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In Couture Culture Nancy Troy offers a new model of how art and fashion were linked in the early 20th century. Focusing on a leader of the French fashion industry, Paul Poiret, Troy uncovers a logic of fashion based on the tension between originality and reproduction that bears directly on art historical issues of the period. This tension lies at the heart of haute couture In Couture Culture Nancy Troy offers a new model of how art and fashion were linked in the early 20th century. Focusing on a leader of the French fashion industry, Paul Poiret, Troy uncovers a logic of fashion based on the tension between originality and reproduction that bears directly on art historical issues of the period. This tension lies at the heart of haute couture, which, although designed for the wealthy, was also intended to be adapted for sale in department stores and other clothing outlets that catered to a broader consumer market.


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In Couture Culture Nancy Troy offers a new model of how art and fashion were linked in the early 20th century. Focusing on a leader of the French fashion industry, Paul Poiret, Troy uncovers a logic of fashion based on the tension between originality and reproduction that bears directly on art historical issues of the period. This tension lies at the heart of haute couture In Couture Culture Nancy Troy offers a new model of how art and fashion were linked in the early 20th century. Focusing on a leader of the French fashion industry, Paul Poiret, Troy uncovers a logic of fashion based on the tension between originality and reproduction that bears directly on art historical issues of the period. This tension lies at the heart of haute couture, which, although designed for the wealthy, was also intended to be adapted for sale in department stores and other clothing outlets that catered to a broader consumer market.

43 review for Couture Culture: A Study in Modern Art and Fashion

  1. 4 out of 5

    WORN Fashion Journal

    Paul Poiret was a designer before there were designers. He left the conventional dressmakers’ alley behind and built a studio out on the margins, knowing that over time this difference would draw his clientele to him. He added the decorative arts to the realm of design - so that not only the dress, but the chair, and the draperies, and the perfume bottle were necessarily fashionable. Poiret was an early master in the modern art of cross marketing. In Couture Culture, Nancy Troy does an analysis Paul Poiret was a designer before there were designers. He left the conventional dressmakers’ alley behind and built a studio out on the margins, knowing that over time this difference would draw his clientele to him. He added the decorative arts to the realm of design - so that not only the dress, but the chair, and the draperies, and the perfume bottle were necessarily fashionable. Poiret was an early master in the modern art of cross marketing. In Couture Culture, Nancy Troy does an analysis of the texts - articles, reviews, advertisements - about Poiret and couture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. She wants to step away from visual analysis of the clothes, or of their representation in art, to look at the “logic of fashion.” A logic that she promises will emerge “as a mechanism for understanding the impact of commercial considerations in fine art.” Troy sashays through fashion’s logic at the turn of the century, and does a turn with high art, Orientalism,and the theater. All the while she keeps an eye on how these scenes are making waves, and building mass markets for fashion. She shows how Poiret identifies himself as an artist, and at the same time uses the exclusiveness and elitism that comes with his high art performance as a marketing strategy. It was, for a while, highly successful. As French couture ran up against the American mass market for fashion and the subsequent need for mechanized production, his tactics were put under serious pressure. Troy’s research from the period shows Poiret becoming increasingly adamant and even materialistic about protecting his style and his status. His Orientalist pants, for example, could not, must not, be understood as liberating garments for the modern woman. According to Poiret’s dictates, the first-ever trendy women’s pants were just another symbol of exclusivity. The balloon shaped trousers were only for the highest class of women to wear indoors, at private parties, in tasteful, ladylike environments. He made clothes women loved, but you have to wonder why. One of Poiret’s earliest design successes was his Directoire style gown, which required the woman to wear a corset that stretched almost to the knee. After the success and scandal of his Oriental pants, he returned to this extreme, restrictive style with the Hobble skirt (an innovation Troy does not mention, by the way) nicknamed for it’s dramatically tapered shape towards the ankle. A bit on www.fashion-era.com describes it best: “To increase the hobble effect women needed to wear a ‘fetter’, a kind of bondage belt that held the ankles together and prevented the wearer from making any movements other than small steps in imitation of Geisha girls. The hobble skirt was probably Poiret’s last real success as new designers like Chanel and Lanvin opened up Fashion Houses and began to design unrestrictive clothes that women really felt comfortable wearing.” Poiret became a little insane as his celebrity status was waning. He built an entirely inflatable Oriental-flavored night club, and then handed out feedback forms to his patrons to find out why so few people came and even fewer came back. Eventually he was maneuvered out of his own company by shareholders and CEOs concerned with the effect of his missteps on their bottom line. The problem with Couture Culture emerges for me early on, when Troy writes: “I treat Paul Poiret in particular as a symptom of the contradictory forces that shaped cultural production, distribution, and consumption across the visual and performing arts at a time when anonymous production was placing enormous pressure on the creative individual.” Poiretgot tangled up trying to control how he was perceived once his dresses were made by machines. His anxieties ate up his artistry and it became difficult for him to see the people he was making clothing for. In this respect, Troy’s subject matter is definitely fascinating. But reading Poiret as a symptom, rather than an identity being shaped, makes a metaphor that oversimplifies the processes at work. The story Troy unfolds about Paul Poiret is interesting, telling of the tensions and cultural revolutions of the period, and even moving. But as the focus is so resolutely kept on just one tension (original vs. reproduction), and a limited exploration of even that, I was left wanting more questions answered. Questions about the fear and seduction of the copy, about loss of control and how we adapt it. Troy does theorize her way toward the more complex (if by now kind of conventional) questions of modernity - about traditional orders and sacred narratives breaking down beneath the weight of new technology. And she applies this questioning to the act of making clothes; but not to the fact of loving them. I think she may be on to something fascinating, maybe even a new way of understanding art, modernization, and identities, but Couture Culture leaves me wondering whether Troy herself believes it. (Risa Dickens)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katrina Sark

