I’ll be at the It’s Darling! vintage & artisan fair again this summer on Saturday 16th July, bringing my specially selected batch of Scrapiana vintage haberdashery, textiles, handmade items etc. Oh, and lots and lots of strawberry emery grit, just in case you’ve got a yearning to make your own vintage strawberry needle-cushions (as featured in Mollie Makes magazine). Last summer’s It’s Darling! event was the very first of its kind, and the fair is really going from strength to strength. I hope I’ll be sitting next to the lovely Faith Caton-Barber again (and her glorious bespoke wearable Something Fabulous creations). I’ll be featuring Faith in greater depth on the blog very soon.
We did it! Our first Slow Art Day here in Bath has happened! Strictly speaking, we probably have to rename ours Slow Dress Day, because our canvases were the applied art of clothing – mostly dresses – in the collection of the Fashion Museum.
Slow Art Day at the Bath Fashion Museum
A very small (let’s say ‘select’) crowd met outside the Fashion Museum on Saturday at 11am. OK, there were just three of us, but that’s officially a crowd in my book. Given that we were so few, we decided to go around together and discuss as we went – not quite as suggested by the organisers, but it worked for us. Just to remind you, Slow Art Day is a grassroots concept born in the US. More flash-mob than guided tour, it requires only an interested ‘host’ to pick out a few items to view, and doesn’t demand the art gallery or museum to be involved at all, though I felt it polite to brief the Fashion Museum on what might be hitting it.
The shortlist of items to view was helpful. One of our group had an unusual perspective; she’d suffered a brain haemorrhage a few years ago and now experiences information-overload very quickly, so she really appreciated paring down the options and going slower. And cutting down the items vying for our attention released us all from the anxiety of choice. We found that concentrating on less gave us the space to ask ourselves (and each other) lots of questions. How would that dress have felt to wear? Would the pointy part of that bodice have dug in when you sat down? What would have been worn underneath? Is that manikin the right shape for the period? How did they weave silver into that fabric? How expensive would a metre of that fabric have been? Would the dress have looked as muted as this when new? What exactly is the parchment in parchment lace? – would it have been possible to hide a secret message in it?! Why were the fingers on the seventeenth century gloves so extremely long? How would you have visited ‘the smallest room’ in a mantua? If you sat down in a crinoline, what happened to your skirt ? Happily, the museum has modern crinolines for visitors to try on, so we could test out this last question for ourselves. Answer: it probably depended on your crinoline: some flew up exposing your underwear, some were more demure.
Sometimes we started looking at one thing but were drawn to compare it with similar items located close by. This happened a lot in the What Will She Wear?exhibition, featuring the museum’s collection of wedding dresses (a nod to a certain royal wedding later this month). We had two of the dresses on our list but it seemed natural to contrast them with the rest of the exhibits which spanned almost 200 years. We started with the oldest wedding dress, dated 1829. It wasn’t the most beautiful, but told us something about that period. Not white but a dark champagne colour (the white-for-a wedding convention hadn’t bedded in yet), it had wide-set leg o’ mutton sleeves, lots of flouncy lace, and a curious closure down the centre front.
We experienced a few glitches: a change to one of the displays post-selection, and the closure of our lunch venue (the museum’s cafe) in order to accommodate a wedding reception. This was a teeny bit annoying as I’d thought to check ahead that the cafe would be open to the public that day. But there was something appropriate (given what we’d just been looking at) in being shooed away by the wedding photographer wanting a clean shot of the bride as she entered the beautiful Assembly Rooms. We got a great view of the dress as she swept by on her dad’s arm, and it was easy to find an alternative vendor of soup-and-a-roll for three nearby.
There were a lot of interested would-be Slow-Arters who couldn’t make it this time, and a lot of people responded really favourably to the general Slow Art Day concept, so I hope there will be more. If you’d like to be part of an unofficial follow-up Slow Art event at the Fashion Museum (possibly in May), please leave a comment and I’ll be delighted to organise it. The same principles will apply: no charge, just pay cost of your admission. Do mention if during the school day or on a Saturday works best for you. And if you fancy hosting a Slow Art Day event next year (Saturday 28th April 2012), no experience or expertise is necessary, just lots of enthusiasm. Find out more over at the Slow Art Day site .
