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BIO

whatgrandmawore is a celebration of all-things fashion and its most iconic moments, written by Ruby-May Helms. She has a BA (Hons) in Fashion and Dress History, and an MA in the History of Design and Material Culture. She is currently in the process of applying for a PHD in design history, exploring the relationship between clothing and death. 

 

This blog explores fashion and dress history through the analysis of surviving garments and other material culture from museum collections. It discusses fashion theory, topical and current issues, and reviews the latest exhibitions. 

 

TO CONTACT: rubymayhelms@hotmail.com. 

 

You can follow us on our social media channels by searching for us on Instagram and Twitter.

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November 6, 2018

Jeanne Lanvin was a prolific French couturier who enjoyed several decades of success during the twentieth century. First training as a milliner during the late 19th century and subsequently opening her own business in 1889, Lanvin eventually joined the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 1909.

She ran a highly successful fashion house for many years, her success only interrupted by invading Nazi’s who called for French couturiers to design under the occupation of the Third Reich, and relocate haute couture to Berlin during the Second World War. Lanvin refused, backing the President of the Chambre Syndicale, Lucien Lelong, supporting the livelihoods of innumerable ateliers and the heritage of France's fashion industry. Lanvin later died after the end of war in 1946, leaving behind France's oldest couture house still in operation today. 

Lanvin began making womenswear after clients expressed their admiration for the clothes Lanvin designed for children. In 18...

April 24, 2018

Fashioned From Nature could not have come at a more critical time.

Increased environmental awareness has finally seemed to resonate with the population. Hopefully, and crucially, it will and has made people aware of their own behaviours; how they personally impact the planet on which we live, and share. Reactions to programmes such as BBC’s Blue Planet demonstrate the outrage which is now felt towards pollutant and waste materials such as plastic. Human disasters such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 prompted a widespread reassessment of the fashion industry and called for changes to the production of fast-fashion. I doubt that there could ever be a more poignant time to hold an exhibition detailing the fashion industry’s relationship with nature and the environment. It has become vital to address and discuss humanity’s past and present manufacturing and consumption behaviours - before it is too late to reverse the catastrophic effects that the demand of fashion has on...

February 7, 2018

Over the weekend I got the chance to visit Royal Women, the latest temporary exhibition held at the Fashion Museum. For international readers, or for those who have never had the chance to visit the museum before, the Fashion Museum can be found in Bath, a British UNESCO city known for its famous Roman Baths and Georgian architecture. The Fashion Museum is located within the city centre, a close walk from Circus, the Royal Crescent, and the main shopping district. Tickets can be purchased for £22.50 (a single adult ticket - student discount and concessions are available), and this includes entry to both the Roman Baths and the Victoria Art Gallery. You will encounter the Royal Woman exhibition halfway through the Fashion Museum’s permanent exhibition, ‘History of Fashion in 100 Objects,’ a collection consisting of a variety of delightful Victorian dresses, robes à la française, and men’s Regency garments.

Image: Brochure of the Fashion Museum, Bath. Bath and North East Somerset Council....

December 4, 2017

The doll is frequently discussed within the context of childhood. Rarely do we regard the doll as anything outside of this realm. As an owner of many dolls myself, reference to the doll often leads to the reminiscence of my younger self playing with many of these toys, such as the Baby Born, who allowed me to pretend that I was a doting mother during the 1990's. 

I would later collect fashionable Barbies and Bratz dolls, with all of their clothes and accessories to meticulously dress, undress, and redress their plastic bodies. I styled them, created personalities for them; the Barbies and Bratz I played with could be anyone; I imagined them as actresses, artists, babysitters, cheerleaders and socialites.

I would finally act as the chief interior designer to my beautifully handmade bespoke dolls house, created in the style of a late Victorian home (fully furnished, and electrically lit). I would spend hours flicking through specialist magazines dedicated to dolls house furniture and furni...

October 18, 2017

‘I’m suggesting going back to move forward. To create the future, you have to pay attention to the past.’ – Karl Lagerfeld

‘There is some irony in a designer who famously dislikes nostalgia creating a collection inspired by an era from about 2,500 years ago.’[1]

We start this blog post with two opposing perspectives of Karl Lagerfeld’s Cruise ‘Modernity of Antiquity’ (a juxtaposing title in itself) 2017 show for Chanel, held at the Grand Palais. 

Lagerfeld’s theme for the show was everything and anything Ancient Greek – using architecture, pottery, Greek dress and decorative arts, as predominant influences throughout this collection.

