Category Archives: Viewpoint

Thoughts on Museum Visits

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Copyright Paramount Pictures

Recently I’ve come across two articles about museum-going.  The first, which was about how museums are good for you, I linked to several weeks ago.  The second one was in The New York Times last week, and was called “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum.”  The title pretty much sums up what the article was about.

I guess I was not surprised to read that people are actually putting works of art and museum visits on their “bucket lists.”  As a person who loves museums, I’ve got a few left in the world I want to see before I kick the bucket.  But in our crazy speeded-up-take-the-photo-and-go world it appears that people are more concerned with announcing to their Facebook followers that they saw Van Gogh’s Starry Night than they are with actually seeing the art.  According to the article, visitors spend about fifteen to thirty minutes looking at a piece of art.

In some of our large museums one could spend only fifteen seconds in front of each piece of art and still not see everything in one visit. The author of the article, Stephanie Rosenbloom, suggests that it is better to focus in on just a few works that are of great interest than to try and see everything.  I know that when I visit a museum, I’m most interested in the works that show fashion, or in works that involve textiles.  I might spend fifteen seconds at a work that does not interest me, but ten or more minutes on the ones that do.  And I’ve been known to spend entire museum visits at one work that really resounded with me.

Rosenbloom also addresses that most polarizing of modern phenomena, the selfie.  Love them or hate them, the selfie photo is a part of our culture, and it is one of the ways to prove to the social media world that one did actually see the Venus de Milo.  Some museums are actually encouraging the practice as a way to identify with a work, much like Audrey does with the Winged Victory of Samothrace in 1957’s Funny Face.

Even if you do not want to read the article, you must click to it if only to see the photo of people in front of the Mona Lisa. Small wonder that so many people who view it say that the painting is overrated.  When I saw the Mona Lisa in 1991, I was completely moved by it, but then my viewing experience was very different from the one we see in the photo.

I was with a small group of friends in Paris and time was very limited.  One of the group really wanted to bee the Mona Lisa, so we tightened up our schedule to allow for a short visit.  In was a cold day in early April and we were at the Louvre when it opened.  We went straight to the Mona Lisa .  Even though the painting is under thick glass and at that time you could get no closer than six feet, we had the best possible viewing of her.  We had beaten the crowds, which were lighter than normal anyway due to it being off season, and so we spent a good thirty minutes looking and marveling and discussing the work.

As we left we went by the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory, and that was all we had time for.  I’m sure some people would think we did not get our money’s worth because we saw so little of the Louvre, but it was the most magical and memorable hour of that trip to France.

Maybe it is because I’ve been lucky enough to see many of the world’s great museums, but today I’m just as satisfied spending an afternoon in one of the many lesser known, but still wonderful museums.  Some favorites are the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Greenville County (SC) Museum of Art, and the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC.  And next week I hope to spend the day at another favorite, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.  They have a new exhibition on Emilio Pucci, who briefly attended the nearby University of Georgia, but I’ll also be spending some time with my favorites in their permanent collection.

UPDATE:  Please feel free to share your own small museum recommendations and museum visiting hints.

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Charm, October, 1951

Charm, as the subtitle tells us, was a magazine geared toward the young career woman.  In 1951 a career woman was often an office worker or a nurse or a teacher.  Personally, I’d like to see this woman in a classroom.

Teacher fashion gets a very bad rap, often with good reason.  I’ve witnessed too many teachers wearing ill-fitting dowdy denim jumpers and baggy elastic waist knit pants.  And come October, schools are filled with adults wearing heavy orange sweaters liberally decorated with scarecrows, pumpkins, and if the community allows, ghosts and witches.  But that’s only the beginning, as there are sweaters for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day and so on.

Teachers will tell you that the reason they dress like that is because the job necessitates that they be comfortable and look cheerful.  While that is true, it does not mean that sloppiness is requisite.  Whether or not they like it, teachers are strong sartorial role models.  Children notice what the teacher wears and they get a sense of how a professional  is supposed to dress from the woman or man standing in front of them every day.

