Saturday, February 27, 2010

Behind the Scenes at La Comedie Francaise

All this talk of Elizabethan ruffs,  it seemed like the right time to share some of my photos from a behind the scenes tour of the La Comedie Francaise in Paris. 

La Comedie Francaise is a state theatre that was founded when two Parisian acting troupes merged under the decree of by Louis XIV on August 24, 1680. At that time, the repertoire consisted of the plays of Moliere,  Racine and others.  During the French Revolution, La Comedie Francaise was shut down by order of public safety on September 3, 1783 and the actors were imprisoned. It reopened on May 31, 1799 and been in operation ever since.

When I toured the wardrobe department last spring, I marveled at the incredible knowledge and passion of the staff as well as the exquisite craftsmanship of the costumes and accessories created there.
Elizabethan Ruff in the Ironing Department of Le Comedie Francaise
copyright of Ingrid Mida 2009

The Hat Department of Le Comedie Francaise
Copyright of Ingrid Mida 2009

A Men's 18th Century Costume from Le Comedie Francaise
Copyright of Ingrid Mida 2009

The Wardrobe Inventory Book from Le Comedie Francaise
Copyright of Ingrid Mida 2009

To attend a performance of La Comedie Francaise, visit their website here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked

Attending last week's lecture at the ROM by Jenny Tiramani on Patterns of Sixteenth Century European Court Dress reawakened my interest in the costumes of that period. I pulled Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd by Janet Arnold off the shelf and studied the fashions worn by the powerful and tempestuous Queen.

The book opens with a description of the Queen written by F.M. O'Donoghue:

"Though in her girlhood, when her position was one of great uncertainty and some danger, she discreetly affected an extreme simplicity of dress, and a dislike for outward show, after her accession to the throne her natural vanity and love of admiration led her to adopt every expedient calculated to enhance her charms, and in her later years, 'imagining' as Francis Bacon observes 'that the people who are much influenced by externals, would be diverted by the glitter of her jewels from noticing the decay of her personal attractions' she indulged in an absolutely barbaric display of rich fabrics and jewellery."

Whether or not the Queen was excessive or barbaric in choices of wardrobe and jewellery is a matter of opinion but the many portraits of the red-headed monarch certainly confirm an affinity for sumptuous fabrics decorated with elaborate embellishments of embroidery and beading. Add her exquisite white ruffs and there is no doubt that she created a powerful effect with her wardrobe choices.

This incomparable book by Janet Arnold, originally published in 1988, is a comprehensive analysis of Queen Elizabeth's wardrobe. The book is divided into 11 chapters as follows:
I. In the Eye of the Beholder
II. Portraits of the Queen
III. Robes of Ceremony
IV. Designs for Jewellery and Embroidery: their Sources and Symbolism
V. Gifts of Clothing and Jewels
VI. The Pursuit of Fashion
VII. The Wardrobe of Robes
VIII. The Queen's Artificers
IX. Editor's Note on the Transcripts of the Stowe and Folger Inventories
X. The Inventory Made in July 1600 of the Contents of the Wardrobe of Robers at the Tower of London and within the Court (Stowe)
XI. The Inventory Made in July 1600 of the Contents of the Office of the Wardrobe of Robes at Blackrairs, with a List of Personal Jewels Lost Since 1586

Incredibly thorough in both its scope and depth of its analysis, this book also includes extensive illustrations and a comprehensive bibliography. What distinguishes Janet Arnold's books from others is her ability to make her scholarly work readable. Her analysis is deep but her writing is clear and to the point (an utterly refreshing counterpoint to the many scholarly works that I read which require toothpicks to keep my eyelids open).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Clothing for the Warrior and the Courtier: Patterns of Sixteenth Century European Court Dress

Elaborate ruffs, doublets, brigandines and cloaks are the hallmarks of the sixteenth century,  the time of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare. A renowned expert and costumer specializing in this period, Jennifer Tiramani, recently spoke at the Royal Ontario Museum as part of their Veronika Gervers Fellowship Program.

 Cloak circa 1580-1600, V&A Museum No. 793-1901

Jenny was one of the authors who completed the book "Patterns of Fashion 4, The cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c.1540-1660)" after Janet Arnold died. The Patterns of Fashion series of books are important reference sources in historical fashion and are well used books in my library.

