behind him. Dickens tells us about the Artful Dodger’s manner and gait by relying on a widely known, as well as temporally flexible, recognition of fashion’s multifaceted language. Similarly, like a defiant schoolboy, Vita SackvilleWest was known to stride about in a coat with her hands in her trouser pockets. This is the performative satisfaction of ‘hands in pockets, swirly, long coat’ swagger. Fashion and clothing is so very important to literature because it sets the scene for us, it contextualises characters and a good description of clothing provides not only a readable drawing, or visual perception of a character but it can activate other sensory, as well as emotional responses. The pitiful, jilted bride Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, still dressed in her mouldering wedding outfit after several decades evokes mustiness, dustiness, gloom, and a perpetual silence. Miss Havisham’s out of place clothing and its decaying condition identifies her as deranged in some way, a condition often attributed to female characters by male authors. Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White is one such example of female derangement and Anne Catherick is the titular character who, believed to hold a powerful secret, is driven to her mental disturbance by incarceration at an asylum. The story of her preference for all white clothing is situated in happy moments of her childhood and like Miss Havisham’s wedding gown, suggest purity and youth. The muslin of Anne Catherick’s ethereal dresses also relates to the fashion and economic events of the time. Mid-1850’s Britain was a colonial power and exotic, imported fabrics such as muslin that demonstrated that reach and power, were popular choices for women who could afford them. However, as well as indicating the status of Catherick, the daughter of a gentleman and a maid, and the family to which she belongs, the white, diaphanous nature of her clothing creates a ghostly image that portends her fate. It signifies her fragility, which is actually rather more physical than mental and provides a blank canvas upon which tropes of disturbance, threat, haunted-ness and dislocation might be situated. The language of fashion in contemporary literature seems to be more complex in terms of themes but apparently hinges around identity and identification supported by various social, cultural, economic, and ethnic structures. Authors such as Chimamanda Adichi and Shay Youngblood address transnationalism through the lens of fashion and write the experiences of young black women passing as American and Parisian. Youngblood writes of an au pair investing her limited funds in a pair of ‘very French,’ expensive shoes that will give her the confidence to enter Les Deux Magots. In Adichie’s novel Americanah, African character Ifemelu explores black identity in America through vintage clothing. In a startling passage Ifemelu buys a 1960’s dress on Ebay and realises that at the time the dress was made, black Americans did not have the right to vote.
Contemporary and transnational literary narratives, along with the imagined stories that cabinets of curiosities arouse, provide the stimuli for a Parisian fashion line founded by Japanese born Hans Ito. Ito’s label Ecole de Curiosities, is self-consciously and unapologetically cerebral; he cites cult movie classics and the early art house films of French artist and designer Jean Cocteau as the intellectual, as well as visual influences that have actively informed his design philosophy. Ito is a graduate of the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and was later an assistant to the conceptually driven maverick Martin Margiela, a significant inspiration. Ito’s experience of Margiela’s avant garde-ism gave him the confidence to imbue his label with scholarly values, appointing an in-house author who writes a piece of literary fiction around which each collection is based. Every item of clothing becomes a character with a life story, a deliberate echoing of the items of wonder from the natural world, captured and preserved within the cabinets of curiosity that so captivate Ito. Ito’s ready to wear garments are beautifully crafted from functional, excellent quality natural fabrics that often include precious vintage finds, an approach that is motivated not only by Ito’s particular aesthetic vision but also his commitment to sustainability. The deceptively simple shapes and modest silhouettes are both sculptural, and detailed in terms of how fabrics are manipulated to create Ito’s relaxed yet compositionally balanced garments.
