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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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January 22, 2019

‘St Augustine says, “the dead are invisible, they are not absent.” You needn’t believe in ghosts to see that’s true […]. We sense the dead have a vital force still — they have something to tell us, something we need to understand.’ [1]

The above quote was taken from Dame Hilary Mantel’s lecture The Day is For The Living for the BBC Four Reith Lectures in 2017. It is also the same quote that I used for the first few sentences of my MA dissertation in the History of Design and Material Culture. I started my thesis with Mantel’s quote because her words resonated with the aims of my research. I believed that the individual that I was studying did have something to tell me, and I was on a journey to discover more about their life through the study of their surviving clothes. 

Not only at this stage did I feel that the dead had, to quote Mantel, a ‘vital force,’ but equally, that their clothes, also had the capacity to communicate something I was attempting to uncover. I wanted to employ...

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...

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...

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...

October 21, 2016

'Fashion consists only in extremes [...] frivolity and death.' 

'Does fashion die [...] because it can no longer keep up the tempo?' - Walter Benjamin - The Arcades Project.

The fashion system relies on a never-ending cycle of newness, spectacle, emulation and death. This is how fashion works - without the invention of new, or the recycling of previous styles, the fashion industry would not survive. 

Many theorists have tried to make sense of the fashion system. Thorstein Veblen believed that once commodities had been purchased, consumers would move on to the next trend, unsatisfied and desiring more goods which would elevate their social standing. Products, although not always functional, nor of the best quality, could be marketed in such a way that consumers would believe it was an exclusive status symbol. Exclusivity = a higher price.

Veblen also believed that the middle-classes imitated the fashions of the upper-classes. Once fashion had disseminated all the way down to the w...

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