Jenny Tiramani has worked as a Costume and Stage Designer since 1977. Based in the UK, she was Associate Designer at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East 1979-1997; Director of Theatre Design at Shakespeare’s Globe 1997-2005; and is presently Resident Designer of Mark Rylance’s Phoebus Cart Theatre Company. Among her numerous current projects as a freelance costumer, Tiramani is currently designing costumes for the Metropolitan Opera in New York

Jenny recently spent several weeks in Toronto examining European sixteenth century dress and several objects of the ROM’s Textiles and Costume collection, including a rare 1500 - 1530 brigandine, a garment worn by royalty or courtiers. A form of body armour, the brigandine has been compared to the modern day bullet proof vest. In the sixteenth century, it was considered a “hidden doublet of defense.” The brigandine in the ROM’s collection is made of crimson velvet with decorative brass headed rivets that hold in place the inner protective metal plates. Jenny examined the garments and also created patterns mapping the cut and construction in order to understand decorative techniques and the play between armour and clothing.

Her charm and passion for her subject were infectious. Truthfully, I never  considered men's garments to be remotely interesting before this lecture but clearly I've overlooked the fact that clothing for men at that time, particularly their cloaks, was rich with symbolism.

After the lecture, she invited the audience to come up and look at her patterns, which were drawn onto large sheets of graph paper with meticulous notes. I chatted with her briefly and found her utterly enchanting, as apparently everyone else did too!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board

10 minute Sketch of 18th Century Lady on Book Paper in Pencil by Ingrid Mida 2009

My first memory of making art goes back to age 9 when I copied drawings by Michelangelo with a stubby pencil on discarded envelopes. I continued to use scrap paper and the margins of my notebooks  to draw whenever I could and it was my drawing skills that earned me a spot in architecture at university. But somewhere along the way, I stopped drawing, thinking it more of a preliminary tool for painting than for an art form unto itself.

The death of Alexander McQueen caused me to stop and think. I also surprised myself after a recent interview when I was asked what part of my art practice gives me the most pleasure. Without hesitation, I answered drawing even though I rarely do it anymore. And then yesterday, I met with a prominent Canadian artist who looked at the sketches pinned up on my studio wall and told me my drawings were "exquisite" and suggested that I draw my own versions of toile de jouy. I laughed but what she said kept me up half the night thinking about the possibility.

I think it is time to put down my mantle of mourning and get back to the drawing board.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Me and McQueen

 McQueen Corset, Copyright of Ingrid Mida 2010

Lee Alexander McQueen: 1969 - 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Breaking News: The Death of Alexander McQueen

How can it be?  This morning Alexander McQueen was found dead in his apartment having committed suicide by hanging. Reports say that he was distraught over the recent death of his mother. No stranger to the dark side,  he often used darkness and ugliness as sources of inspiration for his highly theatrical presentations. He recently said "beauty can come from the strangest places."

I  am at a loss for the proper words. The world has lost one of its greatest talents. May he rest in peace in the company of his beloved mother and his friend Isabella Blow (who committed suicide 3 years ago).

Photos: Fall 2008 Collection of Alexander McQueen

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Marie Antoinette and the Chanel Ready-to-Wear Collection for Spring 2010

John Galliano was not the only designer to be inspired by France's Fashion Queen this season. Karl Lagerfeld also took inspiration from Marie Antoinette's love for the simple life in creating an airy and whimsical collection for Chanel Spring 2010 Ready-to-Wear Collection. A version of Marie Antoinette's barnyard was constructed in the Grand Palais in Paris to present the collection.

Marie Antoinette adored flowers and when her husband Louis XVI acceded to the throne in 1774, he gave her the Petit Trianon. He is said to have told her "You are fond of flowers, so I give you this whole bouquet." She undertook the renovation of this sanctuary and a few years later created a hamlet nearby which included a farmhouse, a barn and a dairy among other buildings. She insisted on real animals to show her children and watched as the cows were milked and strawberries were picked. The milkmaid look (caraco a la polonaise) was popular around 1778-1779. 

It is this affinity for flowers and fabrics that appear homespun that I see in Karl Lagerfeld's designs for Chanel Spring 2010 Ready to Wear. Several of the models carry basket-like hand bags almost as if they'll be stepping off the stage to venture in the henhouse to collect eggs! 

Truthfully I thought it was a bit of a stretch to find the Marie Antoinette in this collection. But it was nice to see a lighter palette of colours in Chanel ready-to-wear.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The 2010 Spring-Summer Collection at Dior

Last spring, I had the glorious privilege of visiting the haute couture salon at Dior and this photo of me was taken in the alcove off the staircase. Sadly, I did not get to meet John Galliano and surprisingly, no one suggested that I try on any of the exquisite gowns (even though I am a sample size! LOL!).