As with a number of fashion designers who are aware of the ecological and ethical costs of high turnover clothing production, Ito aims to create timeless, comfortable clothing that will last forever and be treasured as part of the owner’s life narrative. Ecole de Curiosities as a brand and design practice is premised on an idea of continuous discovery, learning, and development that has collective experience at its core. On viewing the current landscape of corporate fashion that in many ways seems somewhat jaded, directionless, perhaps even in crisis, it appears that we might look to the smaller players for fashion that points to a positive future. Ito’s approach might be one that even Thomas Carlyle, author of a lengthy satirical novel that takes a poke at fashion, clothing and dress, might approve of. Written in 1833 Sartor Resartus is narrated by a fictional character with a name that translates as Godborn Devildung, who claims that language is the clothing of thought. An elegant turn of phrase perhaps but one which takes a provocative turn once he continues with an assertion that like clothing, humans would be better off without language. There are however, some pearls for discerning fashion sleuths amongst the wit and satire, such as his claim that the world is ‘tangled up in clothes’. The last word though goes to the Bard. It is King Lear’s realisation that the rich and powerful can and do get away with murder. ‘Through tattered clothes small vices do appear: Robes and furred gowns hide all’. Dr. Nicola Donovan
KNIT TOGETHER Justin Trudeau, cultural diplomacy and the Cowichan sweater
In 2012, as he was campaigning for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau and his photogenic family appeared in a spread in the popular news weekly, Maclean’s Magazine, with Trudeau wearing a Cowichan sweater. A few years later, on the first Christmas card he issued as Prime Minister, his toddler son wears one. Cowichan sweaters, as they are widely known, have been knit by Coast Salish people on and around Vancouver Island for a century. Knit from heavy, handspun wool in natural colours, the sweaters feature a mix of geometric and zoomorphic or botanical motifs. From the start, these garments were valued by the settler Canadians who bought them as highly functional and beautiful outdoor-wear. Though they went on to have a complicated history of production and usage, Cowichan sweaters became something of a national symbol, a status they maintain today. Coast Salish people began to knit as early as the 1840s. Some Cowichan women adopted knitting from their Scottish settler neighbours, while others learned in mission schools, where knitting was taught from the 1860s onwards. Fibre arts are deeply rooted in Coast Salish culture, and weavers, adept at working with mountain goat and dog hair, easily adapted to sheep’s wool and needles rather than the fixed warp frame-style loom used for weaving. Coast Salish women initially knitted socks and long underwear, but by the 1920s, they made the banded, patterned sweaters that characterise the style. Fishermen, loggers and cannery workers, seized upon the sweaters for their warmth, durability and protection from the damp. It was not long before Cowichan sweaters became a fashionable and practical item for settler British Columbians more broadly and then for tourists. The effects of colonisation on the region meant that by the 1930s and 1940s, many Coast Salish families depended on knitting sales to supplement their income. Despite the growing popularity of the sweaters, the knitters themselves faced many challenges. Few Coast Salish people kept their own sheep, usually obtaining raw wool from settler farmers or later, from sweater dealers, which they laboriously carded and spun themselves. Many knitters found themselves tied to scurrilous dealers who paid them with wool rather than cash, preventing the knitters from setting their own prices or selling directly to consumers. Imitation sweaters passed off as Coast Salish-made were part of a larger problem of ‘bogus handicraft’ – inexpensive products, often produced overseas, that satisfied tourists but were not created by Indigenous people. These challenges persisted, largely unchanged, for decades. Various ideas as to how to remedy this situation for Coast Salish knitters, and Indigenous makers of craft more broadly were proposed: from tariffwalls on Japanese-made goods, to a central depot and point of sale, to the creation of a trademark, to the appointment of officials to oversee craft production and sales. Philanthropically-minded exhibitions of Indigenous craft on the west coast were mounted to counter some of the impact of under-valued objects and imitation goods. At the level of the federal government, some initiatives came from the Welfare and Training Division of Indian Affairs, then a branch of the Department of Mines and Resources. Local Indian agents were encouraged to establish training initiatives in spinning, knitting and weaving, and step in to purchase wool on the knitters’ behalf when scarcity and rising prices put it out of reach. Many of these initiatives, while well intentioned, ultimately failed. For example, in 1938, Welfare and Training devised a plan to commission a large order of sweaters for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP]. These were to be plain, without the signature motifs customarily associated with Cowichan sweaters. Two knitters, Addie Reuben and Mrs. Louie Jack, made prototypes of a pullover and a sweater coat. However, Welfare and Training failed to take into account the many demands a seasonal and mixed economy placed on Coast Salish households. The knitters were preoccupied by the preparation of salmon for winter and not producing sweaters fast enough. Further, no cash or supplies of wool were provided and the knitters could not afford the wool needed to fill the order. A great opportunity was lost, and with it, the spectacular image of one Canadian icon, the RCMP, clad in another, the Cowichan sweater. Other outside efforts to support Coast Salish knitting were largely unsuccessful. In addition to expense-related challenges, the absence of an effective marketing strategy hampered the stability of an organised knitting program. Many knitters were suspicious of any kind of markup from what
Top; Justin Trudeau photographed with his wife Sophie and children Ella-Grace and Xavier photographed for Maclean’s Magazine in 2012. Bottom; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Christmas Card 2015 featuring his baby son wearing a Cowichan sweater.
