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Posts Tagged ‘WWII fashion’

IMG_20180325_113517751_HDRPeople laugh at fashion. ‘It’s just clothes,’ they say. Right. Just clothes. Except, not one of the people I’ve heard mock fashion was naked at the time. They all got dressed in the morning, picking clothes that said, ‘Hey, I’m a successful banker.’ Or, ‘I’m a tired teacher’ … a decorated soldier … a pompous judge … a cheeky barmaid … a lorry driver, a nurse … You could go on for ever. Clothes show you who you are, or who you want to be. 

Ella, 14 year-old character in the Young Adult novel, The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington.

The Red Ribbon tells the story of Ella, who as a prisoner of “Birchwood”  (a WWII concentration camp in Poland) struggles to keep hold of her dreams to become a dress designer. With her advanced skills as a seamstress she works in the camp’s sewing workshop where young women make clothing for the wives of Birchwood officials.

I heard an interview with author and costume historian Lucy Adlington on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Promoting the book she talked about her research and the facts behind slave labor in the camps, including the making of beautiful clothing. Ms. Adlington based her novel on the true story of the Upper Tailoring Studio at Auschwitz, which was put in place by the Commandant’s wife, Hedwig Hoss. She had skilled women prisoners recruited  to make bespoke clothing for her, other officials’ wives, and female guards. Eventually there were 23 seamstresses working in the Upper Tailoring Studio, one of the better jobs to have in such a place.

This is a very interesting piece of fashion history woven into a well crafted novel of horror and hope. Although at times it’s shocking and upsetting, I highly recommend it for just that kind of truth.

I have also read Ms. Adlington’s non-fiction fashion history book, Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear (Random House UK, 2015). Another excellent read for those who love all things fashion history.

Check out her web-page: http://www.historywardrobe.com/index.html

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http _s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com_fthtsi-assets-production_ez_images_0_1_2_1_511210-1-eng-GB_main_5a8779b9-4b91-42d7-87bb-75a38d64cb40I see a great return of activism in the fashion industry. I think fashion has the power to communicate important things in a moment where everybody is worried. Fashion has a unifying power. But this has to be done with a light hand, without arrogance.

Silvia Venturini Fendi, Italian designer for the men’s collection, Fendi.

I was just reading about the German occupation of France during WWII and how young French citizens used fashion to communicate their resistance.

They called themselves Zazous (after a song by American jazz musician Cab Calloway) and were considered a subculture of mostly young people, 17-20 years old.

Zoot-Suit-Trousers-1940s-14

Cab Calloway in a Zoot Suit.

The Zazou man sported long suit jackets with extra wide pants often in check patterns. This was an affront to the strict fabric restrictions and inspired by the American Zoot Suit, a style at the time popular among Blacks and Latinos who had their own resistance to communicate. Zazous favored thick soled shoes, jazz music, and swing dancing. Women wore very short flared skirts with tight sweaters, and tailored jackets. Accessories included large dark sunglasses, red lipstick, and striped tights. Both the guys and gals grew their hair long in defiance of the 1942 French government decree for barbershops to donate cut hair to the war effort – to make sweaters and slippers.

The possible current trend for Resistance Style (am I coining a new phrase?) so far has been limited to the statement t-shirt and the occasional safety pin. But I suspect that in the near future we will see more communication from individuals and designers.

This could be very interesting.

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untitledI’ll never forget what wonderful Edna Chase, the doyenne – the goddess – the former of taste, discretion and elegance – sending a memo to us in the bombing, that she noticed we weren’t wearing hats and she didn’t approve that we dyed our legs and made lines up the backs to simulate stockings – (Britain had no nylons until the US Air Force brought them in as rich presents) – and I happened to be in charge of the office that day, though it was none of my affair to answer the boss, I sent a cable in my own name: We have no ration coupons and no nylon stockings anyway. The next week every member of the staff was sent three pairs.

Lee Miller, (1907-1977) American fashion model, photographer, and war correspondent for Vogue magazine (WWII).

This quote is from a letter Ms. Miller sent to her brother during the London Blitz (German bombing of the city), happening in the early years of World War II. At the time she was living in London with the artist/photographer Roland Penrose and working for Vogue as a fashion photographer. Later she traveled to the Continent as a war correspondent, also for Vogue.

I’ve been fascinated with Ms. Miller ever since I attended the exhibit The Art of Lee Miller at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I was and continue to be captivated by the many facets of her artistic talents.

Currently I’m reading Lee Miller in Fashion, by Becky E. Conekin.

BTW, Edna Chase was the editor in chief of Vogue from 1914-1952. She’s also quite a story.

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