Nevertheless, I did have the opportunity to examine several Dior haute couture gowns up close and the exquisite beauty and precise craftsmanship of the pieces I saw was simply beyond description. And while I was permitted to photograph the dresses, I also agreed not to publish them. You'll just have to take my word that the reason they cost as much as a car is obvious when you see one up close.

Keep this in mind when you read my guest post today on the blog Sanity Fair about Marie Antoinette and the Dior Spring 2010 Couture collection. Although it is my own interpretation that this collection may have been inspired by Marie Antoinette and the court of Versailles, have a look and decide for yourself.

I normally do not write about recent collections, but I made an exception because Skyla convinced me that I was the only person who could write this post. And after doing so, it struck me that I should sometimes break my own rules. Although there are lots of fashion bloggers out there, I present a unique perspective when a collection seems to reference history or art.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Review: Lillian Bassman Women

Sometimes life seems to be a series of serendipitous events. I first saw this image on the blog Studio Judith where artist/designer Judith had written about the mystery of a woman wearing veils but did not know who to credit the image to. A day later, while watching Fashion Television, I saw the image flash by on the screen during an interview with the photographer.  After seeing hearing Lillian Bassman's spirited and lively interview, I wanted to buy the book. And yesterday, there was the book staring at me.... just in time to inspire me for a photo shoot I'm doing this afternoon.

Photographer Lillian Bassman recently celebrated her 93rd birthday and also published this book called simply Lillian Bassman Women. Filled with extraordinary black and white fashion imagery that are a cross between abstract painting and photography, Lillian's work is hauntingly beautiful and unique beyond measure.

Even more astonishing is that Lillian only recently came back to fashion photography after a hiatus of twenty-two years. Having first picked up a camera in 1947, Lillian was a sought-after photographer during the 1950s and 1960s and was known to "photograph fashion with a woman's eye for a woman's intimate feelings." But in 1971 and 1972, Lillian destroyed most of her fashion photographs. She had come to believe that fashion photography was formulaic with little room for experimentation and had moved on. During this period, Lillian rented out the ground floor of her carriage house to Helen Frankenthaler who used it as her studio. In 1990, Frankenthaler found some bags bulging with negatives and returned them to Lillian. In 1994, Lillian returned to the darkroom and started making new prints, exploring new interpretations of the images. Since then, she has adopted Photoshop as her darkroom tool of choice saying that "The computer is as good a tool as any for creating experimental effects". Given that she is in her nineties, she serves as an example of how to embrace change.

This oversize book is filled with exquisite images of Lillian's work, capturing an abstracted form of painterly elegance and beauty that is difficult to put into words. If I could, I would love to be her apprentice/intern, because the spirit of what she has done - creating photography with a painterly quality - is exactly what I hope to achieve with the documentation of my mother's dress collection. I will be studying Lillian's photographs with great intensity and trying to recreate her magic on my images using Photoshop!

Title: Lillian Bassman Women
Introduction by: Deborah Soloman
Photographs by: Lillian Bassman
Published by: Abrams, New York 2009
Category: Non-fiction, Photography
Number of Pages: 228
Price: US$50, Canada $64.99 UK 29.99

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fashion and the Social Media

Fashion Magazine Explorations 3, copyright of Ingrid Mida 2009
Apparently I was holding a hot ticket in my hands this morning when I entered the Spoke Club to attend a seminar called Having @ Style, Social Media and Seismic Shifts in Fashion. There was a long waiting list for the event. Having been given the heads up last week, I signed on as soon as I realized that Dr. Alexandra Palmer, author of a recent book on Dior and Senior Curator of Textiles and Costume at the Royal Ontario Museum would be speaking on the panel. Other speakers included Lisa Tant, editor-in-chief of Flare Magazine, Susan Langdon, Executive Director of the Toronto Fashion Incubator and Cherie Federau, owner of Shrimpton Couture (cited by the Huffington Post as the vintage equivalent of Net-a-Porter). The moderator was Jyotika Malhotra, Editor-in-Chic of

The topic for discussion was how the world of fashion has changed by the use of social media, including blogging, Twitter and Facebook. The audience was encouraged to use their phones and laptops if they wanted to tweet and/or post on the fly. I felt practically ancient with my little notebook open on my lap as people madly typed away on their keyboards. I also regretted not having the foresight to bring my camera along.... (I'm going to blame it on getting too little sleep this week!).

