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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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June 4, 2019

In light of The Costume Society’s upcoming July conference, Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement, the terms (in this instance) of the month are Aesthetic/Artistic dress. 

E.582-1953. F. Champenois. Mucha, Alphonse. Colour lithograph. c1898. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O590845/f-champenois-poster-mucha-alphonse/

These two words are used interchangeably, and can be applied, as stated by Aileen Ribeiro in her text Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600-1914 ‘to a shifting group of people,’ living in the 19th century, who shared ideas in regards to art and its relationship to dress and taste.[1] The terms are described by Valerie Cumming, C.W Cunnington and P.E Cunnington in The Dictionary of Fashion History as: 

Artistic Movement: 1848-1900 – the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, a group of painters founded in 1948 by Holman Hunt, Milais and Dante Gabriel Rosetti […]. This alternative style, one of the firs...

February 12, 2019

One could be forgiven for thinking that they were trespassing into The Dior Collection exhibition, held at Proud Central, London, from the 7th Feb – 7th April 2019. Quietly situated a close walk from Charing Cross station down a side street, The Dior Collection is held in an intimate, cosy, peaceful gallery space away from the bustle of the city, and other fashion devotees currently on fashion pilgrimage to the capital for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition. In comparison to the V&A, Proud Central feels like a hidden gem undisturbed by overwhelming crowds.

Proud Central’s The Dior Collection, is an exhibition of fashion photography showcasing garments from the House of Dior, including garments designed by Christian Dior himself, to his protégée Yves Saint Laurent, to Marc Bohan. The photographs, taken by Norman Parkinson, Bert Stern, Horst P. Horst, Mark Shaw and Jerry Schatzberg, offer a view into the world of haute couture, from slick editor...

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 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...

November 11, 2016

Is fashion art? 

I have asked the question many times before, particularly in regards to the work of Japanese designers, such as Rei Kawakubo (whom The Met Museum will be focusing on as their key subject for next year's Gala), Issey Miyake, and  Yohji Yamamoto. 


I also think of designers that have placed the structure and composition of garments in the forefront of their design visions, Madeleine Vionnet, Madame Grès ect. 

But the one designer who stands out, a man who was experimental and innovative, determined to have every garment he produced be deemed as a piece of art, with an impeccably tailored silhouette fitting his couture clients perfectly. His name - was Charles James; a British couturier who worked in both America and Britain. 

Above image: C.I.53.73. 'Clover Leaf' Charles James dress. Silk and rayon. c1953. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

Charles James was born in 1906, England, to an affluent family, and a father who was disapproving o...

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