    1 – Fashion, Art, and the Marketing of Modernism p.19 – What set Charles Frederick Worth apart from previous dressmakers to the international aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie was not simply that he was male rather than female (although this did constitute a potentially scandalous departure from the prevailing norm, it also effectively raised the stature of the heretofore predominantly female dressmaking profession), but rather that, for the first time, fashionable women’s wear was the creation 1 – Fashion, Art, and the Marketing of Modernism p.19 – What set Charles Frederick Worth apart from previous dressmakers to the international aristocracy and wealthy bourgeoisie was not simply that he was male rather than female (although this did constitute a potentially scandalous departure from the prevailing norm, it also effectively raised the stature of the heretofore predominantly female dressmaking profession), but rather that, for the first time, fashionable women’s wear was the creation of a single designer who not only selected the fabrics and ornaments that made up any given outfit but who developed the design and produced the final product. Worth’s success in consolidating these previously distinct operations enabled him to exercise extraordinary influence over the direction of France’s luxury textiles industry and to gain control of all aspects of the dressmaking process. He was, therefore, in a position to dictate the character of each dress he designed down to its smallest details and, more importantly, to position haute couture as a powerful force for regularization in the increasingly rapid pace of fashionable innovation through the semi-annual rhythm of its presentations of new models. p.21 – Having taken command of the design, production, and distribution processes for the gowns he created, Worth was able to set the tone for high fashion during the last third of the nineteenth century, and to charge his clients accordingly. Costume historian Diana de Marly notes that “it did not suffice to be merely wealthy to go to Worth, a client had to be in the millionaire or rich aristocratic class.” Worth gowns, particularly those intended to be worn at formal court appearances and masquerade balls, typically incorporated extremely expensive materials such as silk, brocade, or handmade lace. The labor-intensive nature of hand embroidery and the other specialized sewing techniques required in their production also contributed to the high price of his dresses. 2 – Theater and the Spectacle of Fashion p.101 – The most famous of Paul Poiret’s extravagant parties, to which he gave the title “The Thousand and Second Night,” was a fantasy based on the tales of The Arabian Nights that came to life on the evening of 24 June 1911. For that occasion, Poiret and his wife required their 300 guests (mostly artists and patrons of the arts) to dress up in “Oriental” costumes. p.102 – Those who failed to do so were refused entry, unless they were willing to outfit themselves on the spot in Persian-style clothes that Poiret had designed “according to authentic documents.” Thus, Poiret used the occasion of an extraordinarily sumptuous party to demand that everyone in his circle accept the controversial features of his latest couture creations, including the jupe-culotte and harem trousers, which dominated his spring 1911 collection of women’s clothes introduced early that year, probably in response to the impact of Léon Bakst’s designs for the Ballets Russes production of Schéhérazade, which Poiret, who regularly attended the theater and other prominent cultural venues in Paris, had seen when it premiered there on 4 June 1910. p.103 – Although Poiret always resisted any suggestion that the was indebted to the Ballets Russes for his introduction to “Oriental” styles of dress, and there is evidence to support the