Ornament Magazine

VOL39.1 2016

Ornament is the leading magazine celebrating wearable art. Explore jewelry, fashion, beads; contemporary, ancient and ethnographic.

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10 ORNAMENT 39.1.2016 t h e o r n a m e n t b o o k s h e l f editions of their catalogues. This one—originally published by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the decorative arts arm of the Louvre, in 2013 under the slightly saucier name of La mécanique des dessous: Une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette—is a particularly sumptuous import, and an essential addition to any fashion library. Covering eight centuries of European and American history and a wide range of garments for men, women and children alike—not just undergarments—it is beautifully photographed and presented. But it is also a perceptive cultural history, proof that what is underneath defines us as much as what is on the surface. As Bruna argues, "There is no natural body, but only a cultural body." We may laugh at the exaggerated hoop petticoats of the rococo period and the intricately engineered corsets and bustles of the Victorian era, but while the technology of shapewear has changed, the intent has not. Spanx, Wonderbras and, indeed, gym memberships and cosmetic surgery perform the same function today, molding the body to meet an otherwise unattainable ideal. While that ideal has changed dramatically over time, the human desire to achieve it—at any price or degree of physical discomfort—has not waned, apart from a brief period of shapeless, braless androgyny in the 1970s. Undergarments testify to our most intimate anxieties and desires; literally and figuratively, they are the dress of our inner selves. Just because they are hidden and functional does not mean these objects are not aesthetically pleasing and even decorative. Delicately carved busks, stays of flowered taffeta, lace-trimmed corsets, and fire-engine red bustles were surely meant to appeal to the eye, and they still do today. Interior views reveal complex seaming, padding and boning, as well as hidden pockets for shaping devices. Outer garments like doublets, suits and gowns complete the picture. In addition to a wealth of rare surviving garments, the authors consider visual sources like portraits, caricatures, illuminated manuscripts, fashion plates, and historic advertisements and patents. Short, chronologically arranged essays by a team of scholars —mostly French, but smoothly translated—address key themes in the history of underwear as well as much-misunderstood objects like codpieces and iron corsets. The catalogue considers garments not traditionally identified as underwear—like the supportasse, which supported the starched ruff of the Renaissance, and the down-filled sleeve plumpers of the Romantic era—as well as famous survivals such as the pourpoint of Charles de Blois (from the collection of the Musée des Tissues, Lyon) and the undergarments of the funerary effigy of Queen Elizabeth (in Westminster Abbey). Many of these pieces were too large and too fragile to make the trip to New York, where the exhibition was installed at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, so the catalogue is an especially valuable record, even for those who had the opportunity to see the show in person. British scholar Shaun Cole's essay on men's underpants brings the story of skivvies right up to the present day, with Wonderbriefs, tighty-whities designed to lift and shape as much as any corset. In truth, however, our fascination with the mechanized silhouettes of the past persists. Corsets, crinolines, bustles, girdles, and codpieces are echoed in contemporary designs by Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Comme des Garçons, Hussein Chalayan, and Alexander McQueen. Nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, these clothes combine historic inspiration with new technologies and materials, blurring the line between fashion and fetishism. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell P ravina Shukla. 2016. The Grace of Four Moons. Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India. Indiana University Press: 498 pp., softbound $35.00. Released this year in paperbound, this large, dense and thoughtful book was first published in 2008. The author, a Hindu of the Brahmin caste, was not born in her homeland but has lived abroad and traveled extensively, now teaching in the United States at Indiana University. While many know Indian jewelry through the late Oppi Untracht's book on classic and folk ornaments, this volume examines dress and personal adornment in contemporary India. It is filled with insights and concepts about these topics, which rarely get serious attention in the West. The reflective reader will frequently pause to consider how this applies to one's own world. Shukla, through observations, interviews (mostly in the pilgrimage city of Banaras) and extensive literature research, provides in the introduction the ability for her readers to understand the richness of Indian dress and jewelry, which also includes the sacred, as many of these

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