Thursday, 27 January 2011

First Thoughts

Part One - Anushka dreams, up in the air...
A long time ago now I was flicking through a book on 20th Century fashion and came across a double page spread, featuring a shoot of Marlene Dietrich in white tie and tails. I've since forgotten what book it was but the impression of the striking chiaroscuro photography has lingered; I later deduced that the photo shoot was taken after the release of the 1930 film 'Morocco', dir. Josef von Sternberg.

I recently watched the film and found it both intriguing and toubling, in the issues rampant and instinsic of women's roles and costume. When Dietrich's character, cabaret singer Amy Jolly, appears in a glamourous nightclub serving expatriot workers and wives and foreign soldiers,  she is dressed in formal men's eveningwear: top hat, white tie and tails. She's in drag, wearing carefully tailored men's clothes - and is booed as she first walks on to the stage.

(Looking particularly masculine with the cigarette)

Here's the song on YouTube. By now she has won over the crowd purely by confidence and poise, and perhaps helped along by a scandalous lesbian kiss to an expat wife (which certainly attracts the attention of her love interest!)

Despite being bombarded with photographs of her in 1930s fashion books, I've only seen two of Dietrich's films - The Blue Angel as well as Morocco (both dir. Josef von Sternberg). But I just can't get over how alluring and seductive she is in all roles, whether dressed in a corselette and suspenders, ankle-length art deco day dress, or men's suit. (Thanks to Youtube I've just found this other video of her performing in tails, but being a white suit with sequinned lapels it is immediately even more fabulous.) So my predominant interest in gender roles (especially women's issues) and longstanding love of transvestism, combined with the newfound interest in traditional bespoke tailoring, led me to want to make a tail coat and trousers for my Self Directed Project. (A shirt can be sourced, and I've already learnt how to make the waistcoat.)

Part Two - SDP tutorial, back to reality

 What I hadn't realised was that an evening tail coat is classed as "hard tailoring" due to the many layers of canvas and other materials worked in underneath the cloth. I've completed a simple tailored waistcoat but not learnt any of the stitches and techniques required for a suit jacket, let alone a full tail coat. So whilst I have the very basic skills of tailoring, there is an abundance to be learnt. Graham pointed out at at the tutorial that a tail coat is a technical challenge, that it's a difficult garment to make. Thus it would be a shame to be still learning whilst making one. Therefore I should consider taking up the Arts Education tailoring project instead, and making a Victorian three-piece suit.

My dreams of dressing in drag like Marlene are to be put aside for the time being, but it makes total sense: whilst making a Victorian men's suit is really quite dull (how can green-brown wools and tweeds conjured up by words like "Victorian" and "menswear" compare to the rich black silk satin lapels of white tie and tails?), this is definitely a good project to learn how to do some proper tailoring. It should give me a good grounding in tailoring, and (something which is especially pertinant, especially after having made the 18th Century outfit for Concepts in Contect) will really get me into the habit of working precisely and accurately.

After this, I can keep working up and eventually get to my tail coat. But for now it's good bye masculine womenswear, hello traditional menswear!