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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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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...

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...

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...

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...

October 7, 2016

“When a woman smiles, then her dress should smile too” - Madeleine Vionnet, Vionnet Website. 

After the drop-waist, raised hem, sequin dresses of the 1920's appeared, fashion dictated that by 1930, the look would disappear. As one trend is born another must die. A big misrepresentation of history, is that all women during the 1920's had a cloche hat, bobbed hair, and wore 'flapper' dresses throughout their years as emancipated women. This is not true. Of course, these styles did appear, but they were often dominated by the upper-classes until fashions were disseminated down to the working-classes, appropriately adapted for correct social circumstance and income. Not every trend seen to personify an era, is adopted by all. 

1974.261a–c. Madeleine Vionnet wedding ensemble. Silk. c1929. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

The 1920's brought about enormous social change for women. However, the 1930's were also a key turning point for women's fashions. The Wall...

September 16, 2016

Germaine Émilie Krebs was born in 1903. As a young French woman, who aspired to become a sculptor, Krebs was unaware that her career was destined to be within the world of fashion, later becoming the master couturier Madame Grès. An extreme hard-worker, who kept her private life secret and away from the cameras, Grès left her mark on the world of couture, dazzling her rivals and inspiring the next generation of designers with her Grecian flowing gowns.

C.I.56.60.6a, b. Madame Grès dress. c1954. Silk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (both images). 

At first, Grès opened her first couture house under the name of Alix. This was the start of a successful and prestigious career, with notable clients such as The Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly, and Marlene Dietrich.

By 1942 Grès had married, her title, ‘Grès,’ an anagram of her husband’s name. By now, she was developing her signature Grecian gowns, using draping techniques that worked with the fabric first rather than fr...

June 23, 2016

At times many have asked why fashion continues to be a respectable and relevant choice of career or study. Sceptics have complained that fashion has merely serves to decorate, creating a world of conspicuous consumption and image-orientated offspring. To give one reason of the hundreds that exist in order to destroy these beliefs, is that much of couture is meticulously created by hand. These are real works of art simply worn instead of being hung on the wall of a gallery or museum. However – when looking past the creativity, the skill, quality materials and status appeal of these luxurious garments, some designers have succeeded in pushing the boundaries to the point where the confines between fashion and art are blurred beyond all definition.

2010.396a, b. Yohji Yamamoto wooden dress. c1991-1992. Wood, cotton and metal materials. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Online Collection, New York.

Three designers: Japanese by their ethnicity, but undefinable by style, have transformed fash...

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