It may sound as if I’m being over harsh in my assessment of how many teachers dress.  It’s only fair to point out that for every teacher who looks like a refugee from the Quacker Factory, there is another who dresses simply but professionally, like our cover girl.  A trim and neat sweater topping a pleated skirt or a pair of well fitting slacks with a scarf at the neck (brooch optional) makes a good school uniform for the teacher, and sets a high standard for the children to aim for in the future.

Of course, when I retired there were five black pleated shirts in my closet.

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September in Review

I love September.  It’s warm enough that one can pretend that it is still summer.  But not October.  Today was blustery and quite chilly, and there is no doubt that summer is over.  Before long I’ll be excited about snow.

The wolf dressmaker’s form was up for silent auction at my local Habitat for Humanity.  I gave up at $265, as it was a bit too small for me to actually use.  Still, it was an incredible find.

Welcome to Frog Level.  This is an old warehouse area in Waynesville that has been made commercial.  There is a great coffeehouse and a new brewery, plus the best thrift store in town.

I love having lunch outside, and so many restaurants now offer outdoor seating during the warm days.  This is at my favorite local coffee shop, Panacea, in Waynesville.  Out back is the best seating in town, on the banks of Richland Creek.

Back in the day, lunch in Asheville might have been at the S&W Cafeteria.  Now the top floors have been converted into condos.  There’s at least one unit left:  1000 square feet for half a million dollars.  Not too many years ago the entire building could have been bought for a fraction of that.

This 1930s Vogue was a lucky flea market find.  These are getting harder and harder to find.

I got all dressed up in my favorite Marimekko dress just to go to lunch with my husband.  And I took the photo without straightening the room just so you would know I’m keeping it real.

I called this a crime against mannequins.  Can you just imagine the time (and glue sticks) it took to do this?  Why?

Here’s a photo of the lucky bins at the Liberty Antiques Festival, where I found the gym shirt and some other really great sports clothing.  There must have been twenty boxes and bins full of old textiles and clothes.

A great thing about fall is that it is apple season.  This is the exterior of the Barber’s Orchard Fruit Stand, built in 1932.  The apples are good, but we go for the cider doughnuts.

And as always I leave you with the beautiful Carolina sky.

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We Love Vera (Neumann)

Last week I showed a newer fabric that was copied from a 1960s print that can be found on vinyl accessories from the German company, KEK.  It’s hard to know if these newer fabrics are complying with the original owner’s copyright, especially since the rules vary from country to country and often involve China, in which there are rules but few seem to follow them.

While some companies have long gone out of business and their former owners have little or no idea that their designs are being recycled, excellent planning prevented this from happening at at least one American company, Vera.  According to Vera’s nephew, Fred Salaff, all of Vera’s designs were registered in the Library of Congress, which made her copyright easier to defend.

Another thing that has protected Vera’s work is that someone has always clearly owned it.  Vera sold her business to Manhattan Industries in 1967, but she continued to work as the designer of the scarves that carried her name.  When Manhattan sold the Vera company in 1988, all her original work, samples and archives were put into storage.  In 2005, the Vera name and archives were bought by Susan Seid who worked with other companies to get products with Vera designs produced.

One company was Anthropologie which sold a line called “We Love Vera” starting in 2010.  I don’t shop at Anthropologie, as it is owned by the same man who owns Urban Outfitters, a company that is constantly releasing objectionable products just for the publicity, much like a three-year-old pitches a tantrum just to get mommy to notice.  But I did keep up with the Vera products, mainly because I think the whole issue of print copyright is so interesting.

Susan Seid sold the copyrights and licensing agreements last year, and it does not look like Anthropologie is still selling We Love Vera.  Other companies continue to produce products that feature Vera artwork, including Brighton handbags.

