This showcases couture designs from the 1931 era. It features mounted photos in a front-side-back view format of couture designs for legal purposes required to register the couture design as original and unique.

These technical documents are fascinating, showing us clearly how many fashions looked from views we aren’t often able to see. Drafts are also included. There are a few couture gowns as well (in glass boxes). The exhibit tends to be hung by theme, such as striped garments, diagonal inserts, and other technical devices used during that era.

As a reference of design for this time period, this show is fantastic, and I would hope that someone might be able to publish these and other like them at some point in the future. What is shown provides valuable information to current designers, costumers and historians. Sadly, unable to take photographs of this show, we can only take away what we can remember, until someone has the bright idea to create a book on this subject.

Dates: through July 6 for both exhibits

No Photos permitted at either exhibit

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Where to Find Fabric in London: Shopping for the best deals in town

Shopping for fabric in London can be a fun adventure. I like to buy fabric where I find the best selection and prices. This usually means that I need to look outside of the center of town, and wander around other neighborhoods where there are some great surprises to be found.

My first stop? Goldhawk Road. If you're like me, seeking an offbeat location and love fabric shopping, you’ll find the textile shops in Shephard’s Bush Market and along Goldhawk Road fun to go through. Although there are few large scale ‘main’ shops on Goldhawk Road, all of the shops seem to have unique merchandise and personalities. Top on the selection are costume fabrics: satins, tulle, sequins and all the rest. Clearly, today’s London crafter is sewing up party costumes by the dozens.

There are still many shops that do carry interesting fashion fabrics. I found a wide variety of textiles for both retro and current fashion trends. In one shop I even saw some passable copies of Liberty prints on good cottons. This district reminds me of the fabric stores in L.A.'s garment district, but on a very small scale, so keep an open mind and enjoy the hunt.

Once I have shopped Goldhawk, I like to take a long walk up the Shephard’s Bush open air market. There are vendors with trims, beads, buttons along with colorful saris and other random fabrics and sewing supplies. Some of the trims here are so unique that I've never seen anything like them before.

The other stalls on this 'road' offer imported merchandise for the recent middle eastern population.  It's wonderful to smell and see their exotic food stalls too. When I walk north through the market from Goldhawk Road, there is the Shepherd's Bush Market metro station at the other end.  Then it's time to hop on a train, to be on my way loaded with trims and other goodies.

To get there: Goldhawk Road and Shepherd's Bush Market stations
take the Hammersmith and City line (pink) to stations.
Exit: at Goldhawk the shops are on the right (east side) of this line.
at Shepherd's Bush the stalls run along the east side of the metro line.

Shephard's Bush Flea Market
Hours: Mon to Wed, Fri & Sat 9.30am-5pm; Thu 9.30am-1.30pm

It's difficult not to be enchanted by the fabrics at Liberty of London, but the steep prices may mean that you can't buy as much of the gorgeous fabric as you would like to. If that is the case, I found the selection at Shaukat and Company to be amazing. In fact, it was overwhelming to look at. While they don't offer a heavy discount, it is less expensive than shopping at Liberty. Shaukat is an easy walk from the Gloucester Road metro station through a sweet neighborhood. Shaukat offers pre-cut lengths and on the bolt yardage for the most selection. Their website gives a good idea of their selection and prices.

Shaukat and Company:
170-172 Old Brompton Road London SW5 0BA
Telephone: 0207 373 6927 / 373 8956
Facsimile: 0207 373 5516

To get there: Gloucester Road station
take the Picadilly line (navy), Circle line (orange), or District line (green)
Exit: walk south to Old Brompton Road, turn right and walk to the shop.

I hope you have a fun time shopping for fabric in London--Let me know if you have other shops to add to this list!


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