Image Source: Photograph of a model wearing draped silk Chanel gown for Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘Modernity of Antiquity’ Cruise 2018 collection. Yannis Vlamos. Voguehttp://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/resort-2018/chanel/slideshow/collection#60. JPEG.

Lagerfeld's garments echoed historical Greek dress - including an assortment of garments resembling the the chiton, p...

February 24, 2017

2009.300.3277. House of Worth Tea Gown. c1910. Silk, rhinestones and metal. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

The Edwardian era began with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. With the death of the longest reigning monarch at the time, Britain was at first plunged into full mourning dress. However, after the black clothes subsided, and her eldest son Edward VII took the throne, the country was introduced to an era of opulence and extravagance.

The Edwardian era is often regarded as a period of elegance and graciousness (Wilson, Taylor: 1989. 43), whilst great social change occurred in regards to the conditions of the welfare state, and demands for the voting rights for women intensified. For the upper-class lady, couture fashions were increasingly lavish. In order to maintain appearances, she would require: a large fortune (it remained expensive to dress fashionably during Edwardian times), several outfit changes throughout the day, and a team of dedicated maids to help ini...

January 27, 2017

Fashion designers are no stranger to the world of perfume.

Indeed, the couturier Paul Poiret, began producing scents after establishing his own perfumery during the 1910's, aptly naming his side-business and products after his daughter Rosine. Poiret's perfumes were the perfect accompaniment to his Orientalist and avant-garde fashion designs. They often referenced his love for Far East in both bottle design and exotic scent composition. A few years later, a certain entrepreneur called Coco Chanel in partnership with perfumer Ernest Beaux, would create a fragrance which remains as an all-time international best seller - Chanel No. 5. 

Image Credit Unknown: Paul Poiret 'La Rose de Rosine' c1912. Pinterest. 

Perfumes allow a more wider base of consumers to purchase an element of a fashion house without the hefty price tag. Most department stores are filled with the latest and classic perfumes - but this post intends to celebrate the elaborate and downright exuberant...

January 14, 2017

Last year whilst researching the dress of debutantes, I encountered a designer which I previously had little knowledge of. The name was Boué Soeurs, and the dress I uncovered was the garment pictured below: 

Above and Below Images: C.I.68.48a–e. Boué Soeurs presentation ensemble. c1928. Silk, metallic threads; silk; feathers, cellulose nitrate. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

When I found the gown, I had only little information to go by. According to The Met Museum, Boué Soeurs, consisted of two individuals, who were sisters. They were renowned for detailed, intricate lace and embroidered designs. The pair and their Parisian fashion house was active from the late 19th century, and beginning of the twentieth century, up until the late 1950's. 

I searched the online collections of various museums in order to discover more about the pair. Their garments are delicate and richly adorned. Most museums had only required garments produced in the 1920's, bu...

December 23, 2016

‘Vulgarity exposes the scandal of good taste.' - Adam Phillips

Exhibition poster for The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined Exhibition. Image Credit: The Barbican. 

It's quite unusual to find the works of Madame Gres, Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen, and Christian Dior, amongst many other cherished designers in an exhibition titled The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined. The Barbican Art Gallery has installed a fashion exhibition deliberately designed to question our ideas of taste and vulgarity, depending on the various perspectives taken by the wearers, or viewers.

(Although the above and below dresses do not feature in the exhibition, the works of Alexander McQueen are perfect examples for discussions surrounding the concept of the vulgar, questioning ideas surrounding beauty and femininity.) Alexander McQueen Voss dress. c2001. Red and black ostrich feathers and glass medical slides painted red. Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Yo...

November 25, 2016

This is the second article featuring the theme of fashion and art. The first post, which discusses the work of designer Charles James, can be read here

Elsa Schiaparelli, photographed by Cecil Beaton, c1930: Image Credit: The Red List. 

The wonderful and eccentric Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most predominant and successful fashion designers of the 1930's. Her name is no longer recognised within common culture, but throughout the field of fashion history, she is often regarded as an iconoclastic adventurer, who blurred the lines between art and fashion. Mingling with the avant-garde Surrealists, and experimenting with bold and bright colours, Schiaparelli set herself apart from the rest of the 1930's couturiers, their designs oozing restrained elegance and glamour. In contrast, Schiaparelli seemed to have no creative limitations, her garments created through a blend of enchanting and mythical themes, combined with the exquisite couture techniques which aided to reinforce Schiaparel...

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