Tricks For Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette at Bard
Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette — On view through July 26, 2015. The extraordinary ways in which women and men have shaped their bodies into distinctive silhouettes in the name of fashion will be examined in an exhibition opened this spring.
Whalebone corset. France, ca. 1740–60. Silk satin damask, braided silk, linen bows covered in silk and decorated with metallic thread, whalebone, linen lining. Les Arts Décoratifs, collection Mode et Textile. Articulated pannier. France, ca. 1770. Iron covered with leather, fabric tape. Les Arts Décoratifs, depot du musée national du Moyen Âge-Thermes et hotel de Cluny 2005, Cluny 7875. Photographer: Patricia Canino
Curated by Denis Bruna, curator of pre-19th-century fashion and textile collections at the Musée des Arts décoratifs and professor at the École du Louvre, the exhibition will explore the history of what has long been "behind the scene" in clothing and fashion — far beyond the corset, the best-known device for shaping the ﬁgure. Drawing heavily on the Paris museum's unrivaled costume collection, it is the ﬁrst of its kind, and Bard Graduate Center will be its only venue in North America.
Although a broad array of silhouette-shaping garments has evolved over the course of fashion history, and techniques have been reﬁned, the purpose of such garments has remained consistent: to ﬂatten the stomach, compress the waist to the point of hollowing it out, support the bust, lift the breasts (and sometimes ﬂatten them), and add curves to the hips. In short, comfort was superseded by appearance until about 1900, when couturiers such as Paul Poiret launched, however ﬂeetingly, a vogue for "natural" lines.
The tricks for fashioning women’s bodies have always confounded belief, from the earliest boned bodices through today’s push-ups. Installed on three ﬂoors of Bard Graduate Center Gallery’s townhouse, Fashioning the Body opens with the seventeenth-century silhouette, exempliﬁed by a rare women's Spanish doublet, which was internally reinforced to be more rigid. Structured with armatures and other mechanisms, the garments of the eighteenth century enforced the erect posture prized ﬁrst by the aristocracy and later by an inﬂuential bourgeoisie in order to convey a sense of superiority through the display of an idealized physical form. The epitome of the transformed female silhouette is the late eighteenth-century formal or court dress, examples of which will be on display alongside the undergarments that molded their distinctive silhouettes.
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