Friday, 30 November 2012

Five Days in Florence


At the beginning of November, I was funded by Chelsea to attend the bi-annual costume colloquium in Florence.  The conference was entitled 'Past Dress - Future Fashion'.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of talk on past dress but not much on future fashion (within the context that I would have liked).  However, that didn't really matter as what I heard was illuminating with the highlight of the whole event being Thessy Schoenholzer Nichols speaking of her project and the funeral robes of the 'mummies' of Monsampolo del Tronto.

The conference was extremely well organised with a trip at the end of each day.  On the first day was a vintage clothing shopping crawl.  Amazing - I bought myself a Jacques Fathes grey silk shirt in immaculate condition.  It's gorgeous.   On the second day we were taken to the Gucci Museum and treated to alsorts of delicious Gucci canopes, chocolates and drinks in the Museum cafe.  The conference organisers had made sure that all the places that we visited were closed to the general public meaning we had exclusive viewing.

The Gucci Museum was amazing; a bit like visiting a rather fancy shop.  A Gucci shop even.  I liked it.  Others didn't.  The conservators in the group complained that the shelves were dusty!  I didn't spot that.  I rather enjoyed the luxury of it all and really appreciated the photos from the  '50s, '60s and '70s of people like Sophia Lauren, Tony Curtis, Ursula Andress all looking fabulous in Gucci.   Sneakily I took a photo which was completely forbidden but I could resist.

"Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten".

Good old Aldo Gucci!  He was right as his brand lives on long and hard.

As my trip continued and got better,  my ice cream consumption increased profoundly.  The ice cream in Florence is absolutely delicious.  Worth a mention even!

I think one of my highlights will be seeing Mr and Mrs Medici's clothing.  So evocative!  Really, I think my true passion is clothing from the Renaissance as viewed from paintings so to see the real thing is for me one of life's moments and it really didn't matter that they were stained and in a state of degradation.

However,  what has sparked my interest, was a vintage shop named  'Ceri Vintage'.  It was the most unusual store.  This shop was unlike any other vintage store I have visited.  Everything they sold was very well worn, patched, darned and many of the items were full of holes.  The whole aesthetic of the look that they were promoting was that of 'wear and tear'.


The clothing was displayed in a tasteful, almost minimalistic way. The shop was big and open (think All Saints - wooden floors, metal rails but much better).  Some of the clothing was so damaged that in another setting I am sure they would have been binned.  It was very clever.  What fascinated me was that this store saw the tears, the patches and the darning as a form of decoration which of course, in its own way it is.

What was slightly unnerving was that these clothes hadn't been customised.  This is how they were.  This is how they were worn when they were in use.  "People were very, very poor" commented the woman who was in charge of the shop.  I got the impression that even she (sorry, I didn't get her name),  who was very involved in the display and running of the shop also found it slightly spooky.   A conscious, design, aesthetic decision was made to sell clothes  which probably due to poverty and circumstance the original wearers might have felt ashamed to have been wearing.  They may have been there only clothes.


She relayed me a story.  A few weeks ago she had assembled a display of about 20 items of children's clothing.  The shop did sell children's coats, dresses and hats.  The ones that  I viewed, were possibly the most patched and darned of all the items in the shop.  She said she created  the display, by pinning rows of children's and baby wear on the side wall of the shop.   She said that she was not sure of display as there was something rather eerie or creepy about it;  three rows of empty, old kids clothing.

No long after,  a visiting gent from LA walked in shop.  He was so taken with her, let's say 'visual merchandising' that he bought every single item that she had pinned on the wall.  Not only did he buy it he had each piece individually framed to be shipped back to the US.  He was going to decorate his shop with these framed tattered, patched, worn, stained children's garments.   It certainly gets one thinking.  The journey of these items, anthropologically speaking is worthy of study.   Clothing from the desperately poor  being turned into art?

It is an interesting turn of events. Clothing that is stained, worn, torn and patched is now desirable.  Here's an example...... A friend of mine went to APC to buy some jeans.  He liked them so much he wanted to buy another pair but in black.  Sadly, at  £118 per pair he could afford two.  Being canny, his girlfriend asked the sales assistant if APC would buy back her boyfriend's old jeans (they were APC but were very worn, faded and torn).  Yes, they would be delighted to purchase his old jeans!  He sold them back  for £60!  And he got his pair of black jeans.  They loved the way the jeans had been basically worn to death.  His old  jeans will go back into APC system and be revamped-sold as unique bespoke jeans.   The parameters are shifting.

I need to now to work on my PhD.

Next week I will post Florence part II.

Books I am reading.
For my PhD
Small is Beautiful - A Study of Economics as if People Mattered by EF Schumacher
Approaches to Social Enquiry by Norman Blaikie

Doing a PhD is hard and you have to be very disciplined but for pleasure I've just started reading
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  Lots of references to the wool trade and silk which always adds and interesting dimension for me.