I was happy to pull this We Love Vera blouse from the Goodwill bins last week.  It’s interesting to see how her designs have been adapted to a young, modern consumer.

I’m not exactly sure what this design portrays, but it is definitely from Vera Neumann’s hand.  Any ideas on what these little designs are?

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Selling Vintage

For several years before I retired, I had a plan.  I was going to sell vintage clothing online to make a few extra bucks and to productively spend my time.  And for a while, around two years, that’s exactly what I did.  The problem was that I really did not enjoy selling.  What I wanted to do was collect and write about fashion and textile history.

So I gave up the etsy store and began spending my time researching and writing, care taking and mending.  And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

A while back I mentioned that one of the things I love about Instagram is that almost everything posted there is for sale. The problem is that I post photos of my vintage collection and finds there, and it’s quite often that someone asks if the item is for sale.  I somehow feel like I should not be teasing people showing off some of the great things I’ve found over the past twenty-five or so years of collecting.

Even here on The Vintage Traveler, I get emails all the time asking if an item I posted about is for sale.  As you have probably guessed, my answer is almost always “No,” but there are times that I have agreed to sell an item to a reader.  I have one rule that determines whether or not the item changes hands – the prospective buyer has to want the item more than I do.

I know what it is like to really want something for my collection.  I’ve written plenty of those almost begging emails myself, so I pretty much know how to judge item desire in others.

If you see something here or on Instagram that you feel you can’t live without, it never hurts to ask.  But you have to convince me that you need it more than I do, and that you will take good care of it.  And be prepared to hear, “No.”

See that cute little cat skirt?  I pulled it out of the Goodwill bins and posted a photo on Instagram.  The skirt was felt with the kittens sort of embossed onto it, and contrary to what my photo might lead you to believe, was in pretty rough shape.  The kittens were fading and peeling, and there were holes in the felt.  The skirt was for a little girl.  Still, I put it in my shopping cart to make a decision about it later.

Finally, I decided that I really had no need for it so I put it back in a bin.  Very quickly, one of the three shoppers that had been stalking me, hoping I’d discard it swooped in to get it.  That was good because I hated the thought of those kittens in a bale of rags.

By the time I got home and checked my messages, two people had already asked about the skirt.  I felt really bad about having to tell them that I didn’t even buy it!  I think my days of leaving something this great in the Goodwill are over, especially if it has a kitten on it.

I’m in the process of going through my vintage sewing patterns and books, and I’ve decided that I really do need to sell some.  So starting in November I’ll reopen the old Fuzzylizzie Vintage etsy shop for a few months to offer them.  There will probably be some fabric as well.  I’ll be sure to announce the opening when it happens.

And seriously, if you sell vintage, you need to be on Instagram.  Just don’t make it entirely about what you are selling.

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New Twist on an Old Print

If you’ve been a Vintage Traveler reader for a while, you will recognize the little photo album above.  It’s from the 1960s, made by a German company called KEK.  The last time I looked, they were still in business, making a variety of things.

I also have that print in a larger album in a different colorway.  Europe was just so cool in the early to mid Sixties!

 

I was doing my morning scroll through Instagram and came upon this photo.  As you can see, it is pretty much the same print, but with less detail.  As it turns out this print is on a dress that was sold by a UK clothing company called Joules.  Since that company is only twenty-five years old, we know that the fabric is a reproduction of the original KEK print.

The dress is adorable, and is for sale on the Instagram account, @trexesandtiaras, which gave me permission to use the photos.  If I were 20 and in the UK, I’d buy it.

It does bring up the question, yet again, of vintage prints being reproduced.  As I’ve said before, I’m making no judgment on how this fabric got reproduced.  As far as I know, the maker could have had KEK’s permission.  Or it is equally possible that some fabric “designer” found one of the 1960’s albums, or worse yet, photos online, and merely copied the print.  Well, it’s not an exact copy.  Note that on the license plate a 7 was changed to 3.

