Fashion History

The “garçonne” in Colombia, according to the archives of “Fotografía Rodríguez” at the Piloto Public Library

As a fashion historian, one of the questions I find repeatedly asking myself has to do with the truthfulness of representations of costume in Latin America before the invention of photography. Although, until relatively recently, posing for a photo included a very delicate selection of the outfit—and it continues to be the case for some occasions—we can assert that the clothes that appear in a photograph are real: they are much more than the idealized product of an artist’s imagination, which, quite undoubtedly, is trained to show the power of the sitter through a series of visual codes, or a perfected copy of the European model, to which the American character is added.

Dolce & Gabbana’s Sophia Loren

Dolce & Gabbana A/W 2016 Couture - Sophia Loren

Born in 1934, Sophia Loren was destined to greatness, becoming a film star at the age of 15 and, soon after, crowning herself as the Italian muse par excellence of generations of men and women, who continue to venerate her after more than 80 years of her life. Never too shy to wear bold accessories, a daring dress with rich patterns, or her staple colored glasses, Sophia Loren has become much more than a famous Italian actress; she is, in many ways, the image of Italian style, of its powerful women, of the colorful beauty of its landscapes, of the sparkling character of its peoples.

No wonder why Dolce & Gabbana inspired their latest Alta Moda collection on this eternal muse…

Remembering a Legend: Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham New York

I met Bill Cunningham on the day I like to remember as the first day of my life as an art historian. After months of hard work trying to show the art-history world that I, an economist, with little formal training in the history of art, could be part of it, this was my first day as a researcher at The Met. So, in a typical winter day in New York—sunny but freezing—I walked out of my home, Chanel boots on my feet, books in my bag, and my favourite coat with a floral pattern, trying not to let the nerves consume me and hoping to survive my first day as a staff member at the museum I so much adore. 

It turned out that this was also the day that my department opened its most important exhibitions this year: The Power of Prints: The Legacy of William M. Ivins and A. Hyatt Mayor, and Wordplay: Matthias Buchinger’s Drawings from the Collection of Ricky Jay. Still new to the world of drawings and prints, and determined to absorb as much information as I could during my time at The Met, I spent quite a long while trying to see everything before heading to the reception for a glass of wine. And while I was looking at some of Buchinger’s drawings with floral designs, a wonderful man, with the widest smile on his face, approached me commenting how beautifully the pattern on my coat combined with the patterns in the drawings I had spent so long carefully studying. It was Bill.

Unveiling Fashion History Through Literature and Art

Les Lorettes - Fashion History and Art

Paul Gavarni [Chevalier]. “Les Lorettes,” pl. 44, published in Le Charivari, 13 February 1843. Photo taken by me at the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition “The Power of Prints”. Accession no. 57.581.15.

As I have mentioned before, my main emphasis in the research of fashion history focuses on the intersections between fashion, politics and identity. I am particularly interested in the late-colonial and postcolonial periods in Colombia and Latin America, and I am fascinated by the ways in which dress, and appearances in general, became central to the creation of an identity in the centuries where the “old” world was re-shaped into what we live today.

To study these intersections between fashion, politics and identity, however, is no easy task. In the case of Latin America, it is particularly difficult because most areas of cultural production have been understudied, especially in relation to fashion. Moreover, because collections of historical dress are virtually inexistent in the region—contrasting with the rich collections that abound in Europe and North America—as a fashion historian you have to become creative in the use of sources and borrow methodologies from a variety of areas of inquiry from different historical traditions.

Fashion and Femininity in the Newborn Colombia

Carmelo Fernández Tipos Blanco Mestizo y Zambo

Carmelo Fernández. Tejedoras y mercaderas de sombreros nacuma en Bucaramanga. Tipos blanco, mestizo y zambo, 1850, watercolour on paper, 23 x 30 cm. Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia.

Perhaps one of the first lessons I learned in my career as an Economic Historian was that, throughout the centuries, history has been created through the negotiation between traditional values and new emerging norms that evolve with changing societies. Constantly—and regardless of what we may think—most of the “traditions” we know are actually much more recent than we believe they are and, in most cases, as Eric Hobsbawm avidly explains, they are also invented. The Colombian 19th century saw the creation of the traditions that continue to rule the society from a balancing act between the new values of the independence and the old Colonial Spanish standards. Many of them, additionally, emerged from a current of thought heavily influenced by the French Enlightenment and by the writings of intellectuals such as Voltaire and Rousseau.

*This article was originally published in Spanish in vanessarosales.com 

Chanel: High Fashion and the Elevation of Ordinariness

One of the most curious things about fashion is that, somehow, we tend to concentrate on the high-end aspect of it. Normally, when we think of fashion, we think of high-fashion brands and the luxurious—and mostly unattainable—lifestyle that they embody, but never really as something that exists in the masses. Fashion tends to be thought of as a sort of “special” phenomenon that occurs under certain situations but not as an ongoing practice that we engage in on a daily basis. However, and even though this aspect of fashion has been largely ignored throughout history, fashion is something that occurs everywhere and everyday, and these aspects of it shouldn’t be ignored.