This week is the second of my first year of graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University where I'm working towards an MFA in Costume Production. The first week of class was exhilarating! I felt truly inspired and challenged. One of my favorite classes was Costume Design with the talented Susan Tsu. Quotations on design were handed out and students read and discussed the quotes to discern the role of the designer and artist in society. Both famous and unknown people authored the quotes. One of my favorites that I felt partained directly to my interests in both historical clothing and costumes was this...
"The look of the past can be discovered only through its art, viewed with knowledge that art represents it in its own characteristic style. Only the style can be reproduced - the actual look of the past, without art, is irrecoverable. It went out with the light of its own eyes and, like its odors, is gone forever. There is no historically authentic look that is not the look of an artistic style." - Anne Hollander, 'Seeing Through Clothes'
Whether these words are true or not I have not yet determined, but the quote is powerful.
I could argue that a historically authentic look can be achieved. A completely historically authentic look is attempted infrequently - rarely does a person procure the appropriate materials, pattern the original shapes, and stitch a garment according to the style of the original. But it can be done, can't it? At any rate, it can be done well enough that it does not have its own characteristic style - or does it?
I loved the part - "like its odors, is gone forever." Partially because I'm not sure that this is always completely true. It recalls to mind hours spent pressing original garments in the collection of Penn State University. Many of the garments, especially the 1920s and 30s dresses and evening gowns, under which few undergarments were worn, smelled distinctly of perspiration when steamed. Disgusting, but also somehow beautiful. How often are we able to recover smells from another time? The odor of a person that is now dead and buried. Their smell is locked into that garment. It's sad - you and I will probably have clothing that outlives us! Such a pertinent reminder of how short our lives really are. The odors wafting from the freshly steamed clothing took my mind to another time and place. An evening party, everyone dressed in stunning silk evening gowns, lavish jewelry, shoes, and hairstyles. Dancing and laughter. And who was the young woman who wore the gown? She was doubtlessly beautiful, as all young women are. Was this her favorite dress? Did a young man propose to her in this gown? Did she have her heart broken wearing this frock? Generations from now, will someone hold my dress lovingly and wonder who wore it? So many thoughts rush through my mind as I relive the experience. Such a wonderful reminder of the beauty of life that must be enjoyed each day while we are here on earth.
What does this quote say to you? Do you think it's true?