Joules clothing was tagged in our discussion, so maybe they will shed some light on this fabric.

There have been many times when I’ve been confused over a fabric, not being able to decide if it is vintage or just a new product made to look vintage.  The more I look at modern fabrics, the more I can see the difference.  The modern reproduction is cute, but put side by side there is a great difference in the detailing.  Still, I’d sure love to have a skirt of that fabric.

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We’ve Been Punked

From the very beginning I was less than enthused about the Met’s Costume Institute’s Punk exhibition.  My biggest concern was that with all the wonderful objects within the Met’s costume collection, it was sad that they were yet again focusing on fashion from the past twenty or so years.  And then, before the Punk show opened, Malcolm McLaren’s widow made the claim that some of the objects were fakes.

This was not a new claim.  In 2008 McLaren himself had studied objects that had come from the same source as some of the Met’s punk items, and had found them to be fakes. Artist Damien Hirst had spent about $150,000 on punk clothing from Simon Easton, who was selling the stuff through eBay.  After the items were viewed by a former punk and seller of reproductions, Camden Jim, who recognized some of the designs as the ones he had sold at Camden Market,  Hirst became alarmed and contacted McLaren, who found that most of Hirst’s items were fake.

In the meantime Christie’s Auctions, who had some of the Easton material had concerns and called in McLaren to examine the items they had obtained from Easton.  Easton’s Ebay account was suspended.

To backtrack a bit, in 2006, the Costume Institute, in preparation for their Anglomania exhibition, acquired quite a few Westwood/McLaren punk items.  These were a prominent part of the exhibition and accompanying catalog.  When the Hirst fakes were exposed in 2008, it soon became evident that there might be some problems with the Met’s items as well.  At the time, Andrew Bolton, the associate curator responsible for the purchase and the Anglomania exhibition said that the pieces bought from Simon Easton would be reviewed.

At this point the story goes cold until February, 2013.  Malcolm McLaren had died in 2010, but his widow started questioning the validity of objects that were to be shown in that summer’s Costume Institute exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture.  She wrote to the Met outlining her objections to several of the items that were to be in the exhibition.  Along with Paul Gorman, who had worked with McLaren to try and establish the authenticity of many items, she gave detailed reasons why some of the objects were “wrong.”  A spokesperson for the Costume Institute replied that  “the provenance of all the punk pieces in our collection and in the upcoming exhibition have been verified”.

But now it appears as if they were not.  Paul Gorman, who examined the Met’s McLaren/Westwood holdings in May 2013 wrote a detailed report on his findings – a report that was not good news for the Met.  Not only did he believe that a large number of the garments were fake, others were suspect, and still others were misdated.  After the Punk exhibition came down, other experts were called in.  As a result, two bondage suits with the Seditionaries label were marked for de-accession. Both suits had been in the Anglomania exhibition of 2006.

However, the two suits in question are still on the Met’s website, but very recently the listing designation was changed to  “Attributed to Vivienne Westwood” and “Attributed to Malcolm McLaren”.  Around thirty other objects now have “Attributed to” in the item description, and photos of most of these items have been removed.

Just as disturbing is the faulty dating of objects.  Gorman gives the example of a pair of bondage trousers that were dated to 1976, but the trousers have the Vivienne Westwood Red label - a label that was established in 1993!  In his article on his blog, Gorman shows the museum’s page on the trousers (2006.253.18) which has a photo of them and the label.  When I looked up the page today, I see that the photograph of the label has been removed.

You should read Gorman’s detailed blog post, and judge for yourself.  I  see some very shoddy scholarship in action here.  As a very small-time collector I can tell you that it is very difficult to always get dating and attribution correct.  But even with my limited resources I want to be as accurate as possible, and I am always willing to admit when I am wrong, no matter how much I want to believe otherwise.  Should not our institutions be the same?

 

Thanks to Sarah at TinTrunk for the Gorman article.
 

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