contention that he arrived independently at an interest in the tales of The Arabian Nights, particularly Schéhérazade, Bakst’s costumes and stage designs had indeed been hugely influential. Bakst himself noted in a letter to his wife written after the public dress rehearsal of Schéhérazade that “the whole of Paris now dresses in ‘Oriental’ clothes.” p.104 – As Alexander Schouvaloff has pointed out, “At the time, everything east of Suez was called ‘Oriental,’ but Schéhérazade was not the real Orient. It was a Russian idea of an Orient as seen by the French, and they were taken in by it because they had not seen anything like it on stage before. There was, after all, nothing new about the Orient as such – it had been more or less in fashion since the time of Delacroix – but everything was new about Schéhérazade. p.118 – After 1880, French women gained access to state-sponsored secondary education and subsequently began to enter the job market in areas that had traditionally been restricted to men. Their potential mobility and independence, whether they wore culottes or not, were increasingly perceived as a threat to the traditional social structure based upon the sexual division of labor and a controversial role for women within the confines of the family rather than out in the public domain. p.119 – Around the turn of the century, the image of a culotte- or trouser-clad woman on a bicycle circulated widely on posters and in cartoons where this femme nouvelle was often represented as a muscular, cigarette-smoking androgyne. Comparable suggestions of sexual inversion were at work in the Oriental costumes that Bakst designed for the Ballets Russes, and not only because women wore trousers; men’s clothing could also challenge conversional gender categories. For example, in Schéhérazade, Nijinsky wore billowing trousers and a brassiere-like top supported at the shoulders and decorated at the midriff by strands of pearls.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    this is a great text, a great history, and has a great deal to do with poiret's career, his struggles with patent, and in general, his differentation from the french fashion order. this is a great text, a great history, and has a great deal to do with poiret's career, his struggles with patent, and in general, his differentation from the french fashion order.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    This book is an essential read for anyone doing research into Paul Poiret. It puts his decisions into the context of French culture and explores the inherent contradictions of selling a product for the elite that needs to be subsidized by mass market sales or face rampant unauthorized copying by those who want but cannot afford the originals, thus diluting the value of the original item as exclusive and unique item. Poiret was one of Paris's leading and most influential fashion designers just pr This book is an essential read for anyone doing research into Paul Poiret. It puts his decisions into the context of French culture and explores the inherent contradictions of selling a product for the elite that needs to be subsidized by mass market sales or face rampant unauthorized copying by those who want but cannot afford the originals, thus diluting the value of the original item as exclusive and unique item. Poiret was one of Paris's leading and most influential fashion designers just prior to world war 1. However, the war itself and a change in society saw that influence fade away quickly in the aftermath of the war and this book explores both the rise and fall of one of the early 20th centuries most original fashion designers whose work is still admired today.

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  11. 5 out of 5

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  20. 4 out of 5

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