I’ll sign off with another 1950s’s TV gem from the creator of the Fashion Museum, the incomparable Doris Langley Moore. I particularly love the way she says ‘head’, and the bobbling period credits. Enjoy!
I found this 1957 film while searching for fashion and textiles on YouTube.
It’s reputedly one of the first experimental BBC programmes shot in colour, part of a series named Men, Women and Clothes. The new medium of colour TV wouldn’t become available in Britain for another decade, and the Queen Mother, who was treated to a preview of the series, is said to have enjoyed it but regretted that the general public wouldn’t get a chance to see it. Happily, we can now.
The clipped narrator is the wonderful Doris Langley Moore founder of the Museum of Costume (now the Fashion Museum) which hadn’t yet taken root in Bath and was at this point lodged at Eridge Castle, Sussex. There isn’t the slightest chance of the Fashion Museum’s clothes being modeled by real people nowadays, so enjoy this glimpse into curatorial history just as much as the film’s insights into fashion history.
And if your appetite for historic fashion is whetted, consider yourself invited to the Slow Art Day event on Saturday 16th April which Yrs Truly is hosting. It’ll involve perusing a handful of exhibits dotted around the museum, and then meeting for lunch and a (very informal!) discussion afterward. Just a reminder that if you live in Bath, entry to the museum is free with your Discovery card. A grateful thank-you to Erin for tipping me off about SAD (which wins my vote for Unfortunate Event Acronym of the Year – I’ve already inadvertently caused offence by asking about ‘your SAD event…’!); if you happen to be in San Francisco, join Erin for SAD at the Cartoon Art Museum. Or host your own event! It’s easy and there’s still time.
Anyone fancy soaking up some costume artistry? Gazing long and lovingly at some historic fashion, in particular? I’ve volunteered to co-ordinate a small group of enthusiasts to visit the Fashion Museum here in Bath for a great little initiative calledSlow Art Day on the morning of Saturday 16th April.
1760s court dress in the Bath Fashion Museum
Founder of the event, Phil Terry, set out to break the common cycle of exhibition overload, whereby an average visitor (spending an average 8 seconds looking at an average exhibit) emerges from a museum tired not inspired. By slowing things down, he reasoned, one can learn the secret understood by experts, curators, artists and educators everywhere: that looking slowly can transform your experience.
Well, I’ve spoken to the publicist at the Fashion Museum, and she’s keen on the concept. All I need to find is a few costume/needlework/dressmaking/sewing/clothes-wearing enthusiasts to pad out a little group. All welcome! You don’t need any expertise at all, just an interest. We’ll be looking at a handful of items (5-10) over a couple of hours, allocating 5-10 minutes per item, hence the ‘slow’ tag. We don’t need to go around in a group; in fact, it makes sense not to as we’d clog the museum. But we’ll gather somewhere close by afterward (probably the nice cafe within the museum) for a light lunch and to compare notes on what we’ve seen. Hopefully, we’ll all emerge with new insights.
The downside, if there is one, is that we all pay for our own entry tickets and lunch (now you see why the publicist was keen!). But the big upside is a gathering of like minds and the glorious sense of confounding our hurly-burly culture for a couple of hours.
Looking at the Slow Art Day site, I note that this may be the only Slow Art event happening in the UK. What began in New York in April 2009 with just 4 people staring hard at items in the MoMA appears to be growing intoa global phenomenon. It seems perfectly fitting – given the laid-back, leisurely reputation of Bath – that we should spearhead this initiative here and show the UK how to decelerate effectively to a dawdle. If you’re reading this from somewhere else in the UK (or indeed the world) and can’t or won’t get to Bath, please consider hosting your own Slow Art Day event. It’s really very simple to do.
If you feel inclined to drag your feet with me at the Fashion Museum, do get in touch by leaving a comment below, emailing me (eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom) or just sign up direct here. You’d be very welcome to suggest items for the group’s scrutiny, otherwise I’ll scour the museum’s collection and send out a little list the week before. Hope to see you on 16th!