The presentation of the panelists was for the most part entertaining. Cherie Federau, owner of Shrimpton Couture, talked about her business model being totally on-line, giving her access to a global marketplace which included Courtney Love, Rachel Zoe, and other celebrities, even though she lives and works from her country home an hour outside of Toronto. She said that her business tripled in size once she started using Twitter. Lisa Tant and Susan Langdon also cited blogs and Twitter as a important way to stay in touch with what was happening in fashion. 

Dr. Alexandra Palmer gave the most enlightening presentation, going through the technological developments that had changed the course of fashion, such as the button, the loom, the sewing machine, the cage crinoline, the steel-front busk, the bias cut, the zipper, new age materials like rubber, elastic, spandex, and new techniques in merchandising like the pop-up shop. Admitting to be faithful to her role as a historian, she diplomatically did not really give her opinion of how blogs and Twitter would affect fashion. One had to guess from her presentation that it was akin to these other technological advancements in history.

Even though four of the five speakers (including the moderator) insisted that Twitter was an essential part of creating a place for one's self in the new social media, I will not be signing up. I take great pride in presenting a unique voice in fashion on Fashion is my Muse! For that reason alone, I'm staying my course, even if my reluctance to Twitter makes me seem somewhat outdated and irrelevant.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Review: Fifty Dresses that Changed the World

Given my fascination for dresses, it probably comes as no surprise that I could not resist buying this book which is one in a series published by the Design Museum. Others include Shoes, Cars, Chairs etcetera. And while it hardly seems likely that any object would change the world, it does provide a compact survey of 50 dresses that impacted contemporary fashion design from 1915 forward. Some of the dresses on the list of top fifty are: The Goddess Dress by Madame Vionnet (1931), Chanel's Jersey Flapper Dress (1926), YSL's Mondrian dress (1965), the Paper dress (1966), Vivienne Westwood's Mini-Crini (1985), Versace's Safety-pin dres (1994)...

If I had written this book, I would have gone back to around 1778-1779, when Marie Antoinette stepped out of her enormous paniers and adopted the milk-maid look with polonaise a deux fins or pleated caraco and apron of linon a fleurs. And who can argue against the revolutionary impact of Marie Antoinette wearing the lightweight chemise dress known as the gaulle. The outcry from  Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun's portrait of the queen wearing this "undignified" and "indecent" gown was vitriolic. But obviously that wasn't the mandate of this particular book.

In any case, reading this book did set off a light-bulb for me when I read about Hussein Chalayan's Buried Dress collection of 1993.  In this collection for his graduation show at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, he buried the garments in his back garden and left them to decompose. The results were not pretty but caused a fashion sensation and established him as a pioneer in the world of fashion. After I finish documenting my mother's dress collection, I may use this concept as a stepping stone for a process driven conceptual project with her dresses. That alone made the book worth the cover price.

Title: Fifty Dresses that Changed the World
Published by: Conran Octopus Ltd. 2009
Category: Non-fiction, fashion
Number of Pages: 112
Price: US$20, Canada $26, UK 12.99

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Post-installation Blues

I was told not to post photos of my installation at Fly Gallery until after it came down (apparently this would discourage visitors), but I just couldn't help myself. What else am I supposed to talk about in the meantime? I want to move past it and onto the next project.....

I was initially elated when the installation of Balenciaga Buzz (which is what I'm going to call this piece now after a suggestion from my dear friend Square with Flair) went up. But today, in looking at the photos I took, I cannot help but feel a little disappointed..... I cannot explain why but the photos do not properly capture the essence of what I have created. Where is the whimsy? Where is the contrast between the gritty, urban gallery space and the beautiful assemblage of objects on display? It makes me feel a little bit blue....Alas, I think it is time for some chocolate therapy.

P.S. I dropped by the gallery this evening to see what it looked like and even from well down the street, my eyes were drawn to it like flies to honey. I'm not sure whether it was the drama of night-time lighting or the inclusion of the vinyl lettering with my name on the glass, but I loved it again! Such are the ups and downs of the artistic journey. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

That Dress is so Fly! at Fly Gallery in Toronto

That Dress is so Fly!
Mixed Media Installation, copyright of Ingrid Mida 2010

Inspired by the urban installation space, the playful nature of Moschino and the sculptural qualities of Balenciaga,  I have created a fashion based sculpture out of mosquito mesh for Fly Gallery in Toronto. Designed as a metaphor for the fickle nature of fashion trends, this wearable dress can be converted into a protective shelter against flies, mosquitos and other pests as required. 

February 1 - 10, 2010
Fly Gallery, 1172 Queen Street West, Toronto

If you are out of town and cannot make it to the show, stay tuned and I'll post photos from the installation after it comes down. Also visit my website