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The fu they had been paid by officials, not surprising given the economic exploitation endured by Indigenous people. The supply and demand balance was further upset by the discord between the knitters’ production and the best time for sales. Crafts were mostly practiced during the winter months, while tourist sales were higher in the summer. If the Cowichan sweater was once a symbol of the outdoor working man, then a gentle badge of Canadiana, by the early 1970s, it had been adopted as an element of counter-culture dress, loosely signaling spiritual and political identification with Indigenous people as part of the era’s leftist movements. Over the next forty years, Cowichan sweaters went in and out of fashion, but something of that character has remained. The notion that clothing has the capacity to communicate power, identity and belonging is so entrenched it may as well be taken for granted. Though Cowichan sweaters are not regalia in the traditional sense, they are being reclaimed by Coast Salish people in recent years as cultural dress. The number of Cowichan sweaters given as official gifts throughout the 20th century testifies to their cultural importance. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip received sweaters on visits to the region, as have American presidents. When Justin Trudeau dons a Cowichan sweater, he taps its cultural, historical and political connotations. As new iterations of the Cowichan sweater are created, so too will come further turns on the sweater’s political and cultural currency for Indigenous people and settler Canadians. Elizabeth Kalbfleisch.
Pe te r B
NO ORDINARY LIFE A small terraced house in Cambridge
In 1886, a modest looking bearded gentleman in a dark jacket bought a small house in Gwydir Street, Cambridge. His name was David Parr. He was a decorator for F.R. Leach in the City Road, where he had apprenticed, learning to adorn walls with designs drawn from the fields, groves, dales and pastures of the natural world. In the evening, in his ordinary looking house, he applied his skills in stencilling, patterning, painting, pouncing, graining and gilding to create an extraordinary home. Parr belonged to the legacy of designer-decorators aligned to the Victorian visionary, William Morris, who sought to revive the pre-industrial artistic skills of the middle ages. Parr was a true workman; an anonymous craftsman putting into practice the designs of the master. In doing so, he worked in the tradition of medieval and Renaissance studios, where the master was the workshop and the workshop was the master. An elegant euphemism for keeping the artisan anonymous. Parr was too modest to seek fame through the decoration of his home. Working out of the spotlight, he embellished his walls with trailing plant forms, braiding, interweaving, threading, looping and curling. Interspersed with these were bursts of colour from flowers and petals, like the borders of a medieval manuscript or embroidery. The walls of his dining room and drawing room came to look as if the garden had come inside. As well as Parr’s incredible decoration work, the house has another narrative, one that has brought it into the 20th century almost unchanged. This is because Parr’s granddaughter Elsie Palmer was also a designer, though she may not have thought herself as such. Palmer moved into the house in 1927 when she was 12, following the death of her grandfather, to be a companion to Parr’s widow Mary. She lived in the house - where she brought up her own family - until her death in 2013. Remarkably, Palmer changed very little of the interior decoration and through that choice, she left Parr’s vision complete. To visit is to enter a space that has the mood and feel of a late 19th century domestic interior, with only a few later additions. Whether consciously or not, Palmer, in the words of the curator ‘juxtaposed’ things, creating her particular aesthetic. There is, for example, a panel of stained glass put in by Parr which, when the curtains at the window are closed can still be seen. Palmer was a woman who ‘made do’ and if there was not quite enough curtain material to cover a window, it did not matter. She had lived through two world wars, and lived frugally. Her reverence for her grandfather’s work is echoed in the curator’s decision to leave the traces of her life in the house. There are Palmer’s old dresses: decorated with cascades of coloured flowers, big and bold. Her blue coat hangs up in the hall, as if she is about to come out from the kitchen and put it on. There are old boxes and tins in the Victorian cupboards. Under the stairs is another cupboard full of boxes containing the tools of the decorator’s trade that once belonged to Parr. There are bedspreads, old textiles and on floors, fragments of late Victorian carpets mixed in with some from the 1950s, all
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To say the textile art of the Ainu is compelling is a gross understatement. Curvilinear designs lie atop an organic bast fibre cloth ground, creating graphic geometric patterns sometimes large and bold, and sometimes subtle and refined, but always aesthetically satisfying. Designs that were intended to ward off malevolent spirits have the opposite effect on human beings; they draw us into their labyrinth in a manner that makes it hard to look away. And yet vision is not the only stimulated sense. The texture of Ainu clothing, especially the earliest costumes made from nettle and elm-bark fibres, offers a sensation in the hand that makes it difficult to put the garment down. It is fascinating that the earliest cultures create such visionary art: the Australian Aboriginal peoples, the San of the
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Kalahari, the Pygmies of the Ituri rainforest, the Iban of Borneo, the ShipiboKonibo of the upper Amazon, the Ainu of northern Japan and Siberia. These are some of the oldest continuous cultures on earth. They are able to tap into the world of their dreams with ease and are guided more readily by them.
The Ainu are a Paleo-Mongoloid people indigenous to Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan. They were the original population of Japan who were pushed north by the arrival from Korea of the Yayoi from whom the greater present-day Japanese population descends. While Ainu men were known for thick beards, Ainu women historically displayed deep blue tattoos around the mouth. The Ainu lived very close to nature Left: A
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COHABIT stunning interiors beautifully photographed 54 NO ORDINARY LIFE A small terraced house in Cambridge by Emma Rose Barber EVENTS dates for your diary 21 September 2019, Mindful And Meditative Repair with Molly Martin, London UK 5 October 2019, Print Your Own Wallpaper with Louise Body, St Leonards On Sea UK 9 November 2019, Silk Flower Making with Lora Avedian, London UK August 2020, Julia Griffiths Jones, From Textile To Metal, Chateau Dumas, France 8-15 August 2020, Mandy Pattullo, Recycle, Repair and Reconsider, Chateau Dumas, France 22-29 August 2020, Susie Vickery, Making Historic French Mannequins, Chateau Dumas, France 22-29 August 2020, Emily Jo Gibbs, Illustrative pictures, Chateau Dumas, France PRIZES THIS ISSUE A limited edition print by Angie Lewin, worth £295 www.stjudesprints.co.uk A tweed throw and goodie bag of hand-made Bluff Cove items, worth £300 www.falklandpenguins.com ‘Enchanted Owl’ silk scarf by Inunoo, worth £150 www.inunootextiles.com
INFORM the latest news, reviews and exhibition listings
05 BIAS /CONTRIBUTORS A letter from the founder, Polly Leonard and comments from our contributors 07 NEWS London Design Festival Roundup; Material Connections, Kaffe Fasset at Anthropologie The New Craftsmen in Orkney, Bao Bao voice from Issay Miyake, Patternity outside Westminster Cathedral, Dashing Tweeds, Christopher Farr and
Turquoise Mountain 84 READ Traded Treasure: Indian Textiles for Global Markets, reviewed by Astara Light. Weaving Modernism: Postwar Tapestry Between Paris and New York, reviewed by Mary Schoeser. 86 VIEW Women’s Work, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, reviewed by Jane Audas. Embroidered and Embellished, Cooper Hewitt,
reviewed by Magali An Berthon. Natalia Goncharova, Tate Modern, reviewed by Annebella Pollen. Christien Meindertsma: Everything Connects, Art Institute of Chicago, reviewed by Kyle MacMillan. Ifeoma U. Anyaeji, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts, reviewed by Sue Marks. COMING NEXT LUXluminous and luxurious silks
SELVEDGE ('selvid3) n. 1. finished differently 2. the non-fraying edge of a length of woven fabric. [: from SELF + EDGE]